Friday, September 30, 2016

Amazing mess

"And so for you I came this far across the tracks
Ten miles above the limit, and with no seatbelt
And I'd do it again."

I'll start with a happy thing today.

I'm in a music video.

Look for me at about 1:11.

OK, so I'm a Dar Williams fan and I sent in my photo with lyrics from her song Iowa and her people put together this awesome video of her fans with lyrics from that song.

I'm pretty amazed at the creativity and diversity of lyric presentation, the diversity of age and gender.

My amazement led me to notice the lack of racial diversity. But it is what it is.

I have to say, seeing it made me smile and made my day.

It's not hard to make my day these days. It takes only a little validation, encouragement or positive interaction.

Life is amazing and life is a mess. I cry too much. I think about upping my dose of meds, but then I think, better keep that option in reserve in case I really crash.

Today I told our housekeeper about moving to North Carolina. I didn't plan to but I got the sense that she knew something, since she seemed to think we were supposed to be in North Carolina or to just have come back from NC.

I told her we'd been to New Jersy, Pennsylvania and California last month, but North Carolina isn't planned until late October. But I couldn't lie, not even by omission. Digna cleans for people who know people who know we are moving, word gets around, and I didn't want to pretend nothing is changing when everything will be changing.

If she didn't already know, I'd rather she heard the news from us.

So I told her we were moving next summer. She took the news cheerfully and I cried.

I'm living with this cloud now all the time. Every minute of every day, and in dreams at night.

I don't want to spend a year being sad. I don't want this space to become a perpetual lamentation about change and fear and loss.

It's bad enough that I wail so much about my insecurity and uncertainty as an artist - which is back at fever pitch right now. I couldn't stay away from Facebook and the ongoing ego-bruising I've been experiencing there. No, I went back for more. For the past five days I've sold no beads. That's a new personal record.

I bounce back and forth between believing my beads aren't selling because they aren't beautiful or well-executed or worthy, and feeling flummoxed because I think my beads are so much prettier - or at least as pretty - as other artist's beads that are selling for good prices. My ego is out to kill me, one way or the other.

I've tried many things. Raising prices. Reducing prices. Reducing prices to ridiculously low starting bids. I've speculated on the possible reasons that my flourishing little bead empire has come crashing down. The competition making better beads, the competition selling at lowball prices. Customers already have plenty of my beads - but then why are there so many bidders bidding on other artist beads who have never bought one bead from me? People are selling to their friends and I don't have enough damn friends. There's a Facebook conspiracy where I've been blacklisted.

You don't have to tell me that I'm crazy. I own it. I'm the poster child.

I don't know if the answer is to take a long break both from selling and making. My last break from selling lasted a week, which clearly wasn't long enough. Then again, I equivocate, if I'm not at least trying to sell beads, then I sure as hell won't sell anything. So maybe I'll do a bead clear-out. List beads at whatever low starting price it takes to move them. Selling anything feels better than selling nothing. I'm that desperate.

I can't seem to find the joy in making art for the sake of making art right now. I don't believe in myself and my work. For a long time I did. I don't know what changed. I feel like I am wasting glass. I have all this beautiful glass that I've been hoarding to use when I am a better beadmaker, and face it, that day hasn't gotten any closer. That day feels further away than ever, considering that I've had more than eight years of practice.

Whatever I decide, maybe I'll just shut up about it for a while. Truthfully, I'm feeling pretty fragile right now, and who wants to read about that shit.

Hell, maybe moving is just what I need. A new place to explore and discover, cool days and cooler nights, a garden in a climate that makes you want to garden.

It's funny, the big carrot for me has been the prospect of having a proper air-conditioned, heated studio. It would be ironic if I don't need one by then.

Maybe I'll learn to knit or crochet or sew or cook or can vegetables. Maybe I'll grow carrots. Maybe I'll make a best friend or write a book.

Comfort zones are nice, but maybe change will bring new perspective, foster artistic vision, stimulate conceptual creativity, inspire imagination, reinvigorate passion.

Because sitting here self-analyzing ad nauseum damned sure isn't working.

I've never had a way with women
But the hills of Iowa make me wish that I could
And I've never found a way to say I love you
But if the chance came by, oh I, I would
But way back where I come from
We never mean to bother
We don't like to make our passions other people's concern
And we walk in the world of safe people
And at night we walk into our houses and burn

Iowa oh oh, Iowa oh oh oh oh, oh I, Iowa

How I long to fall just a little bit
To dance out of the lines and stray from the light
But I fear that to fall in love with you
Is to fall from a great and gruesome height
So I asked a friend about it, on a bad day
Her husband had just left her
She sat down on the chair he left behind, she said
What is love, where did it get me?
Whoever thought of love is no friend of mine

Iowa oh oh, Iowa oh oh oh oh, oh I, Iowa

Once I had everything
I gave it up for the shoulder of your driveway
And the words I've never felt
And so for you I came this far across the tracks
Ten miles above the limit, and with no seatbelt
And I'd do it again
For tonight I went running through the screen doors of discretion
For I woke up from a nightmare that I could not stand to see
You were a-wandering out on the hills of Iowa
And you were not thinking of me

Iowa oh oh, Iowa oh oh oh oh, oh I, Iowa.

