addiction · death · grief · humility

The Cover of Rolling Stone

rolling stone 8 13 17

Last night, I attended the memorial service for an old friend.  He was 28.

Brash, brilliant, and evidently too kinetic for this world to keep onto, his mom shared this thought with me afterward:

“Everybody dies sometime.”

It wasn’t meant callously, but perhaps offered as an anchor in a sea of questions.  Or as a comfort that death is inevitable so we mourners can stop struggling against its perpetual manifestation.  Or, perhaps this thought relieves us of our self-centered individuality and apartness.

But… man… screw that.

There are some deaths that feel tragic, and some that do not.  Culturally, we seem to have created “approved of” endings, ones that feel complete for everyone and bestow dier and witness with a sense of closure and acceptance before the final breath.

Unanticipated deaths like these take post-acceptance.  They require sitting with the scorched wound of it, only later softening into resolution and peace with the past (which is truly the only way we get to court the past).

Knowledge of our universal eligibility for a sudden ending nevertheless makes many of us ungraceful when it actually occurs, tripping over our feet in a tear-stained stumble toward acceptance.

And in its wake, we tell stories.

The stories we’d written for Dez were ones of glory.  Stratospheric rises, magazine covers, and guitar riffs that broke into the hearts of more than we, his mourners.  Or perhaps we wrote humble stories, of a life well-lived with a guitar well-loved, a wry laugh, a crinkled eye . . .

But in a life’s passing, stories turn into something else: memories.  Memories become monuments.  And monuments are never who that person was anyway.

 

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career · community · death · friendship · fulfillment · life · love

Blood Brothers

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Yesterday morning I had coffee with a cancer friend, for
lack of a better term.
He’s someone who reached out to me when I returned to work last Spring,
who was 15 years out from his own similar cancer diagnosis, and said if I ever
wanted to talk, he was available.
Since then, we’ve had coffee about once every 6 months or
so, and we get to talk about walking back into a life that sort of looks the
same on the outside, but has completely changed. We exchange the requisite,
“Everything’s okay with your health?” question early in the conversation so we
can continue on.
We speak mostly about work and fulfillment.
At the time we first met up, he was in a transition of his
own, and now, about 18 months later, is again. And so we spoke about
meaningfulness, about intention, about the often tipped balance between the
checkbook and joy.
I love talking with him. Because he is my cancer friend. Because, it’s different than the
first coffee date I had even earlier yesterday morning (a Jewish holiday and
therefore a day off work), when I met with the home stager about potentially
working and apprenticing with her.
With her, I only said things like, I’m just looking for a
change and to instill more creativity into my every day life, to engage more of
my heart in my work. With him, the whole conversation is built on the
understanding of why that’s so. It’s not
just because I’m a flighty 30something; It’s because I’m a fighting 30something
(if you will).
I left the first coffee date with the home stager feeling
mildly despairing and depressed. And I left the conversation with my cancer
friend feeling uplifted, supported, and understood.
I know what he’s talking about when he says how it wrecks
him that he has been so wrapped up in work again that he hasn’t had time for
his outdoor hobbies. He knows what I’m talking about when I say that we have
the privilege and curse of not being able to run on the hamster wheel of life
without questioning what we’re doing.
I never wanted a cancer friend. I never wanted to be part of
a cancer support group, and tried a few times without going back. Therapy isn’t
the same thing either, though that helped. But talking with someone who also
had their next breath marched up to the guillotine… it’s different.
It’s not “all cancer all the time.” Our conversation wasn’t even about
grief or anger. It was barely about cancer at all, except that of course it
was. It is the reason we met, became friends, and can share with one another
on a different level what our life paths are looking like and what we want them
to look like and the struggle between just going along as planned and taking
the time to question it all.
I imagine in some ways, it’s like war veterans’ ability to
have an instant understanding of one another: You’ve both seen life and death;
you’ve both fought bravely and been terrified; you’ve both come back to
civilian life and are attempting to make sense of it all, while still paying
your cable bill and buying groceries alongside every other citizen.
But you also know that, conscious or not, you both make
every decision in reaction to and on top of your experience at war. You can’t
not. It’s part of your DNA, now. You’re blood brothers.
I never knew I needed a cancer friend. And I sit here
writing with tears of gratitude that I have one. 

aspiration · career · death · fear · scarcity

master of none.

