Okay, friends, now that you have a little motivation, some proper shoes, and possibly a Fitbit, it’s time for the training plan. Drill Sergeant Joe emailed me a spreadsheet, detailing how often, how far, and in what length of time I should walk every week. Feel free to follow it with me, whether you’ll be in San Antonio in December to watch me face plant in front of the “lag wagon” half way through or are supporting from afar. (You read that right – “lag wagon.” Remember when I joked there would be an official who could scrape me off the asphalt, pour me into a golf cart, and convey me back to my car that unfolds into a movie theater playing a Rocky marathon”? Turns out that’s half true!) Happy walking, team.
It’s 10 steps from my office to the closest bathroom; 99 steps to the furthest bathroom. Roughly 3,341 steps from my front door to my office, and most frequently 35 from my kitchen to washing machine. Yes, I have a Fitbit.
In the mid 1980s my cousins and I paraded across the kitchen floor, wearing our grandparents’ pedometer, a machine roughly the size and design of a post office timestamp. A loud click poorly documented every other step or so. Fast forward some twenty years and I’m outside my classroom with a yardstick measuring a colleague’s footsteps. Her average gait is 25 inches compared to my 22.5. We’re both wearing bulky pedometers that eat the same batteries as hearing-aides. But 4,217 steps later we can see most of the San Fernando Valley nestled under a hazy marine layer. Below Fryman Canyon our jobs as high school English teachers, cell phones, and cars wait while we talk about our families, what we’re reading, our childhood— anything we don’t have to fact check. Continue reading
As an undergraduate in college, I worked as a shoe salesperson for the now-defunct Mervyns department store. The soothing strains of Faith No More on Musak played as we straightened neon hiking boots and striped ballet flats and assorted white high tops on plexiglass rounders. There was a strange power in disappearing into the dimly-lit stock room with a display shoe, leaving the customer waiting in socked feet in the wash of fluorescent lights. In the stock room, ladders ascended to the largest sizes, boxed near the skylights. To stand at the top was to stand in your own light beam like a deity. If you came to Mervyn’s for athletic shoes of any kind and asked me for advice, you probably left with whatever I thought coordinated best with the pants you were wearing. What I’m telling you is, I once sold shoes for a living and I know nothing about shoes. Continue reading
Saturday morning, with my cell phone slipping in my sweaty hand, the weight of it yanking the tangled cord of the ear buds, I stop on a street corner to GPS my location. I’m in my own neighborhood. It’s the sort with aging oaks and pecan trees angling over mansions with the occasional 1950s ranch house where the 1950s ranch houses haven’t been torn down to accommodate more mansions. Guess which kind of house I live in? So I wander around the neighborhood in the ambitious ensemble of running shorts plus coordinating tank top, gawking at the grand structures past the giant agave and iron gates, taking more than one wrong turn along the way. Continue reading
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably already know that I am Ms. One-Hundred-And-Ten Percent in addition to having a tendency to obsess, which is a frightening combination for all of those in close proximity to me. It’s what compelled me, though, to belly crawl across campus in the Tennille wig to teach through chemo last semester. And now that it’s over, it’s as if I’ve stared into the abyss and the abyss said, “Stop wasting your life! Go do more crafts! More crafts! As many in as short a time as possible!” And, okay, the abyss might have been Pinterest. I started with completing a project I’d left languishing for almost a year – doing something with the old shutters my dad had taken off of their house. First, I made a headboard.
A couple of new things to draw your attention to over at TNB. Right after my breast cancer diagnosis, feeling overwhelmed, I’d tried to quit my gig as Arts and Culture Editor. TNB’s founder Brad Listi, though, wasn’t hearing it. He assured me my post would be ready for me to fill again whenever I was able. Everyone, from my real-world job at UTSA to my online pals, have been absolutely super through this whole ordeal. And, upon my return, I’ve lined up two fantastic interviews just for you.
One is an interview with producer Lisa Bellomo on her project to animate Cheryl Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” column from The Rumpus as well as Tiny Beautiful Things. I am rooting wholeheartedly for this super project to succeed. Check it out RIGHT HERE.
Next is a TNB “21 Questions” with writer/director Kat Candler. When I saw the trailer for her new film (out this week!) Hellion, I just had to invite her to be our featured guest. Candler did not disappoint:
The feature was inspired by the short, but more so it was inspired by southeast Texas. Kelly (producer), who grew up there, started taking me down for long weekends and field trips. I just started getting to know the area and the people. I’d never seen this part of Texas outside of Urban Cowboy and I wanted to capture its heart. Inspirational movies … Over the Edge, Stand By Me, The Outsiders, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore …
She had me at The Outsiders. Check the rest out RIGHT HERE.
* Photo of Kat Candler by Pamela Gentile
I take the Firecracker and Hannah to a Greek restaurant up the street the day I learn my grandfather’s dying. Really dying. He’d been joking about dying for a long time, joking about never buying green bananas, that sort of thing. My mom tells me that if I want to call to say goodbye, the nurse at the veteran’s home will hold the phone to grandpa’s ear.
