Words I Love #8: Australia Edition

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Having just watched a fortnight of Australian Grand Slam tennis, which is two weeks in case you didn’t know this odd word far more popular in England and Australia than here in the U.S., I am reminiscing about our half-year spent Down Under.   Because this was a driving trip, I sat with a map in my lap for months when I wasn’t driving myself, and the names of the towns just had such an interesting ring to them.

From my journal from August 17, 2002:

I’ll tell you straight, on top of the dreaded north/south/ east/west situation, reading a road map in Australia is linguistic aerobics.  When I attempt to announce where we are heading, it’s as if I’m five again, sounding out my letters one syllable at a time.

Oh sure, see how you’d do.

Murwillumbah is north of Mullumbimby.  Of course, you have to pass through Woolgoolga and Yuraygir National Park first.  National Parks are particularly treacherous, as you next pass Bundjalung National Park.  Because I’ve spent lots of time looking at the whole map of Australia, I know that down near Perth (ok, that’s easy) is Gnowangerup, quite near Jerramungup and Moulyinning.  While you taste wines near Margaret River (aah, the simplicity), you can attempt Cowaramup or Yallingup.  I’m pretty sure they threw in nearby Nannup to be kind to the severely inebriated.  Biddaddaba isn’t anywhere close to Nannup, but I like how that one sounds – or at least how I think it sounds.

There’s Indooroopilly, Queensland and Koombooloomba, Queensland.  Lest you think Queensland has a corner on the ridiculous name market, check out Iiykuwaratja, South Australia and Koorarawalyee, Western Australia.

If Australians like a town name well enough, they’ll use it twice for emphasis.   Wagga Wagga.  Willi Willi.  Grong Grong.  Ki Ki.  Curl Curl.  Boonoo Boonoo.  Gol Gol.  Jil Jil.  There’s the sexy sounding Milla Milla.  The tasty Kurri Kurri.  And the slightly raunchy Booti Booti National Park.

Imagine the embarrassment of trying to do serious work in Humpty Doo, Salmon Gums, Gympie or Dee Why.  Then again, other towns sound positively lovely.  To wit: Violet Town, Upper Plenty, Mount Pleasant or Daydream Island.  I’m pretty sure I’d pass on buying a home in Denial Bay or Weary Bay, and I wonder about the housing prices on Rottnest Island.  Snobs Creek must be a barrel of laughs.  There are dolphins in Monkey Mia, so I’m a little confused there.  And apparently Dead Horse Gap was particularly hard on horses.

I have a soft spot for the straightforward and highly pronounceable Big Green Island.

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I Yam Who I Yam

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I’ve been thinking a bunch about how we judge each other.   And how we have built-in infrastructure that does it in the most cruelly effective way.  

I’m speaking of the Neanderthalic thumbs up, thumbs down.  No disrespect to Siskel & Ebert, the movie critics who ended their reviews by summing everything up with a thumbs up or thumbs down, and actually trademarked the phrase “two thumbs up.”  They were professionals, after all, hired to give viewers their perspective.  If we were going to plunk down our hard-earned cash on a movie, we wanted a clear sign that it would be worth it.

We wanted a thumbs up.

But now many platforms made to share creativity have adopted the thumbs up/thumbs down rating system.  And here is why that poses a problem to that very creativity they are hoping to spawn.  Younger creatives, and hell, even older ones with seemingly thicker skin but tender hearts, focus their own self worth based on the number of ups or downs a posted project receives.  I know some really creative young people (ahem) who have removed good content because there were too many thumbs down.  Or, even more tragically, decided what to create based on what gets positive reviews.

Isn’t that bass-ackwards?  Shouldn’t we be suggesting to young kids that they should create what comes from within, and find their own worth within the creation and not the feedback loop?  Does it really matter what other people think?

I mean, I don’t care what you think, but what do you think?

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Dawn of the Dead

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(Emerged from the back of my fridge this morning. Was steak at some point.)

On this, the last day of October, I rejoice.

No, I’m not a huge fan of Halloween.  My son, who has dressed up as an eagle and a mummy and a ghost and a race car in years past, now has feet that are larger than his father’s.  His Halloween costume this year will be his fine personality and hopefully the manners I’ve instilled in him, as he walks up to someone’s door dressed in a creepy mask and asks for candy. He’s in high school.  The ship has so sailed on trick or treating.

I rejoice on this day because October is over.  For me, October is a remembrance of how life can skid sideways.  How things that seem so in order and in hand, are actually far out of order.  Fourteen years ago I was told I had cancer.  The boy with the man feet had just recently celebrated his first birthday.  The next day after my diagnosis, we walked around a pumpkin patch near the coast in a mental fog, picking out big orange orbs to decorate our home, because that is what you do to celebrate Halloween.

