An Introvert Walks Into A Book Signing–My Year-End Wrap-Up

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Scary Author Appearance (trying to look calm)

A year has now passed since my husband and I moved from our relatively quiet suburban neighborhood to a narrow canyon populated by herds of coyotes and packs of wild burros. (The coyotes tend to get going about 2 am every night when they yowl and howl in unison. Whey they get too loud, the burros bray at them to shut up. It’s charming.) We’re just a few minutes from the freeway, but it’s a different world here, with moments of unexpected beauty. Two afternoons in a row, at approximately 1:20 pm, we caught a roadrunner pecking around our Asian pear tree for fig beetles. Then there was the night we listened to three Great Horned Owls hooting to each other from across the canyon. (That gave me goosebumps.) The largest alligator lizard I’ve ever seen slithered through our shrubbery one cool spring day. She was so long, I couldn’t capture her entire length on my phone’s camera, but I’d estimate her at thirteen inches from tip to tail. As I said, it’s different here. Our not-brave-at-all Border Collie Echo continues to ignore the wildlife, instead focusing her attention on me.

This past year also saw my mother-in-law coming to live with us–a move fraught with daily perils. Steve and I do the dance of being fully-grown adults in this situation where MIL instructs us on how to, basically, do life. We get helpful comments like, “You’ll need a jacket.” Or “You’ll want to put the mayonnaise on the bread first to coat it.” Endearing stuff like that. But we realize that she can’t help herself; she’s been a mom for much longer than I have. Her behavior is embedded within her at the deepest cellular level. She will never stop being a mother, and we will always be “the kids.”

Our son is away for his second year of college, so we worry about him from afar. He’s determined to save the world. (I’d say he has his work cut our for him.)

I still report depositions, but the majority are done over the phone, so I can wear my fuzzy slippers, pajama bottoms, and slouch my way through the proceedings, if I want to. (Isn’t this the way all business should be conducted?)

In author news, I’ve been busy, and I’ve done several things that have taken me out of my comfort zone, like:

1. An author appearance where I was invited to talk about my books, writing, and the publishing process to an assembled group. (Scary.) (See above picture.)

2. A live podcast with the subject matter: “When You Receive a Breast Cancer Diagnosis” for eCareDiary. (The “live” part was terrifying, but it went pretty well. I think. Listen for yourself, if you like.)

3. A radio interview with a CBS affiliate out of New York to discuss my memoirs Let Me Get This Off My Chest for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (Again, terrifying, but I managed.)

4. A new book release in October, My Friends Are All Strange, the companion book to my YA novel Normalish.

5. A live author Skype chat with a creative writing group in Tennessee to talk about My Friends Are All Strange (after the members had a chance to read it). That was a lot of fun–after we worked out the technical glitches. (There are always glitches.)

6. I was part of a breast cancer survivor’s calendar, so I can now add “calendar girl” to my list of unexpected life happenings. The photo shoot took place back in August, and it ended up being a powerful, life-affirming experience. (It’s funny when I think of how this group of mostly strangers ended up topless in such a ridiculously short amount of time–and not everyone was drinking!)

7. And to begin the new year, I’ve just agreed to a book signing for the end of January for a local breast cancer nonprofit group, The Care Project, Inc. (Just long enough away so I can give myself plenty of time to stress over it.)

I’m going to try to keep pushing myself to do things outside of my comfort zone by remembering that:

Life is short

We need adventures

-and-

We never know what the positive consequence/outcome of our actions will be.

I wish you a new year filled with good health, good news, kindness, compassion, and, above all, love. Peace be with you, my friends.

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Futon Stories

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Steve and I were looking online at futons for the spare room the other day. We wanted a place for a guest to sleep, but as per the usual, we’re on a budget. We found a few reasonably-priced futons and began reading their reviews. I noticed something after the first few, though. Inasmuch as they were reviews of the product–its durability, comfort, appearance, etc.–these bite-sized descriptions offered glimpses into the lives of the reviewers.

One review particularly struck me. A mother wrote that the twin-sized futon mattress was comfortable enough to sleep not only her, but her eight-year-old, and her five-year-old, all together. Beautiful imagery of mother and children drawn close. And such a maternal thing, a mother protecting her children, keeping them safe in the most vulnerable time, as they slept. The three on one futon suggested many things, a minimal living space being one. Did they share a home with others, multi-families, cramped, living on top of each other? Where was her mate? Was she single? Had she escaped an abusive relationship? Her review showed no emotion other than her happiness and satisfaction with the product. Of course, none of my scenarios may be the truth. Maybe she just needed a futon. Maybe it was just that. My mind has always gone to the sad, tragic side of things, though. Since I was a kid, I’d see people who looked down on their luck, and I would imagine the lives they led and think about them, worrying about them on the drive home. Now, I sometimes look at myself, how Steve and I are dressed, now that we are older and not as concerned about what strangers think when we run errands. People probably see us as we’re knocking around town like a couple of hobos and think, sadly, “Aww, look at them.”

