7/30/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Today ended up being a celebration of creativity, a revel in the difference. With what I do, with who I am, I am simply surrounded by creatives. I love the way some minds bend and turn around corners, when things are seen in a way they aren’t usually seen, when the unimagined becomes the imagined and then the reality. Because I’m surrounded by it, there are times I grow so used to creativity that the unusual becomes the usual. And then things happen that remind me that the people around me use their heads in different ways. Wonderful ways.

The first came right out of my own home, from my husband. Since the surgery last Tuesday, I’ve been unable to sleep. I couldn’t rest on my right side, the side that was operated on. I am a side-sleeper, and because of fibromyalgia, I flip from side to side frequently during the night. Too long on one side and I’m in pain, particularly in my hip and shoulder. But now there was pain in my breast and on my incisions if I pressed them into the mattress. As a result, I was stuck on my left side, only sleeping about an hour to an hour and a half at a time. I’d wake up in pain and have to pace for a while, working out the complaining muscles. Then I’d return to bed for another short sleep before I had to walk again. Five nights of this left me frazzled and exhausted. “Rest!” people kept telling me. “How?” I wanted to shout back.

My husband puzzled over this with me. I tried to sleep one night on the recliner, which didn’t work either. Same issue – not enough movement. But Michael got out his airplane pillow for me to use, one of those horseshoe-shaped pillows that go around your neck so you can sleep sitting up in an airplane. The night after the recliner failure, he took a second look at his pillow.

“Maybe you could use this,” he said. He flattened it, and just like that, it was a different thing. I could see where my breast would fit in the horseshoe-hole, supported all around by the pillow, so that there would be no compression.

It was the birth…of the BreastRest.

Last night…oh, did I sleep. I was able to turn. I woke up pain-free.

I love my husband.

Then came creativity burst number two. I was reading a student’s story, one she just started, about a woman who has an encounter with a raindrop. Yes, you read that right…a raindrop encounter. That was wonderful enough, but then I came across this sentence:

“It looked like a bird-wannabe perching on my finger in a blob sort of way.”

And I sat straight up and laughed!

Sometimes, creativity comes out in the most straightforward, plain-speaking, just shout-it-out way. Writers especially tend to think they need to load their creativity up with fancy words and fancy sentences and multi-syllables and descriptions. This student could have said:

“The raindrop, iridescent, ethereal, perched like a rare luminous bird on my ring finger, a wedding ring of surprise and startle. Its shape was curvaceous, its moistness saturated my skin with a tenderness like no other, and I longed to know…” you know, what the hell a raindrop was doing on my finger.

But this writer didn’t. Instead she captured an unlikely moment in lovely language that left no doubt what it was her character was seeing.

I’ve taught this one well, Grasshopper.

So this afternoon, I sat on my third floor deck, steeped in sunshine. My Starbucks was to my side, I had student manuscripts in my lap, and I was well-rested. I’d slept in a BreastRest.  I was reading about raindrops that wanted to be birds in a blob sort of way. I was warm and I was happy and I was delving in other’s creativity and I was the beneficiary and it just felt so good.

I love my life.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Raindrop. In a blob sort of way. 🙂

7/29/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

So today is my birthday. Number 57. And I will be the first to admit that this is a difficult birthday, and not because of getting a year older. I’ve pretty much acclimated myself to that. Dealing with cancer – not so acclimated.

I actually was looking forward to this birthday, to this year. I’ve been crowing for a while about how I felt things were finally falling into place – my 7th book is being released on September 7, 2017, in the year I turn 57. All those sevens – how could it be anything but lucky? I was excited, confident, raring to go.

And now…the book will be released, and then launched at Boswell Books on September 26 in Shorewood at the same time that I am dealing with breast cancer recovery and treatment. Things are moving ahead for the Midwest book tour – but I don’t know if I’ll be able to go. I’ll know more Monday, when I meet with a team I never wanted to have – my surgeon, my radiation oncologist and my medical oncologist.

