telling tales of doing the impossible

Posts tagged ‘memories’

Do you wonder what a memoir writer doesn’t tell you?

I’ve often wondered about what gets cut from a memoir. I recently got the chance to ask actor and activist Leon Acord this question about his new book Sub-lebrity* (*the queer life of a show-biz footnote) … and here is his response.

I’m a believer of the “vomit draft.” Meaning, when writing a first draft, you write down everything that comes to mind. Future drafts are about cutting, condensing and deciding on and strengthening your “thesis.”

So, after the first draft of SUB-LEBRITY, I realized my book was the mostly comic tale of an out-and-loud gay actor from Indiana now living and working in Los Angeles. If a story wasn’t about being gay, being an actor, or being a gay actor, out it came. There was no room for family dramas or medical traumas.

But as requested, here’s a chapter which I cut from my book, all about my scariest “medical emergency.”

A Twisted Vein

I somehow arrived at middle-age without ever breaking a bone, having surgery, or even spending a night as a patient in a hospital.

Pretty good, huh?  Especially considering my childhood was filled with jumping off barns, riding horses and mini-motorbikes, and farm work!

But that’s not to say my life has been free of scary medical-show drama.

Around 2003, I began to notice, while reading, that text was becoming a little blurry.  I attributed it to my age (40 at the time), and mentally made a note to buy some reading glasses.

I also noticed colors on TV became muted when I closed my left eye.  Again, I assumed it was just a case of aging eyes.

Then one day, as I was walking to work in San Francisco’s Financial District, I looked up at a high-rise building.

Is that building bulging? I wondered.

I closed my left eye. The building did, indeed, appear to have a small bulge — one or two floors warping outwards.

How is that possible?

I quickly made an appointment with my regular eye doctor, a wonderful woman named Dr. Christine Brischer.

As we sat down, I explained to her what I was experiencing.  She looked into my left eye, then my right, with her lighted pen.  Then, without a word to me, she spun around in her chair, picked up the phone, and called a leading ophthalmologist.

“Hi, its Christine.  I have a patient who needs to see you immediately.  Can he come this afternoon?  Good!”

She hung up, and spun around to face me.

“I hope you have good insurance,” she said cryptically.  “This is going to be expensive.”

I left her office in a daze, and immediately called Laurence.  He left work early and joined me at the ophthalmologist’s office.

After a thorough and grueling examination, the specialist explained to use what was going on.

A small artery behind the center of my right retina had sprung a leak.  The blood that was spilling out was pushing the retina forward, thus causing vision in that eye to appear warped.

The ophthalmologist conferred with his team.  They suggested urgency.  Considering the leak was located directly in the center of my eye, they recommended the “big guns” — a “hot” laser eye surgery.  It would leave me with a permanent blind spot in the middle of my right eye, but the heat from the laser might — just might — seal up the leaky vein.  We agreed.

My head was strapped into a chair.  I was warned against moving in the slightest for the 60 seconds the laser was shooting into my eye, as the laser would burn (and blind) anything it touched.

The terrifying procedure began, and the entire time, I wondered What if I have to sneeze? What if there’s an earthquake?  What if I fart?

I didn’t, there wasn’t, and I didn’t.

I was appearing in the play Worse Than Chocolate at the time, and assured director Jeffrey I’d recover sufficiently in time to return to the show following the mid-week break in performances.  And I did, despite incredibly distracting “halos” that stage lighting caused in my recovering eye. (I should’ve worn the eye patch I’d been sporting after the surgery on stage, but critics already felt my villain was a little too over-the-top!)

That weekend, during a performance, as I’m “firing” Jaeson Post and demanding the office key from him, he dropped it as he handed it to me.  I looked down.  With my impaired vision, the brass-colored metal key vanished against the similarly colored wooded floor.

I looked at Jaeson.  Rightfully remaining in character, he refused to pick it up.

