The Good Enough

The renovation work on our porches and gutters is almost done. All that remains is a little touch-up painting, re-screening the upper back porch, and a final walk-through. We’re so, so close: a tweak here and there, and it would be perfect.

That’s how I feel about my recent CT scan. First, some context: I am a recovering perfectionist. Though I was not fully aware of it at the time, I spent much of my life laboring under the false belief that in order for people to like me, I had to be perfect. I thought I needed to say and do and wear the “right” thing for people to admire me and want to be my friend.

I don’t really know where I got this idea, or why it rooted so deeply. But it shaped me profoundly, as it made me afraid to try new activities–what if I were bad at something and other people saw?–and loathe to persist in anything I wasn’t immediately good at. Coupled with the social anxiety I suffered from (before we knew to formally designate it “social anxiety”), I lived much of my young life, outside of interactions with my immediate family and a few trusted friends, behind what I now see was a nearly impenetrable wall.

Porch in progress…so close!

Perfection, of course, is neither obtainable nor desirable. My fears and my perfectionist tendencies achieved precisely the opposite of what I wanted–they kept me at arm’s length from people. Though borne of fear and insecurity, I’m sure my reserve came across as uptight and chilly, maybe even snobbish. By my mid-twenties, I’d begun to become aware of its deleterious effects, and my internal monologue started to shift: “If people only knew the real me behind the reserve….” But I’d spent two decades building that wall, and it would take many more years and lots of practice for me to learn how to let down my guard, to be vulnerable, to embrace trying the thing and failing, laughing at myself and trying again.

So, it’s an ongoing challenge to accept that “good enough” really is–because, sometimes, dang it, I still long for perfection. To wit: last Friday’s CT scan. In my fantasy report, the doctor would have said, “The cancer’s all gone! There’s no evidence of disease!” I knew that wouldn’t be the case, given the fact I’d had a biopsy of a lesion under my left arm a couple of weeks before that had come up positive for breast cancer. We knew, then, prior to the scan, that I still had some active disease. Overall, however, the CT revealed good news: a pleural effusion had diminished, and involved lymph nodes have continued to shrink. I have some additional “stranding” in the soft tissue of my left upper chest, but they think it’s fibrosis and lymphedema-related, rather than cancer. The scan indicates that Sasquatch is continuing to work, holding back any significant progression of disease “in a really big way,” as my oncologist phrased it.

A new spring wreath and fresh white pickets

You’ve heard the saying, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” and I think it applies here. Good news is good news, even if it’s not the miraculously perfect report I wished for. It takes some getting used to, learning to be happy and satisfied with the concept of “living with cancer,” rather than defining successful treatment only as that which results in being declared cancer-free.

Perfection implies the achievement of an ultimate state, a finality that is counter to our constant human striving. I think the builders are supposed to finish up the last bits of our porch reno this coming week. Then it will be time to order a new doormat, replace a couple of cushions, re-hang the windchimes, bring out some plants…. “There is,” as Dharmavidya David Brazier writes, “always something to get on with.” For that, however imperfect the getting on may be, I am grateful.

Laundry Time

I’ve been thinking a lot about laundry. Which, arguably, is not as productive as actually doing laundry–though I am loathe to say it’s not productive at all.

I am terrible at finishing things. Terrible. I start well, with great enthusiasm, but too often my good ideas devolve into good intentions and partially-completed projects. I don’t know why I do this, or why–after fifty years–I still can’t seem to improve on my follow-through.

I started painting the sign pictured above a couple of years ago, when we remodeled our laundry room. We had the wall cabinets that were there removed and replaced, and reconfigured the water access and electrical outlets so we could move the washer and dryer to the back wall. I picked out a cheery tangerine paint and hung a mirror Steve and I bought on a beach trip over the radiator. The long, narrow space between the washer and dryer cried out for something, so on a trip to the craft store, I bought the blank wooden plaque, originally accessorized with twine, intending to paint it.

And then I stalled out for a while, and only made progress–on sign and room–in fits and starts.

