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Thoughts on the June 5 regression.

June/July 2020

In my previous blog “ Being Transparent,” I explain my motivation to share my cancer story and how I came to be involved in QHHT or Quantum Healing Hypnosis Therapy.  

Here is the part that many people are curious about:  what was my past life?  To back up, I believe that people have had many past lives.  I’m not completely new to past life hypnosis, and I wrote about my other past life regression experience 7 or 8 years ago on this blog.  That time I saw my life unfold as a British sea captain around the beginning of the 19th century.   After several false career starts, I captained a British East India vessel and due to bad luck more than anything else, my ship sank and I lost a full cargo of imported goods and was haunted by sense of failure and never being good enough.  At the time, it was a useful life to see because it answered questions in my current life of why I had so much masculine energy, why I felt so at home with British history, and my lifelong feeling of insecurity, fear of failure and criticism.  John Eakins was his name, and he was essentially a good but weak man. Seeing him felt familiar and unsurprising, like I knew he would be there waiting for me.  Walking around in boots and a three cornered hat felt as natural as putting on shorts and a t-shirt in this lifetime. That was not a QHHT session, though, and even though it was helpful it wasn’t aimed at healing my body and spirit.  

As I mentioned in Transparent, the most recent June 5 session took place in the Florida Keys with a level 3 QHHT practitioner and teacher, Sarah Breskman.  She works out of her waterfront home on Big Pine Key.  When Michelle and I drove there, we passed her street and had to turn around.  A large key deer walked straight at our car,  curiously and purposefully.  Deer are my Native American Spirit animal, and I’d never seen a Key Deer, believe it or not.  Michelle and I are pretty attuned to coincidence, so we took this sighting to be a good omen.  When we got to Sarah’s house, she came out to greet us and asked, “Did you see a deer?”  They’re all over the neighborhood.”  I still chose to think of it as a happy, fortuitous thing to see, even though it is apparently commonplace.

Hypnotherapist Sarah, after discussing for two hours my goals for the session, questions, issues, and outline of my life and childhood, readied me for hypnosis in a comfortable, soft chair with a commanding view of the waterways.  After I closed my eyes, she gently guided me to picture a beautiful place, which was very like the land from my previous regression:  I pictured a green field abruptly breaking off in a cliff high above a sea, something you might see in Cornwall, England, or Ireland. Following Sarah’s prompts, I visualized myself hovering on a cloud over this ideal peace landscape, then allowed my cloud to take me into another space.  Before Sarah even finished her prompts, I saw a barren, arid desert loom up under the cloud.  When I “landed” and entered that space, all I could see was tan, hard packed sand with small rocks, very few tufts of vegetation, a mountain range in the far distance,  small clumps of animal bones here and there, and relentless, punishing heat.  I have no idea of what time period this was or where it was, but way earlier than anything I’d anticipated.

I felt like a man, and I caught sight of my own hairy legs underneath a robe fastened with a hemp like belt.  I had on low boots made out of animal skin, but I felt like my normal footwear would be sandals — I only had boots because I faced the wilderness and possibly a very long walk.  There was a sense of being alone and abandoned, and I knew I would never walk out of that landscape alive.  I had no food or water.  Part of my robe was torn and fashioned into a head covering.  I was older, balding and the heat was fierce.  I would describe my mindset as distressed but resigned rather than panic stricken.  

I have to stress that there is nothing threatening or scary about this process.  Have you ever been super relaxed, hanging out with a friend and lounging on a sofa, just chatting as you hover between waking and a nap?  This is how it was.  You are there and ready to be fully awake, even to comment on what your mind sees, but just relaxed enough to receive random associations and thoughts.

The first reaction from my outside, conscious-waking-Mimi-mind was one of boredom and disappointment.  Secretly, I’d hoped to see a more recent incarnation and wanted to move into the 19th century or preferably the 20th century to access an interesting, probably naughty life.  Maybe a wealthy flapper who disgraced herself by running off with an impoverished jazz musician, or a World War II Spitfire pilot who left a trail of depravity and broken hearts on the ground between missions, before he was killed in action.  But this place?  I had no idea what time period or where this was, and even my recent Bible studies did not predispose me to any kind of life in Egypt or Canaan or Babylon.  Too early, too uninteresting, as far as I was concerned. 

Now here I am in this lifetime staggering around in a hot, ugly place wearing something that looked like a burlap sack.  Really?  But I wasn’t seeing anything else, so I had to roll with it. 

Sarah asked how I came to be in that situation, if I could back up and explain where I came from.  A picture of an earth packed hut came into focus, part of a cluster of huts that belonged to a community of people that were partly nomadic, grew very few crops, hunted for food.  It was a hard life, the search for water was ongoing, and the heat ruled our days but the nights got cold.  My father was a tribal herbalist, I used the word apothecary to described what he did, although this would not have been the word the tribe used. Tufts of herbs hung from the ceiling of our hut.  My mother was busy all day with basic needs of food preparation, gathering food and water, and caring for me and my younger brother.  My younger brother didn’t survive long; he was trampled by large animals, I think oxen, and I saw his body broken up and my mother wailing, unintelligible with grief.  He was buried under rocks and guard was placed to keep scavenging animals away. 

After this, my father buried himself in work and my mother was not able to function some days.  As I put it, “She was what you would now called depressed.”  They withdrew from social life and each other and I grew up, withdrawing into myself.  At about 12, I began to experience either visions or voices and I tried to tell my father but he didn’t want to know about it. 

When I was 19 or 20, a splinter group of younger men and women set off to form their own community and search for better, more hospitable land.  I went with them.  Armed with my father’s herbal healing knowledge, I served as  tribal or community healer and sometimes counselor and spiritual advisor.  After a long journey, we found and settled a slightly lusher land with a water source and actual caves for shade.  For many years, it seemed like the proverbial land of milk and honey and we contentedly worked and hunted this land.  In terms of physical demands, this was as grueling as our parents’ lives.  It was a hardscrabble existence.  Happily single, I did not desire a marriage and children that could potentially replicate what I’d experienced growing up, a death of a child and descent into despair.  Also, I knew that my cerebral life took precedence over my bodily, worldly needs to reproduce and raise a family.  At some point, my ability to see and hear messages from some kind of spirit voice increased.  I was utterly convinced that these messages would offer people some form of salvation,  save people from despair, and would also give logistical, practical ways to improve our community life — such as promptings to travel to other places.  I referred to myself as a “seer.” 

At first, I attempted to share my convictions with the community. I wanted to gather as many people as I could at one time, so I didn’t have to repeat myself.  I was spending more and more time in my caves, meditating and receiving visions and messages.  The men and women around me were somewhat tolerant but they began to resent the amount of time I spent in isolation, not being available to help with daily tasks and medical needs. 

Sensing the need for a more receptive audience, I requested a few oxen and a couple of companions to accompany me on what must have been a mission or preaching journey.  Nobody wanted to go and nobody could be spared.  As I’ve said, this landscape was brutal and it was not a place you’d travel alone, so I abandoned that plan and retreated into the meditative, visionary shadow of my cave.  I’d begun to question my own sanity. 

At some critical point, I found a pack or “scroll” of writings that were hidden — or they just appeared — in the cave network.  I’d picked up reading and writing from my father because I was able to read or at least figure out these written scrolls.  The most exciting part was that they reinforced my messages, they gave credibility to the visions I’d been having for years that weren’t taken seriously.  The scrolls themselves were brittle and crumbling and I fiercely guarded them.  I committed as much to memory as I could and spoke of them to whoever would listen. 

This had been going on for about 15 years, say about from age 55 to 70, which is pretty ripe old age for the time period it seemed to be.  (The more I think about it, the more it seems likely B.C.)  Either suddenly — or gradually? — not sure — my spoken word preaching and storytelling seemed to be heretical to whatever accepted ethical and spiritual beliefs the community upheld.  I was old, expendable, irritating, and my community, now run by my tribesmen’s children, had had enough of my abstract pontificating. 

A couple of young strong men carted me or walked me out into the wilderness and left me to die.  This was their way, to not kill somebody outright but to abandon them to certain death through heat exposure, lack of food and water.  I felt very disappointed and angry that nobody listened to me in this life and somewhat regretful that I hadn’t had enough courage to break free on my own and to brave the elements when I was young enough to travel, trusting in whatever spirit I’d discovered to help me survive.   As that life came to an end, I lifted out of my body and saw myself facedown in the rocky dirt, knowing that other people would have the same visions and that the word would be carried on, and I could depart in peace.  A shaft of light came to collect me and I felt not rapturous joy, just a calm sense that I’d done about as much as I could and that now I could rest. 

That was the only life I saw that day in my QHHT session.  Soon, Sarah gently prompted me to my Subconscious mind and proceeded to ask the questions we’d reviewed together.  This is when I revealed the purpose, message, and healing possibilities outlined in my previous post “Being Transparent.”  

I could have accessed any number of lives, I believe, but I saw the one I need to see now.  It is my origin story as a spiritual believer, perhaps as a Christian. It is also the original source of my fear of abandonment. 

As I thought about it over the next few days, the experience gave me confidence.  In this life, I could experience messages and miracles outside the natural world.  This is entirely due to the happenstance of grace from God, and I think anybody can access this if they are so inclined, ready and willing.  If I could do it in that life, I can do it in this one, too. 

The feeling of abandonment, and the frustration of not being listened to, is an umbrella term under which I can place anger, resentment, insecurity, insignificance, fear of failure, and the constant search for fulfillment in human relationships that has haunted me, apparently, for over a thousand years. My Subconscious said that my liver tumor is the dumping ground for all this emotion, and I have decided in this incarnation to stop the buck and heal it.

It took a few days to connect the dots, and I listened to the recording of my session to pick out details that I didn’t retain the first time.  I recalled most of what happened upon “waking,” however, and I hurried to scribble it down in a journal as soon as I told Michelle what I’d seen.  The week after the session, parts of the Bible I hadn’t yet read before popped up in sermons and remarks during the ensuing week, like the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel.  

     “The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.”  (Ezekiel 37:1-2 NIV)

I am not saying that I lived in the time of Ezekiel, but I did have an existence where spiritual questioning was my function, and as I experience my own brush with the dry bones of disease and mortality in this lifetime, it is important to understand the promise of healing and everlasting life that passage from scripture reveals. 

The day of the session, however, I didn’t feel any particular joy or healing. More like a lifting, a hopefulness, a sense of understanding, but not cartwheeling joy.  I wondered where the healing miracle was, when the healing would happen.  Even though I’d said six months, there was a more honest part of me that wanted it now, now, now.  I’m tired of walking around at 95 lbs looking  sickly and feeling like a junior alien in a borrowed human skin. I felt detached, a bit in la-la land. I was still downloading all the information I’d received from my past life and my Subconscious.

