8/30/17

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

A few days ago, Michael and Olivia were over at Walgreens, buying Olivia first-day-of-school supplies. In high school, you don’t get your supply list until you get your syllabi for each class, so we just wanted to make sure she went with the basics – notebooks, folders, pencils, highlighters. They forgot the list and so Olivia texted me, asking for a few details. And then she texted, “Dad got Orange Oreos. J”

My response: “ORANGE OREOS??????”

As I’ve said before, I do not write in multiple punctuation marks. But this warranted it. My first thought was absolute wordless joy. My second thought was, This is August. They can’t possibly be ripe.

Orange Oreos are an October food. But…oh. Orange Oreos!

You know how sometimes there are themes or common occurrences in a writer’s work? Anyone who has read my stories or novels has seen a prevalence of Oreos. And in particular, the Orange Oreo. In my novel, The Home For Wayward Clocks, there is a story/chapter titled Marriage in Orange, in which Orange Oreos are practically a character. And they’re even used in a, well, intimate, erotic sort of way.

<blush>

Now here’s the thing. I don’t know why Orange Oreos affect me the way that they do.

Does the orange stuff in the middle taste like orange?

No.

Do the Oreos, even though they are orange, taste like any other type of plain Oreo?

Some would say so, but I would argue that they do not.

Why?

I don’t have the damnedest idea. They’re just the absolute BEST.

I don’t want Chips Ahoy. I don’t want Nutter Butters (oh, ick – and remember the commercials? Have a ‘nother Nutter Butter Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie! No, thank you.) I don’t want Fig Newtons (Ooey-gooey rich and chewy insides! Soft and cakey tender flakey outsides!), Fudge Stripes, or those weird (though yummy) neapolitan-striped wafer cookies.  I don’t want any of the other special color or special flavor Oreos. Whoever came up with the Swedish Fish Oreo was certifiably insane.

But Orange Oreos. Oh, baby. Curl my toes.

I should probably mention that the Orange Oreo is commonly called the Halloween Oreo – especially by its maker, Nabisco. The chocolate cookie part has Halloween-type creatures stamped into it. I don’t care. That’s not what makes it special. It’s the ORANGE.

So my moment of happiness today. Right now.

Michael is downstairs, teaching a class.

Olivia is at a friend’s house.

The dogs are asleep. The cats are asleep. I’m done with clients for the day. It’s quiet. My deck door is open and while I hear the sounds of the city, I also hear night-bug type noises. There is a rain-fresh breeze.

And by my side: a stack of Orange Oreos and a cup of hot, strong black coffee.

No, I don’t share.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Mmmmmmm.

8/29/17

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

I don’t know when the last time was that I was out on a weeknight. Out meaning out…not working, not at home. Having…what’s that called? Fun.

I also don’t know when the last time was that I attended a Milwaukee Brewers game. I do know that we did the Macarena in the stands. Several times. And somehow it became better choreographed with every drink…oh, wait, I mean inning.

Michael’s employer, the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, hosted a picnic and ball game tonight. It caused me to do something I don’t think I’ve ever done. I canceled evening clients and class. To go to a ball game with my family.

I very nearly didn’t go. I woke up out of sorts this morning. I don’t know if it was because of yesterday was the first day of radiation (and today was the second), or if it was because of our condo garbage being picked up right outside my open bedroom window at five-thirty in the morning when I’d only been asleep since three, and the special truck that picks up the dumpster and empties it seemed to think it had to shake the damn thing several times before letting go, or if it was that I got up an hour earlier than usual for a client. I was tired. I was crabby. My stomach was a little messed up. And I just felt a bit down. While I am on the last step of breast cancer treatment, this is the first time I’ve dealt with it on an everyday in-your-face level, as every day, I get bare and my breast and I stare a radiation machine in its Star Wars face. At the same time that I see a definite end date, it also just feels relentless.

I tried to get someone else to take my place at the game. No one would. In the end, I decided to go.

It was worth it.

