A Hopeful Read

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott is “an exploration of hope and the place it holds in our lives.”  That phrase alone was enough to make me want to read this book.  And then in an act of serendipity, because I had never mentioned this book to her, a very good friend of mine gave me this book for Christmas. 

I just finished reading it a few days ago and would love to share with my readers some of my favorite passages.

“…life lasts so briefly, like free theater in the park – glorious and tedious; full of wonder and often hard to understand, but right before our very eyes, and capable of rousing us, awakening us to life, to the green and very real grass, the mess, the sky, the limbo.”

Almost everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, scared, and yet designed for joy.”

Adults rarely have the imagination or energy of children, but we do have one another, and nature, and old black-and-white movies, and the ultimate secret weapon, books.  Books!  To fling myself into a book, to be carried away to another world while being at my most grounded, on my butt or in my bed or favorite chair, is literally how I have survived being here at all.”

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”    (That one line makes up the entirety of chapter four).

Hate is such an ugly word.  How about loathe for the verb, abhorrence for the noun?  (I agree.  When I was a teacher, “hate” was not allowed to be spoken in my classroom).

So, writing.  What a bitch.”  (And this begins my favorite chapter of the book).

In my current less-young age, I’ve learned that almost more than anything, stories hold us together.  Stories teach us what is important about life, why we are here and how it is best to behave, and that inside us we have access to treasure, in memories and observations, in imagination.”

 

Life, Love, and Pop Songs

During some of my high school and college years, I worked in a flower shop.  Those years gave me a whole new way of looking at Valentine’s Day, or in shop lingo, “V. Day.”

V. Day meant at least twelve-hour shifts at minimum wage (at that time, $4.25/hour), tired feet, swollen fingers that were cut by thorns.  Valentine’s Day meant standing at the counter creating one arrangement after the other of one dozen long-stem red roses in a vase. 

Later on, after I left the flower shop, Valentine’s Day again became a day I could look forward to.  (Though from the beginning of our relationship, I asked my husband never to buy me red roses for Valentine’s Day).

Valentine’s Day is the day of love.  But, where do we learn about love?  From our parents?  The movies?  Books?  Our friends?  Probably a mix of all of those.

But also from music.  My husband and I don’t have one song that we consider “ours.”  We have multiple songs that each have a special meaning for us. 

A few years ago, one of my personal essays, “A Blue-Jeans Type of Marriage,” was included in a special anthology.  (The title for my essay was inspired by Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans.”)  Everything I Need to Know About Love I Learned From Pop Songs, edited by Laura Roberts, includes a variety of stories that, as said in the book’s introduction, are “all about love.  Love hard won, love lost, love unrequited, love that lasts, and love that’s just a fading dream.”

And now readers, it’s your turn.  Feel free to share any favorite love songs in the comments section.  

Wishing you all a Valentine’s Day filled with sweetness, feel-good tunes, and smiles!

 

I Agree For Sure

Oprah Winfrey’s What I Know For Sure is the latest book on my just-completed list.  This book had been on my to-read list because I was curious.  What did Oprah, with all her experiences and resources, know for sure?  Would it resonate for me?

Yes and no.  There are some universal truths in this book.  But there were also times I felt incredibly disconnected such as while reading of Oprah’s experiences when she was in Fiji or sitting on her porch outside her house in Maui.

But, this week, allow me to share a few of the parts that moved me.  And maybe you’ll find that they resonate with you as well.

Give me a great novel or memoir, some tea, and a cozy spot to curl up in, and I’m in heaven.  I love to live in another person’s thoughts; I marvel at the bonds I feel with people who come alive on the page, regardless of how different their circumstances might be from mine.  I not only feel I know these people, but I also recognize more of myself.  Insight, information, knowledge, inspiration, power: All that and more can come through a good book.”

You’re not the same woman you were a decade ago; if you’re lucky, you’re not the same woman you were last year.  The whole point of aging, as I see it, is change.  If we let them, our experiences can keep teaching us about ourselves.  I celebrate that.  Honor it.  Hold it in reverence.  And I’m grateful for every age I’m blessed to become.”

If you can get paid for doing what you love, every paycheck is a bonus.  Give yourself the bonus of a lifetime: Pursue your passion.  Discover what you love.  Then do it!

To this day, excellence is my intention.  To be excellent in giving.  In graciousness.  In effort.  In struggle and in strife.  For me, being excellent means always doing my personal best.”

Live so that at the end of each day, you can say, ‘I did my very best.’  That’s what it means to excel at the great work of living your best life.”

 

Just Do It

This past Saturday morning I woke up with a knot in my left leg. 

As the morning went on, the knot untangled itself and pain near my biopsy scar replaced the discomfort of my knot.

It was Saturday.  We didn’t have any particular place to be at any particular time, but this was our family day.  We had plans.  Hanging out on our patio.  A picnic in a nearby park.  An afternoon walk.  And damn it, I wasn’t going to let some pain stop me.  I rarely do.

