Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Do you take this woman to be your wife?

Someone shared this on another page I'm on, and I fell in love with the story. The mom gave me the
permission to share.

 "My eldest daughter Lily (9) was super proud to show me this picture she colored at my parents’ house today. My mom gave her a new princess coloring book, and my daughter didn’t like that it was all opposite-sex couples, so she cut two of them out to make a same-sex wedding.

 And then on the way home, I heard her explaining to her younger sister (2.5) that it was two mamas getting married (she knows the younger one thinks of all adult women as mamas right now).

 She went on to explain that some kids have a mama and a dada, some have two mamas, and some have two dadas—and some have families that are just connected by love. I stress a lot about my faith shift, but today I think the kids are going to be just fine!"

 I love this so much. Way to go, Lily!

Friday, March 2, 2018

What I learned from being laid off

Today is my last day of unemployment, and I've been taking advantage of it by spending most of the morning writing and catching up on my book reviews. I have two more blog posts in me before I move on with my day.

On Tuesday, January 23, my HR representative called me into a conference room to participate in my scheduled call with my boss. As soon as she showed up, I knew I would be laid off. I've been on the other side of the table too many times not to know how it would go down. My company was acquired by a much larger company at the end of 2017, and although I knew layoffs were a possibility, I had not been as concerned of late. After all, I had received a bonus just a few weeks before. When I had to do layoffs, we did not give rare bonuses to people we would be laying off!

It was a bitter pill to swallow after 27 years, and I felt lost for a few days. But my nature is to look for the silver lining:
  • I was offered severance, and I could have received unemployment had I not been able to find a job. Rumor has it that the new company does not have a severance policy, so this severance might have been a one-time opportunity to leave the company with a financial gift.
  • I was given two weeks to find another job in the company. When I did layoffs, I was not able to give my employees this option, so I was grateful for it. Not only could I search for another opportunity internally while starting an external job hunt, but I also didn't have to pack up all my stuff and surrender my computer immediately (as is the typical route).
  • Moving on provided me an opportunity to find a new organization that valued diversity, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability...and also valued my skills and talents.
I sprung into action immediately, reaching out to my contacts and applying for jobs while I was packing up my office. Again, I am grateful for the head start my former company gave me!

My rewarding career has progressed without a lot of guidance on my own. Throughout my life, opportunities have popped up in front of me and I've seized them. I haven't set specific career goals and followed them step by step. For example, after managing a large publications group for 13 years, I lost that position through a reorganization. I've had to reinvent myself several times along the way. If I hadn't, I might have become stagnant. Change and disruption has made me stronger and more resilient.

I start my new job on Monday: one that seems made for me. I am looking forward to working for a much smaller, locally headquartered company that has an outstanding reputation in the industry--not only for the services they offer their clients, but also for the way they treat their employees.