Michelle collected me from the appointment, and although she’d prepped a cooler full of vegan, organic meals so we wouldn’t have to expose ourselves and my compromised immune system to restaurants.  Despite our best intentions, we celebrated my session by going off grid and sat outside at The Cracked Conch, for the best cracked conch I’ve had since I was a kid visiting the Abaco Islands.  (To clarify, I am only an aspirational vegan but will happily let one cook for me any time.  Michelle is a true vegan, and she indulged herself with French fries, something she hardly ever does.)  We were both wiped out and I was giving her the debrief of my session.  Privately I was asking myself, “where’s the miracle?  Where’s the healing?” After our decadent meal she drove us to a pretty waterfront park she’d found.  It wasn’t super crowded on the beach and people were keeping safe social distance.  This was between the first and second Covid spikes, the illusory lull we had for about a month before things skyrocketed in Florida and all over the country.

Now,  I asked my dad soon before he died if he would visit me from Heaven or the afterlife, or his spirit world, if he had the ability to do that kind of thing.  “I sure will,” he said.  “Sugar, I sure will do that.”  I never expected much.   How do I know what happens after death?  He could be very busy.  He could be visiting all his old sailing spots in the Abacos. He could be very tired and resting, he could be talking to God, he could be done and over with the cast of characters that he knew on earth.

Michelle and I walked toward the beach and I heard a snuffing and wheezing behind me, a sound that only some people would recognize.  Anybody who knows me knows I love bulldogs.  I’ve had half a dozen of these slobbery land manatees, and my current bulldog Clyde is a constant source of hardheaded entertainment.  So I swung around, fully expecting and recognizing the low slung, snorting creature that followed me.   Covid restrictions forgotten,  I kneeled down to pet it, not even asking the owner for permission.  Luckily, the dog was friendly and so was the woman walking him. We chatted for a few minutes about bulldogs in general and I said, “So, thanks for letting me pet this handsome boy.  How old is he?”  She said, “He’s a rescue, he’s three years old, and his name is Charlie.”  

For those of you who don’t know, my dad’s name was Charlie.  Almost every other bulldog I meet is named Winston or Spike.  I did meet one bulldog outside the cancer clinic the day I got my Stage 4 terminal diagnoses, and his name was Romeo.  I needed some love that day, believe me.  You may roll your eyes at my giving supernatural weight to the latest bulldog sighting on the beach, but I cried with gratitude and belief when I met Charlie.  “Thank you, Daddy and thank you, God,” I said.  “I heard that loud and clear.”  On that day, in that minute, it was all the miracle I needed. 

I should end here, but I feel the need to say more.  While waiting for a major miracle, revelation, or recovery, don’t ignore the small stuff.  It may take the form of a billboard advertisement exhorting you to buy beer and  “Stay thirsty,” and you just somehow know it’s talking about the state of your parched soul.  Maybe it’s a slobbery dog, a bird, a cat, a penny that you know is a sign of comfort from a place we can’t see. One of my friends finds pennies on her doorstep, on her dashboard when there wasn’t one before, and she knows they are signs from her beloved coin collecting mom who ascended several years ago.

More and more, I’m trading my superstitions in for the conviction that our loved ones can act in cahoots with and through the spirit of God. He wants us to see and be comforted by these little signs.  If we’re not really ready for direct God messages, then we get sweet little tokens that look like care packages from people we love.

Life is too short and fleeting to dismiss these things as silly.  I tell a lot of people nowadays that I’m ready for the arrival of Jesus and the end of our earth as we know it.  I can picture the sky opening up over the Indian River.  Once I determine it’s not an alien invasion or a nuclear catastrophe, I will be jumping up and down yelling “Jesus, Jesus, here I am! Take me with you!” like a girl screaming at a Beatles concert.  To my mind, this beats wasting away from cancer any day. But in case this major event doesn’t take place in my lifetime, I choose to live with hope that I will live to serve,  and I try to embrace everyday wonders, small and large.

In the Bible, the prophet Elijah persisted in waiting for signs of rain, waited and prayed through uncertainty, confident that a little cloud over the water would grown into a downpour and end a major drought.  He went to the top of Mount Carmel and bent down to the ground in supplication.  While he prayed, he sent his servant seven time to look toward the sea for signs of rain.  That’s six times he got hopeless answers. 

The seventh time the servant reported, A cloud as small as a mans hand is rising from the sea.” So Elijah said, Go and tell Ahab, Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”  (1 Kings 18:44 NIV)

Elijah was a major prophet and miracle worker, and he was used to receiving direct God messages, but still he felt humble and probably anxious as he asked, again and again, before the little cloud no larger than a hand became a deluge.

The rest of us are probably less secure than Elijah and we just wonder if pennies,  unexpected dogs, billboards and gentle promptings in the backs of our minds could be the voice of God.  I hope that those will turn out to be real manifestations of change in our lives.  In the meantime, we watch for those little clouds and confidently trust that they will become thunderheads. 

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Being Transparent

June/July 2020

So many friends and loved ones ask how I’m doing, specifically meaning how I’m doing with my cancer journey, how I’m feeling, what’s going on medically.  Some know that I’m in a huge spiritual transformation and want to know how that’s going, too.  Every man, woman, and child should be showered with this kind of loving care. I prefer one-on-one conversation, but if I give updates to everyone who asks, I’ll be on the phone or texting all day long and into the night.  Generally my energy is good but I’m exhausted after having conversations with 3-4 people.

Also, I’m a bit of a control freak and fairly private.  I like to control my image, my words, and the more versions of me that people see, the more open to criticism I feel.  My parents instilled in me a complete aversion to sharing my business, complaining, and generally talking about anything unpleasant. Also, I don’t like pity and it’s been a battle realizing that most people don’t pity me, they just care about me.  Then, too, there is a deep body shame that I hold about having cancer recurrence, as if my body is defective and a failure that I don’t like to talk about.  But. At the same time, as I’ve said before, this cancer has been the most joyful gift I’ve ever experienced because it’s rebirthing my mind and spirit.  Swinging wildly and widely between those two poles pretty much occupies my minutes, days, weeks.  

In an effort to honor my friends and save myself some angsty guilt about not staying in touch, I’m just going to start blogging about my spiritual and emotional discoveries and posting shorter versions on Facebook of my medical updates. I’m honored that anyone gives, to use the expression of one of our curmudgeonly library volunteers, a rat’s patootie about what goes on in my head. 

Recently, I had an experience that leads me to think that it’s  even my responsibility to be more transparent to friends.  I’m using the word “transparent” to describe open, honest communication style and as a metaphor for spiritual progress — both revealed to me in a recent spiritual healing session. The very fact that I’m trying to share and explain all this  — well, this is my first attempt at that transparency.  

After being estranged for over a decade, my brother and I started talking again after my father died in April.  We are very different temperamentally and spiritually, yet we share certain beliefs and understand each other.  One of these things we share is the belief in reincarnation, that people have lived many past lives.  

To be honest, I’m not sure where this falls in my new confirmed life as a Christian.  Christianity holds that you die and if you believe in Christ, you go to heaven and/or are resurrected and will share in the paradise God will establish on earth. One life, that’s it.  I’m not sure where reincarnation falls into this scheme; I have some ideas but it’s not my purpose to explore them here.  My only purpose is to describe what has happened to me. Anyhow, my brother asked if I was familiar with QHHT or Quantum Healing Hypnosis Therapy.  Trademarked by a therapist, theorist, and spiritual scholar named Dolores Cannon, it’s a form of regression therapy where you are hypnotized and see at least one past life and generally experience some form of issue, trauma, or answer to a question that  haunts your current life.  Profound resolution and emotional healing takes place during these sessions; physical healing takes place, too.  You leave with a greater certainty about your life’s purpose.  Usually the work is done in one long session of 5-7 hours, which can expedite years of therapy and hundreds of self-help books.  Cannon’s technique allows the hypnotist to pose questions to your Subconscious, an area of your mind that is connected to your spirit, soul, and higher power.  (It’s different than then general definition of “subconscious” in therapy.) Dolores Cannon passed away in 2014, yet her students are scattered across the globe.  I was lucky enough to locate a highly qualified QHHT teacher and practitioner in the Florida Keys.  

I booked a session for June 5 and headed down to the Keys.  Travel bans to the Keys were lifted June 1. I brought along my friend, yoga instructor and reiki practitioner Michelle.  I knew she would support whatever I experienced and could roll with the ebb and flow of my physical energy and my mood swings. I was on a chemo dose that might shrink my tumor faster but it was too much for my body to handle:  rashes, gum bleeding, throat and mouth sores, abdominal swelling, exhaustion, heart palpitations, and that’s all I remember off the top of my head. June was my month of constant discomfort. 

Michelle’s also an amazing vegan chef and we had cooler full of healthy food so we didn’t have to wander around finding stuff to eat. We settled in for an overnight stay at a low-key, comfortable resort so I could focus, be calm, pray and meditate before the next day’s session.  

The  QHHT experience was remarkable. You are asked to come prepared with a list outlining the concerns and questions you have.  I did see one past life which I’ll write about in my next blog.  Building on the knowledge of what we uncovered in the regression, (briefly, I was a spiritual seer and seeker), hypnotherapist Sarah Breskman prompted my Subconscious to answer my questions.  As you can imagine, most of my questions centered around my illness:  why I got cancer again, is it mainly physical or emotional in origin, can I heal? I know this health crisis has brought me to my knees and caused me to talk to God consistently and fervently in a way I’ve never done before.  My big question was this: I wanted to know what God’s purpose is for me in this lifetime.  Is it that I finally get my shit together and then die?  Is it that I stay alive and do something else?

Now, given my recent focus on Biblical scripture, I’ve become skittish about any messages that don’t come from God, that come from psychic readings or astrology, and I was adamant that any communications I received be from God.  (There are many reputable astrologers that talk about the state of the planet at large rather than whether today is the day to balance your checking account, and I am not knocking them — I still follow one in particular, but in this circumstance I needed something on target and not something that would lead me down a wild pig path of ambition. I wanted the Source.)  I talked to God about it before the session and told Him that I was not trying to circumvent Him in any way, just that I sought deeper meaning about the work He’d like me to do.  Always, too, is my acceptance that it may, in fact, be His will that I pass on to his kingdom in the next year or two.  What happens in my life and health is ultimately up to God.  As I’ve said to him many times, though:  “God, I think I will be more use to you alive than dead. Please let me live to do your work.”  

