Songs of Loss Become Inspiration

Revisiting Loss Through Music and Finding the Flame of Hope Within

Every year for the past thirteen years, this date sneaks up on me: November 30. My son Jack’s birthday is also the date on which we lost him in 2007. There were a number of complications throughout my pregnancy, since I was on a few medications and at 39, I was far from my prime. I know I should have been a lot more worried when the ultrasound showed lack of growth and the doctor advised they induce labor two weeks early. But honestly, I was excited. Sure, there was a problem with just leaving him in there, but since we were going to get him out while the getting was good, I didn’t allow myself to consider all that could (and would) go wrong.

I think it’s a mom thing, that inability to let yourself linger on the idea that you might lose your child. In my case, my husband and I had not planned this pregnancy (thus the medications that I was still on), but we embraced it nonetheless. We were living in a large enough rental house in the ‘burbs, and I had a new business in college counseling for high school students in Silicon Valley. I was at the age where I really was running out of time to have kids, and even though I’d never really wanted them, I couldn’t think of a reason not to carry this pregnancy through. After all, is there ever a good time to have kids?

I made playlists to listen to in the car on my commute or while running errands, and some of those songs became forever associated with that brief window in time where we were parents. Okay, maybe not in practice, but in our hearts. We set up a nursery, and my husband spent hours putting the furniture together with inscrutable printed directions composed entirely of Swedish hieroglyphs. We had a baby shower (actually TWO — one for friends, and another for family). We were excited. We learned our baby’s sex was male, and struggled to find a name that made us both happy.

And then, in a matter of hours, everything fell apart. I won’t go into detail here, but things went from joyous to panicked to stunned shock pretty damn fast. I remember my husband sitting right there with me, as if afraid I might break into a million pieces. I remember feeling oddly ripped off, as we were moved from the delivery ward to some nameless recovery area downstairs in the hospital, where we wouldn’t bum any of the new families out. And my playlist? I deleted it, and certain songs were unchecked for several years so that I wouldn’t have to hear them.

Among the songs, there are at least three that I cannot listen to today without being catapulted in time back to those hopeful days, and images of a future that never got a chance to happen. Those songs: “Lullabye” by the Dixie Chicks (I’m not really a fan of theirs, but this one sucker-punches me every time), “The Host of Seraphim” by Dead Can Dance (this wasn’t on my playlist, but it was used at the heartbreaking ending of The Mist, which we saw in the theater the day before going into the hospital) and a hidden song at the very end of Rasputina’s “A Quitter”, in which lead singer Melora Creager’s infant son makes noises while she sings a lovely song to him. I call it “My Son” but it’s not credited anywhere on the album. That one is beautiful and I still love it, even though I feel a bittersweet sadness every time I hear it.

During those first years, I was very aware of this date, and dreaded it. I’d get very downhearted as the day approached, and even as more years passed, if the day slipped past me, I’d still be depressed or quick to anger and not know why until the day was almost gone. Or one of those songs would mysteriously pop up on my song rotation, like a persistent specter of hopes gone by. Hey, remember me? it seemed to say while the music played in my car, forcing me to pull over. I’m still here! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!

Music is one of my most heavily associative mediums. Media in general is like that for me, but nothing transports me — for better or worse — as immediately and thoroughly as music. I’m actually toying with the idea of creating a soundtrack of my life thus far, but such a project feels far too huge for someone with a questionable memory.

I used to dread these associations and visitations of plans and dreams that never quite materialized. Hearing these songs, though, can really be restorative. It acknowledges those hopes and plans, and rather than feeling the failure, now I let myself feel it without trying to interfere or muffle the pain. Because what comes with the sadness is the knowledge that even though those people I loved are gone now, or those great plans never quite happened, or my heart got crushed for the hundredth time…here I am. And a lot of other truly amazing and wonderful things have happened and I’ve met people and made decisions I may never have made if those losses didn’t happen. For everything, every wish and hope and desire, there is a price to pay. And paying it is not for the squeamish.

So today, I am taking out the memory box that the hospital put together back on that sad day, November 30, 2007. And I will listen to those songs and feel those feels, and remember to be grateful that I was lucky enough to know, even for a short time, what it was like to be a mother in spirit. And that today, while I don’t have children of my own, I’ve embraced my caretaker role in my dog care business while I try to carve out a life as a writer. My husband is here with me, too, and a whole support system of loving friends and family who make every second of pain worthwhile.

What are your songs of pain? Do they inspire you and drive you forward? Or are they still angry ghosts for you? I hope you can befriend and embrace them someday. It’s a hard journey, but it’s worth it. Keep going, my loves. Keep. Fucking. Going.

Happy birthday, Jack. Mom and Dad miss you and love you.

Living the Dream in COVID-19

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Last Summer, you may recall that I suddenly found myself trapped at home for 13 weeks with a broken ankle. And if you know me, you understand that this was actually a HUGE gift. As a dog walker who takes out two groups of six dogs for off-leash play daily, I’m generally exhausted at the end of each day, and making writing near-impossible. In fact, I’m lucky if I can even play Candy Crush while watching Bob’s Burgers endlessly at the end of a normal workday.

Facing 13 weeks of being mostly bedridden, I now had no excuse to procrastinate working on the novel I’d been attempting to write since late 2017. I’ll admit, the first three weeks of being bedridden were mostly wasted on watching TV, listening to podcasts and writing a few blog posts. But eventually, I got serious, got organized, got plotted, and wrote the majority of my latest novel (paranormal thriller, BTW) between late August and late October of 2019. The premise was strong, the characters were awesome and the plot eventually found a great pattern, once I cut out all the dragging-it-down stuff.

