21 February 2009

How Do You Wait?

Got up late. Then again, I stayed up late, after reading and writing. I suppose that's a good rationale for being a night owl. After all, I'm not going to clubs and such.

So I got up late and ran a few errands. I skipped the farmer's market on Roosevelt Island, for I knew that at this time of year, they don't have much left in the early afternoon. Sometimes it even closes not much past noon at this time of the year.

And so another day passed more quickly than the ones that preceded it. Although nothing momentous happened today, I feel that I'm perceiving time a bit differently tonight.

Now there are only four months and two weeks between me and the date of the surgery. Suddenly that seems like hardly any time at all, even though so much could happen between now and the date for which my surgery is scheduled. I know I've been counting down the months, the weeks and the days, today I somehow had the sense that there really is not much time left at all.

I found myself thinking about people who have terminal illnesses and know they haven't much time left. I know their situations are very, very different from mine. But it's interesting to see how they choose to spend whatever time remains to them. There are cancer patients who refuse treatment, feeling that, as one person exclaimed, "It will give me a few more months--of what? Vomiting? Diarrhea? My hair falling out?" Then, of course there are those--probably the majority--who submit to those treatments reflexively, dutifully, hopefully or even religiously. If there's any chance of extending their lives, there's also a chance of living with it, or simply living. And, finally, there are those who go out with a bang, to the degree that they are able to, or to at least continuing to make progress in whatever areas of their lives they had been developing.

In the latter category are some people I greatly admire, including Randy Pausch and Audre Lorde. I guess I could include Lance Armstrong, too, because even though his cancer is in check, neither he nor anyone else can predict his medical future.

So what have I chosen to do in my last days before surgery? I've taken on a few new projects and other challenges. Yet I'm trying to live a "normal" life, whatever that means. All right, it's not the first time I've pursued contradictory goals. I'm teaching a course in hip-hop and poetry in which I'm trying to help students relate the two sensually rather than merely academically. Yet I'm taking a PhD level course in which I'm reading abstract writing in areas I once swore I'd never touch. That, while I find myself more and more engaged in the solitary business of writing as I am trying to deal with the social situations in which I find myself.

Of course, one way in which my situation differs from that of other people whose days are numbered is that if something isn't finished by the date of my surgery, that doesn't mean it will never be done. The operation isn't nearly as risky as it was only a generation ago, so chances are that I'll come out of it and, after the requisite period of rest and healing, I'll be ready to continue.

Still, I have this sense that I should try to finish some of my projects and tasks before the surgery. For one thing, I don't know what I'll be able--or simply feel up--to doing, and how soon after the surgery I'll be able to do some of the things in which I'm involved now.

I guess that, unless I suffer from some unexpected complication, I'll be able to read and write immediately afterward, or at least after not very many days. And although I know, from my research and conversations with my therapist, doctor and people who've done the surgery, that I'll have all the same mental faculties (Once a dumb blonde, always a dumb blonde?) and will be in many ways the same person as I was, I still wonder how and whether I'll change from the experience of the surgery or, afterward, the fact of having female body parts. Will I have the same ambitions and motivations I havve now or even, for that matter, the same interests?

Deep down, I know the answer to those last two questions is "yes." Still, there are probably so many things I can't know right now, and so much that nobody can predict. I'm guessing that I'll change in some way or another (aside from the obvious way); that is what most of us do in life. But how? What will I be like after those changes?

I think now of some poems I wrote during my youth. A few of them are still worthwhile, if I do say so myself. And I know how they could be "better" in some way or another. But I cannot change those poems: The act of writing them helped, in whatever small ways, to change me. So I would not be adding to or subtracting from them as the same person who wrote them.

Will the surgery create, or help to create, that same sort of distance between past and future selves, between who I am now (or whatever I am the day before the surgery) and the person I will be?

See what kinds of questions you start to ask when you're up late and you've read an essay about the nature of paranoia and its role in defining one's self? So I'm going to bed now. If nothing else, it'll bring me a few hours closer to my surgery.

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