March 2011

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Detail from Klimt's "Sleeping Woman"

I think my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays is Hamlet. I love the young emo-lad, disheveled by angst. I love Ophelia, the scorned lover who spouts gorgeously befuddling poetry before she descends into madness and floats beautifully downstream to her death, flowers tangled in her hair.

The play, brimming with gratuitous drama, is full of itself to such a perfectly Shakespearean degree. The fact that the play runs FOUR HOURS is itself a celebration of indulgence.

What’s not to love about Hamlet, feast of maudlin navel-gazing that it is?

T.S. Eliot, 19th century literary critic and curmudgeon extraordinaire, hated Hamlet. He called the play an “artistic failure” because it lacks “objective correlative.” Hamlet’s overwrought despair, Eliot felt, was not supported by the play itself, the other characters, or their circumstances.

T.S. Eliot. Maybe he was just envious of Shakespeare. Eliot's work didn't get the ladies (or men) the way Shakespeare's did.

I’ve always disagreed with Eliot on this point. There is a strong objective correlative in Hamlet, and it’s this: the guy desperately wants to sleep. He mentions it throughout the play, and when he dies at the end, finally descending into the rest he desires, his BFF, Horatio sighs with relief, “Goodnight, sweet Prince.”

The makers of Nightmare on Elm Street are with me on this one. The writers reference Hamlet throughout the film to parallel its tormented teens’ sleep deprivation.

I wouldn’t say I’m as distraught or sleep-deprived as Hamlet or Freddie Krueger’s prey, but I can say I empathize with them.

The ONE thing I can do to help my waning white cell count is to sleep during the day. Easier said than done, I find. Some people have no problem napping.

How do you all do it?

Sleep eludes me while the sun is up. I can turn off Bravo or put my book down or stash the iPhone (really, I can) but I just can’t fall all the way asleep, try as I might.

I need to start catching some daytime zzzz, but I’m as wakeful as the Prince of Denmark. So if you have any ideas, please share.

Meanwhile, I guess I could put down the iPhone right now and take this opportunity in the chemo chair to snooze while the Taxol is flowing.

Nighty night,


My first music-memory is of being three, soaring on my swing set, singing “The Candy Man.” I can still see the tips of my toes peeking out of white strappy sandals, just skimming the tops of the sunlit trees of our garden in Woodland Hills.

“Who can take tomorrow…dip it in a dream…”

That garden felt like Eden: pomegranate trees, orange trees, plum trees, lemon trees.  And then there were the roses and the radishes, the swimming pool and the apricots, the blackberries and the raspberries, the avocados.

“He mixes it with love and makes the world taste good…”

My mom still says that the squeak that swing made as I flew back and forth across her kitchen window was music to her ears. I know what she means. The thought of that sound, the swing’s squeak, brings back a lot, even now. It fills me with the dewy calmness of the garden and the innocence of being three and swinging on a summer morning. It’s hard to get back to that feeling sometimes, in the life that leads me now.

When I lived in San Francisco in 1991, a friend invited me go see an English band called James perform in Union Square.  It was to be their first U.S. performance. But it was a cold and rainy Saturday, and I wanted to stay home. Thank God I changed my mind.

I was 22, at the beginning of my life in many ways, at the center of the most beautiful city in the world, huddled with an eager crowd underneath heavy clouds threatening to open up on us. It seemed like the show might not happen. But then the jangly guitars started, drawing us closer. And when the band’s front man Tim Booth began to sing, I was transfixed. By his voice, by his presence, at once, wild and still.

I pushed myself to the front of the crowd, leaving my friends behind. The rain had started, and I could see that the show’s concerned producers were about to pull the plug. I dug my camera out of my bag and started snapping photos. I wanted something to remember this moment by because I knew it was going to end soon. The rain fell harder and people in STAFF jackets drew their hands across their throats. Cut’em off. The crowd booed. No one wanted the show to be over before it had even started.

Tim Booth, seemingly unaware of what was going on around him, (though actually as aware as a tiger trying not to be caged) climbed a tower of unsecured amplifiers. Now the STAFF, who had been eager to stop the show, was focused on trying to keep Mr. Booth from falling to his death.

In a wool coat too big for his boyish frame and with a mop of curly hair moving too quickly to get wet, the singer began to dance on those unsecured speakers, in the rain, attuned to nothing but the sound and the energy of the crowd.