Then, in late October, I went back to work. The first month kicked my ass so seriously that I’d pretty much go to bed by ten or eleven. I basically went from 100 steps a day to 5,000 and then 9,000 steps a day. On top of that, there were SO MANY ERRANDS that needed to be run that I was quite useless by the time I got home. I did get to work on editing, but that work was mostly spent taking notes about all the crap I should change in the second draft rather than actually working on it.

In January and February, I did manage to get a fair amount of progress done on Draft 2, and when we took a short five-night holiday to a cabin on the Russian River, I really cooked on it. I made it almost to the very end before we left to come home, knowing full well that work was going to massively mess with my mojo.

We got home on Thursday, March 12.

Talk of Coronavirus was really ramping up while we were away, but all of that was a distant drama happening outside of our little woodsy vacation bubble. I’d check the news, and did worry sometimes about what the future held, but it wasn’t until the trip home that we realized the oh-shit implications. Lockdown in San Francisco seemed imminent. I’d come down with a bad head-cold just before my vacation, and while I doubted it was COVID-19, I knew it could conceivably be an easy version of it. I wanted to get tested, but friends who straight-up KNEW they had it could not get tested, so I knew it wasn’t going to happen for the vaguely curious.

I was supposed to start back up at work on March 16th, but instead, stayed home. I just felt so worried about potentially spreading whatever I had to someone whose system might not be able to handle it that I was up all night the night before. And by the time I finally woke up on Monday afternoon, I had a text from  a client telling me she’d have to cancel due to the shelter-in-place order. She wanted to take her dog with her to her parents’ home rather than be stuck alone in the City.

I squinted at my phone, confused. Shelter-in-place? I turned to the news, and realized that I was just ahead of my time, because work was cancelled for the immediate future.

I’m going to admit it: I was pretty thrilled. Firstly, I had no idea if I had a cold or something worse and did not want to spread it, least of all to my clients. Secondly, I already knew from the Summer of My Broken Ankle that I EXCELLED at staying home. I TOTALLY TRAINED FOR THIS! Thirdly, I knew I could finish editing Draft 2 and maybe even Draft 3 with the extra month or two of no work.

Cut to: Me, obsessively checking different news sources online for pretty much two weeks non-stop. Those first two weeks of lockdown were a haze of Tiger King, internet surfing, and considering booking a trip back to the Russian River. Also looking at a lot of distant real estate and daydreaming about moving far, far away from the maddening pandemic crowd.

Finally, though, I prepped for finishing Draft 2. For some reason, truly serious work was hard to do with my husband sitting right there, so I started getting to it after he’d gone to bed. I stayed up ridiculously late working heavily on Act 3 of my book, rewriting just about all of it and throwing out huge chunks of anti-climactic chatter.

Now, I am ONE SCENE away from being finished with Draft 2. This is a FAR CRY from being Actually Finished; Drafts 3 and 4 await and man, are they pushing at me to get on it! But the writing of this last scene is staring at me, and I’m running away, just as I did with Draft 1. I suspect that I don’t want it to be over because I love this book so much, even though I know damn well that it’s far from over, as Frank Stallone once sang (or his ghost singer did–whatever!.

So I’m here now, committing to finishing Draft 2 TONIGHT, and prepping notes for what I want to start doing with Draft 3 TOMORROW. You heard me: I’m creating SHORT-TERM GOALS, with an eye towards getting a draft worthy of being edited by a pro by early May.

I hate to sound like I’m finding a silver lining on the COVID-19 cloud that’s all about me, but you know what? I kind of am. I mean, I can’t think of a worse way to get this much time off short of setting myself or a loved one on fire, and I know there’s going to be ongoing adjustments in a post-quarantine world. But if you’re gonna be quarantined, you may as well find a project to work on, amirite?

I don’t think that simply wishing for more time off brought all of this on–I’m not that self-aggrandizing. For now, though, I’d better get back to work! Happy COVID project, everyone!



The Weekend in Silly Creature Movies!

Up first: 47 Meters Down: Uncaged!blind sharkQ: What’s scarier than a great white shark hunting unsuspecting divers?

A: A blind great white shark hunting unsuspecting divers… in a sunken ancient Mayan city. With CATACOMBS.

Okay, so the blind thing may not actually be as scary as it looks. But look at the picture! It’s creepy, amirite?? And it can find you even if you’re being really, really quiet. Or…wait, did I get that wrong? I’m not sure. Seriously, I’m still not sure!

Plot rundown: Odd-girl-out Mia (Sophie Nélisse) ditches a boring trip with her step-sister Sasha (Corinne Foxx) to go diving with Sasha’s bitchy friends Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone – Rocky’s daughter!) and Alexa (Brianne Tju). Where are they diving? At the recently-discovered underwater Mayan temple site Mia’s diver dad is excavating! Turns out, there’s a blind shark cruising around down there, though. I don’t know why this is scary, but it does kind of look like a zombie shark, so maybe that’s it?

What’s to Love about this film: The underwater city! It’s never named or explained, but all we need to know is that the father of the main character, Mia, is not just handling the underwater excavations, he’s also Chris, the DJ from Northern Exposure! Sadly, he pulls a Samuel L. Jackson/Deep Blue Sea about half-way in, womp-wommmmmp!

What’s to Hate about this film: The absolutely bonkers logic of just about everything that happens. First of all, why is Mia considered a loser? Since when are the beautiful blond girls the losers at school? They don’t even try to make her look like the geeky good girl they try to present her as. No glasses, even!