This is how I stated it in my list of concerns and questions that guided the session:  “I would like as much healing as is allowed right now.  I understand that it may be a critical part of my journey and that it may not be time for God/Christ Consciousness to heal me at this time.”  As it turned out, QHHT offered complete, seamless compatibility between my faith and the work we were doing under hypnosis. I did not feel heretical, just that I had entered a blessed space and was open to hear any guidance or divine direction.  

Cut to the chase and the question I’m sure everyone has:  Was I healed? No, I did not walk out of there with my tumor gone. I learned that it is healing now, and that it will take approximately six months to reach full healing.  I feel SO out on a limb even writing this.  I have utter faith that it will happen about 95% of the time, but there’s the 5% at the end of the day, when my energy is down, if I’ve had more forbidden sugar than I should, when I have chemo side effects that won’t go away, when I just feel impatient and wonder why I can’t be like hundreds of other terminally ill people who tripped out of a QHHT session completely healed.  There are hundreds of those.  Then there’s the rational voice that says I have a terminal illness and the likelihood is that I’ll be dead in two years or less.  No, my spiritual voice said I had more to learn.  

Here’s an outline of the major points, stressed by my Subconscious voice again and again. 

  1. God wants me to be a transparent vessel, filled with clear light. 
  2. God wants me to teach.
  3. I need to listen in a way that I’ve never listened before with full concentration. 
  4. I need to slow down and be still.
  5. I need to be patient. 

I’ll have to write separately about each point.  Today I’ll discuss the transparent vessel. The session was recorded and I was under hypnosis for 2.5 hours.  It felt the whole time like I was awake, having a relaxed, normal conversation.  Sometimes saying things that I don’t normally say, sometimes I sounded so completely like fully-awake Mimi that I thought, “This is just me bullshitting.”  Sarah said this shallow, uneven feeling with traces of doubt was totally normal.  I talked in my regular voice, and I just heard inner promptings, like an internal dictation. There was no thundering fearsome voice of God.  Often I spoke of myself in the third person, like “She has this aptitude but has forgotten about it,” or “She knows the work she needs to do.” 

About the clear vessel.  It is one of many enigmatic messages I received that day but the most potently beautiful, resonant, and visual.  My Subconscious said, “She needs to become as a clear vessel, filled with light.”  This way I will be understandable, inspirational, a teacher to anyone who wants to listen and able to heal myself and others.  I’ve apparently devoted too many years to worrying about what others think, worrying about how I look or seem, worrying about hurting other people’s feelings, and becoming a knot of self-centeredness as a result.  Subconscious said that I need to remove the “opacity” that I use to mask who I really am.  When I become fully transparent I will not be drained of energy around other people, I will not struggle with the charisma I seem to exude but then want to deny and never answer the phone.  Also, when I am working with God’s purpose in mind, doing His will rather than serving my own ego, it won’t matter what kind of work I do:  librarian, teacher, writer, social worker.  My teaching and light will shine through.  

Although technically a transparent vessel means utterly clear, I kept picturing a cylinder that circulates white light, sometimes even a liquid that flowed and looked like white light.  My Subconscious mentioned a bright lamp.  In the next few days after my session, I was overwhelmed by synchronous passages in Scripture that popped up in my  reading and listening to sermons.  Among them, Luke 11: 33-35 (NIV):

No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl.  Instead, they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.  … See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.  Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and not part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.

Recently, I’ve been studying A Course In Miracles, kind of an affirmation workshop that snaps you out of your own ego and grievances and goals  and gradually thrusts you into the mind of God, or whatever belief functions as your divinity.  There are 365 cumulative lessons, and I’m now on Lesson 75 entitled “The light has come.”  About a week after my QHHT session, the lessons started focusing on images of light as a metaphor of setting aside ego, your own perceptions, your own fears and irritations, and allowing a peaceful sense of the divine to guide your daily thoughts, actions, and utterances.  It is an elaborate, more formally philosophical version of the simpler, “Let go and let God.” One recent visualization exercise has you walking through cloudy mist with the Son of God, then entering a perfect, chamber of clear light. 

My stepmother said the first time I went through breast cancer in 2016 that I missed a golden opportunity to connect with people and inspire on social media.  I’m like, “Bobbi, do you know how many people already do that?  And a lot of them do it really, really well.”  That’s always been my go to, lame ass excuse for not writing:  that so many people already do it, and some of them breathtakingly so.  I didn’t want to share the experience until I knew treatments were working, that I was going into remission.  This time around is much scarier, I can’t say when my treatments will end,  and I feel much more vulnerable, but maybe this IS the time to connect and share.  Aside from God’s will and my steady faith, it’s anyone’s guess whether I will live or die.  Either way, it could be a good story.  

I’m grateful for the luxury, if I dare use that word, that Covid and my crashed immune system have thrown my way.  Rarely have I had so much time to read, study the Bible, watch online sermons, write, think.  However, the job of a Christian is not to sit around and contemplate, but to be a blessing to other people and to act however you can to help others or at least be an inspiration.  There are few things you can actually do to help other people when you’re housebound. You can’t visit, travel, volunteer, speak . . . but you can write. 

At first it was scary sharing this much of myself, talking about my fear of dying, my renewed faith in eternal life.  I also still have hesitation about some of my highly educated, skeptical friends rolling their eyes at my conversion — this group includes my husband, although he has enough sense to see how important it is for my survivor mindset. 

I have always had a belief in God, went to private Catholic school even though my family wasn’t Catholic, even had occasional spells of thanking God for everything that went right in my life and talking to Him when they didn’t go right.   But then life would settle and I’d separate from those daily conversations and get wrapped up in my own struggle.  I’d keep a gratitude journal, but by lunchtime I’d be irritated, exhausted and dropping the f-bomb in just about every conversation I had that wasn’t a professional exchange with a library customer.  I hated, I fretted, I complained, I wondered why I was still leading a dissatisfied life.  I’d never read the Bible in any detail. I wanted to, but it’s not the most accessible text.  Some of it seemed downright impenetrable, and there was always another British mystery to read first. I knew I should visit some churches but I was just exhausted on Sunday.  I kept assuming that I had to fix myself all by myself.  I’d read another self-help book, plan to give my Instagram fashion page a new twist that would surely take me closer to figuring out my purpose in life. 

My current state of mind and faith has taken months, roughly since my diagnosis in October, to attain. Yes, fear of imminent death can change your life.  For once, I’m not quitting something that requires persistence and commitment.  Faith is a discipline and a muscle that requires daily use.  I’ve hesitated to share my conversion with some of my friends who belong to another faith, or are agnostic or even atheist who will see my prayer and bended knees as a desperate cliche of the terminally ill.  Well, as it turns out, this is who I am and I don’t really care.  You will either get it or you don’t.  At least be happy that I’ve found happiness.  If I can spread some of the wonder that I feel — now that would make both me and God happy.

Last time I checked, God doesn’t care how you start to talk to Him (or Her).  God is just happy you’re communicating at all.  He asks you to be that clear vessel, empty and waiting and ready to change.  The fact that what He fills the clear vessel with something not everyone can see is a leap of faith for me, for all believers, for anyone choosing to follow this journey.

I am won over by constant small miracles.  Living on the Indian River in Florida, my view is spectacular even on an average day. The sparkling wide river, the drama of the sky changes hour by hour.  Since it’s summertime, we have lots of afternoon showers and storms. Yesterday my (probably atheist who hasn’t seen this blog post) husband called up from downstairs, “Hon, look out the window. Look at that cloud.”  There was a circle of cloud and inside, a perfect circumference of clear sky pierced with sunlight.  There was my clear vessel.  I just need to remember to visit it every single day. 

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Fear: A Personal History

I could write 20 blogposts on fear, so pervasive is it in our culture right now during Covid-19 and so large a shadow it casts in my daily battle with cancer. 

First, fear is ego driven, projections into the future of what might happen, of looking foolish, of failure, of losing a struggle, losing a life, running out of toilet paper.  It’s a struggle to control circumstance that we have no way to control.  Anxiety is a symptomatic manifestation of fear.  “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”  (Matthew 6:27 NIV).  Yet we persist, day after day, year after year.  

During my downtime I’ve set myself the task of conquering fear through any means effective to me, personally.  I happen to focus on a spiritual life, renewing my faith in God and a universal plan, reading a Course In Miracles, doing all I can to extract my own ego from the tangled way I perceive and act in the world.  

Babies are hardwired for fear and fretfulness, I’ve come to believe.  From the very beginning of my life, even though I had loving parents, I was scared of everything:  getting lost, being without my mother, being the last person in a grocery store and getting locked in for the night, getting reprimanded for not doing something right.  I was in third grade by the time I discarded the training wheels on my bike, while my younger brother rode circles around me on two wheels.  When I finally did remove the wheels, I had so solidly psyched myself into wrecking that I steered right into a hedge and pitched myself into the shrubbery with Keystone Cops precision. My mom doubled over laughing hysterically and for years she couldn’t even describe this incident without losing it.  I laugh at it too — now.  At the time, it was a serious assault on my dignity and confirmed my worst fears:  see, I was afraid this would happen all along and it just did happen so I wasn’t wrong to worry. 

So, my dad died last week and one thing I’ve known about him for years is that he didn’t feel fear the same way I did.  If he did, he felt it and did whatever he wanted to do, anyway.  Lots of people find this approach is handy way to describe bravery, or sometimes to justify questionable behavior.  

Either approach is ego driven.  

Dad made both kinds of brave choices, good and bad.  Surprisingly shy, he was also very charming and also probably driven by not wanting to fail.  Whereas I just avoided potential failure situations, he dove right into them.  Physically gifted, he was a talented high school football and baseball player and captain of the New Smyrna Beach lifeguard squad. He choose a public law career that brought him into the spotlight. He bought any car that looked interesting and drove it home that day without worrying about how he would afford it, or if he could drive it, or how impractical it would be to fix when it broke.  A succession of muscle cars and sports cars roared up our driveway on a regular basis and we’d run out to see what Dad had brought home.  He got tired of having to hire somebody to fly him to the Bahamas, so he learned to fly and bought into a plane share arrangement with a few buddies.  Dad didn’t know anybody when he started going to the Bahamas; within a few years, he’d become a fixture of the local Hope Town Abaco  community and lots of his friends followed in his footsteps, sailed down, bought property there. 

He was generally an upstanding dad; he never left us.  But he was a playboy, and the confines of marriage meant nothing as he often sailed off for days at a time, partied with his large circle of friends, sometimes with my mother and sometimes not.  What was he to do with this Nervous Nellie of a daughter?  He couldn’t really understand me, so he started to ignore me.  I felt like a failure, not worthy of his attention.  I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t witty, I wasn’t adventurous.  What could I possibly have to offer this large-living man, who drove well and sailed well and played tennis well and drank hard and charmed women and made friends wherever he went unless you were somebody who lost a court case to him.  Many years later, my dad said he’d struggled for years, feeling a sense of failure because he felt like he couldn’t talk to me, but at 15 I didn’t know that.  There were lots of wonderful things we shared and I’ll write about those another time, but my overwhelming sense in adolescence was that I simply wasn’t cool enough for my father to associate with. 

