STAYING ALIVE…

When we’re born we come into the world in anger and confusion: all this cruel light, this abrasive air, the tyranny of gravity, these harsh voices… And then, as we breathe deep and the world embraces us, we embrace the world.

From which point the heart becomes that eternal clock, the one whose muffled, unregarded tick never falters. And life lives us, drawing us on through pleasure and pain, rewarding the activated senses and healing the spirit and the flesh. We need do no more than eat, drink, sleep, love and be loved and, however disorientating the nighttime dreams, we wake into certainty and rise into light.

All of which  – within the constraints of occasional pauses for existential reflection – was my experience until 7 years ago when I got cancer. From the point of diagnosis I had to begin the entirely counter-intuitive process of recognising that within me now was the agency of my death. If simply ignored, at some point the cancer would grow to untenable size and it would metastasise, moving onto soft tissue and bones so as eventuality to stifle life functions, at which point I would die.

Fortunately progress towards its blind self-extinction inside the host that, if ignored, it would certainly kill has been slow. With the help of my oncologist, I have been able to monitor its movement and he has assured me that, with necessary management by him, I should be able to head towards my 80s in whatever strength and vigour I can maintain through self-care. By which time, he asserts with all the informed optimism of a medical man whose own health will be subject at that point to the depredations of ageing, dynamic strategies currently in preparation will then be readily available.

I’m close now to the beginning of the treatment processes necessary to keep the cancer under control. Nothing as invasive and peripherally destructive as chemotherapy, but still involving the introduction into my system of materials not natural to my metabolism. I shall have to exercise and I shall have to regulate further a diet that acknowledges cancer already so that my general health – whose overall robustness reflects both my parents’ genes – will be sustained.

None of which practical activity alarms me greatly. Bridges will be crossed on arrival and provided that I know they’re a firm and stable part of the route, I’ll negotiate them readily. What will take a great deal more courage, resolve and positivity is anxiety management.  Since 2008 I have been prone to chronic attacks of dread and the despair that results when all reason fails to dispel it. Both counselling (most of it useless, some of it invaluable) and self-analysis have begun to account historically for these terrifying and disabling torrents of emotional activity and the anxiety is now in the main spasmodic and transient. But there remains at its root a simple, undiluted fear of dying. Not of death as such, but of my atrophying, dwindling, withering towards extinction with those I love and who love me fading away around me. A common enough horror, of course, but  one whose detailed, narrative malignancy is unique to each individual.

So I’m about to move from that state of personal immortality – the quiet, unarticulated certainty that, for all the sometime terrors, life is living me and I need do no more than float within its current – to a state of staying alive as result of direct intervention. I must  indeed now ‘strive officiously to stay alive’. What I can’t know at this point is how that’s going to affect my existential consciousness – whether it will provoke in me a sense of massively increased fragility and vulnerability or whether it will promote instead an enhanced sense of the value-beyond-reckoning of the moment. I have a notion that although the assaults upon its integrity will many and constant, the latter sense is more likely to prevail.

Finally, I have to make it clear to the demons and saboteurs whose work confounds our best hopes and intentions (and a tenacious, bone-deep apparent belief in whose existence confounds my atheism!) that I am aware of the certainty of raid and ambush. That the interposition of nothing malign and morbid – heart attack, neurological decay, dementia – would surprise me on my way towards, into and (who knows?) through my 70s and 80s. Staying alive is an aspiration backed up by my oncologist’s knowledge of my now long histology; the precise vicissitudes of everything else are as unpredictable as the next moment. Or the next, or the next…

About Dick Jones

I'm a post-retirement Drama teacher, currently working part-time. I have a grown-up son and daughter, three grandchildren and three young children from my second marriage. I write - principally poetry but prose too, both fitfully published. My poetry collection Ancient Lights is published by Phoenicia Publishing (www.phoeniciapublishing.com) and my translation of Blaise Cendrars' 'Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France' (illustrated by my friend, the artist, writer and long-time blogger Natalie d'Arbeloff) is published by Old Stile Press (www.oldstilepress.com). I play bass guitar & bouzouki in the song-based acoustic/electric trio Moorby Jones, playing entirely original material (https://www.facebook.com/moorbyjones?ref=aymt_homepage_panel + http://www.moorbyjones.net/). I have a dormant blog with posts going back to 2004 at Dick Jones' Patteran Pages - http://patteran.typepad.com - and I'm a radio ham. My callsign is G0 EUV.
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4 Responses to STAYING ALIVE…