Next: If you were with a bunch of idiot teenaged girls looking for fun, would you really go diving in uncharted waters that are off-limits to the public to admire the beauty of a lost Mayan temple? Wouldn’t you rather go to the beach or on the Popular Kid Boat Trip that they ditch out on?

Third: I think there are some sort of communicators/speakers built into the full face-mask/breathing apparatus they all wear, which explains how they are hearing one another speak. But…when they locate one of Mia’s dad’s team members doing…underwater welding? That’s what it looked like. Anyway, he is fully submerged underwater, yet SOMEWHERE, SOMEHOW he has what can only be a waterproof boombox blaring some horrible ’90s tune THAT THEY CAN ALL HEAR. Yes, it’s muffled as hell. Because they are all UNDERWATER. There is absolutely no reason why anyone would attempt to listen to music underwater in this manner. FAIL.

Fourth, and worst of all: To make yet another shark release Sasha, Mia takes a FLARE GUN from above deck down into the water and shoots it at the shark, hitting it and thus saving Sasha from becoming a Shark Lunch Special. Here’s the problem…that absolutely cannot happen. Because water. There are such things as underwater flares, but she is clearly using a regular ol’ flare gun, which pretty much needs air to work. So again, MONUMENTAL FAIL.

Is it worth a $3 rental? Sure! Best if watched with friends, some booze, and a sense of humor.

Tune in tomorrow for the next movie we watched, Indigenous.

More Gimp Gear: The Cast Cover and the Leg Pillow!

So yeah, I know, this is really more of a continuation than an addition of new info. BUT hey, a post is a post, right?

I could probably do an entire post about the perils of taking a shower with a busted ankle. But instead, let’s just say that at the ortho’s office, it was made very clear that I should never, ever get my splint or cast wet. I’m not sure what would happen exactly, aside from losing its integrity and having to be redone, but I like to imagine that maybe it would turn into a gremlin? Or multiply into many useless splints?

“Ohhhh, whataworld!!!”


Okay, so my first shower involved a trashbag, a dishtowel and a rubber band, none of which really make a terrific cast guard (but it does sound like a great teaser for an episode of “Forensic Files”, doncha think?). So I ordered this cast cover from the magical Amazon site, and got one delivered pretty quickly. It’s just a thick plastic bag with a big band and a silicon seal that has an opening in it. A teeny, tiny opening that barely will fit around my leg normally, let alone my leg with a cast or a bandaged splint. But with Michael’s help, I got the damn thing on and managed to take shower number 2 with relative peace of mind.

No shower would even be possible without all the stuff that Leslie brought me the other day – shower stool, shower head attachment…but the suction cup handles that attach to the shower walls? They are not terribly reliable as far as staying put goes. So…instead, I’ve worked out a system of sitting my way into the bathtub, lame and bagged leg dangling out of the bath. It’s not a perfect system, and you still have to be super careful getting in and out and not using the crutches on slippery steamed tile floors. TILE FLOORS ARE WHAT GOT ME HERE. I’m not falling for that again (#dadjokeagain).

Okay, so the other piece of gear I purchased is this: a medical elevating pillow for my leg and cast. It is much better than the many pillows I was using before, in that the pillows tend to slide around and then scatter across the bed while I sleep. This thing pretty much just sits here, doing what it’s supposed to be doing – keeping my foot up.

I was trying to think of another movie/pop culture reference for the medical supportive pillow, but I can’t really think of anything, other than I’m surprised I have not seen ads for it on Investigation Discovery, which has about three long nighttime ads that it repeats ALL NIGHT LONG: Proactiv skin care, Cindy Crawford’s Meaningful Beauty skin care, and Life Alert, which tells me all I need to know about their viewership.

Okay, that’s it for now. But tune in tomorrow for other things I’m trying to keep busy with, such as binge-ing TV shows. Stranger Things 3, anyone?


Gimp Gear: My New Look for the Next 10 Weeks or So

My view for the next several weeks.

It was a Monday like any other…until it wasn’t.

I’m a dog walker, by the way. In case it hasn’t come up before. Twice a day, I take my muttley crew (see what I did there? #dadjoke) out to some wide open expanse where such things are legal, and let them run, play, and be goofy dogs off leash. This week was going to be light – only five dogs in each group, which is a nice way to ease back into things from a four-day weekend.

But while picking up Dog #4, I noticed two dudes in the lobby, polishing the shiny tile floors. There wasn’t really a dry walkway to the elevator, and I briefly contemplated taking the stairs instead. But alas, I walked instead, ALMOST slipping despite being careful. And in the elevator I thought, Hmmmm, perhaps I ought to harness the dog, as she’s a puller and I need to walk slowly on that slippery floor. Because my only prior experiences with slipping on floors has been that I slip, fall, and maybe hurt my back or ankle a little bit. It’s not like I’m going to really hurt anything, right?


Wrong! So I did not harness the dog, and she pulled me, and I not only slipped, but I EXTREME SLIPPED. Like, if slipping was an Olympic sport, I really gave this slip my all and brought home the gold for the US of A. I was bloody AIRBORNE.

And as I went down, I felt something go SNAP! in my ankle. Like a cord. It’s weird, but it didn’t hurt at first. Then it did, and there was SO MUCH SWEARING. The two dudes working on the floor thought it was my knee, and one of them was like, trying to pop it back in like it was dislocated. I’m a little disturbed at how ready he was to leap to this conclusion, but I said no, no, it’s my ankle.