Another futon story that caught my attention was the guy who broke up with his ex. She got the bed, so he needed a futon for his small apartment. Images popped into my head of a guy in a tiny apartment with nothing but a lamp, television on an overturned box, eating ramen, while sitting on his futon/bed. She got the bed. The bed. How much does that suck to have to give up one’s bed? I’ve never split up with someone where one of us got the bed and the other didn’t. But then would I even want our couple’s bed and all of its associated memories? Maybe I would rather have a futon and my freedom, my cramped apartment, and my ramen. But what if the bed were one of those Tempur-Pedic mattress beds, the type where the mattress adjusts up and down to suit the individual sleeper?

Tough choices.

We all have our stories to tell, whether they involve futons or not. And that is life.

On an unrelated note, my son is home for his spring break this week, and everything feels as if it is in balance. It took the three of us just twenty-four hours to demolish his celebratory homecoming chocolate cake. Life is good.

After I wrote this post, I received word from a friend about the tragic loss of someone dear to her, a young man. Much too young. If you read this, my dear friend, know that I grieve for your pain. Sometimes life makes no sense at all, and we are left grappling for answers to the unanswerable. You are in my thoughts.

The Time I Was Brave and Filmed a Television Pilot

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My steno machine

For most of my adult life, I’ve worked as a freelance court reporter, and back in 2000, I received a call inquiring if I’d like to try out for a television pilot. The woman on the line explained it was a half-hour, true-life courtroom show along the lines of The People’s Court. The hook? This one would be all real-life professionals–real judge, real bailiff, real attorneys arguing for their clients, and a real court reporter in case they needed testimony read back. My initial mental reaction was: EEEK! Noooo! Scary! But since I was coming off my first cancer experience and had recently returned to work, one of the agreements I made with myself was that I would explore new things and try to push myself out of my comfort zone (because cancer has a way of reorganizing one’s life and priorities in a major way).

The next week, I met with the show’s producers, and they ended up calling me back when they’d narrowed the field of applicants down to four. On the day of filming, I showed up, two suits in hand, to a studio in Burbank. A young production assistant in his early twenties took charge of me, showing me around and taking me to my dressing room. He wore a headset, and sometimes he’d be looking right as me as he spoke sharply to someone on the other end. Everyone in the studio was running around with a sense of urgency, as if the work they were doing was vitally important to society and not just another sucky daytime show. The general atmosphere was tense. I tried to keep an open mind (but I kind of immediately hated everything).

I was taken to Makeup where the aesthetician did things to my face that I still don’t understand, and the hair stylist styled my hair. I cleaned up well, I thought. My segments wouldn’t be filmed until after lunch, so Headset Guy took me to where craft services had laid out penne pasta with marinara sauce, salad, garlic bread, cookies and brownies. (How is it that I still remember the food all these years later?) During lunch, I was introduced to the bailiff for my segments, a handsome guy whose dad was also a bailiff, and the two of us went over to meet our judge, Andrew Napolitano (who I learned was a regular legal contributor to the Fox News Channel). The judge gave me a polite hello before turning his attention to the young bailiff. The judge knew his father, so the two chatted like old friends as I stood their feeling the wind whistle around me, thinking it was a bad sign for my prospects that the judge found the bailiff more attractive than me.

A little before it was time for cameras to roll, I sat in place behind my steno machine and computer. A woman stopped by, introducing herself as the court reporter from the morning’s tapings. She said the proceedings were virtually unreportable–the attorneys literally argued over the top of each other–and told me to just focus on getting the questions and answers of the witness in case I needed to read back. (Court reporters–sticking together.) The attorneys got into their places behind their tables–Gloria Allred (nationally-known women’s rights attorney), and Bill Handel (local character with a radio program). The gallery of observers was brought in, and the cameras rolled. The cases were your run-of-the mill rent disputes, or cars bought and not paid for. Junk like that. Judge Napolitano was serious and painstakingly thorough with his questions, the attorneys yelled over the top of each other, and… zzzzzzzzzzzzz. The main problem with the show is that it was extremely boring. I sat there tapping away through two tapings, waiting for the director to call “cut.” Afterwards, the people on set disappeared in what seemed like seconds, leaving me alone to pack up my things.

