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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Silver Linings

It's Thursday.  The sky outside is unbelievable, a perfect day in Huntington Beach.  November is always the most gorgeous month we locals all agree.  

Yesterday marked four years since my best friend died.  

Saturday marks four years since my Dad died.  

Seems pretty depressing, right?  Yes...and no.  

Monday night after class, some of us stopped at O'hara's for a drink.  We've got a cool professor who not only suggests we do this with relative frequency, he also joins.  Anyway, a few of us started talking about writing non-fiction and how often students write about death and its overwhelming sadness.  I won't argue that death is overwhelmingly sad, there's no question.  But sometimes, certain things about death, or rather things that happen before, during and after, can be funny.  

Lest you think I'm heartless, read on.  

Once some time has passed, once you get some distance and the pain isn't so intense, you can start to see the funny things, maybe a hint of a silver lining.  

If you were close to someone who died, you watched them battle, say for instance, cancer (which is what I witnessed first hand), there had to be moments when you shared laughter.  Because laughter is the one thing that can lighten the mood.  Laughter ACTUALLY has magical powers to help ease pain...I read that some place, don't quote me but I'm pretty sure it's a scientific fact.  Google it.

Here's a little story about Susie, who incidentally was the funniest person I ever knew.  

It goes like this.  

About three months before she passed, she was spending yet another night at Hoag Hospital.  I live about five miles away so I took every opportunity I had to visit.  One night I got there about 8:30-9:00. Regular visiting hours change for people who have been told they should "get their affairs in order."  

Susie's husband was sitting at her bedside reading while she dozed.  I wave at him, smile and lean in toward her hugging her shoulders, careful not to pull on the tubes sticking out of her body, "Suz, Hi, I'm here."

"Oh Hey Darc,"  she says groggily, a good dose of morphine moving through her little body.

"Hi Rod," we exchange hugs, her husband and me, then I hug Suz again.  He says he is gonna run downstairs, leave us for a bit so he can get something to eat.  We say sure, go ahead.  We need to catch up.

I sit on the bed next to her.  At this point, the sad stuff is shared.  They've told her there is nothing else they can do, the cancer has spread, she needs to "get her affairs in order," which is just the kind of bullshit they say to cover themselves, we both agree.  

"Can you believe this shit?" She says.

"No, I can't," and for the first time in a long time, I completely lose it, ugly tears.  And get this, as I sat there crying, laying next to her in the bed, SHE comforts me. SHE rubs my head, tells me it's gonna be okay.  Some friend I am.  Sheesh.

I stop my blubbering, pull myself together, apologize and do my best to be strong.  

Okay, about now you are thinking you've lost it Darcy, exactly what's funny about that?  Well, nothing. But the funny part comes next, promise.  I had to set the tone.

Suz tells me she wants some Oreos and a Dr. Pepper.  So with a little maneuvering of the IV stand, an adjustment of her gown, we head down the hallway in search of a vending machine. We get stopped by a young timid nurse, asking us where we were going.  

"I'm just looking for some Oreos and a Dr. Pepper. Where are the vending machines?" Suz said.

"Oh Ma'am, I'm sorry but you can't leave this floor.  The vending machines are on the 7th and patients are not allowed up there," said Baby Nurse.

"Well,  I have just been told I am going to die.  Has someone ever said that to you? No? So then, I will do whatever I damn well please.  When someone tells you you're gonna die, like they told me today, well I'm gonna get some god damned Oreos and Dr. Pepper and there isn't one fucking thing you are gonna do about it!"  She continued toward the elevator, smiling, pleased with herself knowing that she could still scare the crap out of just about anyone who crossed her.  

I stood there laughing, not sure if I was going to get in trouble, not caring either way, realizing that I would probably be the only person who could wrangle her back into her bed, convince her that the Dr. Pepper and Oreos could wait.  Truth is, I really didn't want her to go back to bed.  I wanted to be daring and crazy, even if it was just sneaking up to a different floor in search of cookies and soda.  It felt like we were kids again, sneaking out on a Saturday night to crash some senior party.   