I couldn’t find any curtains I liked, so I ordered some fabric from Spoonflower to make some. I wanted to edge the sunflower print with stripes, though, and couldn’t find any fabric that matched the picture in my head. When I finally did, it was a single napkin in the clearance bin at Pier 1. I managed to track down one additional napkin after a multi-state search, and then let the material sit for a while, anxious I would cut my limited supply wrong and ruin it. After some months, I pieced the border on the curtains and hung them. Then I found an ironing board cover I loved, but the new ironing board I ordered was too big for it. Cue delays in returning and replacing the board, then mounting the hanger for it, and so on.

Finn posing with the curtains

Meanwhile, I started lettering the sign. I’d decided on “Love, Laughter, Laundry: Things That Are…” but I kept debating the final word. Endless? True, but not quite the ring I wanted. Eternal? Was laughter eternal? I couldn’t decide, so I set the incomplete sign aside on my craft room table. Where it stayed.

Last week I had a conversation with my mom. She and my father recently moved into an apartment in a retirement community, and they are enjoying perks like not having to plan or make dinners. While we talked, my mom was putting the bedspread she’d just washed back on their bed, and she said, “Even in the retirement home, there’s always laundry to do.” I laughed and said, “Yes, that’s how I feel about sabbatical. You think you’ll have all this time off from work, time purely dedicated to writing, but there’s still laundry, and house-cleaning, and you still have to bathe and eat. Life goes on.”

Life–and laundry–goes on: that holds true for “living through a pandemic lockdown” and “fighting cancer,” too. The first makes me feel like time stretches out endlessly before us; the second cautions me it’s a finite quantity of exquisite value. I’m thankful for markers of passing time, however mundane. They remind me that there may well always be more laundry, but there won’t always be more time. It is something to treasure.

I finished painting my sign yesterday, settling on the word “forever”–I like to think that laughter, like love, is a kind of constant: a joke heard once is always available for recall; joy is ever just under the surface, waiting for an excuse to erupt. I hung the sign on the laundry room wall today. Laundry needs must be done (to borrow an old-fashioned phrasing I’ve always liked), so the room where the work happens might as well be as bright, cheerful, and appealing as I can make it.

Here’s to love, laughter, and yes, even laundry, for the ability to sustain the ordinary ritual is itself a gift. Now I just need to find a way to replace that awful dryer buzzer with a soothing melodic chime….

On Porches and Peril

Our front porch is currently under construction. We started with the knowledge we had some gutter issues, which had led to some issues with runoff, which had rotted a few isolated spots in the roof and the floorboards along the front railings. I’d hoped we’d just need a little gutter work, a few replacement boards, and some fresh paint, but that’s not how home renovations work.

Front yard as construction zone

We signed on for gutter repair and an entire porch floor replacement. That morphed into replacing all the joists supporting the floor too, since they were too far apart to meet code, and adding footers when the builders discovered there weren’t any. The rot in the porch roof, it turned out, was more extensive than anticipated, partly because there were some places in the metal that were completely rusted through, places someone who lived here before us had disguised by simply painting over them. The porch roof will have to be replaced as well.

So now we have a big hole in the ground outside our front door where our porch used to be. The builders are working diligently, but it’s going to be a lengthy process. By the time all is said and done, the only original parts of our porch will be the columns and the railing and its pickets.

The current state of the porch

The porch is our favorite room in our home. It’s what sold us–Steve in particular–on buying it. When we were house-hunting, we stopped by the empty house one spring afternoon and sat in the chairs the realtor had staged on the porch. Looking at the rolling hills and towering trees of the park that faced two sides of the house, we were smitten.

It’s unsettling to see it torn apart, even in the interest, ultimately, of repair. That’s how I feel about our government this week, too, and as often as not, it’s also how I feel about my own body in the course of treatment. It’s difficult sometimes to imagine what’s on the other side of destruction, even when that destruction isn’t unexpected; even when, as with chemo, it’s deliberate. You hope the discomforts and sacrifices will be worth it. Time will tell.

Back to the future, we hope

I’ve been around this block enough times to know that it will never be the same. However necessary the work, however skilled the reconstruction, something will be lost. For that, I grieve.

Meanwhile our days are underscored by banging, drilling, and occasionally, the soft shwush of a paintbrush’s bristles whitewashing wood. As winter slowly winds its way toward spring, I dream of warmer days, when the sounds of hammers will be replaced by the gentle creak of a porch swing, when calmer voices and haler cells might prevail, when sun-dappled shadows will dance across the painted boards once more.