They helped me stand up, and it felt weird and hurt but not like I thought a broken ankle might feel. Like, there was no bone sticking out or searing pain. But I think maybe the adrenaline your body releases to give you that boost you might need to get yourself out of danger may have been what made me think I’d be fine. Because once I got to the truck, I realized that I was screwed.

Several phone calls, texts, and returned dogs later, my husband and hero, Michael, and I arrived at Urgent Care, who promptly instructed us that they had a two-hour wait BUT if we wanted to go to the ER, the guy at the check-in desk suggested St. Mary’s, since it gets less traffic than CPMC or UCSF. THANK YOU SO MUCH, DUDE AT URGENT CARE! That was the best tip we got EVER. I seriously want to send him a bouquet of flowers for this, because he was so, so right.

St. Mary’s is a hidden gem. Okay, not really hidden per se, but it’s off the main ambulance route so unless someone specifically requests it, nobody goes there. Yet they are amazing! Nothing but nice from start to finish. A few hours later, I was released with a splint, a referral to an orthopedic doc, pain meds, and crutches PLUS a walker because I failed miserably at crutches (Round One) to start. Also, x-rays were taken and the PA advised that I should count on being out for 8 weeks, but that probably there would be no surgery needed.

Cut to later that night: in the midst of sending out a flurry of texts and emails in an attempt to NOT lose all my business forever, I hear from Leslie, a former client (the late Jackson’s mom!) and now-friend. She tells me she has GIMP GEAR from when she had to have knee surgery, and even brings it over to me THAT NIGHT, bless her heart, veins and her arteries.

Included: shower stool, shower nozzle attachment, an ice machine for icing sore bits (not needed yet, but hanging on to this), suction handles for inside of the shower, and most appreciated of all: CRUTCH PADS!

The crutch pads are really boss. In case you’ve never experienced crutches before, they’re harder than they look on TV or when other people use them. And more than anything, they really have a way of digging painfully into your armpits. But really, that serves as a reminder that you’re supposed to be using the hand grips for support. And honestly, once I adjusted the crutches and found the right height for both the lower part and the grips, they got a lot easier. Before, it felt like they were just a little too long, especially on carpeting, and I imagined I looked a little like the Cloverfield monster:

cloverfield crutch monster
“Grrrr! Maybe I don’t wanna smash all the buildings, ever think of that? Maybe I’m just really stupidly proportioned! RAH!”

No wonder that monster was cranky! SO AWKWARD.

At the orthopedic clinic the next day, my crutch pads were the envy of all the other patients.  I can’t blame them – I certainly wouldn’t have thought to look into their existence. You just don’t know how nice they are to have until your pits are aching from your awful crutches.

Anyway, I started to look into gear I would need, especially after the orthopedic doc told me to hold off on ruling out surgery (something about the other bone on the other side of the ankle being stressed and possibly damaged, which means it might heal wrong and blah blah blah we’ll know more Monday). And she added that I should plan on NOT driving or walking large groups of dogs for at least 10 weeks.

TEN WEEKS!?! But that’s another post, I think: COVERING MY WALKS FOR TEN WEEKS.

So it was off to Amazon for me to look up Cool Stuff I Need Now, like a cast cover for the shower (my splint is rather cast-like in many ways, only a bit lighter and less plaster-filled), and a proper elevation pillow for the right leg, which needs to be elevated above heart-level to aid in de-swellifying. Which is a word now.

I also am investing in more pajama pants because I cannot wear my Lazy Pants every single day for ten weeks, as comfy as they are.

So every day, in addition to the novel I’m working on, I’m going to try to get in the habit of blogging about The Adventures of Slick Corso, or: How Much Are People Willing to Hear About Being Temporarily Hobbled? A Social Experiment. ENJOY!

“Anybody want to read my blog? Anybody…?”

Step to My Mad (Survival) Skillz!

[Note: I’ll admit it. This is an older essay I wrote probably over five years ago. But hey, I still feel the same way, only I’ve seen WAY more of these shows than anyone should admit to. Perhaps I’ll do a Part Two someday.]

Remember when Survivor first hit the airwaves? It was as if every network executive suddenly was scrambling to hop on the reality TV train. Part of this may have something to do with the idea that they could get the network to pay for their vacations, but it wasn’t just Survivor-styled television that took off. Suddenly, reality TV became television. You couldn’t turn on the TV without ending up on Bad Girls ClubAmerican IdolRoad Rules or the unfortunate Rock of Love (Brett Michaels, have you no shame?). It was trash TV heaven.

Then, just when reality TV was about to die its just death in the court of public opinion, some douchebag at A&E dreamed up Intervention, suddenly lending a sleazy sort of class (like an heiress with a chancre sore) to the genre by creating a sub-genre. Yeah, that’s right — I call it the Somewhat Scripted Penny Dreadful. We, the viewers, get treated to a PAINFUL 60 minutes of someone who once had a mediocre existence and now clings tenuously to a totally miserable one. It could be anything from booze to meth to hoarding (which was so popular it got its own show, like Flo from Alice) to gambling to OCD that drags us down into the vicarious snake pit of their lives; it all ends in tears one way or another. Yet, somehow, these people have families and friends willing to humiliate themselves on national television, on the off chance that it might save their lives.

And that, my friends, is what I call true Television Genius. It’s the same sort of network brilliance that decided a WWII Nazi prison camp was a great idea for a sitcom, or that Americans would actually watch a show where amateur Christina Aguileras galore compete for a questionable prize. Shows like these should never have made it past the pitch…and yet they did. Not only that, but they each pulled in obscene amounts of viewers who actually went back week after week for more punishment.