(Dar Williams)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Make or break

"Heart-jinxed condition, never sure how I feel
Trying to separate the real thing from the wishful thinking."

I did it! I took a break from selling beads on Facebook - and I'm not traveling or sick or injured or committed.

When something is making you feel badly more than it is making you feel good, well, it's time to change something up.

The beginning of the end (or maybe the middle since it's just a break right now) started with a Facebook conversation about whether one could make a living from lampworking, followed by a slew of posts from people who claim they have done so. There were also many posts from people who said they were making a nice secondary income, thanks to a day job or a financially supportive spouse. One woman said she made a good living while homeschooling four kids.

I posted this.
Maybe I'm just not talented enough, but after 8 years of lampworking, I'm only trying to cover my costs and earn enough to pay my share of the household bills. And I'm failing at that now.

If I had to pay the mortgage, property taxes, health insurance, life insurance (let alone vacation travel) I'd be hosed. Forget savings, forget sending four kids to college.

I work very hard at it, but right now I'm fighting two things - beads not selling because there is so much competition pricing at low rates that I can't compete with, and my own struggles at the torch to make really good beads.
Lately I've had numerous fails at beads I've been making successfully for ages. My hand were not steady placing dots. I picked up the wrong color stringer for the second bead in a pair. I had some fussy orange color that boiled when I placed the dots so the finished beads have divots and are only good as food for the fishes.

I had a great idea for a color combination for a new lizard bead, but my heat control was rubbish and I pressed too hard making his hands so I added glass to the hands, in the process over-melting the spine dots ... well, let's just call it a clusterfuck all around. I got him into the kiln in the end, but he wasn't my best work by a long shot.

Recently I pulled apart a bunch of sets and strung the spacer beads in lots of 20 or so "orphans" (all were pairs, foursomes or sets of six). Then I sunk to the new low of starting the bidding at $20 for 20 beads, something I have tried to never to do (well not since my eBay days when I was still a beginner). I rationalized that a starting bid was just that, not a price, but I listed two sets and neither one even got a bid (which was beyond humiliating, if anyone's watching).

I had a bit of an "aha" moment scrolling through one of the groups on Facebook recently. I looked at the other auctions in the group and saw sets of perfectly nice simple beads with starting prices of 50 cents per bead and no bids. There were pairs of darling mice in Santa hats and cute owl pairs and pairs of leaves (each with two spacers), all at starting bid of $10 to $15. I saw one opening bid.

No wonder I'm selling almost nothing.

I need to regroup. I need to step back. I need to have a better strategy. I don't need this particular thing in my life just now to feel sad and anxious about.

I spend some time looking at photos of beads I made a couple of years ago, mining for ideas to jump-start my creativity. I made two sugar skull beads but as I said, my heat control lately is pants. I doctored up the mistakes and tried to salvage something good enough to donate at least.

The ultimate kicker came last weekend. I got a last-minute substitute trunk show slot. I had two days notice and did lots of promotion. I also lowered the start bids on my beads to rock bottom. I watched the show before mine, a beadmaker who I would say is similar to me in technical ability and, while I can't be completely objective, I would say roughly equal in terms of artistry. Her show was hopping, lots of bids and made-to-order requests for beads that sold.

So you might say I was overly optimistic going into my show. It started at midnight and by mid-afternoon the next day the bidding was stolidly sparse.

I came pretty close to posting an emotional appeal to my four-figure Facebook friends, but I still have enough dignity to resist being seen as vulnerable. That's not the persona I play on Facebook.

So I posted this.
I'm having a trunk show at International Glass Open Market. I've started all of the auctions at very good prices to give everyone a little break and also to clear some inventory and make room for new work.

To be honest it's been pretty slow so far - so here's your chance to come by and pick up some real bargains. The first round of auctions ends in less than 3 hours and there still are lots of beads to choose from.

Even if you can't bid today, a kind word would really boost my morale. I'm also giving away one of my lounge lizard beads, so there is that.
It did seem to drive a little traffic to the show, although that could have been coincidental. In the end I had a few sales, I think I actually mailed 10 packages. But it soured something inside me.

