Monday, December 21, 2015


I’m a collector of treasures. Not precious metals or fancy cars, but precious petals and lovely cards. Dried petals destined for potpourri, but foiled by the perfect tin are scattered throughout my house. Decades worth of calendars filled with notes from Grandma Doris, hundreds of letters from friends, get-well cards for hospital stays, congratulatory cards for weddings and babies, my birth announcement declaring that my parents had a girl, and congratulations to my folks for my arrival into the world, are a sampling of my collection. I used to have all my cards in dilapidated boxes, which I carted from Whidbey Island to Ketchikan, Alaska and back to Washington State. More boxes. More weight. More treasures.

I recently dedicated half a closet to cards and photos and organized them in plastic containers. Just as my good intentions toward potpourri are foiled, so are my intentions to create photo albums. I’m just not that organized. Besides, if I were organized I’d miss out on the fun of having to go through stacks of dog-eared photos to find the elusive one. I’d miss the joyful occasion to sit on the guestroom bed, surrounded by memories, and the surprise once again of a picture that captured a moment so significantly. Disorganization has its perks. Nevertheless, I’ve been filling fewer boxes now that e-mail takes the place of letters. Of course I have desktop email folders brimming with entertaining communications. I am a bit more organized with photos now that FB and a cloud has them somewhere in a virtual sky, but I must admit it’s way less fun searching for photos in the vast universe. I am frustrated by my fears of technology, of pressing the wrong button and watching my memories go poof. I prefer the tactile, dusty adventure of breaking into tattered envelopes containing so many wonders.

I’m also a big collector of word memories. I especially like to snag sayings gone awry, or runaway lyrics for a fun memory later. You know, when you’ve been singing the same song for years and finally learn the words have nothing to do with the song, yet they seemed so right. I had an epiphany about a song Dad used to sing to me about “Mersey Does”. I heard the song like this:

Mersey Does and Doesy Does and Little Idey Dideys, a Kiddle Dee Didey Doo

Dad heard me singing it in the kitchen a few years ago and realized he recognized the tune, but not the lyrics. It makes so much more sense to me now that I know:

Mares Eat Oats and Does Eat Oats and Little Lambs Eat Ivy. Kids Eat Ivy Too. 

Remember the rebel playground anthem (circa late 1960s,) that kids sang loud and clear under the monkey bars? I could bellow it as well as the rest of the scoundrels:

Wanda Wanda, Wanda Wanda

Esterly Esterly

Doctors make it, teachers take it

Why can’t we? Why can’t we?

Many years later another epiphany had me blushing when I learned Wanda Wanda wasn’t the character from my Saturday morning kid’s show. Wanda was really Mary Jane, or marijuana, and Esterly was LSD. Gotta love the era of the innocent flower child.

As much as I like to poke fun at myself for my ridiculous utterances or some spoonerism that twisted my tongue into saying what it ought not, Mom and I also take delight in our collection of word foibles of others, such as when I was asked to pick up just the “Bears and Necessities” from the grocery store. Furry friends and necessities are always on my shopping list now. Perhaps that’s why I ended up with three pampered poodles, at least one who thinks he’s a polar bear. Another delightful saying that always elicits a smile is my then toddler son’s can-do-attitude statement, “I can if I don’t want to.”

Ah, the free riches of life. Tangible mementos from those we love, dried petals that evoke a memory, letters honoring friendships and significant events, my grandmother’s calendars reminding me that each day was worthy of at least a sentence, hilarious new sayings derived from more mundane ones that have become part of the family story, and captured snapshots in time.

These are my most treasured collections.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lines on Paper

When my son was a toddler he was happy to sit at the coffee table for hours, contentedly drawing pictures. He had a colorful imagination. One rainy afternoon he was drawing vertical lines in felt pen on the stack of copy paper I gave him. Several slam-dunked, paper wads later he carefully arranged his creations in a nice display on the table. His uncle showed up and took great uncle-like interest in Jeffrey’s project. Studying the handiwork—much to the delight of his nephew—he said something like, “Jeffrey, what did you draw? Is it the rain?” Jeffrey shook his head. “No, silly. Can’t you see? These are lines on paper.” Oh, how I loved that simple statement. It said it all. No need to attribute more meaning.

