Bound by Love and a Zip Code

Nine years ago, my essay “Bound by Love and a ZIP Code,” was published  in the Los Angeles Times L.A. Affairs column.

I regularly read these columns and am always surprised/delighted/amused by the many different ways we search and find, or lose, love.

You may find it surprising that for quite a while I really didn’t think I had a romantic story to tell. In fact, it took me a while to see what was in front of me the whole time — the way my husband and I met and fell in love was pretty extraordinary.

This week, I’m pleased to share the essay with you. If you haven’t read it before, you can click here to read “A boundless love contained in a single ZIP code.” (Note – the digital title varies slightly from the in-print title.)

The Bodyguard

I wanted the first book I read, start-to-finish, in 2023 to be a book I knew I would adore. 

That book was Katherine Center’s The Bodyguard

Last year, I was lucky enough to win an advanced copy through a Goodreads Giveaway. I already knew the main characters, the plot, the setting. 

Did that diminish this year’s reading in any way? Absolutely not. 

(By the way – I bought the hardcover version of The Bodyguard from Ms. Center’s favorite local independent bookstore because she signs them!)

Did I find this second read of The Bodyguard enjoyable?

Definitely!

Was The Bodyguard the reason I stayed up later than planned just so I could read one more chapter?

Yes indeed.

Here are just a few of my favorite passages:

“People who want to be famous think it’s the same thing as being loved, but it’s not. Strangers can only ever love a version of you. People loving you for your best qualities is not the same as people loving you despite your worst.”

“Was I lovable? I mean, are any of us really lovable if you overthink it?
“It was tempting to chicken out.
“But then I thought of Jack going bwok, bwok, bwok, and then I wondered if having faith in yourself was just deciding you could do it — whatever it was — and then making yourself follow through.
“So I decided something right then: Every chance you take is a choice. A choice to decide who you are.”

“I kept pushing. ‘You can’t control the world — or other people. You can’t make them love you, either. They will or they won’t, and that’s the truth. But what you can do is decide who you want to be in the face of it all. Do you want to be a person who helps —or hurts? Do you want to be a person who burns with anger —or shines with compassion? Do you want to be hopeful or hopeless? Give up or keep going? Live or die?”

“Maybe love isn’t a judgment you render —but a chance you take. Maybe it’s something you choose to do —over and over.
“For yourself. And everyone else.
“Because love isn’t like fame. It’s not something other people bestow on you. It’s not something that comes from the outside.
“Love is something you do.
“Love is something you generate.
“And loving other people really does turn out, in the end, to be a genuine way of loving yourself.”

It’s Not the Final Answer

“After a year and a half of talking with one doctor after another, it was Dr. W, a rheumatologist, who explained my mystery illness.

‘It’s an autoimmune disease called Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. UCTD,’ he told us.

My husband and I had no idea what that meant except for one thing. My gut instinct told me that not knowing those letters, not immediately recognizing the name Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, was a good thing. If UCTD was truly bad, it would have been a familiar term. A term you hear about a lot in relation to walk-a-thons and fundraisers. Multiple sclerosis. Muscular dystrophy. Even if I didn’t know the specifics of those illnesses, I knew their names. I knew they were complicated. UCTD sounded okay.”

The paragraphs above are from my personal essay, It’s Not the Final Answer. I’m pleased to share that my essay was selected for publication in Please See Me, Issue #12: Diagnosis. You can read the essay in its entirety by clicking here.

Bomb Shelter

I don’t think I can say enough good things about Mary Laura Philpott’s memoir Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives

Back in February of 2020, I had written a blog post about her first collection of essays, I Miss You When I Blink. (In case you missed it, you can read that blog post by clicking here.) In that post, I wrote: “And I got lost in this story. I saw myself on page after page.”

I feel the same way about Bomb Shelter. It’s not just what Ms. Philpott is writing, but how she’s writing it — the words she has chosen to express herself. 

My copy is full of sticky notes and marked passages. I’ll share a few of my favorites:

“Every joy, every loved one, every little thing I got attached to, every purpose I held dear — each one was another stick of dynamite, strapped to the rest.
“The longer I lived, the more I loved, the larger this combustible bundle grew. I walked around constantly in awe of my good fortune and also aware that it could all blow up in an instant, flipping me head over heels into the air, vaporizing everything.”

