Random and spontaneous

I let my mind drift frequently these days to the alternate universe, the one where we have moved to California and all our problems are somehow washed away by the blue waters of the Pacific. I stand on the cliffs and look out to sea and I am surrounded by blue and that amazing California light. The dream heals my soul.

Yesterday as we rushed from ophthalmologist to ophthalmologist in what turned out to be an epic day of doctors and lasers and waiting, all to repair a horseshoe tear in James’s retina, I completely forgot that I was waiting for a call from my oncologist. I held my cell phone in my hand through the first two appointments, sure the call would come at a moment when I couldn’t talk — caught between two doctors, the one in the room and the one on the phone — but eventually, I stuck the phone back in my bag, overwhelmed by what was happening in the moment. I forgot, too, that I had silenced my phone, so when the call came sometime after 7 pm, I almost missed it and then, not recognizing the caller id, almost decided not to answer.

The body seems to have a mind of its own, and mine is unwilling to go quietly into menopause. My ovaries insist on continuing to produce estrogen despite the fact that I am 55 years old and have been drugging them into submission for two years. I am unsure, but maybe beginning to regret that I didn’t have them removed at the time of my surgery — removing them now is complicated by the fact that I have so much scar tissue in my abdomen, a byproduct of my reconstruction. I don’t think removing them at the time of my original surgery was really an option either, but I wish it had been. I don’t think we knew until after my mastectomy what type of breast cancer I had, I don’t think we knew that estrogen was the enemy.

For now, the plan is to wait a month and retest. If my numbers aren’t what they should be, then I will go back on the Lupron, or maybe revisit what surgery would look like at this point. When I asked my oncologist if being off the Lupron for another month was going to somehow make recurrence more likely, he said that’s not really how it works. It’s complicated. And while he applies mathematical formulas and plays a statistics games, the reality is we don’t have any idea what the future holds.

Sometimes life is as random and spontaneous as a horseshoe tear in the retina, sometimes it is as beautiful as my California dream, and sometimes it just is what it is — a long string of fortunate and unfortunate events. I used to think there would be plenty of time, that I could hold on to my dreams for years and they would be there, waiting, whenever I was ready. But I know more now. I know that time is the one thing there is never enough of, and dreams don’t wait.

I no longer think about my cancer every day. But every once in a while it pushes its way forward, demands my attention, and the only way to push it back is to address the fear all over again. In the end, I know my body will betray me — despite my best efforts. No one has forever. Yet, I hold tenaciously to my dream, to California, to the misguided notion that moving my family across the country — to the place I still call home — will somehow heal me and set us free.

Current Events

It never ends, does it? I really don’t understand how anyone can still support this administration. I know many of the headlines are meant to bait us, to solicit an emotional response, but when the Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR and Dan Rather are screaming a collective WTF, you might want to pay close attention.

Just for fun, I decided to document what was in my FB newsfeed this morning. I bypassed all the questionable and flat out fake news sites and put together this:

Is it any wonder we are stressed out and overwhelmed? Short of not paying attention, not reading the news, I don’t know what the solution is. Every single one of these headlines makes me want to push back. Every single one of these headlines demands outrage and counterpoint.

Here’s the thing: whether you are liberal, progressive, or conservative, whether you believe in big government, little government, or no government, the question I have for you is this: do you care about your neighbor? Because if you do, then the path this country is on, the direction this administration is taking, should worry the hell out of you. I’m not going to incite inflammatory rhetoric (though “First they came for…” is on auto-repeat in my head), I’m not going to employ scare tactics, or preach my bleeding heart liberal mantra. I’m simply going to say that if you care about your neighbor, about your fellow man, about the less fortunate among us, then you have to ask yourself, what in the holy hell is going on here?

One of them

February was a blur. The 10th marked two years post surgery and reconstruction, a thing I just couldn’t imagine acknowledging in any way this year. When I think back to my experience with breast cancer, when I focus on the details — the 12-hour surgery, the long and challenging recovery, the worry and frustration — I have to quickly look away, change the subject in my head. I don’t know if I will ever stop worrying about recurrence, about roque cancer cells silently waging war inside my body, but I have learned to live with the uncertainty, and today, my mind is focused on so many other things.

