Sunday, May 11, 2008

Three Weeks in May (2001)

I meet them in the city for dinner – my father and stepmother. Big night, fancy restaurant. Running late I park the car, hurry to the hotel restaurant. They’re in the lobby, looking grim. I tug at my wraparound sweater – it gaps, exposes me. I ask is something wrong? No, she says, I’m fine. I’ve been rebuffed. Disapproves of the sweater? Mad that I’m late? She picks at her salmon, doesn’t speak. My dad makes awkward conversation with only me. She’ll be dead in a matter of weeks. None of us knows this.

A week later at my sister’s graduation from acupuncture school. Scan the auditorium for my dad, my stepmother, nowhere to be seen. After the ceremony we find them in the back. The day is sweltering and she is cocooned in head-to-toe wool. Grim smile, pinched face, cold kiss. I say, you must be hot in this. No answer. Dinner to celebrate, Airin, the doctor. She can’t order, can’t find the words for the food on the menu. The waiter holds his breath. We stare. Airin tries to coax her, tries to cover up. She lashes out, angry, frustrated. Orders the duck. Then holds her head, turns pale, doesn’t speak all through the meal. Tomorrow she’ll fall to the floor, vomit, pass out, go to the emergency room. None of us knows this.

The next day is Mother’s Day and for the first time in 21 years I do not call. Afraid she will not speak on the phone, or worse she’ll make no sense. I let the day go by, a paralyzed dream. Monday morning my father rings to tell me she’s in the hospital, there are two growths on her brain. Sitting on the back deck, holding the phone, I can feel first my chest and then my whole body sinking, the weight of the words pushing me down, so heavy a feeling I think I might crash straight through the wooden planks and into the cold, earthwormy dirt below.

Instead I pack a bag, gather the kids, point my car north to Boston. This hospital has been good to me – my baby was born here, my mother’s heart was saved here, good things here. We go up to the room and she brightens up at the very sight of the kids. Says “hello.” It’s all she can say. My brother entertains the boys while I sit with her. She grows tired and we leave.

Tuesday is surgery – we gather with the other families and wait. Smooth and handsome Dr. Park, brain surgeon, meets us in a tiny room. We squeeze together to hear the news – it’s malignant. I watch as he describes the tumor as being like a starfish, a spider, extending its tendrils deep into her brain tissue, impossible to cleanly remove without removing precious brain. He splays his hand to demonstrate. It feels unkind, this gesture. I see in a flash how every new tumor is for him a chance to improve his skills, a chance to be a better doctor, a good thing. He talks about radiation, chemo, oncologists. Three to five years tops. This is what he tells us. We cry and eat our sandwiches and wander around the hospital, lost stars. Then she is in recovery and we come to see her, watch her fingers wander up to her scalp, touching the bare patches, feeling the bandages. It’s really only two more weeks to go. None of us knows this.

They send her home. She plays with the dogs, watches the trees, doesn’t speak. Days later and the news is worse – biopsy results show a level IV glioblastoma, or GBM, the worst kind of tumor. Oligodendroglioma, glioblastoma, astrocytoma, become part of my vocabulary, familiar as cat and dog. Six to 18 months, average. I spend my days and nights researching, grasping at straws, at trials. There’s Duke University and Staten Island Hospital and some sort of miracle powder from a guy in California. There are some who live, survive for years. I think maybe, maybe. Go up on Sunday for my caregiver shift, but she’s had another spell of vomiting, complains of a headache, and is on her way to the hospital. I arrive as she walks to the car, measuring every step. I make a bad joke and she smiles for me, a gift. Car crunching away on the gravel driveway and she turns to wave, craning her neck (so painful for her!), holding that hand up like the Pope delivering a blessing, fixing her gaze on me for the last time. I don’t know this.

But she does. My dad asks in the car are you hopeful? She shakes her head no. Seizes in the hospital, slips into a coma. She loses oxygen to her brain so they intubate her. The CAT scan shows that the tumor has grown dramatically in just two weeks. Dr. Park, such beautiful skin, comes again to say let’s try to get her breathing on her own, stabilize her, take it from there. Maybe then we can start radiation. It takes 24 hours for the rest of us to catch up to what my sister (the doctor!) understands immediately: the tube must come out. It’s what she would want us to do. I’m living in a made-for-cable movie, I think, dashing for the hospital, talking to her all the while, please Polly, don’t die yet, please wait for me, don’t die without me there. It’s Lifetime, television for women. I’m there before they even extract the tube. Neuro ICU is deathly quiet; so many comas. The nurses shoo us out, whisking the green curtain shut. They pull it, clean her up, arrange for a room. Dr. Park is there and warns us: it could be hours, it could be days. It will be three days, three nights, before she dies. No one knows this.

