All Will Be Well

February 9, 2012

All Will Be Well

Tomorrow is my last round of chemo. And today I’ve taken the pre-chemo meds to reduce the possibility of an allergic reaction to the drugs. I’ve packed my “chemo bag” – movie, water, chocolate, chewing gum, book, knitting, comfy blanket, eye mask (so I can’t see what’s going on at the beginning of the process). Tomorrow we’ll pack our food. So, I’m ready. Or as ready as I can be. And I’m convinced that tomorrow, and in the days to come, all will be well and that I will make slow, steady progress to wellness.

“How can you stand it?” a friend of mine asked. “How can you stand not knowing whether the prognosis you’ve been given [a good one] will pan out?”

“I have no choice but to stand it,” I responded. “And I choose to think that all will be well.”

I’ve had people tell me every possible thing that could go wrong after chemo. I’ve chosen not to listen, to try, instead, to “be in the moment” with whatever I’m experiencing. I’ve chosen to try to listen to my own body; to “see” where I am, rather than to anticipate all the difficult things that might happen. Rather, I anticipate that all will be well. This doesn’t come naturally; it takes work because I come from a background of very pessimistic people.

I’ve had a lot of help from reading the lives of people who’ve been where I am before me. And I’ve read a lot about how to approach difficult situations like this. What I have done is work very hard at incorporating what I’ve learned into my life right now, and into my writing life, too, because much of what I’ve learned to get me through this period in my life, we can easily apply to our work as we write about our lives. (More about this later.)

Just before my last round of chemo, I read an article in the AARP magazine about a man with a chronic condition. What impressed me, and what I took away from the article – the basis of what I write here – is that he said he chose to believe that all would turn out well for him. This way, he didn’t contaminate whatever pleasure each day contained with the fear of what would happen to him in the future. In pop psych jargon, he didn’t “futurize.” He said that, yes, he realized this was irrational, given his diagnosis. He said, too, that you have to constantly readjust to every shift and change that occurs in your body, that the adjustment to your condition is ongoing, that it isn’t over all over at once, and that it demands an constant awareness of the condition of your body, a constant checking in. This is, of course, both true and wise. (I’ve read books – and I’m sure you have too – that suggest that you should work toward a moment of adjusting to something, of getting past something, of accepting something. My good writing friend Edvige Giunta reminded me a while ago that this is a Western concept that denies the ongoingness of human experience, of living with, rather than overcoming, something that has profoundly affected us.)
One of the advantages of this life I’ve been living is that I’ve been reading books I’ve wanted to read for ages. One is the remarkable, The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn (New York: The Guilford Press, 2007). I’m a fan of Kabat-Zinn and have tried to read everything he’s written.

In The Mindful Way, the authors report on an experiment called “The Mouse in the Maze.” In the experiment, two groups of students were shown a cartoon mouse trapped in a maze. Two different versions of the maze existed: one showed a piece of Swiss cheese at the exit of the maze’s mousehole; the other, an owl hovering to seize the mouse in its talons.

The task was easy; the maze took only a few minutes to complete. All the students completed the task. Later, the students were given a test to determine their current state of creativity. “Those who had helped their mouse avoid the owl turned in scores that were fifty percent lower than the scores of students who had helped their mouse find the cheese. The state of mind elicited by attending to the owl had resulted in a lingering sense of caution, avoidance, and vigilance for things going wrong. This mind-state in turn weakened creativity, closed down options, and reduced the students’ flexibility in responding to the next task” (124).

So, knowing that all would not be well for the cartoon mouse was enough to significantly diminish the creative responses of one group of students! And knowing that all would be well for the cartoon mouse was enough to significantly boost the creative responses of the other group!

I’ve pondered what this means for me as a person undergoing chemotherapy, and also, of course, what this means for me as a writer.

According to the authors of The Mindful Way, if we approach any task with “qualities of interest, curiosity, warmth, and good will,” we’ll be “countering any effects of aversion and avoidance that might be present.” This takes conscious cultivation.

Now imagine two scenarios in our writing lives. In the first, we sit down at our desks, and we tell ourselves, before we’ve written a word, that everything we write will turn out boring or horrible, that we’re really not talented, that we’re writing because we’re taking a course not because we have any intrinsic interest in what we’re doing. In the second, we sit down at our desks and we stop a moment to cultivate a state of interest and curiosity towards what might emerge under our pens in the next several minutes; we stop a moment to congratulate ourselves for taking the time to sit down to the task, and we think, with eagerness, of the sense of fulfillment we’ll feel when our writing is done.

