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Self-Sabotage

11 Feb

GetAttachmentI honestly don’t know what’s wrong with me. When did I become a self-sabotaging idiot who will do just about anything to avoid working on her novel? Since last Friday, I’ve been practically salivating about today because incredibly, there is nothing on my calendar for a four hour block of time. I’ve been eagerly anticipating finishing a particularly difficult chapter that’s been hounding me for weeks and yet I’ve already wasted more than an hour of precious writing time on the most mundane tasks possible.

Here is a list of the things that I believed were more important to complete today before working on my novel:

1) Stripping the bed and throwing the sheets in the washing machine. I mean, who can even think of writing anything when they know the bed sheets haven’t been washed for over a week?

2) Running out to Starbucks to get a coffee. I really shouldn’t count this as unnecessary as all writers know that coffee is needed to get the creative juices flowing (and other important juices as well.) Plus, they know my name and order at Starbucks and this makes me feel important.

3) Realizing that I need to pick up 25 Valentines for Isa’s class, plus candy to attach to each Valentine even though you’re not really supposed to do that because candy is so unhealthy and the school district frowns upon it. Then after seeing how crowded Michael’s Craft Store is, immediately deciding to let my oldest daughter handle the whole Valentine undertaking when she gets off work tonight.

3) Arriving home and switching the sheets into the dryer while noticing that there are toast crumbs all over the counter and the dishwasher needs emptying.

4) Wiping toast crumbs off counter and emptying dishwasher while mentally grousing how nobody in this goddamn family ever cleans up the kitchen but me.

5) Opening the refrigerator door and noticing a rank odor that turns out to be a bag of rotting cauliflower florets that now resemble hunks of yellow mucus. Throwing said cauliflower away while grousing that nobody in this goddamn family ever cleans out the refrigerator but me.

6) Taking the dog outside to poop. This task is quite a production and can take up to ten minutes as Cody, our Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix must sniff every inch of the front lawn while intermittently pausing to bark at invisible threats before his own creative juices start to flow, wherein he’s finally able to produce the tiniest nugget of poop imaginable. Wherein, I have to praise him in a high squeaky voice and give him a treat.

7) Removing sheets from dryer and realizing that two balled-up pillow cases got stuck inside the fitted sheet which means they are still sopping wet while everything else is dry. Deciding to put wet pillow cases on the pillows anyway and hope they’ll dry by tonight.

8) Reading and answering emails. Checking Facebook. Sharing a post about how Annie Lennox thinks older women are more interesting. Love her!

9) Deciding that even though I’m an older woman and I’m certainly more interesting, I still can’t think of anything compelling to write about lately, and it’s been way too long since I posted anything on my blog. Realizing that if I don’t post something soon, my readers might eventually forget all about me which will be a problem when I finally get this stupid novel written and want them to read it.

There. Almost two hours gone. Damn.

Now it’s time to start thinking about lunch.

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Letting it Out

9 Apr

photo (28)You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting on my blog as much as I have in the past, which I sincerely hope you don’t think is a good thing because that would be a definite blow to my already fragile ego.

I remember when I first starting blogging, I was so in the writing zone—I would post something every few days—my brain was constantly popping with ideas. After a while the posts went down to once a week, twice a month, and then finally whittling down to once a month if at all. You get the picture.

There are several reasons I’m not posting as often. Primarily, it’s because I’m spending what little time I can carve out of my busy day to work on my novel—which, I’ve just begun to realize, is going to take way longer than I thought. I’m up to twenty eight chapters with no end in sight. I never would have thought that writing a novel would consume me so deeply. It’s a very strange process where I feel like my characters are these horrible, rebellious little people stuck in my brain, fighting with all of their might to come out while gleefully taking me down in the process. I hate them at times but mostly I love them.

I’ve also stopped blogging as much because the truth is that I’ve begun to bore myself by writing about the same topics over and over. God knows that if I’m boring myself, I can only imagine how you feel. I can even hear your voices in my head: Please stop making me cry with sad stories of kids with cancer, or For god’s sake, stop going on and on about how happy you are now that you’ve hit fifty and I swear if you post one more picture of your flower garden I will come over and personally drive my car right over your flower beds. I know, right? Sorry. Even as I write this, I’m realizing that these words sound strangely familiar which means I’ve  probably already written this exact post somewhere in the not too distant past. I’d go back and read through the archives to find it, but I’m way too tired to check.