Baby Nurse, stunned and helpless searched for Nurse Ratchet who found us very near the elevator.  We almost made it.

Suz cussed her out too and I believe it was right about then that her husband popped out from the elevator in time to see it all shake down.  There we stood, me holding my purse giggling uncontrollably, Susie in her gown, little blue socks with the sticky stuff on the bottom, holding her IV stand and the two nurses, confused and utterly embarrassed because between the two of them, they couldn't manage to get one sick woman back to her hospital room.  They had no idea who they were up against.

"What the hell is going on here?" he says.

"Oh hey baby, I just wanted a snack and these crazy bitches won't let me leave the floor," She says innocently.

Now I can't contain myself, I am just laughing out loud, acting like I am trying to get her to go back but still secretly hoping we'd make it to the 7th floor.  

"Ok, c'mon now.  Let's go back to your room.  I brought you a magazine," Roderick says, looking at me half smiling, half glaring.  

"What? What?  She wanted Oreos.  You KNOW how she is, I'm not gonna tell her no, she'd kick my ass," I say.

By then, a third nurse, one who happened to be on Suz's good side, offered her a 7Up and some Jello as an alternative.  Reluctantly, she accepted and  agreed to go back to her room.  "All of this nonsense has tuckered me out anyway,"

So, we went back to her room and all three of us laughed until we cried, recapping the whole story for Roderick.  And she WAS tuckered out.  So she sipped her 7Up, had a bite or two of jello and nodded off as her next dose of painkillers kicked in.

I left that night smiling, thinking of my little escape artist.  No matter what, we still had laughter.

Now when I look back, I still smile thinking of that story.  The bittersweet moment of knowing I was going to lose her, that our time was being cut way too short, but we were still able to laugh.  

Suz was the funniest person I ever knew, did I say that already?  Well it warrants repeating. 

She taught me to search for the beauty in life, to look for it in even the darkest places.  

She taught me about laughter and friendship and love and life.  

If anyone could ever find the silver lining, it was Suz.  

I am who I am, in many ways because of her.  

So Susie, I thank you my dear dear friend, I thank you for helping me find the silver linings everywhere. 





Thursday, October 24, 2013

Courage


Who knew I would have such a passion for teaching?  I suppose deep inside, I knew I always would.  And this week, I got to finally take a chance at it.

Through a great program at Chapman partnered with the wonderful non-profit organization Think Together (http://www.thinktogether.org), some fellow grad students and I are teaching a six week writing workshop for students at Century High School.  We were supposed to start last week but the kids had to take their PSAT’s so our actual teaching was postponed until yesterday. 

Truth be told, I was pretty nervous about being in the classroom because other than volunteering at my kids’ school, I have not been on the other side of the desk with the chalk board (now dry erase) or with the overhead (now smart boards with ELMO machines) unless you count the times I was called up to the front to attempt to solve an abstract algebra equation that would NEVER serve me any purpose in life save for solving other equations in the math classes I dreaded in high school and undergrad studies.  But I digress…

Because of the delay, we had an opportunity to meet with the teacher and get a feel for the class and the students.  What an eye opening conversation.  I tell you, for the teachers out there who really care, who really want to change lives and make a difference, kudos and more to you.  I deal with one teenager every day and that’s plenty, can’t imagine how difficult it would be to take on 200+ kids every year, each one with their own set of problems.  I was so grateful to have had that conversation because I felt better prepared for the time we would come face to face with the students.

I sit here trying to come up with the words to describe how I feel about this opportunity and I realize this must be exactly how the students felt when we asked them to try a writing exercise.  It’s not that I don’t have enough to say; we all know there is no lack of words from me.  It’s just trying to find the right ones, the words that can actually convey how truly remarkable this experience feels that is a little difficult. 