“The nursery song I sang to my baby — ‘never let you go’ — had been a lie. But it wasn’t a cruel lie. It was a hopeful one. It was a lie to me as much as to him. It was a loving work of fiction to let myself enjoy those warm, snuggly evenings without thinking about the fact that one of those times would be the last time.”

Everybody has something. That’s one of the things John and I began saying to the kids. We meant it as a way of normalizing what our son was going through — like, hey, nobody’s without some medical adventure. Having a body means taking care of yourself in all the usual ways, plus whatever extra way might be required by your particular thing. You go to the doctor. You take your medicine. You do what needs doing, so you can go on with your life.”

“If I can scrape up some evidence of a thing made beautifully or a gesture made kindly, then I can believe, for a few seconds, that this world is careful and kind. And if I can believe that, I can believe it is safe to let the people I love walk around out there. It’s my own attempt at foresparkling, seeking out hints of good, even planting them myself, so I can believe there’s more good to come. It might all be superstition, just mental magic, but why not try?
“So I say yes for things that offer some pleasure. Yes for people who choose to be friendly. Yes for any glimmer of light through all the darkness. I mean that yes. I need it. Seriously.”

“It’s a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full kind of thing: Better to believe the world is at least half-full of decent intentions than to focus on how it’s also half-full of assholes.”

“It’s goofy, I guess, to think of myself as a still-growing child, but it’s also thrilling to remember that although it has been my job for so many years to help my children grow up, I am still growing up, too. I am becoming someone, still and always. I enjoy setting my own timing for a reset every year. It helps me look at life less like one ending after another and more like a series of starts.”

“It’s true: There will always be threats lurking under the water where we play, danger hiding in the attic and rolling down the street on heavy wheels, unexpected explosions in our brains and our hearts and the sky. There will always be bombs, and we will never be able to save everyone we care about. To know that and to try anyway is to be fully alive. The closest thing to shelter we can offer one another is love, as deep and wide and in as many forms as we can give it.”

My Illness Does Not Define Me

“My illness does not define me.” 

I recently came across that statement in The Healing Journal: Guided Prompts and Inspiration for Life with Illness by Emily Suñez.

I’ve read that sentence before — in other books, in other posts. For some reason, though, when I read it this time, I really lingered on that page. I just couldn’t stop thinking of those words and what they mean. Maybe it’s because we’re in this in-between time of reflecting on a year that is rapidly coming to an end while daring to look ahead with hope to the new year. 

“My illness does not define me.” 

It’s true. I don’t think anyone who knows me well would use words like ill or disabled to describe me. And that’s probably because I spend an awful lot of energy trying to act like my illness is not front and center in my life. 

But, I don’t think that’s particularly helpful either. I try to ignore my autoimmune disease, push it aside and out of the way. But it’s still there, demanding attention, and though I don’t often admit it, it’s also demanding compassion.

I’ve never written that before. 

Probably because, in all honesty, that’s the part I’m just starting to become aware of. 

“My illness does not define me.” 

But it is a big part of me.

Monthly Book Highlights of 2022

As we approach the last week-and-a-half of 2022, I find myself reflecting on the year and thinking about the books I have read. As of this post, I have read 50 books this year, though that is short of my Goodreads Reading Challenge of 57 I had optimistically set back in January. 

This week, rather than focus on the books I didn’t read, I’m going to highlight one book from each month of 2022.

January

The first book I finished this year was Claire Cook’s Life Glows On. I felt like I was starting the year on the right foot, reading about creativity — the ways we demonstrate creativity, the reasons why we need to dedicate time and energy to creative endeavors.

February

During the shortest month of the year, I read Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Kids: A Timeless Anthology edited by Zibby Owens. As I wrote in my blog post: “I found myself relating to so many of the authors. The specifics may differ (where we live, how many kids we have, the ages of our kids) but the emotions are universal.”

March

In March, I read First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s memoir Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself. I loved reading about Dr. Biden’s passion for teaching, because I know that passion.

April

I picked up Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens because I wanted a fun, entertaining read. This novel was that, and more. (Which reminds me, I still haven’t read her other novels.)

May

Jane Goodall’s The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times was a powerful book with a powerful message.

June

We’re a basketball family. And while our team will always be the L.A. Clippers, we respect and appreciate many players on many different teams. The “Greek Freak,” aka Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks is one such player, and why I was interested in reading Giannis.