The writing process is often agonizing. Lately I find myself trapped in these moods where nothing is ever right and all I do is moan and groan and complain and try to blame it on my husband or my kids or on the hormone situation (another topic beaten to death) and then I realize that I’m most likely grumpy because I need to let something out and the way I do that is by writing and sharing it with others. Through the act of writing I feel alive and connected with the outside world and even if it’s just a photo on Instagram, a line or two on Facebook (or Twitter, which I’m only now getting the hang of) or an essay on my blog, I feel more alive after hitting  the “publish” or “share” button. If just writing a post on my blog makes me feel so satisfied, I can only imagine the high of publishing an actual novel, so I’m going to keep at it no matter how long it takes.

Talk about good timing. Yesterday, writer Elizabeth Gilbert posted this on her Facebook page and it totally resonated with me. Here is an excerpt:

I am a writer. If I have a story in me that I’m not able to tell, things will start going wrong all over my life. If I have a story in my head and I tell it, “I’ll get to you in 2015,” that story will start to rebel, start to act out, start to claw at the walls. That’s when the shit gets dark in my world. 

Because having a creative mind is something like owning a Border terrier; it needs a job.  And if you don’t give it a job, it will INVENT a job (which will involve tearing something up.) Which why I have learned over the years that if I am not actively creating something, chances are I am about to start actively destroying something. 

And that ain’t good.

I believe that readers don’t need good writers, although that’s always a plus. The truth is it’s the writers who need good readers. Someone  probably already wrote that somewhere and I should find out who it is and give them their due credit, but I’m way too tired to check.

Life can be crazy at times and I’m often too tired to do a lot of things, but I’m not too tired to tell you something important: I appreciate you for being my good reader. Because without you, I can’t share who I am, and then all kinds of chaos breaks out inside my head.

And that ain’t good.

Another shot of my flower garden. It's just too pretty not to share.

Another shot of my flower garden. It’s just too pretty not to share.

Here I Go Again

13 Sep
The peaceful surroundings at Camp Reach for the Stars in Ojai, CA

The peaceful surroundings at Camp Reach for the Stars in Ojai, CA

I never expected to see Alice* again. Our family had met her over five years ago when our daughter Isa was first diagnosed with leukemia at the age of two and a half.

Shortly after Isa’s diagnosis we were invited to attend the American Cancer Society’s Camp Reach for the Stars—a weekend long outdoor camp for families who have a child with cancer or a child who has survived cancer. It’s an opportunity to relax and have fun with other families who have walked in your shoes; who know exactly what you’re going through and because of their experiences, can offer you hope that your child will make it through treatment and be well enough to come back the following year. Camp Reach for the Stars is where we first met Alice over six years ago.

Isa after getting her face painted

Isa after getting her face painted

The weekend camp experience is full of fun activities—swimming, hiking, zip-lining, arts and crafts, movie night and a talent show. Every child is assigned their own personal counselor so the parents can relax by themselves, have a massage, or just lounge by the pool. Three times a day when the bell rings, we all hike up the hill to the dining hall and enjoy delicious home-cooked food and great company. Over the years, we’ve all become one big family. Since we began attending camp six years ago, Alice has always been a vital presence at camp—her goofy sense of humor and loving spirit always managed put a smile on our faces no matter how discouraged we felt.

Leah and Camp Director Amanda

Leah and Camp Director Amanda

But last year, at the end of camp when everyone gathered around the fire pit for the closing ceremonies, Alice’s mother, choked up from the tears she could no longer hold back, told us that this would most likely be the last time they would be bringing their daughter to camp. A few days earlier they had found out that Alice’s cancer had relapsed for the fourth time since she was first diagnosed at the age of nine. There was little hope that any kind of treatment would get rid of the insidious tumor that had wrapped itself around her heart. Our entire family was devastated by this news. All I could think was that I couldn’t bear the thought of coming back to camp without Alice being there.

The thing is, once your kid gets diagnosed with cancer, whether you want it or not, cancer becomes a huge part of your life. It’s like receiving a lifetime membership to the cancer club. You end up meeting and becoming friends with many families who have had to deal with a child battling cancer. This can be excruciating at times because sometimes these children whom you meet and end up loving die from their cancer. You realize you have to do everything in your power to help find a cure so that more of these children don’t die.

