Where to? How?


Last night I lay in bed with my head hurting and my breathing laboured, unable to sleep. Eventually I got up. I took a pill with a glass of water. As I stood by the sink my eyes went to the digital device on the kitchen bench, on which rotated some of my favourite snaps. The picture was of Rigby, and I stood there looking at it until it changed to something else.

For about 10 minutes I sat in the recliner in the living room, just resting. It’s where I sit to read sometimes or have a cup of tea. Mostly, before, Rigby would sprawl on the floor in front of me. I looked at the place as if he was there still. Sometimes, he would come and rest his head in the space beside my leg, looking up at me. My hand went to him.

I was in a bad way. I’m utterly worn out, physically and emotionally. I’ve got little life outside of home because I’m not up to it. I’m back working and doing my best, but I’ve lost all faith in the people there, and rouse little interest in the work I’m doing. And, Rigby is gone.

I wouldn’t feel that so keenly if my life was happier. I always had him, at least, and now I don’t even have him.

It’s funny how you still expect him, if only momentarily. I get out of bed and I look to him, knowing that he will follow – but he’s not there. Struggling as I was to sleep last night, I might have reached out and found some comfort knowing he was there. I miss his companionship obviously, and his love for me, and the love he created in me.

This is not about him though. I miss him terribly, but he’s a symptom of my current state, not the cause of it.

I need to find something to believe in. It’s hard. Physically, I’m not right. Work has failed me and the life I had before seems far distant. And Rigby, who could always make bad things better, is gone.

I’m doing things because I don’t know what else to do. And because I need to. I don’t want to fail. But what comes next? When? And why?

I need to find a way out of this mess but have to do it alone.

It’s mid-morning. I’m still in bed. I feel better than last night, but not great. I woke from an ugly sleep at about 9. I feel exhausted. I wish I knew more. For once, I feel incapable of navigating a way forward. What is right? What is wrong? I don’t think I can go on like this unless I have a sudden upturn in my health. But even then – what does it mean? There remain many unanswered questions.

Pushing on


I’ve just got off the phone from the office, having tentatively agreed to return to work in February on a part-time basis.

I don’t know if my physical state is much advanced on what it was a couple of months ago – perhaps I’m a bit stronger? – but as our esteemed PM keeps telling us, we have to learn to live with it. At this point, I’ve said I can do three hours a day/15 weekly. All going well that can be increased in March. Given the limited hours, I’ll be focussing on specific tasks rather than general.

I’m curious to see how I go. I’ve spoken before of how I have no interest or motivation for work, having faced down death. I expect that will pass, but it’s a real thing for now.

What’s real also is that I don’t have the energy or enterprise generally, which is a bit disturbing. I’m tired, I’m in pain, I’m deaf in one ear and walk with a limp, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that I don’t have that drive. And, I still don’t know if I’ve made it through the woods – whether I’ll survive this or not. Still, it feels foreign and unwelcome. I’m used to doing things. Used to striving for something. It was a part of my identity, but with so much of my identity disrupted – most likely permanently – it makes sense that my sense of purpose has diminished also.

The best way to illustrate that is this blog and how rarely I post anything. These days it’s a chore, something I have to do, whereas before it was a vital means of expression for me. Then, I bubbled over with ideas and words. Not now, though I still have strong opinions (which I can’t be bothered sharing).

As someone who has been working on writing a couple of novels in his spare time over the last few years, you might think this was a great opportunity to put more time into those. But no. I’ve written nary a word. It’s not that I’ve lost interest – what I’ve lost is the sense of enterprise and discovery. I feel mentally spent, with nothing left for acts of creation.

Surely some of that is physical and presumably will change with time. However, I also think that having a serious illness has changed my perspective and the nature of my creative thought.

In my situation, you tend to live day by day. There’s little sense of the future and little point to it, really when you’re not even sure if you’ll be around for it and what state you’ll be in, presuming you are. It’s very confused. You deal with the circumstances of the moment, resting as you need to, taking painkillers 24/7 and attending medical appointments. You drift. Until you feel well again and get the all-clear, all bets are off.