In our writing lives, if we deliberately cultivate the notion that “all will be well” with our work – and with ourselves as writers – it very well might enhance our capacity to be creative.

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15 Responses to “All Will Be Well”

  1. Aurora Lopez Says:

    All the best tomorrow!!!!! I will be thinking of you…
    And thank you for your post, which speaks so much to me. I’ve been working hard at cleaning my system from so much fear, pessimism, a dull and dark sense of responsibility that blurs how magnificent the present can be. You say it so well and from such depth, because you are experiencing it from within, it is not just another good idea in a book.
    Since I discovered your blog, I bought two of your books. I’m finishing Vertigo, enjoying the organic structure you gave to it, your steps from childhood to womanhood, your adventures, the boys, your obsessive pains. Thank you for your memoir too, it is so inspiring.
    All will be well because you are doing it well. You are mastering the conflict by protecting your own grace. It is beautiful…
    Aurora

  2. Kirie Says:

    Absolutely lovely!


  3. This has been enormously helpful and very timely. Thank you for saying important and imaginative things I need to hear.

  4. Nancy Caronia Says:

    Thank you for this. I need to remember this while I’m studying for my comprehensive exams and dealing with the Hashimoto’s disease at the same time! Love you, Nancy

  5. Elane Johnson Ulrich Says:

    Hi, Louise-
    Several other responders have said THANK YOU for saying just what they needed to hear, so the phenomenon of the universe pushing and guiding us to the places we most need to visit simply can’t be just a coincidence. Why IS it that so many of us continue to play that negativity tape, endlessly looping, even though we are reminded time and again that it is snuffing our creativity, our well-being, our active LIVING? I appreciate your bumping that selection out of first position for a while so that I can feel the fulfillment, as you say. Now if we can just figure out how to erase the tape…
    Elane

  6. Angelica Roman Says:

    Hi Louise,
    Your entry really spoke to me. I have a habit of sitting in front of my computer with far more negative thoughts than positive running through my mind before I write. I find that when I actually take the time to take a deep breath, build confidence, and assure myself how great I’ll feel once I have finished writing, my work is that much more fruitful.

    Thank you for this.

    -Angelica R.

  7. marcp Says:

    The pop psych concept, “futurization,” brings to mind the concept of alcoholism or drug addiction as a disease. When Bill Wilson founded AA in the 1950’s, the idea of alcoholism as a disease was radical. The basic principles of AA exempt the alcoholic or addict from any responsibility. “We have a disease,” they could say, “I didn’t mean to hurt you. It wasn’t my fault, it was my disease.” This is simply a cop out. Everyone in AA says, “Just for Today,” but even that is a cop out, because a true AA zealot knows what will happen tomorrow. They’ll be going to a meeting. Nobody in AA takes the time to think that “All will be well.” To not futurize would be to take each day as it came, not expecting an impending doom or relapse. Ask any AA zealot what would happen if they skipped some meetings and they would anticipate relapse, is that not futurization at its finest? What if they skipped meetings and did not relapse? They might have to convince themselves that all will be well… And, it might actually all be well. To suffer from alcoholism or drug addiction and think of it as a disease is just playing the victim. What it does is shames and insults people with a real disease, that need true health care. Drug addiction is no more a disease than a sun burn. It just takes time to secede. And once you’ve been burned, it’s easy to burn again. It’s also possible to heal.

  8. walter skinner Says:

    Dear Louise,
    The entry that you submitted struck me. Not just as a writer, but also as a person suffering through my own endeavors to improve my life. To hear that this article helped you in more ways than one inspires me to read the article as well. Based on what you’ve written it seems incredibly helpful to me in my life as well as your advice to be as creative as I can. I shall do so and thank you for your wonderful entry.

    Walter Skinner

  9. Theodora Venizelos Says:

    Dear Louise,
    I was really pleased with this blog. I am struggling with a sudden wave of negativity and self-doubt. Lately when I sit down to write, I panic. I haven’t even sat down to write at my desk for a few days. I am glad I read this blog, because it reminds me that having this negative relationship with my writing will ensure that things don’t go so well. Just like the mouse dreading the owl, my writing will suffer if I anticipate that the finished product will be awful. But if I tell myself that “all will be well,” my writing will only flourish. Thank you for a wonderful blog. The saying “all will be well” is a short, simple phrase, but full of meaning and power when one believes in its truth.

