6/26/17

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

I went in for the needle biopsy today, a result of a mammogram gone south last week. I was scared going in; the image of “needle biopsy” that flared in my head involved a syringe that probably would have been more appropriate for drilling into concrete. But the procedure was painless, thank goodness. I was worried about the numbing agent, since I’m immune to novocaine. But what they use, while it’s similar to what dentists use, is a shade different, and that shade made the difference. I didn’t feel a thing.

It’s a very strange thing, having a numb breast.

The sound of the needle collecting samples was exactly like the sound of an ear-piercing gun. That surprised me too, and while I lay there, staring at a ceiling that was supposed to look like the Milky Way, my arm over my head, I idly wondered about that. Was it a sign? Should I have pierced my nipples years ago, instead of piercing my ears three times in one, four times in the other? Then none of this would be happening?

I also caught the irony of staring at the Milky Way in a room that is for breasts. God help me, I giggled on the table.

Writers are like that. We think in metaphor, simile, symbol. So we look for things. It keeps us busy.

When I got home, I found a card in the mail from one of my students. In it, it said, “So here you are on this journey of facing fears – all these opportunities to dump fears and increase resilience.”

So I sat with that for a while. It’s true, I have had to face a lot of fears lately.

*fear of pretty much everything for a while – a result of last November’s assault;

*fear of standing up for myself and for who I am by leaving my original publisher – would I ever be published again? (new novel is coming out September 7);

*fear of the dentist;

*fear of being in a plane – not of flying, but of being sealed inside without an escape;

*fear of losing everything when my husband suddenly lost his job;

*fear that my daughter would be forever changed when she went through a life-changing experience;

*and now this. A fear of cancer.

And then, while I was thinking about this, I began to laugh. Because I have one more. Not a fear, but a sign or a symbol. Are you ready for this?

Among all the students I have writing novels, I have one I’ve been working with in coaching who just finished his book. His title is – really truly  – “Face Your Fears”.

OH, FOR CRIPES’ SAKE!

I get the message.

And I have no intention of piercing my nipples.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

I didn’t think I should post a photo of boobs, so I went with something pretty from the Fox River

6/25/17

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

On the way home today from the AllWriters’ Annual Retreat, my sixteen-year old daughter texted me. Don’t worry – my husband fielded the texts for me since I was driving. I do not text and drive. And the irony of the resulting interchange did not go under my radar.

Olivia texted, asking if she could go out to a park or something as she was in the house ALL weekend and it was so LOOOOOOOONG and she was STUUUUUUUCK and BOOOOOORED. I said sure, but to make sure she locked up and let us know where she was going.

A short while later, she texted the following:

“At I am at the cool new park by Frame”

“*ate”

“St”

“Ay”

This little incoherent exchange puzzled and alarmed me. Did she start to text me when she was dragged away by someone? Was she hurt? I knew the park she was referring to and it had a lot of bizarre new age playground equipment. In true mother fashion, and especially in true-mother-fashion-when-said-mother-is-totally-exhausted-from-teaching-at-a-retreat-for-the-last-four-days-not-to-mention-worrying-about-breast-cancer, I freaked out and yelled for Michael to CALL THE CHILD RIGHT NOW AND MAKE SURE SHE’S OKAY!!!!

And then the next text came in:

Note to self don’t text while swinging lol”

Well then. Therein lies an important lesson for us all.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia took a picture at the river after she got off the offending swing.

6/24/17

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

I don’t know how many times this weekend I’ve been called a strong woman. A brave woman. A “tough bitch who doesn’t take shit from anything or anybody.”

Well, jiminey.

I don’t always feel so strong or tough.

And I’ve been told you can’t be brave without being scared.

In which case, I’m pretty damn brave.

I know that we’re taught that our sense of ourselves has to come directly from ourselves, from our own beliefs, from our own feelings. But I’ve always listened hard to those around me. And I’ve always tried hard to be who they believe me to be. To live up to their expectations.

I had a student tell me today, “I just never want to disappoint you.”

Oh, trust me. The feeling is very, very mutual.

I had another student email me from the other side of the world, telling me that, in all capitals, I WILL BE FINE BECAUSE THERE ISN’T ANY OTHER OPTION.

Well, okay then.

I am trying to find the vein of happiness here. There’s a vein of fear running parallel.

I just never want to disappoint.

I’m working so hard on the attitude here. Really.