Even though the money would have been great, all I could think was: “Please, don’t pick me. Please, please, Universe. If you love me, let me go.”

The Universe listened. Maybe my bad attitude somehow was felt? Honestly, I tried not to show my feelings outwardly. I smiled and at least pretended to enjoy the experience. But I got my wish. They didn’t call me back. Months later, I caught an airing of the show on one of the local channels, and it was as bad as I thought it would be. I don’t think it lasted more than a season or two.

I gave myself points, though, for pushing myself to try it in the first place. My introvert side may have screamed Nooooo! But my new, improved post-cancer, slightly braver self said yes. I listened, and I will try to keep listening to that voice that tells me, “It’ll be okay. You won’t know unless you try.”

I will try.

I also know that if I am in the position to make the choice between money and happiness, I will always pick happiness.

 

 

Empty Nest (part 2) + That Hobo Feeling

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Six months later, it’s Parents’ Weekend at my son’s university. I’ve traveled using public transportation–bus, train, shuttle, then Uber. My driver isn’t familiar with the large campus, so I have him drop me off at an information booth only to find that the parent check-in is still a long walk up the street. (Did I mention it’s a large campus?) So here I am with my son’s well-used high school backpack on my back, jeans, hiking boots, and an old wheeled carry-on bag that has seen better days. I learn quickly that the bag’s wheels make a very loud click-clacking noise over the cobbled walkways. As I walk against the tide of parents who’ve already checked in, my case screaks out. I feel so many eyes staring (something the introvert in me despises). The eyes are of parents who are well put together. They look like money. Perfect hair, jewelry, expensive clothing and shoes. My boy is here on scholarship, and I’m having an “I’m out of my element” moment. Half of me sees the situation as ridiculously funny; the other half of me is mortified. I try to give myself a quick pep talk. “Why do you CARE what these strangers think of you?” I alternate between picking up my case and carrying it for a few feet, then wheeling it a little because my arm grows tired. I feel like such a hobo.

My boy is thriving in his element though. He and his roommate, another goofy kid who, notably, has a large collection of rubber ducks, hit it off instantly when they met back in September. They’re two peas in a silly pod, and when I check out their dorm, I see that they’ve plastered Wanted posters of their friend Erik, accusing him of stealing a fictional boat, all over their residence hall. Their dorm room door is well decorated with random humorous observations and art. His girlfriend is thoughtful and sweet, and I have to remind myself not to giggle when I see how cute they are together. He sleeps and eats, he assures me, and has even found a “reasonably priced” black bean burger with sweet potato fries and drink combination for the late nights when his residence hall is closed for dinner. He has adopted a vegetarian diet.

I still worry about his health–he’s gotten sick twice, both times when he’s come home for holiday breaks. My sister-in-law assures me that this is his time when he can afford to let down and be sick. My mother and mother-in-law both confirm that a mother never stops worrying. Fathers either. I find some… comfort in this? (Maybe?)

I’ve read the words of many other empty nesters, and the things I wrestle with now are similar, such as the realization that the day-to-day part of raising my son has come to an end. In all likelihood, he won’t be living under the same roof again, other than a few weeks between his summer internship’s end and the start of school. The hard thing for me now at this point is figuring out what and where to focus my energies now that these concentrated eighteen years have come to a close. I lie in bed now, not worrying about him so much, but I worry about my own future. I assess and reassess my next move.

The leap of faith the three of us took six months ago has paid off. He is developing into a young man of substance. I just hope that I can continue to develop and grow in a way that he can be proud of.

Empty Nest (part 1)

Meg, Drew.
My boy and me

[ I wrote this six months ago, before my son left for college.]

I haven’t been sleeping at night. A sign keeps flashing, “He’s leaving in three weeks.” Soon it will be two.

We wrestled and puzzled, the three of us, with the idea of him going away. There were excellent schools locally. And he didn’t “necessarily want to leave,” he said. He was still recovering from the terrible illness that involved two trips to the ER, a painful lumbar puncture, and weeks spent flat on his back where the cobweb in the corner gave him something to focus on. (He told me that later when I tried to swipe it away with a rag. That just about killed me). Three months of his senior year of high school were spent on independent study, and he fought to get through his graduation speech. Steve and I are still suffering from what I think is a form of extreme anxiety in the aftermath. My brain chemistry seems to have been altered from nights of gut-clenching, mind-numbing worry. Everyone knows that a new parent doesn’t sleep at night, but I’m not sleeping either. My friend who tells me not to fret, to hand those thoughts over because they won’t affect the outcome–I wish I could do that. I just can’t. My brain’s worry center just won’t turn off.