I am fighting hard to remain positive. I really am.

But frankly, this pisses me off.

And leaves me pretty sad.

I know this isn’t a death sentence. And I’m very aware that it’s not the common cold either. I have never liked it when things get in my way. I’ve never been stopped before either. But I have felt at times over these last several weeks that I am standing stock still, with no idea how to move forward.

I wanted to have a happy birthday. And I wanted that followed with the build-up to the release of In Grace’s Time, and then the debut, and then the hullabaloo of a book tour, capped by my appearance at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books on November 3 and 4.

I’m not so sure I’m going to get what I want. And frankly, what I’ve worked really hard for. Sorry for the whine, but this just isn’t fair.

So. How do I get a happy moment out of this?

My sixteen-year old daughter was eager for me to see what she made for me for my birthday. By the time I finished breakfast, had a shower, got dressed, and then came downstairs to wait for her brother and father to get home, she was practically foaming at the mouth. My sixteen-year old. You know, the one who is at the age where she’s not supposed to want to be with me anymore.

When we all got together, she handed me a square of paper. On it, a drawing. The two of us. In her Manga-style artistry. My hair is red and spiky. Her arm is around my shoulders. We look alike.

And we’re both wearing pink.

On the day of my surgery last week, I wore a t-shirt with a deep V, one that would be easy to pull on to go home after I was awake. Olivia pointed out that it was pink. “Like the ribbon, Mama,” she said. “Are you wearing pink for breast cancer?”

She wrote a story this week, called Wear The Ribbon And Make A Difference.

So I changed my perspective and wore pink to surgery.

And then I spent the week, my birthday week, asking that people on my Facebook page donate to ABCD; After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, an organization which has been just a lifesaver to me. I wanted something positive to come out of this birthday.

Something that I never expected. Something that I never wanted to deal with. A team I never wanted. A club I never wanted to be in.

But something positive.

I am wearing my ribbon and making a difference. I will find the positive.

And goddammit, my book is still coming out. It is still book number 7. It’s still being released on 9/7, 2017, in the year I turn 57.

And it will still be a fabulous thing.

In the drawing, my daughter and I wear pink and she has her arm around my shoulder. Even though she’s 16 and she’s not supposed to like me anymore.

And yes, this helps. Despite. Anyway.

The drawing Olivia made for my birthday.

7/28/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Tonight, I had coffee with a great friend and then drove home under a tilted Cheshire smile moon, a moon and a little freckle of a planet hovering down below and to the right. My right. The moon’s left.

It’s July and it was dark, nine o’clock at night, but I had the top down and no jacket on. I turned on my heated seat and so I was wrapped in summer above and below. Fireflies flickered out of my way. There was distant music, but also near music, my  music, Linkin Park, Ten Thousand Suns, and I thought again of Chester Bennington and how he chose to end his life and he’s not here anymore, to smile or frown up at a Cheshire smile moon.

I’m still here.

The music was near and far and the air was warm and the moon smiled down at me and I winked up at the freckle. As I turned onto my street, I saw lights spill from my home and I knew inside was my husband and my daughter and two dogs and two cats. And I knew they all would look up when I came inside. I knew they would look up and smile at me as I smiled at the moon. My husband might even wink.

I drove inside my garage and shut off the car and for just a few minutes, I sat. In the dark. The garage door was open and the Cheshire smile moon lit the warm air behind me and the lights from my home lit it too. I just sat in the warmth. The warmth of summer. Of family. Of quality coffee and the memory of good conversation with a great friend. My car pinged its own tune as it settled.

It’s moments like this that keep me going. It’s moment after moment after moment.

Warmth.

I’m still here.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Moon over the Fox River.

7/27/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

On Thursday nights, AllWriters’ offers the Teen Writing Workshop, for kids in middle school and high school. It’s taught by my husband, the oldest teenager of them all, and my daughter is in it as well. Ten minutes before the workshop was to begin tonight, she emailed me her story so I could print out copies for her to share.