My imagination feels like an indulgence in this situation and has slipped down the list of priorities. If I forced myself, I’m sure I could be just as creative as ever, but I don’t have the energy for it.

This is one reason I’ve started being more proactive in my recovery process. I need a sense of control. I hate being passive. I’ve had a physio appointment and have referrals for a psychologist and hearing specialist. And now I’ve organised a return to work. That’s where it’s at, I feel: I need to force things.

I still don’t know what lies ahead, but I’m through with relying on hope. It’s easy to do nothing, but that makes me aimless. The world doesn’t stop, nor should I.

All the same


I wonder sometimes if I’m getting better at all. I’m a little stronger perhaps because I’m eating better, but otherwise I don’t feel much different to a couple of months ago. I take more painkillers these days, so perhaps I feel worse.

Because of my condition, and covid, my days are quiet. I barely go out, and only because I must.

I had a visit the other day from someone from the office. He’s the first and only. I was grateful for the effort. He brought me a book by Eckhart Tolle.

The rest of the time I’ve been watching the cricket. A friend comes each afternoon to watch it with me. In times between, I read. Earlier in the month I was getting through a book every day and a half.

My favourite time of day is the evening. I allow myself to take one of the heavier painkillers, which takes the edge off. I watch pay-TV, enjoying the distraction. I’ll go to bed between 9.30 – 10, and read for up to an hour. Often I’ll take a sleeping tablet.

I look forward to lights out because with unconsciousness comes relief. In the morning, I wake slowly. Often I’ll feel a second wave of tiredness afflict me. It recurs throughout the day to the point I can barely keep my eyes open. It could be the humid weather. I thought I had passed that stage.

I have another day like that ahead of me, and for the foreseeable future, until I really do start to feel better. The only variation is that I’m going out to see a movie tomorrow. Otherwise, it all seems the same.

Venturing out


For the first time in months, I went out over the weekend – and what I mean by out is that I went to places where I could sit with other people and be served. I had a brief taste of it a few weeks ago, but this was the real thing.

Both days were sunny. On Saturday, Donna came over for the first time since I moved. We walked down the road and sat in the sunshine, having coffee and tea and picking at a muffin I couldn’t enjoy. Afterwards, we walked by the beach.

One of the best things about it was having a meaningful conversation, and not just the practical, passing conversations I’ve had for most of my time in isolation.

Yesterday, another friend came over, and we drove towards Mordialloc. We sat in the sunshine again. He had lunch. I ate a few fries for the carbs, not the taste. When the clock ticked over to two, we ordered some gin from the dispensary there – first a cocktail, then a blood orange gin with tonic.

I didn’t know what to expect of this. I haven’t had an alcoholic drink since July. I’m much out of practice. Plus, I’ve lost all this weight since. But, no problem – except, because of my taste buds, I didn’t experience the complete enjoyment of the moment. I could taste about 40%, but no matter, the moment was symbolic.

It was good to get out, and if I pushed the limits a little, that’s okay. I pulled up well.

I’ve decided the time has come for me to push it a little more. I know most of my friends think it’s premature, but I feel as if I’ll never get ahead unless I begin to test myself. The simplest things have made me breathless. I have to push the envelope.

I’m still fatigued. I’ve spoken how I can sleep so easily. I’ve resisted it to a degree, though I realise I need it to heel. I feel a bit of a slop sleeping during the day, but if there’s any time I can be a slob, then surely it’s when I have cancer?

It’s all a bit of a balancing act. Exercise is good, but it burns up calories, which I struggle to get in. I can’t be silly.

Previously, I averaged about 1500 paces daily, which is fuck all (it was around 9,000 when I was healthy). I’m going to push the average up to 2000, then 3000, and so on.

I’m encouraged in doing this as the situation with my taste buds is improving. I need to explain this.

It’s my theory only that two factors were affecting my taste buds. The first was the backwash of all the cells killed by my treatment, flooding my nose, my mouth, my stomach (making me nauseous). This is pretty nasty and made practically everything inedible. The overwhelming taste was salty, smoky, bitter.