And it means so much to be buoyed by the beliefs of others. The faith of others. The love from others.

There’s another vein too. It’s filled with gratitude.

And there’s the happy.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Believe with me. Believe in me.

6/23/17

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

I am at my happiest when I am teaching at the AllWriters’ Annual Retreat. This is the weekend, a solid four days, when my life passions completely collide and blend together. I am both writer and teacher here. I see my dreams and aspirations coming true here. And I see the AllWriters’ community, something that I have built, in a way that is concrete and metaphor, all at the same time.

This year, it’s a little surreal. I am astonishingly happy here. And, with the mammogram gone south last week, I am also at my most terrified.

In the language of the test results, the radiologist wrote that this is to be considered cancer until proven otherwise. And I’ve been told by one of my students that this is language used when they’re pretty damn sure it’s cancer.

I feel like I’ve been declared guilty in a court of law without ever being brought to trial.

So bit by bit, I am seeing my hope for an “it’s nothing!” outcome on Tuesday shrink and fall away.

There have been many moments during this weekend thus far, when I am immersed in writing and immersed in teaching and thinking, ohmygod, I love this, that the thought, the wonder, the worry that I might not be here next year to do this sneaks in. The worry that I might look different. The worry that I might become someone different.

But I am here now. I am seeing students light up. I am seeing them come together. I see the passion that burns in me burning in them. And I am so happy to be here.

To say I am scared out of my mind is an understatement. To say that I’m happy out of my mind is an understatement.

What a weird place to be in.

My moment of happiness today? All of it. Spending time with each student individually in private consultations. Sharing meals. Leading a workshop that is as fun as it is informative and affirming.

I know Monday is coming. I know Tuesday is coming.

But I am here now.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

I do.

6/22/17

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

Today marked the start of the 12th AllWriters’ Annual Retreat. AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop, my studio, is going to be 13 years old in January. And today…oh, the retreat.

20 writers from 10 different states. 22 writers if you count Michael and me, which of course, I do. All under one roof, all for four days, all to write and to celebrate writing.

Kid in a candy store? Oh, that’s me, during these four days.

I love writers. I love writing. I love teaching. And these four days always create a concrete embodiment of what I do. I get to see the faces of writers who I typically only hear as voices over the phone or streamed discussion in a chatroom. And I get to see the writers I work with face to face for more than an hour at a time.

I get to be with family.

It’s difficult for me to tell you, to describe, what this means to me. And how it means even more now, since I know that on Monday, I will be having the needle biopsy.

All I know is this:

I am at my happiest when I am immersed in writers, in writing, in teaching, in the love of the written word, in the shared passion, in my very greatest joy.

There are so many words I could use. I am fulfilled. I am satisfied. I am ecstatic. I am empowered. I am proud.

But it all comes down, I suppose, to one thought:

I am so happy to be here. “Here” in every different level and depth you want to give it.  Here, at the retreat. Here, alive. Here, despite everything. Here.

Alive.

Happy.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

 

6/21/17

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

Being told you could possibly have breast cancer is not a good thing. That’s sort of stating the obvious, isn’t it. Yet today, that led to a series of good things that added up to just one big warm mushy mess of happiness.

First and foremost, I have received so many messages of encouragement, support and hope. Face to face messages, emailed messages, instant electronic messages, posts on my Facebook page and on Twitter. Offers for prayer, offers for good energy, offers of love. One student put out a call for prayer on her Facebook page, looking for at least one prayer from every possible religion. Holy cow (maybe literally). If there is a God, there’s no way he can avoid not hearing this.

In my AllWriters’ Wednesday Afternoon Women Writers’ Workshop, I received the best hugs. The hugs released tears I’ve been holding back, and they also allowed the fear to surface and for me to voice that fear – which brought relief.

I said yesterday that I knew I wouldn’t be alone. Not only am I not alone, I am SURROUNDED. I feel a solid circle of support and protection.

Then came late this afternoon. I was in between my two final clients of the day. I decided to meditate. When I do guided meditations, my favorite artist to listen to is Glenn Harrold. Since hearing the news yesterday as I worked my way through mammogram, ultrasound, and scheduling the needle biopsy, I’ve been feeling the pull to listen to Harrold’s guided meditation for spiritual healing. I wasn’t looking for spiritual healing, I was looking for physical-healing-if-it’s-necessary, but I still felt pulled toward it. It’s a 41 minute meditation. I got out my heated throw, crawled under it in my recliner, stuck my head in my headphones and listened.