Here's what I have learned from this experience of brief unemployment and job hunting:
Most of the colleagues who came to my farewell happy hour,
two all the way from Corvallis!
  • Surround yourself with positive, optimistic friends and family members...now, before you have to face a layoff or other life change. My tribe kept me buoyed during those first few days, telling me that this would turn out for the best and that I would be snapped up because I have priceless skills and great work approaches. Most of my colleagues were shocked that I was one of the first to be laid off. They made me feel valued and appreciated, which was a great start for a job hunt. Ellen Sandberg, the colleague I worked with most closely in the past year, sent me some gorgeous flowers. I call her "Scarecrow," because I will miss her the most.
  • Don't tell your kids until you can put a positive spin on it. We waited five days to tell our kids, because I wanted to be in a positive place. They were shocked, but I could easily assuage their concerns by the time we told them.
  • Never burn your bridges. Ever. I have maintained contact with all the colleagues I've worked closely with in the past 27 years. Social media has made this easier than ever. You never know when you will need them. My vast network was critical.
  • LinkedIn is your friend. I know it can be kind of clunky, but you never know when you will need it. Fortunately I already had a strong LinkedIn resume and presence, so I could immediately use that to my advantage. I also tried a 30-day free trial of LinkedIn Premium.
  • Get in practice applying for jobs before you desperately need one. Last fall I applied for a job at a water utility in which I attended a half-day "assessment center" with a four-person panel and two other candidates in which I had to review the utility's Capital Improvement Plan and prepare a presentation highlighting the details and present it as if to the public; do 3-4 writing assignments on the spot; do a role play with a difficult employee; present a timed oral resume showcasing my skills; and do a team exercise with the two other candidates. This was followed up by an executive interview. They offered me the job but I turned it down. The best outcome was (1) all three of us candidates became friends and remain in touch and (2) I had great practice! After that assessment center, nothing any employer would throw my way would be intimidating!
  • Adopt a short theme statement of who you are. The opening and closing slides of my oral resume contained my three descriptors. Later, I used them in my cover letters, resume, and LinkedIn profile. I also had business cards made. Mine were:
  • Award-winning communicator
  • Collaborative leader
  • Resilient inventor
  • Ask your colleagues for recommendations. I had already started asking for recommendations when I began looking last fall. When I got word about the layoff, I contacted my past and present colleagues and asked them to recommend me. They came through for me, and I am forever in their debt!
  • Find some honest, exacting editors. This was easy for me, fortunately. When I had my resume in shape, I sent it to a number of colleagues. One of them told me what I already knew: employers don't often make it past the first page. My two-page resume needed to be punchier and shorter. I cut it down to one page--not easy to do with 30 years of experience. My colleague applied basic communications tactics to my resume. Keep it short and concise, baby! Make them want more information. 
  • Call on your favorite mentors. Our once-upon-a-time sustainability fairy godmother Elisa Speranza sent some excellent tips and recommendations, including a blog post written by another former colleague, Steve Collins about "Six Things to Do After or Just Before You're Laid Off," which I found tremendously helpful.
    I also got in touch with one of my former mentors from the '90s, Brad Hermanson. I'm sure he didn't know how significant a role he played in my career. He had left the company well over 15 years ago, and I hadn't been in contact with him since then beyond LinkedIn. He sent me some incredibly encouraging and helpful emails, giving me the perfect advice and suggestions for what I was facing. Other mentors and former colleagues and bosses offered me introductions at other firms. Again, so grateful!
  • Do some soul searching and don't settle. This was a central theme in the advice from both Elisa and Brad. Brad told me how things had only improved for him in his career since leaving the mother ship, and he encouraged me to think about what kind of job and employer I truly wanted. As a result, I ruled out going back into business development (sales) and turned down some internal opportunities that came my way. I knew I wanted to continue in communications, and I could only do that if I left the mother ship. 
  • Watch for signs of what you're meant to do. One of my close former colleagues, Melissa Mora, left the firm before the holidays to go sailing with her husband. On one of the days I was contemplating my options, I read this beautiful blog post of hers as she reflects on setting sail, literally and figuratively. It was just what I needed!
  • Up your professional game. Last fall Elisa suggested I adopt a more professional email address (previously it was organic_mama@yahoo.com). Again, an obvious tip that hadn't occurred to me. That's why you need your mentors and colleagues! I also bought a personal laptop, separated my work/personal email, and invested in some more professional work clothing, as in recent years my remote work relationships have allowed me to wear jeans to work much of the time!
  • Jump on your job hunt. As the sole breadwinner in my family, I couldn't wait around to start job hunting. The Internet has made it so easy to find job openings. I applied for about 15 jobs, tailoring cover letters for each opportunity. At my level of experience, it's more difficult to jump industries. But my skills and experience made me an excellent prospect as a communicator within the architectural/engineering industry. I also made contact with some recruiters and began applying for unemployment, but it turned out I didn't have to pursue either route in the end. Fortunately, my new employer acted quickly and snapped me up before anyone else could.
  • Be positive. Try to manifest your future destiny. Some might label this as a woo-woo approach,
    Quote that has helped me more
     than once in my career changes!
     but it usually works for me. Whenever I have had something go wrong in my career and I can't imagine how things will get right again, eventually it works out. Sometimes it takes time, but if you're patient, it will happen. In my case, the job that I eventually landed had just been opened when I got laid off. Serendipity, one of my favorite words and happenings!
  • Invest in your opportunities. When I saw jobs that I really wanted, I put in a great deal of time preparing. The cover letters responded to each organization's required qualifications and explained how I'd already done everything they had in mind for the job. Don't forget to have friends proofread your cover letters and resume to catch any errant mistakes!
    To prepare for the big interview, I invested in a notebook and clear pages to display my writing samples. Using the information I'd documented from the initial phone conversations, I created an "Action Plan" presentation outlining what I would do the first few weeks on the job, including a tactics list and sample social media posts using the company's press releases. And of course, I had my personal editor (my husband) proofread it!
  • Look back. I harbor no ill will toward my former company. It helps that they did a humane layoff in my case instead of ushering me out the door. In my last two weeks I had time to reflect back on the great opportunities I had with this company. In going through my paperwork, I found a number of priceless artifacts like my first offer letter and years of performance reviews, which were so fun to read again! I spoke to one of my favorite people, Elisa Blommer, who is still recovering from a horrible motorcycle accident, and we reflected together on all the years we'd worked there. And on my last day in the office, I spoke to my wonderful friend Brandy Wilson, who left the firm last fall to take a job at Simplot, starting up their sustainability program. Brandy used to report to me, and then I reported to her. We mentored each other. That conversation, and hearing her talk about how much better her current situation is than the one she left, was the perfect ending for me at my former employer. 
  • Write a gracious goodbye email. Again, don't burn your bridges. You never know if you might end up returning to your employer or need them again.
I hope these tips are helpful to others who are worried about their job security or who have to face a layoff. 

