Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words Or Less (#1)

So here's the thing. I get distracted. Easily.

Case in point: I was just organizing my home office closet in order to procrastinate on writing the in-depth follow-up email I promised I'd send a new client after a conference call this morning. (See? Already distracted!) As I'm stacking box after box of old photos--the ones that never made it into the 15+ albums I have--I think, Do I really need to keep all these old photos? Do I even remember who the people pictured within these boxes are?
And then an idea hits me. I've missed writing these past couple of months as my latest manuscript is complete and out for review with prospective agents, and I've been focused on my consulting work. (Those bills don't pay themselves, am I right?) But I miss writing on a regular basis. 

So I figure, why not randomly pull a photo from of one of those boxes and write about it? And why not do this at least twice a week? No overthinking it. And no cheating if I don't remember the people or places in the photo. Just pull...and write.

So here are The Official Rules, you know, in case you want to join me in my photographic shenanigans. 

#1 - One photo, randomly selected without looking at the labels on the box exteriors.

#2 - Limit the post to 1000 words or less. Because no one ever said "a picture is worth 2480 words."

#3 - No more than an hour, start to finish, to write my Thousand Words Or Less post. This isn't about perfection or publication or praise. It's about a freaking writing practice. And my addled memory. And the fact that I've met so many awesome people throughout my life and I suck at keeping in touch. Especially ever since my mother stopped keeping my personal directory up to date for me. (Sheesh, Mom!) And we stopped sending out Larsen Original Christmas Cards because we could never top the one we did back in 2008. (But damn, that was a good one, wasn't it?)

#4 (and perhaps the most important rule of my Thousand Words Or Less challenge) - No calling for a mulligan just because I snagged a photo of me with a former boyfriend I'd rather forget...or a photo of me in my early drunken days looking, well, drunk...or because it's a picture revealing my post-baby-and-every-day-since-then Muffin Top. Though let's be honest--I've probably already torn those photos to bits.  

Sitting amidst the mess I've created in my office for the purpose of procrastinating I tell myself, No time like the present! So I pull one of the photo boxes down from the closet shelf at random--the yellow one--and reach inside without regard to any of the labeled interior separators. (What can I say? I'm a Capricorn; we're fairly anal retentive when it comes to organizing.) 

The photo I select is one of an old roommate, Kelli de Sante, and me, circa 1993, in the tiny Newport Beach apartment I'd rented solo before Kelli, whom I'd met at Toastmasters, needed a place to live and she moved into the open loft upstairs, which heretofore had served as my home office. It was the same apartment in which I had recently snuck my contraband puppy, Spike. (See those two potted plants? See that beige carpeting? Shortly after I'd drenched those plants with water one day, Spike decided to do some finger-painting, spreading plant bits and dirt and mud all over the damn apartment. Try explaining that one to the management office.)

Thousand Words Or Less Photo #1

Kelli was (and likely still is) an elegant Southern woman, the kind that wouldn't even think to go outside to pick the paper up off the driveway without first applying lipstick. Contrast that with me, the woman who willingly drives around town wearing pajamas and has gone grocery shopping in slippers because Why the hell not? Slippers are comfy!

Kelli had a new boyfriend who came to visit her from Canada. I don't remember his name but I do remember that he wasn't what you'd call a Dog Person. In the least bit. I noticed him eyeing Spike as if she were a poopy diaper to be avoided at all costs. The thing is, Spike wasn't the type of dog that was okay being avoided. Or regarded as a poopy diaper. And if Spike didn't like something, Spike let you know. In her own special Spike way. 

Despite the openness of the loft that served as Kelli's bedroom, I tried to give the two lovers their privacy (no easy task in in a 700-square-foot dwelling). One morning, as Kelli was downstairs in the bathroom showering and I was tucked away in my bedroom, I suddenly heard the boyfriend in the loft saying, rather loudly, things like, "No, doggie. No no. Oh. Oh no." 

His voice took on a sense of urgency which then shifted to disgust. I sprinted upstairs to find the boyfriend sitting upright in Kelli's bed with nothing more than her floral bedspread covering the lower half of his naked body. And right next to him on said floral bedspread was a giant steaming Spike turd, fresh from the oven. Like I said, Spike wasn't the type of dog who appreciated being avoided. Or regarded as a poopy diaper. And so she fought back. By turning Kelli's bed--sans Kelli because Spike adored her--into, well, a poopy diaper. 

Mortified, I grabbed a tissue and scooped up the offending turd, made my apologies and turned to go, Spike's collar in one hand, Spike's turd in the other. Embarrassed as I was, I suspected I'd be laughing my ass off about this incident, with Kelli, in less than a month. It actually took less than two days. And suffice it to say, the boyfriend never came to visit again. 

