Thursday, December 31, 2009

My sister has breast cancer.

I'm sitting here pondering how to approach this subject.  I'm so conflicted about everything, I can't decide between wanting to pull my hair out or to just sit down and cry.

When I was little, I could never quite get my sister's name out right, instead of "Linda", she was "Nana".  Since then she's been "Nana Banana", "Banana Head", my father's favorite nickname for her, "Doodah", "Minnie Two" (I have no idea where that came from, so don't ask) and as of late, she and I have been calling each other "Turd".  It's normal sibling stuff.

When it comes to Linda, I think she's the most beautiful woman ever created.  Blue-green eyes, perfectly shaped eyebrows, full lips, a quick sense of humor, lots of common sense, just an all-around beautiful person.  She's got a great sense of fashion and she's given birth to the most prized person in my life, my nephew, Ryan. 

Growing up, she was the innovator that came up with a technique I call "Ice cream hush money".  Every Friday, she'd pick me up from middle school and we'd have the afternoon together at Polar Bear Ashburn's for Banana Splits, Turtles and all kinds of treats.  So that made me owing to her, so if she was going to get into trouble and she needed me to cover up for her, it was my job to make sure I covered for her best I could.  I sure did like those Fridays.  I never told that she forgot to pick me up from my piano lesson, or that she left me sitting in front of the school for 2 hours when she was supposed to pick me up.  For those rare moments when she messed up, I covered for her because she went out of her way to always take me along wherever she went.  Whether it was taking me to work with her at the waterpark or out with her friends, the old saying, "Where you wanted one, you got two" always seemed to be the case.  Amongst her friends, I was their little mascot.

When Linda was 18, she moved into an apartment with her best friend Lexie and they were thick as thieves.  But, it also meant that at 14, I had no one.  No one to go to Banana Splits with on Fridays, no one to check on me or steal the knobs out of the television set in my room to make sure I was doing my homework instead of watching television, playing with my Apple IIe computer or playing video games.  I didn't have many friends that were my age.  All my friends were her friends and well, since they had all graduated high school and left for college, it meant that I was alone and had to fend for myself against school bullies and the like.    As you can imagine, I felt pretty abandoned.   

In 1986, she married my ex-brother-in-law and moved to Missouri.  We didn't see her much in those 20 years until two years ago when her marriage disintegrated and she came out to live in Vegas with the rest of us.  After she got here, it wasn't long until she had a job, was working 50+ hours a week and living in her own apartment.  She grabbed hold of the future with both hands and made things happen for herself.  She met her boyfriend Carl and they've been together ever since. 

Two weeks ago, as I was heading into my Nevada School Law final I got a call from my sister to ask me for a favor.  The favor was small, nothing huge, just something quick.  When it comes to the people I love, if they ask for a favor, my immediate response is "Anything you'd like" and I leave it to them to tell me how I can help them.  So her favor was small, just a need to put me down as contact information for something, and that was it.  Easy peasy, nice and easy.

It wasn't until after I got home from my final that I called my sister and talked to her some more that the bomb was dropped into my lap.  "Sher," she said calmly, "I have breast cancer."  As soon as she said those four words, tears starting streaming down my cheeks.  You know, I wasn't quite ready for that.  My sister is the queen of healthy eating, she works out, she's always been really active.  Then boom.  Breast Cancer.  I didn't get it.  I still don't.  I don't understand how this could have happened to her. 

Let's set the way back clock for the early '80's.  We were competitive swimmers back then, and well, one afternoon at swim practice, doing relay drills, a boy dove into the pool directly on top of my sister.  Her body went from being a straight line to being a U, and it's not the proper way you're thinking of either, he bent her body into a U in the wrong direction, the front part of her stomach became the bottom of the U and her feet and hands made up the top parts.  Get the picture?  If you didn't cringe, there's something wrong with you.  Well, this is the point where her back problems started.  She suffered for months with stinging sensations, limb numbness, the whole nine yards, so finally, after multiple doctors visits and so forth, my parents took her to a specialist and upon x-raying her back and doing CAT scans and the lot, they put her into the hospital. One evening after reviewing test results, the doctor comes in and tells my mother, right in front of me, that my sister had cancer.  I was 10.  My sister was my idol and I was faced with the possibility that my sister had cancer.  That night at home, I wailed.  Tears streaming down my cheeks telling my mother, "I don't want Nan to lose her hair!  I want my Nana!!"  That's all I could think of, the girl who I thought was the most beautiful woman in the world and had the most beautiful, perfectly styled hair was going to have it all fall out because of chemotherapy.  I was freaked out and completely beside myself.  My mother held me and said, "No, she doesn't have cancer.  Let's just wait and see what happens, but you need to be strong for her, ok?"  I nodded and tried to hold myself together.

My mother is probably the best Dr. Mom you will ever meet in your life.  The next day, we went back to the hospital.  While I was playing video games with my sister on my Atari 2600 that had been moved to her hospital room so my sister had something to do, my mother went to talk to the doctor.  She looked at the doctor straight in the face and said, "I don't think she has cancer, let me see her x-ray."  The doctor took my mother into a room and put the films up on the wall and turned on the light to illuminate the x-ray.  In the middle of her back was a very large shadow, from what I recall, it was about four inches long.  The doctor points at it and says, "That's cancer."  My mother replies, "You don't know what the hell you're talking about, that's a blood clot."

As the story my mother tells goes, the morning Linda was going into surgery, she looked at my mother and asked, "Do I have cancer?"  My mother held her hand and said, "No baby, you don't."  As my mother tells the story, she said that there was a cross on the wall next to my sister's hospital bed.  She looked up at it and thought, "Don't you make a liar out of me."  The doctors came in shortly after, took my sister into the operating room, removed exactly what my mother said it was, a blood clot, and she was fine for years.  The cancer scare was over.  My Nana got to keep her hair and we returned to a normal life.