There is enough time, he said.

B- B- But, my mind sputtered. What about …

science?

what about math

you know my father is an engineer, my brother a physicist, that i scored higher on all standardized math tests, despite an advanced degree in english

what about the books on einstein, by feynman, hawking that line my shelf, half read, each, without someone to guide me through. 

what about advanced placement calculus?

what about the people who question where quarks go and think the slingshot of apollo 13 was beatific.

i can and could and might toil in the exile and ecstasy of “art,”

b- but,

what about…

everything else?

aspiration · authenticity · consistency · courage · death · fear · life · procrastination · responsibility · self-abandonment · writing

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…

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Why aren’t you writing for a living?
Because it’s just a hobby, an escape.
Why aren’t you writing for a living?
Because it’s too hard and I’m not good enough.
Why aren’t you writing for a living?
Because I don’t know how to show up consistently.
Any of these types of questions ever cross your mind? Any of these questions
and immediate quashings?
This morning, that question came to me. I always dismiss my writing becoming a means or an ends.
I don’t make the time; I haven’t touched the essay my aunt said I should submit to
the New York Times’ Modern Love section. I haven’t crafted anything for the The
Sun
, a magazine at least 3 people have
suggested I submit my work to.
It’s just me
being me. How is that worthy or interesting or enough?
Because I saw someone else had clicked on it, I just re-read a blog I wrote in January, Remember What the Redwoods Told You, about being “told”
by the trees that I was going to live through my cancer. And as I read through
the end of it, about being given the chance to
be in my life, to make this time worthy, I think about
all the procrastination and fear I still let grab hold of my ankles.
This is not a self-flagellation blog; as you can read in
italics above, I already have plenty of those thoughts. But, they are just
thoughts, not facts. And thoughts can be changed. Through action.
“Act your way into right thinking,” the phrase goes.
I’ve “thought” for a while about waking up earlier (yes,
even earlier) to do some “real” writing.
It hasn’t happened yet, and that’s okay, but I know that I work better in the
morning, when my brain cells still have some anima.
And as I was finding this question arise in my meditation
this morning, goading me to find a legitimate reason for postponing my good, I
thought of a perfect resource friend I can reach out to about this, and
actually get something into action. And maybe deadline.
Because, as my acting friend told me earlier this week when
I asked her how she “makes” herself learn monologues, she answered, Deadlines.
She sets up deadlines by signing up for auditions, and makes sure she has a
back pocket filled with current monologues.
To paraphrase, Our growth can come as much from our actively
seeking it, as it can from being forced.
But, it helps to be pushed a little.
That’s what registering for these auditions is for me, a
push to get back into it, to not let another month and another month slide off
the calendar. To make this year “worthwhile,” to me means to actually do those things that I think are for other people,
people with talent or time or resources. Bull.
The only difference between them and me is action. Nothing
more.
A rallying, warrior cry sounds every day for me. It is my
choice to heed its call or to roll over and hit Snooze.
And yet, it is also my choice to condemn myself or not on the days
I do hit Snooze. As I wrote yesterday, there’s no use in beating myself
up for not being where I want to be – that doesn’t actually get me there
quicker.
What helps with all of this is accountability, which a
deadline is, but also what friends can be. I’ve been toying with the idea
(thinking, again!) recently of getting an “Action Buddy,” or “Accountability
Partner” whatever you want to call it.
I know this is a system that works for many people, and I
believe it could work for me. So, with all irony, I’m going to add “Get an
Accountability Buddy” to my list of personal actions… and see if I can hold
myself accountable to that!
Because there is no reason I’m not writing that is valid. I
know there’s grist here; I know there’s “enough” talent. I would love to take
actions that reflect that knowledge. Because, if you haven’t noticed, I seem to
think that Time is our most precious natural resource of all.

career · death · faith · family · finances · hope · loss · love · perseverance · recovery

Tossed.