A week ago, James and I went to a town hall meeting hosted by our congressional representative. While she spent close to three hours answering questions and discussing the climate in Washington, two moments stood out for me. When she introduced a Planned Parenthood representative, the room rose to its feet. I thought in that moment about all the women who receive early detection cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics, women who now have access to healthcare, who don’t have to show up in the emergency room because they feel a lump in their breast. I thought about how lucky I was — how lucky I am — to have insurance and access to incredible doctors. But I also thought about the cost of that access. If I told you what my family spent out of pocket during my first two years of treatment, you would not likely believe me. And that’s in addition to our monthly premiums.

The second moment that stood out for me was when our congresswoman expressed her thanks for a free and independent press.  When she asked the audience to continue to support investigative journalism, the room exploded in applause. The truth is, we owe the media right now — and I’m not talking about pundits and talking morning show heads, I’m talking about investigative reporting teams at the Washington Post and The New York Times, at Politico, Democracy Now, and The Nation — we owe these people an enormous debt of gratitude. These investigative journalists are digging and doing the hard work of holding a hostile administration accountable. These reporters are heroes. And while some of you may not like what these teams are reporting, you may prefer to stick with Fox News and Breitbart and the president’s own Twitter feed, I will settle for nothing less than news that is fact-checked and double fact-checked, and reported through organizations widely respected and known for being fair and impartial.

This place we find ourselves in, this shadowy place where truth is willfully ignored or shoved into a dark corner, cannot become a comfortable, familiar place. We have to resist the temptation to think of what’s happening around us as normal. It’s not normal. I’m not going to tell you what to think. I’m not even going to hope you come to the same conclusions I do. I’m simply going to beg you to educate yourself. To accept nothing at face value.

The world we are living in demands active participation — no matter which side you are on. Remember, decisions are made by those who show up. And that’s my plan. I’m showing up. I’m getting actively involved. I’m thinking globally but acting locally. Because if this election and its outcome have shown me anything, it’s that I love this country more than I ever knew possible. And yes, it’s flawed. We are flawed. But we have come too far and made too much progress to take a step back.

During its time, the Civil Rights movement was very unpopular. Polls from the 1960s indicate that a majority of Americans thought sit-ins at lunch counters and Freedom Riders were a bad idea. An overwhelming majority of people polled thought mass demonstrations would do more to harm the movement than initiate progress. We are seeing a similar backlash today. When people question the relevance of the Women’s March or the motivation behind A Day Without Women, they are essentially saying, “we do not approve.” So, while many of us (remember the popular vote?) are in favor of social justice, human rights and equality on every playing field, others prefer to support an administration that chips away at those things under the guise of “smaller government.”

I don’t know where this is headed. I don’t like the fact that I barely recognize the world I’m living in. But I’m not going to sit on the sidelines. You won’t see me running for office, but I am already deeply entrenched in the hard work necessary to right the course. I am joining and organizing and mobilizing and donating and calling and writing and marching. I am showing up. And that, my friends, is what enables me to sleep at night.

I know we are going to lose some of the time. There will be bills passed and policies set that benefit no one but the wealthy and the privileged. Healthcare, the environment, rights to privacy, international relations — these things are already taking a big hit. But eventually, we will win one. And then we will win two, and soon the tide will shift and a sea change will be upon us. Because I don’t doubt for one second that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. And I plan to be one of them.

 

 

This is who we are

This morning as I drove my son to school, we passed the aftermath of a house fire. The street was blocked by police cars, and we could see fire trucks up ahead. We both commented that it must have been a bad fire if the street was still closed.

After I dropped him off, I met a friend for a walk at a local park. The morning was raw and cold, but it felt good to be out with my friend by my side. I mentioned the police cars and fire trucks, and she said she had heard the sirens throughout the night.

Later, I saw a post about it on FB. The fire had, in fact, been devastating. A family with three small children lost everything.

The last ten days or so have been difficult — emotional, frustrating, scary. I’ve made no secret of my concerns about this new administration, about how hard it has been to accept their agenda. I’ve watched (and called and marched) as this administration has turned its back on immigrants, on women, on minorities, on education, and even — shockingly — on the law.

But as I thought about what is going on in our country and around the world, I couldn’t get this local family off of my mind. I thought about how this little village, less than 20 miles from midtown Manhattan, has become my community, how neighbors and friends showered us with acts of generosity when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I had to act.

I went back to FB and read the threads asking for donations. I thought about all we have that can be shared, and I thought about how giving — how kindness — lifts the heart. I put together a small bag of warm clothing, a little cash, and dropped it off. As I drove home, I felt better than I have in days.