Until now.  Now I'm not sure if God made a liar out of my mother or not.  You could argue that the reference only pertained to that small, fragile 14-year-old laying in the hospital bed.  Or you could argue that God welched on the deal, that when my sister asked "Do I have cancer", His divine intervention and my mother's answer of no would have held true until Linda reached old age.

All I know is that twice is far too many times in your life to be told that your sister has cancer.  Especially when her approval and company is amongst the most prized things in your life.  My sister has had a very profound influence on me.  She was the one who taught me not to judge other people, to not spread rumors or talk behind people's backs and all of the common sense stuff I harp on all the time.  She was my idol for most of my adolescent life and into my early 20's.  She was the one who always had the nicest car to drive, the biggest house and all the trappings of success.  She was the cat's meow on so many fronts, it didn't matter what I did, she was the king of the hill so to speak.  It didn't get much higher than her.

So now, I'm sitting here writing in my blog because at this very moment (6 am) she's having her IV inserted before she goes in for her double mastectomy.

Growing up, my sister developed her breasts fairly early, I think it was around 13, but I could be wrong, but her chest filled up faster than a balloon on a helium tank.  The kids used to call her "Dolly Parton" because her chest was not quite proportional to the rest of her body.  The poor thing started wearing underwire at 14 or 15.  That's a lot for a young woman to hold up, but sufficed to say, her breasts have been a part of her identity for a long time.

All of the women in our family have large breasts.  There is not a single member of the IBTC (Itty bitty tittie committee) in our family.  It's just the status quo.  But, as a wonderful genetic gift from my mother's side of the family, we also have fibrocystic lumps in our breasts as well.  None of us has ever had problems with them.  Ever.

What my sister has is called DCIS - Ductal Carcinoma In Situ.  To quote Breastcancer.org, it says:

"Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. Ductal means that the cancer starts inside the milk ducts, carcinoma refers to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues (including breast tissue) that cover or line the internal organs, and in situ means "in its original place." DCIS is called "non-invasive" because it hasn’t spread beyond the milk duct into any normal surrounding breast tissue. DCIS isn’t life-threatening, but having DCIS can increase the risk of developing an invasive breast cancer later on."

When Linda showed us her x-rays and mammogram films, all over her right breast is peppered with cancer cells that show up as light spots on the x-ray.  They were everywhere.  It was the most mortifying sight I've ever seen.  It still didn't make sense to me.  I'm the smoker, I'm the one with the horrid eating habits that doesn't go to the gym half as often as I should and she's the one with breast cancer!  I don't get it!!

Part of me thinks that it's very unfair.  That it should have happened to me.  If anything happens to me, I'm not that big of a loss.  I'm just a career student who has no children, sits at the computer far too much and really has nothing to live for.  Linda, on the other hand, is a force to be reckoned with, she has her son, her boyfriend, her best friend, all of the other people who depend on her.  She's a major loss if anything goes wrong.  Why did it have to happen to her?

When I found out about her cancer, I called the ex.  He's the one who really showed me there was no God and that atheism isn't a bad word.  I railed at him.  I asked him, when you're as low as I am, abandoned, beat down, depressed and filled with the other fun filled drama that I have, who do you turn to?  Where is the comfort?  What the hell do you do when things get this far down the tubes?  Who did he lean on?  I wanted to know!  He's got his bitch that looks like a bassett hound and when things go to shit, he's got her!  Who do I have?  No one.  He had no answer for me.  Given the man I've found him to be, I'm not surprised in the least.  His attempt to comfort was useless.

Then I went to my usual source of friendship and camaraderie, my online worlds.  I've got tons upon tons of friends online, but there is not a single one of them nearby to hold me while I cry.  They've been holding me up while things have gone from bad to worse this year and with this latest round, they've shown their colors, being true friends to the last.  I can't say enough about my friends and guildmates in Klatoo Verata Niktoo in World of Warcraft, they've been my saving grace.

As for my Mom and Dad, we're all seven ways from Sunday about the whole deal so that's not really much to go off of either.  My mom's not exactly Miss Sensitivity or Miss Congeniality.  Last night, while she was making my father's birthday enchiladas, she broke down and cried, telling me how scared she was.  My father is just hanging back and waiting to see what happens.  I don't even know how to talk about this with my family because we've got no common ground to work from.  I'm a liberal atheist while my family are a bunch of conservative Christians.  Ok, you can't find a common ground on that one, no matter how hard you try.  Even when I do express how I feel about things they are called "screwed up" or "we just don't talk about those things".  What I want to know is what kind of God would allow this to happen to my sister?  What kind of sadistic bonehead deity would give her a life filled with so much bullshit that she's broken because of it?? 

This whole time, I've kept my distance from my family.  For lots of reasons.  I'm the one who has had to be strong for everyone else.  I don't want to crack in front of them because that's not their job really to comfort me.  I know we're supposed to lean on each other, but that's not how my family works really.  I don't trust them to comfort me when I need it.  Usually when I'm upset, I get dismissed or laughed at or some other insensitive response.  I can't take that.  I shouldn't have to really, so I keep my distance, alone and really trying to make sure I keep up a strong front, leaving my weaker moments for time between me and the four walls of my apartment.