While I don’t like baseball, I do enjoy going to games. I like to watch the people, I like the music, and while I don’t understand what they’re doing, I do admire athleticism. Tonight, I had all of that, and I had all of that under a beautiful open-roof sky. Fireworks went off and I love fireworks. I had nachos. I bought my daughter a Milwaukee Brewers pink and white unicorn. Really. My husband had a sundae in a miniature helmet. And on one side of me was my daughter and the other side was my husband. I sang along to the Turtles’ Happy Together, directing one lyric in particular to Michael while my daughter cringed in embarrassment and I didn’t care:

 

I can’t see me lovin’ nobody but you

For all my life

When you’re with me, baby the skies’ll be blue

For all my life

 

The skies were blue. On a night when I am typically at work in the classroom and on the computer.

Oh, and I fell in love with a player named Domingo Santana, just because of his name.

The Brewers were playing the Cardinals, and I was born in St. Louis and lived there for my first six years. Partway through the game, my daughter asked me who I was rooting for.

“The Brewers,” I said.

“Why not the Cardinals? That’s your hometown,” she said.

“This is my hometown.”

“You weren’t born here.”

No, I wasn’t. And after leaving St. Louis, I moved to northern Minnesota for six years. But from twelve years old on, I’ve been in Wisconsin.

“This is home,” I said.

I put my arm around my daughter. My husband put his arm around me.

Home.

The Brewers lost. I didn’t.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

At the Brewers game. Along with a pink and white Milwaukee Brewers unicorn.

8/28/17

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

Today was my first day of radiation. That sounds very weird to say. There are so many other firsts that sound better. My first day of school. My first day on the job. My first day as a wife, or my first day as a mother. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.
Boy, let’s hope so.
Well, it was the first day of radiation. I have 19 more. I will have off on Saturdays and Sundays and on Labor Day. And I will be done on September 25.
The day before the In Grace’s Time launch.
Whew.
It wasn’t a bad experience, overall, except for the knowledge of what I was there for. A woman in the dressing room admired my hair and then asked if I wore it this way because it was growing back from chemo. I said no. She asked to touch it. I said sure. I think I made her day. “I’m going to do mine that way!” she said. She wore a baseball cap.
In the treatment room, I had to state my full name and my birthdate. They will ask me that each and every time, even though they will be seeing me almost every day over the next month. The treatment machine was not the same one I met a couple weeks ago. I introduced myself. I’m still calling it Xappa and chalking it up to a case of mistaken identity. It’s an odd and eerie-looking machine, animalistic, with a long neck and a round head. It twists all around me, starting from below my right shoulder to up above my left. It gets pretty close – the technicians assured me it would not touch me – so that it can reach its target, the spots designated by complex computer calculations. It hums while it works and I decided that was charming. It – He – was busy and focused.
I will admit to starting to hyperventilate partway through. I closed my eyes then, fell into my own hum, breathed deeply.
And then it was over.
For the day. 19 more times.
Tomorrow, after saying hello to Xappa, I will start with my eyes closed. He and I will hum together. We’ll get this done.
I had to stop on my way out to get a print-out of my 19 appointments. When I gave my name, I thought the receptionist was going to squeal her way past the sound barrier. “It’s YOU!” she said. “You’re THAT one! You’re THAT one!”
I will admit to wanting to duck and cover. “Um…what one?” I asked.
“The writer! You’re the one with the book coming out!”
And I was suddenly surrounded by nurses and technicians and receptionists. Oh, my.
“Tell us about your book!” they all said.
So I did. And I felt myself come fully back into my skin as I did so. No hyperventilation. No duck and cover. Just me. THAT one.
And then I thanked them all for whatever part they played in getting my care and treatment done in time for the launch on September 26.
You know, I’ve always wanted to be THAT one. There have been other times I’ve been identified as THAT one. But I don’t know that I ever wanted to be THAT one in a cancer treatment center. But now I am.
I walked out smiling.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.
Cover of In Grace’s Time. And…my hair.

8/27/17

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

I had a difficult night last night. It was not expected. It took a while for me to unravel it today, to go after its source, and then to find today’s moment in the realization.

I have a book launch coming up on September 26. I have always, always dreamed of being brought to a book launch in a limo. Yesterday morning, I called down to Michael and asked him if he thought it would be terrible if I rented a limo to bring me to my launch. I said, “I just don’t think it’s ever going to be done for me. And I feel like I’m running out of time.”

