Writing is a Reason to Live

And it’s a luxury to be able to do so. This is a blog post about writing, and cancer, and life, written by a person with that luxury. Others are not so fortunate.

Along the Kona and Ka’u coast.

In the summer of 2017, a palm reader in Pahoa said to me, “Oh, I see you’ve had cancer.” We had hardly spoken ten words, I didn’t know her or anyone who knew her and she didn’t know me. She was staring at my hand, not my face. And she was right. I had been diagnosed with melanoma in 2009. No one in my family seemed to care very much about that or understand how scary that was for me. I went through that scare with no emotional support whatsoever. But why do I think that cancer happened?

In 2004 I had hiked for a week on Hawai’i Island. It was a huaka’i (spiritual journey) along the paths of na poe kahiko (people of old), led by cultural practitioners. We did ceremony on the summit of Mauna Kea and the next day we began our journey with a hike through part of Pohakuloa live-fire military area. (Don’t stray from the trail to shishi–live ordnance is a real danger!) Then we hiked across the saddle of the island, a place where the lava was so old and worn that it’s smooth and flat as bathroom tiles. We visited the sacred Ahu A ʻUmi Heiau and then crossed part of the Judd Trail. That night we camped in what was once known as Pine Trees Camp on Hualalai. We’d hiked about seventeen miles that day.

During that first day in the center of the island, among the three mountains of Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and Hualalai, a surprising thing happened to me–one of those truly inexplicable things–and others saw it happen too. I knew then that this journey was indeed a spiritual one, and it was going to be one of the most significant episodes of my life.

The rest of the week we hiked down along the Kona and Ka’u coastline, often using the old stepping stone trail made of rounded rocks carried by na poe kahiko, placed on top of the rugged ‘a‘ā and pahoehoe lava. We had many, many adventures that week. Some were actually frightening. Other results of that hike had a devastating, lasting impact on my personal life. I made some choices I now regret.

But back to cancer. I wore wire-framed sunglasses during that week-long hike. I wore sunscreen and prevented overall sunburn, but the Kona Coast sun was so hot that the frames heated enough to burn my cheekbones. No one ever told me wire-framed sunglasses could be a hazard on the Kona coast! I believe that the melanoma that showed up several years later was directly related to that burn, as it was on that exact spot. Fortunately, the dermatologist caught it early and while I now have twice-annual mole checks, and routinely have cryosurgery for keratosis spots, melanoma hasn’t come back. So, yes, the palm reader/psychic was completely correct. I’d had cancer.

Then she told me that I’d have another “cancer scare” in a few years, but to not worry. It would be only a scare. Yesterday, a medical procedure found that colon cancer was not part of my picture after all. So, a resounding “huzzah” for that. The scare was only a scare.

That palm reader had a lot of other things to say. For example, she saw I would be moving soon. True ‘dat! I was about to put my Pahoa house on the market. I’d been living there since January 2016 and it had been a mistake to move there. I was more than ready to get back to my (adult) kids and the friends I’d left behind in California. The palm reader had other odd, disconnected, and strangely precise facts and predictions for me, all of which were or have been true so far. She seemed genuinely talented in psychic arts. However, she did not comment on my writing.

By that time, I was at least nine months into the first of my Guild of Ornamental Hermits books, set in Hawai’i. I was deeply into my characters, who they were, what they did. They were becoming like family to me. And the setting of the book, Pahoa in the Puna District of Hawai’i Island, was like a farewell postcard to a place I’d truly loved, but also a place where I didn’t belong.

Writing this blog and my books (now there are four of them!) has been one of the primary reasons I’ve been able to endure a divorce; four household moves since 2016; a bad break-up with another significant other in Hawai’i; some horrible family turmoil (some still ongoing); the utter loneliness and isolation of the pandemic, living in a rural county with little to offer; a coming out that wasn’t entirely supported by certain members of my family (including a queer family member); worsening health; and the prospect of upcoming surgeries. If it weren’t for my cats and my kids, a few dear friends, and my books, I might not have made it to 2022. However, I was able to escape Lake County last August (thanks to the help of some wonderful friends) and living in a new home and community now has also helped immeasurably.

In fact, all would have been quite rosy this year except for (1) the cancer scare, (2) my upcoming surgery for a chronic condition, and (3) an estrangement that sits smack dab in the middle of my life like a bottomless pit. It is an estrangement of the cruelest kind, effected in a viciously callous and cowardly manner. Daily, and sometimes hourly, I have to navigate around it so as to not fall in. I’m at the point where I’m either going to have to build a bridge from one end of that yawning chasm to the other end, or put it all on display and start charging admission to The Pit as a gothy relic of despair.

There’s a huge sinkhole I visited once, part of a funky resort property in the Puna district, a place riddled by lava tubes and underground caverns. A part of the forest suddenly caved in, becoming an abyss with crumbling, unstable edges. In my book, I have just such a pit appearing suddenly in Hermitville. I wrote about the sinkhole, never imagining I’d acquire an (emotional) one of my own. In some ways, the books have been as prescient as the palm reader!

Even so, writing has been my respite from turmoil. My characters have been my medicine as well as the community I wish I had. They’ve also been my amusement and sometimes even my teachers. If I’d had a cancer diagnosis yesterday, I was prepared to barrel on through the last part of the fourth book no matter what. I still intend to do so, but now I’ll be doing it with a lighter lease on life, at least for now.

Aside from doing something about that horrid pit, there’s nothing I want more than to deliver my characters, as a literary midwife, and present them and their stories to the world. And I want to live with some joy now, alive to pluck the ripening figs and plums from my trees, in this summer’s harvest. And to live to write, even more than I am writing now.

That’s me with some of my characters, rendered via HeroForge.

☽☆☾