Of the many kindnesses bestowed on me during my cancer detour last year, one stands out. My friend Mary, also a therapist who aspires to write, brought me a small aqua book with “ONE LINE A DAY” embossed in gold letters on the cover.
“This way you won’t be overwhelmed by the blank page,” Mary said.
We had often commiserated over our tortured relationship with writing: our avoidance of it, the ways in which life intervenes, how hard it is to find just the right groove between feelings so raw they burn a hole through the page and one’s psyche versus feelings so repressed our attempts to capture them in words are devoid of life. We shared feelings of fraudulence, futility, fatigue. We knew the misery and mercy of dinner to be shopped for and prepared, the wish to turn off the computer and drown ourselves in West Wing reruns. We knew how to rally one another, to persevere with a slim thread of belief in our own gifts and dreams because the other believed so whole-heartedly in them.
“Just one line a day,” Mary continued. “Anyone can do that.”
But what jumped out at me was the volume’s subtitle: “A FIVE-YEAR MEMORY BOOK.”
Five years! If Mary believed I had this kind of time ahead of me, I could begin to retrieve myself from the choking fear that cancer evokes of being dead and buried.
Since then I’ve written every evening in my aqua book. Mostly just mundane stuff—how my neuropathy rated on a scale of 1-5; Obama’s poll numbers; the little things I’d accomplished (or not) that day. There really wasn’t enough space to go any further than that. But restriction brings freedom, as my yoga teacher always reminds us when she urges us to open up a little more space by breathing through a constricted pose. The same is true of writing—being confined to a line a day freed up space to write more than I’ve written in a long while. The foreshortened time cancer threatened also brought an urgency that freed my mind from neurotic clutter.
And so I have lived, a line a day, breathing in each new morning, writing it out each night. “Five Years” permitted me to envision a future I feared I might not have.
Last night I closed out Year One. Tonight I begin in the second spot on the page for October 29.
Year Two. And then more to come. What a gift.