This is who we are. On Saturday night, I cheered as lawyers volunteered their services to people detained in airports across the country. And today I smiled as my neighbors rallied around a young family facing a devastating loss. This is who we are. We step up when people are in need. It’s what we do as citizens of this great nation and as citizens of the world. There is no excuse for closing doors, building walls, and turning our backs on people in need. It’s not about money or material things; a kind word and the gift of friendship go a long way.

On this point, I will not go quietly. Because this is who we are.

It’s not pie

This rapid-fire dismantling of democracy, of gag orders and executive orders, feels vengeful and punitive. It appears our new government is locked into the “I’ll show you” phase of leadership. Everything is about tearing something apart, or creating barriers, or stripping away rights. For every slight they’ve ever felt, for every compelled compliance with constitutional law or the bill of rights, there is a counter beat down action emerging from the Oval Office.

I am learning that despite our best intentions, human nature is at its very heart ugly and selfish, that our most primal instincts are self-centered. There is a loud minority of people who want us to believe that the only way to protect their rights is to take away ours. But here’s the thing: it’s not pie. We don’t have to fight for the last piece.

Compassion, empathy, kindness, love, inclusion — these things are not finite. They don’t run out. And even better, unlike fossil fuels, they are a renewable resource, just like solar power and the wind.

I know there are people who disagree with me, but I see this as we either move bravely into the new world, or backward into places that once felt safe and comfortable. I get that people are worried about jobs, about making ends meet, but the jobs that will enable our children to have a good life are not in coal mines or factories that no longer exist. They are the jobs that come from education and innovation, from technology and sustainable energy, from embracing America’s entrepreneurial spirit and the needs of the global community. They are jobs that a man like our president and his billionaire boys’ club have never even heard of, let alone developed an understanding of how to create.

It frustrates me that we aren’t all on the same side. That progress and equality, are not universal hopes for ourselves and our children. And it frightens me that so many of us are unwilling to hold our elected officials accountable. They are simply men, not gods. And right now, these men, this administration, needs to be held accountable for lying, for disregarding the law, for outright discrimination, for censorship, and for trying to drag us kicking and screaming away from the light.

Holding on to my better self is hard work, but here’s what I know to be true: despite our darkest instincts, we follow the light to survive. This may prove to be one of our nation’s blackest hours, but it will be followed by true progress, by an expansion of human rights, by a vibrant multi-cultural society, and by an age of innovation unlike anything that’s come before. We will not go back. There may be small victories and tremendous loss, but we will keep moving forward, ever slowly, to the light. Where there is pie for everyone.

 

All right with me

Yesterday felt like a turning point. Solidarity. Strength. The world, it would seem, is watching. I gave up my ticket to D.C. and I realized too late that it pretty much broke my heart not to be there. I thought I was okay with it, that it didn’t matter that much; turns out it mattered a lot. So on a whim, we headed to a local march. There were no speakers, and it was really more of a gathering than an actual march, but there were — by some estimates — over a thousand people with signs and banners and a great deal of heart.

What I know to be true is that I stand with those who marched yesterday, in countries and cities around the world. In D.C., in L.A., in Berlin, in London… I stand with those who want progress and freedom, who support social justice, who believe in science and facts and the importance of education. I do not for one minute think that this many people around the world are crybaby liberals who didn’t get their way. I think they are justifiably concerned, as I am, about the policies and threats of an unenlightened, uneducated man and his band of billionaires.

When my son greets me in the morning, he says “Well, we survived another day.” And I know that his words are a thin mask of his own concern. He is studying WWII in his social studies class and his eyes are open to the warning signs. I’m tired of those who believe they need to Trump-splain me. There’s really nothing that needs to be explained.

So, for now, I will bask in the beauty of those who marched through the streets of the world yesterday knowing that tomorrow the hard work begins again. I have my senators and congressional rep on speed dial, my local state reps too. This is not the time to sit quietly. Yesterday we marched. The strength, the hope, the love — it was out there. The words of negativity, of fear, of carnage, were silenced for a moment by a sea of pink. And that’s all right with me.

collageacollagebphoto credit: New York Times

Forever lasting peace

It doesn’t take long, does it? That moment when we cross the threshold, when what may have left us feeling outraged or sad simply becomes this amusing or interesting little thing that happened. This morning I found myself laughing out loud when I read the headlines. I just don’t know what to do anymore, how to react, how to stop this train wreck. The danger here lies in giving up, in looking at the abundance of absurdity laid before us by this Republican congress and president-elect and shrugging our shoulders.