I’m always looking for deeper meaning in things that were meant to be simple. I over-analyze. Pick apart words. Yes, they wrote this or that. But what did they really mean? They said this, but did that. What is the significance? Remember answering machines, and the anticipation of a blinking red light? I do. And I remember how certain messages could cause me to spin out—an unexpected call from a doctor, or when I was dating, a low voice confirming or canceling a date. Stop. Rewind. Play. Again and again, looking for a nuance in the voice to reveal what was really behind the words—trying to manipulate the rewind button so the message said exactly what I wanted to hear. Your pregnancy test is positive. Your cancer antigen test is negative. The dinner date? Of course it is still on. I often go into auto-denial before I can absorb what is clearly stated. Before I can take things on faith. Before I accept the words said, results mailed, messages left, texts written, lines drawn, are exactly as the person intended.

Manipulation in my own writing can be cause for pause as well. It used to be my cursive writing took time to flow across the parchment page. One misspelled word and it was a start over project. Plus, trying to make my not-so-pretty handwriting legible forced me to slow down, ruminate, and figure out what I wanted to write. Now, with words flying across the screen faster than I can believe, it makes sense to choose words wisely and allow them to marinate a bit before pressing the “send” button, but this is a balancing act between overworked and words that flow. As a writer, I want my words to be descriptive, elegant and tied together in beautiful phrases. When I strive for this perfection the opposite happens, the words smack of a writer who’s pen has pressed too hard, leaving an overworked mess on the page—as I fear just happened in the preceding paragraph!

For me, the secret is to not thinketh too much, but not sendeth too fast. The best stuff is the stuff that isn’t over-processed, over-marinated, scripted, or formulaic.  When perfect simplicity finds its way to the page.

The simplicity of lines on paper.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ink Spills & Word Splats

We’ve all experienced the moment. Slip of the Pen syndrome (SOP) or Slip of the Keyboard (SOK) those terrible written words we’ve either shared and thought better of after the fact, or, worse, emailed to the wrong person. Unlike the marvelous edit option on Facebook, email has no “take it back” option. Speaking of Facebook—before I learned about the aforementioned edit option —I once posted what I thought was a nice comment about a photo I’d posted of my niece and mother-in-law. I’m pretty sure I meant to write “my beautiful niece and mother-in-law”. Imagine my horror to read these words, “the beautiful asses of my niece and mother-in-law.” Damn auto correct. My niece posted that she was laughing her ass off, and I felt like the biggest ass ever. Yes, it was good for a laugh or two or a couple hundred, before someone showed me how to edit my mistake.

As far as I know I have not sent anything too embarrassing via email, either that or folks are too kind to tell me, but I have definitely been on the receiving end of seeing something about me I was never supposed to see. It is wonderful when you learn about something amazing that someone said or is doing for you, but then you must be careful not to mention you don’t really like coconut cream pie--the very flavor ordered for your surprise party. Not so wonderful is to be ccd on an uncomplimentary email thread about you, the owner of your own inbox. Not even a blind cc.  Nope. I saw saw.

What to do? There are options. I’d like to think of these little life snafus as leverage. (Insert hand rubbing and a devious grin). These morsels can be saved to be used later, or responded to as a gottcha. However, since it could happen to anyone, I recommend pondering deeply before taking action.

Have you ever experienced that horrible syndrome called slip of the tongue (SOTT)—when your inner filter malfunctions and words ooze out you wish would have stayed behind your teeth? You know you need to shut up, but the words keep oozing like watery toothpaste. You know, when you snap at your spouse over one issue that suddenly becomes a whole litany of complaints, say hurtful things to your children or parents, or just keep on yapping when it’s clear your audience has grown weary.   

My all time worst case of SOTT was when Tip and I were driving behind my folks after spending too much time figuring out a restaurant that would satisfy all of our various appetites. We’d converged on one promising prospect but the planning fell apart, so off we zoomed down Highway 101 for the next target. It had been a long and stressful summer workday for Tip and me. It had been a lazy fun afternoon for my daughter and my folks, who’d suggested meeting us in Olympia for dinner. I may have been a wee bit envious of the lighthearted laughter and animated gesticulations of the inhabitants of the car in front of us. We could clearly see my daughter and my mother laughing. 