There's not much point to doing something that is mostly making me feel unhappy.

I'll have to figure out where that leaves me in terms of making beads. I think I still want to, but maybe I just want to avoid figuring out how to fill the hole it would leave in my life if I just stopped, or even slowed way down.

I'm trying to take some time to experiment and play and get my head out of production mode. Testing new colors and combinations, trying a few new spins on old designs, making myself slow down and try harder to place even dots, melt them in more slowly, keep track of my stringer and just not rush through it so I have more beads to sell.

I have to say, I'm enjoying not having the pressure of listing listing listing, of all the followup if I do have sales, and of all the followup even when I don't.

In the meantime, I've sold a little more of my glass. Well, you can't expect me to stop everything cold turkey. At least I can't. And lord knows, I have plenty of spare glass to sell that I'll never miss. Glass is much more of a pain to package and ship than beads, so I'm doing small amounts at a time, a pound here a pound there.

As good as it feels not to be selling beads for the minute, I'm already thinking about when and how to dip my toe back in that pond. Slowly I think. Maybe in a few days I'll start with three or four things and see how that goes. If it goes to hell in a handbasket, I can take more time off. Maybe my long-term strategy will be few items, less often, at better prices.

It's a nice thought.

At all costs I want to avoid the slough of having 12 items up for sale with no bids. But who knows, with me, where this will go. If I get a little encouragement, will I be right back at the beginning, listing listing listing?

Guess I will cross that bridge when and if.

All these empty places
I try so hard to fill
Will I find another love?
I pray to God I will
Girl, we had some good times
But time does not stand still
It's rolling like a rockslide down a hill

I met someone I care for
I know she cares for me
Will I fall in love again?
It's a possibility
Girl, we had some good times
That time cannot undo
No one will ever take the place of you

Heart-jinxed condition
Never sure how I feel
Trying to separate the real thing
From the wishful thinking

Sometimes I wonder
If I'll make it without you
I'm determined to
I'll make my stand

And if after all is said and done
You only find one special one

Then I've thrown down diamonds in the sand
(Remember when we used to watch the sun set in the sea)
Then I've thrown down diamonds in the sand
(You said you'd always be in love with me)
Then I've thrown down diamonds in the sand
(All through the night, we danced and sang)
Then I've thrown down diamonds in the sand
(Made love in the morning while the church bells rang)

Leave the fire behind you and start
I'll be playing it by ear
Left here with an empty-handed heart

(Warren Zevon)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sign language

"No one's gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong
But where do you belong?"
I'm gutted.

Well, not really, but a little mad, a little hurt.

This has been the slowest week since I started selling beads on Facebook almost three years ago.

Usually when it's slow, something comes along to compensate. Beads of Courage asks to purchase some Carry-a- Bead pairs, or I sell a few beads or some frit blends on Etsy.

It's just been dead. I sold some glass, which is what I do when beads aren't selling, and sometimes when they are. The determining factor is whether I have enough boxes and packing peanuts and bubble wrap on hand.

Tonight my phone chirped with a Facebook message. Sometimes buyers message me to tell me they bid on or bought some of my beads. Not this time.

This was the message.
Your beads are pretty and fun, too.

But, I would prefer not to receive all the photos on Facebook. How can I no longer see them? Don't want to hurt your feelings, but there is just too much email coming in to my mail.

Keep well and continue to do beautiful beads. MaryAnn
I don't really know this person. She's never bought a bead from me. About a year ago, she posted that she wanted to sell a lampwork armrest. Our entire message history looked like this.
Me: I'm interested in your Creation Station.

She: Is there a way I can email you. I am in Arizona. where r u

Me: Texas.

She: I will take photo and send details later. Thanks for your response. Mary Ann
She never sent photo or details.

Tonight I was tempted to respond, "feel free to unfriend me."

But I toned it down to this.
I have no idea how you have your notifications set up. You can unfriend me if you want to.
A couple of hours later I was curious enough to look. So far she hasn't.

Because I'm seeing signs everywhere lately, I wonder if it's time for a Facebook sales break. Whenever I've taken breaks in the past sales have picked up on my return.

They did that for a minute when I got home from the Poconos on September 1. Things petered out pretty fast though.

Our next trip isn't until late October.

I sent off a big box to Beads of Courage yesterday. I donated 150 beads. It crossed my mind that I'm trying to buy karma. Does that ever work?

In the box was a Dream Bead, a special request bead for a child in the program.

A little girl named Lillian asked for a purple, pink and blue owl. She even drew a picture. And gave instructions about colors.

I thought it came out cute.

I do what I can.

I'm still hooked on making lizards. After the first two sold in a flash, I haven't yet sold another. They are getting better though. Here are some of the latest lizards in the lounge.