To be completely honest, I haven’t thought much about Hilary in recent weeks. That’s over. I can’t say I’m thrilled that she and Bill are headed to DC to attend the inauguration, but on some level, I get that she’s damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. Who I’ve thought about most as the news of the last few weeks unfolds is Chuck Schumer. And Kamala Harris. One seasoned player and one newbie, but both taking a strong stand against the absurdity with the press and on social media.

I read an interesting document last night, one that’s made the rounds lately. It was put together by congressional staffers and is a roadmap for peaceful, respectful resistance through official channels. Bottom line: put your senators and representatives on speed dial. Call them. Don’t email, don’t tweet, call. Speak up. Be specific. Tell them what you want them to do, thank them for their good work, and pin them down on the things you care about. It matters.

I started this blog when I was diagnosed with cancer and I never imagined just two years later I would be writing about my feelings on politics and social issues. But here I am, compelled by a need for greater understanding, for clarity, for hope.

In the book “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, I was struck by his observation, just a few pages in, on how native American civilizations have not been accurately portrayed through history. He writes that the Iroquois, for example, were enlightened and advanced in ways that they are rarely credited with.

“Women were important and respected in Iroquois society…the senior women named the men who represented the clans at village and tribal councils…they tended the crops and took general charge of affairs while the men were always hunting or fishing. And since they supplied the moccasins and food for warring expeditions, they had some control over military matters…[Children] were taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions…” He goes on to write that John Collier, an American scholar who lived among Native Americans in the 1920s and 1930s said of their spirit, “Could we make it our own, there would be an eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace.”

An eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace. How many times in the history of this nation, in the history of the world, have we missed this opportunity? So much of what is done in the name of progress, of advancing civilization, is done with a heavy hand, with a motive to suppress and push back entire populations, to gain absolute control. Nothing has changed.

It strikes me that this country was built on the backs of people who stood up. People who were present — with all their flaws and missteps — people who chose and continue to choose policies and programs that bring us together, that support our individual rights not at the expense of others, but for the common good. The myth of Thanksgiving is this: the natives welcomed Europeans to this land in the hope that a peaceful co-existence would follow. But human nature being what it is, greed and the desire for personal gain pretty much shot that idea to hell. So much of what was is repeated. The analogies today direct us to look to WWI and WWII to learn our lessons, but the truth is, we need to look back even further.

We are at a crossroad. It was never meant to be one-party rule. Or, even worse, one party rule with a puppet at the helm. As challenging as it may be, one form of recourse is actually very simple: Let your voice be heard. Call your congressmen. Don’t let them off the hook. Praise them for the good they do and call them out for the bad. I know, it’s so much easier to shrug our shoulders and walk away, to let this be someone else’s problem. But we can’t do that. This is too important. We need a sea change, a rising up of our voices, a demand for something better than this. At the very least, we have to support the people who have the power and the access to make a difference.

Maybe then we will find our forever lasting peace.

All the good

Two nights ago we stood under my mom’s Christmas tree, me, my brother, and my sister, for the first time in just about 13 years. It’s been that long since we have all spent the holidays together in California. Too long. There are some things in life that slip away from us, things that become tricky to unravel, and while I regret all the missed years and missed opportunities, I do not regret the ties and commitments that have kept us anchored to our holidays in New York. Life is what you make it. And ours has been (and continues to be) a good life. Too often regret stands in the way of gratitude. And I am nothing if not grateful.

Our seven days in LA were everything I hoped they would be. We fell asleep our first night to the sound of pouring rain on the roof (yes rain!!) and woke to the incredible sight of the mountains painted green and the sky crystal blue. It was LA winter as I remember it. One day chilly and grey, the next sunny and warm. Everything about this holiday was magical. And while my son and my nephew were showered with presents to unwrap, all of us took our greatest joy from the gift of simply being together.

Things I loved: watching the boys — old and young — pile into the car as they headed out to one adventure after another, baking Christmas cookies in my mom’s new kitchen, seeing snow on the mountains as we drove into Pasadena, visiting with family and friends, talking to my brother late into the night about politics and faith, the Riverside Festival of Lights, spending the day at the Autry Museum with my NY crew, and watching my son scour the shelves of an antique store for old redlines and die cast cars. It was, in fact, a perfect holiday.

