Friday, March 27, 2015

Inch Fifty-Five: Cousins

My sons' cousin Eric, who on the paternal side of their family tree is the closest in age to them, has been in Portland with his wife and little daughter for a few days this week. Frida is about nine or ten months younger than Ramona and the two of them have had a lot of time together judging by what I see on Facebook.

Eric is about 18 months older than Ben, and they had their cousin moments when they were little. It warms my heart to see their daughters now starting down the path of cousin bonding. I made copies of the Facebook photos and sent them to my dear friend Coco (Eric's mother) with a note about how thrilled I was to see our grandchildren coming together.

Like fathers...

On my mom's side of the family, there were 27 or 28 first cousins, my brothers and I being among the youngest of the brood. (In fact, my two younger brothers and I are the youngest, and have cousins whose children are closer in age to us.) On my dad's side, there are no first cousins (his sole sibling had no children) but dad had a generous handful of cousins whose ages ranged from older than him to about my age, and children of those cousins who were my age and younger.


I was awash in cousins. At reunions and other gatherings of all kinds, we cousins would come together in clumps, the younger ones playing together outdoors or at the creek or climbing trees or just running in circles making up wild games. The older ones who were not yet adults would stand around swilling pop (soda to all you others out there), cracking jokes and avoiding the elders. There were good times and rich memories.

Cousins are the ornamentation—the braided trim, the novelty buttons—on the family fabric. Cousins are Sandra Kay recounting 50 years later that my brother Mark spit up all over her the first time she held him as a baby. Cousins are Brent telling me about the dead silence in the room when my parents came home after eloping and made their announcement to my mom's father.

When my boys were little, they too were immersed in cousins at the Sanchez gatherings and I got to see a lot of their own cousin moments. Cousins are Eric and Ben poring over an electronic game. Cousins are Ben (not yet four then) dancing at his cousin Coquis's wedding. Cousins are Sam being dared by George to eat a Tommy's pepper as a Los Angeles rite of male passage and receiving a glass of milk and a hearty slap on the back for downing the fiery thing. daughters. 

Frida and Ramona will not likely remember their early days other than seeing a picture someday in the future. But they are already adding trimmings and notions—a sparkly button here, an embroidered patch there—to the vast family fabric.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Inch Fifty-Four: Leaving the Woods

Naturalist and essayist Henry Thoreau famously left his home in Concord, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1845, built a small cottage on the banks of Walden Pond, which was a little more than a mile away from the village, and lived there for the next two years. He went to the woods as an experiment, because he "wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. and see if [he] could not learn what it had to teach." Thoreau did not want to reach the end of his life and discover he "had not lived." His book Walden details his experiment.

Thoreau did not stay exclusively at the pond, but often walked the short distance back to Concord to visit family and friends. Finally, he left the woods permanently in 1847 and moved back to town. He writes of his decision eloquently: "I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one."

I always had a strong fondness for Thoreau, although I was well into adulthood before I read Walden cover to cover. (For a long time, I liked the idea of reading Walden better than actually reading it.) Once I made it through the book, it became one of those I returned to and reread every few years, well, at least up until I lent my copy to someone and never saw it again.

Walden is on my mind because I just came out of the woods myself.

Nine and a half years ago, I placed my Ohio license to practice law on inactive status. I'd just undergone a tandem stem cell transplant and I was in no condition to return to my office, let alone advise anyone. By moving my license to inactive status, I gave up the right to practice law, but left the door open should I change my mind.

I have never regretted that decision. While I generally enjoyed practicing law in those town, leaving all of that behind was easy. I was done being a lawyer.

So why did I recently reactivate my license?

A couple of reasons, the primary one being that I am working on another special court project for my good friend and former employer, Judge David Sunderman of the Delaware Municipal Court. (This is in addition to my position as a mediator with our county Juvenile Court, at which I recently passed my fourth anniversary as a staff member.) I am creating a new treatment court, and as I draft the foundational documents of the court, I felt that I was practicing law, especially once I started working closely on procedural matters with the new court coordinator. Practicing law was a luxury denied me with an inactive license and the Ohio Supremes tend to frown on that.

A murkier reason for reactivating my license is that we have changed administrations at our Juvenile Court. We have a newly elected judge, a generation plus younger than the previous one. (Ohio has mandatory retirement for judges: they may not run for reelection after they turn 70.) There is the dazzling potential for transforming the court in new and positive ways. Some court staffers, Machiavellian to the core, have been trying to position themselves in the new era, working harder to position themselves than any small town political boss ever did. My license is both a sword and a shield to keep me out of the internal politics.

I am not returning ever to the practice of law. (For those local friends reading this, read that sentence again. I am not practicing law again, period.) I love working at Juvenile Court, especially the aspects of my job that allow me to work with juveniles, and my only unmet goals at Court involve creating new programs that may never see the light of day, let alone come to fruition.