Since the news of the cancer has come down, my sister has gone from "don't tell anyone" to "tell everyone".  The sad part, I found out later on, is that I was the last one to be told about her cancer.  She had told all of her friends in Missouri, her boyfriend, her best friend, the ladies that work at the school my mom goes to, which by the way, when my sister informed my mother she had breast cancer, she told her "don't tell anyone", the next day, she's sitting at school and someone who works at the school, basically a perfect stranger to our family, walks up and tells my mother how sorry she is Linda had breast cancer.  The whole world knew and the only person who didn't was me.  I was the last to know.  How am I supposed to feel about that?  Was she trying to save my feelings or was it that she didn't care for me to know until it was inevitable that I would find out anyways?  What the hell is that?  My mother found out only hours before I had.    If that had been me, the only 3 people in the world that would have known I was sick would have been my mother, father and sister.  Then I would have told everyone else when I was ready.

For the last 2 weeks we've been inundated by her Cancer Bag, her cancer ribbons, her cancer this, that and the other.  X-rays, mammogram films and all of the other stuff so she could "educate" us on it.  Pressure to get a mammogram was heaped on us, which I agree, self-exams and mammograms are good things, but to have it shoved down your throat?  Not comfortable when you're facing the fact that my sister has cancer and I really don't know what to do.  I feel helpless.

People rely on me to fix things.  I'm the one who comes up with solutions when there are problems.  But I don't have a solution for this.  I can't lay on the table for my sister while a part of her identity is stripped from her body!  I don't understand how someone so beautiful could be hacked into pieces like this!  I don't know what to do!  I don't know what to say!  Worse part of it is that I know my sister doesn't believe in me enough to let me help take care of her when that's all I want to do!

What do you do in moments like this?  Do you cry, do you scream, do you look up at an imaginary deity and scream WHY?????? Knowing that there will be no answer, only silence as the surgeon's knife slices into her body to remove the cancer.

I'm trying my best to remember the banana splits, the childhood moment she and I were in her new car and trying to get up a steep hill when she started up the hill in third gear, only to stall in the middle.  I'm trying to figure out what I can do for her when her best friend is already in town as what I see as a clear sign that her flesh and blood family are too incompetent to take care of her.

I'm angry.  I'm sad.  I'm crying.  I don't know what to do.  My sister has breast cancer, but it's the most highly curable form.  And at 9am the surgeons are going to cut up my big sister and I can't do anything about it.

WHY!!!??!?!?!?!?!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's Complicated and I'm traumatized.

I spent the day with my nephew.  The apple of my eye and the most wonderful young man ever created.  I adore that boy.  I'm so happy I have him as my nephew, I couldn't asked for better.

After a day of wine shopping, taking in the new City Center here in Vegas, my family decided at dinner for us to see the film "It's Complicated."

Now, let's go over the story really fast:

Meryl Streep's character Jane has been divorced for 10 years.  She's a successful bakery owner, she's got all her ducks in a row and one evening, during a trip to New York to see their son graduate college, she has a fling with her ex, Jake (played by Alec Baldwin).  However, in the meantime, she meets her architect, Adam (played by Steve Martin), and starts digging on him while she's sleeping with her ex.  Like the film title says, 'It's Complicated'.

Come to find out, Jake had an affair which ended his and Jane's marriage. I sat there mortified when I found that out...ok, NOT the right movie for me to see.

My sister sat and laughed through the film.  I guess it was easy for her to take because she has a boyfriend and her life is very focused right now.  Mine, however, is filled with still coping with the lying, cheating, SOB that screwed me up to high heaven, added onto the fact that the guy I really want lives 2500 miles away and I can't even reach out and touch him.  (Groan with me please, I need the sympathy at this point.)

Worse is that when Jane sleeps with Jake, well, there's Alec Baldwin laying there with a chest full of fur, so bad that it looks like a cat had an enormous hairball and threw up on his chest...very similar to my ex (and he was a furry bastard from hell as well.)

The entire film, I went from moments of covering my face in agony, saying to my nephew sitting next to me, "I need a drink" and writhing in my seat like my pants were on fire.  I didn't want to be there to say the least.  The film had some great laughs in it, but it didn't make up for the fact that every time Jake came onto the screen I wanted to scream "GET RID OF HIM!  THROW HIM OUT!!!"  It was horrifying to see Jane get sucked in by that cheating low-life.  It was traumatic to say the least.

Directly after the film I came home to hear the one voice that would make that nightmare end.  Now, in the past, I've written about my friend KP and how much I love his kids and everything, but the truth is, I'm crazy in the head for the man, and I've never even met him in real life.  Ok, now let's give the scoop on him:

When my ex hit the door, or rather when I threw him out, the one guy that mopped me up and let me cry on his "shoulder" was my pal KP.  He's been in the exact same situation I'm in.  His wife cheated on him and he ended that, bonus was that he got 3 fantastic kids out of the deal.  When I hit rock bottom, there was KP ready to lift me up.  He taught me the phrase, "Build a bridge and get over it" when I thought that the world was going to end and I had no hope in sight.  In the year plus I've known him, he's never lied to me and he's always been really wonderful to me.

The other neat thing about KP is that, well, we've had very similar life experiences.  The famous people, the undervalued skill sets, the great intelligence, the quick wit, you name it, KP and I have it in common.  We even finish each other's sentences sometimes.  I doubt if I'll ever know if he feels the same way about me that I feel about him, but if nothing else, he's one guy I want to have as my friend for the rest of my life.  He's just that special.