One attempt at bonding failed miserably, and all because I couldn’t handle criticism and initial fear. For my first car, he bought me a cute used Porsche 914.  Rough, huh?  New Smyrna was a small town, probably solidly middle class with a few professionals who’d done well for themselves. Much to my dismay, word about Mimi Hall’s car leaked out to my classmates, and I was the focus of snarky envy for some time.  It was nearly the first car I’d ever driven.  Basically it was a VW with a manual transmission.  Patience was not my father’s strong suit, and after an hour of my grinding gears, jumping the clutch, stalling out at traffic lights, Dad had had enough.  “I thought you’d be a good sports car driver,” he said, “but you just get worse and worse!”  The sad thing is, I LOVED cars.  All those fun machines Dad had brought home, all the thrills of going for a drive and hearing him accelerate though the gears had left their mark.  Instead of gritting down, focusing, maybe even practicing on my own, I just wilted.  I’d come home sobbing, running up the stairs, and Mom would say to him, “NOW what did you do?!”  Eventually, the car sat idle while I refused to drive it, and he sold it to a pretty, popular classmate of mine.  I had a terrible time learning to drive after that, made an idiot out of myself at driver’s ed, and by the time I was in college, I refused to drive at all.

(Now, one happy aside is that this is one fear I’ve mastered. If you parked that car in my driveway this very minute, I’d be behind the wheel the very next minute. Today, indulged by a kind husband, I own a 2001 Twin Turbo 911, and it is a joy to drive.  Nearly every car I’ve ever owned has been manual transmission. There have been moments, though, working my way up through various collector cars, that I stall or miss a gear, particularly in my older cars, and if I don’t block my emotions immediately, Dad’s words prickle the back of my neck.)

Juvenile Mimi made safe choices again and again.  Anything that I struggled with, I was allowed to quit.  Math.  The first day of Catholic school 5th grade, a frightening Sister Christopher described what we’d be learning that year, took one look at my fidgeting feet and wriggling and said, “You. I can tell you’re already panicked.”  Although I couldn’t exactly quit math, my mom paved the way for my occasional “B” by telling me, “It’s okay, I wasn’t good at math, either.”

Maybe I should clarify that neither of my parents demanded good grades.  They assumed my brother and I were smart enough to deliver, and we did.  I was driven by some internal fear-of-failure engine, whether of my own making or subconsciously planted there passive parental expectation, who’s to say. “All you kids ever do is get good grades,” my dad said once with an eye roll  and a sigh. Like why don’t you get in trouble for a change? Do something interesting!

I loved jazz as a teenager and longed to master jazz piano, spent hours willingly practicing as few kids do.  My fingers shook so hard during the first recital that whatever I was trying to play was unrecognizable.  That was it for me.  Instead of trying harder, I quit, and my parents let me. 

Meanwhile, Dad did stuff and didn’t care, even when it made him look foolhardy and reckless.  He owned quite a few motorcycles, but one was a highly modified chopper that I refused to ride with him because here’s what happened:  One day, the brakes locked and he slid almost the entire length of Canal Street, the main thoroughfare of New Smyrna, past his fellow business owners, clients, and probably half the people in town.   He tore some skin up, but was his pride was pretty much unscathed. He continued riding motorcycles for years.

I went to Flagler College in St. Augustine, small and beautifully situated in Henry Flagler’s Hotel Ponce de Leon.  I owe it many things, among others the opportunity to study with Dr. Andrew Dillon, my favorite lecturer,  ever.  However, it was not academically rigorous, at least not at the time, or compared to some of the northeast women’s colleges like Vassar that had approached me and perhaps would’ve challenged me more intellectually. I would’ve been lost at a large university or a school where everyone was brilliant. A move out of state would’ve unhinged me, and I was afraid to leave my high school boyfriend. My parents basically had to fill out my college application forms because somehow I separated myself from the young woman who actually had to embark on adult life.  I stuck to studies I excelled in where there was little chance of failure, English, then on to graduate school in English, because the one thing I knew with any degree of confidence was that I was academically blessed. I was good enough that I was asked to teach adjunct classes when I graduated from Stetson University.  

One significant mastery of fear was standing up in front of a group of people and talking.  To a cripplingly shy 26-year-old barely older than her students, the idea of teaching seemed as likely as singing in a large opera house.  The first day, my hands shook, my voice shook, probably my head shook, but by the end of the semester I discovered I had a talent for lecturing and relating to students.  I even enjoyed pulling together a concept, teasing out a lesson plan, and presenting it in the classroom.  It was like a performance. 

A few years later, however, after teaching at half a dozen small colleges, no tenure track job in sight despite many applications, no health insurance, no foreseeable way to break over $30K a year and living pretty much hand to mouth, I talked myself out of a PhD in English because I knew so many people with doctorates who were still looking for jobs. My sense of accomplishment was fading fast and increasingly overshadowed by the possibility of failure. 

 At that time, the many hours I’ d spent in libraries, public and academic, the sense of solace and exciting intellectual discovery I felt when I walked in the door, started to call me with all the allure of a siren and the comfort of a grilled cheese sandwich.  I talked to a few librarians in different positions, got a part time job as a library circulation clerk to see if I’d like it, went to graduate school for library science, and bingo, my life’s work hatched itself.

For awhile it sustained me, and I had a couple jobs that really stretched me, but after a career of 20 years, the sense of underachievement haunted me.  By some quirk, I became a youth services librarian even though I don’t absolutely adore kids and I’ve never wanted to have my own.  (That’s another blog.) Even to this day, when somebody comes up to the desk and says, “You must have the best job in the world,” I smile and say “yes,”  or “most of the time, yes” (again, another essay) but lurking at the corners are all the decisions I made that were NOT brave.  Not moving to a big city where I could’ve risen the ranks to fashion editor.  Not writing books because I’m just afraid I don’t have anything original to say.  Not learning more about cars and racing so I could be an automotive journalist.  Not doing this, not doing that.  Every single decision was safety-based and grounded in fear. 

My haunting fear until recently has been arriving in the afterlife vestibule and God or the spirit-in-charge says, “So…  you had quite a bit of talent.  What happened?”   All I can answer is, “Well, I was afraid.”

A few years ago, after a lifetime of avoiding fear, fear came to visit me.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer, luckily Stage 1, and I went through a course of chemo and radiation that were terrifying for somebody who’d never had a serious illness.  The odd thing is, I’d been afraid of getting breast cancer since I was around 12.  I read about it in Parade Magazine, in McCall’s, all the popular stuff lying around the house, and I was sure I had it since I had these little knots in my budding breasts.  Too terrified to tell anybody, I didn’t realize that those developing knots are very common and normal.  When a friend asked one day, “Hey, Mimi, do you have those knots in your boobs?”  I denied it, but secretly felt like hugging her with relief.  

Then, there was the adult sense of shame that came with having small breasts, about 30 years of birth control, pretty hard drinking, and I had a perfect emotional and chemical storm for breast cancer by the time I reached 50.  Like steering my bike into the hedge, is this a fear that I psyched into reality?  Hard to know, doesn’t matter now.  I got through it and left it behind like a bad dream.  I’d talk about it, but I didn’t share much about it at the time.  I have friends who’ve been through it who are utterly fascinated by it, keep up with the literature and research, encourage others going through it.  Don’t get me wrong, I was always happy to offer support to a scared person who’d been diagnosed, but I didn’t go out of my way to seek an active survivor’s community and all this “I’m a warrior, I beat cancer’s ass!” just seemed naive to me.  In truth, I was still afraid of it. 

This last summer, my once vital dad was fading of congestive heart failure.  After a lifetime of hard living, it was amazing he’d made it this far.  His hospitalization and sharp decline was hard on everybody, my stepmother, my stepbrothers and their wives, me.  I just felt numb after my own illness and didn’t want to be anywhere near a hospital.  I was depressed and listless, really tired by a busy summer at the library but generally uninspired by life or myself. I started to get pulled by the undertow of my dad’s mortality. Again, I was settling into a comfortable — but no longer comforting — routine.  

One night in North Carolina, I remember sobbing and just begging God for a sign of what to do with my life.  I probably added, “And NOTHING, please, to do with STUPID CANCER.”    So what happens?  I won’t blame God for this, just the universe unfolding or maybe God allowing me to face the one dark fear I’ve never been able to run from. In October 2019, I was diagnosed metastatic breast cancer to my liver. Unlike a scary city or a scary car or a scary travel plan, illness is one thing you can’t escape.  You can’t pay somebody else to do it, you can’t choose Option B, you can’t choose not to face it.  The only way to do it is to live through it.  It’s not my intention to rehash my diagnosis here, but it’s a Stage 4 that will shorten my life considerably, barring a miracle from God which I’ve come to believe with all my heart is possible. 

My personal way through this involves a return to God, sticking to an evolving chemo regimen and a commitment to researching alternative treatments, but people choose different paths through the fear of a terminal illness. In many ways, I am well prepared for the Covid epidemic because I’m already in the mindset of living with a compromised immune system, of limiting my interactions, of scaling back my work to part time and working from home, of considering life and death from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to sleep at night.

Covid has done to everyone what I’ve been facing for months:  a very real possibility that your body can’t defend itself, that you will die.  People are essentially trapped by their bodies, regardless of age, economic bracket, gender, background, religion.  It’s Mortality 101. And yes, it’s terrifying if you let your mind go there.  

I’m not dispensing advice.  What do I know?  All I know with any certainty is that every single thing I’ve read or listened to lately, whether it’s a spiritual guide, self-help guru, the Bible, an inspiring pastor, my favorite astrologer, and my most thoughtful friends  — it’s like they’ve all synchronized their wisdom watches and everything points to the fact that we as individuals have no real control over our circumstances.  The only way to achieve any sense of calm or control is to let go of any plans or ideas or projections involving ego.  MY life, MY job, MY money, what the the neighbors are doing, what government is not doing.  They all point to a future of sharing, of global commitment and changing the way we pray, do business, react to each other that is non-judgmental, devoid of expectation.  It seems counterintuitive, but the escape from our ego searching is first to go inward, to connect with fear, unresolved conflict, to meditate not on how we failed but how to go forward with a better heart.  To forgive.  To let go.  Then when we emerge, we may be more of a blessing to others.  

This is a hard lesson for introverts:  lately we hear that it’s okay to be antisocial and go back to bed in our pajamas, not engage with other people. 