I'm doing my best to avoid thinking about moving, since right now it causes acute anxiety. For example, how do we pack our clothes? Obviously not the way we did in past moves, grabbing things on hangars and stacking them in the back seat. What do I do with my bead collection? Tissue wrap every bead, bubble wrap them, pack them in plastic shoe boxes? I'm pretty sure I'll never unwrap them if I do. Like my collectibles in our last move. I just bought new ones.

But let's not go there. I'm diligently distracting myself by binge-watching multiple series. I just finished season four of Scott and Bailey and I'm about to wrap up The Kettering Incident. We just watched Edward Scissorhands (Neil had never seen it).

On Sunday we watched Churchill's Secret on Masterpiece Studio. His 1953 stroke is the secret, but the film is interesting for its portrayal of his family relationships and the fictional story of his nurse, Millie Appleyard. Millie is engaged to a young man and preparing to follow him to Australia as the story begins. Then, in a pivotal conversation with Churchill's wife Clementine, a women who has placed her husband's ambitions above all else, Millie voices doubts about the opportunities for her in Australia. She loves her work she says.
I’m sorry it’s ... It’s hard to explain, but the closer it gets to going, the more I think, I don’t know why I’m putting his dreams before mine.
Yes, signs everywhere. But only if you're looking.

No matter, I have nine months, maybe even a year to get my head wrapped around this move. I don't have to start packing yet.

And I expect in some ways it will be cathartic. I've said it before, I feel weighed down, in a psychic sense, by all the stuff in my life, in my house.

Poeple have written of the liberation they feel when they simplify their lives.

I've read about the KonMari method of decluttering from Marie Kondo's book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way To Banish Clutter Forever.

Kondo recommends determing, object by object, if each item "sparks joy.
Do this by taking each item in your hand and asking yourself, does this spark joy?
My problem is that so far, most of my things spark joy. And if not joy, then guilt. As in, this was my grandmother's, this was my mother's, my kids gave this to me.

It's going to be a long, strange trip. And that's just the first step on this crazy journey.


I got a new life
You would hardly recognize me I'm so glad
How could a person like me care for you
Why do I bother
When you're not the one for me
Oooo, is enough, enough

I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes I saw the sign
Life is demanding without understanding
I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes I saw the sign
No one's gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong
But where do you belong?

Under the pale moon
For so many years I've wondered who you are
How can a person like you bring me joy
Under the pale moon
Where I see a lot of stars
Is enough, enough

I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes I saw the sign
Life is demanding without understanding
I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes I saw the sign
No one's gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong
But where do you belong?"

(Jonas Berggren, Ace of Base)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Next move

"Around the next bend the flowers will send
The sweet scent of home in the breeze."
It's official.

We're moving.

To North Carolina.

In May, probably.

Or in however long it takes to build a 3,400 square foot house with a finished basement.

We hammered out the structural options and the contract is in the mail.

To say I have mixed feelings about this would be a profound understatement.

But we're doing it, so what are you gonna do? Try to make the best of it.

It's no secret that I'm conflicted. I want Neil to be happy and this is his dream. Plus if Papa's not happy, ain't nobody gonna be happy.

I just wish we could have had a little more time. Neil won't even be retired until December 1. It would have been nice to have a year just to be. Just to enjoy living in this house together.

Neil has never really gotten to enjoy that. If he's not working 13 days out of 14, we're traveling. Or he's traveling. Or he's falling asleep on the sofa at 8 pm. Or dealing with a water leak or a broken air conditioning system.

He's never known the joy of waking up here in the morning and just savoring the peace and the light. There's always the pressure of work hanging over him, email filling his inbox even as he takes a rare day off.

Instead we will go into his retirement with the massive, overwhelming project of packing up our home, flying back and forth to NC to select options for the new house and monitor its progress, figuring out how to move three cats, and trying to spend as much time as possible with our kids and our grandsons, the 4 year old and the one due in December.

There are some upsides to a move. I can finally have a proper studio with heat and air conditioning, and stop working in the garage. That is, if we can figure out the ventilation issues, the indoor fuel and flame issues, and the issue of whether I will continue to want to make beads.

I could have all that if we moved to Austin though. Or Santa Fe. Or Memphis. Or Little Rock.

I do understand that it's very important to Neil to be further away from the coast and the threat of hurricanes. Although in 40 years of living here I've not been seriously affected or impacted by storms.

I do understand that Neil wants to live somewhere besides Texas, and that if we are going to the immense effort of moving house, we might as well land somewhere with a better climate, nicer topography and four real seasons.

Didn't I once feel this way myself?