The second factor relates directly to chemo, which makes things taste metallic. These two overlaid each other. Now I’ve stopped treatment, the backwash has diminished, though a remnant remains. It makes eating easier, though – thanks to chemo – everything tastes metallic.

I’m testing the limits regarding food also. Nothing is enjoyable, though some things go down easier than others – sweeter things and some fruit flavours.

As always, it’s a day by day proposition. I’ll be in a much better place when there’s no more backwash, and my nose is cleared, and when I can taste truly. I can hope for part of that in the next 2-3 weeks, I think, as for the rest, it could be anytime now, or in months.

Over to you, big fella


Things I haven’t written about I’d have loved writing about:

Euro 2020. I didn’t watch it all but followed it closely, and it was a point of constant discussion with my mates. I’m glad Italy won.

Ash Barty winning Wimbledon. This was big news and a very popular victory in Oz, and I sense, in other places, too. I didn’t watch it – I was in bed asleep – but it’s so nice to have her win.

Then there are random footy matches, the Boomers beating the USA in a trial match ahead of the Olympics (I watched that), and the NBA finals too, which I’ve watched all the way, though. Then there’s the Sydney ‘lockdown’ and the incompetence of Gladys, and ingoing shitshow, which is the federal government and the vaccine rollout – and even the lockdown we find ourselves in from today, for the fifth time, thanks to the NSW shambles.

All of that has been crowded out by my health, but it doesn’t mean my mind doesn’t touch on other things, that my curiosity and interest isn’t piqued by other events. In fact, I’ve made a vow to myself to stay engaged, no matter what the prognosis is.

I should get the prognosis next week. I’m preparing for the worst, though it doesn’t alter my attitude. I’ll fight it every inch of the way, by whatever means. It doesn’t feel right to simply accept the fate they map out for me. That’s too meek, and the struggle is an essential part of this. And I think it’s what I do best: fight.

In actual fact, I’ve been feeling better the last couple of days. I was wary of it initially: what could it mean? I wondered if it was a sign that the cancer had gone deeper into me. I considered that the recent signs weren’t so positive and that the biopsy may have livened up the cancer. That’s the danger of being an overthinker. In the end, I twigged. It was because the cold I’d been carrying for months – which seemed wrapped up in the carcinoma – had gone. Seemed strange but welcome nonetheless because it eases the pressure, and therefore the pain.

I published something to Facebook announcing my situation, and the response has been incredible, both online and off. I’ve had so many messages of support and help that it’s really quite humbling. Everyone is rallying around, to the point that some of the concerns I had now seem irrelevant.

I also spoke extensively with work, both to the senior manager and HR. I’m going to run out of money long before my treatment ends, and so we’re exploring options to take up the income protection insurance I have on my superannuation account. There’ll still be a gap, and it only pays 75%, but it’s better than nil income.

The other day, speaking to a mate, I commented on God, using the other C-word (both are in common parlance lately). He said, be careful, now’s not the time to pisss him off – though I figure he’s long been pissed off at me given all the shit he’s dumped my way.

Last night, we got to talking about Job in quite a playful way. I have a long sympathy for Job as I once wrote an essay on him when I was in love with a Jewish lady – that’s another story. I know the story well, how he’s treated like a plaything, miserably taunted by God in a running bet with the devil. He cops most of it, but in the end, he spits the dummy. Why the fuck have you done this to me he demands of God?

It’s all a test, which is a bit cruel, but ultimately he has restored to him everything that was taken.

I have a grudging respect for the Old Testament God, though he’s an unashamed prick at times. He comes off as a much kindlier figure in the sequel.

Anyway, I’m kind of hoping something similar happens to me. I’ve been tested up the wazoo – but I could do with a miracle and get back everything I lost and more.

Saturday morning


I woke this morning to a surreal landscape. Even with the blinds closed, I could sense something different. I stepped out the front door. It was cold, the wind blowing and the clouds low in the sky. Through the clouds came a sepia-tinted light that seemed otherworldly. I stood there taking it in, once more given to wonder at the strangeness of the world we live in.