Our world view should look very different post-coved or we will be forced to change,  whether we like it or not.  We already know this is only the first wave of this epidemic.  The only way to change our outer reality is by going within.  There is no return to normal; it’s just going to be different.  

I have lost my fear of failure, all the “what-if” speculation. At this point, who cares? It was never the point of what I did. It is how we do it that matters: with appreciation, gratitude, alignment with a central spiritual purpose rather than a career plan. Lose the ego.

Today my pastor referenced John Donne’s poem “No Man Is An Island,” and I’m going to feature it here:

No Man is an Island’

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 

own were; any man’s death diminishes me, 

because I am involved in mankind. 

And therefore never send to know for whom 

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

Find your belief.  Lose your poisons.  Face fear but then face it down with whatever tools work for you:  knowing who loves you, watching sitcoms and laughing, reading spiritual literature, figuring out how you can help or inspire somebody else who’s struggling.  If fear speaks to you, tell it, “That’s not true. I have a future, and it’s future without you.”  

Do I know how to do all this?  Heck, no. Or at least not all the time. But what I can tell you is that faith and fearlessness are muscles.  The more you work them, the stronger they become.  

Before he died, my dad and I talked extensively about mortality and immortality, and we agreed that we are not alone in the universe, we are connected in spirit, and that the strongest bond we can share on earth and in the afterlife is love.  As I talked to Dad just before he drew his final breath, I am sure we loved at full throttle. 

Peace, blessings, love and may an everlasting light shine around you.  We are not alone.


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A Cancer Diary/January 2020

January 28, 2020

I liken cancer to a separation.  It’s like swimming in the ocean with everyone else and then getting moved over to a roped off enclosure, still in the ocean but this enclosure has sharks all through and underneath. You can see your friends, family, other people swimming nearby you in the open ocean. You can swim in this enclosure for an indeterminate amount of time, a few months, a few years, many years. Maybe you will never be bitten again.  But it is always, always possible, a shadow that runs in a cold current beneath you. 

Today is my friend Tracy’s birthday, and if I’d known how horrible I would be feeling NOW in January, back in October when I was supposed to go to the Outer Banks for a girls trip, I would’ve gone.  My bloodwork was alarming and my oncologist was concerned the numbers signified a return of my breast cancer.  I kept holding out branches of hope to myself:  I’d been taking lots of supplements, maybe I’d fried my liver.  My oncologist was hopeful but grim.  “When breast cancer returns and metastasizes, this is exactly what it does,” he said.  He also added, repeating twice as if a mantra.  “You are going to be alright.”  On his advice, I stayed home and took tests instead of going to the Outer Banks.  The CT scan revealed a tumor on my liver so large that he thought the imaging lab had misread it.  11 X 14 cm.   Despite a small discomfort when I pressed my liver area, I couldn’t feel it. 

I think, so far in this whole story,  the CT scan results were the worst moment in my cancer journey.  In 54 years of my life.  Here the denial train ended.  I wasn’t maybe dealing with cancer again, I WAS dealing with cancer. “Do you want a copy of your results?” the lab nurse asked, before I went in to see my oncologist.  I guess, I mean who doesn’t want a copy of their results, everyone is always anxiously awaiting their results, like asap and hurry hurry hurry. That was the last time I’ve wanted to see results before my doctor absorbed them first.  Now I can’t even stand to look at my own bloodwork.  It’s been a maelstrom of rising tumor markers, a barely functioning liver and kidneys.  

 Here I returned to the parallel existence that cancer patients and survivors walk day after day, alongside people who teach, and drive, and give good customer service, and heal, and pray, and cook and walk dogs.  We are part of you, but separate.  I would give anything to return to those normal activities without being conditionally earmarked for death. The positive spin on this mindset is “Every day is a blessing.”  It is.  

For anyone facing serious illness, every time we wake is a blessing.  We’ve all had to face our mortality and somehow find a way to accept the fact that our lives may be limited.  We’ve all found stores of patience, humility, endurance.  I can’t even describe the weird existence of having cancer and waiting for a treatment to take effect, to see if you’re outrunning death.  All the while you are expected to act normal, love your friends, grandkids, pets, eat healthy or eat barbecue, whatever your personal philosophy on nutrition is.  Go to graduations, help with homework, take a trip, find some joy.  Be grateful for crappy household tasks, cleaning and laundry and taking out garbage take on a special meaning because you are here to do them.  

Cancer patients have a parallel world, another door to walk through every week or month or six months.  It exists at the tip of the bloodwork needle, usually gently wielded by oncology nurses who, as far as I’m concerned, are angels on earth.  Who does this for a living?  Who would want to watch this? Do they ever get hardened by the fact that what they do every day will change a life, for good or ill?  It’s hard to believe I once had a needle phobia.  Needles tell the truth.  You are only as good as, as happy as, your latest bloodwork.   

People are well meaning and encouraging.  They yammer on about being a survivor, being a warrior, having a will to live, having a positive attitude.  “You got this,” they say.  “Put on your boxing gloves,” they say. You can be all that, you can do all that, but the fact is that cancer is scary.  Some people will catch you at your worst, snappy and anxious and exhausted.  Some will catch you at your best, serene and dialed into God or a Universal Spirit or whatever belief carries you through.  Sometimes you don’t feel like a survivor.  You just feel like a victim, desperate, scared, probably angry, and so helpless in the face of the enormity of this disease.  It’s a tidal wave that keeps on moving, inexorably taking you with it.  Whether you emerge a living warrior or a brave statistic is largely determined by you and your treatment but ultimately, it’s just your date with destiny, your contract with universe, your allotted time on this planet.  And that’s the final word. 

The parking lot at the cancer center is always full.  The waiting room is always full.  Young people, old people, some in wheelchairs and visibly weak, some chipper and right off the tennis court or beach.  You’d never know anything was wrong.  And yet all of us have asked, “why me?”

Later in October I had a liver biopsy of this huge tumor. It was indeed metastasized breast cancer.  Of course, Stage 4, since it had traveled.  I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in October of 2016.  I did a lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation.  I lost my hair, worked full time and exercised through the whole thing.  Responded well to treatment had my chemo port removed sometime in 2017.  Considered low risk for recurrence even though my numbers were checked every few months.  I went for the longest time between oncology visits through the summer and when I returned in the fall, this all happened.  I didn’t even clear the five year survivor mark. 

Now it’s January. Tonight I am writing because I’m in so much pain I can’t be in one position for too long.  Even being in bed is painful.  My tumor is dying from the inside after a few courses of a targeted chemo drug called Ibrance, but the perimeter is still there, creeping outward.  My oncologist thinks I may have a mutant tumor, possibly one that is not only ER and PR positive but HER 2 positive. (This was composition of my original tumor on my left breast.  We thought we’d lost the HER2 positive with this liver tumor.)  Now he’s not so sure.  Tomorrow I start a new chemo regimen of Eribulin, a  IV chemo that uses the toxins of Black Sea sponges.  You know you’re a serious cancer patient when you’re excited to start a new chemo.

My kidneys are displaced the tumor is taking up so much room.  I could barely get through work today today because I’m exhausted and bloated with ascites and just sheer organ displacement from the volume of the tumor.   It hurts to stand, it hurts to sit, I can’t button my pants, I have to wake up every few hours and walk around because I’m just so uncomfortable.  I am not describing this to to say “poor me,” but I’m saying it because it’s typical of the weird physical symptoms and discomfort that you have to experience as a side effect, shrug your way through it, probably not even medically address it because as in my case, my liver doesn’t need to be pounded with painkillers.  It has enough problems right now. 

I am filling out leave of absence and short term disability paperwork.  An ever-widening circle of acquaintances and coworkers know the real deal, know I’m seriously ill.  I see so much love it’s been astonishing.  Also pity, also fear, also tears.  My husband is stoic and says almost nothing. He’s an engineer and likes to agree with my oncologist about everything. 

I know on some primal level, everyone who hears your news, thinks, “Thank goodness that isn’t me.”  Well, I would be thinking it.  I used to think it all the time when I heard someone had cancer.  Of course, everyone has cancer cells.  Very, very few people don’t.  There are just some of us that have those cells and they decide to mutate.  For inexplicable reasons. I’ve had a least two oncologists tell me the reason is “bad luck.”  

What I resent about the way a lingering illness takes you is the TIME it takes for you to be process that this is terminal.  On top of the physical suffering is added insult to injury. The cat and mouse of here’s me, and here’s death, here’s me and here’s death, over and over and over.  The mind fuck is indescribable.  I am not in any way downplaying sudden, tragic death.  But there are days I think I might trade it for this stupid stalking game.  Cancer insults you by ignoring your strategies. It cheats, it takes cheap shots, It is like dealing with the Joker.  

I know.  I know.  This is an opportunity, a challenge, and that is the final attitude I have to accept.  There is nothing like the clarity, focus, realignment of priorities, that the diagnoses of a probable terminal illness brings. 

Let me be clear:  I am a person who believes in everlasting life beyond death.  There is part of me that wants to give up, get working on the next incarnation, gracefully fold my cards and go home.  But how is that asserting your will to live?  Right now I try to find a balance between being ready to meet my Maker and being in this world, loving, and  my spirit singing to the things that make it precious.  My friends, my family, books, old cars, beautiful clothes, art, music, meditation and prayer, learning new things, traveling to new places, the sweet kids at my library job.  I don’t even want to contemplate all those parents having to tell their little kids.  “No, Miss Mimi won’t be back,” and then weighing the pros and cons of having the death discussion.  I don’t want to be the first time these kids learn about dying. 

My goal is to treat this disease as a chronic condition, to put it in the passenger seat for awhile. 

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Dressed To Drive

There are two unshakeable passions in my life:  clothes and cars.  It occurs to me that I like them for the same reasons.  Both are style statements and aesthetically pleasing to the eye.   It is nothing to do with status or exclusivity.  It is completely to do with the joy of transport, literal and psychological.  They transform you when you wear or drive them, they provide a brief

escape into who you want to be that day as opposed to the person you might be by 5 o’clock,  frayed at the edges by everyday, quotidian stress.

The exhilaration I feel when I compose an outfit that works is the same sense of visceral satisfaction I feel accelerating through the gears of one of my cars.  It is a form of control, a statement of movement and an illusion of ownership that you power through the day.

So many times I’ll be getting dressed and think,  If this dress were a car, it would be . . .  .  It’s an aesthetic exercise I can’t resist.

One vivid example is my vintage yellow mod mini dress.  Its angular, crisp lines remind me of nothing so much as a BMW 2002, produced from 1968-1975.