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On a shelf high in my closet sits a box. This morning, I
took it down, dumped it over on my bed and picked through the pieces of
paper I’d written and thrown in since it was given to me as a one-year
sobriety present.
Someone mentioned recently the idea of dumping out their “God
box” every once in a while, to see what “god” may have already taken care of,
and to see what we’re still holding onto, even as it’s been “surrendered” to the box.
It’s sweet and astonishing to me, all the things that
tortured me so hard, I found them listed on multiple post-its, torn pieces of
paper, even a square of toilet paper.
The ones that I got to separate from “still actively seeking
hope/help” included a lot of men’s/boy’s names that haven’t gotten a rise out
of me for years. I had to wrack my memory at one of them, and then got to see
the number of times others’ names had been tossed in there in the hope for resolution
and divine intervention, and indeed, they’ve become completely old news. Today, those got
tossed to the resolved pile.
In that pile, I also tossed, Food issues and Smoking. Issues
that I haven’t had to box with for years, so much so that I am surprised to
remember them, and to notice they caused me such pain (well, smoking was a
bitch to quit – and I never doubt that one will always lead to more).
The ones that remain in the box, that I am throwing back
in there, are varied.
One reads:
      Jesse Morris will live.
      And he will find recovery.
      And he will be beautiful.
      Amen.
Jesse Morris did not live. But I believe him to still be
beautiful.
I also have the memorial service booklet from Aaron Brown’s
funeral following his heroin overdose.
I have the necklace my father gave me when I was sick with
cancer. A photo of my mom holding my brother, age 2. A photo of the ex whose
innocence we shared.
And the torn shreds of a fortune cookie I didn’t understand
why I’d ripped and torn in there until I pieced it back together: “As long as
your desires are not extravagant, they will be granted.” – I can easily see why I
would bristle at such a fortune!
Finally, what will stay in the box, rethrown in, and
recommitted to allowing them to be “taken care of,” are those issues which have
remained “issues” to this very day.
The best illustration of these being an actual illustration:
Home, Love, Health, Security, Happiness.
(Or at least I think that’s happiness, and not Pirates.)
There are a bevy of papers with some amalgam of these on it. Some verbose pleas to a higher power, others simply a heart drawn on a
post-it.
It is cleansing and reaffirming to dump and sort this box,
this box that over the years I’ve begged over for things to change, hurled words
in there like grenades, or exhausted, dropped them in tear-stained.
There are ones that I don’t know if “resolution” is
possible, like those untimely deaths of beautiful people. And they will stay in the box.
There are ones where I still can’t see what resolution will
look like at all, as with my dad, my career, and “my life,” as I wrote it again and
again. They will stay there, too. 
But, luckily, there must be hope from a sorting such as
this, because the pile of “resolved” issues is nearly half. Those torturous
achings that caused me to toss names and circumstances in that have simply
fallen out of mind, out of importance, into the fate and design of my past…
These ones that make me smile now for the girl who wrote
them, and for the wisdom of time that solved them: They give me hope for the
others. 

calm · choice · death · fear · friendship · fun · laughter · life · living · recovery · self-care

"Push the Button, Max!"