Did I not once write these words in response to an email from Marty, in 2001, just before 9/11, when he talked about the possibility of a transfer to Palo Alto after the HP-Compaq merger.
Marty, in many ways, I actually envy you the possibility. I wish I could go too – go home – if I could just figure out where that would be. I'm so afraid sometimes that I will live and die here.
I just noticed that I wrote that note 15 years ago today. That has to be significant.

What changed?

Fifteen years ago I was a single mom with rebellious, hormonal teenage daughters. Fifteen years ago I was hopelessly in love with a man who'd left me after telling me he loved me and wanted to be with me forever. Hopelessly. Without hope. Begging the question, why would I want to be with a man who didn't want to be with me?

In fairness to myself, by the end of that September I wrote this to my mom.
You'll be glad to know that Marty is no longer part of the equation. I don't want him back and I don't want to contact him again. I just want to get out of this dark place and finish raising my kids and feel well enough again to someday maybe have a real relationship again. I suppose he was a wake-up call in my life, to look at what shaky ground I was standing on and rediscover the real priorities in my life, my children.
Unfortunately Marty was still very much part of the equation. At least I finally could see the smoke and the mirrors. In February I wrote this.
I would have followed him to the ends of the earth. Whither he went, I would go, and his people would be my people. I would have forsaken everyone I cherished for him, everyone who loves me and needs me.

Who needs that?!

The hell with him.
It's much easier to come to your senses when all is said and done and you're not in the heat of the passion.

I wonder what I would have done if he hadn't left me and if he had left Texas (as he eventually did) and if he had asked me to go with him.

I'm not sure.

I don't think I would have left my children, but I might have gone and taken them with me.

Except that even then, 15 years ago, they wouldn't have gone. Kandace was a high school junior, in a relationship with a boy she cared deeply about. Chelsea was in her last year of junior high school, president of the theater club, best friends with a soul mate. (OK, neither relationship survived longterm, but they were compelling back then.)

So would I have left them?

I don't know. Maybe.

And now I am leaving them and I'm remorseful and heartsick about it. And both of them think it's a great adventure. I'm the one with anxiety and guilt and doubt.

In 1987, I had the opportunity to tranfer from Conoco in Houston to DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware. I'd have been back on the east coast, near my parents in New York. The company flew me up for two days of interviews in early December. My parents drove down to meet me for dinner and a visit to Longwood Gardens, all decked out for the holidays.

I was home, taking a day of vacation, when I got a call to come in to work to discuss an offer. The head of my department, a company vice president, met with me, along with my direct supervisor. The offer was crushingly disappointing. They'd pay my transfer assistance but I'd have to take a $5,000 cut in pay.

I was earning $35,000 a year then.

I'd be moving to a state with a higher cost of living and state income tax (but no sales tax, so that balanced out the tax thing). My husband would have had to find a job, not really a pivotal issue since he changed jobs with some regularity and wasn't the major breadwinner.

We didn't own a home at the time, so the benefits of selling a house with transfer assistance did not come into play.

Also, my period was two weeks late.

I know women accept transfers and have babies, but it was something to think about.

I also thought about how many trips to visit my family $5,000 would pay for.

Honestly, I took the short view.

If I had taken the job, it's completely possible that new avenues would have opened up for me. I would have been back among people with much more in common with me. I might have knocked their socks off, professionally speaking. I well might have prospered at DuPont and I certainly might have made up the shortfall in income over time.

But I kept coming back to the thought that if I accepted the transfer, they'd know I was only doing so for personal reasons, since there are no good corporate reasons to take a 14.2857142857% cut in pay (but who's counting?). How could they see me as a serious employee if I did that?

(As if anyone would remember that after a year or two.)

Bottom line, I was too afraid of change. I was too afraid of Jon quitting his job and me being the sole support of the family on a decreased salary, and having to find a place to live that we could afford, and having to learn a new job, and doing all of that while pregnant.

I turned down the offer. I gave birth to Chelsea the following August.

My parents moved to Florida six years later.

Jon and I divorced when Chelsea was nine. I met Neil in 2002.

There are so many ways to slice and dice my decision to stay in Houston with the benefit of hindsight.

You can only connect the dots looking backward. Steve Jobs said that.

There is always the path taken and the path not taken.

In general I regret the things I didn't do more than I regret anything I ever do. I probably made the wrong decision about the transfer, but I have to start where I am. Now, here, today.

So I won't be digging my heels in and holding back. I won't be moping or complaining or crying (too much). I will get on board with this adventure. I will try my darndest to let the sleeping black dog lie.

The left side of that pad of clay will be what we will call home.
Another view of our pad and our next door neighbor.
The neighborhood to the left of our house.
New neighbors, two houses down.