And now, on the eve of a new year, as I struggle to hold on to hope and faith, a belief in our better selves, I have my memories of California to keep me warm. I need that now more than ever. In just three days, I will be a year older — maybe even a year wiser. I can barely grasp the fact that I will be turning 55 years old. My new year and birthday wish for myself is simply this: to stay strong, to keep fighting the good fight, to stand on the right side of history, to never be silent.

In the face of what 2017 may bring, these are the words I chose to live by.

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”  – John Wesley

Happy New Year, my friends. May the days to come bring peace and hope to our hearts. Whatever lies ahead, remember no one among us walks alone. We are together in this world, on this beautiful but fragile planet, and I will never stop believing that our most important task is to care for each other, protect each other, and love each other. This is my revolution.

Working through it

I’ve spent the last week or so writing a story about productivity. This piece put up a good fight — I can almost believe it didn’t want to be written — but with the help of a smart editor and a few really productive (!!) hours yesterday and early this morning, I finally got the job done.

I mention this because somewhere within these last few days, as I was researching scientific studies and watching TED talks on time management, I stumbled back onto my zen.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still dismayed and devastated over cabinet appointments and Russia and fake news and where this country seems to be headed, but today it feels more intellectual, less emotional. I can no longer feel my blood pressure (literally) rising as I read the news.

I feel a sense of resignation. I think there are some very dark days ahead, but I see now that the only way to move forward is to get through it. There’s no reverse, there’s only straight ahead. It’s time to put our heads down and do the hard work, we have to watch this incoming administration like a hawk, and we have to support the organizations that will be able to hold the president elect and his band of billionaires to the letter of the law.

I always learn something when I work on the stories I am assigned. I like information and facts; I also love words. What I was reminded of when working on this most recent piece is that we need to devote as much time to the things that keep us happy and healthy as we devote to the hard work we do.

I want to keep that in mind as this undignified and erratic administration takes hold. In other words, I’m going to have to pace myself. And spend a fair amount of time on self-care. To that end, I’m anticipating an unprecedented amount of travel to my safe haven and heroic home state of California in 2017. I need my family and the Central Coast and the wild beauty of the Pacific.

I hope you, too,  find the time this holiday season to enjoy the things that bring you peace. Step away from the fray, enjoy your loved ones, and do the things that fulfill you.

I know some of you who follow and read here don’t agree with my politics and to that end, I will simply say we can agree to respectfully disagree. I will never back down from an agenda of inclusion and justice for all. To those of you who share my views, stay strong. It’s always darkest before the dawn.

Merry Christmas, and may the new year be full of blessings — great and small.

 

 

I believe in we

Do I feel any better today than I did the morning after the election? Not really. But the good news is, I’m no longer suffering from panic attacks and insomnia. I guess the new normal is beginning to sink in despite how horrific I find our current state of affairs. The biggest realization I’ve come to in the three weeks post election, is that I completely underestimated our enlightenment. I sincerely thought we were better than this.

No one will ever be able to convince me that we’re headed in the right direction. This country is pretty messed up. I’m not sure how we fix the things that need to be fixed. But I know we won’t make any progress by denouncing climate change, targeting ethnic groups, or chipping away at civil and equal rights. I’m still waiting for our new president to do or say something presidential. And no, saving a few jobs in Indiana while giving away the store in government incentives does not feel hopeful. It feels like he got played.

The world is a cold place and my instinct is to nest and hold tight to the people I love. I keep telling myself that this too will pass, but I don’t really believe it. I know good people are doing good things; more of my friends are making an effort to educate themselves, to understand what’s happening and to have a voice. Looking back is pointless, except for the lessons to be learned. I’m not yearning for what might have been — but I see where the mistakes were made, the hubris, the lack of awareness. We didn’t see it coming. The groundswell. And yet, there is this: the president-elect is losing the popular vote by an historic margin. According to every news source out there, Hillary leads the popular vote by 2.3 million…and climbing. So, the groundswell? Yeah… I’m not so sure. Somehow less people in more states were the deciding factor. But there’s no going back now.

As time goes on and the routines of daily life take over, the shock and the disbelief will continue to fade. The one thing I will carry with me is this: good people doing good deeds can change the world. No matter how disillusioned I become, I will always believe that to be true. I will always take the side of kindness and justice and equality. Because that’s the only kind of world I want to live in. I don’t believe in us vs. them.

I believe in we.