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The Road to “Yes!”

The train tracks from Alaska into Canada.

I am lucky enough to now be blogging for Facing Cancer Canada, which gives me an outlet to talk very much to the cancer community.  “It won’t always be about cancer,” I told Chantal, my contact there.  “My life is not all about cancer.”  She understood, and actually encouraged me to simply write what moves me, as they want to show all sides of the cancer experience.   In it, after it, through it.

This is my second blog post.

We’re a posse that understands the meaningfulness of firsts.   First time in the infusion lab.  First tug and eerie release of your here-to-fore sturdy hair.  First time hearing the solid “thunk” of the door closing as everyone flees the radiation room, yet you are left behind.

So many firsts.  So many difficult firsts.

But life has a way of evening things out.  The pendulum swings back.  The trick, it seems, is to catch it and go for a new ride.  Take a chance.  Try something new.

I am now on the side of more pleasant firsts, thankfully.  Like this past weekend, I was part of a gala event called Truth Be Told for the Premiere Oncology Foundation in Santa Monica, California.   I was invited as a storyteller, along with 10 other cancer survivors, to put a face on this disease.

I grabbed, and I swung.  I mean, I’m not a professional speaker.  I like speaking.  Do it a lot, actually, every day.  But not on stage.  And certainly not alone, without notes or a podium.  Terrifying?  You bet.   But so amazingly juicy to force myself to push through my comfort zone.

Not only did I get to simmer for 2 days with some soulful people, but I got to share my work with the audience, and ask them to consider the importance of including our kids in our cancer treatment.  In other words, saying yes to opening myself up to strangers allowed me to further a discussion that I am passionate about.

Life is just a series of firsts, punctuated by long stretches of the same old, same old.  For cancer patients, saying yes is part of the treatment.   We have to agree to some protocol and move forward.  But having an enthusiastic “Sure!” to what comes after we’re all finished with our doctor visits, that is part of the wisdom borne of a cancer diagnosis.

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Happiness in a Cup

It’s not as impressive as Jesus appearing in a piece of toast, but it did make my day.

Happy 4th of July.

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Oh Daddy

He was a whistler and a whittler, and I miss him so.

Most nights, after we ate dinner, dad would sit in his chair, pick up a piece of wood and, depending on the point in its creation, would either sand or whittle with sharp as a razor knives.  Whales.  Birds.  Strange objects.  To my right on my desk is a interlinked set of ovals whittled out of some light wood.  His knife strokes are right there for me to see.

These links are symbolic.  I was born on my dad’s 41st birthday.

He was a fisherman and a tinkerer.  He taught me both.   I can still picture in my mind all the different fishing holes we visited. Our neighborhood had Square Pond, arrived at after a walk through the Connecticut woods and across a simple, open meadow.  While he would go fly fishing for Big Mama, the bass he was sure lurked in the deep, I would flit along the shore,  trying to catch bullfrogs or successfully catching tennis ball-sized Sunnies.  A longer car ride away was the place where we tried for carp, one from an overpass and another down by the river.  When I grew to be in middle and high school, we would try for salmon in Washington State, a long windy drive out to Fox Island until the road dead ended, and then an equally long windy walk past the blackberry and raspberry bushes down to the huge dock overhanging the Narrows.  Instead of the light poles with a red and white bobber, we used long, heavy salmon rods laden with herring that took all you had to whip it out there into the current.  We’d catch dog fish (which I believe were a kind of shark) that the Vietnamese fisherman who squatted for hours while they fished would take home, and every so often we would land a salmon. On every fishing trip there was a lot of casting and reeling in.  Casting and reeling in.  “Something’s out there, Sue,” he’d say.  “Just got to be patient.”  He was ever the optimist when it came to fishing.

He showed me the value of working hard.  Of trying to fix things yourself.  Of being creative in your down time.   Of telling good stories.  Of reading.

He could carve a beautiful turn down any ski hill, and perhaps his greatest gift to me, other than making me in the first place, was teaching me the same love for skiing.  He started me at 4, as I have done with my son, first in between his legs going down the almost flat hills, then watching as I shusshed down the slopes and doing the inevitable sweep of the hill behind me.

He carved me a small wooden mouse with a tiny leather tail that was pinned to my jacket or hat when I skied.  He told me it was a mogul mouse, that would help me navigate through a mogul field and not fall down.  There was nothing, he admitted, to be done about the snow snakes.  You just had to carve those turns and hope for the best.

We worked together to bring back to life a 1971 MGB-GT.  That meant many evenings after school and on the weekend, after he had played his round of golf with his buddies, we would attack a certain part of the car with the Chilton’s manual by our side and a whole heap of good intentions.  I learned to gap spark plugs.  Fiddle with duel carbs.  The crazy make-up of a disk brake system with all it’s little “shoes” and moving parts, and how to apply Bondo.  I learned with him that the electrical system on a British car is a thing of mystery, no matter what the pages of the manual say.  And that the simple touches, like the rear view mirror affixed to the right front fender, are both necessary and rakish.