While the happy cruisers ahead continued their animated conversation, another conversation was happening in our car. I was tired, hungry and cranky. The kind of cranky that even a scrumptious enchilada (if we ever decided on a restaurant) was not likely to appease. I was so cranky I was saying rotten things about my gleeful family. I was going on and on about how ridiculous they were, how slow my dad was driving (I was sure they were going to get rear-ended—though not likely since we were the car behind them, the number two car of the 101 backup) how stupid this whole entire idea was, how no one could ever make up their damn minds, and how it must be tough to have nothing at all to worry about on a lazy sunny day. You get the drift. I was full of sour grapes. Sour grapes containing expletives.

Suddenly the gesticulations became more pronounced. What was my daughter doing? Dammit, she’d unstrapped her seatbelt. I railed on Tip. “What the hell is wrong with them?” My daughter waved her arms wildly. She mouthed words to us. She appeared to be yelling. (Mind you, we were still flying, well limping, behind Grandpa on the freeway, while other cars zoomed around with their own special hand gestures.)  All the while, the jumping and laughing and then horrified look of our daughter was raising concern. What the heck was going in that car?  

I saw Grandma hand the cell to our daughter, which she held up to the rear window. She pointed at the phone and shook her head. She looked disappointed—very disappointed. I was really swearing by now. “What is wrong with my parents? Are they crazy? They are all crazy!  (I’ll admit the words I used were not quite this tame.) Can’t we just flippin go home?”

I’m pretty sure I reciprocated a gesture at a driver who shared his displeasure at the people holding up rush hour traffic. He laid on the horn. I sunk in my seat.

My daughter was nearly jumping now. She pointed to the phone once more. She held it to her ear. She pointed at me. I picked up my cell.

“We can hear you Mom. We can hear everything.” 

Grandma nodded her head. Grandpa sped up. We arrived at the restaurant. I buried my embarrassment in chips and salsa. I ordered a BIG margarita. I mumbled some lame apologies. After some painful silence, Tip and my folks laughed and laughed. I had nothing more to say.

It happens, people. It happens. But at least this one wasn’t caught on tape or worse on paper (except now that I’m ratting myself out).  That was my ultimate, embarrassing slip of the tongue. My childish ways caught by my elders and younger. Ugh.

There are also beautiful slips of the tongue, when the words you've bottled for years finally spill and are graciously absorbed. And there are wonderful slips of the pen too—when writing provides instant relief or comfort. When the pen glides across paper with no forethought and the words that appear hold a magical journey into imagination, a solution to a problem, a nugget so special you simply must share.

My slips of the pen come in fits and starts. Sometimes I have so many words they trip all over each other. Sometimes I wish for words but it seems all the inkwells are empty. My keyboard provides no guidance, and even the trusty thesaurus is no use because I’ve offered no words to find another. 

But sometimes words flow. And when they do I can —Write it. Read it. Shout it. Scream it. And later, reflect on the words that resulted from a slip of the pen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I Love My Life

I recently read that I love my life. It took me by surprise. Those four words are not four words I ever remember saying. I do recall exclaiming the opposite—either muttering to an empty room or yelling, “I hate my life,” when I’ve felt completely out of control. I’ve wailed and railed ad nauseam about my dissatisfaction—and not about the big stuff—like cancer. No, it’s the nagging, can’t-quite-solve issues that get me riled. This is when the terrible hate word pops easily out of my mouth. So do swear words. Those powerful one-syllable words that pack a punch. They are sure to be noticed. They are sure to have impact. They are not pretty, but I have to admire how accurately they can hit a moving target.

But what about love? Specifically, loving our lives and ourselves. I have been the guest of honor at my own pity party many times—a party few others are invited to attend. Handpicked for their listen-ability, my guests are privileged to hear my woes. Needless to say, not too many are motivated to RSVP. My all time best commiserators are also my all time best laughing buddies. It’s fortunate we balance each other out. We’ve laughed hard and cried hard.

When I’m feeling less than lovable, I’m fortunate to have my writing first aid kit. My pen is a tool that digs deep into a festering hurt. The ink is ointment for prickly feelings. The paper—like gauze—sops up the mess and softens those one-syllable words, making them a bit more palatable. Some of my best poetry and short stories are born in sadness and confusion, or are so damn funny I have to share. Writing helps me find clarity. Lovey dove, feel-good messages, wrapped in tinsel, aren’t near as fun as the insertion of some wallop words or writing about hilarious events. I love to hide behind funny. I can relate to comedians who do the same, though their silliness often makes me uncomfortable. From my hiding place I see them hiding too.

