Monday, April 30, 2007

The Rocking Vicar or This time it's pastoral...

The Rocking Vicar is a great site for sad, middle-aged music fans like me, so I sent them details of the blog. See, not that long ago, the only obituries in music mags were for people who died young - yer Jimis and Janis'. But now, Mojo has tasteful features on musos who died from natural causes. And where the artists are going, the fans will follow.
The time of the dying rock dad has arrived with all the dilemmas that entails. To keep buying CDs or just listen a lot more closely to the stuff you have? To admit that, try as you might, you're just not going to get the Arcade Fire? Should you divvy up the CDs prior to going or let people fight over them? Any old vinyl copies lurking in the back of cupboards just waiting to be discovered and to destroy that hard-earned cred?
Important issues, friends. Spiritual issues. I hope you'll join the debate.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

I'm tired tonight... I'll cheat with a quotation from Richard Holloway's great book, Looking into the Distance.

When the map of our life is complete, and we die in the richness of our own history, some among the living will miss us for a while, but the earth will go on without us. Its day is longer than hours, though we now know that it too will die. Our brief finitude is but a beautiful spark in the vast darkness of space. So we should live the fleeting day with passion and, when the night comes, depart from it with grace

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A visit and another day to treasure

A friend of mine - we'll call him Mark, 'cos that's his name - came up yesterday and stayed over. We met in the agency where I used to be creative director and bonded over a mutual love for Steve Earle and American roots music. Neither Terry nor Matthew knew Mark and, although I wasn't thinking of this, it has become more significant to me as I've thought back over the visit. I'm hoping he'll keep in touch, not just for the duration of my ilness, but afterwards as well. MAtthew's taken a big shine to him - "He's going to be one of my best grown-up friends..." - and he has his own little boy just a year older than Matthew. It would be good for Mark to be able to give Terry and Matthew a reference point for 'Work Brian,' the person who existed when I left home in the mornings. Also, because I'm such a sad music buff and have shared my enthusiasm for this with him, that'll be another little reserve of knowledge for my loved ones to drawn on.
He also brought up - very sensitively - something that is probably going to be a problem for me. Mark, like my immediate family and a number of my friends, is born again. And born again people want to convert you. For the sincere ones, this is because they honestly believe that, should you be unsaved, you will suffer eternal damnation and they love you and don't want this to happen. Others I believe are not so sincere; I think they find it a kind of slight that you could dare face death without agreeing to accept their point of view. My mum will want me to convert. Terry doesn't need me to convert but it would make her a great deal happier if I was to say that I think something of me will survive and that we'll meet up again and be reunited. And I would love that, too, for the circle to be unbroken. But I would also love not to be dying and one of the things recent events has taught me is that the universe does not mould itself to our expectations, not matter how much we wish it would. In a way, I do think I'll survive but - and this'll come as no surprise to those who know me - in an abstract way not as any kind of physical being.
I'm not frightened of ceasing to exist. Because they will be no me to be afriad. There was no me before 1961 and the thought of that doesn't scare me, why is the nothingness I go to now any different?
I'll not go on anymore about this but you can bet your life we'll be back at this topic sometime in the future.
Anyway, Mark has never been to this part of the world so, before we went home, we took him a quick trip around the immediate area. It sounds stupid, especially to anyone who lives among huge, spectacular scenary, but I really do think that I live among some of the most beautiful places in the world. The sun shone today, the birds are back in the trees, the whin is blazing out from the hedgerows and it was jsut magnificent.
So, a good day. And here's to another one tomorrow.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

How much does a Grecian Urn?

Whether it's the medication or the cancer, I tend to fall asleep very rapidly and, just as suddenly, snap awake. When I wake, I sometimes find myself moving my hands or somehow in the middle of some task.
This morning, I had dozed off when a voice woke me. Don't worry - I'm sure it was internal in origin - I'm not that far gone. It was quoting Keats and I've put down what I remember it saying rather than going to check the actual quotation

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
That is all ye know on earth
And all ye need to know


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chemo and chocolate

Had my chemotherapy at Letterkenny Hospital yesterday. Last week's was called off because my platelets (sp?) were low after the last session. Glad to feel that something is going in to bat against the bugger even if, at this stage, we don't know if the treatment will help, make things worse or just be ineffective.
As they're not able to detroy the cancer with chemo, they're not blasting me with it. This should minimise the side effects. So, I won't lose hair. (Who am I kidding, I mean more hair.) I didn't feel sick although I was conscious of some pain. Nevertheless, even that could be psychosomatic: Ive noticed that once you start looking for pain, it's pretty easy to find.
Blood sugar levels were up so I've to go to the Drs in an hour or so and get them checked again as I might be diabetic as well. See, that's a bugger. If I have only this time left, I don't think I should have to deny myself Kit Kats. Can the universe really be so cruel>


Trust nobody - sepecially me. Or, why dying gives me absolutely no greater insight into anything else than anyone else

Much as I would like to claim - as many have - than when I came to be told of my own death, the scales fell from my eyes and I attained wisdom and enlightenment....Naw. Sorry. Didn't happen. The live-every-minute thing happened but I can hardly claim that as a deep insight into the meaning of the cosmos. I'm as much a pilgrim as I ever was. In fact, you could argue with taking medication etc, I'm less likely to have anything meaningful to say than ever before.
And, of course, I'm writing about myself, a subject on which it is impossible for me to be in any way objective. I'm as deluded, egotistical and self-deceiving as everyone else, including you.
I just happen to be dying. Then again, so are you.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Who knew?

