Buttoning up

I had lunch in the city today with one of our vendors. We met at a top-end Chinese restaurant, and I had a lovely meal, though my pleasure is tempered a little these days by a feeling of self-consciousness as I eat. I was brought up well-mannered and with an understanding of dining etiquette. I always felt at home at even the most elegant of tables, but that was before I got cancer.

Because I can only open my mouth so far – perhaps 60% of what I could previously – I have to be very aware taking every mouthful; every portion has to be assessed as to whether it will fit in my mouth and, if I figure it will, what the best angle of approach is. Eating with chopsticks reduces your options. I can’t cut the portions in half, so I have to be particularly clever – or just cram it in. I feel somewhat inadequate.

I realised another thing over lunch which may have longer term ramifications.

I’m already wondering what my working future will be. I smell of roses at the moment, partly by virtue of others publicly stuffing up and partly because I’m the one fixing them up. I think I’ve reminded others of how smart I am and reminded myself at the same time. Not that I ever doubted exactly, but sometimes it slips from your mind. Plus, returning from illness, I guess you’re never really quite sure how sharp you’ll be.

I’m in a better position now than I was six months, not just because I’m a lot healthier, but because I’ve reminded the powers to be of the value I bring.

It looks relatively positive then, and I can’t help but get deeply involved when the heat is on. I’m reluctant to admit it, but in the heat of battle, I enjoy it. I like being challenged, and I like having the answers and using my mind. And I like it when it all works as it should.

It’s when the heat is off that I wonder what the point of it is. I know, I know…but no matter how good a job I do, it doesn’t amount to much. A year from now, one person’s stuff-ups and another person’s successes won’t matter and will hardly be remembered.

Getting cancer and contemplating the prospect of becoming non-existent stirs things up. It prompts you to act on the things sitting dormant in the back of your mind. Now is the time because you don’t know if there will be another time.

For me, I’ve idly wondered about doing something more in tune with my outlook and philosophy. I don’t know what that is. What makes it hard is that I’m quite good at what I do, even if it doesn’t align with my values altogether. And, I’m at the stage of my life – and health – when I have to squirrel away as much dough as I possibly can.

The other thing is that I figured that all these years, I’ve been wasting what is basically a top-shelf brain doing things of no lasting import, and it was about time I started to use it for myself. I want to do things worthy of my intelligence.

Then, today, at lunch, I found myself labouring as I tried to speak clearly. The more I tried, the harder it got because I was wearing myself out. I’m sure I’m intelligible when there’s no background noise, but in a restaurant, with a hum of conversation, it becomes more difficult. I became aware of that and felt a bitter embarrassment.

I don’t know how much my speech will improve with time or if it will at all. I’ve always been a man of reasonably clipped conversation – direct and without extravagance. But there have also been regular occasions when I’d get on a roll and talk fluently and with pleasure. For someone who has an opinion on everything, who takes an interest in art and history, politics and culture, it was always a joy to expound and interact in the right company.

The bonus was that I was articulate, even charming occasionally. I considered myself a good conversationalist when I was in the mood, both erudite and witty.

There’s none of that now. I’m just not capable of it in my present condition. I hate it, obviously, but perhaps I have to learn to accept it.

So, that’s another thing I know after today. If there isn’t any improvement in my speech, it’s likely to be career-limiting anyway, but I know I won’t want to put myself through that day after day regardless. I’ll need to find another role where I can get away without speaking so much.

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