abundance · contentment · family · joy · laughter · love

Pumpktoberfest

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I’m sure I write about it every year, but as the wafts of
pumpkin spice glide out of my coffee mug, I’m moved to write about it again.
Fall. Fall on the East Coast. Growing up where Fall means a
certain smell of chill and decaying leaves. Kind of wet, sometimes, the piles
you’ve helped stuff into enormous black plastic bags that I’m sure are illegal in
California by now. And heaping them into the street, spilling off the curb, where you
and your little brother will take a bounding head-start and leap into the
center of the pile, the slightly moth-eaten leaves enveloping you up to your
shoulders, softening your fall and bathing you and your senses in its musty,
alive scent.
I noticed the leaves blowing last night, and here, they
sound different as they tumble across the pavement; they sound dry and tired,
each one brown and curled up on itself. Back East, they’re still half-alive
when they fall, some of them. So they lilt and are soft, and … colored. How
many people must write about the color of the leaves, the ombre fade of red and
orange and gold. There’s something about their display that radiates joy and
change and marks something miraculous, something that we, as humans, have the
unique privilege to recognize and admire.
Pumpkins start popping up on doorsteps. We hang Indian corn,
the same set of three tied to our front door for as long as memory serves, and three small palm-sized
pumpkins decorate our own stoop, before squirrels begin to bite chunks out of them, and a jack-o-lantern we’ve spent all day carving.
Fall begins the part of the year when I felt and feel most
loved and normal and inviting and, again, loved. It begins with
Halloween, and follows through Christmas (celebrated at my dad’s folks
house, who are/were vaguely Christian). The time of year when we feel swept up
in something, in something communal, town-wide, Jersey-wide.
We celebrated, we decorated, we invited, and we lit fires in
the fireplace, and ate my dad’s pumpkin pie. Our one time of year when my
family could gather together in a semblance of normality, and put on the most
average and happy face we could, and it was all decadent. The feeling of
it was.
The change of the season with its scent and sights, and the
length of the days, the incoming dusk approaching like a secret to encase you.
Creeping slowly closer and closer, but welcoming, the cool still amenable, coaxing and
gliding you home in the dim light, toward a mug of hot apple cider perhaps. Maybe
one of the gallons we’d picked up from our annual apple-picking trip, harvesting hoards of
apples, plucked in those wire basket poles that my brother and I would wave
menacingly at each other, slipping on fallen rotting apples in the
orchard, filling up woven wooden baskets we could barely carry out.
It’s the change of the light and the scent that’s been my
indicator these California days. It’s not the same as Back East, but there’s still the
aroma of crispness and an excitement.
I will begin to buy all things pumpkin, like the rest of
America. Like the pumpkin pancakes my friend treated me to yesterday, and the abomination
of flavored coffee that I’m drinking right now.
I will use the pumpkin ganache cookie recipe that was given
to me by a college roommate and make the pumpkin pie that my dad’s passed down
through trial and error – a recipe that would never, ever, include “Pumpkin Pie
Spice,” but itself includes about 8 individual spices, which I own expressly
for the pie’s creation.
Fall is a time of coming back to center, of reigning in the
resources. Of whittling down excess and getting the necessities done in the
light of day. It’s a time that rings with good memories, full, warm, joyous
memories. Fall reminds me of the earth, of how the natural world has shaped my
experience. And it tastes like the release of a constriction you’ve held the whole year, the exhale and inhale of a breath you haven’t dared relax to take. 
To me, Autumn tastes like love.

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adversity · friends · friendship · growth · laughter · love · opening

Open Sesame!