How exactly do we send him four hundred miles away? We’ve talked the subject over ad nauseam, the three of us. The school he’s going to is a magical-feeling place where he’ll meet his people–smart, goofy kids like him, bent on saving the world through science. He’ll connect with others who think the idea of spending the hottest days of summer wearing Army surplus coveralls (complete with sewn-on Ghostbusters patch), motorcycle helmet, and gauntlet gloves to smelt aluminum cans in a homemade backyard casting forge just to make a belt buckle is a great idea. (How is that not a win?)

Steve and I know intellectually it’ll be good for him to be away in a place where he will have to figure things out, problem solve, and grow into adulthood without the cushion of us. But we also know that it won’t be any good for us either.

When he was born, Steve cut the cord. He told me it felt much more sinewy and tough than he’d expected. But the invisible cord remains, binding us close. These last few weeks of summer, we’ve taken nightly walks with our silly dog, Echo. The three of us talk about everything under the sun. Steve and I watch as our boy runs wildly with his dog over the grass, laughing, returning to his boyhood self of ten years old. In many ways he hasn’t changed. He still looks down, watching the sidewalk, for worms and bugs that need to be removed to safety. And he does this with the patience of a scientist, slowly and methodically. This summer, when he hasn’t been smelting aluminum, he’s spent time recuperating, designing custom T-shirts using stencils he cuts from freezer paper and then bleaches. He watches videos on physics and world politics as he rests–because he has to feed that brain. And this is how he has always been.

As his parents, we know that all of the work he’s done–those long nights of study and preparation, and his impossible schedule–it’s led him up to this point. We know that we have to let him go so he can be the well-formed person he is supposed to be. But we also know that the long drive home is going to be terribly sad. We are simply not ready. I know I will worry about him eating and sleeping. (Those two things–he has to promise us that he will sleep and he will eat because I know the lure of experiencing the wonders around him will always win out over those two boring basic biological necessities.)

It is just going to be hard, not having him here. The invisible cord has to stretch four hundred miles and not break. It simply has to. And I don’t know when I’ll get a good night’s rest again.

How I Feel After Super Tuesday

 

 

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Weeping angel statue at Stanford University Mausoleum

The weeping angel about sums up how I’ve been feeling since Tuesday night.

To paraphrase Joe Biden, America is holding up a mirror.

Who do we see?

Is our Congress so broken that we blow up the establishment only to deal with the wreckage?

I don’t want to live in a country with that much hate/dischord.

Please vote in your primaries, and again next November. Get involved. Get out there. Vote to keep a fascist, racist, bullying con man out of power.

We are better than this. Or we should try to be.

An Army of Fake Adam William Johnsons

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Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Chief of Staff US Air Force–not Adam William Johnson

I learned something last night: There is an army–a veritable plethora, if you will–of Adam William Johnsons on Facebook. Portraits of men wearing uniforms from the various branches of the U.S. Military–Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. The uniforms have the stars and stripes of generals and other officers, and the profile pictures are typical formal headshots, or, in the case of the friend request I received, a picture of a general testifying before a microphone as if before Congress.

But why would a four-star general send me a friend request? I’m just a regular person living an ordinary life. To be honest, my first thought was that he was an ex-military man who was out trying to drum up interest for the book he’d written. (Being an author in today’s world, that is a routine thing.) The personal information listed was sparse except to say that he worked at the U.S. Army and was widowed.

Wait. Widowed? He wanted to date me? EWWWWWWW! (I mean, why else would that be highlighted in such a fashion if he weren’t out trolling for women?)

I called Steve over to show him because of the random weirdness of the request. He began examining the man’s uniform to try to figure out why an Air Force officer would identify himself as serving in the Army. (Steve’s very good with the details.) Next, we googled the name Adam William Johnson and couldn’t find any listing of a general by that name. In any branch of the service.

“Let’s do a reverse image search,” Steve suggested (very cleverly). So we did, and we found out that the image is really that of General Mark A. Welsh III, Chief of Staff of the US Air Force. We then found a whole list of Adam William Johnsons on Facebook–at least fifty of them–many with pictures of different military men. Actual, real-life men like Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, Commander of the 8th Army, being masqueraded as Adam William Johnson. All of the misappropriated military men had their status listed as widowed. All said things like “Works at: U.S. Army.” A lot of them are stationed in Syria. Most of the accounts were set up recently, since December, with many just a couple weeks ago on the same date in February.

Here is the Facebook link to the fake Adam William Johnsons.

My hunch is the bogus accounts are meant to scam women–to play on their romantic notions, their loneliness–and then separate them from large amounts of cash.

Fake Adam William Johnson: You suck. Friend request: Denied!