Author’s Note- Dave Grohl’s SXSW Festival Keynote Address took place a couple of weeks ago, but due to ongoing internet connectivity issues, and just the insanity of life, I only managed to hear it recently, on NPR’s Fresh Air, then I managed to watch it on YouTube. I’ve listened to it–numerous times–since then. Even if you aren’t a fan, it is still worth a listen, but be warned, he’s pretty foul-mouthed (kind of like my blog, but much much worse). There are many references in this post to the keynote address, and I basically modeled the post on his speech. But, you don’t HAVE to listen to his address to get my point. -anotheronewiththecancer aka cancer curmudgeon
Your keynote address at the recent SXSW Music Festival was one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. One of your main themes, finding your own voice, resonated with me, as I am sure it is doing with many others.
So this is what MY voice wants to say.
One two three four. **
Several years ago I made a poor professional choice that resulted in my being surrounded by a few people I wish I never met. I lost not only my voice, but my way, maybe even myself. I spent too much time trying to please others, changing myself, trying to fit in, something I have never done very well. It impacted me in terrible ways…I failed at the effort, and I was miserable. I was preparing to remove myself from these harmful influences when I got a breast cancer diagnosis.
I stupidly bought into what I call the “cancer is magic” way of thinking. I thought I would get a spiritual, emotional, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink awakening, and things would change. I would be better at everything, life would be awesome, when it was all over. Oh how quickly I learned that cancer does not change anything…a person with cancer, everyone they know, and all life situations, are still the same. One of my many mottoes is, cancer only makes it more so. Everything I was before, I am now, but more so. My tolerance and patience-already not my strong points-all but disappeared. All the problems I had before my special news were simply magnified.
Two of the most hurtful criticisms I took repeatedly in the past 7 or so years were 1) I am immature and 2) I am a bad writer. And there were many, many more criticisms–to the point I am not sure I will ever regain the level of confidence I once had. I was in a bad place, and cancer became an extra horrible obstacle in an already intolerable situation.
Barely a month after completing active treatment, I said “fuck it”. It was messy, walking away so abruptly, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I don’t regret it, not even a single second. Cancer didn’t give me a lesson that life is short, I already knew that (because cancer is NOT magic, it is not an awakening for everyone). But I knew my life might actually be or get shorter. Translation: don’t waste a single fucking second of time being miserable.
So what did I do, finally free of the voices whispering in my ear that I was not good enough? I got, what you in your keynote called religion. I turned a side project into a business that allowed me to spend lots of time driving. While driving, I sang (screamed) along to old songs I loved when I was in my teens, twenties, even my thirties, up to present day. “Sonic reducer, ain’t no loser” (“Sonic Reducer”-Dead Boys), “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” (“Killing In the Name Of”-Rage Against the Machine), “Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to goooo I wanna be sedated” (“I Wanna Be Sedated”-The Ramones), “We jumped up on the table and shouted anarchy,” (Punk Rock Girl”-Dead Milkmen) and of course, “No, I cannot forgive you yet” (I think you know that one). I all but hung my head out the window like a dog while screaming that shit at the top of my lungs. Like your first punk rock club experience, it was heaven.
All these songs were the ones that got me through my misguided youth. I was right back to being immature, or so I thought. Turns out, all that chipping away at me those people did, telling me I was immature, made me even more immature…in the company of these jerks I felt like was 11 or 12 again, and my emotional reactions reflected that. Unfortunately, this was my state of mind during diagnosis and treatment. I had to grow up all over again, to re-grow my confidence, and the best way to do that was to embrace that immaturity…to be a brat and regain my punky snot-nosed self that entered adulthood, and I did it through music. Eventually, I got a little confidence back. I realized there was nothing wrong with who I am–people calling me immature, well that is their opinion, and I no longer give a damn–because I know I am not immature, and my opinion is the one that matters here.
Obstacle 1: cleared
On to the next thing.