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I’m still a little giddy from last night’s show with my
band. Our debut and farewell show! (Though, there are rumors we may have a
“reunion show” on Halloween.)
But a friend said something to me after the show that’s been
sticking with me. She said that I am so much more open and confident now, that
I’ve changed so much in the last year.
This same friend sat with me in ERs, cared for my cat while
I was in chemo, and allowed me to bawl on her couch when things seemed so hard.
We’ve known each other only for maybe 4 years, but a lot has
certainly happened since then, and she said she feels like she’s seen me
blossom. And that, especially with everything that I’ve been through, how
heartening it is to see that I’ve become and am becoming more open, and more
engaged.
She referenced a quote she’d read in a book about women’s
aging, that women come to a crossroads in their lives where they choose: become
more open, or become more rigid, and therefore bitter. I told her, I don’t
think that’s just women!!
But, what struck me about her initial comment was that it
echoed something I’d thought to myself only a few days earlier.
I was in my car, and made some kind of comment aloud to
myself, and laughed about it. And I had a flashback to when I was in junior or
senior year of high school, and this one frenemy commented that I’d become much
more relaxed and funny in the last little while.
Which may have had something to do with the fact that I started
drinking and smoking pot… but… She was right. I wasn’t as exacting or
perfectionist as I had been.
I sort of took that “easy-going” train off the rails a
few years later… But I remember feeling then that she was right, that I felt less … not “square,” but serious, I suppose. (I was
a very serious teen!, like most emo children.)
And as I sat in my car laughing to and at myself the other day, I
had a similar self-awareness: I’ve become and am becoming more easy-going. (In
some ways! In others, you have to untangle my brain with a tweezer and a
magnifying glass!)
To have that same sentiment reflected back to me only days
later by my friend was heartening, affirming, and… sentimental.
She said that as she watched me play, she found herself
getting teary, thinking about everything I’ve gone through, and what I’ve made of
it. And then she had to check herself, because you don’t cry at a rock show! 
The same understanding about rigidity or openness I heard on
an audio CD about “Exceptional Patients” from Dr. Bernie Siegel. He said that
after cancer, people tend to go one of two ways: become scared of everything,
because death is just around the corner, or (finally) throw caution to the
wind, because you’ve literally faced one of the worst things that can ever
happen to you. You’ve stared death in the face: Will you now shrink at all risks,
or will you say, Tah, this is cake?
Well, we all know, I don’t think it’s “cake” to say “Tah” to
fear, but we all know that I’ve been doing it anyway. Because, really, there
isn’t anything greater to lose. There isn’t any harder challenge. (Now, yes, there are other challenges that people face that I
cannot imagine, child loss being one that’s top of mind lately.)
I find no glory in shutting down. I’ve lived most of my life
in a state of “flight” and paralysis. I will never call it a gift, but I do
recognize with appreciation and awe that, following visceral horror, I have
become a woman more willing to be open, free, funny, and present than I’ve ever
been. 

adversity · balance · joy · laughter

We Can Do This the Easy Way . . .

the easy way.jpg

Why does nobody ever put a period after that phrase?

We can do this the easy way. Period.

I heard it again on a radio interview the other day: Well, anything worth doing is hard. It’s the hard work that makes it worth while. Nothing good ever came from taking the easy road.

Really?

Here is a brief list of activities that I find most worthy and fueling in the world:

* Holding a baby
* Making conversation with a child
* Laughing with friends
* Singing showtunes with my mom and brother
* Singing camp songs while my brother plays guitar
* Dancing

Not one of these things is “hard.” Not one requires advanced degrees, mountains scaled, or scars incurred.

Each of these things are, for me, Easy. Joyful. Miraculous.

This value our culture has attached to struggle and adversity and toil is sickening and disheartening.

Now, I know what they’re getting at. I know that I wrote just yesterday that showing up is hard and scary, so I don’t know that I have a soap-box to stand on here. But, I am tired of being harangued by the idea that I have to struggle in this life to do anything worthwhile.

That anything that comes easily, naturally, feels good, joyful or pleasurable must have a toll paid in flesh.

Sure, caring for children all of the time is taxing; and I’m not a parent, just an eager attendant and friend to others’ kids, which demands its own responsibility. Making the time to show up with and for friends, and to maintain friendships does take effort. Dancing means making myself vulnerable to being seen, which requires taking a deep breath before diving in.

But it doesn’t follow that these things are struggles, adversities, or stories of redemption.

God, how we love a redemption story. We hate people who “have it easy.” We want to hear how muddy the water was you had to slog through toward your goal. We want you to express fear and isolation and doubt and a “dark night of the soul” before you are worthy of a story of triumph, joy and ease.