He called me Chatterbox and Finella.  And George, sometimes.  You see, I was the son my dad never had.  How I wish I could hug and kiss him today.

 

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The End of Days: Part 2

OK, I’ve never done a two-blog.  I try to be very concise.  Give you a nibble, not a 3-course meal with coffee.  But if I wrote ALL the strange things that happened to me on Saturday in one long blog, you’d hate me for taking up so much of your time.

So part two of my day.

Having survived a marauding lady deer, we continued our hike.  Anders loves to give me options of the routes we can take, and as I considered the two that he proposed, I wished that somehow we could end up walking past these houses that I’ve heard are perched up in the woods.  I mean that literally.  Occupants of these homes have to walk up long, winding dirt paths from the car park to get to their houses.  Cool in nice weather.  A bitch, I’m certain, in the rain with groceries and a crying child.   This thought had nothing really to do with the two options he gave me.  It just popped into my head.  I noticed it, and let it go.  Very Northern California of me.    We chose a direction and set off.

Now again, we do a lot of hiking.  Over the course of 20 years with this man, I’ve taken a million steps.  Most of them have been with a dog in tow.  Never has a dog of mine killed a defenseless bunny, but guess what?  Yup, today was the day.  She did one of her signature hop moves into a bush, I heard the distinctive crunching noise of something going very badly, and when I turned and gasped, she dropped the adorable, gray, still-trembling but very much in the last moments of its life bunny.   I stood there with my hands covering my mouth, muttering, “Oh noooo, nooo, nooo,” endlessly until Anders snapped me out of it and told me there was nothing to do.

My dog is now a bunny killer.  Certainly the world must be coming to an end soon, because this just was so not ok with me.  We continued on, and at this point figured there was nothing to lose to go down some new paths we had never tried before.  I mean, what are the odds of MORE strange things happening?  I let the man with the internal compass lead, and after having not passed another living soul for an hour of walking, we passed a mom and young girl in a deeply wooded area.  Soon thereafter the trail dead ended.  Unless this young girl was part goat, I’m at a loss to understand where they came from.   Because it seemed so … odd … we continued to look for the path.  Stomping through undergrowth and through a little creek, we realized that there was nothing on the other side and we needed to turn around.  As I looked down to pick my way back across the water, I noticed a submerged old glass bottle.  Now, I love finding old bottles in our yard.  It happens every so often, when we are digging somewhere, as our yard back during the turn of the century when this house was built was the dump.  And here were funky old bottles just half submerged in the muck, calling to me.  Cool.  Very very cool.  I dug up two and was going for my third when Anders told me it was getting dark and we needed to go back down the trail to find another way out.

Do you know where this is going?  The way out, a path we had never gone down before, was the SAME one I had wished to find.  We passed the houses tucked up on the hillside, and even some woman carrying up her groceries.  As we exited this area, there was a wedding reception in the grove of redwood trees, yellow lights twinkling and beautiful people in love.

Had my thought really manifested in this action?   On this day, it sure did.

So.  We made it home.  Didn’t get hit by a car, or see a streaker, or have any other animals burst into song.  It seemed that the crazy part of the day was over.  We made appetizers, I made a fire in the outdoor fireplace, we poured ourselves a nice glass of wine and sat down for a game of Scrabble.  A party at the house above us was in full swing, the happy conversations of young people laughing mixing with the music we had on the stereo.

I commented on how much I loved the moment.  Perfection.

Until the sound of something unexpected thunked off the wood trellis above our heads and smashed onto stone somewhere near.  And the party sounds above us ceased right about the time Anders screamed “Your Party is Over.”  My lame-o “That was so uncool” hardly encapsulated how un-cool it was.

Some dumb-ass drunk kid decided it was bright to try and pick us off with a missile of a glass Bud bottle thrown from 150 feet away off their deck.   Because it might have been the end of the world for one of us, and then it would have been the end of the world for the one left.

So, in review:  Deer.  Bunnies.  Glass bottles both old and uncovered from decades in the muck and new and thrown with a crash into our midst.  Ideas coming to life.  Weddings.  And yes, the cops.  In my house.  Any one of these situations would have made for a unique day.  You know, dinner table conversation.  But mixed together into a melange of strangeness, it qualified, at the end of the day, as quite a day indeed.

Was your Saturday as strange as mine?  Please tell me yes, it will make me feel better.

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The End of Days

                                     Roxy the bounding dog.  This is a 6 foot tall fence.

You ever have one of those days when so many strange things happen that you sort of wonder if there’s something in the air?  For us, last Saturday was one of those days.  That was also the day that some sliver of the population believed would be the final bow for the human race.  And I’ve got to be honest with you … I started to wonder myself at a certain point.