It seems to me Michael answered that I deserved that indulgence, but I wasn’t really listening anymore. I had to find a seat, fast. My breath was gone. Where did THAT thought come from?

A student once told me that he wanted to know when Death was coming. He wanted to see it, face it head on, watch it hit with wide open eyes. I’ve thought of that often since June 27th. And I’ve wondered if I’ve met now what will eventually take me from this world.

It’s disconcerting.

I felt a little off for the rest of the day. Then, last night, we were watching an episode of Netflix’s Grace & Frankie. It’s from this past season, and in it, Frankie, played by Lily Tomlin, experiences a small stroke. Tomlin is an excellent actress, and in that moment, when she turns to Jane Fonda, unable to speak intelligibly and with one side of her mouth drooping, her eyes said it all. I have no control over what’s happening to my body. Help me.

And I knew just how that felt. Tomlin’s face nailed me between the eyes.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that someone who has fought since she was a teenager for women to have the right to control their own bodies is now experiencing something within her body she has no control over?

Oh, how we deceive ourselves.

I meditated before bed last night. But instead of relaxing, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a panic attack. With my eyes closed, the voice of the guided meditation faded and all I could see, in all-capital huge purple letters, and I could hear it being shouted in my voice too, was WAIT…I HAD CANCER????????????

I don’t use multiple punctuation marks. But behind my eyelids, there they were.

Another student last week, a doctor, when I told him that I was feeling more like myself, asked, “Who were you feeling like before?” He chuckled and said he always says that when someone says, “I’m just not feeling like myself.” So who are you feeling like?

Before I began to feel like myself again, I was feeling like someone who was blindsided by cancer.  And I was trying so very hard to get back to feeling like someone who doesn’t have cancer. Someone who never had cancer.

Well, then. I am someone now who doesn’t have cancer. I am someone who no longer has cancer. I will never ever be someone who has never had cancer again.

It all led to last night’s big purple letters. And to no sleep until around six this morning.

And to a realization. I have always twitched when someone says, “I shouldn’t feel bad. There are people who have it worse than I do.” Of course there are. If you break your leg in two places, there’s someone out there who broke it in three. If your home is destroyed by fire, there is someone out there whose home and family were destroyed by fire. If you were abandoned by your husband, there is someone out there who was abandoned by their mother…in the freezing cold…in the middle of the woods…which are infested with wolves.

Just because someone may have it worse doesn’t invalidate what you’re feeling.

I know I’ve been incredibly lucky since June 27th. The cancer was caught early. I didn’t need a mastectomy. I don’t need chemo. I’ve had a lumpectomy, I’m on medication to block estrogen for the next five to ten years, and tomorrow, I embark on four weeks of radiation. Compared to what some women go through, this is a cake walk.

But it’s a cake walk with the worst-tasting cake ever. I’m not exactly digging into chocolate layer cake topped with coffee-flavored frosting here.

I’ve been doing quite the job of beating myself up when I’ve felt sad or overwhelmed or angry over all this, despite acknowledging that there are people who have it worse. I’ve been doing what I tell people not to do. And I’ve been doing it to the point of denial, telling myself I’m lucky to have it as good as I have, so soon, I will return to being someone who has never had cancer.

No, I won’t.

A friend told me a while ago, “Everyone is telling you you’re strong. You know you don’t have to be, right?”

I do now.

Today is not a strong day. And I’m okay with that.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Always.

 

8/26/17

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

Today, we checked out a new mall that opened up in our area. It’s nowhere close to full yet, but has already developed the reputation of being a bit high-falutin’. I don’t consider myself high falutin’, but you know, I was curious. Figured I wouldn’t fit in with the high falutin’ crowd, but I would just keep a low falutin’ profile while I admired the view.

We went into the anchor department store first. Olivia went to the juniors department, I went to the women’s. Within a few minutes, I decided it was time I became high falutin’. The fabrics were amazing, and while I found three things on the clearance rack, I also found two that were still full-priced. One called my name. The other called my name and said it would love me forever. A sales clerk going by said, “Isn’t that gorgeous? We just put it out last week.”

So I answered the call. Besides the store itself being beautiful and the try-on rooms large and comfortable, besides the fabrics being lovely and the chorus of name-calling, I also wore a size smaller there. High falutin’ siren song.