Both from roughly the same era, the late 1960’s to early 1970’s, they are sporty without being overtly sexy.  Their tailored boxiness is revolutionary, shouting modern because they are pared down, without fuss.  Both are a world away from the 1950’s, refusing the voluminous curvature of huge skirts with crinolines and bullet bras, refusing the tail fins and protruding chrome of  luxury cruisers.  Both are small, lightweight and perceptual exercises in less is more, aimed at performance and practicality.  They exude power from what they don’t have as much as what they have.   In the BMW’s case, its original configuration was a 4 cylinder, 2 liter engine of 98 bhp, about 106  mph top speed.  At about 2,000 lbs, it was a small four seater with no frills. No earth shattering power, but the agile drivability and steering of this car set the stage for the BMW 3 series, the

driver’s car that changed BMW’s public perception forever.

Both mini dress and small sports coupe, in their quiet ways, ushered in a new era of casual, informal mobility. The round headlights of the little car are as iconic as a Vidal Sassoon haircut, staples certainly of Mod culture but evocative of an entire philosophy of post World War II modernism.  An affordable, practical performance car that was fun to drive.  A little dress with enough sartorial range for a woman to wear to work — something she increasingly did in this era — then out to dinner, a movie, or dancing afterwards.   Neither was drop dead dramatic or fast, but getting from Point A to Point B in both of them produces a youthquake of fun.

What do you think?  This inaugurates a new series in my IG and blog about the parallels I see between design in fashion and automotive design. 

Credit to Four Story Vintage for the dress (@fourstoryvintage) and for the  BMW photo which originally appeared 9/30/15  in a post about cars selling at  Sotheby’s Auction. This 1972 example in Golf Yellow features black leatherette interior. 100-hp, 2.0-liter SOHC inline-four; four-speed manual transmission. 

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Water World


(image credit the

“Our brains are hardwired to think in terms of place and to associate psychic value or meaning to the places we inhabit.” ― Colin Dickey, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

A friend was talking about Shiloh and Haulover Canal, how the sheer beauty and the discovery of wildlife there — otters and manatees — were life changing.   This area south of Oak Hill is a stunning alchemy of land and water, part of the land undeveloped and owned by NASA, where the Indian River meets Mosquito Lagoon.

“Yeah, I know Shiloh,”  I said.  A bit of an understatement,  because I always think if my spirit leaves my body and inhabits a physical place it will go to Shiloh, one of the first places I visited when I returned to Florida.  Driving along State Road 3,  you can look out over a huge sheet of water and see small islands shimmering against the horizon.  Its beauty is picturesque and almost hyper real, like a Highwaymen painting, but it’s the real deal, defiant and breathtaking.  It always reminds me how Florida runs to two extremes:  really paved over and tamed with Denny’s and condos, or just totally primitive, green, and blue, backlit by dazzling light.

There was a time when I couldn’t wait to leave Florida.  But that’s exactly what it took — leaving — before I would claim this flat wet state as my home.  There were many years of ‘yeah whatever’ before I could rhapsodize about the river or ocean.

Growing up on the Indian River,  I can’t say I took it completely for granted.  There was always something going on down by the water.  Our turn of the century house was named Salt Aire.  The builder had drowned at sea. We lived right next to a drawbridge.  Amazing yachts slid through the water, headed south for the winter.  I would sit on the porch swing and watch them with binoculars.  Dolphins, manatees, and pelicans were common as squirrels.  The tide would go out,  sandbars would emerge,  and my brother, my friends and I ran barefoot.  Inevitably, one of us would come home wailing, hopping along the hot sidewalk and dripping blood from an oyster shell cut. 

History was packed into the sandbars.  Our house sat on the site of Fort Smyrna, and some amateur archaeologist pulled an old cutlass from the river muck at low tide.  It belonged to a northern lieutenant from the Civil War, it got lost in a Union-Confederate skirmish, and it was returned to the lieutenant’s descendants who were very surprised that they even had a Civil War ancestor. 

When kids absorb fragments of spiritual belief through parents or teachers, some imagine an afterlife and assign it a physical setting.   My idea of heaven was always the sky above the Indian River in New Smyrna.   So whatever the angels, or the devil, or Jesus in his sandals were doing, praying or forgiving sinners or spying on people,  they were doing it from the clouds right above where my dad taught me to fish and where a barge plowed through and destroyed our dock late one night. 

Nearly every weekend, we sailed on the river or cut through Ponce Inlet to the Atlantic Ocean.  My father preferred sailboats to speedboats, but I secretly lusted after the hull smacking speed of Scarabs and Donzis and the sparkle decked Glastron Carlsons throwing rooster tails.  Dad said speedboats were a dangerous and tacky waste of money.  That always seemed vaguely hypocritical coming from a man who, on land, was pulled over for speeding about every two weeks and regularly traded sports cars for muscle cars, and vice versa.

I pouted through my entire young relationship with water. I begrudgingly helped out on the sailboat — I spent most of my time reading and eating potato chips. I was a poor deckhand and a chicken shit water skier.  My dad tried and failed to interest me in surfing.  I’m still an average swimmer,  and my mom used to say I swam like a Cocker Spaniel, awkwardly,  with my blond hair and ears way out of the water.   I resented the way the salty wind tangled my hair.   There were screaming sessions of shampoo and spray bottles of Tame to comb the knots out of my hair after a weekend on the boat.  This ritual took a good chunk of Sunday evening, through HeeHaw and Wild Kingdom on television.

If you credit the idea of reincarnation, during a  hypnotic regression a few years back,   I discovered — supposedly —  that I was a British sea  captain about 1803 working for the East India Company who lost a cargo when the ship took on water and sank. (This is covered in my earlier post “Trip Down Past Life Lane” from 2012).  I apparently spent the rest of that life haunted by a thin specter of failure. In my current Mimi-life,  I still shudder at the murky,  unnatural sight of a boat underwater.   All my childhood boating adventures were tinged with anxiety.  Before we left the dock I’d already imagined us sinking and being rescued by the Coast Guard or getting chomped by sharks. I’d go up to the bow and silently pray Our Fathers and Hail Mary’s that I learned in Catholic school.  My parents had no clue what I was doing, just thought I was daydreaming into the wind.   

Still, my heart and mind were marked.  I’d grown used to looking out my bedroom window and seeing vistas of blue and grey and green,  to hearing the dull thrum of boat propellers shifting the water, to the faint roar of the ocean filtered three miles through the mangroves in the early morning.

I moved to Maryland for most of the 1990’s and I lived inland around the Beltway.  I was in my late 20’s and freshly out of my first, starter marriage. There were autumn leaves,  cherry blossoms, lush green farmland, fun hikes, and even the magnificent Great Falls, but never a large body of water where my eye stretched out to find the horizon. 

One winter,  my two best friends and I drove to Ocean City, Maryland for an off-season weekend getaway.  It was unseasonably warm, daylight was fading, and we had the windows rolled down.  For miles we drove across the wetlands leading up to the Chesapeake Bay.   As we rolled east across the Bay Bridge, the air hung dense with salt.  My mounting exhilaration outweighed the loud music we played or the girlfriend chatter going on between the front and back seat. By the time we reached Ocean City the sky was dark and ozone smell peppered the wind.  The street holiday lights were semi-magical in glowing bright shapes of starfish and dolphins.  Although I’d never been to Ocean City, I felt like I was home. 

I couldn’t see the ocean, but I felt it looming and waiting, its sturdy back rising and falling through the night.  When I woke the next morning, the ocean was clear and crisp against the horizon.  All the uncertainty, the lack of identity and displacement I’d felt for the past few years just lifted.  It was crystal clear in that moment that I would return to Florida and live by the water.  Everything was okay and everything was possible. 

Simple geography is, amazingly, so emotional.   My frustrating old childhood companion, the water, was now a potent, heady combo of excitement, possibility, and comfort.  It hits me every time I see places where the sky and water meet and mingle.  They are particularly compatible in parts of Florida where the sky hangs over the water like a desperate lover,  wanting so much to see its own brilliance reflected and magnified.

Any poetry I’ve ever written is suffused with water imagery.  I dream about houses that are washed away by waves, and I’m sporadically writing an Apollo-era astronaut romance that is physically  set between the ocean and river.  The physical setting is as much a character as the lovers themselves.

Whenever we drove to Ocean City, my friends and I hoped for a lot.  We were still young enough to think we could make some kind of impact, that there might be some purpose to our lives.   But our soul-searching was always tempered by worldly idiocy.  The first year we went to OC we started the weekend with a bottle of Goldschlager and a dance-a-thon competition.  We didn’t reach any spiritual plateaus of understanding. Year after year, we looked for meaning in jobs, books, men, foster dogs, academic success, running, diets, sewing, wine, therapy, cars. After awhile, we stopped searching so desperately and life just took over. 

And yet. Even if we’re not as successful or evolved or soul mated as we once thought we’d be,  years later, the three of us live in physical locations that are perfect for us, and that’s a good consolation prize.

One of my friends lives on some beautiful wooded Virginia acreage.  Her home is surrounded by trees and she has goats in her backyard.  She has beautiful children– something she always wanted.  My other friend lives in a big townhouse in one of the oldest,  antique jammed cities in Maryland — it is amazingly decorated and full of her eccentric wonders.  I could spend days going through her book shelves.

I live in a river house that hangs so far over the water that when I walk downstairs I see dolphin and blue herons before I reach the next landing. About this time of year, November, I can open the windows at night and fall asleep to the sound of waves lapping the beach.  And if I step outside and look up, it’s there in the clouds: the sense of possibility and peace hanging over the river somewhere between Shiloh and the Indian River Lagoon.  In this, I am really lucky.


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Be Colorful! Celebrating Pete Conrad

Pete racing on the weekendImage

(photo credit

“If you can’t be good, be colorful,”   said astronaut Pete Conrad (1930-1999).   This remark captures why this guy will always be my favorite astronaut.   He could do all the aviator hero stuff: hotshot test pilot, raced cars in Formula V and SCCA, flew Gemini V and XI, commanded Apollo XII, helped develop and flew Skylab, then went on to an illustrious career in private aviation industry.  “Should play Pete Conrad in a Pete Conrad movie,” said Michael Collins of his fellow astronaut. 

Pete was a badass while laughing at himself, because even though he was in a deadly serious business he never took himself too seriously. Simply, he was not an arrogant prick. I’ve always loved people who can pull off bravado without boasting, who can pull off snark-free swagger.   And if they can be funny while doing something amazing —  sheeeejuz!  Mercutio and Prince Hal: those are my type of guys.

Pete nearly fell asleep while sitting atop the Saturn V rocket before the Apollo 12 launch, leading everyone including Walter Cronkite to believe he was incredibly relaxed.  He later admitted he was drowsy because he’d lost so much sleep due to the inherent stress and yes, fear, involved in preparation for a lunar mission.  Then there was the time he claimed that he tried, really tried to get Deke Slayton, Neil Armstrong, and a bunch of other guys to slow down their wild Corvette stampede on the freeway before they got arrested, and they did get arrested. Sure, Pete. 

