How to get control of your life (and respect to Kate Middleton)

Detail of The Cholmondeley Children at Houghton Hall by Dickinson

Last month I spent tons of time going to the hospital for cancer tests. Which means I got clarity about what was really important: getting dressed for doctor visits.

I felt way too tired to stick to my regular routine of promising to post on my blog and then not doing it, but I didn’t want doctors to think I’d given up on life. So I tried to dress like a glass-half-full person. But all my clothes are either work-from-home-pajamas or pitch-a-company-black. Whatever, it turns out that focusing on being optimistic is not a way for me to feel in control.

Don’t take things personally

When Z realized doctors were looking for cancer, he got a new job. He said, “We’re going to need money if you die.”

I wanted to be like, I’ll take care of that. But we all know I can’t even handle money even when I’m alive. I didn’t say, Money gives choices not control because what if the last thing he remembered about me was I was bossy and critical? I tried to be supportive. So I said things like, How was work today?

He said someone wanted their fish cooked more, so he put it under a warmer for 30 seconds. Another guy took a bite of cake and said it was bad, so the server cut off the part that had a bite on it and then brought him the same piece of cake.

Were the people happy?

“Yeah. People want to just feel like they can control something.”

Find out what you’d do with no constraints

During this time, I expected to have a deep moment of truth where my plate is empty of everything except what’s is the meaning of my life. Which seems like the ultimate form of control.

That did happen. Sort of. I mean I did stop doing everything.

I spent the month watching true crime on YouTube — knowing how they turn out is the opposite of waiting for cancer results: immediately satisfying. I also wrote tons of notes to tell you about my favorites, like the Adelson trial: a treasure trove of digital evidence that state prosecutors all over the US sift through evidence on YouTube to help the Florida DA (who is great).

So I felt panic when my CT scan came back with no cancer: Did that mean I had to go back to my life before true crime?  

Stick to your special interests

Luckily a different type of true crime popped up in my feed: The case of the disappearing Kate Middleton.

Even though the Royal Family is so incompetent with PR that they are making themselves look like criminals, I knew right away that Kate is on strike. Why? Because there’s precedent:

Months before, the Danish prince Frederick was caught cheating for the millionth time. So his wife Mary took their kids back to her parent’s home in Australia with no return date. Presumably Mary negotiated hard from Australia, because the queen of Denmark abdicated to get Mary to return to Frederick.

A few years earlier Princess Charlene of Monaco produced two heirs to the throne and fled home to South Africa due to a mysterious illness. In response, Prince Albert  imported his other baby mama and their teenaged son. The people of Monaco weren’t having it; now Princess Charlene earns $10M a year be Prince Albert’s royal consort. Mysterious illness: gone.

So Kate’s mysterious illness requiring too many days in the hospital made me think of Charlene. Because like Charlene, the continuation of monarchy depends on Kate. I’m sure Kate is demanding a DNA test of Iris Cholmondeley (picture at the top). And she’s negotiating for full custody of the kids in the event of a divorce. Then William can choose to negotiate with Kate to save the entire British monarchy — or not.

Emotional control is key
Empress Masako of Japan declined many marriage proposals from the Emperor. To no avail. Her Harvard and Oxford degrees became decorative and she married, but she refused to smile in public. Now she no longer has public engagements. And that, really, is the power of the wife. No one wants a royal family that is not happy to be royal.

The job of a royal family is to like their job, but it’s a hard job to like. William was rejected by many upper class girls because the real privilege of wealth is getting to be rich and unhappy. The princesses are all gaining control by threatening to make their husband’s reign look unhappy.

I remember learning that no matter how much money we have, we always think we need 20% more. I think that’s probably the same with control. We find something we need more control over and we think we just need 20% more.

Meanwhile, back to me. I’m happy to not have cancer. I’m back to looking like I’m permanently ready for bed. My days are once again spent thinking I’m working on writing a blog post and not writing a blog post. And now I know for sure that if I were going to die tomorrow, this is what I’d want to be doing.

27 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I’m relieved and thrilled that you don’t have cancer. And I finally make enough money that I don’t feel like 20% more would make any real difference. That’s a nice place to be.