So I am going to try to put myself in their shoes and answer the prompt we gave them.  It went a little something like this:

Think of an adult you know (i.e. a teacher, a parent, a coach) that has a special quality you admire and would like to have yourself (i.e. are they generous, honest, loyal, trustworthy, cheerful, brave) and write whatever you want, a few sentences, a paragraph, whatever, about that person.

I have plenty of adults I admire who have unique qualities, but I really want to focus on the kids I worked with yesterday.  I don’t know them yet but I already feel a connection partly because we came from the same place, the city of Santa Ana.  These kids are growing up in a tough neighborhood, their lives are filled with challenges that make it difficult to go to high school, let alone look to a future in college. 

One quality I saw in ALL of the kids I met yesterday was courage.  They are brave young men and women trying to make a difference in their own lives and the odds are stacked against them.  Financial constraints, lack of familial support, cultural differences, expectations within a community, all of these things barely scratch the surface aside from ordinary problems that come along with being a teenager like having sex and avoiding drugs. 

A couple students shared what they wrote and it was enough to move the three of us co-teachers to tears, the words were real, they were heartfelt and sincere and the fact that we were able to get these kids to write from their hearts and indeed go beyond and SHARE their work, well that was amazing.  I felt like we had made a connection and started to build trust, a bond even, that might help these students realize their potential, their worth, even just a little bit. 

Though I only worked with them for an hour yesterday, that single hour meant so much.  I left that classroom filled with hope.  I was inspired to find my own courage to continue to teach in any capacity or opportunity I find as well as the courage to keep writing when some days I think I should throw it all out the window and say screw it. 

So I ask you this, take a minute to think about someone YOU admire, the quality or qualities they have that you want to see in yourself.  What the hell, pick up a pen and paper or hit the keyboard and write about it.  We told the kids that part of writing, part of growing, is getting to a place where you feel comfortable being uncomfortable. 

Challenge yourself and get uncomfortable, get to a place that your own creative juices begin to flow.  If writing is not your thing, pick up a paintbrush, whatever you like.  Whatever it is, quit making excuses and have the courage to express yourself. 

Today, I had the courage to write in my poor little sad neglected blog and I hope that my faithful readers will understand and forgive me, perhaps even be a little inspired to have the courage to try something new.

And, I PROMISE to keep you posted on the adventures in teaching!

Monday, June 3, 2013

To Judge Or Not To Judge, That is the Question.

Judgment.

We are all so quick to rush to judgment without knowing all the facts.  But really, it's human nature, no?  Don't we all find ourselves in that place far too often?

I remember very early in my college education, I took a class in philosophy, I think it was  ethics, so the instructor taught us the basics and we looked at things like logic and fallacies, all that jazz most of which I vaguely remember because it was almost 20 years ago but never-the-less, one thing he said stuck with me.

Like many of my fellow students trying to find ourselves, we were all asking the big questions in life, and one question in particular seemed to recur with a high level of frequency.

"Who am I to judge?" We would all ponder, trying to be cool and free, young liberals with psuedo hippie ideals about freedom and love...

His response, "It's your job to judge."

So this teacher lectured us on the reasons why we should and if memory serves, he basically said it was not only human nature, but our obligation.  Of course, this just opened the floodgates for more questions, at least for me.  Old adages like "Don't judge a book by it's cover" really do seem to hold genuine meaning, and although cliche this one holds merit because we are all guilty of making assumptions based on what we see without knowing anything at all about a person.

Don't be mistaken, I am talking about people here, not books, books we can judge all we want.  I mean, how many times have you bought a book based on the cover only to be disappointed with the innards, but I digress.