Harrold’s voice is an amazing thing. In my own mind, every time he said “spiritual”, my voice followed his and added, “and physical”. Partway through, I found my own hands resting on the – well, geez, I nearly said offending. Not offending. It’s the possible victim. So I found my own hands resting on the possibly afflicted breast. My hands were warmer than the heated throw.

I felt myself sink. I stopped listening. And essentially, I disappeared. It might have been sleep. But it was a relaxation so complete, I stopped hearing, I didn’t dream, I had no sense of time. The only thing I felt was the warmth from my own hands.

When I reopened my eyes, it was with the most incredible sense of well-being. I hadn’t heard the end of the recording. I hadn’t heard the chime I’d set up to wake me if I fell asleep. But I was instantly alert, and I also just…felt fine. I moved my hands to my face and felt the warmth dissipate.

I believe I’m fine.

Am I in a state of denial? Maybe. If I am, I can accept that. The mind can do wondrous things in stressful situations. But I don’t think so.

I believe I’m fine.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

I do.

 

6/20/17

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

Well, this is going to be a hard one.

How do I come up with a moment of happiness on a day where mammogram results go the wrong way?

I went in today for a routine mammogram. I expected to be in and out. Instead, the radiologist saw something in my right breast on the pictures and he asked for an ultrasound. Then he saw something there too. On Monday, there will be a needle biopsy. On Tuesday, I will know what I’m facing or if I’m facing nothing at all.

And to think I was scared of the dentist.

New fear now. New what-ifs.

But a friend said today, “Don’t get your head too far out over your skis now.” So I got off the skis entirely. And I will wait the long wait until Tuesday.

So what’s the moment of happiness?

Just this. I know if I’m facing something, I won’t be facing it alone. And I know if I’m not facing anything at all, there will be many celebrating with me.

Not skiing, but standing.

And not alone.

I’m grateful.

And yes, this helps. Despite. Anyway.

Believe with me. Believe in me.

6/19/17

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

I had a great surprise when I was in Colorado last week and happened to wander into a used bookstore. I was looking for myself (of course – it’s what you do when you’re a writer and you go into a bookstore of any type) and instead of finding me, I found my favorite woman author, Ellen Gilchrist. She apparently had a new book released way back in 2014, and somehow, I didn’t know about it! I was horrified that I’d missed it, and then a breath later, thrilled that I found it.

For any reader, this is like rounding a corner and coming face to face with the best friend you once thought you couldn’t live without, and when you are face to face again, you realize you haven’t lived without and would never live without, because that person is just too damn important. When you’re a writer and this happens, it’s like running into that best friend, but also a best friend who understands truly and deeply what it is you do because that person does it too. That person gets it.

In other words, it’s wonderful.

On my flight home on Saturday, I dove into that book and I relished the words and the voice and the stories and I didn’t look up until the plane touched down. Since then, back in real life, I’ve thrown myself back in whenever the opportunity presents itself. Ellen Gilchrist, you’d probably blush at the unmentionable places I’ve read you – but then, you would know how wonderful it is to be totally in love with a book. You would get it.

I was in my mid to late twenties when I first read Ellen. I was stunned by her courage, by her willingness to go against convention and tradition, and by her absolute way of just saying things the way she wanted to say them, no matter the taboo or the moral or the rule. I was stunned, I was impressed, I was enthralled…and boy, did I want to do that.

So I did.

It’s amazing how much your life can be changed by a best friend you’ve never met. By a voice you’ve never heard.

Today, at lunch, I dove in again. And at the end of the story, “High Water”, I read this:

The human race. You have to love it and wish it well and not preach or think you have any reason to think you are better than anyone else. Amen. Good-bye. Peace…

With Ellen, and with her character, I said, “Amen.”

And I am caught afire again with the “boy, do I want to do that.” That resonance. That impact. That solid sense of understanding. Getting it. Helping other people to get it.

Last night, I turned to Michael and said, “You know what I want for my birthday?” My birthday is July 29.

He rolled his eyes and said, “What?”

I said, “I want Ellen Gilchrist to read one of my books.”

An eyeroll again as he said, “I’ll get right on that.”

Yeah, well. A girl can dream. Dreaming makes me happy. And this woman can dream about one of her books in the hands of the best friend she never met.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

BFFs!

 

6/17/17

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

This morning, I had breakfast with a St. Bernard.