It was seven pages.

Yesterday, when I said to my daughter, “I’m going upstairs. I’ll be writing for a bit,” she answered, “Me too.”

And it really hit me today, as I prepared her pages for printing: My daughter is writing. Not only that, but she writes well.

And…she writes out loud.

I didn’t read her pages (yet), but the title told me enough: Wear The Ribbon And Make A Difference.

My daughter is writing to make a difference.

Earlier this week, we had a student call to say she had to drop out of the teen workshop. Her parents, steadfast Christians, didn’t like that she was being exposed to horror. To mystery. To social activism writing. To all genres. To what the kids want to write in the class. To what this particular child wanted to write. To what my daughter writes. To what my husband writes.

To what I write.

Several weeks ago, this same girl told my daughter she got in trouble at home because she tried to write some horror. She got in trouble. For writing. Possibly for writing out loud.

My daughter is writing a story called Wear The Ribbon And Make A Difference.

My daughter is raising her voice.

Thirty-nine years ago (yikes!), when I was a senior in high school, I wrote a short story called “In God’s Name (We Trust?)”. It was set in my version of Heaven, and God was a massive clanking, banging, pinging computer. Jesus was the computer’s technician/maintenance man. The archangel Gabriel was a jazz-blowing drug-using trumpet player. And the archangel Michael was a frazzled overseer, trying to keep things under control as God the computer went haywire, turning Earth’s skies red and raining down visions of Armageddon.

I submitted the story to my high school’s creative writing magazine and it was heartily accepted. And then word leaked out to the parents. A fuss was raised. I was being irreverent. I was being sacrilegious. I needed to be stopped.

My creative writing teacher stood up for me. The principal, after hearing both my teacher and me out, stood up for me too. Despite protests, my story appeared.

I was allowed to raise my voice. I’ve never forgotten that.

Now, my daughter is raising hers. My students and clients are raising theirs.

My job is to help them do so.

But one young girl has been silenced. We lost one this week. Censored by a family who believes if she doesn’t read whatever they find objectionable, if she doesn’t write it, then it doesn’t exist.

Wrong.

But so many other voices are growing. So many other voices are raising.

Writers are instruments of change.

And my daughter will write her words and wear her ribbons and she will make a difference. We all will.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The three of us, at work. Photo by Ron Wimmer of Wimmer Photography.

7/26/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

 Keep passing the open windows.

John Irving, The Hotel New Hampshire

I had a moment today that wasn’t so happy. I hadn’t really had a chance to see myself, to see what was done, since the surgery yesterday. When I woke up in recovery, I was in a gown and the velcroed shoulders were done up. When I dressed to go home, I was still a bit groggy and Michael had to help me. Looking down, I was able to see a bit, but not much. And there wasn’t a mirror.

It’s recommended after a surgery like this one that you wear a non-wired bra around the clock. The operated-upon breast feels “heavy”, and the bra offers support. So even while climbing into bed last night, I was bra-ed and didn’t see anything. But today, I took a shower. After undressing, I stood for a moment in front of the bathroom mirror.

And I was shocked. I look like a mess right now. The left breast is still bruised from last week’s biopsy. And the right breast…well, the phrase slice and dice comes to mind. And more bruising. And then there’s the area where the lymph nodes were taken too.

I don’t know how women who have full mastectomies get through this. I was not prepared for the change in my appearance.

I cried in the shower.

But then some wonderful things happened and I embraced those.

First, my son went to Starbucks for me. I can drive again tomorrow, but cars were still off-limits for me today. When Andy got to the drive-thru, he ordered a grande iced cinnamon dolce latte, with just two pumps please. There was a pause and the barista asked if he was ordering the drink for someone. Andy said he was my son. When the barista handed him my drink, he told Andy to tell me they were all thinking of me. And there was a heart drawn on my cup.

Little things.

