We walk down the rolling swell of sidewalk toward the Pacific. Ahead of us a respective 6 feet, a pair of surfers stroll barefoot, surfboards tucked under arms, towels slung around necks.
Behind us and across the street, more of the same.
We have one of the only beaches still open from L.A. to San Diego.
Sorry luv. Much as I like you, I’m not going to tell you. Countless people are already parking on our street, more are walking, jogging and biking in that direction.
I begin to have a sinking feeling.
No way is my husband going to let me join in a potential Coronavirus Club Sprint down the stairs to the beach.
I’m dying to stick my toes in the sand and whip off this platinum Cleopatra wig, get a little sun on my cueball head.
I know what you’re thinking.
I should’ve left him at home.
We end up playing soccer with a pinecone in the closed parking lot. There’s a father teaching his daughter how to play soccer on one of the grass islands–
She has a real ball.
I feel like a pouty child.
Maybe we all feel a little bit like that right now. Maybe a lot.
Hey, get in your high chair and let’s bang away!
But don’t forget to set a timer, my friend.
Last week I got stuck in there. The uncertainty and unknown we all face right now is where Darkness is apt to get its strongest foothold and climb up into your chest, stealing your breath.
Let it go on too long and it’ll steal your sleep and your dreams, too.
Push that bastard off. Step on it. Beat your chest like King Kong. Feel better?
Good. Stop future tripping. Stay right here with me, in Today.
Today the sun is shining in SoCal, the circle of life is continuing around us and it’s so clear we can see all the way to Mexico.
We will emerge from this.
People wonder how I can be so positive, handling a cancer diagnosis amidst a global pandemic. Sit back and tuck a pillow behind your head, darling.
I’m going to tell you a story I’ve only given glimpses of, a story very few people know.
Exactly one year ago, I secured one of the top lit agents at the largest agency in NYC. His phone call was glowing, beautifully worded compliments such as: “This perfectly formed manuscript just fell in my lap as if from heaven.”
Believe me, I remembered that comment.
We discussed the writing and revision process to which he said none was needed aside from a few punctuation marks. I made the changes, thanked the heavens and crossed my fingers…
Responses from editors and publishers trickled in, comments like “mesmerizing;” “very taken with her smooth style;” “vivid;” “enjoyed the claustrophobic tension and subtle blurring of reality…”
I was so close to my dream I felt its lips brush my cheek.
I didn’t realize at the time my manuscript had been blasted in a shotgun approach– a practice packaging multiple manuscripts together without revision and submitting those MSS generically to editors/publishers.
Many editors don’t respond to this process. Within three months, my email and phone had fallen silent.
I called my agent.
Three months into a 12-month contract, I heard him say he wasn’t the one for me after all.
My world stopped. From somewhere far away, he continued, “It’s not you, it’s me. But hey, I still love your writing.”
That’s right, he broke up with me over the phone like a bad boyfriend who only wanted one thing: The goods. Not me.
It was like being cast in a Seinfield sketch– This is a joke, right?
Three months to sell a manuscript?
That’s the best you’ve got?
Thank God I didn’t give up on getting sober after three months. I’d still be hiding in the closet with a warm bottle of Chardonnay.
But I wanted to give up. I REALLY wanted to give up.
It hurt that bad, like heartache does after a break up. I didn’t want to write, I didn’t want to think about writing or read anyone else’s writing and I hated every new novelist who showed up on the NYT Bestseller list and the bookshelves.
Where the Crawdads Sing? What a lame title.
Believe me when I say, I wallowed. I banged on that high chair for weeks.
Finally, I called a writer friend and I asked him, “Do you ever feel like giving up?”
He said, ‘Every day, Valerie.”
It was his next question that got me– “So give up. Then what? What else are you going to do?”
My 50th was a few months away and I was already envisioning the beverage cart as my walker, packing jugs of prune juice for my layover along with a tube of arthritis cream and a heating pad.
Party in my room!
This was very much on my mind when I had a lovely 48-hour layover in Kona. Could I give up writing, just fly and be satisfied?
I headed out on a run. I’d been up since 3:am but uncertainty was stealing my sleep by this time. I had to clear my head.
Here I was jogging along on Island Time, jamming to old school Motley Crue and wham!
I was leveled by a car in the crosswalk of Ali’i Highway.
I spent our annual getaway to Lake Tahoe with my leg up, swollen the size of a summer squash.
“You can write,” Glenn said.
“Yes, I can,” I said. I didn’t.
Instead, I watched hours of Ridiculousness, solved puzzles and cruised around the trails with my husband on my knee scooter.
Two months later I turned 50. I didn’t broadcast it. I didn’t want a party. I still wasn’t writing and I was in a great deal of pain, some physical but most emotional.
I wore it like a lead pancho.
Then the Big C came knocking on my door and decided to stay a while, ruining morning coffee and peace of mind with its bad manners.
It didn’t take me long to realize cancer wasn’t a curse. It was a gift.
Today, every birthday is precious.
Every day is a celebration. I cherish the sun on my skin, the breeze tickling my head, my husband’s touch. It’s so beautiful it makes me cry.
I can give up on myself like that agent did. I felt like it, when the first chemo treatment wasn’t working.
Then I realized– Honey, I’ve already been down that road. It was like falling down a mine shaft on a dead end street. It is NOT who I am.
Not Any Day.
This is my story with all its lumps and bruises, the multiple crises that happened before God got my attention.
Yes, I’m going to say God. We can’t say that in our country anymore without upsetting someone, all this political correct nonsense. They even say “treatment” up at the “office” instead of chemotherapy–
As if it somehow makes an IV solution of Etoposide sound less like insecticide. It still made my hair fall out.
I bear the mark of cancer and this changes me. It changes how I see myself, it changes how I see the world. In such a short time, my world– and yours– has been radically altered by a simple prospect:
Today is the most beautiful word on the planet. Today I am thrilled to be alive with all the opportunities I have spread out before me like a buffet.
This is the human spirit.
The only way we can be beat is if we allow it. Keep getting up every time you take a punch. Keep fighting. And if you need help? Call me.
We’re in this together.