Isa and Nora performing in the talent show

Isa and Nora performing in the talent show

So here I go again. It’s September, which means it is PEDIATRIC CANCER AWARENESS month and it’s time for me to talk about pediatric cancer again. Oh no—not again, you say. Isn’t she tired of writing about cancer yet?

Well to be honest, the answer is YES. Yes, I am tired of writing about cancer. In fact, I’d prefer to not write about it at all. I’d prefer not to hear about children who are newly diagnosed. I’d prefer not to see photographs posted on Facebook memorializing children who are no longer alive because cancer has taken their lives. I’d prefer not to see the agonizing fear in the face of another parent who is terrified about what’s going to happen to their child.

I’d prefer that pediatric cancer be wiped off the face of the earth.

But since that’s not about to happen anytime soon, I figure it’s best to keep talking about it and writing about it as much as possible with the idea in mind that perhaps someone reading this will begin to realize that more and more children are diagnosed with pediatric cancer every day, and that one day it might just be them or someone close to them who is directly affected by this disease. And maybe—just maybe, this awareness will prompt them to act in some small way to make a change—whether it be raising money for research, helping out a family in need, or simply just having a conversation about pediatric cancer from time to time. I truly believe that simply talking about something important can incite change, even in a very small way.

Last weekend, our family attended our sixth Camp Reach for the Stars. Our two oldest daughters, Nora and Leah volunteered as counselors for the camp. We had a marvelous time hanging out with everyone, laughing; eating, joking—especially with Alice. Yes—Alice was there. She was back at camp in all her glory, with no sign of cancer in her body whatsoever. The radiation zapped that tumor into smithereens and now it’s nothing more than a hazy image on an MRI filed away in some doctor’s office.

So let’s keep the conversation going. Let’s work to find a cure. It’s true that children do die from cancer, but this time, whether you believe it a miracle occurred or not, one child did not die.

There is always hope.

See you next year, Alice!

*I’ve changed her name to protect her privacy

Because of Daisy

17 Feb

daisy

A bald-headed, freckled-faced girl named Daisy died in her sleep after being sick for a very long time. She was at home, surrounded by her loving family, and she felt no pain. But she died, and I must say that I’m so very weary of hearing of yet another family’s tragedy and loss. I’m sick and tired of children dying from cancer.

Not again, is all I can think. How can it be that another sweet, funny and adorable child has died? Why was there no miracle this time?

I’ve always believed that a positive attitude is beneficial to one’s well-being and that our life experiences are never random or fortuitous. I truly believe that what we experience here on this earth is revealed in order to teach us something essential that we’re meant to learn. I’ve discovered these fundamental lessons are usually about love.

When my own daughter, Isa was diagnosed with leukemia, an incalculable transformation took place in my life.  I saw first-hand the astounding and unquestionable shifts in consciousness that came to pass in our family, friends, and even our community during our struggle with Isa’s cancer. Love was always the main component.

I see these miraculous changes have also occurred in Daisy’s family and in the huge number of people who knew and loved her—even strangers who’ve only heard of her fierce battle through her blog http://prayfordaisy.tumblr.com  or on Facebook.

I know Daisy’s family carries the strong faith that she’s all right now and I believe this, too. But from what I’ve seen over the past five years since I first became a part of the pediatric cancer world, the pain and hurt is only just beginning for them. Every time I think about her mama and daddy not being able to hold their precious Daisy in their arms, my heart breaks a little more.

When I think about what Daisy’s family has faced and what they’ll continue to face in the coming days, months and years, an infinitesimal part of their burden becomes mine and it hurts deeply.

Yet, I am grateful.

I’m grateful because each time a child dies from cancer, I’m reminded that by some small shred of grace that was bestowed upon me and my family, my daughter is still here, and I’m blessed with the chance to watch her grow up.  I will never have enough words to express my extreme gratitude for this miracle. I only wish that Daisy’s parents had been able to experience this miracle, too.