Me? I prefer the old-school documentary true crime shows like Forensic FilesCold Case Files (featuring the dulcet narration of Bill Kurtis), and FBI Files. Why do I like these shows? Obviously, not for the high production value or excellent reenactments (in fact, the grainier and hammier the reenactment, the better). I like them mainly for two reasons: (1) to ponder what it is that makes people do bad/stupid/evil things, and (2) because the narrations cure my insomnia faster than warm milk. An extension of this is shows that simply rehash old news footage and add wacky noises, like World’s Wildest Police ChasesWorld’s Dumbest Criminals, Part 457 etc. This is just my version of crack. Don’t hate me, pity my ignorance.

Most recently, however, I’ve noticed a new trend in reality grit TV: I call it Survival TV. This trend hit it big with 2008’s newest entry from A&E (somebody gave that douchebag a promotion and a film school education) titled I Survived.

At last: a show that speaks to ME. I think it’s significant that just after Hurricane Katrina throws our post-9/11 psyche to the wolves, this show is pitched. Imagine the tough sell here: for the most part, this is just one person (okay, three people per episode) sitting against a black background, telling their true and gritty story. The only soundtrack is a very ominous, low tone (not tonestone). Sometimes, they’ll flash a picture of what we interpret to be the setting, artfully arranged and shot in an honestly creepy way. But it’s only creepy because we know that the story this woman is telling about that quaint-looking cottage is about her three days of terror with a lunatic. And I don’t need to tell you why that dusky shot of the woods is terrifying. Simple: it scares us because we supply the mental picture. Our storytellers are providing us with the story that comes alive with a disturbing clarity that a re-enactment could not possibly top. The stories for the most part are illustrations of how totally at the mercy of random moments and sheer luck we all are…and that the spoken word as story conveyor is not yet dead.

I meant to give a big critique of these shows when I started out, but I have to admit: this is the one survival show that takes us back to the days when we’d sit around the fire and trade ghost stories (yes, I mean summer camp, but also back before the days of the written word). Real, true storytelling can be very compelling, and congrats to the bold producers for sensing that we’re smart enough to paint our own pictures.

Is it also exploitative? Hell, yeah! But it’s as tasteful as exploitative gets. Apparently, many Americans enjoy a vicarious piercing of the veil that the tension in this show provides. But we know the hero survives because hello! It’s in the title.

Which brings us to Escaped, recently premiering on my new favorite channel, Investigation Discovery. I’m not going to say much, other than it’s like American Justice meets I Survived, only without the dramatic tension of I Survived. I guess you could say that it’s the poor man’s I Survived. I don’t mean to trash the show; they tell stories from the standpoint of survivors, but because of the nature of the title, it tends to mostly tell stories of women who escaped sex slavery. And while it’s made me much more disparaging of the porn business at its worst level, at no point am I on the edge of my chair wondering if the girls will get out of the basement in time. There’s a slightly lurid feel to watching this show; it’s something akin to how you feel watching a documentary on Jeffrey Dahmer. I mean, do we really need to hear this story again?

I think the biggest problem with Escaped (or Escaped!, as the network refers to it) is that for all its stories of human degradation and depravity, it lacks the heart that I Survived relies on for its backbone: the tale of the man who makes a wrong turn and ends up stuck in his car in a snowbank for a week, or the elderly couple attacked by a mountain lion. Man vs. Nature! And that’s where this show picks up:

I happened upon it while trying to lull myself to sleep one night, and ended up recording it to watch with my husband the next day. I Shouldn’t Be Alive is like I Survived with re-enactments; however, it focuses entirely on situations where man missteps in nature and realizes just how ill-prepared for a worst-case scenario he really is. It’s largely hit-or-miss; either you’re on the edge of your chair, or you hate the bickering jackasses who were stupid enough to try and sail across the Sea of Cortez on a freakin‘ catamaran… on a dare.

The episode that hooked me, though, was one where a father and son get stranded in the Alaskan wilderness when their raft flips into freezing cold water. They lose all their gear — food, camping equipment, and dry clothes — about 60 miles from the nearest town. BOOYEAH! With good actors for the re-enactment scenes, this one stands out in my mind as a Story With Heart *and* Tension.

But here’s the deal: you love them or you hate them. At least half the time, the surviving storytellers are testosterone-driven dicks who goad each other into ridiculous situations which they never would have ended up in had they paused to give it proper thought.

Then again, what on earth would we have to watch if they did?

Food for thought: Just how many categories and sub-categories of reality TV are there? Talk amongst yourselves, class — break into discussion groups and show me your comments.

If Anyone Asks, Say It’s a Seminar!

bible1When I opened my mailbox this evening, the word “BIBLE” leaped out at me from a flier shoved in the back of the box. I took it out and at first couldn’t decipher if this was a pro-Christian, anti-Christian, or worse, some white power meeting being slyly advertised.

I scanned all four pages quickly to try and determine what exactly this was, but things just got more confusing when I read this:

“Christians believed…The world was flat. The earth was the center of the univere. Is there something you believe that the Bible does not say?”

Ummm, sure. I believe lots of stuff that’s not in the Bible. Like, that Peanut Butter M&Ms pair well with just about anything and AMC’s The Walking Dead just plain isn’t interesting anymore. So….what point was trying to be made? Is the speaker saying that Christians were wrong about a lot of things? That’s no shocker. Or are they saying the Bible can clarify confusing topics like gravity and the shape of the earth? Well, I wondered, WTF does the Bible really say? Passing time on the elevator, I glanced at the bottom of the first page of the flier, which advertised that “this fascinating seminar” was coming to my area next week.

