05 December 2012

Conversation With Ian This Morning, Causing Me to be Late for An Ear Appointment. My Ear is Progressing as Desired.

Ian (looking unaccountably excited for a Wednesday morning): “I just got an email from my dad. Can I share it?”

Me (willing to be late to find out what the excitement is all about): “Sure.”

Ian: “Okay. So when my mom’s mom passed away [25 or more years ago? Ian was a kid . . .], they told all of us kids to go through her house and if we saw anything that we liked, we should say something. So I saw this stuffed turtle, and it had marbles for eyes, and I thought it was pretty cool, so I asked for that."

Me (in my head): Hmmm! I wonder how old it is? They must have used glass for stuffed animal eyes before plastics became so popular.

Ian: “Anyway, I haven’t seen it in years and assumed it was gone, but my dad just emailed to say that, during his move, it turned up!”

Me: “Cool!” (okay . . . )

Ian: “I wonder where I’ll put it!”

Me: “Maybe it can sit on that giant green ball in the dining room, that you haven’t touched since you made me bring it back home!”

Ian: “Grrrr.  No, maybe I could take it to my office!”

Me: “The green ball, or both of them?”

Ian: “Yeah! Oh, but maybe there’s a law against that . . .”

Me: “Against having a giant ball at the office? . . . Wait a second . . . do you mean a TAXIDERMIED turtle???”

Ian: “Yes! A taxidermied turtle!”

Me: “Oh. Yes, the National Marine Fisheries Service might have rules against keeping taxidermied turtles in your office." 

27 July 2012

Testing, Testing

I found out this morning that I *will* be receiving the fancy new drug, TDM1 or, as it's recently been named in preparation for sales, Trastuzumab Emtansine, when I begin my clinical trial infusions on Thursday next week. The drug is almost ready for full FDA approval, but does not yet have it, and so my oncologist is really, really excited that I get to take it in the trial (there was a 2/3 chance in the favor of TDM1 in this randomized study. My other option would've been a Taxol-like chemo [read: pretty traditional, with hair loss and neuropathy and nausea.]). 

This drug is a new combo-drug, where Herceptin (the trastuzumab part) and a really evil chemotherapy agent (the emtansine part) are somehow connected, and infused together as one thing. The Herceptin brings the chemo to the Her2-positive metastasized cancer, and something happens at the site of the cancer and the chemo agent is released, right where it belongs.

There are supposed to be very few side effects, essentially no more than with Herceptin itself, and so it's relatively easily tolerated, as long as your heart keeps ticking along.
Yesterday I got the results from all my scans of a fortnight previous, which were as follows: 
  • MUGA (heart function): normal. 
  • CT of neck to pelvis: soft tissues normal with the exception of the lungs, which show evidence of healed trauma. Some evidence of sclerotic changes to bones, but not many. This could be arthritis, but I'm not feeling any pain in any of the places. 
  • MRI of Brain: Stable. 
  • EKG: normal. 
  • Usual blood counts: Normal. Tumor markers high. 
At this point, Dr Specht was wondering if I had enough evidence of active cancer in my body to qualify for the study, but yes, I did still qualify. And besides, my bone scan was slightly less good than my other scans, but things that had shown up before on my ribs weren't there anymore, and the other things that showed up as different in the bone scan couldn't necessarily be verified as cancer activity. 

My new schedule starts next Thursday, and is a 3-week schedule, just like the Herceptin alone was. I've already figured out how to adjust my treatment dates to accommodate travel this fall, which means that for the next few months my "every three weeks" is going to be slightly off--21 days, then 21, then 19, then 18, then 24, or something like that, so that I'll be able to fit 3 weeks in South America in to my schedule. I do hope the promise of limited side effects holds true, because for all this to work, I will be infused on my 40th birthday.

We did have a couple days of summer here . . . it's not too late . . . we may still get a couple more . . .

19 June 2012

Hoover as Wise Sage

Ian and I are both feeling better today than yesterday. In part, the huge outpouring of support from our friends and relatives, many sharing Hoover stories with us, has filled our hearts with sweetness. For another part, though, I think we’re feeling better because of some help I got from "Amelia" last night. I have named my home-processed medication Amelia because it ameliorates all sorts of cancer symptoms, and I can refer to it--her--more openly without running any risk of the wrong person hearing me, which isn't a worry of mine, but is a worry of some of the dispensaries. The laws recognizing the medical benefits of a usually illegal drug are still pretty incomplete. 

One of the things Amelia helps me do, in addition to taking away my chemo-induced anxiety and nausea, is to quiet down my left brain—the short-term memory part, which can be tiresome since I frequently can’t hold onto the thread of a story long enough to tell it—but more importantly, the judging, doubting, problem-creating part that pulls me, ever so easily, out of the moment, and creates troubles for me so subtly that I’m only now, after several months of friendship with Amelia, starting to recognize those troubles as self-created, and therefore entirely within my control. 

Anyway, as my left brain's grip on my reality lessened last night and my right brain kicked it up a notch, the thought came that, instead of seeing Hoover as something I should feel guilty about—
because I insisted we get a puppy when I knew, deep down, that my health
was failing;
because therefore Hoover had a disjointed, rootless, anxious beginning in
our family;
because he needed more exercise than either Ian or I could provide for him in
the city;
because he pissed me off every time he opened his mouth to bark hysterically
at other dogs;
because Spackle felt marginalized and reproachful—wasn’t he enough dog for
because regardless of how he appeared to adjust, I wasn’t able to give Spackle
enough attention, because Hoover demanded so much;
because I couldn’t hug and pet and cuddle them both at the same time;
because I was afraid every time we went out at Jerome Creek that Hoover would get lost in the Idaho woods and we wouldn’t know what had happened to him;
because I wouldn’t be able to save him from himself and he’d be hit by a car
on Orcas—
instead of all that guilt and anxiety that I was carrying around—which added a malignant self-destructive feeling of personal responsibility to my grief—I could see Hoover as a teacher, who was in my life only as long as he needed to be for me to learn the lessons he came to teach.