It’s just my luck that everyone celebrates breast cancer in October.  We are made aware.  We are awash in pink.  Corporations make millions off painting their products this color, sometimes the same products that are filled with carcinogens that give us cancer in the first place.  This bothers me.  Saddens me.  I wish that companies would simply remove the chemicals and talk about that instead.  Then donate some money to local causes that actually help women with the day-to-day issues that arise when fighting the disease.

The light starts to change in October.  Darkness is coming.  There is a chill in the air, even in California.

And yet.  Tomorrow will be November, the month of Thanksgiving.  If October houses my personal “Oh! No!” moment, then November is the month of my redemption.  It was the month I took charge those 14 years ago.  My surgery was on November 4th.  You better believe I was thankful.

Still am.  So very much.

In fact this year, during this October, I worked hard to write a new story for myself.  Thousand Words Press, the company I formed to publish my children’s book Nowhere Hair, has merged with the copywriting work I have done since 1990. While I will never stop helping women with the hard task of explaining their cancer to their kids through this wonderful book, it’s time for me to remember that my ongoing inspiration comes when I create.  With words.  With images.

Thousand Words Press’s new logo, I am now realizing, is a big orange orb.

How perfectly fitting.  A circle of life.

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Words I Love #7

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Slothful.  What a great word.  It’s such a mouthful, and sort of swirls around in there, the air and your tongue and teeth falling all over each other.  Sunday mornings are made for being slothful, getting all tangled in your sheets because you just can’t seem to make the giant move out of your bed.  Kids when sick are inherently slothful.  Unless, of course, they are hurling.  Which is a lovely word choice when you don’t want to say vomit.

But I digress.

Very few times in your life do you get the chance to meet the inspiration behind a word. While in Panama recently, I met this little childish-looking creature.  It was a baby sloth, unceremoniously snatched out of a tree by our intrepid tour guide.  He had parked the boat, taken off his shoes, and only armed with a small machete, had taken off into the mangroves.  “If I don’t return in an hour, see if you can find your way back to the hotel.”

This of course was a joke in more than one way.

He returned close to an hour later with his treasure behind his back.  We got to see just how slothful a sloth is, when our guide returned him/her to a lower mangrove branch. For an animal who comes down out of a tree only once every seven days to poop, I would have expected the flee impulse to be quite strong after what must have been a kind of harrowing half-hour.  But true to sloth-y form, he/she moved in slow-motion, one 3-toed foot/arm at a time.  In no hurry whatsoever.

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Defining Ourselves

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Something amazing happened to me last night.  During a track workout, no less.
The fact that I even wrote that sentence is so odd, because I don’t usually do track workouts.  Or really run that much.  But this year I’m attempting to do things outside my comfort zone.  Or just try new stuff.  I am attempting to not define myself by what has come previously in my 46 years.
Thus why I am even on a track at 6 pm on a Wednesday eve.  The tape in my head says: “I am not a runner.”  But, could I be one?  Might I actually enjoy being one?
Last night I worked hard to re-record that tape with a new message.  I pushed it.  When Kim, the coach of Team LOLA Ladies, explained that we were going to be running 4 sets of 2 laps around the track, I said to myself, “One at a time.”  When she suggested we try to do a negative split, which is either the second lap faster than the first or the second 2-lapper faster than the 1st 2-lapper, I said, “One at a time.”
I watched the disappearing back of a woman who had told us she had just completed her first half Ironman, and another tall gazelle of a woman on that first 2 lapper.  I couldn’t even keep up with them, hitting the last turn as they crossed the finish at the other end of the field.  On the second one, I asked myself to just keep them a bit closer, and to really try on the last straightaway.  I finished right behind them.  On the third one, I encouraged myself to dig a bit deeper, and passed them right at the end.
On the last one, the two girls that I had been happily following made me go first.  I didn’t want to do that, because I liked following them.  It felt more comfortable.  I mean, they were runners.  I was just hanging on as long as I could.
But the one said (and I’m not sure who, because she was behind me) she didn’t want me to pass her again at the end, because she was giving it all she had and then I would pass her.  And the other one said, “Hell, own it girl.”  Or something to that effect.
I ran faster than I thought I could those 2 laps, and it felt great.  And then Kim asked us to do one final lap.  What would it feel like, she asked, to give it all we had?  To turn the dial to 9 at some point, maybe just at the end.  How often do we get to ask ourselves to really dig deep.  She promised we would recover.  She promised no matter how much it would hurt, it would pass.  So on the last sprint lap, I bolted at the beginning, and around that second of three turns, when it started to HURT HURT HURT, the voice inside said, “You can pull up and slow now, Sue, because you’re not really a runner.  You don’t have it.”
The voice said, “You can stop.  It’s ok.”
But then I heard the hard breathing of someone coming up behind me, and damn if I didn’t want to give up.
If she could, whoever she was, I could.  So I kept going, even though it hurt so much.  And when I hit the straightaway and my breathing was all funky and raw, I gave it all I had left and turned it up to 9.  I crossed the line first.
I’m telling you, we are so much stronger than we think.  In all realms.
And today, Thursday the 29th of March, I can’t use the excuse that I’m not a runner.  Because now I am.  And I wonder where this new recording inside my head will take me.

