The first thing I did this morning is check to see that yesterday had actually happened, and it hadn’t been a wish-fulfilment dream.
You may laugh. Really, it’s okay, go ahead, I’ll wait. … Every night, I have long, complicated dreams––this is actually how I know my anti-depressant cocktail is working. I never know I’m dreaming. Everything that happens to me, whether I’m awake or asleep, seems equally absurd. Or equally plausible, depending on your point of view. I’ve tried to dream lucidly. The closest I came to it was dreaming that I had dreamed lucidly––I dreamed that I fell asleep, dreamed lucidly, then woke up and told everyone I had finally done it. Then I really woke up and I can’t tell you how disappointed I was.
I have finally accepted the fact that dreaming lucidly is not for me; I’m just not meta enough. My lot is to dream elaborately, vividly, and then to wake up and marvel about it.
I have had wish-fulfilment dreams. Before I actually won a Hugo, I dreamed about it several times over the years, and in one of the dreams, I really did say what I said onstage in 2013––i.e., “Bear with me, this is usually the part where I wake up.” I wasn’t kidding––that usually was the part where I woke up. When I quit smoking twenty-three years ago, I had dreams where I suddenly found myself smoking again. Not all the time, but frequently enough that, in the dreams, I would say, “This might be a dream. But just in case it isn’t––” and I’d put out the cigarette. Everyone around me would laugh and tell me what a comedian I was. Then I’d wake up and be relieved I hadn’t been smoking. Those dreams tapered off eventually, but every so often, I still have one. They’re not recurring dreams––I’ve never had recurring dreams, just recurring themes. Recurring dream-themes. My dreams have also started referencing each other, but that’s a topic for another time.
In any case, yesterday happened. Yesterday I made the transition from terminal to chronically ill. Actually, I probably did that last spring, when I came out of chemo with more of my cancer killed off than my doctors expected. But that was only physically. I didn’t actually grasp it, I didn’t consciously and deliberately accept it until yesterday.
It’s quite a shift in perspective and it’s going to take some getting used to. When I was diagnosed, I swore that I would look the reality of it in the face no matter what. And despite my trash-talking about putting my boot on cancer’s neck and making it my bitch, I didn’t give much thought to how I’d cope if things continued to get better instead of getting worse.
But then, who does when they’re preparing for a disaster? When you’re boarding up your windows in the face of an approaching hurricane or assuming the crash position while the plane descends with its landing gear jammed inside, you’re only thinking in terms of bad to worst––or maybe just worst. You’re not expecting Taylor Kitsch to suddenly pop up on the bridge of the battleship to tell you, “I’m gonna die, you’re gonna die, we’re all gonna die. But not today.” And then Rihanna turns the big gun on your cancer and says, “Mahalo, motherf––!” I love that movie. I’m sorry if that makes you think less of me but there it is. I’m shameless and proud of it. (Besides, it will probably look like Apocalypse Now next to the movie adaptation of the Hungry Hungry Hippos game. Or Operation. But I digress.)
As many people, including myself, have noted here and elsewhere, life is the terminal condition we all share. But as I have also noted, here and elsewhere, life is a privilege; so is getting old, and getting as old as possible is the whole idea. We complain about getting old. After forty or forty-five, the warranty on our bodies runs out. Some of us enter heart-attack country, some of us start putting on weight, the world begins to look unfamiliar or you might even feel like it has turned on you instead of turning you on. At the very least, you can no longer safely ignore symptoms or irregularities the way you did in your twenties and thirties. You find hair growing where it shouldn’t be. Somebody calls you “Ma’am” and when you get home, you cry. You take your niece shopping and the clerks think you’re her grandparent.
When I was in my early forties, I heard someone laughing about how “that little old lady has a Nine Inch Nails bumpersticker on her car!” (Little bastard. Like his generation invented music?)
Getting old gives us plenty to bitch about. That can even be part of the fun of getting old. But take it from me: getting old is something you want to do, and if you’re already old, you want to get even older than that. Getting old is not code for getting cranky or getting set in your ways or becoming obsolete and useless.
Getting old means the same thing as staying alive. Trust me on this: I’m an expert.