“He can’t respond,” mom explains, “but they say he’ll hear you. The mind is the last thing to shut down.”
I sit in my kitchen after this, phone in my hands. The Firecracker fills in the pages of a blank book made of stapled construction paper. “Pinky 9985 is Moving,” she titles this one. Pinky 9985 is an imaginary penguin. Sometimes Pinky 9985 is ice fishing in front of the Taj Mahal. Sometimes Pinky 9985 is hidden inside a storm of ink spirals or juggling pink igloos or moving to New York on a plane with wings like tucked arms, bent elbows, a sleek dolphin fin of a tail in a blue scribble sky. Pinky 9985 peers out the airplane window with oversized penguin eyes and a “what the hell is going on” kind of crumple to her beak. Hannah sits on a kitchen bar stool, her own phone in her own hands, thumbs tapping. I look at the hanging pots, the sun catching the rims.
If it weren’t for a running tally on my calendar, I’d lose track of the days since diagnosis. That’s where I am now – ready to be done marking time. And this morning I got the girls on their buses, walked two miles, drank a green smoothie, did some yoga, checked emails, and logged on to see the NaPoWriMo prompt. That’s National Poetry Writing Month, for those who are unfamiliar. I’ve never done it before, and I usually make fun of National Novel Writing Month every November (because, seriously, one month!? The novel I’m re-revising now has taken me something like three years). But the new, energetic post-chemo dynamo that is my current self wanted to tackle NaPoWriMo, despite the fact that I typically write prose. So I cheated a little and wrote a prose-poem, and cheated even more by using NaPoWriMo’s “get ready” prompt from yesterday. Yesterday, the prompt was to write an ekphrastic poem, or a poem about a work of art. If wall art in home decorating catalogues isn’t really art, then I cheated all around. Nevertheless, here’s the result:
Minding the IV I shift in my seat to see the home decorating catalogue my sister unfolds. She’s driven roughly 300 miles to sit beside me, chemo snaking through the loose plastic loop pinched between my fingers. It’s like talking to a drunk, I’ve warned her, and the mass-produced paintings on canvases in the catalogue drift one into the other like liquid beads. Blues and grays. I can do that, I tell her. I’d been an art student just long enough to learn to copy.
And after my last treatment, the toxins having done their work, sixteen weeks of squeezing the tumor down so small fingertips can no longer find it, I stand in my studio, a bead-board room in the back of the detached garage, stand by the drafting table that takes up half the space and holds three crates of vinyl records on its crossbar underneath, stand and paint the same squares of color from the catalogue. Blues and grays. I add only a touch of sunrise orange, a nod to George, it’s been a long cold lonely winter. Brush to canvas, bristles dragging, long strokes like drawn breath.
Some nights I’d curl around my little girl and teach her how to breathe deep. In, out. Ocean sounds. Can you feel the waves chasing after your toes in the sand? Can you hear them wiping the bad dreams away?
I paint the squares. I paint over the squares. I wipe color on and off again with a rag dipped into the mud-colored water of a plastic tumbler that reads in scratched, black print: Eskimo Joe’s – Stillwater, Oklahoma. I let the canvas dry. I remember why I’d changed my major. My copy is like a slurred version of the original, like me trying to tell a story while the chemo slips along the IV. But it’s the end, too. It’s the first morning I spend post chemo listening to the raking of the brush bristles while I hum “Here Comes the Sun.”
And here’s the copy of a copy itself (see what I did there? I just copied Trent Reznor):
Hello from the other side of chemo! It’s been a little over a week since my very last treatment, and I’ve been celebrating ever since. Of course, it’s just one phase that has ended. I still have a lumpectomy and radiation to look forward to (gah!), but in the meantime I’m happy to be almost all done with this cancer business.
One thing I had to stop doing when I started chemo, since I had to avoid crowds and germs while my immune system was more fragile, was venturing out to movie theaters. Roll up to the top of this blog, will you? You’ll note that it says: Cynthia Hawkins, Girl on Film. Mostly because I typed it in as a joke and now I can’t figure out how to undo it, but also because many people know me as a film connoisseur.
This blog began with a monster, a Day One Monster that was cancer, the Firecracker, and me at different turns. My breast cancer journey has been that way all along, monsters morphing into other monsters, some benevolent, some bad, if I may borrow the language of Frankenstein. On Day One, my New York friend Carlos started making papercraft monsters, one per day, to photograph and post to cheer me up. And they did, like the many gifts I’ve been given by everyone from my dear friends and family to supporters I’ve yet to have the pleasure of meeting in person. A handmade table, a hand-sewn hat, a Star Trek blanket, a hand-knit night cap, poems and photographs, tea, candy, potted herbs, lotions, yoga DVDs, magazines, rodeo tickets, gift cards, dried fruits, a bonsai tree. A bonsai tree!