Presumably every animate thing in our lives has the potential to teach us; presumably we're learning from these things all the time, whether or not we have any awareness of it. In the case of Hoover on the land Saturday evening, less than a minute after I said to Ian "there's nothing I can do," i.e. "I cannot control this dog any more than I can control any other aspect of life, much as I might try," Hoover "coincidentally" leaped right in front of a huge van and disappeared from our lives. I had passed my class. 

EVERYTHING was set up for a quick and easy demise for that dog: our proximity to the Copse, his joyful and complete (read: reckless) abandon, the particular van driver (although Jorgen probably still mourns his role), the cleared patch of ground inside the Copse with the mossy headstone within easy reach, the pick-ax and shovel close by, and the islander to drive Ian while I stayed with the dogs. The shovel handle broke on Ian's last scoop of dirt from the hole, and we covered Hoover up by hand.

Hoover taught me about more than just the illusion of control: he taught me the necessity of making careful decisions, and listening internally to more than just egotistical desire. He taught me how my own angry outbursts--at other drivers, at recalcitrant objects, at hysterically barking dogs--affected the energy of the beings around me. He taught me that one can deeply love something that one has a lot of issues with. He taught me that pretty much everyone has redeeming features. He taught me that all I can do is live to the best of my own abilities.

That dog was a huge benefactor, and we were lucky to have him in our lives. And now, guilt assuaged, I can mourn cleanly the loss of his chin on my knee as I play the piano; the loss of his glossy, silky coat and his chinchilla-soft ears (oh, to pet those ears again! My palms ache!); the loss of my comforter in times of sadness (Spackle comforts by staying calm and collected on his bed; Hoover comforted by resting his head on my body somewhere); the enthusiastic—frequently too enthusiastic (the roof of my mouth DID NOT need to be cleaned by a dog tongue)—kisses; the clarity of his desires: to RUN! to CHASE! to CHEW! to EAT!

Hoover, as Ian says, was a bit like James Dean—beautiful, troubled, talented, loved—and he went out like a bottle rocket.


17 June 2012

Dog Gone.

We went up to Orcas Island this weekend planning to have an easy time of it. We brought along some recycled Sten (Ikea shelving that has since been replaced with the infinitely inferior Gorm), to set up in the Dacha so that we would have a place to put things other than on the floor, or on our loft bed. It was graduation weekend on Orcas on Saturday, in addition to Father’s Day Sunday, and so we were expecting a lot of traffic for the morning ferries. We left Seattle at 6am and made it to Anacortes just after the 7:35 boat had sailed; slightly too good of time. We circled back into town and had some breakfast quiche, then got in line at a more reasonable 8:45am.

Ian took the dogs out to walk on the beach; I stayed put in the warm, comfortable car.

On the island Hoover, as usual, squoke continuously from the time we left the ferry to the time we arrived on our land. As usual, he exploded out of the back of the car as we opened it, side-swiping Spackle (who was, geriatrically, trying himself to explode out of the car), and raced along the beaten-down grass we’d been driving on, heading back up toward the road. He always does this, but recently we’ve been trying to call him back to us sooner, in the hopes that he’ll respond better if he hasn’t put quite the distance between us. He circled back, we unloaded the car, and we went about our business putting up shelving and organizing the interior of our little cabin.

We had a leisurely lunch at Rose’s in Eastsound, then a lively conversation with John, the proprietor and fellow West Sounder. After a couple more errands we were back on the land, in time for a brief lie-flat on our loft bed, dogs lying below. True to form, Spackle was comfortably dozing on one of the dog beds. Hoover made himself at home on the little “sofa” I’d made for myself out of a folded camp mattress.

Close to five, we fed the dogs partial meals (they think they’re starving after 3:30pm every day. They’re fed at 6:00), and left for the West Sound Community Barbeque, a charmingly low-key and quirky event, marking the beginning of the summer season and the end of the monthly potlucks for the year.

We walked back to the Dacha a little after 7:30, and, even though we were completely worn out from our day of driving and being outside with mostly-strangers and getting very wet—either from above or from the grass we walked through—we decided to take an evening stroll with the dogs up to the north end, to look at the nut trees and just walk the land. The day, while not sunny, had been very beautiful, with mists and fogs drifting and coalescing all over the islands, shrouding familiar sights in diaphanous veils. Mournful tones from the ferries added to the atmosphere.

The dogs gulped down their second half-dinners (with a little more added because they were getting more exercise than usual), and we left for our walk. Hoover, who had had a difficult Friday in Seattle with very little attention from us and a lot of time outside in barker mode, vociferously ranting at neighbor dogs who happened by his domain, was delighted to be out and free. He tore through grass so long that we frequently lost sight of him as we trudged along, wet vegetation soaking my knees and thighs so completely that water ran down my legs and into my boots. Spackle stayed in step with us but Hoover cavorted, galloping in large loops, his location sometimes identifiable by his curved tail and a hint of sleek back, but sometimes only by the rhythmic clacking of tags. We tried to keep him around, calling occasionally or giving a whistle so that he wouldn’t forget completely that he was a domesticated dog, but aside from one brief visit when I held his collar long enough for Ian to take a picture (Hoover was sopping wet and covered with grass seed), the dog was in his own delectable world.