I don’t know about you, but when I see the words “Christian” and “seminar” in the same flier, I imagine those “parties” that Landmark (not the indie film distributing company — the OTHER Landmark) and Scientologists hold. You know, the kind where they don’t let you pee or eat for more than six hours and separate you from the now-hated friend who dragged you here? The kind where they try and get you to sign over all your worldly possessions and promise you guaranteed fame and success?

This made me wonder if the word “seminar” was supposed to lull my liberal left-coast brain into a false sense of security. “Seminar” means education, right? Secular education. Oh, wait… As I read on, I pick up that yeah, this is pretty Christian stuff, although the words “God” and “Christ” only pop up once in the whole pamphlet. But I am too distracted by the illustration on page 2 to really think about it.

AWWWWWWW YEAAAAAHHHHHH! Sweet! Sign me the hell up! So whatever the Bible really says, it apparently has something to do with sea monsters, bears with either scrolls or bones in their mouths, Aslan from Narnia, and a four-headed leopard. With wings. Maybe this is all in Revelations or something, but I grew up Catholic and I SWEAR I would remember Aslan being in the Bible. I mean, I know C.S. Lewis was Catholic and Aslan was a Christ figure and all, but…I digress.

Let me take a moment here to say: I mean no offense to Christians *in general*. I know many and in a sense, I guess I am one since I try to live by the Golden Rule. I especially don’t mean offense to the ones who live good, simple lives and help their communities in a sincere effort to help and learn. In particular, I am not wishing to offend the Christians who are contentedly NOT mailing fliers to me.

Page 3 socks it to us with the topics or rather, the “answers” that will be presented over a 4-day period (not sure if they let you go home in between seminars, but let’s assume they do):

It reads like a Biblical Cosmo cover. I expected to see “7 Ways to Tell if Your Man is on the Prowl” underneath “Evidence The Bible has not been Changed”. What does that even mean, anyway? Changed via bad translation, or conspiracy or aliens or something? Because that would explain a lot. Anyway, presented using words like “Evidence” and “Proof”, the implication is: And we’re totally not evangelical Christians. Srsly. Because would Evangelists have topics using these words? These must be scientific people if they are offering proof that the Bible is God’s word. **Disclaimer: “as Compared to Other Holy Books” may refer to that tattered copy of The Thorn Birds that’s still on your parents’ bookshelf**

At last, we come to the back cover, which recaps that this seminar is indeed a deal at Absolutely Free. But once again, I am distracted by the picture in the lower left-hand corner – yup, this is the sampling of whom this congregation welcomes: the ethnically diverse, heterosexual family (although the white folks have no kids – does this mean something??). Oh well, best not to over-analyze. But then, what would I do on a Thursday night?

But who is the Speaker at this seminar? It’s this guy:

It took some time on Google, but I found out he either is or was a pastor at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in San Francisco. It was kind of a let-down to realize that there was no big secret agenda going on – just a bunch of churchgoers. I did get a little excited (“Wow! I’m breaking a big story!) when I stumbled across a guy on Google with the same name (different spelling) who is a screaming revisionist and racist. You know, the kind of people who refer to Jewish people as “Zionists” and who are convinced that the Holocaust didn’t exist? Yeah, those guys. But as I said — different guy.

As I wrap this up, I’m feeling a little bad because technically, I live essentially a “Christian” life, albeit in the non-Jesus worshiping, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, Wiccan/pretty much agnostic sense. So who am I to make fun of Christians just for trying to win over a few new members to their SDA team?

I think it’s really more the brochure that I find offensive. It reminds me of political propaganda, no matter how pure and equality-loving the message is. Having an open meeting at your church? Then just say so. Don’t call it a seminar and use phrases that you hope will appeal to a non-believer in some ploy to trick them into showing up. Just invite us. Sure, it’ll be pretty quiet, but at least it’s an honest quiet.


NAPA: Cliff Swallows and the Hard Times

So this weekend, one of my very best besties, Pam (AKA Adventure Pam) came up from LA to visit Michael and I, and we all headed to Napa for an overnight at the Meritage Resort and Spa, including a trip on the wine train. Pam hadn’t heard about the incident from a year or two back where a group of African-American women (a book club!) were kicked off the Napa Wine Train for allegedly being “too loud.” Absolute bullshit, right? So we told her about it just so she could share in our shame for patronizing it.

But a wine train is a wine train, and ride it I must.  #dontjudgeme  To make myself feel better, I did make a few jokes about how I was excited to go on the “white train” or just “the racist wine train”. Because you know…WINE.

So we got tickets for the Vista Dome Lunch which is about the nicest lunch you will ever have on a train travelling about ten miles an hour through wine country. They encourage you to kick things off with a mimosa before boarding, so we did. Then eventually it was time to board. You walk up a boarding ramp lined with cyclone fencing that has a shit ton of padlocks with people’s names scrawled on them. Apparently, these are all placed there by couples who are in love as a symbol of how trapped or locked into their lives they feel. Oh wait, that’s not right. Could it be they feel imprisoned by love? I know it’s intended to be romantic but honestly, nothing says “love” like a giant padlock.

So we get to our beautiful Vista Dome car, which is vintage and has a dome window for maximum viewing ability (as one might expect from the name). I made a joke about Trip to Bountiful because HOW CAN YOU NOT, and the rest is pretty hazy. Six drinks and four courses later, you roll back into the station, ready to check into the Meritage and take a nap, which we totally did.

