15 January 2017

Two Years and Counting

Today is two years since the heart surgery that saved my life. I literally had about two weeks to go before a valve would have failed and I would’ve ceased to have heart function. Pretty scary to think about how things might have been. I can't say that brush with death made me rethink my life, to make every minute count, to do the things I always wanted to do. I’m fortunate that I’ve always done what I wanted to do without regard to the disapproving looks from my parents, or the disappointed comments from friends. Fuck 'em, I always thought, and just went ahead and did what I wanted. For me, every minute has always counted. We only get one shot at this life and I wanted to be able to look back and say I always spent each minute the way I wanted, doing what I wanted with MY life.

Of course, in these two years I also found out I had cancer. Oh, well. Shit happens. I’m coping with that the same way I always coped with everything else: do what I want (to the extent my energy -- and kidneys -- hold out) and keep moving forward. Sure, my time on this planet might have been shortened, but I can honestly say there is nothing I ever wanted to do and didn't do. Except maybe visit Tokyo. That's still on the list of things I want to do. Hopefully, that’ll happen. If not, well, I've done all the other 99.75% of things I wanted in my life. I think that's pretty good.

I've made these last two years count just like I made all the previous years count, just like I hope to make the next year or two or three or however many count. Don't wait to do the things you want. Do them now because you might not have an extra two years to do them in.

03 January 2017

Being Nice Has Advantages

In 1992, I was in a pretty bad car accident (see photograph). A commercial truck went through a red light and I plowed into the side of it. I wasn’t hurt much, but the car was. (The police officer told me I was lucky to have been driving such a well-made car, otherwise, the result would have been much worse for me.) Being the sap that I am, I called the owner of the company and asked him not to fire the driver who caused the accident. Even though he wasn’t hurt, I was worried that he would lose his job.

Fast forward several weeks. The insurance representative for the company vehicle was insisting my precious 1977 Mustang II was totaled and offered me $500 to close the case. Insulted? You bet I was. 

Finally fed up with arguing with them, I called the owner of the company for which the other driver worked. I calmly told him I was being treated very unfairly by his insurance company. I explained that my father (of all people) said I should call my insurance agent and say my neck hurts and my back hurts from the accident (none of which was true) to get more money. Shocked, I told my father that people who lie like that are why insurance policies are so expensive. There was no way I would lie. I told the owner all I wanted was my car repaired like it was before the accident. Nothing else.

The owner was very understanding and told me he had to make a call and would call me right back. In about ten minutes, his insurance company called and told me they would pay the several thousand dollars needed to repair my car AND arrange for me a free rental car in the meantime.

I called the owner, shocked at the change of heart from the insurance company. “I have millions of dollars of commercial insurance with that company,” he told me. “I told them to treat you right otherwise I would pull all my policies and go to a company that would.”

It took a long time, but I got my beautiful car back, good as it was (see photograph).

28 December 2016

So Many Forces

A few years ago I noticed that all of my novels feature strong female characters. I never set out intentionally to do this; it’s just something that happened. Personally, I’ve always been attracted to strong women, successful women, smart women. I guess without a sexual attraction to women, that was next in line. I was surprised when I realized this, and wondered what possible influence could have been responsible.

And then Carrie Fisher died.

Of all the horrible things that have happened in 2016 (including my cancer diagnosis) this upset me the most. Why would that be? People die all the time; death is a part of everyone’s life.

Then I started seeing clips from Fisher’s films on the news.

Perhaps the appeal of strong women stems from her portrayal of Princess Leia in “Star Wars” which I saw as a teenager when it premiered in 1977. She was sure plucky, and smart, and strong willed. I’ve always enjoyed the movies of strong female actors: Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Ida Lupino -- but those all came after. It must have been my subconscious working when I began writing my novels featuring strong female characters. 

Whatever the inspiration, I was impressed by Fisher and her performance in “Star Wars” and am very sad that she died so young -- even after living such an adventurous life.

07 December 2016

All Our Todays

Today is notable for which of the following reasons?

