Tuesday, December 6, 2011

on laughter, and reading to impress

This is going to sound very odd, but I realized lately I've laughed more this year than in the previous two combined.

Defense mechanism? Greater appreciation for the little lovely things? Relief at having some clarity around the end of the marriage? I may not have known about the affair, but I knew all too well that I wasn't making him happy and he didn't enjoy being around me, and I was constantly wondering if I could walk away from an investment of this scope simply because I was unhappy. I was also full of resentment that he clearly wanted to walk away but was going to force me to make the choice and take the responsibility.

The last reason is pretty huge. It's the difference between a constant, grinding sense of being trapped, and a blaze of righteous fury that alternates with an awareness of new possibilities.

It's also possible that being topless as much as I have been in the last year makes it harder to take myself seriously. And cancer played its part in making me realize there is absolutely no point in being ashamed of what I enjoy. Normally if I go anywhere in public I have a book, and I am somewhat concerned about what those around me might think of said book. Halfway through radiation I decided I wanted to re-read the entire works of Tony Hillerman, so that's what I brought to the hospital with me. The "must impress bystanders with my book choice" was the last holdout of my adolescence, and it felt good to jettison it. Now when I take a long trip, instead of trying to concentrate on Hilary Mantel or Julian Barnes on a plane, I pack eight C.J. Box mysteries and do not give a shit what my fellow travelers make of this.

And yes, I'm aware that the judging bystander is almost entirely a creation of my own mind (I say "almost" because I totally am that judging bystander for other people, so I know it exists). It being in my own mind does not make saying, "Fuck you," to it any less satisfying.

My sister-in-law pointed out, right after the diagnosis, that I would now be justified in responding to anyone being annoying with, "Fuck you; I have cancer." Not in an accusing, or one-upping, way; in a dismissive, I'm-not-going-to-spend-my-time-on-that way. "You think I should be reading Proust? Fuck you; I have cancer." It's extremely freeing.

A lot of people find that an illness is the only thing which allows them to feel they can say, "No." That it has to come down to a tumor before we are okay with disappointing anyone. This is disturbing and sad and I wish I knew how to fix it. I hope that it didn't take cancer to make me realize that I should read what I want to read, but who knows.

The real trick will be seeing if I can leave a terrible book unfinished. There are, I think, roughly four books I have left unfinished in the last ten years. One of them - and some of you are going to freak out here - was the first Harry Potter. No, it wasn't terrible, but I only liked the first chapter because it reminded me of Roald Dahl, and the instant Harry got to Hogwarts I was bored senseless. Around page ninety I just put it down and walked away, and I've never felt the urge to try it again. Sorry, Potter fans; I've had cancer. And I won't necessarily say that I have better things to read (see: C.J. Box), but I have books I like to read. And they take precedence.  

I'm not going to trot out the "life is too short" statement. Claudio used that to justify an awful lot of rotten behavior. But I am going to say that a life without comfort re-reading or laughing at the absurd things my dogs do is not one I want.


  1. Every time my dog farts, I giggle and thing of you.

  2. I must tell you that Jesse also put Harry Potter down after H.P. got to Hogwarts. I will tell him that he isn't the only one so he stops feeling like a freak for not giving a damn about "some stupid wizard shit".