July

Brighter By the Day: Waking Up to New Hopes and Dreams is the third book I have read by Robin Roberts. The book feels like a pep talk Robin Roberts is sharing with you, simply because she believes in you and just wants the best for you.

August

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon is much more than a rom-com. Plus, there’s that exciting feeling knowing an author you have recently discovered has written other books you have yet to read.

September

Jean Meltzer’s Mr. Perfect on Paper was such a great read. I love that Ms. Meltzer writes books featuring a protagonist who is not only Jewish, but who also lives with an invisible chronic illness. (Be sure to also check out her first novel, The Matzah Ball, perfect for reading during Hanukkah.)

October

Love and Saffron by Kim Fay was a story told through the letters two women write to each other during the 1960s. I was instantly intrigued because I have a pen pal. We have been exchanging letters for almost thirty years!

November

Book Lovers by Emily Henry is a special book, for a couple of reasons. First, I bought it during our family trip to Maui. And secondly, it earned five stars on my Goodreads review. 

December

Jasmine Guillory’s Royal Holiday was an entertaining holiday romance. It was a fun escape to be able to open the book and slip into this other world.

Readers, feel free to share some of your favorite books that you read during 2022!

Royal Holiday

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I just want to briefly escape from reality. Not in an unsafe, drug-induced sort of way. But in a slip-into-someone-else’s-life kind of way. Which is one of the reasons I enjoy reading.

And sometimes, I want to read a book where I know everything is going to work out okay in the end. 

Jasmine Guillory’s Royal Holiday fits that description.

It was a fun, fast read that made me smile on several occasions. 

This passage, while not necessarily one of the most important in the novel, was one that I marked. One I needed to read:

“She shook her head. ‘I don’t know why. Life gets busy, with so many things that aren’t actually important but feel important. And there are plenty of weekend days where I could decide to forget my to-do list, spend a few hours at the beach instead, but I’ve only ever done that if there’s a special occasion.’ She looked at him and smiled again. ‘Life is short. I need to stop waiting for special occasions in order to treat myself.’”

And there was this:

“Vivian drove up to her house and smiled at the bouquet of yellow and orange and pink flowers in the passenger seat of her car. Their bright colors had cheered her up immediately when she’d seen them in the grocery store, and she’d bought them on an impulse. Why didn’t she ever buy flowers for herself? Just looking at them made her feel content and helped reassure her that no matter how much it rained, spring would come.” 

Readers, have you read Royal Holiday? Or any of Jasmine Guillory’s novels?

Tough, and Tired

“How long has your leg been hurting?” the technician asked me.

“Years,” I told her.

“No, seriously,” she said.

“Yes, seriously. My calf for over ten years. My thigh for a few years now. The last couple of years really bad,” I said.

The technician continued walking down the hallway and didn’t ask any other questions.

I didn’t know how else to answer her. I wasn’t getting an MRI because of an isolated incident, like a sports injury or something along those lines. I was getting an MRI because the pain in my left leg is no longer limited to my calf. The pain now extends to my left thigh. 

If you follow me on Instagram (@wendykennar), you may remember I posted a picture from an MRI a little more than a month ago. That MRI only looked at my left calf and knee. Apparently, my calf looked okay (whatever that means), but my knee is in bad shape. 

The scan hadn’t looked at my thigh, though the pain was there as well. At my follow-up appointment, my rheumatologist did some strength tests on my thigh. She pressed and squeezed. Everything hurt, and the left thigh is definitely not as strong as the right. This, apparently, was the evidence she needed to order the MRI of my femur.

It’s not easy living with a chronic illness; a chronic illness that causes chronic pain. And it’s really not easy to advocate for myself. But that’s what I had to do in the form of several emails before the appointment with my doctor. I had to keep asking for this second MRI; after, of course, I politely expressed my displeasure that the first MRI hadn’t included my entire left leg. 

My pain has intensified and spread. I told my doctor I was experiencing more difficulty in my daily tasks —getting in and out of the car, climbing the stairs at home, making dinner. I was struggling just to make it through the day. 

I am taking more medication than ever before and not feeling any better.

I’m not one to complain. In fact, I have often been described as tough and stoic. But really, I don’t know how much longer I can put on the brave face. I hurt. And it’s utterly exhausting to hurt this much and not feel like anyone is doing anything to help me feel better.