I can’t control when the pain hits, or where it hits, or how long the pain lasts.  Certain activities (playing handball with my son, for example) are triggers.  Other activities (weekly grocery shopping, for instance) sometimes aggravate my pain but not always.  And rest doesn’t always help.

Besides, this was Saturday.  Our long-awaited family day.  Our we-made-it-through-the-week, the-weather-is-beautiful, let’s-enjoy-the-day Saturday.  

And I wasn’t going to miss it.

During our picnic lunch, I struggled to find a comfortable way to sit.  Cross-legged worked for a bit.  Stretching my legs straight out in front worked for a bit.  No position was truly comfortable, but I tried to focus on what was most important.  My son’s smile.  The three of us playing Uno.  The light coming through the leaves on the tree nearby.  The sound of the park’s fountain.

While we sat and ate and talked, my husband told me I could do my own version of a Nike commercial.  Not to advertise shoes or athletic prowess, but my embodiment of their “Just Do It” theme.  

Because that’s what I do each day.  I do what needs to be done, regardless of how I feel.

Back in my college days, I often wore a “Just Do It” cap at home during particularly stressful times.  Studying for finals.  Assembling a portfolio for an art class I didn’t want to take.  Staying up late to complete my reading about ancient Indian history.   It was my “uniform,” my buckle-down-and-do-this attire.

College wasn’t easy in any sense.  My husband and I moved in together and got married while I was in college.  I worked throughout my college years.  And for most of my college years, I relied on public transportation.  (Six buses a day, 3 1/2 to 4 hours a day, for the round-trip commute from our apartment in L.A. to California State University Northridge).

But I did it.  I took care of what needed to be done.  And I became the first in my family to earn a college degree.

That Just Do It cap now hangs in my writing room.  I haven’t worn it in years.  I’m not sure exactly when I stopped wearing it or why.  

Maybe it’s because I always feel like it’s on me.  

 

Thankful for Our Public Schools

For my readers who don’t live in Los Angeles, here’s what you should know about the last week:

It rained.  A lot.  For consecutive days.  And in L.A., that is news in and of itself.

But on top of that, our Los Angeles public school teachers went on strike.  The last time teachers resorted to a strike was back in 1989.  I was in junior high school (back then it wasn’t called middle school like it is now), and the strike lasted 9 days.

(You can click here to read the post “Guide to the LAUSD Teachers’ Strike” on MomsLA.com for some additional information and photos about the strike.)

This strike is different.  At least for me.  This time around, I view the strike through the eyes of a former public school student, a former public school teacher, and a current public school parent.

So for the first time in his school career, my son didn’t attend school on days he was well.  We discussed it as a family and we all decided that in support of our teachers, we weren’t crossing the picket line.  (And in all honesty, there was little to no real learning going on at these under-staffed school campuses, and as the strike continued, student attendance continued to decline.) 

Much of what our teachers are fighting for hasn’t changed since the last strike.  Our teachers want what is best for our children.  Smaller class sizes.  Less testing and more teaching.  More support staff, including a full-time nurse each day. 

Our public school classrooms are marvels.  I miss the magic of being in a classroom with a group of children and seeing that spark, seeing that light bulb go off, seeing the understanding.  There is nothing like it.  Our teachers don’t want to be outside their schools picketing.  They want to be inside their rooms teaching.  The sooner, the better.

And on that note, I’d like to share a post I wrote several years ago.  I think during this time especially, it’s important to remember just how valuable our public schools are.  Click here to read my essay, “6 Reasons Why We Should Be Thankful For Public Schools.”

More Than Just a Meal

In this photo, Ryan is 9 years old.

 

Readers, do you have a favorite food?

I don’t have a favorite food, but I do have favorite food-related memories.

  Being a junior high school student and making tostadas for a family dinner as part of an assignment for my seventh grade health class.  It was the first time I had cooked dinner, and I was proud of myself for coming up with a meal that included all the food groups.

– My husband and I eating our first meal in our first apartment:  a Burger King Whopper and fries.

– Celebrating my mom’s birthday with a special breakfast of hot chocolate and chocolate croissants, not knowing at the time I’d be giving birth to my son later that night.

For me, food isn’t just a matter of feeding my body; it’s about the who, the where, and the when.  Which is why I’m unwilling to drastically change my diet in hopes of decreasing the effects of my autoimmune disease.

Last week, The Mighty published my personal essay, “Why I’m Not Changing My Diet as Someone with Autoimmune Disease.” You can click here to read it.

My essay was also featured on Yahoo’s home page as well!

And if you do have a favorite food or food-related memory, I’d love to read about it in the comments section.

 

This Year’s Plan

My personal essays appear in these anthologies.

Last year, I wrote a blog post stating my intention to make my writing my year’s focus.  (Click here if you missed it.  And an update:  the anthology I mentioned in last year’s post has been delayed but hopefully will be published later this year). 

So, a week into the new year, I thought it only fitting to reflect on 2018 and see how I did.  