What kind of fucking schadenfreude society are we?

I “get” that we all want to feel a kind of connection with those who have struggled, because often we too find ourselves in struggle and we don’t want to feel alone. It feels disconnected to hear a story of ease, success, and Life’s mercy. Because we don’t have or believe we can have that ourselves. And so we want you in the mud with us.

Sometimes we do slog through mud. I get that, too. But not everything in life that’s worth doing requires that. Sometimes we cross the bridge, our toes are not calloused, there is no troll to pay off, and we simply arrive at our destination.

I know that doesn’t make great drama. But I’m not looking for drama. I’m looking for joy.

auditioning · fun · laughter · learning · theater · trying

Jazz Hands.

Yesterday was quite the hilarity.

I was called back for the dance audition for Addams Family the Musical, and it was just too funny and fun! There was a choreographer, who taught about 25 of us in a small side room off the theater, that had a wall of mirrors and a ballet bar.

There were people who were obviously dancers, and many who obviously weren’t. But, we’re shown this whole dance routine for about 40 minutes, going over part by part, to make up about only 2 minutes of dancing! Then we were called in groups of 5 to do it on the actual stage… Eek!

It was awesome and hilarious and super fun. I did alright. Everyone had to go a second time, and about half of us forgot it by then. Witness! Human’s amazing short-term memory!

I was called to stay afterward to read for one of the leads, and although I would certainly love to take that role, I don’t know if I have enough experience. I do think that I’ll take a role in the chorus if I get it. I mean, it was a lot of fun.

And the whole concept is just ridiculous enough to be my kinda ridiculous. And FUN.

A friend of mine always used to tell me: Don’t forget the “f” word: Fun.

That is the point of all this for me. Yes, theater is meant to be moving and evocative and a distillation of real life for two hours in a way that makes your hours outside of it gain meaning, at least for the few days after you leave the theater.

But, for me, knowing what I do about this very short mortal coil, I’d really love to have fun while I’m at it.

(Monday’s truncated blog due to workout studio shift.)

adventure · authenticity · children · equanimity · laughter · love · shame · vulnerability

Prerequisites

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I’m still wading through Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. I can only take mind-blowing awareness in small
chunks! The latest chunk being:
The important thing to know about
worthiness is that it doesn’t have prerequisites. Most of us, on the other
hand, have a long list of worthiness prerequisites [most of which] fall in the
categories of accomplishments, acquisitions, and external acceptance. It’s the if/when problem (“I’ll be worthy when…” or “I’ll be worthy
if…”)
Sound familiar?
To me it does. And yet. I have other quotes to help combat this if/when thought habit.
One of which is on my fridge, and comes from a book on
auditioning, actually: “There are no mistakes, only misinterpretations.”
Brene talks a lot about the difference between shame and
guilt. Shame = I am bad. Guilt = I did something bad. With guilt, your inherent
worth and worthiness is not called into question, and she encourages us to use
“guilt self-talk” instead of “shame self-talk,” if we have to use anything at
all.
Which, we usually do, because… we all make
misinterpretations!
It’s interesting. Yesterday, I got the chance to spend some
time with a coworker’s 10-year old daughter who was home for the summer, but
didn’t have anywhere to be this week. After way too many days watching t.v. on
her phone, I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk yesterday. And so we did.
We walked to the nearby park, and when we got to the water
and I encouraged her to touch the cool, lapping stream, she was surprised
and delighted, and asked if we could walk in it.
Well, I wasn’t expecting to do that, but SURE! Off come the
socks and shoes and into the shallows we go.
On our walk back to civilization (a whole block away), she
was reporting a story to me about something that had happened with her father
the day before. A story that would likely be categorized as one of Road Rage. As she told the story, I experienced many reactions and opinions. Aghast, sad,
worried, judgmental, superior.
But what I said was, “There are many different ways to handle
situations, and that was one way to handle it.”
I’m NOT the person to tell her her father was wrong,
inappropriate, endangering, or negligent. I am the person, in that little short
hour, to tell her, Yes, we can play in the water, and you are safe with me. I
am not going to pile my opinions onto you, because I know you’re making your
own.
You go ahead and love your dad. You observe him, and make
your own choices. You be influenced by who and how he is, and you’ll have the
chance to work through any of that if you need to.
But for right now… I didn’t even say, “That sounds scary,” because she wasn’t telling it that way. She was reporting, to see how I’d
react, I think. Was what he was doing appropriate? Wasn’t that funny or awful?
No. It was neither. It was human.
(As I write this, I realize that I can use this lesson and
aim it in a parental direction in my own life.)
It’s slow-going through Brene’s book, because there’s so
much meat to her observations and suggestions.
But her lamplight to guide us and offer hope on this journey of misinterpretations is as follows:
Those who feel lovable, who love,
and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. I often say that
Wholeheartedness is like the North Star: We never really arrive, but we
certainly know if we’re headed in the right direction.
By not attaching my own value or values to this little
girl’s experience, I get to let her have her own North Star and continue to
follow mine. No ifs, whens or buts. 