I know that things don't always go as easily when people are laid off. Sometimes it takes a lot longer to find a job. But I think a positive, resilient spirit helps a great deal. It certainly doesn't do any harm to spread those positive vibes everywhere you go! The world has enough negativity and bad news as it is.

And so as not to pull a Hillary Swank, I must also extend a huge thank you to my amazing husband Mike, who is always my rock and support, now as always.

Your resilient Pollyanna friend Marie on her last day of unemployment

Top books of 2017!

I'm a little late! I got behind on writing my book reviews and I wanted to be methodical about it.

I started out 2017 by resolving to read as many women and people of color as possible. It was the year of memoir, and the first year I’ve ever read more nonfiction than fiction!

The Forty Rules of LoveYou'll find reviews of each of these books on my Marie's Book Garden blog...just search the title.

    The Widows of Malabar Hill (Perveen Mistry, #1)
  1. The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak
  2. The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey
  3. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
  4. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  5. Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf*
  6. Unbound, by John Shors*
  7. The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez
  8. Prayers for the Stolen, by Jennifer Clement
  9. I Found You, by Lisa Jewell
  10. Version Control, by Dexter Palmer
  11. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
  12. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie
  13. The Separation, by Diana Jeffries


Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
    Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening
  1. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah
  2. Daring to Drive: a Saudi Woman’s Awakening, by Manal al-Sharif
  3. Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen*
  4. Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women, by Marianne Monson
  5. Surpassing Certainty: What My 20s Taught Me, by Janet Mock
  6. Things I Should Have Told My Daughter, by Pearl Cleage
  7. Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum, by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner
  8. Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story, by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh
  9. Forward: A Memoir, by Abby Wambach
  10. Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God, by Amber Cantorna
  11. Giant of the Senate, by Al Franken (ugh!)*
  12. Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, by Nadia Bolz-Weber
  13. The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, by Frank M. Young*
  14. Sex Object, by Jessica Valenti
  15. Carry On Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, by Glennon Doyle Melton
  16. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, by Luvvie Ajayi
  17. This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection, by Carol Burnett
  18. The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher
  19. Holden Village—A Memoir, by Werner Janssen

*White guys--only five!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The future of the force is female

Christmas 2017 was not what we expected. On Christmas Eve morning, Portland got hit with an ice storm.

Xmas morning
Romie was happy
 to have us together!
We were sad when our plans to attend our wonderful church and participate in its Jazz Christmas service were dashed. We found some brave Uber Eats driver to deliver Thai food to our door, watched "Home Alone" and "Elf," and hunkered down.

It still hasn't melted yet, but we've ventured out a few times. One of the highlights was to see "The Last Jedi" on Christmas Day. I loved this movie. NO SPOILERS HERE, I promise!

Contrary to the boys' club of the early Star Wars movies (and nearly every other action flick with the exception of "Wonder Woman" and the all-female "Ghostbusters"), nearly every scene had a woman in it. Many of them were women of color even! REPRESENTATION MATTERS! Apparently some little boys men have themselves all worked up about this and have tanked the Rotten Tomatoes audience as a result because they can't take the rebalancing of gender in this film. For example:

As Refinery29 writes, "Translation: strong women are fine, but only if the men are stronger."

Even though Princess Leia was a badass, she was the only female lead in the first several films. As usual onscreen, she was surrounded by men. New York Magazine put together a montage of all the lines spoken by a woman other than Leia in the first trilogy. Those lines totaled one minute, 23 seconds, out of 386 minutes! As my wise husband said, "No wonder so many Star Wars nerds are men."