Did I focus on my writing?  Yes, most of the time.  When my son is home during breaks from school (we just finished up a three-week winter break), my writing time is drastically reduced.  

Yet, I’m proud to say I did a lot of writing last year, including: 

A blog post a week.  And I’m especially proud of re-focusing this blog and concentrating my posts on one of the 3 most important B’s in my life:  boys (or children in general, based on my teaching experiences and raising my son), books (a writer must also be a reader), and bodies (specifically living with an autoimmune disease).

I continued to be a regular contributor for MomsLA.com, often writing two posts per week.

I completed a course in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.  

I wrote multiple personal essays, and I published a dozen of them on sites such as TheMighty.com, parents.com, RoleReboot.org, Breath and Shadow, and mother.ly.  

So what’s in store for this year?  More of the same.  A focus on my writing, specifically my essays describing my experiences living with an invisible disability.  

On my bookcase, there are several anthologies that don’t have my name on the cover, but do have my name inside – on a contributing essay.  And like I’ve told my son, one day, there will be a book on our shelf where my name is on the cover.  That’s what I’m working on this year.

 

My Backbone

Last week, I wrote about my similarities to a frog and specifically this line:
“… and when the going gets tough, you show your backbone.”

So this week I’ll write about another Backbone.

I recently completed reading Karen Duffy’s memoir, Backbone – Living With Chronic Pain Without Turning Into One.  There aren’t many books out there by and about people living with chronic medical conditions (though I’m working on my own) so I was instantly intrigued to discover this one.

Generally, I read to learn, to gather information, or to be entertained.  With Backbone, I read to find comfort and solace that someone else out there “gets it.”

This week, I’d like to share with you some of the take-aways, the things that stood out for me while I read:

“I’ve learned a lot from my illness.  In some ways, it has been a gift.  It’s not a gift I would have picked out for myself, but when things were easy, I didn’t realize how tough I was.  When you live with a chronic illness, you get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

“Millions of us, people with cancer, lupus, MS, Parkinson’s, sarcoidosis, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, cystic fibrosis, and many other diseases will live for years with invisible but persistent illness.  Whether it’s the miracle of modern medicine or the luck of the draw, we are fated to have to find a way to live for decades with an incurable condition.”

“The ability to walk without pain is a gift that we don’t have anymore.  Being able to walk with pain and not give up is a superpower.”

“I would not wish a life with chronic pain on my worst enemy.  A painful life-altering event is one of the top fears for most of the population.  We who are chronically ill deal with what most people fear every single day.  We know our complaints are not moral weaknesses.  We find resilience, we adapt, and we figure out a new way to live.  We have guts.”

 

I’m a Frog

After answering the questions, it was determined that I am a frog.

Let me back up and explain that first sentence.

Last week, my dad, son, and I went to the Annenberg Space for Photography to see the National Geographic Photo Ark exhibition.  (If you are in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend it.  The exhibit is on display until January 13th, 2019.  Joel Sartore’s photographs are astounding, and his mission is so inspiring!)

One part of the exhibit involved an interactive activity where visitors use a touch-screen to answer simple questions.  After making it known that I was an early riser and not a night owl, preferred a beach area to a snowy area, and would rather play with stuffed animals than video games, (there were other questions too), the determination was made that my Photo Ark animal was the Reinwardti’s Frog.

I’m not sure how I feel about being a frog.  (My son was also a frog; my dad was a toad).  

I think of frogs as slimy.  As bug-eating.  As noisy.  As the dead creature I had to dissect back in seventh grade biology class.

Though, when I read the paragraph explaining the “similarities” my animal and I shared, one line did stand out.  “… and when the going gets tough, you show your backbone.”

You don’t often think of frogs and their backbones.  And maybe people don’t always think of me as being tough either.  But if I’ve learned (and am still learning) anything during these years with a chronic medical condition, it’s that I am indeed tough.

 

The Best Kind of Gift

My ten-and-a-half year old son received an early Christmas gift last week from a friend of the family.  Well, she’s not just a friend of the family.  Several years ago, she and I taught at the same school.  Now she teaches at Ryan’s elementary school, and two years ago, she was his third-grade teacher.

The gift was a surprise to us both.  

It was wrapped, so as Ryan looked at it and felt it, he first thought it was an iPad.  It would have been an incredibly generous, though unlikely, gift.  But in his mind it was the right size.

It wasn’t an iPad.  It was a book.  A hardcover book.  A hardcover book signed by the author.  A hardcover book signed by the author and inscribed to Ryan.

And Ryan loves it.  

Ryan loves it so much he whooped and hollered around the house.  He proudly showed it off. 

I don’t think it’s a book Ryan would have picked up on his own had we just been browsing at our local Barnes and Noble or public library.  But because his teacher selected this book for him, because his teacher asked the author to sign the book for Ryan, Ryan is reading it. 

It’s a beautiful testament to the power of books and putting a book in a child’s hands.