As we walked, Ian and I were occasionally searching the ground for tansy, checking the places he’d sprayed at Memorial Day, and in general enjoying this beautiful place, and after the pictures of the wet dog, I was briefly distracted by something, and when I thought about Hoover again, I couldn’t find him. There are deer all over the place right now on Orcas, and Hoover has always had a weakness for chasing anything that would run away from him. I thought he had probably chased a deer across the road; we were meandering up the middle of our northernmost 10 acres and I didn’t see any sign of the dog. “I think there’s nothing we can do,” I said to Ian, and he agreed. It was after 8:00pm; everything was quiet.

Suddenly I heard a car coming down the road, and I had two thoughts in quick succession: Don’t call Hoover, in case he’s gone across the road, and “HOOVER STAY!!!” with all my mental might.

And then I heard a loud WHUMP. And then I was running. Up the hill. Through the long, desperately clinging, sopping wet grass. Straight through a rose bush and up a rock embankment to our northern driveway. And onto the road. Where my puppy lay still and broken on the other side of the street.

I screamed, and screamed, and screamed as I ran to him, his body warm and soft, and his heart still beating. A car stopped, Ian and Spackle were there, a van drove up from the other direction. The driver of the van jumped out and ran over as my screams ran out, and said “OH NO! I never saw him! I thought I hit a deer!” and burst into tears.

“He’s not dead,” I wailed, “he’s not dead!” and the man sobbed “Do you want me to finish him?” and I said yes, yes, please, and he was into his van and back in seconds with a really sharp knife, and he slit Hoover’s collar and his jugular. Hoover’s heart stopped.

The first man who had stopped directed a few cars around us, then, after we were across the road and Spackle was settled with me, he drove Ian down to the Dacha to get our car and some tools. The van driver, Jorgen, about our age, helped me carry Hoover across the road while we cried together. “I’m a hunter,” said Jorgen. “But I only hunt deer! I’ve never killed anything that I didn’t mean to!”

“But you didn’t mean to kill Hoover,” I said, and it made sense at the time. Jorgen stayed with me for a little longer, and I told him how utterly joyful Hoover had been that evening, how manic, in fact, how irrepressible. I told him how much Hoover hated living in the city, how he yearned to run but couldn’t abide strange dogs, and so couldn’t run unless we were out, free, on Orcas or in Jerome Creek or Maple Valley. I told him, over and over again, how sorry I was. How this was not his fault. How sorry I was.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry! I never saw him,” said Jorgen. We hugged one final time and he left as Ian drove up.

Ian and I buried Hoover in the Copse. We carried him in and set him on the overgrown trail; it was dim inside the circle of trees and wild rose, and we wanted to get him buried before dark. A perfect place, probably cleared by the deer he’d been chasing around minutes before, presented itself to us and we dug down deep, curling our puppy into a button at the bottom and covering him with a thick blanket of dirt and a mossy rock.

Spackle, after puppyhood, became a solid, calm dog who teaches us that there’s no point in getting worked up; things will be okay.

Hoover, who at 4 ½ was still very much a fly-off-the-handle youth, nevertheless taught us to embrace life’s joys utterly.  

Rest in exultation and unbridled enthusiasm, Hoover.

Rest in your peace.

03 June 2012

Too Delectable to Keep to Myself

A sure sign that days are long and summer is approaching is the appearance, in the filtered light of the local forests, of tall canes bearing light orange-colored, blackberry-like berries. These berries, which seem to mimic another local delicacy in tint, are called salmon berries, and one can see the resemblance to fish eggs. Although they can be eaten in their light orange state, they are more enjoyed as they darken to deep red-blacks, individual seed cases rimmed with orange, giving the fruit the appearance, really close in, of molten lava. Then you start to taste the tannins and the sugars, sweet and wine-dark. Ian and I got lucky with salmon berries over at Discovery Park today, and, although I really do think these pictures need to be shared with the world (Hi, Joel!) because of how objectively beautiful they are, I will also be honest and admit that I'm thumbing my nose at you and saying "Nyaa, nyaaa!" Because, you can SEE how lucky I am!


26 April 2012


Ian shaved my head a few weeks ago, late in the evening. Although I had intended to see how it felt, I did not use the Furminator on myself before he got out the clippers, because it was that time of night when my short-term memory has left the building, and I forgot. 

Turning down the volume on short-term memory intensifies energetic and spiritual experience for me, however, and I found the whole barbering episode deeply, strangely, ritualistic. Images of young monks and memories of The Mists of Avalon cycled through my head as swath after swath of downy, silky, thin hair slipped, tickling, along my neck and onto the floor around my feet. It was surprising to be losing my hair, so late in the Gemcitabine cycle, long after I would’ve expected it to come out, but I’ve come to believe that it was a late-occurring side effect of the terrible illness of China. I felt so utterly depleted after that trip, and the continuing snow in Idaho. I could tell that I had used up all my reserves staying alive and regaining health. Hair had no place in such a strictly need-based environment.

“I really enjoyed doing the shaving,” said Ian when I told him about the ritual. “And,” he went on, “you remind me of this bald alien woman from one of the Star Trek movies.”

I burst out laughing, because really, he is such a nerd.

“No, I mean it!” protested Ian. “She was really sexy!”