I got on my hands and knees and felt for the keys with my hands, like a young, manic Patty Duke-as-Helen Keller.  The audience actually loved it, loved seeing the heavy of the show (me) reduced to crawling on his hands and knees after being such a prick, but it was a very scary moment which I think I played off.

We returned to the doctor for a follow-up a week later.  We were both disappointed when told the vein was still leaking.   So now, I had warped vision plus the blind spot right in the center of my eye.  I began to question the wisdom of using the “big guns” right away.

The doctor suggested we try the hot laser again.  But one blind spot is enough, thank you very much.  So, we opted for the less-powerful option:  inject me full of photo-topical chemicals, and shoot a “cold” laser into my eye, through the retina, at the leak.  Then hide from direct sunlight for the next three days (not so easy to do in Los Angeles), as the chemicals would leave me susceptible to serious sunburn within minutes.

That didn’t stop the leak either. So, we tried it again. Then again.

After seven more expensive cold laser surgeries over 18 months, the leak was finally catheterized.

What caused the vein to pop a leak in the first place?

That question left the various eye professionals stymied.  Until over a year later, when we consulted with a vision specialist on the campus of UCSF.

“Did you grow up on a farm?” he asked within moments.

“Why, yes, I did, why?”

“Histoplasmosis,” he answered, explaining the infection – caused by inhaling dried bird droppings – is common in people who live(d) on midwestern farms.  Most people carry it without ever developing symptoms.  Yes, as a matter of fact, I did spend a few months as a kid raising chickens and selling the eggs to neighbors and family members.  And I remembered, Mom had battled the same thing when I was a young kid — in her case, it attacked the veins in her legs, putting her in a wheelchair for a week or two.

Then again, it may be the kicked-up piles of dried pigeon shit I inhaled while shooting OUT’s climatic mugging scene in that disgusting San Francisco Tenderloin back alley.

Over the years, my blind spot from that hot laser has continued to expand, basically leaving me effectively blind in the center of my right eye.  If I live long enough, the slowly expanding blind spot will eventually leave me legally blind in that eye.

I’ve gotten used to it.  The human eye is an amazing thing, and fills in blind spots with the colors surrounding it.  I only really feel impaired when taking a conventional vision test, while watching a 3D movie, or if I’m driving in an unfamiliar part of town after dark.

The plus side?  I have to subject myself to rigorous eye tests every six months to ensure the leak doesn’t reopen.  Since most of the patients of my ophthalmologist are elderly men and women battling macular degeneration, every time I show up for an appointment, I enjoy the very rare sensation of being the young person in the room — a feat I rarely accomplish in LA!

Or anywhere else these days, now that I think about it…

I thank the author for an honest and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Sub-lebrity*.

This Blog is Dying, Too

Yup, two of my six blogs are being put into WordPress cryogenic storage.

Flickers of Fortune is one of them. It’s bittersweet, for sure. I put this creation together to celebrate my fifth book, which I first published in January of 2015. I already had four blogs I was struggling with, so it’s not so surprising this one never got the attention I intended to give it.

And it had a lot of promise, too. I wanted to write about the future. Speculating about it. Trying to predict it. Does anyone ever really get a glimpse of it? And what are the time travel (and free will) implications of a future that can be known?

So many ideas, and such little time. Sigh…

But, as I posted on my other dying blog in This Blog is Dying, I’ve discovered I like writing novels more than I like blogging. And time spent doing the one is time not spent doing the other.

Read more about my decision to self-destruct two of my blogs at This Blog is Dying, Too.

Day 19. A Border Crossing

My noon-time good-byes are rushed and sweaty, perhaps not a fitting climax to this amazing experience, but then again, exactly what about this experience has been fitting?