  10. Katie Morton Says:

    I’m thinking positive thoughts for you and imagining the cheese at the end of your maze. I hope you’re well.

  11. Vanessa S. Smith Says:

    I have been reading your blog. My heart is with you, as it has always been,whether I communicate or not. “All will be well” is similar to my own personal philosophy.
    All things are as they are supposed to be. My only job is to accept what is, and persevere, one step at a time. The only way around is through. Open your arms to the Universe and think good thoughts. Be of good cheer. We are still alive and walking upright. Vanessa


  12. Dear Ms. DeSalvo,

    You’re optimism is amazing. Even when facing a difficult challenge ahead, you demonstrate as a fighter and writer that “all will be well”. Your philosophy on writing is refreshing and inspiring.

    As writers, I imagine people get caught in that cycle of the unknown, or the future and it hinders the present state of writing and living.

    This preoccupation with the finished piece or tomorrow, distracts the writer from writing in the immediate form.

    I struggled with putting together my final memoir for Prof. Giunta’s class. I was seeing my writing on some disillusioned grandiose scale. I was worried whether this chapter would transition well with subsequent chapters and so on. I was pulling for cohesive threads through the events in my memoir, trying to tie them and weave them intricately. All this went amiss. It was forced and trite. Prof. Giunta pointed in me in the right direction; to make my writing stand strong enough in the limited space and to think in the immediate form, not down the road about unwritten chapters.

    I began myopic in my writing and slowly through your text and Prof. Giunta’s workshop; I began to see clearer, what was before me.

    Grateful,
    Felix Alarcon

  13. Peter Orozco Says:

    What drives me is the avoidance of negative outcomes. Everything will be okay, I think to myself, if I don’t do the wrong things: don’t take red lights, don’t burn the chicken, don’t be late for class, don’t fail the test. Because of this, I’m in a state of perpetual anxiety trying to stay clear of any negative outcomes. I’ve never thought of living life with a vision of accomplishing something. I thought that avoiding the negative would bring me success in life, and it has, but at a cost. I haven’t been able to enjoy what I’ve accomplished because as soon as I avoid one negative situation, I’m already thinking about what else can go wrong. I want to enjoy my accomplishments, not because I’ve successfully not failed any tests, but because I got the grades that I envisioned reaching.
    Thank you for your wonderful insight, and hope all is well.

  14. Melissa Sutaris Says:

    Louise,

    I agree! I live by that phrase now, “all will be well”. I, too, come from a background of pessimists, myself being one as well. Recently, I have learned how to think positively. I have read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, and also I am currently reading, Wherever You Go, There You are by John Kabat-Zinn. These books have really helped me obtain a better connection to my inner self and learn how to let my thoughts dictate my life.

    Thinking positively is crucial to leading a happy and healthy life. I find good energy and vibes through meditation and consciousness. I think that as writers, we need to explore ourselves the most. We need to becomes best friends with our reflections before we can paint the pictures of others.

    Going into a piece with doubt or anxiety, we do not work as creatively and effectively as we would if we were to approach the piece with confidence and determination. I try to plunge into all of my work, telling myself that I CAN do it. If I believe I can, then anything is possible. I know this through experience, and I’m so glad that the same author helped you and I both! It’s so beautiful when a text can connect us to one another, even when we are so far apart.

    -Mel

  15. Erin Van Horn Says:

    Dear Ms. DeSalvo,

    After handing in the First Draft of my Final Memoir in class last week, I am beginning to feel an overwhelming amount of self-doubt and negativity as I begin to dive back into my draft to start tweaking. Your blog, thankfully, has reminded me, not only about positivity, but about events in our lives positioning us for a journey, whether that be a good or bad one. The choices we make, as writers but more so as people, pave the road we begin to travel.
    As far as writing goes, despite seeming as if my mind is creating in a repetitious pattern currently, I realize that small memories or details within a memory I’ve already reconnected with will open doorways to many other paths—paths that may lead me somewhere dark or somewhere bright. Staying positive, as you do so well, does not necessarily mean my writing will remain positive. However, the idea that I will WRITE is my positive notion that I will continue to hold on to. Who knows where my thoughts will take me but I am ready for the journey.

    Thank you,
    Erin Van Horn


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