In "The Last Jedi," it's clear that women and intersectionality are the lifeforce of the resistance. We get my new favorite Star Wars character, Rose, who's a mechanically minded woman from a working-class background. We get women leading the resistance...and even some villainous females, one of which is a fierce fighter in one scene. We get women working together for the common good, and overruling and outsmarting a few mansplaining men who are ingrained with toxic masculinity, questioning women's decisions and leadership.

Mike and I both cried several times during this movie, because it so clearly represents what's going on in the world right now...the underdogs fighting the Evil Empire, the warmongers profiting at the expense of the marginalized, and the complete lack of morality among the ruling elite. The rebels in the Resistance are trying to create a better world for themselves and future generations. And then there's dear Carrie Fisher in her last appearance on screen. The film's poignant plot makes her role even more bittersweet.

As the Intercept says, "If  'The Last Jedi' has a political takeaway, it’s for political revolution and a bottom-up transformation of not just who’s in power, but who gets to decide how that revolution happens."

This was the year of the woman, as shown in this montage of feminist moments in 2017. We are so tired of getting less, getting groped and catcalled, and getting the brunt of things. We are rising, and we are no longer taking your mansplaining shit.

Women are coming into their own, standing up for justice and the marginalized, collectively gathering to resist, and finally reclaiming the word "feminist," and this is the movie and these are the heroes we need:

Go see it!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Broken down and tired: a lament

#meat13, the age when
I was sexually assaulted
Trigger warning: First of all, for all those women, men, and nonbinary folks out there who've been sexually assaulted, harassed, or abused, you are in my heart. This is a bit of a trigger-inducing rant, so bear with me.

Those who know me rarely see me depressed or feeling down. I'm a naturally cheerful, resilient, optimistic person. But this week I am feeling emotionally exhausted and depleted. As a 7 on the Enneagram ("the enthusiast"), depression can hit me, from out of nowhere, like a ton of bricks. I truly hate being depressed, and I'm eager to feel like myself again.