I am leaving a day before the man burns but even then, the five mile an hour drive out is slow and long. Along the way, I distract myself by cherishing my favorite moments…

How about that nearly assembled 747 blaring out Santana’s Black Magic Woman as I rode up to it at sunset? For that matter, the mix of music of all types coming at me 24/7 was surprisingly entertaining and even soothing. The soothing part is hard to explain, but ear plugs and an eye pillow remain two of the things I didn’t need to bother to bring. Burning man lulled me into a sound sleep each night, and woke me each morning…

 

I know there is so much I didn’t see, and I suppose that is part of the charm. I think this place works best if you leave deciding you found the things you were supposed to, and what you missed, well, it was meant for others, or maybe for you another time. Some of the art and camps do come back year after year…

 

I realize I’ve had a crazy week, but I wasn’t in a crazy place, just a different one; one in which I got to experience joy and sorrow and wonder, sometimes all at once.

Read more, see more photos, and hear the song of the day at Day 19. A Border Crossing

Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …

It’s jazz. New Orleans jazz to be precise, and I realize this is a funeral procession …. Then I notice just how big the procession is. It’s got to be hundreds of people, maybe more. They are getting closer to the temple ….

I’m happy to let my private tears coexist with this noisy tribute. Then I realize the trajectory of this procession will take it into the temple via one of the many curved entrances, and it happens to be the one in which I’m sitting in the dust crying. I’m about to be in the way of the largest single act of mourning ever held at Burning Man.

Read more, see more photos and check out the song of the day at Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …

Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home

I left Kansas when I was 17 years old, and I remain surprised at the number of Wizard of Oz references I still get when I tell someone where I was born and raised. Today I am off the road, enjoying the town I once called home. To my delight, it remains surprisingly familiar.

I knew before I began my day what my Rule of the Road #8 would be. Get off the road once in awhile, and look around.

I also knew what my song of the day would be. It really was no contest. Yes, I know it has been overplayed, but trust me, if you had listed to as many dumb jokes about Toto and Auntie Em as I have, you’d want this song here too.

Read the full post at Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home

Day 7. Cry

As I post this, I am mourning the loss of a wonderful woman who died last night, and my heart aches for those who called her daughter, sister and mother. It’s starting to rain, and I think on how the sharpness of their loss will dissipate with time, but the sense of melancholy will linger. If I get my one question of the powers that be, it’s likely to be along the lines of “this whole death thing … was it really necessary?” The answer damn well better be yes, along with a reason that finally makes some sense.

Day 7: Cry

I put Hays into this trip because it is the deepest of my roots, the place where I was born and raised, where I came back to be married, and where both of my parents are buried, along with any other ancestor who died after arriving in the U.S. It’s been six years since I was here, and as I cross into Kansas on Highway 81, the rain and the destination combine to form a sense of melancholy.

Read the entire original post at Day 7. Cry

More

For some bizarre reason I’ve been coerced into performing a duet for the ceremony, along with my best friend who actually plays the piano well. I’ve been given the easy part, but I am still praying to all the gods I’ve ever heard of for the strength to not screw this up. Absolutely everyone in my young life looks on as I strike that first note. I focus. I breath. I begin to play.

Read the entire post at More.

Enjoy this sweet video. It captures the feel of what I am describing.

Remember My Name

Today, I face the fact that one of the reasons I write is to leave something behind.

“Oh, so you want to be immortal?” you ask. No. I’ve studied too much astrophysics to think anything in this universe will last forever, and enough history to know that few humans leave a noticeable footprint more than a few generations into the future.

The key word to me is noticeable.

Somewhere in my heart, I think if you leave something of value behind, it will affect others who will do the same and so on. Yes, I’m enough of a realist to expect the effect to diminish with time, and to recognize our life expectancy as a species probably isn’t all that long, anyway.

So? It’s not an influence that lasts forever I’m after. However, the idea of leaving a little of me here for awhile is something I’m driven to do. Like I said, individual tastes do vary.

Read more at Remember My Name.

(Read more posts about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books,  My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing , I write because it’s cheaper than therapy, Nothing cool about modest ambitions, I love to be loved and What’s the Point?)

 

A sense of time

I have less of a sense of time. Hours pass unnoticed when I write, minutes last forever as I stare at a blank page. I attribute this to living more inside my head than out of it. But if hours and minutes confound me, years and decades are worse.