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In the 1965 hilarious film, The Great Race, Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) chases our hero, The
Great Leslie (Tony Curtis) around the globe. Whenever Professor Fate attempts
to unleash a hidden gem of an engine booster or booby trap, he yells to his
sidekick, PUSH THE BUTTON, MAX! – which Max does, to uproarious and hijinxed disastrous results.
It would have been a Leslie Nielsen film if it were done in
80s.
What sparked this memory this morning is how often there’s a
voice inside me egging me on to push the panic button. Come on, Max, this is a great idea! Let’s pull all ripcords, let the chips fall where they may! Damn the consequences, HOO-RAH!
Yesterday, I got an email from Kaiser to follow-up on some
routine bloodwork I get done every few months now, just to keep tabs on my
post-Leukemia cells. Apparently, my liver enzymes were elevated. Like,
Wonkavator-through-the-factory’s-glass-ceiling elevated.
My doctor wrote me that I had to come in for follow-up labs
right away, that if I drank alcohol I should stop immediately, and that she was informing my
oncologist, Dr. Li (which humorously autocorrected to “Dr. Lithium”).
Professor Fate wanted Max to push the button so bad. It’s bad news, it’s tragic, it’s cancer, it’s
death, it’s imminent! PUSH THE BUTTON!
But… here’s the thing I’ve learned about pushing that
button, from the movie, and from my own life experience: It rarely does
anything productive.
So, I texted my coworker and my boss that I would be in
late, that I was going to Kaiser, and then I called my
naturopath/chiropractor/nutritionist in SF and made an appointment with him for
that morning, too.
Because, this is how The Great Leslie would approach it:
Pause, Assess, Reframe, Choose Love.
Well, maybe he wouldn’t use those terms, but he would pause, at
least, and assess before leaping out of the hot air balloon.
I arrive at Kaiser, and walk down the hallway. I’m toodling
to myself, softly singing/humming tunelessly, just making notes up to distract
my thought-life. I realize I’m practicing something called self-soothing, a
practice I read about for babies learning to fall asleep on their own.
Instead of fully freaking out, I’m using a positive biofeedback technique to calm my pulse,
my panic. And, it works, a little.
After they take 7 vials of my blood, I drive into the city to see my chiro. The man I credit for saving my ovaries from nuclear annihilation
during chemo, with his supplements, nutritional advice, and amazingly accurate
diagnoses of what’s going on in my body.
I tell him that my Kaiser doctor said it had nothing to do with
having poured chemo into my body for 6 months, since that was finished last
March. It couldn’t possibly be related.
Assholes.
No: Idiots.
Of course my liver
and kidneys are still bouncing back, shmucks. I “love” the way Western medicine
brains work: There is no immediate cause of this that we can see, so it must be
something new and traumatic and deadly.
How about a patient history, assh— Sorry, Idiots.
It’s like telling someone who broke their ankle a year and a
half ago that that has no bearing on why they’re now experiencing pain in their
hips. … You guys did learn the whole,
“The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone” song in medical school, right?
Anyway, my annoyance with Western medicine aside, I went to
the doctor I trust, after having done what the Western folks wanted me to do.
We did some muscle testing, which is like the coolest thing
ever. He handed me a small vial filled with clear liquid marked GMO corn. Told
me to hold my other arm out and try to resist his pushing it down. My arm fell
like an anvil. It weakens my system.
He held out one labeled organic corn? My arm stayed straight
as a compass.
We did this several times: Pasteurized milk? Down. Raw milk?
Up. Non-organic eggs? Down. Organic eggs? Up.
What I should offer at this point is that I have been eating
a ton of crap these past few weeks. Whatever cookies, candy, cupcakes have been
lain out at work, I’ve eaten – because I’m stressed. And sooner or later, my
ban against refined sugar and dairy yields, and I go to town.
I’ve also been busy so I haven’t been cooking at home, and
have therefore been eating take-out foods, which, although aren’t the worst
foods I could choose, are surely not all made with my liver in mind.
So, I’ve been tired, stressed out (as you’ve read), and
eating crap to boost me back up.
Yeah, apparently my overworked and Hirojima’d organs need
some TenderLovingCare.
(Heh. … Organs… lovin’… heh…)
Pushing the panic button does nothing for me except
exacerbate an already very sensitive system. I don’t like hearing that I really have
to stop eating the cupcakes at work, and not use half&half at Peet’s. Or, since it’s not organic, I can’t drink Peet’s at all. I
don’t like knowing that because of something I didn’t ask for I now have to
work extra hard to fix its effects.
But, What I like less is driving to Kaiser on a Friday
morning, thinking about the children I won’t be able to have. The life I won’t
be able to “figure out.” The X-Men movie I won’t be able to see.
Look, Death and I have a pretty intimate relationship. We’ve
fought an epic battle, and He’s waiting and watching in the corner, seeing if
my hubris will bring me down. If, like in Million Dollar Baby, I will let my guard down and He’ll have the chance
to (spoiler alert).
What I got to see from yesterday’s panic/not panic “opportunity” was that I still am pretty keen on this Life thing. That I can’t quit my job
without health insurance. That I stress out about things I don’t need to. And that I’ve accomplished a whole lot in the year and a half since I was diagnosed, things
I want to continue to do: play music, make art, be with friends, travel.
I don’t need to push the panic button to “wake me up” – Life
has a way of pushing it for me. Of pushing the button on the side of my cosmic
cell phone to illuminate the time and remind me to stop freaking out in my head
and get into my life.
So, today, I’m going to hum tunelessly as I get dressed, cook organic eggs, do (some) dishes, and head to an 11-year old’s birthday party to
shoot mini-marshmallows at my friends. Because that’s the text Life is sending me today. 