Traveling at night
The headlights were bright
And we'd been up many an hour
And all through my brain
Came the refrain
Of home and its warming fire

And home sings me of sweet things
Life there has its own wings
To fly over the mountains
Though I'm standing still

The people I've seen
They come in between
The cities of tiring life
The trains come and go
But inside you know
The struggle will soon be a fight

Traveling at night
The headlights were bright
But soon the sun came through the trees
Around the next bend
The flowers will send
The sweet scent of home in the breeze

Oh home sings me of sweet things
Life there has its own wings
To fly over the mountains
Though I'm standing still.

(Martin Lee Gore, covered by Karla Bonoff)

Monday, September 5, 2016

An untimely death

"And I'll show you a young man with so many reasons why
There but for fortune go you or I.

My friend Tom died. He turned 62 in August. In other words, he was way too young to die.

I met Tom during my freshman year of college. I won't claim we were intimate friends. I'm an intovert and Tom is quiet, but we were both part of a larger group that spent four years of college hanging out. We played pool at the Old Stone Jug and had parties at Random House, the anti-fraternity group living house which was Tom's college home.

At the end of our sophomore year, I went on a canoe trip in the Adirondack Mountains with another girl and six guys, including Tom. We paddled, portaged, cooked over campfires, slept in tents and drank a lot of beer and Jack Daniels. You get to know your friends really well after a week without showers and other creature comforts.

Tom was a geology major and he moved to Houston for work after graduation. After a year or two, there was a group of us Colgate grads living here, drawn by the booming job market and low cost of living. And probably drawn by each other and our friendship, since we were not all tied to the energy industry.

As time passed and we aquired spouses and cats and mortgages, our little group of friends spread out across this sprawling city, from Katy to Kingwood to Jersey Village and later Sugar Land. Kids and jobs and divorces and life happened, but we still always managed to get together a few times a year. For forty years.

There is something precious about friendships with people who knew you when you were young, who've known you for more than two-thirds of your lifespan. You forged bonds in college, when you were still forging yourself. You may go in different directions, develop different interests, have different lifestyles, make friends with new people. You may not even have much in common any more. Ah, but you have history. You have shared war stories, collective memories, deep roots that intertwine. You may annoy each other, judge each other, but you also forgive each other. Because history trumps friendship derailers.

Tom bought a home close to town and kept it during a work rotation in Kazakhstan, where he met his wife and older daughter. Eventualy they moved back, remodeled the house, had a baby, and started a tradition of hosting holiday parties.

Last December we celebrated the holidays with Tom and his family for the 14th annual and final time.

I found out he was sick in December 2014, when I got this note.
A change of pace this year. Our annual holiday get-together will be at Café Zelko at 11th and Beverly on Sunday December 21 at 6 pm. See you there

Tom and Nina

p.s. Liz – give me a call.
When I called, he told me he had pancreatic cancer. I stupidly managed to say all the wrong things. For some reason my brain confused pancreatic cancer with prostate cancer, a much less ominous kind of cancer. I said, oh, my cousin had that, he had treatment and he's fine now. Then I told him all about our recent Hawaiian cruise.

Later I felt terrible. I sent him a note.
I apologize for rambling on about Hawaii and a lot of other unimportant stuff yesterday. I was in shock or denial (as well as being ill-informed) about your diagnosis. I've been feeling terrible about saying all the wrong things, for sticking my head in the sand and for being perhaps insensitively positive and optimistic. I'm not sure there is a right thing to say except that if there is anything I can do at any time, let me know.
He emailed right back.
No apologies are necessary. I didn’t even notice anything untowards. Thanks for your thoughts.
At the holiday dinner, he looked good and was in good spirits. At least that's how I remember it. I found this photo. Me, Tom, Midge, Wanda and David.
A couple of days later he sent an update, the first of those we'd get in the following months.
The pancreatic cancer has been confirmed but it is still at an early stage. I start chemo at M. D. Anderson on Monday. I will have 4 rounds – 1 every 2 weeks. Possible hair loss but the chemo is well-tolerated and I can probably work after a day or two. Surgery will follow. I’ll keep y’all updated.

We really enjoyed the dinner at Zelko’s. We’re still snacking on the left-overs. Happy Holidays, Tom
I wrote back.
Thanks for the update Tom. We will be thinking of you. Of course I am here and happy to help if there is anything at all that I can do. Remember, your friends want to help, it helps us to help you so do not hesitate to ask.

Thanks for the very lovely holiday party. We had fun and the food was amazing. After you recover from the surgery we'll all have to go out again to celebrate. Our treat this time.