Because this is who we are, we read every pamphlet in our room, including the note warning occupants about Cliff Swallows. Pam was reading it aloud to us and paused here, noting that this would be an awesome name for a gay porn star. And from there it was just pure hilarity, since Cliff Swallows is/are endangered and therefore allowed to build nests wherever he/they feel like…including on guests’ balconies. Apparently, Cliff Swallows is also a total slob because the hotel adds that should Cliff Swallows leave a lot of unwanted debris on the balcony, guests should feel free to notify Housekeeping, who will happily clean up after this presumably aging messy ex-porn star/endangered creature. I kept imagining a dude in a ratty bathrobe and cowboy boots smoking on the balcony and leaving crumpled up cans of MGD and American Spirits everywhere.

Listen, we are easily amused. But not by normal things, it seems. We headed to the Crush Lounge, which houses a bowling alley and pool tables as well as really outstanding bar food. We liked the food and the fireplace, and while I wanted to play pool, it was super loud and honestly, we just wanted to find a fire pit to sit near and talk. But all the fire pits were turned off! I think we probably could have turned one on and if not, we could have asked one of the really awesome and attentive staff to turn one on, but at that point, we were ready to call it a night.

The three of us watched a cool little sci-fi flick called “The Passengers” with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence about people travelling in suspended animation for 120 years to get to a new earth-type planet. Only one guy is woken up about 90 years too early and can’t go back to sleep, so he decides to totally ruin some hot smart chick’s life by waking her up, too. They fall in love, until she finds out he’s essentially killed her and then she’s mad and goes swimming in a really cool space pool a lot. Oh, and the British Wesley Snipes from 30 Rock is there playing a robot bartender. And later Laurence Fishburne wakes up, explains some shit, then dies. Bonus Unnecessarily Big Name Cameo by Andy Garcia as the ship’s captain, who is in like 10 seconds of this movie.  And not even a good ten seconds! It’s a ten seconds that makes you realize you just watched a movie with way too many plot holes and a stupid ending.

We slept really well despite the disappointing ending of the film, and awoke to the magic that is BRUNCH BUFFET! And it truly was magical. Trust me, I’ve been to a lot of mediocre buffets in my nearly 50 years of life, and this one was really amazing. Not only was there the usual breakfast fare, there were cheese blintzes, chicken and waffles, brioche french toast, more charcuterie and cheese than I have EVER witnessed in one place before, a sort of coat-rack thing with donuts hanging on it, and a Made-to-Order omelet bar. Oh, and mimosas for Pam! Coffee for me.

We checked out but stuck around because we had barely scratched the surface of what else was going on at the Meritage. We had a dip in the hot tub, then went to a wine tasting (after which I spent an embarassing amount of money on eight bottles of wine), then went to a coffee shop for a cuppa joe and then lunch back at the Crush Lounge.

I have to take a moment here to share this awesome book that Michael found. I still don’t know if he was buying it ironically but I don’t think it was. I think he sincerely needs cheering up sometimes and thinks this will help, gods bless his adorable heart.


Feeling desparate? Suicidal? THIS BOOK MAY HELP. Or not. Hard to tell. It’s full of pages that have abstract blotchy drawings on them with simple statements about how things will get better and life won’t always suck. It’s so simple, it’s genius. I honestly would have chosen a different title, such as “Please Don’t Kill Yourself” or “I Think You May Need Help”. But that’s just me.

From the little note at the bottom of the cover page, I think this book is assuming an awful lot about what’s going on in my life, but generally speaking, it IS a hard time to be a human being right now. And it’s nice to know that this book is here for me when I need it.  Interestingly, it was published in 2016, which as we all know was a real stinker of a year.

Anyway, that was our awesome visit with Pam/weekend getaway to Napa. I hope we can make this an annual thing and somehow not become alcoholics. I heart my Pammie. And remember – Don’t Kill Yourself, Because You Might Miss a Hilarious Blog Post.

I Guess It’s a Cantwell Thing

“How about this tree?” Fran asked, pointing to the pine tree that was currently throwing shade our way.

I set down my can of Diet Coke beside my beach towel and shrugged, standing up. I approached the tree, giving it a quick once-over. “I guess it’s okay,” I said, but upon closer inspection, I realized it wouldn’t do. I pointed at the base of the tree. “Someone left a bag of dog poop. So…maybe not.”

Fran laughed, seeing it now. “Yeah, I guess not.”

I spotted another, smaller tree, right at the end of the rocky outcropping we always just called “Cantwell Rock.” I imagine every other family that went there called it after their own family, but to us, it was Cantwell Rock, where we had at least one family picnic each summer at Pinecrest Lake. “What about that one?”

Fran nodded. “Looks good. As long as there’s no bags of dog shit under it.”

“So we’ve agreed on the minimum requirements for a final resting place.” I picked up the two jars containing my share of our Mom and Dad’s ashes and we walked over towards the little tree.

“Keeping the bar low is always a good idea,” he nodded. My brother was like that: keep it light. Don’t expect too much. Actually, that could have been the family motto: Don’t be too serious and don’t expect too much. You might end up pleasantly surprised. Okay, so it’s not as cool-sounding as the Stark family’s “Winter is coming,” but on the plus side, at least we’re all still alive, unlike the Starks.

It was a cute little tree. It was easy to spot if you were approaching by boat, and therefore easy to remember for future visits. “Yeah, it’s a good tree.”

My original plan for Pinecrest this summer was to spread Mom and Dad’s ashes with the whole family there, like some faintly creepy family reunion. I’d imagined all eight of my brothers and sisters there at the cabin on the lake, each of us holding our unmarked pickle relish jars filled with each of our shares of Mom and Dad’s cremains, sitting on the porch with cocktails and telling the old stories for the millionth time.