By the time I left the house, the strange light had dissipated, but it was a gloomy landscape. I got in the car to drive the short distance to check out a potential property. The roads there were strewn with leaves and small branches, and when I got out of the car, the wind whipped at my hair. It felt the first truly wintery day of the year, but I was dressed for it in a turtle neck woollen jumper and a topcoat.

The property was a bust. It was in an area not far from where I live but less salubrious. I’m close to the beach here, and cafes and bars and shops are five minutes walk. Everyone has a dog just about, and if not, then a bike, or both (like me). It’s an easy place to live. I’ve just outgrown my home.

The place I looked at was smaller. I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed. Over the back fence was a dog park that Rigby would have loved, but the place itself was scruffy, and, as usual, the rooms were about 25% smaller than what they appeared in the photos online. About 20 other people were checking it out, but I was gone within three minutes.

It was earlier than I’d normally be out on a Saturday, except to walk our dogs with Cheeseboy (who returns to two weeks quarantine on Monday). I didn’t want to go home. I was in the car, it was the weekend, and I felt sort of free.

I drove and parked near the shops that usually I would walk to. I ambled down the main drag. It was bitter cold and the wind came and went in gusts. Other than the odd guy all rugged up walking their dog, it was quiet.

I crossed the railway line without a firm plan, but thinking perhaps a coffee would be good. A few minutes later, I found myself sitting in the window of the Brown Cow nursing a flat white and looking out at the traffic pass by, and the people emerge to do their Saturday shopping, or walk their dog, or find somewhere warm to sit with friends over breakfast. And soon enough, my breakfast arrived, poached eggs on toast. It was all very ad hoc.

I was in a state of mind, brought on perhaps by the strange light earlier, or perhaps because I’d been reading poetry in bed before I left the house. That probably makes me sound like an aesthete, to put it kindly, whereas it’s an infrequent event. Still, it puts you in a mood and, in my case, puts me in touch with the feelings I’m too busy to worry about mostly. And I felt so aware of myself as a physical entity – a body in a turtlenecked jumper, tall, wavy-haired, an aching tooth from sinus, a man alone.

I looked at people as I ate my eggs. I wondered at their life. So much is routine. We do things by rote. I also. But then something jumps you out of that rut, and you see it for what it is. It’s not something bad or wrong, but perhaps it seems disappointingly small. Where is the poetry? Where is the wonder? But then, isn’t that just life? And life as it has been in some form for hundreds, probably thousands of years in some form?

I sent a message to a friend. What would you think, I asked if some bloke told you he had masturbated thinking of you? Flattered, disgusted or scared? It was what I had dreamed of, someone doing that. My friend is a sport, and I knew the question would engage her; obviously, the answer would depend on the man and her relationship with him, but I was curious for her reaction.

I set the phone aside, restless inside. The wind blew. The world passed by. I sipped at my coffee and declined another. On the bench table beside me lay the rolled-up topcoat. I felt as if I needed to understand something, but I didn’t know what it was.

I made my way back towards home, stopping for milk among the other shoppers in the supermarket. I wanted to see into someone’s eyes, but everyone was too busy. I bustled away myself in the end, back to the car and the short drive home. I still don’t know what there is to understand. Perhaps nothing.

No fish for me


I took Rigby for a walk this morning down the Main Street. There was a line extending out the door at the fish shop, hemmed in by temporary bollards placed there for the occasion. Things never change, I thought. Good Friday tomorrow, and the good folk are out to get their seafood for the day.

It brought back memories. My family was hardly religious, but we would avoid meat on Good Friday year after year. It was a convention we were happy to abide by, though occasionally, I would grumble as a teenager.

I’m a grown man now, I still do it, and I’m an atheist! I think there’s a nostalgic bent to it. It’s these rituals of family life that keep us warm, even when there isn’t a family to share it with. The main reason I do it, though, is out of respect.

I used to call myself agnostic to keep an open mind and be a little less blunt about it if anyone ever asked me. The reality is that I can’t believe in something for which I can find no credible evidence, but that’s okay. So I’m an atheist, but I’m hardly bolshie about it.

For that reason, I’ll be sticking to meat-free food tomorrow out of solidarity and respect. I don’t believe in it, but I’ll respect your beliefs. These are personal, individual things.