So, I come in from the movie, change clothes and all the while, I'm talking to myself about the film, thinking about my ex and if I'd ever have an affair with him, and I kept going "NO!  NO!  Never!  I want him away from me!  NO!"  Traumatized and at my wits end with anxiety, I logged onto World of Warcraft, turn on the voice-over-IP software "Ventrillo" and what do I find?  My pals Chance, Amy and KP all sitting in Vent.  First question out of my mouth after I described the film and how traumatized I was, I asked KP, "Would you ever go back to your ex?"  He replied a VERY fast, "NO."  I breathed a sigh of relief, because all truth be told, I want KP for myself, I'm greedy like that, he's all that and a plate of cookies along with being more beautiful inside than he is externally and his exterior?  OMG...HOT!  He's beautiful in fifteen million ways, but his heart is the most beautiful part of him.  However, his response to the question made me feel better because it reinforced what I believe as well, that a cheating ex should NEVER be taken back.  I followed up the question to KP with "If you were ever in a relationship again, would you ever cheat?"  He replied a very fast, "NO WAY."  I guess it's because both KP and I have been through the very bitter betrayals of being cheated on, it's unfathomable to either of us to ever cheat on our partners.

After I relayed how traumatized I was by the film, my friend Amy told me that it would be equivalent to putting someone with cancer in front of the film "Terms of Endearment".

At that point, I was still traumatized, so I went to the kitchen poured myself a fairly large portion of a Sp├Ątlese that was chilling in my fridge and came back to my desk.  I took a long drink of the wine and convinced myself it was far past overdue for me to "build a bridge and get over it", even though with how my heart was racing and anxiety was getting the better of me, I made myself concentrate on KP's voice and remember how over the last nine months it's been his voice that has been the most reassuring to me in the darkest of hours.  I guess he's my Steve Martin character from the film.  He's the one guy I think the crowd is cheering for me to meet.  lol.

The whole film thing, even though it had funny parts just was NOT the right film for me to see.  Amy pointed out that I should have seen Sherlock Holmes instead, which I wholeheartedly agreed with because that was the film I WANTED to see.  I hadn't even heard of "It's Complicated".  It doesn't hurt that KP is that same kind of dark and handsome gorgeous that Robert Downey Jr. is, at least for my $10 I could have sat and had eye-candy and walk out of the theater laughing instead of sitting here traumatized and even more willing than I already am to give my right arm for a plane ticket to Hawaii.

So, what did I get out of this evening?  A blog post that tells recently abandoned divorcees to NOT see "It's Complicated".  It's a funny film.  It's really good, but not the right content for the recently betrayed.  Trust me, if you're in my shoes, you're not ready for it.  Heal, take time to give yourself some love, but for goodness sake, stay OUT of the movie theater that it's playing in.  See "It's Complicated" when you've healed a good bit and for now, go see something that will make you laugh and spend time with people that you love and love you in return.

Altogether, my day?  Painful.  Breaking in new Cherry Red Doc Marten's with 13 hours plus of walking then tack on a fairly crappy meal AND a traumatizing movie with it is not the way to go.  Lesson learned, don't put new shoes and a traumatizing movie together on the same day.

I'm just going to put band-aids on blistered feet, build a bridge over the trauma of the film and just get over it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Semester Wrap-Up

I'm sitting here going over the last 5 months.  They've gone by really fast.  From getting admitted into UNLV, registering for classes, meeting new people, being woken up from a marriage-induced coma, to dealing with the ex, reconnecting with old friends, making my own rules and finally giving myself some love, the last five months have really been, for the most part, an extraordinary journey.

Today, I found out I got a B+ for my final grade in Nevada School Law.  Given that the course was one that I'm not sure I was prepared for by my life experiences, I still think it's really good.  Ok, to put it another way, since I flunked out of the University of Central Florida because I didn't have the proper guidance to choose the right courses combined with working nights at Disney, I think my first grade at college for the second time being a B+ isn't half bad.  I'm a little disappointed, but it's not the end of the world.

I'll be honest, a lot of the materials in NV School Law flew over my head.  I found that during the semester, I didn't really get an opportunity to really participate in the discussions because I really didn't understand the relevance of the materials or what the logic was behind them.  But as one of my fellow students put it, the course was really not about memorizing facts, it was about understanding the relevance of the cases in a work situation.  Outside of teaching my classes in an online world, my experiences put me in a position where I really didn't understand what my professor was driving at.  So a B+, I'm not surprised.  It is what it is, I passed it, I'm moving on.

I have not gotten back my final grade for my Comp II class yet.  I'm waiting patiently for it because right now, my Comp II professor, on top of all of his other classes, is having to read twenty-three 7 to 10 page papers.  I'm under the impression "he asked for it, he got it". So because I do feel the pain of having to read all of those, I'm just going to sit back and wait for my grade and not grouse about it.

My final draft of my paper, "Centerfield", ended up being exactly 10 pages long.  I walked in on Tuesday, handed it to him and said one word.  "Ten."  He smiled at me and said "I'm proud of you."  As you recall, I've been having length issues all semester long.  My paper went from 12 pages to 16, back down to 12 then finally to 10 pages.  It was something my professor told me that struck home: When you write, you are your own deity.  You control what you put in there, but you've got to have the guts and audacity to be able to kill your favorite sentences and artfully crafted sentiments if needs be.  Oh, and I did.  During the final hours of editing, I killed some of my darlings.  I looked at them and said, "I'm sorry, but you're not necessary, so I'm going to save you for another time.", then hit delete.  Doing something like that is very heartbreaking when you're like me.  You have such gorgeous little tidbits, but you MUST for the sake of meaning, sense and clarity be able to weed them out.  It killed me to do it, but I swallowed the bullet and in the end, it taught me that to do justice to my work, I have to be courageous enough to hack and slash, showing no mercy for the sake of having a wonderfully crafted paper.  Outside of throwing my ex out, hacking down my paper was the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

I really loved my Comp II class.  I got to engage in the arguments, I got to take part in things and really immerse myself in it.  That sense of engagement to the material was really rewarding, and as I've read over the last 5 months of entries, I've noticed that my writing style has changed quite the little bit.  Kudos to my Comp II professor for helping me do that.   Comp II really assisted in waking me up from my coma.  It made me reach out, challenge myself and grow.  Those are all good things that wouldn't have been possible had I not taken that class.  It really was a life-changing experience.