Out of all the pantheon of space heroes, I still flip to “C” for Conrad in the index of any new space book I pick up. My heart skips a beat if I find a story or photo of him that I’ve never heard or seen before. I swooned when I saw this shot of him (above) standing next to a Porsche 911 race car at Daytona International Speedway in the early 1970s. My favorite astronaut!  And my favorite car! Together! My circuits overloaded and fried. (And yes, space freaks, I had to take a moment to sigh, collect myself and switch SCE to AUX.  My admiration is no doubt muddled with some loving image of my own father, another gap-toothed, blue-eyed blonde whose general cruising speed in those days was 100 mph in a car or on a motorcycle.)

Pete Conrad could find the funny side of any situation.  Probably his best-known quip is the one he delivered as he stepped out of the Apollo 12 lunar module. By this time, Apollo 11 had flown and Pete’s colleague Neil Armstrong had delivered his famous “one small step” line. Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci didn’t believe that Armstrong conjured this line by himself.   Pete argued with her that he could deliver a flip remark completely unscripted by NASA as he stepped onto the moon’s surface. The diminutive, 5’6 Conrad said, “Whoopee! Man, that might have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me!” Pete later said, “If I could get $500 off a Communist that was pretty good,” referring to the sum of money he bet the leftist writer. He won the bet but never saw his $500.

His sense of humor was not always appreciated. In fact, he didn’t make the cut for the original Mercury 7 because he was a smartass. After being subjected to the usual degrading and grueling physicals in the astronaut screening process, he decided to have some fun at a psychological test. After showing him all kinds of Rorschach ink blobs, the testers showed him a blank card. Pete deadpanned, “It’s upside down.” He also purportedly delivered his enema bag and stool sample with an extra flourish.   The selection committee deemed him “unsuitable for long duration spaceflight.”

A few years later he got a second chance to apply to the Astronaut Corps. This time he made it. There’s a shot from 1962 showing “The New Nine” as they were called, the next batch of astronauts who would form the backbone of the Apollo program. Pete, who became known for his sharp clothes and extensive hat collection, already displays sartorial originality. The other guys are eager and earnest looking in serious dark suits, while Pete flanks the group in a dapper light colored suit looking ready for a garden party or the Kentucky Derby.


 The New Nine, 1962  ( photo credit digitalprojects.libraries.uc.ed)

After nearly dying of boredom when he ran out of things to say to Gordo Cooper on an 8-day Gemini V flight, Pete insisted that crews be allowed to take music on their missions for the sake of entertainment.   Even without music, Pete provided his own soundtrack of tuneless humming, gum chewing, and profanities, which cracked up countless technicians, flight simulator operators, and other astronauts. NASA administration was a little apprehensive … what if he says stuff like this during the mission … like, on national television? He didn’t. Pete developed a very precise sense of how much he could get away with. He refrained from his plan to somersault across the deck of the aircraft carrier after Gemini V, when he spotted red carpets, admirals, and a brass band.  The recording loop of Apollo 12 is full of Pete’s unexplained laughter on the lunar surface.  Today we know that his buddies tucked pictures of Playboy centerfolds into his mission checklist with notes reminding him to “check the protuberances” — on the lunar surface, of course.  By that time, Pete knew enough not to explain his laughter.

His Apollo crew loved him. Pete, Dick Gordon, and Alan Bean roared around the Cape and Cocoa Beach in a trio of matching gold Corvettes, throwing down the gauntlet to all the other crews hoping to express their solidarity through a macho display of horsepower. These 1969 models had four speed manual transmission and 429 cubic inch/390 horsepower engines. They were part of a sweet lease deal that astronauts had with GM dealer Jim Rathmann. At this writing, to my knowledge, only Alan Bean’s Vette has resurfaced as has been restored to pristine, Apollo-era condition.


The jester of the Astronaut Corps, Pete seemed to find happiness in everything he did, never waxing poetic, weepy, or profound about his moonwalk. “Super!” he’d say, “Really enjoyed it!” he’d tell inquiring fans about his mission, like he’d been on a cruise to the Bahamas. Sometimes space fans would feel cheated because they’d want more strum und drang, and he just wouldn’t give it to them. Wasn’t in his nature.

That’s not to say, however, that he always had an easy time. Born June 2, 1930, Charles Conrad, Jr. was born to a wealthy Philadelphia family, only to see his father’s fortune and his parents’ marriage crumble in the aftermath of the Depression.   During his school years, he struggled with dyslexia, then an unrecognized disorder. By sheer application and a systematic approach to study, he overcame his academic setbacks sufficiently to attend and graduate from Princeton. In perhaps the saddest chapter of Pete’s life, his youngest son Christopher died from lymphoma at the age of 28.


Apollo 12 liftoff   (photo credit

Crash!  On November 14, 1969, the launch of Apollo 12 was probably the scariest liftoff of the whole Apollo program.   The giant Saturn V rocket was struck by lightning, causing power in the command module to go haywire. “The flight was extremely normal . . . for the first 36 seconds,“ said Pete, “then got very interesting.” The crew was perplexed, until flight controller John Aaron suggested switching SCE to AUX. Luckily, Alan Bean knew the correct switch to hit and Pete’s hand never twisted the abort handle. The mission was on target and moonbound, as Pete guessed correctly that they’d been hit by lightning. Listening to a recording today, the crew’s sangfroid is remarkable.  

I’m not sure what I was doing that day, fifty miles up the coast in New Smyrna, but it’s likely there was a launch party on a Friday with lots of booze. Some of our neighbors worked at the Cape, and as a four-year-old rugrat I had a ringside, knee-high view of grownup hijinks and excitement. I remember lots of terrazzo floors and soggy cocktail napkins in those days.

After a pinpoint landing on the moon, a successful moonwalk, and while piloting the lunar module Intreped to rendezvous with command module Yankee Clipper, Pete asked “rookie” Alan Bean if he’d like to take the controls. Usually tasks were strictly defined — and monitored by Mission Control. Pete generously let the younger man handle the craft during a burn on the dark side of the moon, when NASA would be none the wiser, giving Al a chance he’d never get otherwise.   This is what I mean by badass: doing something so difficult yet being so relaxed and competent that you can make a generous, fun, and selfless gesture to another human being.

This post barely glosses the surface of who Pete Conrad was and what he did.  So many people actually met him, knew him, and have wonderful stories to tell that they’ve shared online. 

In 1999, Pete’s luck ran out and he died at the age of 69 after sustaining internal injuries in a motorcycle accident.  As tragic and unnecessary as his death was, he exited life the way he lived it:  having fun, moving fast, pushing the envelope.   At a memorial service at Johnson Space Center, his old buddy Al Bean pretended to “channel” his spirit, and claimed that Pete requested colored lights on his memorial tree at JSC.  And that’s what happened. The grove at JSC twinkles with white lights for astronauts no longer with us; except for Pete’s tree, which twinkles bright red. As Al Bean said, he was both good and colorful.

Happy Birthday, Pete Conrad! There are so many of us on this earth who will always miss you.



(photo credit


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Astronaut Shot Down By a Nun

Up for sale at Heritage Auctions (minimum bid $1,000) is a great series of letters between Apollo astronaut Jack Swigert (the cute swinging single one in Apollo 13) and actress Dolores Hart.  Hart was a successful and beautiful actress with a firm Catholic faith — so firm that she became a nun in 1963.  It is cute to see this tough aviator/astronaut write her a fan letter, then eventually work up his nerve to ask her for a dinner date.  She turned him down, and he backpedalled and acted like he wasn’t really asking her for a date.  I’m attaching notes and images from   This was featured in one of my favorite space blogs,  Dolores had some DAMN strong faith.  I would not have refused a date with Jack Swigert!


Jack Swigert Archive of Letters to Actress Dolores Hart, 1961-1963. Jack Swigert was chosen as an astronaut in April 1966 as part of the fifth NASA group. Previous to that he was an Air Force pilot flying jet fighters in Korea and then a test pilot for Pratt Witney and North American Aviation. He is best known as the last-minute substitute for Ken Mattingly as command module pilot on the ill-fated Apollo 13. Dolores Hart was a talented and beautiful young actress who made her debut in Loving You as Elvis Presley’s love interest in 1957. She later appeared with Elvis again in King Creole. After several successful movies including a part as a nun in Francis of Assisi, she actually did join a religious order in 1963, becoming a Roman Catholic nun at the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut. Pilot and future astronaut Jack Swigert read an article about her in Parade Magazine in 1961 and, as a Catholic himself, was impressed with her religious views (and beauty, of course) and started a correspondence with her. These are the letters he wrote her over a two year period. Most are well-worn with notes written on them by Hart or her secretary. Also included in the archive are various clippings about his career. Overall good. Excerpts follow.


October 22, 1961, two pages handwritten, Swigert to Hart.
“Dear Dolores, Without a doubt you’ll get many letters but it is still a hope that this one gets by the many mail openers- and to you personally.
“Just wanted to express my thought on the fine article in Parade Magazine— especially about your views on religion and its place in your career. To be sure there isn’t much that reaches the public from that field which shows religion has much of a place-especially from the Catholic side. It is good to see that religion has the meaning and importance to you.
“In my case, the Jesuit education in Denver gave me the foundation and I think my test pilot occupation helps me to retain the importance of religion which sometimes escapes in a modern world… This wasn’t meant to be a religious letter. Impetuous as pilots sometimes are, just thought you might like to know someone from the other side of the country likes your ideas and wishes you well. Sincerely Jack (Swigert)”


March 31, 1962, two pages handwritten with envelope, Swigert to Hart.
“Dear Dolores, Have an airplane for the Easter weekend and will be westward bound. L.A. being only about 1½ hours from Denver should put me there sometime Saturday morning. If you have no plans for Saturday evening- or the afternoon for that matter it would be a most pleasant end to a long trip to have dinner and a drink together.
“Thanks again for the pictures and taking the time to answer my letter about the Parade article… With best wishes Jack Swigert”


April 18, 1962, one page typewritten (carbon), Hart to Swigert.
“Dear Jack: It was most thoughtful of you to include me in your Easter holiday plans, but, unfortunately, I am unable to accept your invitation to dine with you during your visit to Los Angeles… Sincerely. Dolores Hart”


May 9, 1962, three pages handwritten with envelope and clipping, Swigert to Hart.
“Dear Dolores, Your letter must have reached Conn. Just about the time I was leaving California for Denver and points East…
“Imagine our two professions are much alike. There’s a challenge and, with something different all the time, it certainly never gets to be the 9 – 5 routine. But after Glenn’s ride it’s obvious where the future is in the flight test field… Sincerely Jack”


June 2, 1963, two pages with envelope and color photo, Swigert to Hart.
“Dear Dolores, Your letter came while I was at the Manned Space Conference in Dallas…
“Have I been guilty of creating the wrong impression?… Remember- it was an article about you in Parade that prompted my letter way back when. Felt that an article which revealed high religious and moral values together with intelligence and femininity was too unusual a combination for modern Hollywood to go unacknowledged… Best wishes Jack Swigert”


Swigert, who died of cancer in 1982, never married. This was addressed in his New York Times obituary: “He was a lifelong bachelor, and some of the other astronauts, all of whom were married, joked that he was somewhat of a swinger. One of his sisters once said he had ‘a girl in every airport from coast to coast.’ He used to say that he was not a confirmed bachelor but that it was just that he had just not met the right woman. As an astronaut, Mr. Swigert lived in apartment near the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, which he had outfitted with a beer spigot in the kitchen and an elaborate stereophonic sound system.” Here is evidence that he did try to meet the right woman in the early sixties but things just didn’t work out. Estimate: $2,000 – $3,000.