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. 😉

avoidance · community · connection · courage · disconnection · fear · laughter · life · love · meaning · messiness · purpose · vulnerability

"Scott, if your life had a face, I would punch it. I would punch your life in the face." Scott Pilgrim Vol 4

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As those of you who follow (or haven’t yet hidden) my
Facebook know by now, I’m actively looking for work. I have been, but some dam broke
this week, and I’ve pulled out more of the stops – those stops tend to look
like “fear of looking bad, desperate, needy.” However, SURPRISE! I feel those
things, so I guess if I look that way, then I’m just looking honest, huh?
I’ve been reading back into some of Brene Brown’s work
lately. I have her book The Gifts of Imperfection, and have been reading through the Amazon previews of her other two
books, most especially,
Daring Greatly, because it’s got her own biographical story at the beginning that includes the following exchange: 

      Therapist: What does it [vulnerability] feel like?
      Brene Brown: Like I’m coming out of my skin. Like I need to fix whatever’s happening and make it better.
      Th: And if you can’t?
      BB: Then I feel like punching someone in the face.
Nonetheless, what she goes on to discuss is the virulent necessity to
be vulnerable in order to achieve anything of worth, mainly love, connection,
and compassion.
People have commented to me often that what I write here is “so
honest.” Which I guess is another way of saying I allow myself to be vulnerable
here. Partly I do this because this is a protected forum. There are many layers
to getting here: You have to be my Facebook friend (or somehow have the link),
and then you have to click on it.
Well, two layers
then!
So, this is a bit of a more private club than public. And I
suppose that I feel brave enough to share this all with those of you who have
leaped those two “massive” hurdles toward connection with me. If you’re this
interested, or amused, then why shouldn’t
you get to see some of me? Which this blog always is: some of me. – It’s honest, but it’s
not my diary, nor my therapist. (Aren’t you grateful!)
I suppose that mostly what I feel about sharing here, and why I feel it’s “safe” vulnerability, is that
you’ve probably felt this way, too. I have heard that feedback many times from people from wildly different arenas of my life and backgrounds and
circumstances.
We all feel the same
way at times. Have felt that way, or simply “get” what it feels like to do so.
In short, we are an empathetic and compassionate community
just by my writing and your reading. We create connection, however zero’d and
one’d it is, in this exchange of ideas.
I suppose I write all this today to say– No, to remind myself that
I have great capacity for courage, authenticity and vulnerability. I don’t mind
telling you about the depths because you’ve been there, and can relate. I don’t
mind sharing my journey into and out of the chaos of my brain, because,
surprise, you all have brains, too!
In this time when things for me feel uncertain and
uncharted, this blog is a constant and a place for me where I know that I can do and
be well. Even when I’m vomiting on this page, and raging into and at it, I know
you’re here, smiling, waiting for me to pull through. Or nodding and saying, Me
too.
And. (Point):
If I have the balls to be as vulnerable and honest as I am
here behind these hurdles, then there is a significantly greater chance that I
can own my authenticity out in the “real” world.
Which I’m pretty sure is what all this mind-fucking job/meaning of life search is about, anyway.