I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I did fit in here.

While I waited for the purchases to be wrapped up in high falutin’ tissue paper, I mentioned that the clothes would likely be worn during upcoming presentations. A woman behind me said, “Oh!” and came to my side. “You’re a writer?” she said. “My nieces are writers!” And we talked about writing. As we talked, two other clerks came over and joined in. By the time I walked out, I’d given away six business cards – three to the woman with the nieces. “One is for me!” she said.

Then we wandered into a high falutin’ furniture and home goods store. Holy cow. This was HGTV on steroids. As we prepared to leave, I came across an extremely high-backed wooden chair that looked like something a king would sit in at a hunting lodge. “That,” I said, “would make for a fantastic teacher’s chair in the classroom.”

My current teacher’s chair was bought at Salvation Army twelve years ago. I love it. But it’s getting a bit…worn out. And this new one…well, it demanded respect, lemme tell ya. I could RULE.

The manager came over. Told me the price. I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. She said, “I could give you ten percent off.” I laughed again and told her to call me if it ever came down by 50%. She told me they do sell the floor models from time to time and asked to take down my name and number. I gave her, you guessed it, my card.

“You’re a writer?” she said. “I’m a poet!”

And we talked writing. And talked writing some more.

I’ve no doubt that she, and that chair, will end up in my classroom.

Wherever I go, I run into writers. It’s the weirdest thing. I’ve found students in baristas, fast food clerks, gas station attendants, bookstore clerks, waysides, while walking the dogs. Michael often says, “How do you DO that?” when I go out for a bit and come home with new students.

I don’t know. But I love it.

And you know what? High falutin’, low falutin’, and everywhere in between…I guess I fit in. I’ve always felt that I don’t. I’ve always felt like the odd one out, the square peg, the one who just hovers on the outskirts.

But really, the world just seems to keep fitting itself around me. Giving me community. No matter where I am.

I like that.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

I would rule in this chair!

8/25/17

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

Today’s Moment is written basically in anticipation…because the moment won’t happen until approximately 11:00 tonight. But the happiness is rising steadily until I can soak up to my neck in it. Literally.

Tonight, at around 11:00, after I’m done with all my clients (my last client is at 10:00), after this week is declared done-finished-bam, I get to take a BATH!

No small thing. I haven’t climbed into our jetted tub since a couple days before my breast cancer surgery on July 25. I haven’t been allowed. “Don’t you even think about it,” my surgeon said. But this week…the restrictions were lifted.

A lot feels lifted this week. I no longer have restrictions on how much weight I can lift with my right arm. It no longer hurts when I lay on my right side. I can wear the shoulder harness of my seatbelt again. My daughter is no longer hugging me at arm’s length, her hands and wrists clamped to my neck, the rest of her body held away from me by locked elbows, because she was afraid of hurting me. And I can wear regular everyday bras again! Goodbye, ugly sports bras! Sayonara, uglier post-op bras!

And a bath. I can have a bath.

Water to me means relaxation, whether it’s a pond, river, lake, ocean, swimming pool, hot tub…or bathtub. Though I will admit, the hotter the water, the better. I love to melt.

When Michael and I built this place, most of our neighbors-under-construction were eyeing building allowances and their kitchen dreams. I dreamed of my bathroom. This was 2006, and ever since my first son was born in 1984, I lived in houses with only one bathroom and shared it with children, plus an assortment of rubber duckies and letters that would stick to the walls when they got wet. They were supposed to teach the children a soggy alphabet, and then spelling, but sometimes, they became a form of wet magnetic poetry. Or wet magnetic sarcasm. When we moved here, I’d been living for almost six years in a one-bathroom house with two adults, three teenagers, and one growing baby. The bathroom was tiny and our hot water heater didn’t give out enough heat to fill the tub. Traveling meant looking for hotels with hot tubs.

But now…two full baths. One just for me and Michael. And he very willingly turned the planning over to me. And I planned.

A shower with a rainforest showerhead that has several settings, plus two body jets with even more settings. In the bathroom showroom, I was measured so that one jet would hit me squarely at the base of my neck, and the other would hit me in the small of my back.

