My Other Life

A few weeks ago Marie Ennis-O’Connor, who blogs at the terrific Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, invited the breast cancer blogging community to write about our Other Life; to share who we are when we aren’t talking about cancer. She got wonderful responses from Stacey at Bringing Up Goliath and Jody at Women With Cancer, among others. It’s been so much fun to learn more about these great bloggers and great women.

When I started thinking about my other life the thing that surfaced most quickly was poetry. My life is like anyone’s: work, family, friends, volunteering, recreational activities like watching college sports, concerts, travel. But the thing that’s strictly mine and the thing I want to get better at is poetry. When I write for myself, the shape it takes is a poem.

I’ve been writing poems since I was a little kid. I wrote poems through grade school and high school. Then, after taking a couple of poetry writing classes in college and getting a handful of things published, it stopped. I was too caught up in day-to-day life, and my only after-hours writing was freelance articles about technology or public relations. I really thought that part of my life was over, and I missed it but I didn’t try to do anything about it.

Poetry stayed away from my life for close to 20 years, until I was diagnosed with DCIS. Since this is a stage 0 breast cancer, I wasn’t in a fight for my life but it still served as a wake-up call. You could say cancer turned into a weird but welcome muse. Poetry started speaking to me again, and better still, I started writing again. Like before, I’ve had a handful of things published. I have a few different areas I want to dig into, including the effects of digital communications. I’ve written a few poems focused on that, including the sonnet below.

I wrote it last year and had no particular plans for it until I saw a call for entries for the annual Anne Dittrick sonnet writing contest this spring, sponsored by Nebraska Shakespeare. It ended up getting  honorable mention out of 100 entries, so it was printed in the program for this year’s Shakespeare on the Green performances in Omaha. (I believe the “starving artist” stereotype originated with poetry because you’re usually paid in copies. I’ve been paid with money only once, when three of my poems were accepted by Rolling Stone and I got a whopping 10 bucks apiece. Believe it or not, they used to publish poetry back in the ’80s. They only published one of them before they stopped including poetry, which is too bad. Poetry needs as many mainstream venues as it can get.)

21st Century Sonnet

How Shakespeare ever managed, I don’t know.
Although the language mattered so much more
it had to give him confidence to sow
such sublime music, freeing words to soar.
And what of now, you wonder. Well to ask
when texts and tweets and IMs all hold sway.
Can any of us comprehend the task
of holding short attention spans at bay?
I cannot help but think of what we’ve lost
when words are something to fast forward through.
U R the 1? Okay, but at what cost
these shorthand thoughts, what love we never knew?
The music in the bones of words has gone;
without it, can the food of love play on?


Tribute to Brad Part 2

I am so touched by all the comments you shared about my tribute to Brad and so glad I was able to give you a feel for what he was like. Some of you asked me to share pictures so I scanned some.

This first one is my favorite picture of him; I took it when he was 30. My husband/his brother Bruce is in the background next to our koi pond.

This picture was the family Christmas card when Brad  and  Bruce were little. I’m pretty sure this was in 1956.

This picture of Brad on the Seinfeld-era phone was at their mom’s house. He was checking in with his modeling agency in Los Angeles. He’d probably bark at me for using this picture but I was trying to find one that showed his Bambi eyelashes.


This last picture is Brad and me in San Francisco about a month before he died. We did Thanksgiving in July at a friend’s house because everyone wanted Bruce’s famous Weber-grilled turkey and I think everyone knew it was our last hurrah. We had a great time. This is my other favorite picture because I think it captures our relationship. I adored Brad. Still do.

Tribute to Brad

Today would have been my brother-in-law Brad’s 57th birthday. He died a couple of months after his 40th birthday, way too early. Back then, red ribbons were as ubiquitous as pink ribbons are today (although no one thought to plaster them on everything from water bottles to trash bins, or to develop a perfume). He died shortly before the drugs got better and what was formerly a death sentence became a chronic illness. And so it goes.

He was a stunning man. He had dark hair, dark eyes, and huge Bambi eyelashes women would kill for. When we were in high school, all the girls had a crush on him. When he moved to San Francisco in the ’70s, his friend Gina recalled how he looked in leather pants and a flowing white shirt. Forever after, he would be her pirate.

Brad escaped Nebraska and led what most  of us would consider a glamorous life. He was a booking agent for models in San Francisco and later Los Angeles. He was best buddies with Carrie Otis when she was a model, and was her date at Vogue’s 100th birthday party. I have the Entertainment Tonight film clip of them walking into the party, and the commemorative T-shirt.

He encouraged me to be more daring in my dress, something I’m still learning to take him up on. He gave me a flowing pleated cowboy tunic for my 36th birthday and I’m wearing it more now, 19 years later, than I did in my timid 30s. I wore it to my book launch party in his honor and wished he could be there, like I always do when anything fun is happening.

He had a deliciously snarky sense of humor. He used to threaten to move back to Nebraska and open a bad perm shop. Once we were sitting at an intersection in Lincoln, Neb., and he caught sight of a woman in a station wagon. He said, “I speak her language.” Next thing we knew, he had rolled down the window and yelled “Meatloaf! Jell-O salad!”

And yet he was kind. I got to see him in action once, when he was a guest of a modeling school ceremony in Omaha. This wasn’t the big well-known school he usually visited, which has produced international-caliber models, but a smaller, far humbler school. Many of the students were the visual equivalent of the tone-deaf auditioners on American Idol, pudgy farm kids with big dreams. His standard comment for all of them as they handed over their portfolios was, “You could do commercial work.”

I would share a picture with you but I just realized I don’t have one. All the pictures we have of Brad predate digital. I will scan one or two and share them later.

Happy birthday, Brad. I will love and miss you always.