And she was. 

 And so am I.

07 April 2012


This email address is supposed to allow me to post to my blog simply by sending an email. If it works from my phone, all the better!

one-fingered on my phone

06 April 2012

Unsuspected Idyll

Dogs and I were having a stroll through Woodland Park today (not the zoo part, which wouldn’t have been as calm), and came upon one of the loveliest groves I’ve seen in a while. I don’t remember ever seeing it in the park before, but by the height of the trees it’s obviously been there for some time. I’m guessing that my chance encounter today was based largely on two things: 1) the unusual nature of our walk (leisurely) and 2) the unusual nature of the afternoon sky for Seattle this spring (mostly blue, with sun and fluffy clouds). We were meandering along, sniffing at things at the ends of our leashes (the dogs) and keeping, even in relative tranquility, an eagle eye out for other park-going dogs (me), when I looked up, and down the hill from me, in a cove of dappled sunlight, were several trees at the peak of frothy, pink-kissed bloom.  

There were maybe half a dozen, 20 to 30 feet tall, interspersed irregularly over a fresh green lawn. Off down the hill behind the trees, grassy pathways curved into the shade of the evergreen stands. It was cool instead of cold in the bright air, quiet, utterly peaceful. What a perfect place for a wedding, I thought, picturing a young bride and groom shyly exchanging vows under the arching boughs. Then I amended my thought.

What a perfect place to be, I thought.

02 April 2012


I have been craving one of these fine hair-removal tools for several years now, but Seattle (read: Amazon) prices seemed high for a glorified dog brush. But then I saw one at the Potlatch Veterinary clinic when I was recently in Idaho (I was there primarily to pick up meds for the horses, NOT for Spackle, although I did pick up a flat of canned dog food for him in case his belly hadn’t adjusted well to the other food, but it had), and like other things I’ve paid for at the Potlatch Veterinary clinic, it was significantly cheaper than something purchased over here in the western half of the state.

I thought I was getting it for Spackle, whose thick Labrador undercoat sloughs out twice a year, but in the shower this morning it became clear that MY hair is shedding more than either dog’s right now, and so maybe I should try it on myself. I assume that the Gemcitabine is what is causing my current hair loss. It’s been so long since I’ve had an obviously therapy-induced spate of balding—almost 4 years—that I was no longer expecting such a thing to happen. But I’ve been on the Gemcitabine maybe 3 months now, and non-obvious thinning seems to have been replaced, all of a sudden, with serious deforestation.

My first thought when I noticed was, tellingly, not despairing, but hopeful—maybe my pate really has been thin because of the Navelbine and the Gemcitabine (a warning issued with both drugs), and maybe in a few months I will, again, have a chance to regrow everything, and it will come back in thicker!

In the meantime, I’m assessing my hats and headscarves. 

30 March 2012


Since I’ve stopped navel-gazing with I Thought I Was Done With This, I’ve had some time to get reacquainted with the larger world around me. At first, the things I noticed were still very me-centric, but recently the particularly horrifying experience of one dear friend, and recognizing the ongoing burdens of some other dear friends, have made their way into my psyche and reminded me yet again how so very lucky I am.

Take this recent experience, of my friend Carolyn in Austin (I couldn’t bear to continue reading the comments for fear of what I’d encounter, after the first poisonous tirade). Or the ongoing war that several of my friends are constantly having to fight: to be recognized and afforded with the same fundamental human rights as the “majority”.

Yes, cancer sucks, and many people die from it. But humanity—known and unknown—almost universally supports me as I navigate through this challenge, and the choices I make about how to live my life in the face of it. Certainly no one vilifies me for being myself.

And yet that happens, all over the US and beyond: my dearest friends are being treated as subhuman, as monstrous, as dangerous; or simply hated for who they are.

I’m sorry, Friends. Let me know if there is something I can do.

27 January 2012

Forty’s Lookin’ Pretty Good

I turn 40 this year. Well, in November of course, but I’ve already begun thinking about it, and what I’d like to do to embrace it. 

Last week when I became a dropout—for the first time ever in my life—I freed up not only blocks of time (no more homework!), but my whole attitude about commitment and responsibility. “Not to rain on your parade,” said Ian in bed last Monday night, as I was reveling in my new time freedom, and trying to think about ways to like my hair better, “but I think that quitting your editing course is not going to remove EVERY hint of neurosis you’ve ever had.” 

His comment made me laugh so hard that I thrust my bedside journal at him and made him write it down verbatim, which is why I was able to quote him directly with no accompanying qualification.

Here are some of the things I’ve done since freeing myself to do them: 

1.      Replace the lenses in my glasses, plus buy new ones. I haven’t been able to get a new prescription for several years now—that is, I could get a new one in my left eye, but it doesn’t seem to need it (I checked out at 20/15 at the ophthalmologist Monday afternoon), and the right eye is, well, the right eye. I have finally learned how to work around my blob of vision-central, distorting liquid—at least when I’m reading the eye chart—and so I was able to recite the letters at the 20/20 line Monday (s l o w l y), which is pretty darn good. Also, I finally, after years of pleased surprise that it hadn’t happened yet, misplaced my prescription sunnies. I suspect they’re somewhere in the Mini, but nowhere easy to find without undoing dog beds and seats and whatnot,  so, since that sounded dirty and cold, it was enough of an incentive to get back over to Eyes on Fremont and update my facial wardrobe.