In fact, the plan is to make some latkes for lunch – if I can find matzo meal somewhere.

What’s on the box?


I’ve had three nights out since March, and when I say ‘night’s out’ it’s very loosely defined. Two of those were early evening visits to pubs in Richmond where I would have a beer and a counter-meal in the two hours designated to me. On both occasions, I was home by 8pm. Cray, eh? The other night was a visit to the Cheeses in that brief period of relative freedom. We had dinner, a bottle or two of wine, and watched a movie. I walked home afterwards.

That’s the size of it. I used to complain about my social life. In my heyday, I’d be out 3-4 nights a week. Those days are long gone, and I don’t think I’d want to return to that. As a general rule, though, I reckon you need at least one night a week out being social. Though I complained, mostly I managed that over the last year. Until lockdown.

Being in lockdown means you have to find other ways to keep yourself entertained. In the absence of the give and take with friends, and the general distraction of other places – a pub or bar, a restaurant, a footy game or the home of a friend, and so on – the senses need something to distract from what isn’t there. There are few options.

For me, at least I read, but it’s possible to read too much. It’s like most things, you need a variety of tempo to keep things interesting, as well as different senses engaged along the way.

So I have books, lucky me, and I’ll listen to music too, and wending through my days are audiobooks I play when I’m preparing dinner or doing housework. There’s sport on TV these days, though much of it is uninspiring – the physical constraints of our times make for a poorer standard in general.

That leaves TV more generally, and streaming services more specifically. I reckon everyone has gone crazy watching Netflix and the other streaming services throughout this period. Listening in on social media, it seems that many have experienced the same as I have – we’re running out of shows to watch.

This is the uninspiring reality of our times. It exposes the shallowness of lifestyle but given there are few other alternatives, this shred of clothing is preferable to seeing the emperor in all his naked glory.

The other week I signed up to a month’s trial of Amazon Prime to find something new to watch. I found a few things, but there was one show particularly that was great.

Tales From the Loop is a funny sort of show. It seems as if set in a parallel universe to ours, very similar, but different in unique ways. The Loop itself – some groundbreaking technology unlike we have, is at the centre of the show. There are robots wandering the countryside and tractors that hover over the ground and everyday little things that seem quirky to our eyes. It’s very approachable though, almost modest, the technology accepted as if it is nothing special – which is what I guess what we do with the marvels we have come to take for granted.

The aesthetic is familiar to anyone who grew up through the seventies and eighties. There’s a cosy glow to it that made me feel nostalgic at times. At the centre of it are families, a small core group of them and their circle which the stories revolve around. It has a very relatable intimacy to it that is at times quite heart-rending.

As someone who writes, it’s the sort of authenticity you strive for. They’re the things you absorb more through your skin than you do your mind. You know them suddenly, you recognise the truth of something that perhaps you’ve never considered until that point. They’re like submerged memories coming to the surface. It’s a very human experience, and it’s our humanity these tales tough upon.

Some of these stories haunted me afterwards. They had a poignancy that comes from being real. You’re left afterwards thinking about them, and reflecting upon yourself. The music, by Phillip Glass, has a subtle melancholy that gets under your sin. It’s great music, and it is the perfect accompaniment to the story – non-intrusive, but it deepens the viewing experience.

I’ve watched the full series now and hope there will be another. It’s a hidden gem I probably not have encountered if not for the strange times we live in. I’d recommend to anyone, though I think the sensitive will get most out of it.

But, what’s next now? I’m watching The Marvellous Mrs Maisel and enjoying it well enough. Others are hit and miss. We’re going to be in this for a while yet, so I’ll need more recommendations.

Seasons passing


We’ve had some wintry blasts and the rainfall so far this year is at near-record levels (more than all of last year), but right now the weather is near perfect. The nights are clear and cold, and the chill persists into mid-morning. By then the sun is brightly shining in a sky almost bereft of cloud. It warms up slowly but becomes very pleasant. It’s a pleasure to go out in such serene weather. I’d happily settle for this 300 days of the year.