Then there was a package in my mail. I recognized the name on the return address as a student who took Michael’s classes, and who I’ve met only once. The package contained a lovely card with a note. This student talked about the brief time we met, and that I was wearing spirals, likely a spiral necklace. I wear lots of spirals – they represent labyrinths to me. She felt from this that we were kindred spirits, something that was further solidified when she found that I collect clocks and she collects hourglasses.

We are also connected now through our cancer stories. She told me of hers and she told me that things would get better. And she sent me the loveliest ring. She said the ring was a gift of tradition among friends of hers who have dealt with various forms of cancer. It’s a silver ring, with a band that spins loose between the ring borders. When I’m feeling anxious, I can spin it. It fits on my pointer finger, and my thumb can twirl the ring easily. It’s like a fidget spinner, in a way! But much more beautiful.

Engraved on the ring is my favorite line from a book, a line I’ve pretty much adopted as my life’s motto. “Keep passing the open windows,” from John Irving’s novel, The Hotel New Hampshire. The student asked Michael for a phrase I hold dear, and Michael knew the exact one.

And then the final thing happened. Someone on Facebook told me today that I am her hero, on so many levels.

I don’t feel like a hero. But I’m learning more and more every day that I have made an impact. That my life does matter. That I haven’t wasted it.

That’s a fairly new feeling for me. I’ve spent most of my life worrying that I’m a failure.

But I’m not.

No matter how I look in the mirror today. Or how I looked yesterday. Or how I will look tomorrow.

And yes, that all helps. Despite. Anyway.

My ring. The part with the words on it spins.

7/25/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Today, I had surgery to remove the breast cancer from my body. It was a lumpectomy, and they removed a couple lymph nodes. I think. I don’t remember much. The whole day, from the planting of a radioactive seed in my breast to help guide my surgeon (both radiologists argued over who got to do this for me – I think that’s a good thing) to the operating room to the recovery room back to my day surgery room is a blur.

What I do know is that right now, I am sitting in my favorite chair at my favorite writing table in my favorite place ever – my home, both condo and business, under one gloriously slanted copper roof. This place provides a home for my dreams, my passions, my goals, and for so many that I love.

I’m here.

One of my ABCD mentors (After Breast Cancer Diagnosis) just texted me and said in all caps, THE CANCER HAS LEFT UR BODY! Shortly after, my other ABCD mentor texted and said, You are now over that first mountain and that beautiful valley is still ahead.

And I’ve been flooded with word-voices on Facebook, cheering and encouraging. I have been lifted up all day long. Even when I was unconscious in the operating room, messages continued.

Lifted up. That is exactly how I feel.

Along with sleepy and sore.

But I’m here.

One voice I heard from on Facebook was a long lost family member – that member lost to me when I divorced my ex-husband in 1998. I cannot even tell you what that meant to me!

I am lifted up. And I am here.

All I can say before I return to my recliner is I’m so, so grateful.

And I’ll repeat Grandma Walton’s words, from when she was in the hospital after nearly dying from a burst appendix:  “I’m fixin’ to feel a whole lot better.”

Community. Connection. Nothing will heal me faster.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

https://www.abcdbreastcancersupport.org/

Believe with me, please.

7/24/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

So. It’s the evening before surgery and I was trying to find that Moment. Not so easy, today. Today and tomorrow are packed with weirdness. Not one, but two showers with a bottle each of special yellow soap that I have to cover myself with and leave bubbling for five minutes. A radioactive seed will be planted in my breast and I have strict rules to not hug or hold a baby or child against that breast until the seed is removed with the lumpectomy. Really. I can only sleep tonight in just-laundered sheets and wear only just-laundered pajamas. I don’t wear pajamas. Good thing that yellow soap is laundering me so I can sleep in my skin. The surgeon will use a special curved scalpel that will follow the shape of my breast, guaranteeing only a small scar.

As if at soon-to-be 57, I care about a scar. These breasts are retired. For the most part. When I heard that little fact, all I could think was, Use whatever works best, whatever works fastest. A steak knife. An apple corer. A hole puncher. Just GET THIS OUT OF ME.