But I have left the woods for the same reason Thoreau gave 168 years ago. I could not spare any more time to keep the license shelved, and it seemed to me that I still have several more lives to live.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Inch Fifty-Three: Back

It is raining as I pen these words late Friday afternoon. It has been raining since early afternoon and the day is gray and wet. The tree branches are dripping, puddles are spreading across the sidewalk.

After bemoaning our horrific winter and doubting that spring would ever come, I was cautiously optimistic when the vicious cold suddenly broke earlier this week. Sun and rain and temperatures in the 50s have filled the creeks and rivers and melted much of the snow. The large bulldozed piles in parking lots and the smaller shoveled piles lining driveways still remain, but yards and fields are emerging everywhere.

I hung suet blocks in the dogwood tree out back earlier this winter, but until this week, the blocks were untouched, frozen solid. I don't know how the birds survived this winter. Many days were still and silent without any indication that there was a bird left alive in the bleak landscape. Now when I step outside in the morning, I hear a flurry of birds calling and singing. Today's rain has quieted some of that chorus, but there is no doubt the birds are out there.

As I sit here writing, I see a downy woodpecker working over the suet cake. Downies are small birds, mostly black and white. I like to watch them after they finish eating, as they often jump or fly to the tree trunk and then hop their way to the top before flying away.

The dogwood tree is right outside the kitchen. Washing dishes yesterday, I looked up to see a downy finish its meal and hop up the tree, only to be replaced at the suet feeder by a red-bellied woodpecker. I watched them, all thoughts of dishes temporarily set aside, until the downy had hopped up out of sight and the other had flown away.

There is something timeless about standing at a sink with your hands in the dishpan, watching spring return to the backyard.

Later last evening, I met up with a friend and took a walk, my first local walk of 2015 that was more than just hurrying from the car to a building or back again. We were deep in conversation when I suddenly stopped listening to my friend's voice and listened to the sky. A skein of geese was veeing to the north and the faraway sound of honking caught my ear and my attention.

The birds are back.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Inch Fifty-Two: A Year of Posts

Ramona's pinwheel buried in the garden snow
Back on March 15, 2014, I made a commitment to write a blog post a week, figuring I was good for at least that much. I took my cue from writer Anne Lamott, who urged wannabe writers to tell themselves that they only had to write enough to fill a one inch square.

I am writing my 52nd inch since that post.

When I wrote last year, I wrote of a brutal winter both outside and inside. This winter's temperatures have made a mockery of last year's cold, and although the sun has clearly moved into its spring position, there are still inches of snow and ice to melt. There is no brown lawn, no kitchen garden waiting to be tilled. There is only a bleak landscape that is not ready yet to yield to spring.

At this time last year I was also a month into a different treatment regimen for the incurable myeloma that resides in my marrow. I am just about to complete my 12th cycle of Revlimid, an oral chemotherapy, so I have gone a whole year with that too. It is a mixed success. My oncologist is very pleased with the results. Yeah, it's nice that the myeloma has stopped progressing. But the price for that achievement is high and relentless. As I told another friend with myeloma who wanted my opinion of Revlimid, I'm not dying all in one fell swoop but instead losing ground inch by inch. Many of us with myeloma do not die of the disease itself but of the treatment and the long-term impact on our bodies and health of the disease and the treatment. Like Beth, I am aware that the tide is going out.

All the same, despite the cold, despite the cancer, here I am a year later, with 52 weeks of posts.

So what have I learned and where do I go from here?

I have learned, once and for all after paying years of lip service to the idea, that writing is a discipline like anything else. Yes, schedules and other outside pressures impact where and when I write,  but the actual act of writing, of making myself sit down and write, is all about me and my priorities. As I noted a year ago, it is about respecting and honoring my commitment to writing.

I have discovered that the act of writing on a regular schedule has lead to my evaluating and reprioritizing my daily life, my weekly life, my where-am-I-and-what-am-I-doing-here? life. Last year I wrote that my recent experiences in Cancerland showed me I need to live more deliberately, and the experience of writing weekly helps me slow down and focus on what I want to do, what I need to do, what I can wait to do, and what I can let go of entirely. I hope I have gotten better at respecting my needs and my time, whether it be for writing or for catching my breath. (Friends reading this who have been trying to plan time with me may be shaking their heads skeptically. I know, I know, but this is the heart of truancy season and my work schedule has gone off the rails.)

I plan to continue my one square inch focus, my one post a week goal. Writing is more holistically beneficial than anything else I do for myself and is a close runner-up to the benefits I reap when I do for others. It is portable, it is flexible, and it is all mine.

Here's to another year of one inch posts.