Montana is an older dog, and an old soul. While he’s big and fuzzy and huggable, he’s also dignified. He walks in a stately old man way. And his eyes are just amazing.

During the week I was in Colorado, he and I had quite a few conversations. When I was home for breakfast or lunch, I ate at the kitchen table and he would come to stand next to me. I told him what I was reading, whether it was a book for my own enjoyment, or students’ pages. We talked about what I liked or didn’t like and discussed literature. I told him what I was working on and he seemed to think it was an interesting idea.

Thank goodness, since I’m almost 100 pages into it.

But this morning, I told Montana I was going home. I know it’s very likely I won’t see him again because of his age and because Colorado isn’t a typical destination for me. He looked a little sad and I felt a little sad. Yes, I have dogs at home, but the beagles don’t quite have the intelligent, thoughtful stature of this St. Bernard. They’ll maybe develop it in time, but for now, their conversations usually concern food or having to go to the bathroom. Montana was different. There was a person in there somewhere.

I told Montana I was a little nervous about traveling home. About working my way through the Denver International Airport, which makes O’Hare look like a bus stop. About getting on another plane and letting that door shut.

Montana just listened. When I scratched him on the ears, he bonked that broad head into me. I’m pretty sure he said, “You’ll be fine.”

When I made my way through that airport (which wasn’t easy – that place is so confusing), I saw a man waiting in one of the seats with a dog by his side. This was a really big dog – an Irish Wolfhound. The dog had on the jacket that identified him as a service dog. So I didn’t attempt to say anything to him or pet him. But I did smile at him as I passed. I noticed along the side of his jacket was stitched, “Service Dog. Emotional Support.”

I’ve seen plenty of service dogs, but I never saw it spelled out like that.

I decided I need to find a jacket like that for Montana. I had breakfast with a champion this morning.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Montana.

6/16/17

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

So I go home tomorrow. And I’m ready to. As of yet, anyway, I’m not nervous about the plane. I’m just looking forward to getting there.

There are times, well, lots of times, that I thoroughly question what I’m doing. Starting a small business is such a risk. Starting a small business like a creative writing studio is even riskier. Then add to that the fact that I didn’t have any experience in business at all…What I decided to do was downright dangerous. Some would say crazy. Some did say that. Some called it stupid.

I was talking with one of my students late at night a couple nights ago. I said to her, as I’ve said to a few others, that my hard lesson is learning to have faith in myself, faith in what I’ve done, faith in what I can do, and faith in the studio. I’ve often said that I have to have faith in AllWriters’, and people have told me over and over again that I AM AllWriters’. But it’s only been recently that I realized that having faith in the studio means having faith in me.

That’s a tall order.

I worry all the time. A client finishes their project and I worry that there will be no one to take that person’s place. I worry that a class won’t fill. I worry that I won’t be able to pay this bill or that bill, that something will go wrong, that a catastrophe will happen, and that all my hard work will be for nothing.

I have to start looking at just the hard work and stop that sentence right there. I have to start looking at what I’ve done.

I traveled from Wisconsin to Colorado to celebrate a student’s success. But at her event last night, I was in the same room with four students. Four. All with me in a place that I’d never been before. And I talked with several more who will likely become students.

Every place I go, I have students.

I’ve learned that it’s hard for me to see what I’ve accomplished unless I see it reflected in my students’ eyes, in their words, and in their happiness.

I have to start seeing it reflected in my own.

I have faith in the studio.

And I have to have faith in me.

I was sitting in a parking lot today, outside of a (of course) Starbucks, not my Starbucks, but a Starbucks, and I was getting ready to start the car. I’d spent the morning, here in Colorado, reading student manuscripts. I’d worked on the next scene of my own book (I’m two pages away from page 100 of the first draft!). And I was thinking ahead to what is going to be an incredibly busy week, as the studio’s annual retreat begins on Thursday.

And suddenly, I just teared up. Not from overwhelm, not from anxiety.

From pure and absolute pride. Pride always makes me feel ashamed for some reason. But this time, I took the shame, throttled it and threw it out the window.

And I said, out loud in this little Ford Focus that I’m not too crazy about, I said out loud to my rearview mirror, “Would you look at what you’ve done? Would you just look at what you’ve built?”

I’ve spoken a lot about helping students reach their dreams.

But I’ve reached my own, haven’t I. What an incredible thing.

I’m still going to worry. But look at what I’ve done. Just look.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.