There is a sacred space that Tim Booth enters when he performs. If you look closely, you see a man completely present with his vulnerability, his heart wide open, and at the same time connected to the vast and unpredictable energy of the wild crowd that he holds in the palm of his hand.

On October 1, 2008, I attended my first James concert in about fifteen years. For months, I had been so sick, with what, I didn’t know. My belly was swollen, and I ached all over. I pushed forward to get as close as I could to the stage and to let the waterfall of sound wash over me, just as I had that day in Union Square. I couldn’t feel my pain in that moment. There was only the sound and the voice.

Six weeks after the concert, I found out I had cancer. And as you know, it’s the love of my husband and my son and my friends and family that gets me through this fight. I write about that all the time. But I keep some of my secrets to myself.

This is me sharing one of those secrets with you: Tim Booth’s voice.

When things are at their hardest, I have to disconnect completely from my body in order not to feel as though it is about to drag me right out of this life. In those moments, I can put in my ear buds, and when I hear Tim Booth’s voice, a tiny flame is lit somewhere underneath the disease, beyond my body. And the flame grows into a fire. And just the sound of his voice, just the depth and clarity and heartfelt grace of it awakens my will and strength and allows me to go back into my body with ease and joy.

And after a bit, I return to that place where I can hear the squeak of the swing, and I can see my toes in white sandals again. And they are tickling the sunlit trees behind them, and I am singing, “He mixes it with love and makes the world taste good…”

I’ve been wanting to write a post about Tim Booth for a while. I found out recently that he has a new solo album coming out on April 4th. Appropriately, for me, it’s called Love Life.

With the arrival of spring and the news that my new chemo regimen is WORKING, the new album is a gift, a soundtrack for the good, sweet times to come.




Photo Credit

This morning, I had to peel myself off of the Sunday-morning snuggle pile. Dennis, Little J, the intrepid Virgil, who spent most of the night braving the Sugartown storm, and I, cuddled while Little J read to us and we discussed our favorite dinosaurs.

In spite of the soaring cozy-factor inside, and in spite of the relentless rain outside, I really wanted to go to church.

I explained to Little J in terms that I knew he would understand: just like Ang, the Last Airbender, who meditates in order to connect to the spirit world, mama likes to go to church to connect to spirit and to say thank you for all that we have (especially our recent good news).

And just like my mom explained to me when I was Little J’s age, you don’t need to go to church to connect to spirit. It’s up to each of us to find our own way to align with the sacred in life. Dennis gardens and plays music. Mama meditates, cooks, does yoga, and sometimes goes to church.

“And you’ll find your own way, too,” I told him as I dashed out.

As the Jetta splashed down the swampy freeway, windshield-wipers all frenzied and ineffectual, I realized that Little J had, in a way, already been to church this weekend. On Friday night. I didn’t really have the words to explain this, even to myself, as I was thinking it.

But when I arrived at church, to my astonishment, Rev. Bill said it for me.

I sat down in the back row just as the Reverend explained that the people of the  early 100′s A.D. knew that spirit resided within each of them. The idea of “going to church” was the same as simply “showing up” in the community with an open heart. In fact, the original meaning of Ecclesia was basically, gathering. Add the sharing of bread and wine, and you have the Love Feast or the Agape Feast. Later, this idea “evolved” to congregating in an actual site called a church and taking communion.

I thought of Little J, how ecstatically he dashed around Heather’s house on Friday night, bright red cheeks and toussled hair. He, Nafe, and Princess M ran wild well past their bedtimes, their excitement igniting in brilliant flashes of lightning behind stormy clouds outside.

We’d all gathered to see Nafe perform in the local school’s musical play. Afterward, the adults gathered in the kitchen and shared wine, Trader Joe’s delectable hors d’ oeuvres, and lots of heart-felt laughter. Heather, always the animated hostess, regaled us with the Tale of the Man from Capri, Debbie slayed us with her Bostonian one-liners, and my face ached from laughing so hard. Wine, check. Bread, check. Open hearts and communal connection, enormous check.

It’s not just me who feels the sacredness imbued in these spontaneous heartfelt gatherings.

Rev. Bill quoted Lewis Mumford who said:

Above all we need, particularly as children, the reassuring presence of a visible community, an intimate group that enfolds us with understanding and love.

It was all we could do to tear Little J away before he collapsed in dazed, fun-filled exhaustion. Cozy in his hand-knit sweater and already half-way to dreaming, he rode in his dad’s arms across the street to his bed.