Read more at A sense of time.

(For more of my recent thoughts on time, see my post Spending Time.)

The year of la sonrisa

This year, I hope to come to terms with the few ghosts that still haunt me. One of them is my incessant smile, an artifact of being raised by a woman who hated any other facial expression. She had her reasons, and I understood them. After all, my grandmother lived with us, and my grandmother was the most unhappy person I have ever known.

Yet, no adult wants to be the person with a grin on their face at the worst of moments. I’ve smiled at the news of tragic accidents, during corporate layoffs, and throughout a bout of postpartum depression during which I needed help more desperately than I ever had.

This year, I want to discover how to smile only when I mean it. For me, sonrisa does not carry the baggage of the word smile. I can embrace my sonrisa.

This year, I want to remember how wonderful my life is, how blessed I am. I want to appreciate the love, and stimulation and the comforts that I am fortunate enough to have every day. I want my sonrisa to let that gratitude shine out of my soul, unencumbered by the struggles of those who came before me. To that end, I’ve started a gratitude jar, in which I hope to leave a note every day about some silly or profound thing for which I am grateful.

Here’s the real irony. When I looked for something to use as a container, I stumbled on my grandmother’s old cookie jar.

Read more at The year of la sonrisa.

When in doubt ….

On Sept. 26, 1983, Soviet computers reported the launch of five Minuteman missiles, according to the New York Times. There were only minutes to counterattack before they would strike Soviet cities. The man who was in charge that day was skeptical, partly because the attack seemed too small. So he alerted his superiors to a false alarm. He later recalled it as a 50-50 decision.

He had made the right choice.  It would be discovered that a Soviet satellite had misinterpreted the sun’s reflection off clouds.

Read more about September 26 at When in doubt ….

Sisters

I understand that may writers are reluctant to share their work in progress with family members so I consider myself lucky to have relatives who are genuinely supportive of my passion to tell stories. I’m particularly lucky to have this amazing genetically similar pal to give my stories a second set of eyes.

Read more at Sisters.

Like Eating Crab

I love to travel, and I do my best to embrace the types of joys my current journey has to offer. Last week, I went on what had to be an Alaskan king crab sort of trip.

That would be a journey in which one has to work to get what one is after. Long flights, language difficulties, bumpy roads or high seas can make this a kind of vacation that many would be loathe to take. But the reward is seldom seen beauty and unusual wonders, and sometimes, a sense of personal accomplishment.

Read more at Like Eating Crab.

(Read more about my trip to Kenya at Smiling my way across Kenya, Still a Sunrise?Replacing me with … and  Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59)

And that’s the way it was, June 10 1947

She turned twenty-one that day, and married her high school sweetheart. He was about to turn twenty-two, and had already returned from the war, smoking cigarettes and telling tales of the motorcycle he had learned to ride. She thought that he seemed pretty full of himself since he got back, but she married him anyway at the small country church in the town in which she was raised. A 9:00 mass was followed by a giant buffet lunch which was followed by an afternoon of drinking and dancing and then a lavish dinner with more dancing and drinking after that.

Read the rest at And that’s the way it was, June 10 1947.

(For more segments about June days from long ago, see That’s the Way It Was June 15, 1984, June 18, 1972, June 28, 1888, and June 30, 1940.)

Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place

I remember visiting Yellowstone as a teenager and being upset that I was not allowed to take even one tiny little insignificant rock home as a souvenir. Up to that time, I always brought a rock home from places I enjoyed. What difference could my little memento make?

Then I looked around. Thousands of people were here with me, and if I was the only one who ever took a pretty stone, there would be no problem. But what if half of them wanted rocks, too?

Read more at Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place.

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see As Far Away Places Edge Closer, Caring About Far Away Places, The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places, and Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door.)

I decided to make 2016 the best year of my life. So, was it?

blessed weird 3A year ago today (Dec. 31 2015) I came up with an odd plan. I read the quote The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood* and I decided to challenge myself to make 2016 the best year of my life. It’s been a year now. How did it work?