I move into the hospital. We are all living in the room, eating, sleeping. Joking. Crying. Waiting. She lies there, hearing it all, hearing none of it. Is this a movie? My stepmother, 57 years old, landscape architect, painter, gardener, singer, dancer, mother, bird spirit, is in the hospital with a brain tumor and has slipped into a coma? Could this be real life? Hours pass, nurses come and go. Turn her. We up the morphine. Wait. My cousin brings us food…every day, a different cuisine. We eat pot stickers, tabouleh, manicotti, and hold her hot hands. Waiting. We argue over how much morphine, how elevated the bed. After two days we start to wonder if she’ll ever die. Our hospital life becomes a comfortable routine and I think I could do this forever, sit here in this room, watch the day go by. Not so much like TV anymore. We take turns curling up at the bottom of her bed, at her feet. Her children, her lapdogs, her faithful friends.

The third day drags itself into the afternoon and we start to forget why we’re there, but then it begins. The breathing slows and thickens. We gather closer, each claiming a section. My hand holding her left foot, her left shin. My father leans in, tells her it’s OK, you can go. We wait. Silently I tell her you can go, please. Please go. I can’t bear another night. Please die now. All of us holding on for dear life and saying go away, go away now, you can go now. Please go. Hours pass. Westward facing window, the sun begins to sink and the sky is full of screaming pink and orange. We watch her, watch the sky, watch the sun. She times it perfectly. Sun disappears and the breathing stops. I grab her wrist, pushing skin for a pulse that isn’t there.

My sisters keen, falling upon the bed. When they sit up there are four perfect mascara crescents on the white hospital blanket. We sit in the darkening room with her for maybe an hour, unable to do the next thing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My 10 year old's homework

I'm out of material. So I'm going with my kid's homework, complete with typos and misspellings:

Book report/presentation on Lance Armstrong.

Lance Armstrong has won 7 Tour de France cyclist races.
Athletic - Lance Armstrong was very athletic.
Nike - Lance Armstrong was sponcered by Nike
Close to his mom

Armsrong was not originaly his last name
Restirement - Lance retired in 2005
Moved to Austin
Survived cancer - Lance Armstrong survived cancer.
Triathlete - Lance Armstrong was a triathlete.
Rides bycicles
Outstanding athlete - Lane is a very famous cyclist and triathlete
Never quit
Gifted - Lance Armstrong was a gifted athlete

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

not in kansas

Sometimes reality comes in the form of a fax:

Wish I could talk to her today. Even though she'd probably end up pissing me off.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Please take a moment out of your busy day to witness my friend Christian Payne's beautiful and moving documentary about Iraqi Refugees in Jordan. Composed entirely of still photographs, and edited with exquisite grace by Bill Cammack, this short film brings you into the lives of Iraqi families trying desperately to eke out an existence in a foreign land, with little or no support. They need help, and attention. Watch it, tell your friends, blog about it, spread it around.

Life in the Shadows

Thank you.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

learning to fly

Things are popping right now, in a good way. I have a job interview tomorrow (on the phone, ack), three creative projects in the pipeline, and a much sunnier outlook on my future. It's good to be reminded that we're all in this thing together, and that's what happened for me last week. Accidental meetings turned into impromptu road trips. I made new friends, reconnected with old ones, had loads of conversations about stuff which really interests me, and just felt so plugged in. The energy of the conference and the people around me reminded me that there is a whole world out there of people, ideas, activities, and projects for me to be a part of, I just need to reach out for it.

Of course the problem is also this: single parenthood. The trick is to find a balance between private life, work life, parenting life, social life, home life, travel life...and it's never easy. Mind you I am NOT complaining. Part of learning to fly is also learning to land, learning to make a good nest, learning to feed the little chicks.