2.      Get a new boob. I think I’m allowed a free replacement boob every two years. That, at least, was true of the old insurance company. I assume it’s true of the new one, but I can’t be bothered to verify. At any rate, a couple years ago I changed my eating habits. I think there were two major contributing factors, one being a comment from my friend L that she had begun eating what she wanted to eat—which in her case was a lot more fat and protein than she’d been eating and a lot less bread and carbs—not none, just whatever her body wanted. She lost a lot of weight, and gained a ton of energy, all listening to her body. I thought I like fat! I like protein! (what I really like is bacon), and so we started bringing whole milk into the house, and eating more bacon and more peanut butter (sometimes together YUM), buying primarily flourless breads, baking with more whole wheat flour, and not trying to worry down the cruciferous veg if it felt oogie. And, notably, not having chocolate root beer floats 5 times per week (and now, I actually rarely want one at all, even though SO GOOD). The second factor was the instigation of city-wide mandatory compost/yard waste pickup.  I grew up in a seriously clean-plate family and now, knowing that what I don’t feel like eating will be turned back into dirt, I’m happy (I have also learned to dish myself smaller portions). The upshot of all of this is that I’ve lost about 20 pounds in about 2 ½ years, and even though I keep expecting the weight to rush back on, it’s really not. I seem to be where I’m supposed to be, and the only part of me that hasn’t been shrinking is that one faux teton. And so now the mounds match. (Note: we do have an FSA, which is a pretty good deal.)

3.      Visit Elephant Super Car Wash. I love Elephant Super Car Wash. I even love that they’re really, really imprecise. It’s cheap, and quick, and the 4-Runner still has dog blood inside, so who am I kidding? This is not a posh car. This is a working truck, and a spit-shine is what it’s comfortable in.

4.      Donate several pounds’ worth of silver and/or novelty jewelry that I’ve collected over the last 40 years. I saved very few pieces, because for the most part, for the first time ever, I felt absolutely no tie to most of the stuff I’d been hiding in the back of the closet. A lot of it was very beautiful, or quirky, or cool—and now other people will get to appreciate it!

5.      Donate dozens of decorative boxes—also collected over 40 years—also felt no tie to virtually all of it.

6.      Clear furniture from my office (to Cousin S, so glad she could help us out!) which had been put there not because it was awesome office material, but because we didn’t have anywhere else to put it (I have an idea for a computer desk and then maybe Ian and I will build a bookshelf—I can learn some woodworking—to coordinate with the desk. For now the office is furnished with a little table where the new computer desk will go, and the sun has been peeking through the southern window, allowing me to bask in its warmth and still see my screen. This will be a good arrangement . . .).

7.      Get my cannabis tested to see what kind of oil I’ve made. Turns out very high THC, which kills cancer cells and “enhances” the patient’s perceptions of things. The guy who does the testing recommended a strain I can look for, for future batches, that will have a higher concentration of CBD, which kills cancer cells and enhances immune function of cells. That sounds less fun, but that’s okay. There are lots of other fun things to do when I’ve worn out the utility of this one.

8.      Get my hair cut, for the second time in 3 weeks, after not having it cut at all for over six months. The first haircut was to try out the new designer recommended by the peerless Theresa, and to do something, ANYTHING, with the rat’s nest on my head. Well, I didn’t like the first haircut. It was fine, the woman did a nice job, and I liked her, and she’s friends with Theresa and I think will be good for the time being. But what I asked for for that first cut was not actually what I wanted to have on my head anymore, and so I went in again this last week and had Nicole give me a real haircut—not just a trim—but a whole new style (!). It’s really the first time in my life I’ve ever actually chosen to go here—a new short cut—because the chin-length bob I acquired as a senior in college really doesn’t count. I could still use ponytail holders. I LOVE my new cut!

We were over at dinner at some friends’ house last weekend, and I was telling the story of my recent wave-upon-wave of personal enlightenment and release, and one of my friends, in actually a much meaner way than Ian, also called me out on my neuroses. “I’ve known you a long time, Calin,” she said (or something like it—no direct quotes here), “and I can say from experience that your neuroses are NOT going to be gone . . .” (or something like that). It pissed me off, but then, this friend has been known to say things, or even set them to music—not just to or about me—that have caused many, many people to be pissed off—it’s one of her charms. 

The point for me, though, is this: I’m actually not sure that Ian and this friend are that right anymore. I’ve been actively working at releasing all sorts of energy that is no longer (or wasn’t ever) doing me any good.  I agree that getting rid of one onerous responsibility doesn’t guarantee a major psychological shift. But for me, to choose to get rid of this particular onerous responsibility, was to choose something more than just dropping out of school. It was me recognizing some fundamental truths about who I am and how to best spend my time. I’ve been living toward the future for a long time now, maybe not non-stop my whole life, but for a long time; and for the first time that I can remember here, at home, in the familiarity of the lives we’ve built for ourselves, I am now completely present, the way I’m present when I travel. I have a framework of medical appointments that I’ll still be building my life around, but aside from the times I’m actively involved in all of that, it’s really not affecting me that much anymore.

I’ve worried, and supposed, and wished, and mourned; and now it’s time to have fun. 

18 January 2012


Note: this has become quite the novella, if not actually a tome. 

It’s been another epic couple months.  As you know if you’ve been keeping up on Dilettante Traveler, Ian and I went to Kenya in late November and had an utterly splendid trip. We were able to do everything we wanted to do (having decided before leaving to give Lamu, and roving Somali pirates, a miss).