* * * 

Well, it's been about an hour since I pulled that random photo out of the yellow box. My home office is still a mess and now I don't feel like finishing my closet project. Or starting my follow-up client email. 

There's always tomorrow, right?

Good ole Spike. Don't EVEN think of crossing her.     

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Journey to Fuck-If-I-Know

Ever get in the car and just start driving for hours on end, not even sure where you’re headed?

Yeah, me neither.

Yet that’s exactly how I feel lately. It’s not that I’m some sort of baby boomer control freak (she’s lying). Ok, maybe a few echoes of that persona still persist from my 20s and 30s. But Life has done a great job of showing me that sometimes the best things are those we never planned, controlled, pitched or imagined.

My husband? The guy sent an 8-page letter threatening legal action to the corporate conglomerate I’d recently joined (truth be told, we were being rather dickish to his smaller start-up). I was copied on that letter. A few months later, we were engaged. And in five days, we’ll celebrate 19 years of an overall pretty damn good marriage. Didn't see that one coming!

My kid? The one you’re sick of seeing me post about on Facebook? Not what you’d call a planned pregnancy. But clearly she was ready to show up and show up she did (in the most dramatic of ways). Now, I can’t even begin to imagine my life without her to share the fun. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for that creative and loving goofball of a soul. She totally rocks and I adore the shit out of her. Again, surprise!

Favorite work to date? A decade of blood donation advocacy and professional speaking that came out of the blue after nearly croaking and burning through San Francisco’s blood supply in record time (see “pregnancy” above). All began when an executive from Johnson & Johnson sat in one of my audiences and asked my husband to have me call him. A few months later, my occasional pro bono talks for blood centers and Rotarians had transformed into a full-time paid speaking tour, with no requirement to tattoo the J&J logo on my forehead, let alone mention them. Who knew?!

So here I am on a journey to fuck-if-I-know-where and I have no clue as to what it’s leading me to, if anything at all. It's the journey of chronic, at times calm and at other times mind-numbingly debilitating, physical pain and loss of mobility--today being one of my more challenging days. (You know it’s bad when you have to leave your gentle restorative yoga class after only five minutes of what most able-bodied people would think wasn't worth the time it took to pull on their yoga pants.)

This against-my-will journey has been underway for a good five years—the prior eleven being no picnic either where my wellness was concerned. But I had no idea that the road would get even bumpier than it already was. Pain has a way of coloring everything you do, see, feel, believe. Instead of the rose-colored glasses I wore in my younger pre-medical-crap days, too often chronic pain is like viewing life through tar-colored glasses. Dark indeed.

This journey has taken me to places I wouldn’t have otherwise explored, and for that I’m grateful. I love new experiences and marvel at the immeasurable ways to tackle and perceive this mysterious thing called Life. I’ve experimented with all manner of approaches to wellness from the mainstream (take this pain med and go away until it’s time for another surgery) to the downright laughable (if spending tens of thousands of dollars to experiment is your idea of funny). Some things work, some don’t. Among those that work, some days they do, some days they don’t.

The upside of pain is the noticeable increase in my sense of compassion for others, knowing that they may be masking their own pain—be it physical or emotional—much in the same way that I tend to do when I’m out in the world…or even at home with my family. (Hearing myself whine about pain bores me, so I’d rather not. Except now. In this post about pain.)

Pain also helps me connect with others with whom I might not otherwise, like the guy with the amputated leg who swims at my pool and who, like me, didn’t expect his health to take the turn it did. Or the older woman with whom I shared a water jogging lane recently. When I jokingly lamented about the activities I could no longer do, without an ounce of judgment in her voice she responded, “Well…perhaps we’re meant to do different things at different stages in our lives.” Sure, it’s a pretty simple concept, but her words helped me more than she knows.

And recently when pain and insomnia kept me awake all night and I blogged about it, I was flooded with emails from women who were dealing with their own physical ailments and the challenge of remaining positive—or even mildly optimistic—that goes hand in hand with pain. I spent days having interesting and, at times, laugh out loud funny email and Facebook exchanges with several of them.

So today, as I was driving home from the pharmacy with my pain med prescriptions after bailing on gentle yoga, I was struck with the thought that maybe, just maybe, there’s a point to all this bullshit. Maybe my own journey of chronic pain is taking me to a place where I will be able to answer the question: What’s it all about, (Alfie)? Could it be that perhaps—like those two months spent screaming and hallucinating and sucking up blood transfusions in the ICU sixteen years ago—this current and unwanted journey into the bowels of chronic pain is taking me to yet another awesome and rewarding place where I can grow as a person, share what I’ve learned, and maybe even help others as they face similar circumstances? At some point, will I be able to look back at these years of two steps forward, one step back, and say, “Aha! I get it now!”?  Is that where this journey is taking me?