But don’t worry, I won’t eat any. 😉

adulthood · childhood · community · compassion · death · friendship · life

This Used to be my Playground

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I’ve been thinking in detail about my home town today.
Thinking about describing it to you: Up the block lived the boy I
had a crush on, across the street from him was our teenage babysitter, the park where
they buried plastic eggs every Easter, the library I used to hide in, and the
honeysuckle fence by the elementary school we all learned to eat from.
I catalogued it all in my brain before I got up. The radius
of what I knew determined by how far we’d bike. The friends who lived the flat
road across town to the other elementary school, and the bakery where my mom
would buy bagels each week, and sometimes cupcakes with frosting heaped on top
in the shape of Sesame Street characters – we’d beg for Cookie Monster, since
he also had a cookie stuck in his mouth.
The Dunkin Donuts down the hill where I got my first job,
and how you could smell the doughnuts baking from the top of the hill. The house next-door where my best friend lived, yellow, now beige with new owners. That big house on
the corner that burned down amid rumors of arson and insurance fraud.
The houses you knew to skip on Halloween, and the little
league fields with an actual brick concession stand. The tire playground that
used to stand at the grade school, where D. fell off the top of the pyramid and broke his
whole leg. The small white, bean-shaped rocks that carpeted that playground; I
picked up a handful the last time I was there, and when I rub them together in my
fist, the sound of scraping unlocks my childhood.
I was going to tell you about the awesome 4th of July parade
one year when I bought a Strawberry Shortcake ice-cream pop that, once
eaten, revealed a “Get One Free” prize on the wooden stick, so that the free one I got had the same message.
The street I first tried to drive down, the patch of pavement
where I fell off my bike and broke my foot.
I’ve been thinking about all this, everything I knew and
remembered, that shaped the world outside my front door, because facebook told me
yesterday that an old classmate’s mom suddenly died of cancer a year after his
father died of it, too. And I was picturing where his house is, just a block
from the library, one I’d have walked past thousands of times. It abuts the big
park where we all went on Memorial Day when school was closed, and there’d be
hot dogs and cotton candy.
For reasons I can’t explain (and despite being tired of
talking about my own cancer — Tired of referencing it like people reference
a year abroad: “Well, last year when I was in Scotland –” “Well, last year when I
had cancer…” as it simply is my frame of reference right now. Tired
and bored of it, and yet astonished at where, like yesterday morning), its
presence and reality will side-swipe me.
My sudden grief wasn’t all about me: it was the sadness of
the reality, once again, that life is so uncertain, so sudden, and so
disillusioning. That life offers those of us in it, grief. Live long enough,
and it just does.
When my final grandparent died last year, my generation, the
one of my classmates, became solidly in the center of life’s process. Our
parents are now grandparents or grandparent age. We’re them. And the generation
we’re birthing is us. We’re transitioning to the center of that boat.
Some of us already have transitioned, lost parents long ago, and have
always been in the center of that boat. But there’s no illusion anymore that
this is something we may be exempt from.
I don’t really know why I cried when I saw this. I felt for
him, for the innocence of our town, for my own remission/relapse fear. For
sudden grief that doesn’t permit goodbyes.
I don’t know how to end this blog. I don’t say that “those
were the days,” that the experience was idyllic, though these recollections tell me it was closer than I knew. But the fact remains that
those of us who grew up, who learned to ride bikes and squirt super soakers at
one another, who bought Big League Chew at the same candy store and rang the same Halloween
doorbells, will always be connected.
We may not be or have been friends, we may barely know the
lives each other lives now, but by circumstance
and proximity, we shaped for one another those two square miles of childhood.