It started with a stalking.  From a deer.  Not known for their predatory nature, this deer decided that Roxy, our dog, needed to be followed.  Badly.  Roxy was on the end of a leash, connected to Anders, who was walking next to me.  We were taking an (up to this point) lovely late afternoon walk in the neighborhood, when we both noticed the sounds of what we believed were steps of a fast approaching sprinting runner behind us.  When we turned and saw it was a large deer making tracks directly at us, with a car behind, we simply assumed that the car had spooked the deer, who was simply trying to escape PAST us and disappear into the brush.

As normal deer do.

But the deer stopped when we turned.  What ensued was a strange ballet, where we turned to walk away, and the deer continued toward us.  We’d turn, the deer would stop.  The woman in the car behind us, bless her, leaned out the window and said, “I think that deer is following you.  It looks like it wants your dog.”

We walked much faster, and the deer continued after us.   “This deer looks sick,” she offered.  She then used her car to gently herd the deer away from us and up a driveway, so we could make our exit.  We started walking quickly away, looking back at the deer who had paused on the driveway, only to take off again THROUGH the yard and brush to follow us.  Our angel in the Prius didn’t abandon us, but she continued to parallel the deer to keep him off the road.

Now, it’s hard to jog and look behind you, so I focused on the road ahead, and staying up with Anders.  And when I heard her voice from behind me saying, “He’s coming at you!!” I ran a bit faster.   Sounds of a car speeding up, slowing down, and a horn honking ensued.   And then, straight out of a slasher film, I hear her loud and clear, “He’s coming!  RUN!  I MEAN IT!!

Oh yes, we ran.  There is no shame here.  I put it in gear and ran as fast as my legs could take me, wondering how in the world I would ever outrun a deer, and hoping for a fork in the road that would give us at least a fighting chance of ditching this crazy thing.

We ran until we no longer heard the car, or the clack of hooves on pavement, and then we ran some more.  We chose a tiny off-road trail, and even so, Anders kept turning around, convinced that this deer had an ability to track us via our scent.

For the following two hours, in between huge stretches of silence and then the occasional, “That was sooo weird” comment, we contemplated reasons for this interaction.  End of Days was my first offering.  Animals, sensing The End, were losing their minds, clear as day.  Anders suggested that perhaps this was Roxy’s mother, as our dog has often been likened to a deer because she hops really high when she runs.   I threw down the idea that this deer just wanted to be friends with Roxy, but didn’t know how to show true affection through dialog.  Anders of course turned things sexual (men!) and suggested that perhaps Roxy and this deer had a thing going on, and she was one of those “stalker types”.   We ended up thinking that this wasn’t a well deer, and perhaps in her declining state she thought that Roxy was her baby, and was instinctively trying to herd her.

On a scale of one to 10, this pegged 10 as a lifetime “strange thing.”  But it was simply the first of many.  More tomorrow.

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Being Present for a Present

In an age where convenience can strip away creativity, I’d like to make a plea for thoughtful presents.  You see, I’m faced with buying a 12-year-old boy a gift, and I’ve been guilty recently of taking the easy way out.  The gift card.   A present is reduced to a strict exchange of dollars.  It feels hollow, in a way, but it does get the job done.  Safeway has a kiosk right by the check-out stand that is 6 feet of colorful gift cards from every retail business around.  Certainly every giftee  – man, woman, child from infantcy to seniorhood – could use something from one of those stores.

Yeah.  But.

I’m here to tell you about a certain salad bowl that I received as a gift.  A woodworker named Lloyd General lovingly turned (literally, he hand turned it on a lathe) a massive chunk of California walnut into a work of functional art.  I just ate a salad out of that gorgeous striated brown bowl.  I have eaten or served items out of that bowl for close to 20 years.  And when I do, a tiny piece of my heart goes out to the woman who thought enough of the importance of gift buying to get it for me:  my mother-in-law Lou Ann.   It is, simply put, a five-star gift that my son will inherit when my salad eating days are done.

Now, I’ve given some wacky presents in my day.  A worm composter to my sister-in-law was an abject failure.  (I mean, who hates worms?)  But to a girlfriend mourning the loss of her husband, I gave a pair of soft-as-a-kitten cashmere socks.  I told her that if everything else was going sideways, at least her feet would feel loved.  And she could think of me, in those dark, cold days of winter, when she pulled them on and felt the warmth from my heart.

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What Pablo Neruda Said

People say things all the time.  Others write a whole hell of a lot of words.  Pablo Neruda, the poet, loves words as much as I do.  Probably more, I’d reckon.  From his Memoir, the last sentence has stayed with me since the moment I read it close to 20 years ago.

Savor this morsel:

“You can say anything you want, yessir, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and descend … I bow to them … I love them, I cling to them, I fun them down, I bite into them, I melt them down … I love words so much … The unexpected ones … The ones I wait for greedily or stalk until, suddenly, they drop … Vowels I love … They glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew … I run after certain words … They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem. … I catch them in mid-flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them, I set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily, like fruit, like algae, like agates, like olives… And then I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go … I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves … Everything exists in the word …  An idea goes through a compete change because one word shifted its place, or because another settled down like a spoiled little thing inside a phrase that was not expected her but obeys her.”

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