Every day on the way to my Comp II class, I made sure to listen to a song by John Mayer called "Say" that was written for the film "The Bucket List".  If you've not seen "The Bucket List", go rent it.  It's worth it.  It's the story of two men with cancer who are told they only have six months to a year to live and they make a list of all the things they want to do before they "kick the bucket".  It's a journey of two men finally giving themselves love.  I can't think of a more relevant movie to parallel with the last 5 months.  But, to the song for the ending credits, "Say", well, take a listen...


Here are the lyrics:

Take all of your wasted honor
Every little past frustration
Take all of your so-called problems,
Better put 'em in quotations

Say what you need to say [x8]

Walking like a one man army
Fighting with the shadows in your head
Living out the same old moment
Knowing you'd be better off instead,
If you could only . . .

Say what you need to say [x8]

Have no fear for giving in
Have no fear for giving over
You'd better know that in the end
Its better to say too much
Then never say what you need to say again

Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open

Say what you need to say [x24] 


Looking at the song in the perspective of Comp II, it's the simple phrase "Say what you need to say" that was the most poignant to me.   In a world where I use too much detail, it is easiest to think of things in terms of saying what is necessary, but no more than that.  A single sentence should be strong enough to make the point without further embellishment.

The rest of the song has little jewels along the way.

"Take all of your wasted honor":  The departure of my ex.
"Every little past frustration": Anger at being ignored and feeling ineffectual.
"Take all of your so-called problems; Better put 'em in quotations": The life experiences that I was able to put in context, learn from them and use all those things as a reason to keep moving forward, along with putting them all in my writing so that maybe I could help someone else along with helping myself.


"Walking like a one man army": Living on my own, making my own rules, being alone without anyone to fall back on, yet still pushing forward.
"Fighting with the shadows in your head": Fighting against all of my self-doubt, the imposed feelings of inadequacy, memories of all the neglect and hopelessness.
"Living out the same old moment": The long days of complacency and allowing people to hurt me.
"Knowing you'd be better off instead, If you could only say what you need to say":  Standing up and doing what needed to be done.  Waking up and yelling at the top of my lungs that I'm here and I won't be diminished by the drama that the selfish people around me see fit to impose on me.

"Have no fear for giving in": To have moments of asking for help when it's not in my nature to.
"Have no fear for giving over": To allow people to be close to me.
"You'd better know that in the end; It's better to say too much; Then never say what you need to say again.":  That I have to speak up and make myself known, because no one else will do it for me. 


"Even if your hands are shaking": Even though I've been broken down and beaten,
"And your faith is broken":  When I feel that I can't trust anyone,
"Even as the eyes are closing; Do it with a heart wide open":  No matter what's happened to me, when it comes down to it all, I have to make sure I'm giving love to everyone around me.  That I'm better than all the things people have done to me.  That I'll rise above it all and be better than those that would drag me down.

That sums up the semester.  I'm saying what I need to say, no more, no less.  Thanks Doc T.

I'd like to thank everyone who's gone on the journey with me this semester.  My pal Kathy, my sister, my awesome nephew, my friends Barry and Chris, my surrogate mom squad, Susan, Dana, Lisa and Jeannie.  To Doc T, whom I owe so much, Becky and the rest of the great people in Comp II, y'all are awesome.  And a special shout out to my number one reader Gail, thanks for believing in me.

I'll be back with more entries for the holidays and I'll be keeping y'all abreast of what's happening going into the spring semester.

If you haven't today, reach out and tell someone you love them.  It's good for your heart.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Can't. Go. On.

A trip to the library - 8 books.
Time spent writing rough draft - 16 hours.
Time spent in revisions and editing - 14 hours.
One finished research paper that went from 16 pages to 12 pages to 10. -  Priceless.

Comp II, it's everywhere you want to go to write an argumentative research paper from hell.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I really wish I had nothing to say.

Sitting for 8 hours pounding on revisions for my Comp II is not my idea of a fun night.  I'm not sure anyone else would think it was fun either.

My Comp II professor, a while back, told me something that he said he would never, ever tell another student, that I don't need to write so very much.  That in essence, I've got almost too much detail.  He said, "where other students struggle to have something to say, you don't."  He went on to say he wished more people had my ability and took the class as seriously as I do.

Sitting through 8 hours of revisions made me grateful I went out last night to see a show.  My paper, if you recall, was supposed to be between 7-10 pages.  I ended up with 16.  When you're really passionate and have really researched your subject matter, 10 pages go by really freaking fast.  So I've been just weeding out.  Ok, weeding out is an understatement, I took the weed whacker to the thing.  I did one version of the paper which ended up being 12 pages, 4 pages shorter than the original version and what I term as "Diet Sheri: great taste, half the detail."  Which in the paper we're supposed to be very detailed in our arguments, so it's left me at an impasse that I've written my professor about.  Hopefully I'll hear from him sometime tomorrow as to what to do about the paper.

But, you know what, these are the moments where I would love nothing more than to have nothing to say.  But, it is my curse and between not being able to say what is on my mind and being able to write about things in my style but be a bit long, I'll go long.  It's worth it.  My quantity has quality.  My guildies in WoW say that my Walls 'o' text critically strike and kill people.  But more often than not, I'm told I'm a great read.