Here's what is wearing me down:
  • Women are posting photos of themselves with the hashtag #meat14 to show that a 14-year-old is not a consenting adult, in response to assholes who say it's okay for a grown adult to "date" a teenage girl ala Roy Moore. Rape apologists are actually defending a child molester, saying this is normal.
  • I'm damn glad that more people are coming forward to call out their abusers, but it is f*cking trauma inducing. The #metoo phenomenon, which I joined publicly last October, is affirming while at the same time being exhausting and tragic.
  • Evangelical Christians are perverting Christianity to defend pedophilia. Alabama state auditor Jim Ziegler compared Roy Moore to Joseph. “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” SERIOUSLY? He also compared Moore to elderly Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, parents of John the Baptist. Moore's brother compared his sleazy sibling to Jesus Christ, and Moore himself claimed he was in the middle of a spiritual battle. His wife Kay posted that Moore had support from 50 Alabama pastors. How much lower can the Republican party fall? Most Evangelical Christians continue to look the other way, allowing the Bible to be used to defend these perverts, and even supporting him MORE after these accusations came to light. There is no excuse for this behavior, and all people who do not decry it are complicit as hell. It makes me so embarrassed to be a Christian.
  • George Takei, Richard Dreyfuss, and Louis CK join the growing list of celebrities accused of sexual assault and harassment: Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, the U.S. Gymnastics doctor, Steven Seagal, George H.W. Bush, Bill O'Reilly, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, ALFRED F*CKING HITCHCOCK!, and the list goes on. It's hard to stomach liberal favorite George Takei being part of the abuse problem, but the interview he gave on the Howard Stern show sealed my belief in his guilt. Hearing Stern and his co-host Robin Quivers laugh and joke about sexual assault made me sick to my stomach. First Takei claimed Russian bots were behind the allegation, and now he claims the statements he made on the show were part of his "naughty gay grandpa" shtick. Is that supposed to excuse his behavior? Really? Naughty gay grandpa? He's just made me feel sicker.
  • The week began with Republicans and the White House saying, "if it's true." Each time that statement is made, thousands more victims decide to keep silent, feeling shame and blame for the attack or abuse. We liberals too are guilty of "if it's true" or "it can't be true." Just take a look at all the support on George Takei's Facebook page, which still has over 10 million likes.
  • This week I'm listening to Janet Mock's great second memoir, Surprising Certainty, and she recounted a date rape, after which she told her then-boyfriend that she had "slept with someone" because of the shame she felt...and because women who are raped by someone they know are told they were asking for it.
  • Each time a survivor comes forward to tell the truth about someone in the public eye, they get shamed and disbelieved...especially if they are an athlete or a celebrity. Sports organizations are the worst. Did you know that 44 NFL players have been accused of rape or physical assault? Remember how long it took for people to believe Jerry Sandusky was a rapist and how some Penn State fans still defend him and his enabler Joe Paterno until the end?
  • The Atlantic published a powerful article yesterday about how liberals have given the first
    sexual-predator-in-chief Bill Clinton a pass. Feminists, in particular, are guilty for excusing and enabling his behavior (see this article by Gloria Steinem). Rape culture at its finest, infecting even the ones who should be attacking it at its core. I've never been an avid supporter of Bill Clinton, but I've also realized I too have been complicit in not calling him out for his behavior.
  • It's been uncovered that taxpayers have unknowingly paid $15 million in settlement fees to women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted by members of congress. Women are not your playthings, assholes.
  • We have a misogynist, perverted perpetrator in the White House--one that is far worse than Bill Clinton--and we who have been assaulted can never stop being reminded of the fact that people who voted for him either don't believe his accusers or perhaps worse, don't care about his vile behavior. Here's a list of women who have accused him of sexual assault, or what Wikipedia calls "unwanted physical contact." FFS. The godforsaken (truly) WHITE HOUSE is defending this creep, while trashing our country by forcibly trying to yank away the tenuous safety net, forsaking the poor, people of color, immigrants, people on low and middle incomes, and everyone else on the margins. Congress is trying to pass a tax plan (and repeal Obamacare) that will hurt or bankrupt millions while lining the pockets of the rich.
  • Gun violence. You know what I mean. Today there was another shooting in California, and my first response was "another one?" Nothing will ever change, because the NRA lines the pockets of people in power and rabid gun owners care more about their guns than actual human beings.
  • This week scientists issued another warning that our time to reverse climate change and prevent global environmental collapse is running out. It's becoming harder to be hopeful.
I looked at my sweet little fifth grader last night and wondered, what will this world be like when he becomes an adult? What kind of irreversible damage is being done with this dumb, corrupt, authoritarian, extremely dangerous, narcissistic sociopath sitting in the Oval Office...and even worse perhaps, Republicans in Congress enabling his horrible actions and excusing his words?

In the past week, we have at least some silver lining. Finally, the Republicans are pulling away from Roy Moore. Today, miracle of miracles, Paul Ryan announced that the Congress would undergo sexual harassment training. #itsabouttime But when will they actually believe the MANY WOMEN who have accused the Predator-in-Chief? How is he any different from Roy Moore, except for the fact that he targeted 19- and 20-year-olds? He's still a dirty old man.

Rebecca Solnit's brilliant essay, Let This Flood of Women's Stories Never Cease, affirms that perhaps this is the beginning of the end of not believing survivors. Maybe this drastic pulling off the bandage and exposing the bloody wound beneath the scab will make things better for survivors. Maybe people will start to realize how extremely rare it is for people to lie about these things (only 2 to 10 percent of accusations). I hope survivors keep telling their truths, even though it's incredibly traumatizing for them--and for other survivors like me.

"What would women’s lives be like, what would our roles and accomplishments be, what would our world be, without this terrible punishment that looms over our daily lives?" --Rebecca Solnit

But I will rise up.

Resilience is my new middle name and will be my next tattoo. I know this exhaustion and broken-down-and-tired feeling is temporary. You abusers, assaulters, rapists, and defenders of these villains will not win. Part of my healing is writing this all down. Thank you for listening.

Please join me in dismantling misogyny and rape culture by believing survivors and calling out enablers and accusers. Help stop rape culture now.

If you are a survivor, I'd like to tell you about an incredible art project and tribute to survivors. It's called Mere Objects: Participatory Art Honoring Those Who Have Experienced Sexual Violence. It's free to participate in the project, and I'm still pondering what I will send in.

And I'll leave you with one of my favorite songs, which is giving me hope this week:

Rise Up by Andra Day

You're broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry go round
And you can't find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains

And I'll rise up
I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up
I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again

When the silence isn't quiet
And it feels like it's getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we'll take the world to its feet
And move mountains
We'll take it to its feet
And move mountains 
And I'll rise up
I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up
I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again
For you

All we need, all we need is hope
And for that we have each other
And for that we have each other
We will rise
We will rise

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Celebrating the wonder of Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle was a prolific and gifted writer, editor, philosopher, father and husband, friend, and prophet who expired from this world far too soon.