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Finding the Sweet Spot

This is a story of renewal, perfect for the Spring.

This tree you see endowed with so many glorious orange orbs was, not so long ago, a barren and unhappy thing.  She was planted in the area of my yard most welcoming to citrus.  By that I mean it was hot, sunny most of the day, and protected from the wind.  It was also right inside the front gate, so every day, many times, I would walk by my little growing mandarin orange tree and mentally entreat her to “please grow.”  I put her on the drip system, I gave her citrus food, good earth, and I infused her with doses of iron and fish emulsion.  You know,  I paid attention to her.  And she responded.  Grew into a fine-looking specimen.  But she never, ever set any fruit.  Year after year, strong green growth, zero fruit.

The value in a fruit tree is … um … fruit.  Without fruit, it’s just a nice shrub, and in my little patch of warm, sunny yard, if a fruit tree was simply going to be a tree, then she had to make room for someone else who would provide.   But she was a healthy tree, and I’m a pushover when it comes to ending the life of a sturdy grower.  So we banished her to the backyard, in an afternoon-only sunny spot where the earth hadn’t been amended with all manner of lovely soil but rather had a clay-like consistency.    We gave her a nice hole twice as wide as deep, put her on the drip, and said a prayer.

She proceeded to drop each and every leaf, as if she was hot and needed to expose her branches to the fresh air.  Or she didn’t care anymore.  In the short order of two weeks, she went from a green, robust citrus bush to a craggy looking old lady.  The move killed her spirit.  Feeling like I had failed her, I took some consolation in knowing that I hadn’t simply ripped her out by the roots and dumped her unceremoniously into the compost pile.  We had at least given her a second chance.

But when, after a rain fall, I took a walk out the back door towards the compost pile, I noticed that my naked mandarin orange tree was adorned with delicate white flower buds.   Somehow, after jettisoning every bit of exterior life, this cagey tree was going through a re-birth.  And not just a few fruits on the maiden voyage.  Oh no, she was covered in flowers that I knew, weather and wind and birds willing, would turn someday into precious fruit.

So you see.  Sometimes we just need to find the right patch of dirt for us to fully flower.  And it might not be the patch of dirt everyone thinks is perfect for our growth.  Yet if it feeds us, then all is right with the world.

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Words I Love: #6

Lamprocapnos spectabilis, known as the Bleeding Heart flower

I don’t really fancy labels.  I’m not speaking of the paper kind, but of the kind we affix to each other.  I don’t much like them because they have a tendency to be overly general.  Yes, we can be crazy one day, but then so grounded the next. Conservative when it comes to running around naked, but liberal when it comes to eating chocolate.  Labels are often so sweeping, they ruthlessly gather up people who might not really deserve them.  And then they keep us from really understanding each other.

Let’s consider the label cancer “survivor.”  What bugs me is the implied message that those who don’t get the label, those who have succumbed to the disease, didn’t triumph. Perhaps didn’t try hard enough.  There’s also something in there for me about a race that never ends, which happens to be true but I don’t really want to be reminded of it, thanks.

Cancer “thriver” is also now bandied about.  (And how is that for a great word?  Bandied.  So light and flirty and easy to pass around, which happens to be what it means.)  Thriver is better, because it doesn’t have any of the end-game feeling about it, but it seems weird to be affixing the concept of thriving next to a word that is so ugly and sapping.

So because as of late I’m being asked to provide short, pithy titles for myself, I’d like to share what label I will be using.

Aficionado.  Oooh, so foreign sounding.  And flamboyant.  Lots of great vowels involved.  It’s also close to impossible to spell correctly the first time, which makes it feel a skosh more important.  I am knowledgeable (another component of being an aficionado) about breast cancer.  Usually an aficionado is also enthusiastic.  While I’m not enthusiastic about having had breast cancer, or that breast cancer exists in the world, I am enthusiastic about my involvement with the cancer community and how my work is helping others.

Over and out.

Sue Glader. Breast cancer aficionado.

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