Seriously, I sit here in the Corner Bakery (using the free wifi and enjoying a few cups of coffee) with a huge black eye.  I mean, it's ridiculous.  It has turned varying shades of violet and has developed a lovely yellow Saturn like rim, really spectacular colors if I do say so myself.  Now, I KNOW people are wondering what happened, how could they not.  It's the purple elephant on my face that screams volumes.  Me being me, well I feel compelled to tell people the truth because of this fear of JUDGMENT.  But yet, no one has asked.  It's taboo...so instead, they sit and try not to stare, wondering what happened, likely assuming the worst-I am a beaten woman-and those of you who know me are laughing right now because the truth is I am just the idiot who walked into a pole at a sporting goods store.  Yep, that's it.  Glamorous, isn't it?  People keep suggesting that I come up with a better story but I just can't.  The OCD won't let me lie.

Perhaps judgment is the reason I say and do what I do.  I can be honest to a fault and I try to live my life as an open book.  That being said, I sometimes have a tendency to over-share, perhaps stick my nose into others' business.  But the truth is, it comes from a place of compassion and empathy, it really does.

I spent a good deal of my teenage years judging others based on their clothes, their looks, their cars.  All of this was material bullshit, yet I was judged the exact same way.  It's the nature of the beast, and by beast I mean teenager.  But, as I grew into an adult with a little more perspective on life, I realized that all this judging was doing more harm than good.  "Judging" was really more "comparing" and that for me, was really unhealthy.  Listen, I am not saying you (or I) can't have an opinion, that's perfectly fine.  What I am saying is the way in which we share that opinion deserves a little more forethought and the use of a filter than many of us consider.

It all goes back to basic human kindness and understanding.  Judgment is what gets us into all sorts of trouble, isn't it?  Let me share another example.  This past weekend, we had a family vacation, a much needed respite from our daily lives and a great time to reconnect with one another.  While sitting in the pool outside the restaurant, a man walked by with an enormous tattoo on his stomach that read "TRUST NO BITCH," just like that.  In capital letters.  He did not look happy.  Now, I'm not gonna lie, Chris and I had a bit of a laugh and made a few comments about my black eye and that Chris should point to me, make a fist and smile at the guy.  But, really if we look at the core of that tattoo, really think of its meaning, this poor dude was clearly broken, at his very core.  At least that's what I suspect but hey, maybe I am wrong.  The truth is, he was not the kind of guy who seemed like he wanted to share the impetus of that ink so I left it alone.  Have I rushed to judgment?  Perhaps.

I think what I am saying is this: We are all making judgments, well I think comparisons really, every day.  We are all looking at one another and seeing how we stack up.   It's inevitable and unavoidable, but let me make this one suggestion.  The next time you find yourself judging someone else, try to remember that everyone has a story.  Try to find that part of yourself that feels compassion and empathy and although it may be challenging, I promise that you might start to feel a bit better about your own insecurities and areas where you fall short.  What do you think?  Is that something worth striving toward?

To quote Sir Paul McCartney and his fine words of wisdom,

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

So instead of judgment, maybe all you need is love...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Toss the Bouquets-

Gay Marriage.

It's a controversial subject and one that I feel very strongly about. 

Let this be clear-I am completely in favor of it.  

I also have a great deal of trouble understanding why people are so opposed to it.  Don't get me wrong, I haven't been hiding under a rock.  I understand that many people argue that marriage is a religious union, one that is bound together by God.  

Let this be clear.  It is not.  SOME may choose to have their marriage performed in a church of their choice, but if it was solely about religion, then atheists couldn't be married.  

If it is about procreation, then any woman who no longer menstruates or suffers from infertility in some way, well then she couldn't be married either.  

Marriage is a legal binding contract.  A contract that two people enter and agree on specific terms and conditions-the vows are gravy and make it look nice.  

Divorce is handled through the courts, not the local pastor.

Bottom Line: Gay marriage is a matter of equality.  Separate but equal doesn't fly.  