Watching people talk today on Twitter about the dearth of women (well maybe dearth is harsh, but the relatively low presence) in social media leadership roles, and I want to scream: that's because we're MOTHERS! Sure, not all of us. But don't you guys forget for a minute that while you're off at the conference, someone's home with the kids. And she's too busy doing laundry and cooking up macaroni and cheese to take on a leadership role. Maybe later, when they've gone off to college...

In other news, it's Sunday, the windows are open, the dog puke has been cleaned off the carpet, and I need lunch.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

SXSWi List

Things discussed (at parties mainly, since I was badgeless) at SXSWi that I'd like to talk about some more:

1. Racism, sexism, homophobia and social media. Encouraging more discourse on these topics and effecting real change. (i.e. the backlash at Sarah Lacy during her interview with Mark Zuckerberg, some of it certainly sexist. Also the recent flare-up on Twitter when Dave Winer asked if all Twitter users were white. Plenty of other small and big discussions flying around this week. It seems to be in the air.)

2. Transparency, back-channels, openness, cross-pollination, live streaming. More, please. (Had a great chat about this with Roo Reynolds this morning at breakfast, although both of us a little too tired to be completely coherent.)

3. New media/old media intersection. Bringing arts, music, journalism, performance art into the technology-driven world of social media. (Watching the art made by Honoria Starbuck and others during panel discussions; thinking about the overlap of interactive/film/music, encouraging more interplay between those three.)

4. What can we all do to reach out to the community at large, both locally and globally? How can social media better address issues of poverty, hunger, women's rights, infrastructure-building, education? Other than bringing revenue to town, what can people on the ground at SXSWi do to reach out to the very real and immediate population of homeless and hungry in downtown Austin? (A major topic during our ride in the tech cab with Irina Slutsky.)

5. How can I get a badge next year? (please?)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

This Post Brought to You by Cilantro


It's 2 minutes to Midnight. do you know where your SXSWi party is? Apparently everyone who is anyone is at Six.

Me? home, bed, laptop, cuppa. tired. it's been a long day and I would rate it in the top 5 of worst days ever. EVAH. Can't talk about it, maybe later. Let's just say my life caught up with me, and it's all most definitely for the best but right now it is hard and scary, and I want a blanky and my teddy.

However, on a brighter note, before it all got scary I did get to go to brunch at Las Manitas this morning, meet up with a bunch of twittery people, and have a taco al pastor which was messy and delicious and stained my fingernails reddish brown, possibly forever. And, I got to sit with the cool kids. It's a cliche and all? But the nerds in high school are the cool kids of today, and I LOVE that.

Plus, who among us doesn't enjoy eating in a restaurant where you have to walk through the kitchen to get to the back dining room, dodging waiters and hot oil on your way? Who?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Social Networking Butterfly

I had a conversation today with a guy I don't really know. It started because he decided to follow me on Twitter. Why? I'm not even sure. Likely, he saw someone else reference me in a tweet, then checked out my Twitter profile page, and decided I was worth the add. When someone follows me I almost always follow them back, unless they seem to be clearly just using the application to promote a blog or a product. (If this is utter gibberish to you, please check out this fabulous post.) From there we ended up as friends on Facebook, and there a conversation ensued on our walls:

me: and thanks for your follow on Twitter. I think I've passed the tipping point; suddenly getting followers w/o even trying. Social Networking 2.0 RAWKS.

David: It's sorta like when I started a business many years ago. I still remember the day that "the phone started ringing." Same is true about SN saturation points - its amazing when you start making new connections without effort, and even better when those connections want to do business and / or provide value to what you're doing. Looking forward to knowing you better.

me: Very true, David. I love that I'm making friends in far off places, participating in fascinating conversations, and developing relationships that could lead to further opportunities -- but truly, I put that at the end of the list for a reason. It all works better if we focus on friendships/relationships/conversations first, before personal gain.

Two days ago I was stuck at around 90 followers. I sent out a request for people to send me some followers and by the end of the day I had broken 100. That was the tipping point I referred to above. Today, without trying I'm up above 120. That's 20 followers in 2 days which, to many of you reading this post, is probably just par for the course, but for me it's a veritable flood of new readers. With new readers on Twitter come new readers on Utterz, new people looking at my photos on Flickr, new people watching my updates on Seesmic...and I return the favor, if so inclined, and on and on it goes.