Today I had confirmed for me one of my deepest beliefs. Spirit, the sacred, God, whatever you want to call it, is love. It glows from within, and we draw it from the people around us. And there is a place we can go when we want to be reminded of that. Inward.



Painting credit

When my mom was here last week, we had to take a few trips to Cancer Central for Nupogen shots. While we were there, we ran into my friend Mandy.

She’s been doing chemo for a long time now for the OC. She’s on the MORAB-003 trial now, though, and doing well. In fact, some of the most persistent tumors (like the one on her liver) have disappeared altogether.

I was so happy to hear Mandy’s great news, especially in front of my mom. I can tell my family all day long that MORAB-003 is resulting in miracles for some women, but for my mom to hear it out of Mandy’s mouth, and to see the joy on her face: priceless.

On the way home, my mom, the eternal optimist that she is, said she felt it was serendipitous that we ran into Mandy, a sign that we were going to find out soon that MORAB-003 was working for me, too. We’ve been waiting patiently, you see. They test the CA-125 tumor marker at the beginning of the trial, then again, after four doses.

Well, mom was right. As usual. We found out this morning that my CA-125 had reached 756 when I started the trial, and after four mini-doses of taxol (and maybe the study drug), the number is now down to 110!


I mean, Hallelujah!

I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that this very doable “lifestyle” chemo regimen is working for me. When it does, I might explode. Or cry. Or it might just be that we’ve been on this roller coaster for so long now that my reaction will be to simply be thankful and carry on.

It’s storming here in Sugartown today. Big fat raindrops pelt the daffodils. But this year, their stems are so robust that their bright yellow heads don’t even sag in the downpour. Maybe each year that they return, the daffodils grow stronger, more resilient. They just stand out there in the rain in their quiet glory.



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Dennis’s flight took off from Shanghai about twenty minutes after the earthquake hit Japan, just as he was flying over, looking down at the shaking land mass and thinking to himself that it was strange that he was leaning to see the land below, to study the outline and form of Japan, as he’s normally not a window-looker-outer. He didn’t see the country moving. It was my first question, too.

Then he flew home, only slightly ahead of the tsunamis. With a one hundred mph tailwind, he landed one hour ahead of schedule, just as the first waves were hitting Hawaii and just as Little J crawled into my bed and asked, “When is Daddy getting home?”

I was bleary-eyed, having woken up with a start at 5:30 a.m., which is when the tsunami alarms had begun to blare in San Francisco. Unable to go back to sleep and sure that there was something wrong somewhere, I checked CNN, then lay in bed with a breaking heart knowing that the initial death toll of 52 would begin to swell as fast as the waves heading toward the Pacific coast line.

Several hours later, with Dennis safely landed, with Little J and Virgil cuddled up with me, and with my mom on hand with tea and sympathy, we began to thank our lucky stars and send extra love and strength across the ocean.

When Dennis arrived home, I could see in his weary eyes that, while he and his body had arrived, his spirit and energy were still winging their way toward home.

We regaled him with stories of the fun we had while he was away: the long-awaited trip to Chuck E. Cheese, the new shoes and toys, the snuggling and reading with Grandma.

Now that he was back, we would have a weekend of extra cuddling, of sending our thoughts of peace and fortitude to the brave people facing the rising waters and leaking radiation. If smiles and love could help them, Little J would be his own Red Cross.


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This is what the after-dinner cuddle looked like last night. It was Dennis’s last supper at home before leaving for his annual China trip. We ate a roast, sipped wine, and talked Virgil into believing that all would be fine with his Daddy away.

Dennis has only been gone since 7:20 this morning, but I miss him already. The first few days after he departs are always the hardest. A little off-kilter, I don’t sleep as soundly, and I wear an extra sweater around the house because I know that warm hugs aren’t coming through the door any time soon.

Little J and I are excited though too. First of all, Auntie Mari is coming to stay.  Second, the long-awaited Chuck E. Cheese trip is coming up. And finally, Grandma will be here. For Little J, this means brand new sneakers and many other treats. For me, it means good food, deep sleep, and sharing a quilt for an old movie or two.

This China trip is shorter than most, so it shouldn’t be as hard. But when you land and read this baby, please know that we already miss you dearly. It’s about to start raining, and we’re hoping the new blossoms will hang onto their branches until you’re back.



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