So I was fuming today. I wasn’t finding happy. I was finding anxious. I was finding scared. I was finding angry.

But while I was finding and feeling everything but happy, other things began to happen. My Facebook page was liberally peppered with comments and compassion. Encouragement. Support. Well wishes. My phone rang. My email box and snailmail box were stuffed with cards and positive messages. There have been references to lit candles, prayers, positive energy, and above all else, thinking-about-yous.

And then a package arrived from a student. In it was a card with the following words:

We are each of us angels with only one wing and we can only fly by embracing one another.

Within a half-hour of that, there was a message from someone on my meditation app. He sent me two prayers. One, he said, he was going to say for me. And one was for me to say for myself, if I so chose.

I choose.

It was about then that I lost it.

If we are one-winged angels, then I am surrounded by a windstorm of wings. If we can only fly by embracing one another, then I am flying high. I am flying fast. I am flying strong.

The day that my mammogram went south, my Today’s Moment was that no matter what happened, I knew I wasn’t going through this alone.

That’s been proven to me every single day since June 20. And June 27. And now. And tomorrow.

And you know what? Even though I am terrified of birds, I collect feathers. Feathers from wings. Feathers find me in moments of need.

Today, I stepped out of my car and found a feather right next to my foot.

From one of my favorite poems, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “The Windhover”:

My heart in hiding stirred for a bird – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.

 I feel wings. And my heart in hiding is stirring. I found Today’s Moment.

I am so grateful.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Believe with me, please.

7/23/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

So the lumpectomy surgery is now less than 48 hours away. My anxiety is starting to ramp; fear too. Not so much for the outcome, though that’s there too, but more for the procedure itself. I don’t much like the idea of surgery. I’ve had five eye surgeries, half of my thyroid removed, and my gall bladder removed. None of those experiences left me feeling like, oh, surgery, easy peasy. So…I’m nervous.

But I really got to thinking about this whole thing today, during meditation, where I just followed my thoughts like one bubble after another up to the sky.

Meditation: I’m approaching my 500th straight day of meditation. I was skeptical for years about meditation. For some reason, 495 days ago, something clicked. And now, I can’t imagine how I would have gotten through all this breast cancer stuff without it. Meditative breathing helped me through two biopsies, one malignant and one benign, a breast MRI, and many difficult days. And I figure I’ll be breathing my way into the operating room.

Today’s Moment: On January 23, I began writing the Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News, in reaction to the election and subsequent inauguration. I was overwhelmed by the negativity, overwhelmed by who won, overwhelmed by all of it. I needed to find a way to keep myself up, to keep myself positive, at least for one moment a day. And so I began to write it. Because of the reaction, I promised to do it for at least a year.

What’s resulted is a major attitude change on my part. There are days that yes, I’ve had to look hard for that moment. But I’ve always found it. It’s always there.

And now? While “the news” still refers to what we see on our news feeds every day, it also applies now to the news that I’m dealing with cancer. Finding Today’s Moment on the day that I was diagnosed was the hardest I’ve had to look. But I found it.

And I’m finding it still. It’s gotten me through. It’s still getting me through.

And then further, it’s affected others. I’ve had at least twenty women tell me they went to get their put-off mammograms because of my experience. And there have been several biopsies too.

So…two things that I never believed I would do – meditating and writing about a moment of happiness every day – are in place. And they were in place and steady before I faced this challenge. And this challenge has been easier because of these two things that I never thought I would do.

I’ve always hated the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.”

But maybe this time, it’s true.

(Though I still think it would have been easier to have never had breast cancer at all.)

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

I do.

 

7/22/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

It’s amazing to me, really, how things can happen, bing bing bing, and they all go together and create an impact that individually might have been lost. Kismet. Today was a three-bing day.

First, an AllWriters’ student emailed me to let me know that her poetry chapbook was accepted by a publisher. Actually, I should amend that to say ANOTHER AllWriters’ student let me know that a book was accepted. Or a story. Or a poem. Or an article. Or a memoir. I am lifted every day by watching students’ dreams come true. I am delighted to play a part in that.