Keep us posted please. Love to Nina and the girls.
A month later we got another update.
I’ve had two rounds of chemo and still no nausea or other problems except last week my hair began falling out in clumps. Rather than agonize about it, I just went ahead, bought an electric razor and took it all off. I’m scheduled for my next CT scan on February 13th and then they’ll decide what the next steps are.


p.s. - I bought a couple of hats too.

Each update was now being sent to a larger audience of old friends. Each one drew a volley of reply-alls, but I sent my responses to Tom only.
Glad no nausea - I'd rather lose my hair that be queasy! Hats will keep your head warm, and hair grows back.

Love you Tom. Keep up the updates. Neil and I talk about you often and hope you are doing OK.
Update number 3 was encouraging.
The chemo treatments are completed and the news is all good! The primary tumor is no longer clearly visualized, there is no sign of any spreading and the tumor markers from the blood work are back to normal.

The next step is surgery – the Whipple procedure (pancreatoduodenectomy). It is scheduled for March 9. I will be in the hospital for 8-10 days followed by about 8 weeks of recovery. There will probably be a follow-up series of chemo, just as a precaution. So far – so good.
We all wanted to believe, in the face of medical literature supporting a poor prognosis for long-term survival of pancreatic cancer, that everything would be all right. I wrote back.
Yay! Great news. I'm already planning the celebration party. Late May is looking good. Surgery at MDA? Happy for you! Love, Liz
Tom had surgery in March. His outlook was even more positive, based on the clinical findings.
I’ve returned home from MD Anderson today. Everything is still going well.... I’m on a low fat, low carb diet with 6-8 small meals a day. I tire easily and need to rest after about 20 minutes. Tonight hopefully I will be able to have my first uninterrupted sleep in 10 days.

I got the final pathology report this morning. It turns out that I didn’t have pancreatic cancer after all! Instead I had duodenal cancer. It’s a rarer cancer with a better outcome chance. The tumor was between the duodenum and the pancreas so the Whipple procedure was still the preferred procedure. My follow-up chemo will be using a different agent.

Thanks for all the best wishes and support.
I was happy for him, for all of us, his wife and daughers, family and friends.
Fantastic news Tom! Hurrah to being home and getting some sleep and rest! Let us know the chemo schedule when you know it. Talk to you soon. Love, Liz
The best news was also the last really good news.
Yesterday I had 5 appointments at MD Anderson. Basically everything is OK. My last tube was removed. I now have a whole variety of new and interesting abdominal scars. I will start a pill-based chemo regime next week for 4 months. It’s supposed to be milder than the earlier IV chemo. This is more of an insurance treatment as there is no signs of any tumors. I’ll have follow-up CT scans in 3 months.

My diet can slowly return to normal but I’ll be going easy on fats and fried food. With the removal of a big piece of my pancreas, I’m now a Type 1 diabetic and will be permanently taking insulin. Though this probably isn’t the best weight loss plan, I now weigh less than I have in 30 years!

Thanks for all of your best wishes, prayers and concerns. I’ll be going back to work next week.
I was ready to get the party started.
That is so awesome. As soon as you have a chance to see how you feel on the chemo, I'll call you to plan that celebration party. Think about the guest list and a nice place to go where you can enjoy the food.
The party had to be postponed. The next update was sobering. Tom tried to put the best possible spin on it.
Unfortunately my cancer is not gone. In early July, I went for my 4 month post-surgery CT scans and they found a small lesion on my liver. Last week I had an MRI and a PET scan. Yesterday I found out the results.

There is a small tumor on my liver and another small one in my peritoneum. They showed up on the MRI but not the PET which indicates that they are very small and localized (MRI has a higher resolution than PET). My doctors recommend that I have another scan in September and then probably begin chemotherapy. The reasoning is to "save" using the chemo until there is some growth noted.

While there is no cure nor a surgical option, the chemo can be an effective treatment. I had a bad allergic reaction to one chemo drug, but there are other formulations available. I will be getting a port for the chemo below my collar bone - tying into a vein in my neck. The schedule will be a treatment once every two weeks - continuing indefinitely. This is, of course, very disappointing.

Actually I’m feeling very good. I’ve lost a lot of weight and I’m much more active than before. My work schedule is flexible and I’m enjoying the projects I work on. In June, I went to a reunion of the descendants of my maternal grandparents in Savannah (there were about 50 of us) and that was a good time. In August, Tanya and I are off to another reunion with my brother and sisters and their families at a resort in western Pennsylvania.
I decided we need to start the party anyway.
Well, that sucks. I’m sorry Tom.

I am glad you are feeling good and enjoying work and summer activities.... If you are up to it, and it sounds like you are, I’d still like to host a dinner - sorry I have been remiss about planning it sooner. I was thinking about Labor Day weekend Would that work for you? ... It will be somewhere central, I have some ideas. Do you have any restrictions on any variety of ethnic food?