  2. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    I like the last sentence. I live my days as a fractal of my life, so that I have no life-regrets for not doing any bucket projects, or not seeing far away people more. When they pass on, as they have, I say I was doing right by them according to my circumstances. And hey, I don’t expect each day to be me at my best because I am not always at my best

  3. A
    A says:

    I’m so glad you don’t have cancer. True crime is so fascinating ( one it’s solved).
    I remembered a blog you wrote about Megan been thrown to the press so they would leave it out about Williams alleged affair and child.I didn’t hear them talking about her St Patricks Day broach at work.Maybe she has gone on strike,? It did make me think after reading your piece

  4. Ian D
    Ian D says:

    I forget how much I love you until I read you again and love you all over again. You’re wonderful – just like your diagnosis (or absence thereof?). We’re all gonna die eventually, but lots of us will be very happy if you can take your time about it.

  5. Susanne
    Susanne says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for 12 years but never commented. I’m was so worried and so glad you don’t have cancer. Please take care.

  6. Jeannie
    Jeannie says:

    What a relief! I’m so glad you don’t have cancer. I will continue to happily check for new posts every day. Wishing you and your family many happy, fulfilling days ahead.

  7. Melissa from Milwaukee
    Melissa from Milwaukee says:

    Phew phew phew phew phew phew phew. Hope we have many more years to enjoy your writing and unique perspective.

  8. Heike
    Heike says:

    If I were going to die tomorrow, I would read ALL of your blogposts again today. I am happy you are not dying – I always get exited when there is a new blogpost. Glad you are ok.

  9. Sister Wolf
    Sister Wolf says:

    Thrilled you don’t have cancer! Pleased that you’re on to the Princess Charlene story. It looks like she really hates Her husband. Sorry you have to think about your mortality.

    I wish you lived near me so we could have coffee and talk about true crime TV. And figure out the point of everything. xo

  10. Kristi
    Kristi says:

    Penelope, I’m so glad the scare has passed and you don’t have cancer. Breathing a sigh of relief, over here. Plus, “Kate Middleton is on strike” is the winning theory. I wonder how much we’ll find out about how that gets settled.

  11. graham
    graham says:

    I don’t know why I never receive your posts in my email anymore but I woke up in the night wondering if you’d died and that was the reason you hadn’t posted.

    So I’m relieved that you’re alive and I’ll subscribe again to see if that works, otherwise I would never have known that you didn’t have cancer.

    The royal family are a shambles. When the Queen died, they should have shut up shop. If Mick Jagger dies will the Stones carry on? I very much doubt it.

  12. celestial
    celestial says:

    I was so worried when I read the original cancer announcement…where else could we find such interesting angles on issues? I am now mad that they misdiagnosed/mismanaged/ mishandled the entire affair for you. That is so unfair; you probably lost a year in just worry. I have four siblings with different and very odd types of cancer; we all kind of know that is how we will go but it is so hard to contemplate. I am so glad you will be back in the thick of things. And try not to worry about the royal families; I’m sure they don’t worry about us.

  13. Angie
    Angie says:

    I’m glad the news was not cancer. I’m sure that doesn’t mean everything’s automatically rosy – but at least one of the worst outcomes is crossed off the list.

    I really enjoyed this post, even if I care nothing for the royals. The parallels you draw are most interesting.
    I feel like in my 40s i’m doing way more over thinking about what I should be doing, what I want to be doing, what I think others think I should be doing. I grapple with the idea of kickstarting my career back up as my youngest starts school next year (which seems to be the expectation), or embracing the relative stability of career mediocrity that I’ve had for the last 8 years whilst working part time. I change my mind all the time but when I think about what I’d choose if I knew i was going to die tomorrow – I wouldn’t be choosing more work, I’d be choosing more time with my kids which I know has been the underlying theme to many of your posts about careers vs kids for the longest time anyway.

  14. ChuNam
    ChuNam says:

    Thank you for being all right, a fortunate thing akin to a blessing. We can never know how we will be until now, being healthy is the greatest thing. I have many tasks to do, many options to develop in my work, but I choose to maintain balance to both work and enjoy this life and do something meaningful for myself, especially taking care of my family. I look forward to your new posts. Wishing you all the best.

  15. Melody Maynard
    Melody Maynard says:

    So glad you’re cancer free, I hope your symptoms improve quickly too. And sooo curious about your take on Kate Middleton. This sounds believable.

  16. Katie
    Katie says:

    It sounds like you have vax damage. Believe they are now calling it long vax. You like stats…look up phinance to see all the stats.

  17. rana
    rana says:

    Thrilled to learn that you are well Penelope! I’ve missed your posts! I guess you stopped posting for a long time and I went to your site recently to just check in after many months. Thrilled to learn of your substack and that I was able to “binge” read and learn all at once, that you did NOT have cancer! Your writing and your honesty are beautiful to see. The universe is on your side and many readers out here in it sending you wishes for the best!


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