Second, I critiqued a student’s article on what’s important in running a small business. She talked about the reasons behind opening a business in the first place, and the reason that keeps you going when, undoubtedly, you find it’s nowhere close to being as easy as you thought it would be.

And it’s not. Trust me on that. It’s grueling.

I know my reason for starting AllWriters’. Complete total and profound love of the written word and those who pound the keyboard, hold the pencil, drive the pen. I wanted to create a living, breathing, thriving, cheering community of writers. Writers who help each other. Writers who crawl out of their individual head spaces to connect and grow and, well, live a life of literary family and connection. Community. The word comes up for me again and again. We can be introverts, but we still need company. Let’s be introverts together. And let’s dream. Let’s succeed. And let’s be thrilled for each other when we do.

I can’t even begin to express what AllWriters’ means to me. The creation of it, the building, the watching it grow, the maintaining. The loving. My gosh, the loving. I love my work and I live it.

And then third. I was driving to Starbucks today and I had the radio on instead of the CD player. Matthew Wilder’s Break My Stride came on and just took me over. Before I knew it, I was singing at the top of my lungs and dancing in my seat as much as driving would let me. The lyrics suddenly became my full-throated battle cry:

 

Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride,

Nobody’s gonna slow me down,

Oh, no, I’ve got to keep on movin’.

Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride,

I’m runnin’ and I won’t touch ground,

Oh, no, I’ve got to keep on movin’.

 

That might as well be my lifesong. Nothing has stopped me yet. And nothing will.

Not even breast cancer.

There’s more to write, more to teach, more to do. More to dream. And I intend to write, to teach and to do.

Dream.

Bing-bing-bing kismet. Thanks for that.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

7/21/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Today, I was contacted out of the blue by a magazine that wants to use a blog piece I wrote back in 2014 about John Boy Walton from my favorite ever television show, The Waltons.

Any idea how cool that is?

Typically, you write something, you finish it, you do the market research, you send it out, and you wait. And it gets rejected and you send it out again and you wait. And it gets rejected and you send it out again and you wait.  Wash. Rinse. Repeat. And then, hopefully, a piece gets accepted and published.

Woohoo!

But today, a piece I never intended for publication was asked for.

How nice is that?

It was interesting that this came up today because earlier this afternoon, in the car, I was listening to Linkin Park’s CD, A Thousand Suns, and pondering the suicide of Chester Bennington. I wondered what regrets he had that led him to hang himself. And I wondered if he had any regrets now.

And then I wondered if I have any regrets.

Of course I do. Many.

But things I don’t regret:

*having writing as the focus of my life, whether writing my own work, teaching others to write, or advocating for writers,

*starting an improbable small business, and working 85+ hours a week for over 12 years (so far),

*my first marriage (it produced three incredible children who I wouldn’t have missed knowing for the world),

*getting married again and having a baby at forty – a baby who is now sixteen and provides constant joy and constant challenge,

And…I don’t regret my intense love with the Waltons.

John Boy Walton taught me that you don’t give up, even when the magazine you want to submit to only accepts typewritten manuscripts and you don’t own a typewriter and don’t have the bucks to buy one. He taught me that you don’t go in search of the BIG story, but write all the little stories happening everywhere around you. The Walton family taught me about unconditional love, forever support, constant encouragement, and how having faith in a person can help that person harvest her own faith in herself. And Walton’s Mountain taught me about community, and it’s that sense of family and extended community that drives me. Almost everything I do is about me reaching out. Almost everything I do is about having someone reach back to me.

Earl Hamner Jr. friended me on Facebook a few years before he passed away. I don’t think a “friending” has ever meant more.

I don’t regret loving the Waltons one bit. Within an hour of thinking that, I came home and found the email requesting permission to publish my “I Remember John Boy” blog in a magazine.

Thank you, Earl. Thank you, John Boy.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Love.