Yes, Daisy suffered and ultimately died, and we all know that this is the worst thing that could ever happen to a family. Yet, because of Daisy, we are changed forever. Because of Daisy, we can appreciate the blessings we have in our lives. Because of Daisy, our love and compassion for others keeps growing and expanding and filling up the universe.  I believe that this understanding of love is one of the greatest lessons we could ever learn. This kind of love is the real miracle.

Bless her little heart,  Daisy taught us well.

My Big Anniversary

31 Aug

I love anniversaries. I especially enjoy marking a particular date in time because it allows me to think about and feel grateful for what has come around again. I don’t usually place too much emphasis on the actual celebration of anniversaries as I’m kind of an introvert and don’t care for the idea of being the center of attention at a huge party. That being said, I would never turn down a piece of cake (or two) when celebrating any anniversary, and I sincerely believe that the person responsible for choosing cake as the symbol for celebrations is a complete genius and all I have to say to that person is thank you very much.

The reason I got to thinking about anniversaries recently is because I’m coming up on a big one—no, it’s not my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary (did that in June), and no—it’s not my fiftieth birthday (did that in July) and no, it’s not even my seven year-old daughter, Isa’s five year anniversary of being cancer-free (did that in August, and by the way, hands down, it was the greatest anniversary I’ve ever celebrated in my life.)

The BIG anniversary that is coming up next week is that I’ve been blogging for an entire year.

Now, I know—you’re thinking: Whoop-de-do—BIG DEAL—everyone’s a blogger these days! Who cares?

And it’s true—throughout the past year I’ve read hundreds of blogs out there in cyber land and I’m sorely disappointed to report (pure jealously on my part) that there are many, many good—even great—writers out there, blogging regularly and making me laugh, making me cry, and even making me curse aloud and bang my fist on the desk (this is something I do frequently and is often very gratifying—I recommend it highly.)

What’s important about marking my one year blogging anniversary is that what I’ve experienced through blogging has changed me deeply. Through  the act of working through my ideas, writing them down, editing them, and then throwing them out there for you to read if you so have the inclination, I’ve learned a little bit more of who I am. As frightening as that’s been at times, it’s finally allowed me to learn to accept myself. In turn, it’s made it that much easier for me to let go of the hurts from my past. It’s just been damn good therapy! So thank you all for allowing me to be narcissistic and self-absorbed over the past year. I take full responsibility for my utter selfishness, and for this I apologize in earnest.

I’ve learned that blogging is all about connection with others. Through blogging, I’ve strengthened the relationships I have with my friends and family. I’ve reconnected with old friends, and even made new ones. I would’ve never imagined that I could form such a strong bond with a group of women writers from a Facebook group—and that after nurturing our cyber relationships through daily encouragement and support for each other for almost a year, six of us would manage to come together (one woman came all the way from New York!) and meet in person for the first time. It was thrilling and magical—you would have thought by the way we behaved in the restaurant with all the laughing and screaming that we were long-lost sisters who had been separated at birth!

So I want you to know how appreciative I am that you’ve read my blog posts and have left me such lovely and thoughtful comments. Only my fellow bloggers know how very exciting it is to hear my smart phone ding notifying me of an email that says:

 comment-reply@wordpress.com

telling  me that someone has left me a comment on my blog. It’s like receiving a special present each time it happens.

This connection I share with all of you has made me realize just how very lucky I am to have had this blogging experience over the past year. And now that I’m finally in that place where I’ve longed to be all of my life—the place where I can say that I’m actually happy—really blissfully happy, I’ll probably never write another blog post again.

Well, all right, I will.

If you insist.

The Heavy Wet Coat

3 Feb

I’m beginning to realize that I write about cancer a lot—probably way too much. This is something that I can’t really help though. Since my daughter Isa was diagnosed over four years ago, I’ve become increasingly surrounded by cancer. I read about cancer; I blog about cancer; I post on Facebook about cancer. I talk endlessly about cancer. Before Isa got leukemia I never knew that there was so much cancer around me! It’s like when you buy a new car, you keep seeing the very same make and model all over the place—everywhere you go, there’s that same car! That car must have always been there, driving around in front of me—why did I never see it before?

I now have a whole new set of friends from this “cancer” realm whom I’ve come to love dearly. Many of them are parents of children who have cancer right now or have had cancer, or they work with kids who have cancer. These are people who I admire most in the world because they are the strongest and most courageous people on this earth, even though they don’t realize this about themselves. And most of them are really funny, too—because when you face something so hideous, you have to learn to laugh a lot because it helps take away the pain for a little while.