We’ve told the stories so many times that the actual telling of the tales is more ritualistic than informative; it’s not like there’s someone new who hasn’t heard about the time Cathy and John wandered off onto the fire trail and got lost until Cathy made John go up to strangers and cry pathetically until they asked what was wrong. Or the time that Fran was ten and got left behind at the gas station in Oakdale, and the old man who worked there gave him an ice cream cone and patiently waited for the Cantwell family station wagon to return. Or when Dad packed the luggage on top of the car so high that he couldn’t back it out of the garage. Or the year that we had a reunion and someone came up with the awesomely inappropriate idea of printing up t-shirts for everyone reading (unironically!) CANTWELL CLAN. Yeah, there was a reason I never wore that shirt outside of the cabin that year – CLAN is definitely not something you want to have plastered across your chest. It’s just wrong. I couldn’t even donate the shirt to Goodwill; the homeless have enough problems without associating themselves with a clan.

In retrospect, I guess it was kind of ridiculous of me to think that all of us could actually clear our calendars for the same three days in August. Only my brother Fran showed up, sporting his awesome Brad-Dourif-as-Doc-Cochrane-in-Deadwood ‘stache. I hadn’t really known Fran too well growing up, since he’s about 12 years older than me and had already moved out of the house by the time I was able to retain memories. And for a while, he’d been the black sheep of the family, a motorcycle-riding hippie with a genius IQ, the fourth child in a family of nine, while I was the baby of the family, the good kid who craved everyone’s quiet approval. But as it turns out, we probably have the most in common of any of us.

Anyway, there we were: only two of the remaining nine Cantwell kids, looking for a proper place at Cantwell Rock to spread my parents’ ashes. Oh, sorry – my share of my parents’ ashes. Fran didn’t have any because he never collected his from my sister Gail, who somehow ended up with the job of Parental Ash Distributor. Gail and Chuck somehow always get stuck with the jobs like that, although I have no idea how that happened. And Fran probably just thought that someone else would want them more than he did. I could see his point: it’s kind of a weird feeling to just carry home two unmarked jars of your parents’ ashes after having Thanksgiving dinner at your sister’s house. Leftover turkey and stuffing? Sure. Ashes…not so much.

“So…who’s who?” Fran asked, nodding to the jars I’m holding.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I used to know. Um, I think this one is Mom.” I held up the jar filled with lots of white ash. “I remember thinking it was odd because there were more ashes of her than there were of Dad.”

“Yeah. That is odd.” He squinted at the jar that I suspected held our mom’s ashes. “Oh, maybe Pauline got half of Dad’s ashes, and so there was less to split up?”

“Oh, yeah!” Why hadn’t that occurred to me? Of course our stepmom would have taken half the ashes for the Naval Ceremony they had back in New York. Yeah – the one that nobody told anyone about. I didn’t really mind, since that was typical for our family and not something done out of spite. It just doesn’t occur to us, when we hear about things like weddings or funerals, that someone else might actually give a shit. It’s honestly like we’re a whole family full of absent-minded professors, bumbling our way through other people’s emotions.

Without asking my brother if he had parting words, I unceremoniously dumped the ashes at the base of the tree, careful to wait for the breeze to stop. “We don’t want to pull a Big Lebowski, do we?” I add, tapping out the ashes first from one jar, and then the other. I knew he would get the reference, and he laughed.

I stood up once I was finished and the ashes were settled, already mixing with the dirt at the base of the tree. I placed some pine needles over them, as if that would keep them from blowing away. “Um, so yeah,” I said finally. Neither of us were religious. A prayer would mean nothing. So instead, I said, “Sorry, guys. I guess you’re stuck with each other, now. But you’ll like it here, I think. Thanks for giving us Pinecrest. And Cantwell Rock.”

It felt weird saying those words instead of an Our Father or a Hail Mary. Or even a “Peace be with you,” like at the end of all those visits to church as a kid. But by the same token, as a family, we had never done funerals for anyone in our family. We’d do kind of a memorial party; I guess you could call them “celebrations of life”, but no funerals. So it made sense that we’d not really know what to say when dumping the ashes of our divorced parents who’d just happened to pass away six months months apart from one another, at the ripe old ages of 91 and 93.

“Want me to take your picture?” I asked, putting away the empty jars and coming back with my iPhone. Fran was instantly game, and immediately took up a pose. He made imaginary guns with his hands and pointed towards the tree, grinning broadly under his straw hat. “What is that supposed to be?” I snapped a few photos even though I had no idea what his pose was.

“Isn’t this the pose from those photos at Abu Ghraib?”

I rolled my eyes and had to laugh. Leave it to a Cantwell to hilariously send up your parents’ ash-disposal with a touching recreation of infamous torture photos. “Oh my God, Fran!” It really was perfect. I loved my big brother more in that moment than I ever had before. It felt really good to laugh just then, and he joined me. We’d never actually say we loved each other, but we didn’t need to. We were forever unified in finding the inappropriate hilarity in horror and the macabre. We were Cantwells; that’s just what we did. It was in our DNA. It was what made us who we were.

We packed up our picnic things, including the empty jars that were now lined with the ashy residue of human cremains. Later, I put them in the recycling bin. I understood that to some people, this may seem uncaring or harsh. But the thing I think both I and my brother understood was that it didn’t matter how a thing might seem. What mattered was the take-away. And that day, we exorcised the gravity of death from the beauty of the life. Who needed empty jars? Who needed prayers and words, when we had love and laughter?

Not us. Not the Cantwells. And definitely not me.