A jetted soaker tub. Deep enough to sink in up to my neck. Six powerful pulsating jets.

We installed a great water heater too.

Oh, heaven. On move-in day, exhaustion set in and I fell into bed without trying my new adults-only sanctuary. But our first morning here, I took a long shower. A looooooong shower, Our second night here, I took a bath and discovered the miracle of more hot water at my command when the first batch grew cold. And the second. Sometimes the third.

I love this place. I love my home.

And tonight…I will be reunited with my bathtub and supreme relaxation.

All of this, the bath, the lifted restrictions, the seatbelt, the hugs, the bra, all of it expresses signs of healing, of course.

But it’s more than that. These all express signs of a life going back to normal. A life that is chaotic enough, noisy enough, crazy enough, to require every Friday night soaks in a tub whose surging hot waters ease me back into energy and enthusiasm. Like my home, a life that I love. And appreciate, now, more than ever.

Tonight, I bathe!

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Photos show what happens when the adults-only sanctuary is invaded by a young Olivia. Jets and bubbles don’t mix! And  a photo  of our bathroom taken for a feature on our home in the local paper.

8/24/17

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

Today, I had to bring Hemi, my Chrysler 300C Hemi, in for a recalled airbag replacement. When I called to make the appointment, I was told it would take up to four hours. Four hours! And this had to be done at the Chrysler dealership, not my beloved CarMax, where they would have set me up in a cubicle and plied me with privacy and fresh-made coffee and a treat or two.

So I prepared for four hours. In the middle of the afternoon. I packed my computer, my mousepad, my mouse, my power cord, my phone, and I thought, my flash drive. I dropped the car off with a pat of encouragement and then walked across the street to Culver’s, a not-so-fast fast food place. After placing my order, I scouted the seating and found the one spot that had an electric socket.

I soon had my own little workstation in the middle of a busy restaurant. And it’s about then that I discovered I didn’t have my flash drive with me.

I sighed a few times, but then decided there was a bright side. My flash drive is for student manuscripts. Not having student manuscripts with me meant I could devote the whole time – without guilt – to my own writing.

So I did.

Partway through, I was well-immersed (and well-fed with a deluxe burger and coleslaw), and only barely noticed the two taking a seat at the table next to me. I registered that it was a little boy and a grandfatherly man. Their voices, the boy’s a chipmunk chatter, the grandfather’s a bass interruption, provided me with a pleasant accompaniment. At one point, I heard the grandfather reminding the boy that he could only have one cup of soda – express orders from Mama – and so he should wait to drink until his food arrived. Which of course, the boy didn’t. Soon the straw was doing that sucking slurping sound that straws do when there is only ice and dregs left. And the ice melts slowly enough that the dregs keep reappearing.

The food arrived. And then it started.

SLUUUUUUUUUUUUUURP! <giggle>

“Buddy, don’t do that,” Grandpa said.

SLUUUUUUUUUUUUUURP! <giggle>

“Buddy, eat your cheeseburger now.”

SLUUUUUUUUUUUUUURP! <giggle>

“How about some of this water? I got you water.”

SLUUUUUUUUUUUUUURP! <giggle>

“Your fries, Buddy! Eat your fries!”

SLUUUUUUUUUUUUUURP! <giggle>

Grandpa was getting frustrated. People around us were beginning to shift in their seats. I hadn’t written a word for five slurps.

So I considered my soda. I rarely drink soda and so I’d only filled my cup halfway and it was just about gone. I turned to the little boy, raised my cup in a toast and…

SLUUUUUUUUUUUUUURP! <adult giggle>

And ohmygod. This little guy and I created a slurp symphony. And a laughter fest. Grandpa was drinking coffee, or I’m pretty sure he would have joined in.

And then…the drinks were all gone. The slurp symphony, done in quick bursts, used up all the soda, all the ice. Nothing left. There is always a method to my madness.

“Buddy,” I said, “eat your cheeseburger and fries. Drink your water. Make Grandpa – and Mama – happy.”

He did. I returned to writing. The din in the restaurant returned to normal proportions.

I earned a hug from Buddy before he left. And a whispered thank you from Grandpa.