Now, you may like to read what I write about this crappy disease, because 1) reading about other people’s pain and suffering is always interesting in itself, and 2) it may make you very much appreciate that you or your child does not have this crappy disease and therefore you may try to live your life in a manner that is conducive to allowing the joy in and letting the fear out. I hope your reason for reading is the latter, but both reasons are legitimate and acceptable.

My mother asked me the other day why I write about so many sad topics in my blogs. Sadness has always made her uncomfortable. I told her that I felt it was important to feel sad sometimes—it’s healing for the soul. Crying often and noisily is something I highly recommend to everyone. I do it almost every day. I did the opposite for most of my life and after stuffing my pain down deep inside for so long, I’ve finally realized that it doesn’t work too well. The pain will eventually find a way to work itself out, often in unhealthy ways.

My mother did not jump on board with this idea of embracing pain as she’s not a big believer in unhappiness—she spent much of my childhood trying to convince me that everything was wonderful all the time. And sometimes it was wonderful, but often it was not. But God bless her, she has a hard time dealing with painful feelings, and she has a good reason.

When she was only ten years old, she had a fight with her little brother Johnnie. It was nothing out of the ordinary, just a silly fight between two siblings. But immediately after the fight, Johnnie ran out into the street and was hit by a truck. He was killed instantly. To this day, I don’t think she’s dealt with that pain. And who can blame her? How does a little ten year-old girl get over the fact that her younger brother died so suddenly?  In her child’s mind, she probably thought it was her fault. Weeks after his funeral, which my grandparents made the mistake of not letting her attend for fear it would be too upsetting, my mother asked them for a Dalmatian dog. Her argument was that she no longer had a little brother, so she should have a dog. It worked—she got her Dalmatian. And now guess what she does over sixty years later? She breeds Dalmatians. We do what we have to do to work through our pain, even if it takes a lifetime.

Pain is something that we all wear like sodden wool coats after a rainstorm. We hunker down under that heavy material and think that we’re protecting ourselves, but in reality, the coat just gets wetter and heavier and eventually starts to smell bad like a dank, wet dog (sorry dog lovers—I don’t mean to offend—I just hate the smell of wet dog.)

Every single one of us carries painful baggage around from our life experiences. Because we’re afraid to show others that we’re scared and vulnerable and that we need help, we walk around pretending that we’re not immobilized by that heavy, stinky coat. This is where childhood cancer can sometimes work its magic.

Please understand that I would never try to climb into the heads of every parent whose child has cancer and presume that I know what they’re thinking and feeling. But I know what has gone on in my head, as well as talked to many parents who’ve been through it, and I’ve come up with the conclusion that you just can’t wear a heavy, stinky coat when your child gets cancer.

You have to take it off because your primary focus now becomes the life of your child. And in order to take care of a very sick child who might possibly die, you have to allow others to help you. So you have to show your true self—that real person that’s been inside of you all along but was just burdened by that heavy, wet coat of fear. Even if you’ve never asked anyone for help in your entire life, you have to do it now. Because nothing else matters except that your child is okay.

The most astonishing thing is that people want to help you. They will do just about anything to make you feel better—they will cook food for you, they will give you money, they will give wonderful presents to your child. They will hold fundraisers so that you can stay with your child and still be able to pay your bills. They will love you unconditionally. And I’m not just talking about people you know! Even perfect strangers will reach out to you. Through their actions, they will demonstrate that deep connectivity that we all share with each other as we travel together through this crazy journey of life.  They will rise up and prove to you just how good human beings can be. This is the magic of cancer.

The remarkable thing is that it doesn’t take a child getting sick for you to remove your stinky wet coat. You can take it off anytime you wish. When cancer (or any tragedy, for that matter) affects someone you know and love, it dawns on you that every single moment of our lives is a treasure. There will be times when see the dark clouds on the horizon and you will want to put your coat back on. Don’t do it! That wet, heavy coat was only stopping you from moving around freely.  By taking it off and leaving it off, the love and forgiveness and gratitude that you experience will allow you to stand unencumbered in the sunshine and be warm for the first time in your life.