“After you were gone I thought a lot, about you and I thought, why do I love you? And then, I felt everything in me just let go of everything I was holding on to so tightly, and hit me that I don’t have an intellectual reason, I don’t need one. I trust myself, I trust my feelings. I’m not gonna try to be anything other than who I am anymore.” — Samantha, in Spike Jonze’s Her
No mean task, to begin again, to say it, write it, that you’ve died to the past, that you’re going to raise from the dead, and full-on, a kind of arrogance in it, and everywhere the language: leaning in, be insanely courageous, be embarrassingly brave, no fear, just do it, be vulnerable, failure a necessary ingredient along the way.
Beginning again, yes, and now more than ever, it’s clear, rewinding to the first go round, had it not been for the art and artists I engaged: films and books, writers, poets, filmmakers, actors, musicians and composers, I don’t make it, I don’t overcome the slow destruction of my physical presence, the androgen suppression with Lupron and Casodex, and the Zometa, Atrasentan and Docetaxel.
Sims and I were already finished, a loveless and touchless togetherness/growing apart, a disconnecting distance had formed, all of it intensified by cancer’s arrival, brutal to see it so clearly, looking back, as if more light now, more clarity, and this the dying, or maybe the first death, first stage, and it’s like the truth comes to you in stages, each a death that builds upon the rest, and there’s no avoiding the knocked off corners, all of the disappointments and “little failures,” the daily reminders that you’re ordinary and all the time imagining yourself extraordinary (Thinking about it, ordinary human beings believing in gods? Isn’t that a reaching for and aligning with the extraordinary?). Now this, having never conjured the possibility, reborn a eunuch, a love-crazed fool still imagining romance, still hankering after and in need of the touch of a woman in love. Illusion and imaginative flights a necessity.
So, when I came across/remembered the Henry Miller insight, “Through art then, one finally establishes contact with reality: that is the great discovery.” had to use it, had to make it baseline, and as I began to engage art and artists in a new way, Keats, Beckett, Rilke, Depp, Jennifer Lawrence et al., my romantic imagination was fired up, renewed, and it became THE thing that kept me going, contact with reality near unbearable, yet the intensification of sight and sound, the enhanced and emboldened vision became the goads/reasons to continue in the darkest and most despairing moments, and though I couldn’t see it clearly at the time, I full-on wrote myself out of the pain and suffering. FULL FUCKING ON! How does one do that, write oneself out of heartache and loneliness, enduring the loss of love? It wasn’t intentional, didn’t understand where the writing and reading would lead; it was a habit I had created when I left graduate school in the 80s. Imagined myself a writer, but after a few years it was clear, that was not something I’d become. Never to be a Tom Stoppard or a Marc Norman. First failures weren’t so bad, the rejection letters I got I took as a sign I was getting it done, but in the end there was nothing worth publishing. Then the marriage failed, needed to move back home, from Los Angeles to Northern California, death and rebirth. Beginning again in the book business. Got a job as a bookseller, moved into a flat of an old Victorian, kept writing, kept reading, kept submitting my work, kept getting rejected. And all along the way it occurred to me I’d never love again. The loss of love so brutalizing.
It took a year, and a few crazed relationships, and then Ms. Sims strolled into my life. Love was back, didn’t see it coming. An English Lit graduate student leaning in and purposeful, ambitious and driven. I had a hard time keeping up. Took to managing the bookstore and I kept writing. She and I moved in together, another Victorian in downtown Sacramento, two cats, and some semblance of home. It was while we were living on 22nd Street that I realized it had all been so ludicrous, that I was not brilliant or even baseline adept at writing, the light went on and never went off, finally, “You’re not a writer, get over it.”
I stopped submitting, gave up that part of it, but kept at it, words to paper. I took to writing probe-goads in the form of a fictional, chronological narrative. The first musings of Maxwell Kinney, and it’s here, without knowing it, that I began to fuse my own life with that of imagination and art, that I began to live in two worlds where writing became a kind of survival technique, a way to intensify and vivify what was going on day-to-day. Probe-goading? Not a diary, not a journal, but a tweaked out and simple imaginative flight of an ordinary man, maintaining the illusion of being a writer, setting aside time, knowing full well I wasn’t. Beginning to live in an illusory world that was richer, more expansive and wonderful than I had thought possible. Every time I read a novel or poem, watched a film, listened to a piece of music or a film score of a movie I’d just seen, I was transported and entered into the narrative, at one with the emotions and thoughts embodied in the form, and of course there’s no barrier, once you allow yourself to be touched, moved and engaged, it’s like falling in love, you go for it, you veer off, and it’s dangerous, a look, a smile, a kind word or gesture, they’re amplified, signified, and you’re all up in it, and then it happened, December 2009, Nurse Brenda walked up with her Infusion Cart, an intimate conversation and I flipped out, fell hard, Camille was born, alchemy at play, and I was changed, and when the cease and desist came a year and a half later, I wasn’t surprised just heartbroken, was sitting at Pannikin Coffee and Tea, love unrequited, something I hadn’t honestly experienced, a full rejection of what seemed a soul-mate force, Unbiddable, ungovernable, like a riot in the heart and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture. This a pivotal moment as the realization sunk in. Don’t know that any one person or any one moment in my life has been more affecting and profound. One extended duration of time with a caring and loving nurse, one conversation, and a boatload of imagination, kept me going, kept me alive, and I came to understand, so very late in life, what it means to love someone you don’t know, to understand what “falling in love” means, not an “artful posture” but a very real and unassailable intuition to act, a sensation you’d go to the wall for them, that you’d do whatever it takes to begin, to build a relationship, entering the unknown fearlessly, however it plays out, and when the message came to stop, the message I’d counseled she’d have to send, I was not surprised, I had fallen in love, I had felt what our poets, writers, musicians and artists had conjured over the centuries, I knew what it meant, and though unrequited, it didn’t matter, the hope it conjured, the warmth of feeling it inspired, to not turn away, to not be offended, to know that sometimes it’s just one way; and then on the heels of this most unsettling moment to finally understand, THE realization that I was at ease with all of it, all of what had happened in prelude, the dissolution of love with Sims, the cancer diagnosis and struggle, that now the only way to survive was to become a eunuch, to go forward with no testosterone, the coup de grâce, the unexpected and unanticipated, all along the way, from that sublime moment with Brenda at the Cancer Center to now, a sensation of acceptance about who I am and what I’ve done, a man dying of cancer, still upright, still hopeful, still alive to romance…
“Dying of” not “Living with”? Well, Doc Triple M has referred to all of this as “managing a chronic disease,” but honestly, it has been an andante movement of little Ds on the way to a big D. Slowly and quite surely I have been diminished, and debilitated, and destroyed, by the disease and the therapies administered to keep it at bay. Physically, so much has gone away in a short span of time, and your “hope” for the Rs: a repair, a return, or even a rebirth slips away. You’re forced to get real, to be real, to understand what’s happening and it is so very difficult to be hopeful about a time in the future where you might “forget” all of it, to simply live, without worry or pain or difficulty. To simply live. If it weren’t for films, and books, and poetry, and music, and a now & again glimmer of beauty and love (Sonjia, Danielle, Corrie), not sure I’d still be “upright.” That’s the operative word in all of this, when someone asks “How are you doing?” my response is, “I’m upright.” Appropriate and honest, and indicative. To remain upright, one never knows what the scientists and researchers may be able to conjure going forward.