Well, implementation was challenging. A few days into 2016 I realized that I had already forgotten my plan, which wasn’t exactly an encouraging start. So ….

Read the full post on my y1 blog at I decided to make 2016 the best year of my life. So, was it?

My Way

This is a post about Aretha Franklin and wearing a hijab and my mother’s funeral, and it comes to you from a cafe in Marrakesh Morocco.

img_3256I’m staring out the window at the crowds of tourists and locals crossing a busy street in front of the Koutoubia Mosque as I write. I’m alone in this city, far out of my comfort zone, and I’ve just ordered my first couscous. I settle into the ornate red pillows, ready for a genuine Moroccan experience, when I recognize the unmistakable voice of Aretha Franklin in the background.

Now I like Aretha as much as anyone and maybe more than most, but she is kind of getting in my way here, and it’s not even one of her better songs. I listen more closely and I feel the ghost of my mother snuggle into the pillows beside me.

Read the entire post on my c3 blog at “My Way.”

Because she could ….

bolder6A couple of months ago I wrote about March as Women’s History month, and the corresponding wealth of sites celebrating songs that empower women. Buzz Feed, The BoomBox, and vh1 all had their lists complete with best lines from the song, the reason the song is great, and a video to enjoy. I concatenated the lists together to create my own mega celebration of female power.

However, I felt like the songs were mostly recent and in certain popular genres. The only one that could be considered an oldie was the all time classic “Respect” by Aretha Franklin.

Read the rest of this post at Because she could …. on my c3 blog.

Don’t shake Nixon’s hand

IMG_2180There is picture of me shaking hands with President Nixon. I’m sixteen and in a skirt so short it should be illegal. He is looking right at the camera, with the frozen smile he made a hundred times that day as a selected slice of the citizenry of Kansas was paraded before him. I’m looking away. In spite of the honor of meeting a U.S. president, I already do not like this one and I will come to like him even less as we both grow older.

Read the whole post on my z2 blog at Don’t shake Nixon’s hand.

The real eulogy that I never gave

Dalai 9You teach your children every day.  Not by what you say but by how you live your life. It is so easy to find yourself teaching them that life is drudgery, that marriage sucks, that work is to be avoided, and that you never get a fair deal.

I will never get to deliver the eulogy for my parents which I would like.  But if I could – it would go something like this.

Read the entire post on my y1 blog at The real eulogy that I never gave.

Happy yet? Yes, I believe that I am.

It was in the midst of such a Christmas day today, with my second Kentucky Mule in hand, my signature dish boiling over on the stove and a pile of dirty dishes that would daunt a restaurant staff in front of me, that I realized I was happy.

Read the entire post at Happy yet? Yes, I believe that I am.

sungazing6

Choosy?

I am outside of a bar in Evergreen Colorado. It is biting, winter-mountain cold. Closing time has passed, the glasses have been cleared and the bar wiped down. That’s the drab part of cocktail waitressing. I grab my coat, and the late hour and brisk wind hurry me towards my little rented place across the road.

This is one of my favorite blog posts ever. Read the full story at Choosy?

https://46ascending.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/cold-mountain.jpg

What the hell happened in 1968? (race relations edition)

It looks like the national guard has been called in after days of racial violence in the city, according the large headline on the top of the front page. The governor has put Wichita in a state of emergency, enacted a curfew, closed bars and stopped the sale of gasoline in containers. I scan the front page for information on why.

For more on why 1968 has an eerie resemblance to today, read this entire post at What the hell happened in 1968? (race relations edition).

What the hell happened in 1968? (The How to Get a Standing Ovation Edition)

I have to smile. Attacks on communism seem quaint and harmless today, although thirteen-year-old Sherri Roth was under the firm impression that both Lenin and Marx specifically advocated tyranny, massacres, and cruelty.

Read this entire post inspired by a newspaper from August 1968 at What the hell happened in 1968? (The How to Get a Standing Ovation Edition).

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