I missed two editing classes while I was gone, both from the 5-week mini grammar course, and I was sorry to have done so, because I really liked the teacher, and I also really like grammar.  I still don’t know what things are called—like a predicate nominative. I have a dim idea of what that’s referring to, but I’m not positive I could identify one in the wild, and my ability to connect designations and phrase types is only going to fade over time. Still, I have a pretty good innate sense of when grammar is wrong, and class was pretty much 3 hours of word puzzles every Wednesday. Fun, right?

When I got into the editing program last fall it seemed like I was finally on track to commence the perfect career for me, and I was relieved to be starting something that was going to lead to me, finally, having an easy answer to the inevitable question: “what do you do?”

Class was a lot of work, though, and that work cut into my enjoyment of the other things in my life.  Which of the things I love am I going to have to put aside?  I thought to myself on more than one occasion. Travel? Horses? Writing for my own pleasure? 

The question of what I would have time for became more grave when we arrived back home after our trip. My mother-in-law, Janet, was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in late October or early November, and she had undergone a hysterectomy four days before we left. We had managed to see her in Bellingham the day before our trip, and she was out of the hospital and doing well. 

While we were in Kenya, though, news of complications found us. Janet’s painkillers weren’t working right, and then she developed a bladder infection and a blockage in her intestines. After one particularly raw email exchange, we pulled out our cell phone, discovered we could call the US for 10 cents/minute, and I called my sister-in-law. 

“Should we come home?” I asked from La Belle Inn in Naivasha.

“Oh, gosh, I don’t think so!” she responded with comforting assurance, and so we stayed in Africa, and loved our stay.

The day after we returned home though, 6 December, 3 weeks after her initial surgery, Janet went under the knife again, this time to deal with the intestinal blockage. She had been back into and back out of and back into the hospital in the 16 days we were away. The bladder infection had healed and the pain meds were working, but the blockage wouldn’t clear up, and finally her docs decided the best way to deal with it would be another surgery, and so they opened her up again to have a look around.

Well. Ian was in bed when I got home from class, exhausted and jet-lagged around 10pm, with a note in the kitchen to wake him up. It turns out that what was blocking Janet’s intestines was cancer, the endometrial cancer, and it had gone ballistic during the previous three weeks. It was inoperable, terminal cancer.


The surgeon patched a work-around into Janet’s bowels so that at least she could digest a little, and closed her up. Janet was given up to a month to live, and the next morning Ian’s dad and brother were with her when the doctor told her the news. I understand she took it very well, and gently teased D and N for their tears. “Oh, gosh, you don’t want to cry!” she said to them, or something like it.

Ian and I drove up to Bellingham on Thursday, 7 December, after my brain MRI and meeting with Jason (results: he was tired of watching spots slowly grow, and signed me up for more Gamma Knife). We were able to see Janet on Friday morning at the hospital and then again after she was transferred from the hospital to hospice, and seeing her, talking with her, calmed me—calmed us all—immensely. She was so interested in these last few steps along her path, so eager to experience her life down to the last sweet drops—that she took away a lot of the bitterness, a lot of the frustration, that the death of a loved one can carry. 

I left Bellingham early on Saturday morning 9 December, to return to Seattle for a required Editing Course computer day. “I’ll see you again,” I had said as I’d kissed Janet goodbye the afternoon before, already thinking that it may not be on this same plane that we’d next meet, and it won’t be. 

Janet died on Friday, 16 December 2011, around 1 in the afternoon.

I’ve included a polished version of the story that I told at her memorial service last Saturday, 14 January, at the end of this post.

And now, what do I mean by Legacy

Janet did not have a career, either soul-crushing or joy-fostering. She was avidly keen on learning about the world, though, and various aspects of it, and she used her interests and intellect to learn by doing, by building vastly disparate skills. She spent time as a vet tech at Green Lake Vet, where our dogs have been patients of her old boss. She was a drum maker, learning the techniques for hand-crafting Native American drums (minus the decorative painting, as she wasn’t Native American). She was a Hellerworker, stretching and kneading the aches and pains out of other peoples’ bodies, until she started to recognize a worsening of her own physical health. She read voraciously and widely—I can only think she must have been able to scan pages very fast. 

And she was loved, honored, admired, and respected. Ian, contrary to wishing she’d brought more money into the household, was so proud of the way she delighted in all that she did, and the stories of her life that all the Taylors shared at her memorial helped 160 people learn how to live their own lives better. 

And so, the other night when I was struggling with School (class started back up last week), and Commitment, and Responsibility to be a Contributing Member of Society, and all that, Ian—and Janet herself—helped me step back and take a look at my life a different way.

School, and class, had been bothering me in all sorts of aspects of my life. First of all, the classrooms at the UW were designed decades ago for kids with pencils and notebooks (the paper kind) and that’s it. They’re full to bursting with students and they’re populated with desks barely wider than my arm—and we’re carrying around 2 or 3 bricks of textbooks, so it’s physically uncomfortable and tedious to be squoze into these rooms. I have to leave my lovely home in the evening, in the dark, in the cold, in the wet, and I have to park and I have to walk, and so I need to navigate streets and traffic and all sorts of stuff I’m not used to doing. And my hair is thin, and I’m self-conscious about that, and the longer I sit in a classroom, the more uncomfortable I feel because I know people are noticing the back of my head and my bald spots. In day-to-day life, I don’t really care so much (I care a little, just not SO much). Also, the on-line, on-going information about the program has been poorly organized (and is full of typos and grammatical errors, and, therefore, irony), and I still don’t know if we actually have a classroom portion for spring, or if it’s just the practicum, where I spend 3 months working with an actual writer and fostering a manuscript through the entire editing process for real. And if that weren’t enough, at the end I’ll have this certificate, and then I’ll have a responsibility to go out and spend more of my time sitting alone at my computer looking to see if someone’s (likely) mediocre writing is, at least, correct. 