How odd to be so hung up when I’m blessed to have many people who love and care about me. Fun little messages from people on social media are like crack to me. I cannot get enough affirmation. Odd, because I don’t think I suffer, greatly, from low self-esteem. I’m fairly confident there are some things I do quite well. Certainly—and thank you for indulging me—I’ve got talking about myself down pat. I’ve had a lot of time to study me. That being acknowledged, I am trying to be a better listener. I don’t know who pointed it out to me, or where I read it, but the letters in the word listen are the same as the ones in silent. Well, duh. It all makes sense to me now.  Becky, shut up and listen.

I can get so fixated on things. Easy peasy for someone who struggles with OCD. Yep. There. Said it. OCD. I hate to admit it even to myself, but there have been clues—and you know ‘em when you do ‘em. The checking for off off off. Is the oven, the curling iron, the toaster, off off off? Does the envelope contain only the words intended for the recipient? Better double check. Check. Check.

I obsess over things and am not able to rally as quickly as I’d like—as I’m just sure everyone else is able to do. I worry about how my words, both written and verbal may have hurt or confused or fanned flames. I want to fix things. I want to throw out anchor before crashing on rocks that I see as I emerge from a fog, but I often have to crash before I can set a new course, which is a process. It can take years of sitting on my couch, pondering things, waging war on depression demons and anxiety apostles that nip at my heels, always trying to drag me into the depression pit. I’ve camped there at times; comfortable in the discomfort of a dark place I’ve known well. It is difficult to explain these feelings to anyone who has not experienced debilitating depression. Maybe it’s not that misery loves company. Maybe it is that misery understands misery.

Besides writing, I’ve been trying to find comfort beyond the high-backed upholstery of my sofa—finding beauty in the big mountains over yonder—or walking ten paces across the living room and stepping outside to love my flowers or throw a ball for my pups, who’s joyful faces could only elicit a smile. There are so many things in nature I looked at but never really saw. What fun it is to take pictures of things that make me happy (who knew I would like my phone better for its camera than its communication abilities?) to share those pics with friends who say they love them—friends who unwittingly contribute to my healing process simply by giving me a thumbs-up. How lovely it is to find joy in the little things instead of the unattainable.

Imagine my surprise to read in reviews about my book that I shared a lust and zest for life. That it was clear I love my life and that my words inspired folks. How can these affirming words do anything but make me sit up, get up, and take inventory of all that is good?

It’s a process, you know.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Thirty Years Later

The title of my book, Chemo on the Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure, pretty much sums up the years leading up to diagnosis, and the aftermath of surviving a brutal disease while living in Ketchikan, Alaska. Humor rules the pages and I’m grateful I was one of the fortunate ones who can call ovarian cancer a footnote to a much longer story.

I’ve never felt comfortable with the survivor label, but today I’m wearing a T-shirt that states that beautifully, in an understated font surrounded by flowers.  I guess after 30 years it’s time to acknowledge that my “survival” is a helluva feat.

I recently exhibited my book at a conference where the main focus was ovarian cancer. The attendees were cancer survivors, spouses, family, friends, physicians, and pharmacological folks. We were provided a pin that says _ xx__ year survivor. I was reluctant to place a number in the blank space, as it was obvious by some flashy headscarves and sporty short hairstyles that some women were in the throes of the fight. There’d been some buzz about the woman who was 30 years post ovarian cancer, who’d had children after chemo.

“Go talk with her, she’s down there, selling her book. It’s amazing.” They weren’t referring to my amazing book. They were referring to my beating heart.

I was unprepared to have a number—apparently a big significant number—be the focus. The budding, and necessary, mini-marketer in me thought I better change the tagline quick, from “misadventure” to “30 year survivor”. These folks were hungry for hope. My very presence was inspiration to them. Some were experiencing cancer for the first time. Some were experiencing multiple recurrences. There I sat looking all pretty with my healthy red hair, with cancer so far behind me, while women hugged and thanked me for giving them confidence that they could beat the malignant monster inside them too. I will be forever humbled by that experience. It’s hard to go there—to be reminded that all I hold dear could never have been realized. To be defined by one number of 30 years, and another do-not-exceed number of 35, which is a cancer antigen blood test indicator of a possible recurrence.