So let's get on to the good read!

After class on Thursday, I drove over to the MGM Grand and did something I should have done long ago.  Give myself some love.  I found out that Robin Williams was coming to Vegas on December 5th back in October and I about nearly had a heart attack of my own when I found out.  Robin?  Here?  OMG! 

So two months later, just this past Thursday afternoon, I stopped at the MGM Grand, bought my ticket with cash money I had earned by tutoring my mom on her computer and giggled like a little girl on the way back out to the car.  I had a ticket to see my life-long all-time favorite comedian and actor.  Had my ex and I still have been together, I seriously doubt I would have been treated to the absolute joy of seeing Robin Williams last night.  Upon asking about going to the show, he would have told me "we'll look into that", his usual dismissal when I asked for things I really wanted which would have meant "NO".  But, I didn't have that on Thursday afternoon.  Nope!  I had the money, I walked up to the box office, I bought the ticket and I took myself to the show.  I went alone.  I have no shame in saying that!  I had a BALL!  It was on my terms and my time and that was something I felt was truly rewarding myself for getting through the last 7 months alone in the apartment, all of the crap my ex put me through and getting awesome grades at school.

I have to say, I prematurely rewarded myself for my hard work during the semester by taking myself to see Robin Williams at the MGM Grand last night.  I'm sitting in sweats and my t-shirt from the concert that says "Robin Williams:  Weapons of Self Destruction".  I never laughed so hard in my life.  I watched the show again tonight on HBO that they recorded in Washington DC and I have to say, seeing Robin live has been one of my lifelong dreams, but when you see him live, there is an energy that courses through the room that makes him 100 times funnier than he is on TV.  I never dreamed it was possible that he could actually be funnier than he is already.  He's my favorite actor/comic and he's my teaching idol.

What put me into stitches is the fact that he covered basically the last 4 months of my life in that hour and a half show.

First off, he talked about GPS devices.  You remember me, Mom and Dad on the road from the Kansas City airport to Blackwater?  Robin lit that experience up with massive stadium lights.  He's ranting about the GPS voice and I'm nearly pissing myself I was laughing so very hard.  I had tears rolling down the sides of my face and my abs were screaming for mercy as he just kept piling it on.

Then, he talks about Intelligent Design.  As you recall, my Comp II paper is about Evolution vs. Intelligent Design.  Oh holy gods...the description of the Intelligent Design of male and female genitalia had me holding onto my sides again, going into coughing fits and cursing the day I became a smoker because I was laughing so hard.  Garnish and Curtains.  That's all I have to say.  hahahahahahahaha.

Then he talks about marriage and men who mess around.  I nearly about peed again when he basically just tore into guys who cheat.  It struck close to home, but that's the thing about comedy, you have to resonate with the tragedy to really see the funny parts of it.

Then, he talks about alcoholism and addiction.  Been there and done that with the addiction thing, not going there again, don't ask.  I've got 9 years of sobriety and I am NOT going to get sucked back into that.  But how he talked about the different drugs, holding onto the armrests of the chair was all I could do to not fall out of my seat.

But then came the cherry on the cake.  Directory assistance.  Now, as you recall, I found out about the concert on the way to school back in October.  I drive past the corner of Las Vegas Blvd and Tropicana every time I go down to school.  There, up on the billboard for the MGM Grand was ROBIN WILLIAMS: LIVE DECEMBER 5TH.  TICKETS AVAILABLE AT THE MGM BOX OFFICE.  Now, I never use my cell phone and drive if I can avoid it.  It took every last ounce of willpower not to snatch that phone out of the bag and call the MGM.  I waited until I parked and was walking to class.  I call Directory Assistance.  It was just as Robin described in his section of the show, the computerized voice coming on and saying "Directory assistance, what city and state?"

Me:  Las Vegas, Nevada.

Directory Assistance:  "What listing please"

Me: MGM Grand Box Office.

Directory Assistance: "Did you say MGM Grand?"

Me:  Yes.
The phone goes out.  The call hangs up.

Me:  DAMMIT!
I take a few more steps towards the building where my class is at.
I dial 411 again.

"Directory assistance, what city and state?"

Me:  Las Vegas, NV.

Directory Assistance:  "What listing please"

Me: MGM Grand Box Office.

Directory Assistance: "Did you say MGM Grand?"

Me: Yes.

Directory Assistance: "The number is xxx-xxxx, if you'd like the number repeated, please press 1 or I'll connect you at no additional charge."

Me:  Fuck!  Just connect the call already.

I look at the phone, "Remember me?  Gotta go to class?  I want my ticket to Robin...hurry the fuck up!"

The call connects "Hello and thank you for calling the MGM, this is Betty how may I direct your...
[THE PHONE GOES OUT AGAIN, THE CALL DISCONNECTS].

I have a Robin moment from The Birdcage where he's serving dinner and yells at Agador "who sets the table without looking at the bowls", and goes into a tirade of "goddamn you, goddamn you, goddamn you!" Hysterically yelling at Val, "Go Go Go!"

I was staring at the phone doing the goddamn you, goddamn you! part.  Thinking to myself "Go Go Go!  Go to class, call from inside!"  Becky had to hold onto me as I jumped up and down, nearly hyperventilating at the fact that Robin Williams was coming to town, that I had to find out how much tickets were and apologized profusely for using my cell phone before class started on a Tuesday trying desperately to connect with the MGM Grand Box Office to find out how much tickets were.

I dial 411 again.

Directory Assistance:  "What listing please"

Me: MGM Grand Box Office.