Pancreatic cancer sneaks up on you. Boom! By the time the symptons appear, it's got it's grip on you and that's one of the reasons why it's so deadly. Pior to the back- and side- pain that started showing up a couple of months back or so, the only other symptom I can identify is a tendency towards sweats I've noticed for the last year.
But I wonder if my body knew what was happening and, in some way, was adjusting to what was going on with me. No, don't worry, I'm not going to get new-agey or anything. But I think it's pretty accepted now that our bodies do work in response to changes of which we may or may not be aware.
People have commented on "how well" I've been dealing with the news. I know what they mean although I don't think they're really grasping what's actually going on. However, I do feel that there was an evolution in my thinking over the past 12 months that, I think, has helped me cope with this. I started to read more spiritual thinkers across a range of faiths and no faiths, whether these were Richard Halloway, UG Krishnamurta, Jacques Derrida, Marcus Borg, Eckart Tolle or John Caputo. And what I was interested in with these people wasn't abstracts. I was obsessed with the idea of compassion, a concept that's all the more relevant to me as the days go past and to which I'll return. I was obsessed by our materialism, by what I saw as the emptiness of our culture. That's one of the reasons that I was reading the Bill Hicks biography and found out about his cancer, because he was someone who was dealing with this issues but in a popular, funny way. I thought a great deal about the Third World, about the environment...It's my usual mish-mash but it all seemed related to ideas outside my immediate and selfish reality.
So, was this my consciousness preparing me for cancer? Or just my mid-life crises? The honest answer is that there's no way I can know. Or is there? Mebbe I can just be aware of any kind of evolution in my thinking now?


This was worth my time, so it's damn sure worth yours

Blood is the Sky, by Steve Hamilton: - great, tough-minded crime writing with fantastic characterisation and a real feel for the sorrows and pain of ordinary people. The descriptions of the environment and wildlife around northern Ontario are amazing, too. I really was transported out into that wilderness.
It's the only one of his I've read, to my shame, but it sounds like they're all good.
And, to repeat, if it's worth my time, it's damn sure worth yours.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Carpe diem and dodgy showers

From the moment I received the diagnosis, I knew I was going to fight to make the best of every second, every moment I had left to me. On the Friday night I got the news, I was moved from a general ward in Letterkenny Hospital over to Oncology. Terry, my wife, had gone home broken-hearted and with the awful responsibility of trying to interact normally with our son. And, although the staff and the unit were excellent, I felt myself crumble a bit. So, to make myself feel better, I decided to unpack my bag, organise my stuff and have a shower, rather than just pull the duvet over my head. So I went in to the bathroom and stripped. Make the most of every second, I told myself, every nano-second, every second that's even nano-ier than a nano-second. I went to turn on the shower. There was a sign on the wall. It said:
"Let the water run for 5 minutes before using."


Friday, April 20, 2007

Disappearing like snow and how recent events have changed the meaning of one of my stories

A story of mine, Like Snow, written long before I was ill is about to appear in the paperback anthology Read By Dawn 2, available now from The tale is a rather gentle ghost story in which mysterious, spirit-like figures appear without explanation. And do, well, nothing actually, except act as a kind of canvas onto which the characters project their own hopes, fears etc. It deals with the effect of this phenomenon on one little boy and his family and it's a story very much about loss and leaving.
The weird thing is, reading it over now in the light of my panceatic cancer diagnosis, it takes on a whole different meaning. It's quite weird. I can't really say too much more about it without murdering the story to dissect the meaning but it's had quite a profound effect on me.
Anyway, you might like to check it out. And, if you enter the promo code 'blood' online, you can even save £3 off the cover price. That's $6 in today's money.
Still pain free, still sleeping well. Had my first visit from the home care nurse and found her very caring and reassuring.
Check back soon.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pancreatic cancer, facing mortality and why my next stop is no longer Holywood

God, I'd had a good year. But a statement by a friend of mine has always hovered back in my mind since he told it to me a few years ago. "Everyone thinks they're going to win the lottery. Nobody thinks they'll ever get cancer."
Now, much as I'd love to tell you that, on the 6th of April this year - God, just 2 weeks ago - I was shouting 'In yer face, cancer!' and planning to spend those big bucks I'd just won, well, you've guessed, haven't you?
No, one short week after being admitted to hospital, I was sitting with my wife broken-hearted beside me, being told that I'd got the easy option. See, it's hard to win the lottery. Those odds..! But cancer's a doodle. People get cancer all the time. Of course, I didn't quite go for the easy option. I had to have hard core. Pancreatic cancer with secondaries in the liver. Six to twelve months on average to go. Bummer.
In a week I'd gone from thinking biopsy was one of Peter Rabbit's friends, like Flopsy and Cottontail, to being advised to cancel the Fruit of the Month Club.
But this is not a cancer blog. It's the blog of a guy with cancer and it'll be about all sorts of stuff. I'm a freelance advertising writer but, at long last, I'd made a breakthrough into crime fiction and was looking forward to seeing a short story of mine in the anthology 'Next Stop Holywood' due out from St Martin's Press in NY in May. I'd completed a play with music by my friend, the acclaimed songwriter Michael Weston King that I was proud off. And I'm not done yet.
Just after Christmas, before I had the first inkling of being ill, I read a Bill Hicks biography. We were same year although he died a decade ago. Of pancreatic cancer. And you know what he said, looking at it all? "It's a ride. It's just a ride."
And it is.
Mebbe you'd care to join me?