And my car only took an hour and a half, not four hours. I swear, the Culvers people probably called the dealership and said, “Fix her car NOW! Get her out of here before she slurps again!”

But that’s okay. Grandpa didn’t lose his temper. Mama would be happy. Buddy had fun.

I had fun.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Yum.

8/23/17

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

I know absolutely nothing about the scientific configurations of air current and wind and how they are affected by the objects they swirl in and around.

But I was enthralled today.

In the middle of the afternoon, I drove topless (in my convertible) on my usual trip to Starbucks. When I receive my latte, I don’t even wait until I’m out of the drive-thru lane before I rip open my straw and stick it into the cup. As a result, the little tray by my knee is filled with crumpled-up straw wrappers and the tippy tops that I tear off of those wrappers.

Today, as I flung the wrapper tip toward the tray, the wind caught it. And it began to flap and flutter all around my front seat. From my face to the floor through the steering wheel to the windshield to the passenger seat to the rearview, up, down, around, and twirl, this little piece of paper became my own personal butterfly for a few minutes. And it never left the car. Instead, it eventually came to rest on my knee.

I was delighted – there is no other word I can use. The paper butterfly made me laugh as it did its tricks in the air. All for me. The whole show was for my eyes alone.

In those minutes, I became a little girl again, chasing a white butterfly. A little northern Minnesota girl, running alongside the creek (pronounce it crick, please) that ran through my back yard, a place where I pretended to fish with a stick and a string and a bent nail, where I sailed schooners made from paper and splintered pieces of wood, where I swung on what we called Tarzan swings up and over the little flow of water. Little creek; in my eyes, a mighty river.

I chased white butterflies. And yellow butterflies. As an adult, I know, of course, that these were moths. But then, they were butterflies and they were as beautiful as the multicolored wings that appeared from time to time too. The white was like Minnesota snow in the summertime or lace that lived. And the yellow was breathing bits of sunshine that fell to the earth for the sole purpose of visiting with me.

When I would catch one of these white or yellow butterflies and I would open my cupped hands and the little creature would sit there, on my palm, the wings moving so slowly that I could see every curve, every vein, every ephemeral cell, it was magic. These were no moths.

Any fairy-winged creature with silky thread legs that sits like air on a child’s palm is a butterfly.

And today, with the flitting tip of my straw wrapper, a butterfly came back to me and rested on my knee. In my laughter, there was the trill of that little Minnesota girl, chasing snow in the summertime, sunshine from the sky, and butterflies along the edge of a creek (pronounced crick, please).

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

White butterfly.

 

8/22/17

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

 

I hear my battle symphony

All the world in front of me

If my armor breaks

I’ll fuse it back together

Battle symphony

Please just don’t give up on me

And my eyes are wide awake

–Battle Symphony by Linkin Park

 

I wasn’t prepared for how I was going to feel about the scarring caused by the breast cancer surgery. I was told by several that the scars would be small and so I really never stopped to consider it. But now, a month later, I find myself examining the scars, both of them, every morning and every night. The one from the sentinel lymph node removal is relatively small. But the one where the tumor was removed…well, not so small. And they’re not disappearing. They aren’t fading. In my mind, they’re neon and they’re blinking. And they’re a reminder that, without my being aware of it, something had been going on inside me that was very wrong. That was dangerous.

A reminder. And it mars what I see when I think of my own reflection.

Now, granted, these scars are going to be seen by a relative few. But for whatever reason, I’ve found myself fixating on them. They make me feel ugly.

Not something I was expecting.

So today, I took Olivia to her new high school, which happens to be my old high school. We walked her schedule. With every turn down a hallway and peek into a classroom, I was inundated by memories. Good memories. Here’s where I took creative writing. Here’s where I took Psych. I took care of the rabbits in the bio lab. Here’s where the typewriters used to be. And here…and here…and here…

I loved that school. It was my third high school and when I arrived in those particular hallways, I bloomed. I don’t usually use flowery (ha!) language, but there’s no other word to describe it. I came home. I took courses called Growing Up In Literature & Reality, Mystery & The Macabre, Sci Fi and Fantasy, and of course, creative writing. Sociology. Psychology. Women’s History. Every class just pulled my mind up higher. Every class made me excited.