Directory Assistance: "Did you say MGM Grand?"

Me: Yes.

Directory Assistance: "The number is xxx-xxxx, if you'd like the number repeated, please press 1 or I'll connect you at no additional charge."

Me:  Goddamnit!  Just connect the freaking call before I get disconnected again.

The call connects "Hello and thank you for calling the MGM, this is Betty how may I direct your call?

Me:  I'd like to get tickets for the Robin Williams show on December 5th.  Can you connect me to the box office?

MGM PBX Operator: "Oh the concierge can help you with that.  One moment please, I'll connect you."

I look at the clock, it's 12:50, class starts at 1.  I'm sitting there, cussing at the phone, repeating 'goddamnit, goddamnit' in Robin's voice as I'm waiting for the concierge to pick up.

Finally at 12:55, the concierge lady picks up, I get the ticket prices and hang up the phone, just as my professor starts class. 

How Robin put it is:

You dial directory assistance,

"What city and state please"

"Las Vegas, Nevada"

"What listing?"

"MGM Grand"

"Did you say Mirage"

"No."

"What listing?"

"MGM Grand"

"Did you say Bellagio?"

"NO!"

"If you would like to speak to a representative please press 1"

"Boop"

"For English, please press 2"

"Boop"

"If you're sure you don't want Spanish, press 3"

"Boop"

and he goes through all the numbers to finally get to Zero and what does he get?

An operator from India.

That sums it up right there.

But I'm thrilled to death I got to see Robin.  He's the bomb.  Plus, I've edited my paper.  Now all that's left is the School Law final tonight at 6 and turning in my paper and writing my final exam essay at 1pm on Tuesday.

I'll be back with another entry to wrap up the semester on Wednesday.

Peace, Love and Have a blast out there!!!
The rules you live by are the ones you make for yourself.

Sheri

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Magnolias, Bluebonnets and resilience.



I just got done watching the film "Steel Magnolias".  Oh, it is a favorite of mine.  Over the years, I've put lines from that film into my every day conversations, things like "You are evil and must be destroyed".  There are so many wonderful moments in that film, and being as I am Southern raised, a lot of it makes a lot of sense.

Personally, a lot of the film reminds me of my aunts growing up, but more than that, it reminds me of my sister a whole lot.  You would have to see my sister to know what I'm talking about.  5'4, perfect skin, the most beautiful eyes you've ever seen and a fashion sense that would make any designer sit up and take notes.  Growing up, all I ever wanted to look like was my sister, she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen.  I still think that too, after all, she's been my idol all my life.  In the looks department, I think she's got me beat, hands down.  Next to my sister, I look like I have all the fashion sense of a warthog.  But I'll just go with saying that our styles are very different.  To be honest, I wouldn't know what my style was if it reached up and bit me in the ass, so at least if I want to see good fashion on someone who looks fairly similar to me, I just look at my sister. 

Like Shelby (Julia Roberts character in the film), my sister had a huge Southern wedding, the church decked out with flowers, me in a lilac colored bridesmaids dress (I was 14).  The one thing I remember best about my sister's wedding is that my sister was gorgeous and I got to carry a huge orchid as my bridesmaids bouquet.  The rest is basically a blur, after all, it was 20 + years ago.  All I remember is that the film came out just about at the same time as her wedding, so it was easy to draw similarities down the line.  Like Shelby, we even come equipped with the mother that always pushes and the easy-going laid back father, who sounded just like Tom Skerritt in the movie, when he gave my sister away, that southern twang going, "Her muther an' eye dew". 

Watching the film tonight, I could have sworn I was back at Central Baptist Church going through it all over again.  The thing is, that after it was all said and done, we had the same type of tragedy because her marriage wasn't meant to last.  Neither was mine.

However, when I look at the resilience factor built into both my sister and I, I keep thinking that well, maybe things like that are supposed to happen.  They make us stronger.  Maybe there's a reason for it.  When I look at my sister and myself now, after both of us came out of being married, I guess our survival instincts kicked in and helped us get back up on our feet on our own.  My sister and I don't talk about our marriages in terms of failure.  If we talk about them at all, we talk about them in terms of lessons learned.  Somehow I think that's the best coping mechanism of them all, the ability to dissect the situation and learn from your mistakes.  But that's always me, always trying to learn something on top of picking yourself up by your bootstraps and keep on walking.  Bonus to all of it, my sister has the world's coolest boyfriend.  I really do like him a lot.

Then there was the part of the movie that struck me the most of WHY I understand it so well.  It's Southern.  Someone from the Northeast, I don't think, would understand quite as well what the people in the film were saying and how they said it.  It's the cantor of the speech, it's how it's phrased, and I have to give props to all of the non-southern people who had to learn our dialect to really be believable in the film.  Trust me, the south is hard.  It's a rough place to grow up because between the sugar shock you have to go through for the saccharine sweet ones and the brass tacks that throw you under the bus of the not so sweet ones, you've got to be on your toes 24/7. 

You've got to be fast when it comes to conversation when you're from the south, because sure enough, you're going to get a zinger thrown your way and you've got to catch it and send it back going the same speed or faster than how it came to you.  You want to talk quick wit? My sister is faster than anyone I've ever seen. Wow, she'll knock your head clean off before you've got a chance to catch the joke and throw it back.  I grew up constantly trying to become faster.  Hi, I'm book smart, I've got common sense for shit, so I'm not really good at being fast, but to these folks on the West Coast, being just a hair slower than my sister pays off because most West Coasters are slow as Christmas in comparison.  I think it's funny to me when I throw a fast joke and it just whizzes right by some folks out here.

