Monthly Archives: October 2010

Crash & Burn

A cautionary tale.

Laptop computer with long powercord stretched taut.  Child moving at high speed.  Flying computer.  Little bits of data scrambled on the screen.

Back up your data.  (Thank god this wasn’t my computer … but I’m sorry for my husband …)

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Filed under Dead things

Cute. Really?

My soulful, piercing, disconsolate, smirking boy, Hans.

Having just witnessed the ball of fury that is this performance from Katie Makkai (yes, please click this link and watch the video first), I find myself wanting to give her a giant hug.  And not for the reason you might think.

Katie gets words like I get words.   She can, of course, also memorize a whole hell of a lot of them in a row, and deliver those words with such bravery and sincerity and force (and levity) that I can only sit here and wonder.

But her performance, combined with the mosh pit sample sale I visited this morning in the lobby of a business here in Mill Valley, has compelled me to write today about the word “cute”.

What a horribly overused little word.

Women shopping, no matter if they are responding to shoes or baby clothes or dishes, will nine times out of 10, utter the word when describing what they see.  Today I experienced a public bathroom that was being used as a dressing room for athletic wear, and right on cue, when a woman pulled on a top and turned to ask for feedback, the chorus would warble: “Oh, that’s so cute.”

You can hear it, can’t you?

I’d like to emphatically state that perhaps, just perhaps, a white cotton yoga top is not cute.  In fact, to my mind, precious few things are cute.  Baby animals might be the only true cute things in this world.    The yoga top in question was well-fitting.  I thought the design was unique, although it had a strange way of framing the woman’s boobs.  Her girlfriend did mention that, but still deemed it “cute.”

“Really?” said the wearer, doubtful.

How can a sex-kitten high-heel shoe be cute at the same time an Ugg boot is?  It can’t.  A sexy shoe is hot, or makes a woman look like a vixen.  It is fetching.  Or bad, said in a way that takes three seconds for that word to leave your mouth.  “Oh, girrl, that shoe is baaaad.”  Which means, of course, that the shoe is very good.

What I’m getting at is sometimes one word just won’t do it.  You need a good slew of them, to round out exactly how you feel.  As Hans is struggling to use interesting verbs to describe his writing, I am cheering for unique adjectives to seep into his storytelling.

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The Tipping Point

I am in a very interesting bitter/sweet position right now.  My work, this book that I’ve written, is, like a trickle of a river just being born, seeping away from Mill Valley.  There are some parched people out there.  People who wished they had it when.  People who know someone who needs it now.  People who are about to lose it all, and can’t imagine life on the other side.   They tell me their stories.  My very wise girlfriend tells me, “You’re allowing them to birth their grief.”

Yes.  Airing out our grief is part of what we need to do.  It’s as normal and healthy as filling our lungs with air to breathe.  But oh, why is it so hard sometimes?

I am struck by how I am at the nexus of all this emotion, and yet I am a person who doesn’t exactly emote.  And by that I don’t mean that I don’t feel, it’s just that I have a tight seal on that bubbling pot.  Before I went into therapy after I was diagnosed, the volcano would erupt every so often, and I’d be shocked at what came out.   Like who knew your throat could hurt so much with such a short yet vicious spitting of words?  Or how your whole body gets involved when anger comes out.  Sometimes, not every often at all, it was sadness and the relief from just letting it all go, and sobbing because that is exactly what every pore of your body longs to do.  To expel.  To empty.  To let it all down.

I’ve written, because I’ve been asked, of what piece of advice I’d give friends of someone who is diagnosed.  And I’ve cleverly said that even more than my book, the gift that every cancer patient (and in fact any human being in any situation good or bad) wants is for you to listen.  Just listen.

People, it is hard to listen sometimes.  It takes a certain amount of self control.  You have to not interject what you want to say, and instead just receive what that person has to give.  Sometimes it’s over in a minute.  Other times, it will take half the night.  Or 3 weeks.  Or a year.

I’ve had a number of pretty heavy conversations as of late, spanning topics and situations.  Because, that is life.  It’s sticky and messy and oh, oh, oh so confusing sometimes.  We all just want to live in peace, and that is true whether there is some foreign thing attacking us from the inside out, or a relationship that is just not firing on all cylinders like we wish it should, or a job that no matter how hard we try to make it work, it’s just not behaving.   Children.  Husbands.  Health.  Stuff.

Life.

I’d be lying if I said I am a good listener.  I am a doer.  I want to fix.  And although I just spent all those words saying that one really must just listen, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that sometimes I have this need to wade into the deep end with people.

Because if all you’re doing is being a sounding board, and you maybe have something to say that might change things (even the tinest bit), maybe that interaction or interjection could be the tipping point for change.  Because, you know, things do tip.  It may be something you read that offers a different perspective.  Or a comment from a friend that makes you ponder for a moment your position.  Or a stranger.  Maybe you’ve been teetering on a decision, and all you need is that featherlight tap to hurl you into an action that will change your life.

I just recently learned that the act of speaking raises our blood pressure from 10 to 50%.  The act of listening?  Lowers it.  So with our overall health in mind, both physical and mental, here’s to listening to each other.  What we fear.  What we hope for.  What we wish our life could be like.

Let’s listen anew.

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Filed under Just something ...

Being Bald

Boy, if I didn’t already know that you don’t get what you don’t ask for, I certainly have been learning that in spades lately.

Having come from a family of “Oh, I don’t want to be a bother” and “You don’t have to if you don’t really want to,” it’s taken some getting used to this idea of promoting oneself.  Like it doesn’t come naturally.  At all.