  1. Dick Jones says:

    From Natalie.
    Dick, I didn’t know about this latest when I saw you at Torriano the other night and it’s just as well because it wasn’t the right moment to talk about health or anxiety.. You read your wonderful poems so movingly, confidently and directly, not a sign of those darker undercurrents, and I’m hoping that the light (that ancient light!) on the surface penetrates your underground, gradually sweeping away the dark. Much love from me and merde to those demons!

  2. Dick Jones says:

    Hi Natalie! Your comments went into the spam queue. I can’t work out yet why designating them as not spam doesn’t automatically upload them to bona fide statues. So I’ve piggy-backed your comment via mine!

    Thanks you for this, Natalie. You always manage to find les mots justes! I really enjoyed the Torriano reading. It may not have been Glastonbury in terms of seething hordes, but so good to see you and our dear London Laupe friends plus, of course, Dave.

    Re the two tests tomorrow – they won’t be any fun, but I should have the results by Monday 31st and according to the data in place now, they shouldn’t reveal anything unexpected or untoward. So I’m not having to battle against the demons too strenuously! Dxx

  3. Jim Murdoch says:

    I wonder when it was I first heard the expression “the miracle of modern medicine.” It’s become a bit of a cliché, hasn’t it? My own personal experience of doctors has made me wonder in an entirely different way because so much of it seems to be down to guesswork, educated guesswork but guesswork nevertheless. Our bodies we’re told are machines and the analogy’s sound and that would be fine if we were the designers. As it is after all these years and not insignificant progress it’s clear the medical profession still has much to learn. I don’t have cancer as far as I’m aware and I’m grateful. Carrie’s had it twice, survived (obviously) and is currently completely clear. Miracles do happen. Or flukes. What’s in a name? The older I get the more I find myself experiencing things in my mind and body I have no control over. Only a week ago I was hit by a severe bout of vertigo which from what I’ve read looks like it’s related to my myoclonus and really there’s not much one can do bar tough it out and try not to fall down. It does make one feel a bit useless. I think that’s the worst thing about these kinds of illnesses, the sense of impotence. We want to get a grip but what of? What frustrates me the most is my inability to use all of this creatively. I’ve never really written about sickness and yet I’ve been poorly all my life, sometimes worse than others but now it’s a constant state. If I could turn all this uselessness into something meaningful I might not mind it so much. it would be worth going through it. I could think of it as necessary research. But nothing comes and I end up frittering away the few clear-headed hours I’m granted each day. Such a waste. Living and being alive are not the same thing. I, too, fear aging more than I fear death because I don’t fear death. I was never brought up with that fear. I remember when I first read The Myth of Sisyphus. I was too young for it but its central question bugged me and continues to. What’s keeping us alive? As you know I’m a depressive but I’ve never been suicidal. I’ve considered suicide from a literary perspective—one of my novellas involves one—but there’s one thing that’s kept me going throughout everything: the fear of missing out. It’s a pretty base reason to keep going but it works for me. The worst might happen (I came to this post late having read ‘Scans’ first) and probably will but then it might not and even if it does I might just get an idea worth pursing, like Dennis Potter or Béla Bartók, until I suddenly find myself on my deathbed wondering, How the hell did I get here?

  4. Dick Jones says:

    ‘What’s keeping us alive?’ I too pondered that central question from ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ at too early an age, an age at which, for me, immortality went unquestioned. This for all the enthusiastically modish embracing of, first, Colin Wilson’s ‘The Outsider’ and then Camus, on whose shoulders Wilson stood. In fact, had an audit of my dominant assumptions been available to me in youth, it would have recorded robust and unassailable vitality as my default state with my inner goth staying decidedly inner! Now my default state seems to be an overwhelming sense of fragility punctuated by occasional frissons of the old solidity. Right now, pain from a minor blood clot in my left upper arm (residue of a canula inserted for the first CT scan) and a hernia are reminding me very effectively that all flesh is grass. There have been more congenial times…

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