For those of you who argue that gay marriage is wrong in the eyes of God, well isn't that up to God to decide - that is if God exists.  And doesn't being Christian mean loving one another the way that Jesus did?  Walking the walk-not just stepping onto your soapbox and shouting out all of the reasons why others are sinning.  How about you look into your own closet before you start cleaning out someone else's.  

This issue is important to me for many reasons but the most important is because of my sweet little sister who is amazing and wonderful and happens to be gay.  

She deserves to share the same joy and happiness that marriage brings just as much as any heterosexual person.  So does ANY gay or lesbian couple.  Good loving people deserve to celebrate their love as much as the rest of us.  

The only real reason I can find behind all of uproar and outrage is fear.  Well fear and ignorance.  Wake up straight people, the LGBT community is not interested in having you switch teams.  They know who's up to bat and who's just interested in watching the game...

In what way does it really affect you?  

This question is huge and the answers are complicated for some.  I, for one, find it quite simple but then again I just happen to believe that EVERY SINGLE PERSON deserves the same rights under the constitution of these great United States.  Isn't that why we live here; to enjoy freedom and equality?  

A hot topic indeed but I occasionally feel the need to use this platform to share my own personal political beliefs, possibly risking losing some followers, maybe even some friends.  But I think it's important to stand up for what you believe in and I am willing to take that risk.  

If you don't happen to agree with my opinion, that's ok too.  However, I urge you to consider this: Some day, that is if it hasn't happened already, someone very close to you, maybe your own child, might come out and how will you react?  Will you turn them away, be ashamed and embarrassed?  Will you sacrifice your relationship because you don't happen to agree with who they are?  Would you not want them to have the same respect and equality that is promised to ALL Americans?  

This issue is hot, I know.  The bottom line is that LOVE is LOVE and if all men and women are created equal, shouldn't we recognize that in our LGBT brothers and sisters?  

It's a simple plan really, If we all come from a place of love and understanding, the world would be a much healthier and happier place to be.  

My hope is that the US Supreme Court will agree with me and that some day, I can see my lil' sister- and her future bride- toss their respective bouquets! 






Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Will writing ever be fun again?

It's sad and pathetic that I've been unable to write since January.

Well, that's not true.  In fact, I've written A LOT since then, just nothing pertaining to my blog.

Woe is me...

I'm on Spring Break and I am not in Florida or Lake Havasu.  I am here, typing away.

Ok, not gonna lie, I am sneaking away next week but it sounds so much better if I act like I am really toughing it out...

So I'm taking just a few minutes to return to the place where I feel the most comfortable, the place where the love and support I need seems to find its way right to me through the responses from you-
my friends and family.

YOU are the audience that gets me.  YOU are the audience that wants more and yet what have I done?  I've gone and abandoned you in favor of pursuing my MFA.  Why? So I can be a better writer of course.  But then again, doesn't that also suppose that I should, in fact...be writing?

Well again, I have been, but not in the usual form.  I have been writing fun little essays known as "literary analyses" or what our Professor deems "reaction papers."  This is uncharted territory for me since most of my background has been writing in a journalistic fashion.  Here I thought when I started this endeavor I'd be writin' fiction.  Boy, was I ever wrong.

I have written some pretty decent little pieces and workshopped them in class.  Heck, one time I even lost my shit and started crying the very first night after reading my own work.  That was fun...making everyone uncomfortable, squirmy, letting my classmates wonder if I was going to end up in a shambles after every class. I like to keep them guessing.

I must say, I have been able to hold it together since that first night and have managed to read my work without shedding a single tear (so far, the semester isn't over yet).  And everyone seems to have forgotten the overt display of emotion that first fateful night.  Lucky me.

No, really what's been happening is that I have been reading some pretty amazing books and getting to meet the writers.  In as much as I hate writing these reaction papers, I have completely enjoyed the experience of seeing these people speak, understanding them just a little bit better and realizing that they  are real faces behind the words.