One lovely and spunky woman asked me, “Becky, do you ever forget? Is there ever a day or a time you forget about the cancer?” The simple answer is no. And I don’t want to. It’s a part of me—this illness that has been silent in me for a while. It has jumped out from behind dark corners a few times, thrown my life in a tailspin, demanded CT Scans, and more than my yearly blood test to make sure the number is not over 35.

Cancer could happen again. I suppose the odds are higher, based on my health history, but I will not be defined by a what if, not when I’m having more fun experiencing what’s next.  
I love to laugh—to find humor in the absurd. I experience and often create a lot of absurd, so laughter’s prevailing winds usually keep me safe, and sane. Surviving a major illness, however, does not shield one from foibles for the rest of their life, and like everyone else, I experience headaches, heartaches, and life’s joys and sorrows. In a bizarre way, cancer, while taking so much from me, provided me the ability to be a compassionate, empathetic woman, and sometimes fearless in sharing with others how I feel.  I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? I’m pretty sure that cancer toughened me up enough to fight again, should that be necessary.

I’ll be 54 this week. My body sort of feels the years, but in so many ways I’m still that young woman who took a detour at the age of 24 and is just now realizing her strength. I’ll celebrate in my “survivor” shirt that I bought from the spunky woman at the conference who challenged me to own my survival.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Enter the Hormone War Zone

Hot Flash.  Cold sweat. Change at thirty-five
A scorching hot reminder that I am still alive
 Changes, changes, changes are happening to me
I wonder what it’s all about
I wonder why me 
The ovary snatchers had thrust me into Meno Meno Land.  No survival kit accompanied my crash landing at the base of the Mount Hysteria, and I wandered desperately through a scorching hot valley.  The volcano rumbled incessantly as I dodged lava streams and tried to deflect the molten rocks falling all about me. 
I felt alone in the inferno.  Sharing stories about cancer was easy.  A twenty-something Alaskan woman in her first year of marriage, battling for her life, is a jaw-dropper in any crowd, but discussing menopause with friends who were still young and vibrant left me cold. 
 I could no longer concentrate on their chatter, I was too busy waving down the waitress who’d been remiss in refilling my glass of ice water—the cool condensation-clad container that doubled as a freeze pop to roll on my neck. My relaxed friends didn’t seem to notice. As they were chilling out, I was melting into menopausal mush. They had time to ease into “The Change” to prepare, to change eating habits, to exercise.  They were on a gradual descent into the heat, while I’d been plunged into the inferno.  I’d crash-landed in six hours flat. 
Other than cancer, my ovaries had never given me any grief.  It is only the absence of them that had me yearning for the keys to the body parts room where I imagined them floating like buoyant eggs in a canning jar. I longed for them—especially at night—when a warm tingling in my cheeks rapidly moved to my neck and I found myself in hell dodging fireballs.  Impaled on a rotisserie rolling round and round in my bed, my once cool sheets threatened to suffocate me until a gust from the ever-present fan hit condensation beads on my skin and plunged me into an arctic freeze.  
My outfits consisted of loose sweat pants, a tank top, and a polar fleece jacket. My beverage of choice rotated between ice-cold water and jitter-laced coffee.  All thoughts of social interaction were peppered with panic; was there a chilly escape route?
It was hard to remember a life beyond cancers borders, where once upon a time I was a normal girl whose fairytale enemies bore benign sticks and stones. But my fairytale ending had been rewritten.
The twenty-three year old baldheaded woman turned her blazing blue eyes to face the malevolent cancer dragon.  She consumed mystical potions concocted to shrivel the creature, and her two children—born in defiance of the monster—forced it to recoil back into its lair. 
Several years later, her ovaries were wrenched from the malignant clutches of the cancerous beast, but as she smote the dragon it exacted vengeance, huffing and puffing its final death flame—a scorching menopausal heat—licking the back of her neck for eternity. 
My doctor eventually pulled the patch and prescribed a little green pill consisting of conjugated equine estrogens called Premarin—Pregnant Mare Urine.  I wondered if things could get any worse. I’d lost my reproductive organs and replaced them with horse pee to trick my brain into thinking I was still vital. 
 This is an excerpt from my book, Chemo on the Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure. For more information about Chemo on the Rocks, click here