And now all I can do is wait. Wait to see if the MRI provides us with any answers about why the pain has worsened and spread. If so, this might mean a change in my treatment plan. Or, as tends to happen with me and medical tests, results come back in that “okay-enough” gray area. And then we’re left with trying to make guesses about where we go from here and what we try next.

Going There

I’ve had Katie Couric’s memoir, Going There, on my to-be-read shelf for quite a while. It’s a heavy hardcover book, though now a paperback version is available. 

I knew of Katie — her first husband’s premature death and her resulting advocacy on behalf of cancer and early screenings. I knew of her time on the morning show Today, and her historic role as the anchor of the CBS Evening News

The book goes there.

But it goes much deeper than what I already knew. 

It gives readers a chance to see things from another vantage point. What is it like to witness a historic event, 9/11 for instance, and then have to report on it while simultaneously trying to process the horror and make sure your loved ones are safe? 

Katie Couric goes there, too.

There are so many moving passages, so many “wow” scenes. But some of the parts that most touched me were somewhat unexpected.

“I called the reporter at the Washington Post who’d edited my father’s obituary. ‘I wanted to let you know my mom died, and I’d love to have an obituary for her,’ I said.
“‘Well what did she do?’ he asked. ‘Tell me about her.’
“The question caught me by surprise.
“‘She did everything,’ I replied. ‘Raised four kids, who all went on to be very successful people. She was the heart and soul of our family. She was ahead of her time, volunteering at Planned Parenthood. She worked at Lord and Taylor in the gift department; she arranged flowers for weddings.’
“I’ll never forget the sound of silence on the other end.
“That’s when it really hit me, how undervalued mothers are in our society, especially the full-time kind. I was incensed that somehow my mom’s accomplishments, her amazing life, were deemed not worth writing about.”

“When all is said and done, though, I am my mother’s daughter, becoming more like her by the minute: when I neatly peel a pear and present the girls with the tidy slices on a china plate, or when I fix them lunch and declare, ‘A sandwich always tastes better when someone else makes it for you.’ Or when one of my children feels slighted or wounded, and I rear up like a Kodiak bear on its hind legs, ready to maul whoever’s crossed her. My mom may be gone, but her essence is very much alive in me.”

“Sometimes I’ll post a video in Instagram of me showing off my garden’s bounty — makeup-free, bedhead, still in my pajamas.
“Once someone commented, ‘Wow, she got old.’
“And all I could think was Aren’t I lucky?”

“Everyone has a story. I encourage all of you to preserve yours so that it can be cherished by those you love for years — even generations— to come.”

Mochas, Candles, and Pain

What they saw?

A regular customer. The woman who always orders a small mocha — hot (if it’s cold outside) or blended (if it’s hot outside).

What they didn’t see?

Me, carefully holding my cafe mocha, slowly walking back to my car, thankful that my sunglasses covered my teary-eyes. 

Because I hurt. And because I was sad that I hurt this much. Again. 

I had woken up that morning after having a fitful night’s sleep, filled with strange dreams. 

I dreamed I was telling someone (not sure who, in my dream I didn’t actually see anyone else) that my husband and I met in high school (true) and were high school sweethearts (not true — we were classmates in the same English class junior year). I told this invisible person that my husband and I have been married twenty-three years (true).

I also dreamed that I was doing some physical therapy. I had to sit in some sort of chair and use my legs to push the chair back. But there was resistance, which made pushing the chair difficult. When I woke up, my legs felt like they had gone through a workout. And in the midst of all that, I saw a monster truck. (I told you — strange dreams.)

After taking my son to school, I went to Trader Joe’s. The benefit of going on a weekday, shortly after 8 am, is it’s a whole lot less crowded. Fewer people means shorter lines, but also less exposure to any germs (even though I continue to double mask when shopping). But the disadvantage of going to Trader Joe’s on a weekday, shortly after 8 am, is that I don’t have anyone to help me shop, or load the car, or bring the bags into the house, or put everything away.

Which means I was hurting and feeling kind of down and that’s when I decided to head to our neighborhood cafe and get a mocha to bring home while I wrote. 

The mocha didn’t lessen my pain. Neither did the scented candle I lit (Black Cherry Merlot from Bath and Body Works) or the flowers I had bought at Trader Joe’s. 

There’s really only so much I can do in terms of managing my pain. 

So in the absence of true relief, I try to pay attention to the “little things,” the things that bring me joy, or peace, or comfort. 

Readers, what “little things” bring you joy, peace, or comfort?