So I'm getting ready for my midterm now and I'm not gonna lie, it's daunting.  I am learning a lot so there is that...not only about writing but also about myself.

This process has been challenging, no doubt.  I am really figuring out what I am made of and I am pretty proud of myself for tackling this in the midst of my ordinary life-which is filled with an abundance of love and friendship, also with carpools and lessons and parties and homework.

I signed up for this, every single bit.  So dear friends, I will continue this journey and try to figure out ways to entertain you as I go along.  And if any of you are interested in reading what I have been working on other than the essays, let me know.  I can post something right here on my blog if I am so inclined.

Thanks again and again for your support as I would not be here without you!

And guess what?

To answer my own question...You have made writing fun again!

Happy Hump Day Folks!

Enjoy your Spring Break wherever it takes you and Happy Easter!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Greek Yogurt

Inspiration.

Where do you find it?

For me, I look around and take a minute to digest what I see.  For instance, right now-sitting in the booth next to me are a mother and son, he's about three.  He's resisting eating the Greek yogurt in front of him because Mom mixed it with the strawberries on the bottom.

"No, I don't want it mixed," he whines.

"But you said all morning, all you wanted was strawberries."

"Yes, but not mixed in with the yogurt."

After some debate, he finally gives in and begins to eat it, protesting a little here and there.  Hey, I can't blame the kid.  Unless Greek yogurt is mixed with cucumber and on top of a pita with chicken, I wouldn't want to eat it either.

So what this whole scene really reminds me of is how fast time moves.  It reminds me of when my own boy was three and now he's almost fourteen.  It reminds me that my daughter will be five next month.  It reminds me that even though my brain still thinks it's 25, it's really 40, and I don't move nearly as fast as I did. Listen, I'm not using a walker or a motorized Rascal, nothing that extreme, but I'm not gonna lie-being in bed by 9:30 is part of my usual routine.

And I like it.

But, sometimes we must step outside our comfort zones (which often include warm blankets and cozy jammies) and have a meal or outing after 8:00 p.m.   Take for instance, last night.  I met Rachel and Paula, two of my dear friends, for dinner then we headed to a bar, not to have a night cap but instead to watch Paula's son play with his band.


Yes, the time has come, now we are watching one of our children...

play in a band...

in a bar.


Shortly before they went on, and thanks to the power of Facebook, Jeremy and Kirk popped in to surprise us and it was like flashing back to 1992, sitting in a dive bar, watching a band and sharing laughs.  Except this time, we were all yawning at 10:45 and getting ready to head home instead of just getting started.  Oh how the times have changed.

With my ears ringing and my eyelids drooping, I gave my friends their goodbye hugs and kisses and headed home at 11:45.  Boy was I grateful the bar was in HB and my drive was only five minutes because I'm not sure I could have made it much later.  Pathetic?  Perhaps.  But still, I was so glad I went because even as the remnants of the blaring music continued to penetrate my eardrums, I was so happy I stepped outside of my usual routine to be in this moment with people I care deeply for and what I was left with was a feeling of connection.  A connection to these friends who have known me for longer than I can remember and with whom I share history, and I felt a sense of gratitude for having that connection because I know it's rare.

So being connected, being present-that really is what I am trying to be about in every aspect of my life.  Knowing that time is fleeting just gives me more reasons to embrace every experience and all of the relationships I have been blessed and lucky enough to share.

Since I've been writing, the little boy and his mom finished up and left.  I think they were heading to the park.  I wanted to tell her to enjoy this time, embrace moments like these because he'll be fourteen soon and then you will be sitting in a coffee shop, wondering where time went and reflecting on the days gone by, maybe shedding a tear or two in the process, maybe writing a blog, maybe going to graduate school...but I get the feeling she already knew that.

Inspiration comes in many forms and today I found mine sitting next to me, covered in Greek yogurt with strawberries.

Thanks kid, and next time try the French toast instead...

Oh and don't forget the strawberries.