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All Our Names

Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a voracious reader, a lifetime book slut, carrying multiple books everywhere I go like a security blanket.   Here’s a review of the latest novel I’ve read.  I think just about anyone and everyone would enjoy it.  Originally written for the Friends of the New Smyrna Beach Regional Library website,  it is cross posted here by kind permission of Friends President Diana Bardyn.  (

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu tells at least one love story. The ending made me cry, and it will probably make you cry, too. Now that I’ve got that out on the table, here are some of the other things this wonderful novel is: it ‘s a tale of friendship, of being an outsider, of losing and forming an identity. This is a novel of political and social upheaval as seen from the personal micro-threads of its main characters.

One narrator is a young man who leaves his family farm in Ethiopia for the busy city of Kampala, Uganda. We never learn his given name, although he alludes to a long string of family names and titles. He makes friends with another young man from similar circumstances, who calls himself Isaac. Both young men dream of achieving greatness in the heady days of post-colonial Uganda in the 1970s. These are the days where the dream of Pan African freedom is quickly fading and corrupt leaders like Idi Amin have twisted the dream into a revolutionary nightmare.

Even though they are too impoverished to afford tuition, the narrator and Isaac gravitate to the university. Transforming themselves from outsiders, they gradually make their reputations as campus radicals. Isaac, the braver and bolder of the two, forges an identity by attaching himself to a revolutionary figure named Joseph. His transformation from a saucy student rebel into a deadly serious thug, and the personal sacrifices he makes for power, are heartrending.   The narrator’s friendship with Isaac endures, however, and both young men are forced into political exile after a violent coup.  Mengestu skillfully withholds just enough information to let us know that one of the young men escapes to America with the identity and passport bearing the name “Isaac Mabira.”

The second narrator is Helen, a young social worker in a small Midwestern town. Her job has eroded her idealism and she’s running low on compassion. She takes on the assignment of foreign exchange student Isaac. Not particularly curious about his background, she’s happy that by taking Isaac to the university library and helping him shop for Goodwill furniture, she can avoid going to the hospital to visit terminally ill clients, prison inmates, and boring staff meetings.

On the surface, Helen and Isaac have little in common but their youth. Helen, however, is as weary of her hometown as Isaac was desperate to escape his Ethiopian village. Although she still lives in her childhood home, Helen has little to say to her husk of a shell-shocked mother who has never recovered from the departure of Helen’s father.   Helen regularly packs boxes of belongings and puts them in the basement until her bedroom is nearly empty. She’s been leaving for years, even though she doesn’t know where she’s going.

Isaac likes Helen’s loud voice and she, full of misconceptions about Africans, is surprised that he isn’t tiny and malnourished. They share an offbeat sense of humor and a high tolerance for uncertainty. Isaac offers little information about his recent past, and Helen doesn’t ask.

Isaac forces Helen to see her hometown through an outsider’s eyes. As they grow closer, Helen is forced to reckon with a post-Civil Rights American town in the 1970s that is not quite ready for an interracial couple.   In one painful scene, Helen takes Isaac to a diner she’s frequented since childhood. As people stare and the waitress suggests that Isaac takes his food in a Styrofoam to-go box, Isaac insists that they stay put and finish their meal. Isaac, no stranger to the daily reality underlying “progress,” says, “Now you know. This is how they break you, slowly, in pieces. “ Helen comes to realize that the Isaac she loves is just the tip of the iceberg; the parts he’s kept from her are dangerously vast, murky, and unknowable to her.

Mengestu cleverly builds suspense and keeps the reader in a state of uncertainty. He achieves this disorientation partly through alternating narrators, switching from Uganda to the Midwest. Not only do we not know until fairly late in the novel which Isaac Helen is falling in love with, but also there’s a tense time constraint to their affair. Isaac’s student visa will expire in one year. One day, Isaac gets shattering news from Uganda. His identity unravels, and the only person who can help him weave a new one is Helen, if she can stand to hear the stories he has to tell.

Author Mengestu is listed on the New Yorker’s “20 under 40” list of gifted young writers. He has written two previous novels about the Ethiopian diaspora, but this is the first book told partially from the perspective of a native-born American. Born in Ethiopia, Mengestu came to America at an early age. Although he’s covered parts of Africa as a journalist, he has said that the story of the two Isaacs does not reflect any specific chapter of Ugandan history, just the general progression from idealism, to violent revolution, to escape and exile.  And love, as always, is universal.

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Mother of Reinvention

I haven’t posted since December! I’ve had some sadness and a severe case of blogger’s block. Every topic I thought of just made me go, “Meh!”


2014-03-25 14.19.54(Sculpture at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University) 

A couple weeks ago I toured Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a friend for no other reason than we both love architecture and airplanes. A man on our tour asked, “Do you ladies have children or grandchildren going here?”  My friend, never one to shrink from male misassumptions, said, “No, we don’t. What makes you say that? Maybe we’re here because we’re prospective students.” Why not? I thought. Given the time and money, both of us could learn to fly and start new careers. While this might not happen literally, it’s a good metaphor for starting afresh, finding my wings, and flying again.

People, I have been SO depressed! My firecracker mother-in-law who lived with us passed away in January. Gloria was a sharp lady who loved fiercely but didn’t suffer fools.   She’d be the first person to feed stray cats and help those in need, but I’ve seen her say, “Go fuck yourself,” and slam the door in somebody’s face if she thought she was being swindled. Her death really flattened our household, and my husband and I had a couple of rough months where we woke up sweating every night reliving scenes from Gloria’s final days and wondering if we made the right decisions about her care.

I’ve had my own personal mortality lesson in the form of menopause. I have staunchly resisted writing about it because I’m embarrassed by it. I’m just so tired of menopause jokes, complaints, and stereotypes, many of which I lived through at work.  I remember so many coworkers having hot flashes and putting mini-fans on their desks.  They’d crank the air conditioning so low I’d be wearing three sweaters. I remember their snappiness and brain farts being chalked up to, “Well, she’s just going through menopause.” Part of me always thought they just needed to get some hormones, get their acts together, and quit making the rest of us suffer.

For the record, I’m now saying, “Respect, ladies! You were NOT kidding!” OMG. The horror is real: the mood swings, the energy crashes, the boob sweats, the 20-30 lb weight gain. I’m looking in the mirror and going, “Who the hell is that?” They say people start to resemble their dogs. Sure enough, I am getting jowls like one of my pugs or bulldogs that render me unfit for selfies. So you won’t be seeing too much of me on Facebook or Instagram. Just look at my pugs and pretend it’s me.

No energy. No joke.   One trip to the grocery store and I’d be down for a nap.  And by a nap, I mean a nap that lasted the rest of the day. The only thing I had energy for was Pinterest, to the extent that friends wanted to do a Pintervention. “That’s the only way I know you’re still alive — I see you pinning online,” they said. It was easier to gather images of other people’s accomplishments, their crafts, their clothes, their art, their lives, than repair my own underwhelming existence. Luckily, I had a few freelance writing assignments that kept me going.

Finally, bored by my own inertia, I found a way out of zombie land by finding a good doctor and taking hormone therapy.   I know there are risks, but they’ve changed my life. Without hormones I might seriously be wandering the house listening to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” wondering when and how and why I killed everybody in the house.



So, yep, on to reinvention.

My heroes are usually not other writers. Writers are too introspective and self-loathing. I like people of action, like astronauts, aviators and racecar drivers. I think what I like about them is that they are always striving, that they are constantly busy, they are always focused on goals, and they don’t let themselves stop moving long enough to get mired in torpor or self-pity.  In the depths of my depression this winter I read two astronaut autobiographies: Carrying The Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys by Michael Collins (1974) and An Astronaut’s Guide to Life On Earth by Colonel Chris Hadfield (2013).



Collins, of course, was part of the Gemini and Apollo programs, and he, along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, landed on the moon with Apollo 11. Canadian Hadfield just transitioned out of his career as a Space Shuttle astronaut and a commander at the International Space Station. He’s an endearing media personality, particularly famous for singing and recording David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” while on orbit at the International Space Station.

These astronauts come from two very different eras of spaceflight, but they share a great deal. Both guys are given to philosophical reflection, high scorers on the scale of astronaut-thoughtfulness. I was struck, however, that their trajectories were full of frustratingly small baby-steps. They sometimes took pilot assignments that seemed a universe away from joining NASA, career moves all over the world (that their families patiently endured) while they wondered if they’d ever go to space. Before Hadfield, there’d never been a Canadian astronaut, and he sometimes questioned if it were at all possible. But they kept moving, flying, persistently taking opportunities to learn new skills each and every day. Their careers serve as reminders to all of us, every day, to DO something towards being the person we want to be, to work towards the job we want to have.

I also had the happy experience of going to the Tico Airshow, something I’ve always wanted to do.  I was not just cheered up: I was ecstatic.  The sheer beauty of the planes and aerobatic feats was astounding,  and I thought, “Nobody here, whether they’re flying or watching, is just sitting at home feeling sorry for themselves.” I became the four-year-old girl whose dad took her to the airport to see planes taking off, who wriggled with wonder at the speed, the noise, the surge into the air.

So it is time to be active and take steps every day. Be the mother of my own reinvention. I think my next few blogs will be dedicated to people who relentlessly (re)invent themselves– either by choosing a life of boldness or by making a midlife career change that catapults them into the bliss of doing what they love.

And just for the record: no, I am not giving up my Pinterest addiction. And yes, I actually do admire writers, too. Here’s one from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”

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April 8, 2014 · 12:32 am