As I walked the halls with Olivia, I saw myself all over again, at her age. Sixteen. And then seventeen. Long straight hair that required no blowdryer or curling iron. No make-up. Jeans and a t-shirt or jeans and a sweater with no real thought to fashion. When I got up in the morning, I didn’t hustle to the bathroom to spend incredible time changing on my appearance. I just wanted to get to school. I just wanted to talk, discuss, debate. I just wanted to learn.

It’s not all that different now. I still don’t use a blow dryer or a curling iron, though the hair is short now. I don’t wear make-up. I wear clothes that I like, not clothes that I see in magazines. I get up in the morning and then spend hours teaching and hours writing and talking, discussing, debating. And learning. Always, always learning.

Then is now. Just like my years in that high school, where I learned how happy I could be living a cerebral lifestyle, an intellectual lifestyle, a life celebrated and danced in words, that’s who I am. That’s who I want to be. How I live, how I love, how I learn, has absolutely nothing to do with how I look. How my breast looks.

So as we left the school this afternoon, I gave my breast a subtle, quiet pat and an apology. She’s a part of me, she’s come along for the roller coaster ride, and the scars simply don’t matter. They aren’t who I am. They’re not what I’m about.

I’m sure I’ll still sting a bit when I look in the mirror tonight before bed. But you know what?

They’re battle scars.

And I won.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

My high school graduation photo. 1978.

 

 

 

And me now.

8/21/17

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

Today was Total Eclipse Day. And it was an Eclipse Day for me too, as my spirits and mood started out damn dark.

Typically, during the summer, I go away for two weeks on retreat. This gives me solid time to reflect, recharge and, above everything else, write. I’ve discovered during my almost thirteen years in business that the only way to get myself out of small business chaos is to put myself as far across country as I can. If I’m too far away, I can’t do anything. Except focus on myself. And write. Oregon is my place of choice, the same house, the same beach, a place that feels like home deep in my bones. Maine is my second choice – opposite coast, opposite ocean, but lovely.

And this summer – nowhere. Breast cancer interruptis. Mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, diagnosis, MRI, biopsy, surgery, prognosis (a GREAT one!), medication, and soon, four weeks of radiation. And then I’m done. But so is summer.

Facebook, every day, notifies me through its On This Day feature of posts and photographs from years gone by. And right now, since I usually take my retreat in July or August, every day is a reminder of what I’m missing. Today, every single past post was of Oregon. Every single one.

So this morning – total eclipse.

But then the sun started coming back.

FROM TOTAL ECLIPSE TO 66.6% ECLIPSE:

Any time I came downstairs today, I was barreled into by my sixteen-year old. Hugs, hugs, and more hugs. And always, a gentle kiss on my cheek. She knew. And she set to work at cheering her mother up. Glimmer.

FROM 66.6% ECLIPSE TO 33.3% ECLIPSE:

I sank into my novel-in-progress this afternoon. Concentration was difficult at first. I just wanted to go take a nap. I told myself I could – after all, I’m in recovery from breast cancer. I can nap, right? I should nap, right? I deserve to nap. But my fingers wouldn’t pull themselves away from the keyboard. And then I slipped fully under the surface of story.

It’s really hard to be sad when you’re writing about an iguana, wearing a leather bomber jacket and racing cap, touching grass for the first time. In the sunshine. In spring. With the promise of summer ahead. I rejoiced with the iguana. And with my characters, watching him. I know – writers are weird. We find our joy in strange places. And often those strange places are within secret compartments in our minds. Glow.

FROM 33.3% ECLIPSE TO FULL-BLOWN SUN!

And then tonight. My granddaughter, Maya Mae, was here for a little bit. I didn’t see too much of her because I was meeting with clients and teaching, but my daughter Olivia babysat.  And right in the middle of a client meeting, I heard it. It came bounding up the stairs and shot round the corner and landed firmly on my desk.

That laugh.

That little four-year old girl laugh.

That soprano trill, all peach cheeks and silky hair, pink dress and scuffed knees, tickle-toes and glitter-eyes. All joy. All happiness. Just…pure. Better than any birdsong. Better than any symphony.

That laughter blew the last of the shadow away. GLOW.

No more eclipse.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The sun always comes back.