Honestly, I haven’t a clue. But for today—and with the help of 5mg of hydrocodone, a giant snuggly poodle, and the couch—I’m hopeful.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Start Where You Are

I was speaking with a friend today and whining about how I didn’t expect my life to be where it is at this age and stage. “I need a new beginning," I lamented, "but I don’t even know where to start."

“Start where you are,” she said. 

Four simple words that pretty much sum it up. In a nutshell, this is where I am: I’m 54, I’m broke, and I’m broken. Okay, so I’m being somewhat hyperbolic. But that’s what it feels like on my bad days—like today, when both my body and soul ache in equal measure.

It wasn’t always this way. I once had a career that worked pretty well for me: traveled a lot on business, loved interacting with people, received regular promotions and accolades. I once had a body that worked pretty well for me: ran marathons, hiked mountains, ate and drank whatever the hell I wanted, still looked and felt good. My mistake was holding the false notion that things would always be on the upswing, that my star would continue rising because I would continue doing what I was doing.

I didn’t plan for the possibility that I might one day get sick. Sick enough that my body would never be the same again. Sick enough that my recovery would only go so far before early-onset menopause would halt all progress and serve up a heaping helping of autoimmunity and severe osteo-arthritis with a side of cancer just to drive the point home. I didn’t understand that the medical insurance policies I used to scoff at in my younger years every time I accepted a bigger better position at a new company and went through the process of selecting my benefits package would only go so far when I actually needed them. Didn’t understand how quickly the out-of-pocket costs for every attempt I made to improve my wellness both inside and outside the standard western medicine model would add up.

When I left my last position running an international nonprofit four years ago, I thought the debilitating pain that had become a part of my everyday experience was due to being burned out, that I simply needed a few months to sleep, play, and read all those novels I’d bought but hadn’t cracked. I figured I’d rest up and refuel before finding another position that didn’t require a commute halfway across the country. But as the months—then years—passed, I realized I was getting worse, not better. The doctor visits increased, medications and treatments and surgeries were doled out, new diets and physical therapy approaches were experimented with, and I experienced a constant two steps forward, one step back. On some days, it was one step forward, two steps back.

Over the years I’ve discovered some things that work for me: sleep—and lots of it, fresh whole foods and restrictions on alcohol and crap food (mmmm, pizza), massage and other forms of body work, gentle floor-based yoga, water jogging (yes, I’ve joined those middle-aged women I used to make fun of), pain meds as needed, laughter, friends. I now celebrate when I discover something else in my body that works a little better, or hurts a little less. I measure my physical successes in the small things, like being able to get my arms high enough to put my hair in a ponytail, no longer at the mercy of a stranger in the locker room to clip it up for me.

But the woman I was, that woman who traveled incessantly, ran through airports, gave multiple speeches and media interviews in the same day, who once flew to another city in the middle of a ten-day sales conference to run a marathon—that woman is gone. Forever. As much as I want her back, I know she is never coming back. I need to mourn the loss of her—and move on.

My body will never be where it once was. I’ll never regain the stamina and physicality to run an organization or undertake the kind of whirlwind speaking tours on which I once thrived. I will likely need to work far fewer hours than I used to, stopping to lie on the floor and put my legs up the wall or take a quick nap or meditate in the middle of the day. (I can’t even imagine how much the thought of this would’ve made my skin crawl with shame in my 30s, such was my level of smugness regarding my health and go-getterness.) 

Instead of cursing the fact that I have handicapped handrails on my toilets at home and a handicapped parking placard hanging from the rearview mirror of my car, I need to see them for what they are—a gift, that tiny bit of extra help when it feels like any one of my joints could snap with the mere flick of a finger. And some days, I know, I will awaken with more physical pain than usual and will need to simply stay in bed and read a book or, better yet, sleep. Because some days, that’s what my body—very clearly—tells me I need to do. I no longer have the luxury of pushing through and paying the price later. That bill came due years ago.

And so this is where I am. My mind and soul are still strong, but they’re now traveling through life in a vehicle that was in a near-fatal pile-up and will never perform the way it once could. I am reminded of my first literal automobile accident a month after receiving my driver’s license and how the frame of the family station wagon was bent, requiring my mom to replace the car less than two months later. Until full body transplants are available, I don’t have that luxury.

But hey, I’m still here. I still have brains and know-how and plenty of life experience from which to draw. And I’m now sufficiently bored with being “a patient in recovery.” I’m so ready to get back out there, in whatever form that takes. So ready to interact with others, to solve problems that have nothing to do with my health, to create and be creative. To begin anew, even with a body that isn’t so new.

And to do that I will start where I am.

Bye, Felicia.