SXSWi kicks off tomorrow. I'm too poor (and cheap, and busy) to get a badge, but there's plenty of ways to participate in the conversation without attending a single panel. Today I got to have lunch with someone I know from Twitter, and two more Twitterers she flew into town with, one of whom happened to represent Utterz, the other being Clarence of Do You Know Clarence (I didn't, but now I do). A good time was had by all, the Cuban sandwiches were superb, and I now have two more people to connect with and follow, and vice versa.

Now listen, it's no secret that I'm looking for work, and that networking isn't just for shits and giggles. Truth is we all have motivations that extend beyond friendship and community building when we network in this manner. But the point is I really wasn't blowing smoke up David's ass when I said that my desire for work (and by work I mean money, and by money I mean the RENT PAYMENT) still is overshadowed by the sheer enjoyment of connecting with people, learning new things, supporting each other in good times and bad, and sometimes even sitting down at a real life table and chowing down on tostones rellenos (plantains stuffed with ground beef and peppers). It's going to be a fun weekend.

p.s. I am EXHAUSTED, EXHAUSTED from all the linking. I hope someone clicks through at least.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Power of Bread

Places I wouldn't want to live:

1. Columbus, Ohio
2. Newark, New Jersey
3. Russia
4. New Caprica
5. Orlando, Florida

This post brought to you by Y! Live.

Is this cheating?

I don't know, maybe this will count me out of the whole post-a-day thing. BUT. BUT. I spent 6 hours at the caucus and didn't get home til after midnight. 6 hours! And I'm a delegate! Holy shit! Not what I was planning on doing AT ALL.

So, for me anyway, it's still the 4th of March, even though technically I'm 2 hours late. AND I sent in Utterz and Tweets while at the caucus, so that's blogging, right? Even though I realize they didn't come to this blog...they COULD have.

Si, Se Puede!

Okay, sorry, I'm tired and punchy and must go to bed. Tomorrow I'll write more about the whole caucus experience, including some of the TRULY ABSURD AND HORRIBLY WRITTEN resolutions that we thankfully did not pass as the evening wore on...and on...and on...

Monday, March 03, 2008

Scrabble FTW!

Oh, hey! It's 11:23 again. This is becoming a pattern, huh? So, the theme of the month is lists, and I'm going to give you two:

Words Mrs. Kennedy has used so far in our recent Scrabulous game:


Words I have used:


Now, take those words and make a short story! Go!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Under the Wire

It's 11:23 pm of day 2 of NaBloMoPoGroMoMarCro. Here's a list:

On my bedside table:

kleenex box in least obnoxious floral pattern I could find. I wish they came in solid black.

opaque white lamp from Ikea, soft fuzzy glow.

Gatsby coaster, in Ivory, from Z Gallerie.

small orange teacup with water, for swallowing antidepressant (in drawer, I'm not telling you what's in the drawer).

nail clippers and nail file.

small white plastic tray/dish with black and red floral pattern on it, rather mod, from Target.

pretty blue and gold box that a candle from Z Gallerie came in.

"Good Poems" edited by Garrison Keillor.

"Why I Wake Early" by Mary Oliver.

Netflix: "The Science of Sleep." Seen, ready to be returned.

Netflix: "A Scanner Darkly." Not yet seen.

red, gold, and black cloth from Japan, with fringe (what is the name for cloth you put on dressers? it has a name, yes?). A gift from Etsuko Funo when I left the country in '91.

Aannnnd it's 11:32 pm! Made it!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Blow You, MarBlo

Because I love Eden, and I want her to love me back (she plays scrabble with me now! for real! on the internets!), I've decided to take the NaNoBlogMo* or whatever it is challenge, only now it's not just November, it's EVERY FREAKING MONTH, which anyway is good for me as I need to get back into it. So, I'm opening up the hood, checking the oil, filling the little windshield wiper fluid tank with more fluid (because honestly, that's the only thing I really know how to do on a car), kicking the tires, and startin' her up. Hello March! How's it hangin'?

Also, in other news, I would really like to move this thing over to Wordpress, and I think I'll be doing that soon. Wordpress sucks so much less than Blogger, yes?

Tomorrow: a list. The theme of the month is lists.

*NaBloPoMo, I looked it up. I am never typing that again.