A: It is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
B: It is the day NBC will air “Hairspray Live!”
C: It is the one-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis

All three are correct.

It’s kinda hard to believe I’ve already made it through my first year of cancer. When I look back at everything that’s happened in the last year, I’m amazed: diagnosis (on Pearl Harbor day, of all days), kidney biopsy, bone marrow biopsy, chemo, chemo and more chemo, edema swelling my legs like an elephant’s, debating with my doctor about reducing my chemo levels, having the low blood numbers go higher and the high levels go lower (both good things), reducing the amount of water I drink each day, reducing the amount of sodium I consume each day, emerging from it all “technically in remission” yet knowing all of this will be part of my life until I die.

I’m constantly amazed when people say “I’m sorry” when they find out I have cancer. “Don’t be,” I tell them. “It could be worse.” At least I didn’t die in a plane crash; I have a heads up. I had one doctor recently tell me I had a cynical/positive attitude about my cancer. “I’d rather think of it as a ‘shit happens’ attitude,” I said. We all have our problems and this is mine.

Many people say their first year of cancer was the worst. If I look back on my situation in the years to come and find that to be true, then that's okeh. It's been a bad year (that could certainly have been much worse); but maybe the "worst" is behind me now and we'll run the course on cruise control. I certainly hope so.

02 December 2016

Shoe, Meet the Other Foot

At a recent family-in-law gathering, one guest (noticing that our anniversary was a few days away) asked how Matt and I met. I explained that I was working for a newspaper as a theater critic reviewing a musical and Matt sat next to me. The usual questions followed: do you remember the name of the show (“Crazy For You”), did you like it (**** out of *****), etc.

She then asked me if I had ever written a bad (i.e. negative) review. I told her I had, but even for the worst shows I always tried to include at least one good thing from the production. It might be a specific performance, the production design (which, honestly, can make or break a show), or a moment in a scene. I never wanted my readers to say, “He hates it, we won’t go.” I wanted them to say, “Hey, he says this one actor was really good. Let’s go check it out.” I never found pleasure in writing a negative review; it always pained me. I had been active in theater for many years prior and I knew first hand how hard people work to put on a show. Productions might fail for a variety of reasons, but I doubt passion is ever one of them. 

Now, twenty years since I stopped reviewing theater, the tables have been turned.

Five years ago I began writing novels with the goal of writing them and getting them published. Anything that happened after that was just icing on the cake -- except in the case of negative reviews. Most of the reviews for my thirteen books have ranged from average to excellent. Only on a few occasions have I gotten a negative review -- a couple of them pointedly mean. I try really hard not to let the negative reviews bother me, but they do.

Each time it happens, I think back to my years working for different newspapers and the various types of subjects (theater, books, social events, dance and opera) that I reviewed and the fact that I always tried to be nice. I might not have always succeeded, but at least I was never intentionally mean.

20 November 2016

It’s Like an Addiction

You know how people say an addict won’t change unless s/he wants to? No matter what you say, it won’t matter if the addict doesn’t want to change? The same can be said for moving into new technologies: unless you really want to move in that direction, you won’t -- no matter what anyone tells you.

Despite years of resistance, I am now a convert to GPS technology. I grew up in scouting, learning how to read maps (a dead art now, I’m sure). I always traveled with paper maps. I didn’t need (or want) fancy technology. With our recent trip to Glendale, California -- and the need to drive the windy Hollywood Hills at night, during rush hour -- I decided to try a GPS program. I’m now hooked.

Dale (what we named our GPS voice in honor of our vacation) got us to our Hollywood Hills destination with no problem. It was a little tricky getting back to the hotel because we couldn’t get a connection in the hills, so we had to backtrack by memory until we got out of the hills and onto flat land (successfully). Otherwise, the GPS got us to all our destinations with only one glitch (guiding us in the wrong direction for parking at the Broad museum downtown Los Angeles).

I guess I can say I’m now environmentally conscious of the need to conserve paper (as in paper maps) and will bow to Dale’s wishes whenever we travel.