And, the fact that I started taking weed as a cancer therapy right around the time I began class? Probably not the most productive juxtaposition ever.  

Anyway, sometime after my weed kicked in two nights ago, I started in on my frustrations about class. Ian pointed out (for the zillionth time) that I was free to do what I wanted, which included quitting class, and, as always, he would support me completely in any choice I made. I still didn’t really get it, though, and I was still having sobbing jags when I finished brushing my teeth and made it in to bed (at, I believe, around 8:30pm.  It’s been a long, exhausting several weeks). Ian came in to make sure I was okay, and began to speak.

“Sweetie-pie,” he said, or something like it, “the most important thing to me is that you are happy. We don’t need any more money. I like my job. We don’t need you to have some job . . . “ and then Janet was in my mind, filling my mind, yelling to me “Take it!” Take Ian’s offer. Ian was offering me complete freedom, from work, from guilt, from my own self and my habits of self-sabotage. He was offering me complete freedom to do what I wanted. Not what I thought I should want because I was passably good at it. Not what I would settle on doing because I thought I might like to have more money someday. Not what I thought my mother would be most proud of. My dad floated into my conscious mind just above Janet, and reminded me that he’d died and left me an inheritance, and that I brought that to our marriage already. I didn’t owe Ian anything but my best self, and that’s all he wanted, and both Janet—who recognized and encouraged a bosom dilettante soul when she saw one—and my father, wanted to be extra clear that I understood that I owed nothing.

And I do, finally, understand. I UNDERSTAND. On several newly discovered layers of soul-depth, I finally understand that all I need to do to fulfill my purpose in this life is to do what I most want to do at any given time. And it will never be Full-Time Editor. It will likely never be Paid Editor at all—but that’s okay, because I don’t have to be anything. 


Yesterday morning, having not forgotten my stoned realizations from the previous night (I wrote several down to be sure), I called and withdrew from the Certificate Program in Editing. I then wrote to my teachers and thanked them for doing such a realistically alarming  job of describing the life of an Editor. I then made a big pot of stew, which I’ve done a lot, and then I made focaccia, which I’ve never done—and it was delicious.

I am completely thrilled with my new life. I can embrace everything that I love, and if I don’t love something, I don’t have to touch it, let alone draw it into my heart. I don’t have the words to describe how free I feel, how deeply connected to and supported by Ian, and how humbled by my good fortune. 

I turn 40 this year, and in some ways, it feels like the first year of my life. I am so happy. Thank you, Ian, thank you, Dad, and thank you so much, my role model and second mother, Janet.

My story (probably familiar) about Janet: 

Hi, I’m Calin, Ian’s wife.

With Ian came his parents, and though I was a bit taken aback when, before we’d been dating longer than a month or so, they moved into cohousing and brought me (Ian, really, but he was just renting a room in a house nearby and had no space) a ponderous rolltop desk—which could only be moved through my house (still just mine, not ours yet)—by removing the interior doors—which Dan and Janet rapidly proceeded to do without even a by-your-leave—I quickly realized that the luck I had in finding Ian extended to include his parents.

Janet and Dan were never just parents-in-law, but almost from the start were true friends, interested in joining me in some of the pursuits that I love.

Every summer for about the last decade I have gone to housesit and, more importantly, HORSE sit, for family friends in northern Idaho. These friends have three horses, and their land borders National Forest land and logging company land—land criss-crossed with hundreds of miles of maintained service roads, and logging roads in various stages of returning to nature. Some of the logging roads are lovely, wide, grassy avenues curving around wooded hillsides or valleys,  and some of them probably were like that decades ago, and now are only found through the underbrush and scrub because my favorite horse knows the way home. From anywhere out there.

I often invite friends or relatives to come visit me in this country idyll—it is a unique place, and the experience of nature can be breathtakingly beautiful, but can also just be breathtaking. I try to stick to the wider, grassier trails when I’m leading trailrides for guests, but one grassy intersection looks much like another out there, and even after 10 years I’m still getting lost. Occasionally with guests.

I quickly learned that Janet and Dan were relatives who would like to come visit.  They had spent a week at a Wyoming dude ranch some time ago, and jumped at the chance to get back on horses in the wilderness. For our first ride together, and with the help of a giant satellite photo, I planned a substantial loop trail that I expected would take us about 3 hours to complete, and would cover new territory for me as well. A neighbor, relatively new to horses, joined us on her very young, pretty palomino. Dogs ranged back and forth into the trees and up and down the trails, occasionally falling panting into step just under a horsetail, then catching their breaths and taking off exploring again. Dogs, people, horses, it’s heaven for us all out there.

Leading this ride was like chaperoning a group of seventh graders. Every time I blinked, they were taking off at a gallop, none of the three of them (the neighbor was a recent transplant) with any idea where they were going or what kinds of complications they may encounter on the trail ahead.

I, too, however, didn’t really know where I was, and our ride ended up hours and miles longer than we had intended. We finally found the right road when I told Dan to let his horse, Shadow—my favorite—have her head at the next crossroads. It was 10:00 o’clock at night by the time we ate dinner—Taylors eating four hours past their feeding time—and yet they came back to Idaho, time and again, and got lost with me at least as many times as we stayed found.