Another part is that an old friend of mine really got on my case the other night because of my accent.  Mine is slippery as all get out, I guess it always has been.  I remember growing up and kids getting on me because my accent was so thick (we lived in San Antonio and my dad's family is from Bryan/College Station).  In Texas, you have to understand that you can tell almost exactly what part of the state a Texan is from just by their accent.  East Texas is Sugar Sweet with crisp diction, West Texas sounds likeallthewordsinthesentencesareallputtogether.  (Yes, I just did that on purpose.)  Try it, I'm serious!  Run all the words together in a mumble with a southern accent and you've got West Texas!  Now if you talk to someone from around San Antonio, that accent is more neutral than anything else.  They can get away with sounding very middle of the road, no idiosyncrasies, just a bit of twang, not a lot though.  So being that I was surrounded mainly by the Sugar Sweet of East Texas, I ended up sounding more like my family than the kids at school.  The kids always gave me such a rough time about it, that I learned how to hide it as best I could to fit in.

Plus, at 18, I worked at Disneyworld.  When you're talking to a whole room full of people, you have to make sure that your diction is precise and you sound like the lady on NPR or on the local "easy listening" station.  It's a voice that is sure to put you to sleep like nobody's business.  A couple of sentences and you're out like a light.  But, for the sake of clarity to folks who came to Disney from all over the world, having an accent became more of a liability, if people couldn't understand you, how could they follow your instructions?  So I learned how to bury my accent even further.  I taught myself how to talk with no accent whatsoever.  I gave myself a "radio voice" that most people just get the fattest kick out of when they hear me relaxed.  I guess that is what, in the end, gave me the ability to do different voices, from my 105 year-old Grandfather "hellow mah little sweetie", my Aunt who refers to her husband by his middle name "Eugene" (which comes out U-geene) when he's in trouble, my aunt who after a few sentences and asking you "what do you want for brek-faast" will put you into sugar shock, to even my sister with her crisp diction that asks, "Did you wash your hands" to when she doesn't want to talk about things "let's.  just.  droppit".  Heck, I can even do the body language for most of them.  I can do the voice of Mickey Mouse, I even came up with one for the stuffed-up (or nasally-challenged) dragon "Elmer" for a fairy-tale play I wrote called "The Littlest Dragon", the story of a dragon who just didn't fit in with his kinfolks (He liked to eat Burritos while the rest of the family ate Jelly Beans.  Well, I won't go on with the rest of the story except to say that well, Elmer's family blew fire out of their mouths, Elmer blew fire out of his backside. Long story there, but I'm not going to go into it.  Sufficed to say the play was written for a group of actors on what's called a "Hoverboat" in There.com.)  The thing with Elmer and the Littlest Dragon is that I was the Narrator AND the Voice of Elmer, so I literally had to switch voices at the drop of a hat, neither one being my "real voice".  It was jumping from my "radio voice" to "Elmer". It was tough stuff and my throat got a little sore after 3 days worth of performances.  However, give me time and I can master most people's speech patterns and get a similar accent going.  I can do PERFECTLY the female draenei and female gnome voices from World of Warcraft, you should hear the laughter when I tell the Draenei joke/flirt, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?  Good.  Bring ample supply of butter and Goblin Jumper-cables" and "Stop and ask for directions I said, but NO "It's inter-dimensional" he says, "What can go wrong?"  (Inside joke, the Draenei crashed into a planet.)

Gnome...


Draenei




But like I said, my accent is slippery.  When I know I'm having to talk to a bunch of people and I need them to understand me clearly, unconsciously, the accent drops away.  BUT when I'm relaxed, pissed off or just around my father, my accent comes out in full bloom.  You should have seen the people up in Montreal when I had to live in that frozen hell, they understood English, but they had a hell of a time understanding me because of the speed at which I spoke combined with my southern drawl.  They stood mystified a whole lot of times.  You should have seen the looks on their faces when I used sayings like, "Didn't know their ass from a hole in the ground" or "couldn't hit the broad side of a barn".  I mean, things like that are normal to me, but you put them in a culture that says "Didn't know their ass from their elbow", yeah, they had trouble with it, so at that point, I had to really hide my accent.  But, I took the time to really get to know theirs so now I can do not only a French accent but a French-Canadian one too.  One of the biggest reasons that I think I hide my accent now is because I'm afraid people will think I'm ignorant or won't take me seriously because of it. 

This takes me back to when I went out with my friend yesterday for drinks.  After I had finally gotten to a point where I was relaxed (no, I wasn't drunk, so don't even go there.  What most people don't know is that I have a lot of anxiety in social situations and I'm really very shy and worried about people's perception of me, so it takes me a bit to wind down and feel comfortable enough to be myself, even around family).  Unconsciously, my true voice came out.  My buddy looked at me and said, "where the hell did that come from" and I realized at that moment that he was hearing ME, not a produced voice that I'd worked years on to hide my accent.  He stopped me dead in the middle of a sentence and pointed it out, and he said, "Sheri, I've known you for 10 years, and never have I heard the real you until right now.  I appreciate you being able to be around me as yourself, not as what you want people to see or hear."  He went on to tell me that if he ever caught me hiding my accent again, he was really going to give me a hard time.  He said that I sounded more genuine than I already was and that it was a feat he didn't think was possible.

I guess it's all a coping mechanism, a way to camouflage myself so I'm like everyone else.  But, the one thing I got out of it all is that I'm a Steel Magnolia in my own right, except I'd have to be a Steel Bluebonnet instead.  I know how to pick myself up by my bootstraps and keep on walking, and I'm sure that I can fit in with most accents from anywhere in the world.