I have to be reminded by my pr savvy girlfriends that I’m trying to do good work, and part of how I can help others is by shouting from the tallest branch with the most authentic message.  And shouting a lot.  Or maybe whistling.  Or making a video that rocks the shizzocks.

So there I was at the Zero Breast Cancer Dipsea Hike event the other Sunday, having been convinced by my one girlfriend to set up a table and at least hike the course.  So I did what I was told.  I set up my little card table, put out copies of my book, and stood behind it with my cup of coffee in my hands and a big smile on my face.  I sold 2, count ‘em, 2 copies that day.  One to a teacher of young kids from Tahoe and another to a nice woman who kept tearing up when she looked at the pictures.

Not exactly a spike in sales.  But I have heard of such things, from other authors, who have talked of book signings where nobody shows up.   (Ouch!)

So I’m standing there post hike, and I notice that there is a woman who looks familiar not because she is a friend of a friend, but because I know she is on television.  Somewhere.  I know it.  And as I try to watch her without staring, her name pops into my head:  Gayle King.  That’s it, it’s Gayle King.  I know she is a television news reporter from San Francisco.   In that moment, my PR mavens jump on my shoulder and start whispering into my ear.

“Go talk to her, Sue”

“Give her a copy of your book.”

“It’s perfect.  This is a breast cancer event and you have a breast cancer book.”

I watch as she winds down from the run, as she peruses a table of free swag from another vendor, and as she goes and gets food to eat.  I try to do the mind meld where I ask her mentally to come over to my table, but that doesn’t work.  I even mention to my friends next to me, “Hey, that’s Gayle King, and she’s on tv.  Should I go and tell her about my book?”    They of course encourage this action on my part.

So, what the hell, I think.  And I grab a book, a business card, my proverbial nuts, and stride over to Gayle who is sitting in a chair flanked by some friends.

I don’t lead with “Hi, my name is Sue, ” or “Excuse me, I have something I’d like to share with you.”  I lead with “Is your name Gayle?”, which it turns out, is NOT her name.  She doesn’t offer her name, which is absolutely her right but leaves me with this terribly horrid feeling that I must have either a) thought she was someone famous and she isn’t or b) that she IS that famous person but she would rather not talk to some half-sweaty stranger obviously interested in showing her something.   The Not-Gayle woman tells me that if I’m looking for someone named Gayle, the women at the finishing table might be able to tell me whether she has come in from the hike yet.   And so I thank her for that information, and in another awkward moment decide on my next move.

“Well, I’m here, and you’re obviously moved in some way to support breast cancer awareness because you’re here, so let me show you what I’ve done.”

Thus ensued the pulling out of the book, which one of her friends asked to see and started to read with a couple of the other women.  Not-Gayle said that this is an important issue, and clearly a pretty book, and I said something about how I thought she was on television and that’s why I came to share it with her.  And that’s when she said,

“I am on television.”

And then I wanted to vomit.  Because that’s when she told me her name is Dana King, and I looked at her and her friends and smiled and realized in that split second that Gayle King is Oprah’s friend and not the Emmy-winning anchor of the CBS news affiliate in San Francisco that I was currently talking to.

So.  It blows when you make a fool of yourself.  But here’s the thing.  Dana ended up telling me that she would take the book and give it to one of the medical reporters at KPIX to check out, because “it’s breast cancer awareness month in October” and everyone is looking for an angle.  And indeed Dr. Kim Mulvihill called me a week later to ask if she could come and interview me, which she is doing next week.  When I told her about how I’d majorly blown Dana’s name, she said that Dana hadn’t mentioned that, and that she in fact had said that I was quite nice, which, Kim pointed out, is not always the way that famous people are approached at events.

So note to self.  Don’t think you know someone’s name.  Offer yours and go from there.  And sometimes being bald has nothing to do with how much hair you have on your head.  That Sunday, I was totally bald and just cloaked in my embarrassment.

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Filed under Just something ..., Stupid things

My Little Buddy

This is my scooter, Buddy.  Really.  Of all the names, the manufacturer who was clearly gunning for the Vespa crowd, picked the name Buddy.  So friendly.  And cuddly.

It is rather a contradiction that I own a scooter.    I think that motorcycles are really dangerous, and I would never allow my son to ride one.

However, I know that there is nothing finer than riding on a scooter when the weather is hot.  And I am very happy to throw Hans on the back of mine and trot him off to soccer practice or school.

At Stanford, I drove a scooter around, and actually got my ONLY moving violation to date, because I didn’t turn off the ignition when I passed the concrete bollards that marked the area where motor vehicles could not go past.  When I coasted up to the music building, one of the campus cops on a motorcross bike was there to hand me a ticket.  I mean, I was coasting.  It was ridiculous.   The scooter was lent to me by my boyfriend at the time, a big old football player that didn’t relish the idea of peddling around campus.  I loved to put on headphones, listen to  “She Sells Sanctuary” by The Cult at full blast, and drive around the campus at night.

I think this is part of my “have fun with life” mantra, tempered by driving slow and always having my left thumb squarely on the horn button.   When I drove up to soccer practice the other day to pick up Hans, one of the kids looked at the scoot, then at his dad, and said, “Awww Dad, why did you get rid of your motorcycle?”

“Because I wanted to watch you grow up,” the dad replied.

Funny, I had the same feeling when I was diagnosed.  That I desperately wanted to watch Hans grow up. But somehow I don’t equate riding this souped up 10-speed with putting my life on the line.

Maybe it’s a male thing.

Or maybe I already understand that my life is always on the line, even when I’m being careful.

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Filed under Beautiful things