Precarity

Reading the newspaper the other day, I stumbled on an unfamiliar word: precarity. That, of course, made me curious. And happy about the prospect of learning something new.

I looked up what it means — a state of existence, precariousness about jobs, income, and physical wellbeing that affects your state of mind — and how it’s pronounced (pre’kerədē). 

A bit more research got me to Australian lexicographer Sue Butler. Perhaps the distinction she makes between precarity and precariousness is one that you will find helpful as well:

“A situation, one’s health, a set of steps,
these things can all be precarious and present a danger.
These things suffer from precariousness,
but a person endures precarity.”

Enduring precarity.

Yes.

This phrase seems to capture how we find ourselves and our ravaged world, doesn’t it?

At first, I thought the window shaking was the sign of an earthquake. 

My first response was, “Really?! Now that’s all we need.”

Then, banging his feet on the hospital window, this window cleaner appears. He squirts cleaning fluid across the pane and gracefully sweeps his squeegee over the surface. The Chase Center, Uber’s San Francisco offices, and the rest of the gleaming UCSF China Basin medical campus reappear, refreshed and in sharper focus than before. Funny how I hadn’t noticed how dirty the windows had been, not until after he washed them, anyway.

Fifteen or so years ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The biopsies revealed the tumor cells to be the slow-growing kind. After researching and consulting with experts, I opted for the “watch and wait” strategy. Last spring, my urologist informed me that the waiting period was over, and it was time to do something. A month ago — well, not quite, but almost — I had a radical prostatectomy. Believe it or not, this is an outpatient operation. You can’t drive yourself home, but you get to leave the same day. 

When I returned for my ten-day follow-up visit, the CT scan revealed some complications, which were not unheard of but unusual. My situation required an operation and a few days’ stay in hospital. When I came back a week later for my next appointment, I ended up spending one more night in the cancer center and having another procedure the following day.

I’ll spare you the clinical details and traumatic turns; suffice to say that there were a few genuinely harrowing moments along the way. The level of care I received was space-aged — robotic surgery and interventional radiology, top-notch, and consistently compassionate. 

It was never my plan to discuss this diagnosis publicly. The doc had said I’d be ready to return to seated work a week or so after the operation. Even so, I set aside a month. I thought this would allow time to catch up at my desk and even take a bit of vacation. I was finally past an exhausting year of recovering from chemo and radiation, feeling ready to jump back into a fuller teaching schedule come September. 

So much for the best laid plans. Once again. 

There is good news, and it is that I’m on the mend.

I am sore, tired, and relieved to no longer have any tubes sticking out of me. I’m ready to recuperate. My morning walk went slower than usual, but at least, I no longer look like some guy stumbling home after last call at the neighborhood dive bar. 

Even better, the initial prognosis is good. 

Mostly, I’m grateful: grateful to be back home, for the friends and neighbors who have looked after me with such care, and for having worthwhile, fulfilling work. I am hankering to be back on my bike and to get back to writing regularly. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on what matters most. I’m glad my assignment isn’t over yet and oh so thankful to be here still. 

To have the time needed to rest, recuperate, and reinvigorate, I’m postponing the start of the third trimester of my ATM® course, The Bodywise Project, and the beginning of BREATHING BETTER, the advanced program for Feldenkrais® trainees, teachers, and assistant trainers for three weeks. Once I’ve had a chance to clear my head from those three doses of anesthesia, all administered in less than a month, then we will work out new schedules and let everyone enrolled in the programs know the new plan. 

(If you were thinking about signing up and haven’t yet, you have more time to enroll. More on that soon-ish.)

If you’ve written, called, or messaged me in the past couple of weeks, I apologize for not getting back to you. I’d greatly appreciate it if you could give me a couple of weeks to get back to you.

When I first saw the window cleaner, I thought he was hanging by a thread, dangling dangerously above the sidewalk and street. It took me a moment to realize he was safely suspended in a sturdy harness, connected to a thick, reliable rope, and enjoying acrobatic freedom of movement and the far reach it affords. Once I’d caught my breath, I could begin to wonder what it would be like to feel, even in the most precarious of places, that safe and secure. 

Guess it’s time to find out.


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Responses

  1. Dear Larry,

    Thank you for sharing this part of your journey with us.
    I am delighted to hear that you are on the mend and wish you a good
    time off to rest and recuperate!

    Blessings, bonne chance and looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks,

    Gaby

    P.S. I wasn’t there today for the meeting as it appears that I am time-zone challenged, and showed up at the wrong time.

  2. Larry, you knock me out! The body may be pushed, prodded, poked, invaded, un-done and re-done, but the mind shines out, especially in your drawings. You fly, old man, with the window-cleaner! (Only an old woman can call you that.) I am going to email you a story…. There is no need to reply to any of it. LOVE

  3. Dear Larry,
    Wonderful that you are feeling better.
    Such a beautiful text!
    Love the distinction between precarity and precariousness.
    Interesting how a new word can clarify a feeling that, despite its presence, because it was un-named it lacked actuality.
    I guess at times, precarity brings light.
    Thank you and best wishes,
    Pedro