During diagnosis and treatment, I longed for guidance on how to “do cancer”, because I suspected I was doing it wrong. I could not deal with the Pinkness expected of breast cancer patients. I was far from the Livestrong “hero” shit. I screamed and cried and was scared, quite often. I looked and looked…to the point I once Googled the phrase “punks with cancer” or something like that, just because I wanted an alternate way of doing cancer. What is offered is “The Idiot’s Guide to Breast Cancer”, when what I needed was “The Asshole’s Guide to Cancer”, with chapters like “You Don’t Have to Wear Heels and a Pink Feather Boa to Infusion to Show Strength” or “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (Treatment Plan)”. What is prevalent is Komen and Livestrong–promoting a single ideal of how to behave if you have cancer, with shiny, happy celebrity patients. The only good thing I found to read during my final rounds of chemo was a biography of Joey Ramone written by his brother (which includes Joey’s final days with Lymphoma). I read and cherished it. I continued looking for ways to cope after treatment, as I slowly emerged from the drug and exhaustion induced haze over my brain. Of course, I was dealing with a nasty bout of post-treatment depression, which is common, but rarely spoken of in the cancer warrior culture.
Finally, I found blogs, which you compare to the zines of our old days. I had regained a little confidence so, I decided to add MY dissenting voice to that realm.
You said, “It’s YOUR VOICE. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it’s fucking gone. Because everyone is blessed with at least that, and who knows how long it will last . . .”
That is what I’m doing. Am I doing it well? Who knows. But it is, as you say, “MY VOICE.” I’m not internet famous, or blog famous, or whatever defines a popular, well read blog. But the readers who’ve reached out to me seem to like what I say…even tho’ I’m what Kurt called a negative creep. Hell, if it were not breast cancer I was bitching about, I assure you, I’d have found some other topic–I could name a few now–but this is what I have the bad luck to know best.
There is no right or wrong way to do my blog, because it is all mine…to paraphrase you.
Obstacle 2: diverted
I have conquered much in the past year. Reconnecting with who I was to get back to where I need to be, getting my first tattoo at 41 years old–a tattoo that is a band logo no less–to cover my surgical scar, rather than reconstruction. This would be considered immature by those I used to know, I would not have told them I was going to do it–hell, I probably wouldn’t do it all. My voice, my choice.
I did not have the good luck to be left to my own devices, I had to sever ties and declare my independence from the ones who would stifle my voice. But that didn’t mean I was totally alone. I had people giving me food, taking me places. But what was better was the emotional support system of another breast cancer patient and two ovarian cancer patients, who gave me all the courage I so desperately needed to have my own little Independence Day–they don’t stifle. They coaxed the voice out of hiding. For them I have nothing but love and gratitude.
In your speech you said, “I was possessed and empowered and inspired and enraged and so in love with life and so in love with music that it had the power to incite a fucking riot, or an emotion, or to start a revolution, or just to save a young boy’s life.”
I dislike the hyperbole in cancer warrior culture–the warrior-fight-battle language is a bit over dramatic; I prefer to only use hyperbole for sarcastic or comedic effect. “Hope”, “battling” and a positive attitude (which I lack anyway) did not save my life, better living through chemistry did that. So I’m not gonna say you or your music “saved my life”. Instead, you, your music from Nirvana to now, did something better. It helped me endure and thrive, and kept me sane. Your speech helped me see that all those nights listening to weird music my friends hated while I was in high school, created the inner strength I needed all along–to face all the suckage of cancer. I know this much is true when I’m in the MRI machine and instead of hearing the awful noises it makes, I hear Ministry and Public Enemy songs in all that clicking. I know this is true in those rare moments I reflect on my funky-tattoo-over-reconstruction decision, which flies right in the face of our boobies-obsessed culture.
You talk about having heroes, wanting to be a hero, hoping your daughters become heroes too. I don’t believe in having idols/heroes; celebrities, family members or otherwise. That is one little bit of the punk rock ethic that I will never shake off–look at who society sets up for worship–those suckers are NOT better than me. And on the flip side, I cannot imagine anyone would want the pressure and scrutiny of being a hero. So it is with some reluctance I dub thee my hero. And not because I think you are perfect, on the contrary, you’ve been fairly open and honest in showing your faults. When you wrote/sang, “There goes my hero, he’s ordinary,” you meant someone else, but for me, it is you–you are my Beatles, my Rock Against Reagan Concert, my Bad Brains, my Edgar Winter. So, in my eyes, according to your address, you’ve done what you set out to do all those decades ago.
These days, I still listen to the songs representative of my so-called immaturity, so I don’t lose my voice again. And I’m not always aggro-woman. I also sing along to Bob–“Oh my Little sister,don’t she’d no tears…ev’rything’s gonna be alright, ev’rything’s gonna be alright.” And whaddya know, I don’t not cry anymore, and it is alright now.
**All hail The Ramones