I wish we were celebrating something even better than effective treatment but we will celebrate your awesome positive attitude and drink (lemonade) to your continuing to feel well.

But I have to say it. Fuck cancer.
We met for dinner in early September at Pico's with our other Colgate friends, Tom and his wife Nina, Midge and her boyfriend Bill, Dave and his wife Wanda, Neil and me. It was lovely. The next update came a month later.
Well, I’m back on chemo again. This time there are almost no side effects. I still have my hair. The base line CT scans showed that the lesions had spread a little bit but the oncologists thought it wasn’t too bad. I have a chemo port below my collarbone hooked up to my neck vein. I don’t notice it much, but it is kind of weird.

I’ll get some new results towards the beginning of November. I’m feeling good and staying busy. Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers.
There wasn't much to say.
Seems like mostly good news. Midge and I were talking about you the day before you sent this, hoping to get an update soon. Thanks for keeping us posted.

I hope chemo continues to go well. If there is ever anything I can do to help, remember I'm just a phone call or email away - don't hesitate to ask.
Things continued on an upswing - but as he reminded us, this was not remission.
Hurray - I got my CT scans results and everything is "outstanding." All the nodes and growths have receded and some are no longer visible. This is very good news. My tumor markers from the blood work are also improving. I’ll continue with the same chemo regime for another 2 or 3 months and get another set of CT scans.

Even though this is encouraging, my condition is treatable but not curable at this time. I’m feeling fine except for the weird cold sensitivity in my extremities from the oxyplatin chemo. Just walking the dog this evening felt like 0 degrees on my nose, fingers and ears when in fact it was about 55. This will pass after 3 or 4 days.

Happy Thanksgiving.
It could have been worse of course. I was grateful.
Hurray hurray! This is definitely something to be thankful for Tom.

Love to everyone and Happy Thanksgiving!

Liz, Neil, Chelsea, Kandace, Ryland, Chris, Laurie, Luke, the various significant others, and the fur kids.
In December Tom hosted his fourteenth annual and final Christmas celebration.
We’re planning our annual holiday party for Saturday, December 19. We will be holding it at a restaurant again. We would like to get a head count before we make any reservations – so just give us a heads up by this Monday and we’ll get back with the time and location.

Happy Holidays.
After the holidays time sped up. In June, Tom and some of my other friends went to Colgate for reunion. I've never gone, for reasons that would take another post to relate.

In July Tom sent his first and only update of 2016.
I had been having high fevers, body aches and fatigue for about 10 days. On July 5 I was checked back into MDA. After numerous tests, it was discovered that I had a rare bacterial blood infection. I got out of the hospital yesterday and I might return to work tomorrow. My chemo regime will need to be rest. Feeling better now.
I had no clue how little time he had left. No one did, not even Tom.
Sorry Tom, that sounds like no fun at all. I'm glad your doctors were able to diagnose and treat it and that you are feeling better now. Take care of yourself, get lots of rest, I can't imagine wanting to go back to work - but you know what's right for you.
David and Wanda stepped up to host a Labor Day get together. Tom accepted, "provided I’m feeling OK."

That was on August 7. On September 1, Midge called to say that Tom had been back in the hospital. He'd become jaundiced. Tumors or scar tissue were compressing his bile ducts. A procedure to place drainage stents was planned but didn't happen. Tom's kidneys were shutting down. He was sent home for hospice care.

He was given anything from a few days to a few weeks to live. He asked for no visits or phone calls.

We spent the evening of Sept. 3 with Midge and Bill, David and Wanda, and a few other old friends who knew Tom.

Tom died in the wee hours of Sept. 4.

I've been preparing for this since I comprehended the seriousness of pancreatic cancer. From the moment I heard the words "tumor" and "liver" I knew he was on borrowed time.

We're all on borrowed time, but Tom's note had an acceleration clause. And now it's come due and the piper has called. And I have to say it again. Fuck cancer.

Happier days. Tom, Midge, David, me, Valerie, about 7 years ago.

Show me the prison, show me the jail
Show me the prisoner whose life has gone stale
And I'll show you a young man
With so many reasons why
There but for fortune go you or I

Show me the alley, show me the train
Show me the hobo who sleeps out in the rain
And I'll show you a young man
With so many reasons why
There but for fortune go you or I

Show me the whiskey, stains on the floor
Show me the drunkard as he stumbles out the door
And I'll show you a young man
With so many reasons why
There but for fortune go you or I

Show me the country where the bombs had to fall
Show me the ruins of the buildings once so tall
And I'll show you a young land
With so many reasons why
There but for fortune go you and I
You and I.

(Phil Ochs)