It’s funny to think that winter is less than two weeks away – though the weekend before last was cold and wet and I was so uninspired, so lethargic, that all I did was lay on the couch and watch Netflix.

I was more productive the weekend just gone. Friday was my designated day off, and its quickly becoming my favourite day of the week. Come Thursday night I feel released, though work is hardly a trial at the moment. I sleep in Friday morning and read. When I get up finally I set myself to do things – cook, clean, do some sorting out. Basically, achieve something. Every Friday I’ve ticked something more off the list, generally listening to Spotify or one of my audiobooks.

Though weekends are theoretically different now, they feel pretty much the same for me, and I’m generally doing the same as I would if I was in the office Monday to Friday. The only difference is that most Saturday’s I go for a long walk with Cheeseboy and the dogs down by the beach. Otherwise, I do the normal stuff – a bit of grocery shopping, a kitchen clean, maybe some cooking, and in the afternoon I’ll write. On Sunday I’ll cook myself breakfast, though avoiding the programs I used to watch about politics and sport. Once more, I’ll end up writing. Late afternoon I’ll put my virtual pen down and run a hot bath and shampoo my hair.

Like many others, I’ve left my hair go in lockdown. My last hair cut was in February. My hair is undoubtedly thick now, and growing to a bohemian length. I’m just passing through the awkward, in-between stage, and it should soon look a lot better. I don’t plan to get it cut until I have to, and then maybe not even then. I like having long hair, and I’m figuring I might adopt a summer-short hair/winter-long hair cycle.

I’ve been shaving every 8-10 days throughout this period, but am considering letting that grow out too. What counts against it is the itchy stage, and the fact it looks so fucking grey. Maybe I’ll get it coloured?

Regardless, I have time to make my mind up. Though restrictions are easing, it was confirmed this morning that we won’t be going back to work until July at the soonest. Even then, it won’t be all back.

I’m in no hurry to get back into the office, but I’m hanging out for a social beer.

 

My way


In lieu of all the overtime I did in preparation for lockdown, I’ve taken off today and tomorrow. I’m probably due a day or two on top of that, but this’ll likely do it.

It’s another cool day slowly weeping rain. We went for our walk before, Rigby and me. It was colder than I thought. The streets were quiet and damp. I came across a mother with her son walking their dog and exchanged a good morning. We did the loop, the chill setting in despite the activity, before making it home to a warm house.

I’ve fired up Spotify and made a cup of tea. I caught up on my emails and the news. I’ve mapped out this week’s menu – less meat this week than last: jollof rice, a roasted carrot and tomato spaghetti recipe, a Balinese curry, and maybe a French recipe come the weekend cooking chicken in milk. Lunch today is leftover soup (roasted carrot and parsnip) and dinner the leftover chicken dish from last night, which was delicious – a spicy, Indian inspired tomato and coriander chicken dish.

(For those interested in these things – few, I admit, though I’m one of them – I keep a database of recipes I’m constantly adding to. I cook, and I rate them, adding notes about how I might it improve it next time. Most of the recipes I make are new recipes because I like to try things. Anything with a rating 4 or above is a keeper. It’s a tough kitchen).

What I don’t miss this morning are the online meetings. I chafe at routine at the best of times, especially meaningless routine, but it’s gone to a new level in lockdown. I understand, there’s an inclination to make up for working apart by creating an artificial structure, which includes these meetings. And I understand that some will welcome it because they need it. I don’t. I would handle it better if the meetings were more spontaneous, but these are locked in and repetitive, same time every day. There’s a lot of earnest try-hard in the inspiration and conduct of these meetings, and I tune out 80% of the time. I just want to get back to doing the work.

But today and tomorrow I don’t need to deal with that. What I’ll do is return to my writing. It’s a good antidote to work because it drives everything else out of your head when you’re doing it. It can be exhausting, but it cleanses your mind of things that might otherwise longer.

I’ll stay in the warmth and perhaps later I’ll spend an hour reading. I’ll treat the mind. At some point, I’ll have to treat other parts of me, but that’ll have to wait.

For the record, despite a recent spate of infections, I expect we’ll be back in the office, more or less, by this time next month.