Some summer later, one of the horses was out of commission, so I went out on two rides with the inlaws during their short visit, with Dan in the morning and Janet in the afternoon. 

“Who’s liable if one of us falls off and gets hurt?” Dan asked me from Shadow during the morning ride.  “Is it you? Is it your friends?”

“Geez, Dan,” I said. I was riding Sikem, who is the one male in the small herd and tends to be jumpier than the others. He’s the sentinel, making sure danger  doesn’t sneak up on anyone. “Well, I wouldn’t want to put liability on my friends, so I guess I would be, if you really wanted to go after someone. But don’t even think about it. No one is falling off any horses, no one is getting hurt, and certainly no one is going to sue anyone.”

Later that afternoon, I was out with Janet on a trail that I love. It’s along a little draw called Lost Creek, and the long, virtually flat trail is of the grassiest sort. The trail runs along one side of a gully filled with interesting trees—no monoculture there—and then back along the other side. There is a slight decline on the way out, and a slight incline on the way back—perfect for a meander out and a gallop—organized, discussed, planned for and then executed—on the way back. 

On our way out, Janet asked a question. “What do the horses do,” she asked, “when you fall off out here in the middle of nowhere? Do they wait for you to get back on, or do they just go home? Because if they just go home, I’ll never find my way back.”

Interesting, I thought, that both of my inlaws, on the same day, are suddenly giving me the third degree about falling off. “Honestly, I’m not positive,” I said,  “but I think the horses wouldn’t go far. They know you’re supposed to be on top when we’re out here in the woods.”

On the way up the other side, the foreshadowing came true. We had discussed and decided to have a bit of a gallop—controlled, so I let Janet and Shadow go ahead and kept Sikem well back, so as not to let the two mounts think they were going to have a race. Everything was fine, then all of a sudden, Janet tipped over to the left and off her horse.

I had just a split second to note, horrified, that my 60-year-old mother-in-law was not on her horse, who had continued around the corner, before I was on the ground as well. My horse, who evidently assumed that, since Janet had come off she must have been yanked off by something evil in the woods, decided to save his own skin and stopped short. From a gallop. I somersaulted over his head in a perfect arc and landed hard on my bum, biting my tongue in the process. Oh no, I thought as blood filled my mouth. I’ve bitten my tongue in two. I heard Janet moaning though, “HUHHNG HUHHNG HUHHNG” and I yelled “Janet! Are you okay?” my tongue is whole, I thought.

“Yes,” she said between moans.

“Okay, don’t move. I’m going to get Sikem and I’ll be right over.” I turned my jittery self away to see my jittery horse snorting at me from a few yards distant. I pulled a handful of grass and started forward, only to be arrested by Janet’s sudden silence. Oh my god, I thought, she’s dead. We were about 3 miles from home. Which was 40 miles from a regional hospital.

“Janet!” I yelled, turning back. “Are you okay!”

“Yes,” she responded, “I am.”

Sikem let me catch him and I led him over to Janet to assess her state. Shadow was nowhere to be seen.

“I’m sorry about the moaning,” Janet said. “It just felt so good to do it, but then I thought maybe it was scaring you, so I stopped.”

“Nope,” I said, “when you stopped I thought you’d had a seizure or died or something. The silence was NOT better. Where are you hurt?”

“Here,” she said, “in these big muscles,” and patted herself on the side of her rump.

“Does your back or neck hurt?”


“Can you stand?”

“I don’t want to yet, but I think I’ll be able to.”

“Okay, then, you rest a minute longer, and I’m going to look around this corner and see if Shadow decided to stick around.”

“Do you want me to hold your horse while you look?” asked the woman lying in a heap on the ground.

“No, that’s okay, I’ve got him,” I said. “You just catch your breath. You don’t need to worry about being stepped on along with everything else.”

Sure enough, Shadow was grazing right around the corner, unconcerned, her saddle swiveled 90 degrees around to her port side. She stood calmly while I approached her with Sikem, and was only slightly reluctant to be taken away from her snack.

Back around the corner, Janet had sat up and was taking stock of herself.

“Do you think you can get back on?” I asked “It’s a long walk if you can’t, and I’m pretty sure the dogs won’t go get help, nor will they stay with you if I go to get help.”

“I can get back on,” she said, and creaked to her feet.

I adjusted the saddle and tightened it—Shadow is notoriously plush and has no withers to speak of—the part of the horse that helps hold saddles on.  We remounted gingerly (strangely, my tailbone didn’t hurt until about 3 months later, and then it took me more than a year to stop feeling it) and headed back toward home, Janet continuing in front (Shadow likes to be in front). Near the end of the Lost Creek draw Janet and Shadow broke back into a gallop and we hurried to catch up; I guess that was more Shadow than Janet, but Janet held on and stayed on.

And the next summer she and Dan came back, and we got lost again.

The next day Janet was sore, and I think it did take some time and some bodywork and probably some medication before she really felt truly healed, but she was—for real, and that is the thing about her that was so cool to watch for me—excited about having had a fall far from anywhere—and survived it.

“You fear these things,” she said, or something like it. “You build up the awfulness of these events in your head, and you hope you never experience one, then you do, and you survive, and you’re FINE, and it’s so cool to know that you can! Boy will I have a story to tell at cohousing!”

The experience didn’t change her trust in me or in horses or in herself—she didn’t think “maybe I shouldn’t get on a horse again, maybe I’m too old.” She thought, “Yep, yet another awesome thing I’ve done.”

A woman to emulate. And a friend to miss.