The first time I met him was at the Wild Arts festival when I bought one of his books for my dad, called Spirited Men: Story, Soul and Substance. He struck me as a bit quirky and sarcastic, probably bored out of his gourd in the book signing room while all the bird lovers seemed to be more interested in the avian arts and crafts. I wasn't sure how I felt about him...he left me a bit off balance.

The second time I met him was at the Search for Meaning book festival in Seattle, after I heard him read from his book A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary, when he had a packed lecture hall laughing until we peed our pants a little, wiping away tears from our eyes, and singing Amazing Grace a capella in perfect harmony. He wept freely as he recounted the friends he lost in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and read his gorgeous tribute to those victims, "Leap." In a culture that rabidly suppresses and insults male vulnerability and emotion (with homophobia at its roots), BD (as his friends call him) did not fear going deep and sensitive, regularly baring his soul raw to audiences far and wide, both in his writing and his speaking. He felt, loved, and lived with a wonder and a passion that was unparalleled and freely expressed. I loved the experience and had to buy his book.

This entailed waiting in a long line that moved like hard honey, because BD had a significant conversation with every person before he signed their books. By the time I reached him, I had read several of the poem-prayers, and I'd found the Prayer for Editors and Proofreaders. I told him how much I liked it, and we fist bumped.

A few months later I decided I wanted to feature BD's uncommon prayers in the April A to Z blog challenge. I emailed him to ask his permission, and he responded by connecting me with his publicist, who gave permission as long as I included a link to Broadway Books, BD's favorite local bookstore. Of course, I obliged. And so I began a month of reading his poems every day and writing about what they meant to me. You can access all those posts here.

Late last year I read that BD had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. His response was to tell people he wants people to keep laughing.

“I’ll hear all laughter,” Doyle said. “Be tender to each other. Be more tender than you were yesterday, that’s what I would like. You want to help me? Be tender and laugh.”

That's what happened a few weeks ago, at the incredible celebration of his life. Packed into the First Congregational Church downtown, we and 700 of BD's closest friends, family, coworkers, and admirers paid tribute. Seventeen of his friends, including well-known Portland writers Kim Stafford, Robin Cody, and David James Duncan spoke for roughly 5 minutes each, telling hilarious anecdotes and touching stories about BD. Broadway Books sold Doyle's books in the back of the church. We laughed and we cried.

We were wowed by Seattle firefighter Jimmy Watts, who was clearly not a public speaker. He'd met Doyle through the shared experience of having a child with heart disease, a friendship I can relate to. He shared a letter he wrote to Doyle about the worn T-shirt he was sending him, offering him hope and courage in his last few months of illness. “You’ve always been a firefighter, Brian” he said.
Doyle's family

BD's brother shared an intimate email, in which Doyle exhorted his brother Peter to stop ragging on him for exaggeration and taking the opportunity to expand on truths, not always being entirely accurate. And author David James Duncan (The River Why, The Brothers K, etc.) went last. He spoke of his intimate, brotherly, loving friendship with Doyle, and I was struck and saddened by (1) his deep loss and (2) how rarely men speak of each other in such terms.

Mike and I had to work wonders to get there that evening, but I was so glad we made the effort. Afterwards, we went to the Fulton Pub (BD's favorite watering hole) with our dear friends Catherine and Brad to toast this amazing man and prophet. They drank some Jameson's whisky in his honor. It felt right and proper to honor Brian Doyle with good food and drink and sacred friendship. This literary, holy evening made me realize I need to read Brian Doyle regularly as a spiritual practice. His writing resonates deeply in my soul.

And I leave you with this: his "Last Prayer," which he published just a few years before he died, in his Book of Uncommon Prayer:

Dear Coherent Mercy: thanks. Best life ever. 

Personally I never thought a cool woman would come close to understanding me, let along understanding me but liking me anyway, but that happened! 

And You and I both remember that doctor in Boston saying polite but businesslike that we would not have children but then came three children fast and furious! And no man ever had better friends, and no man ever had a happier childhood and wilder brothers and a sweeter sister, and I was that rare guy who not only loved but liked his parents and loved sitting and drinking tea and listening to them! 

And You let me write some books that weren't half bad, and I got to have a career that actually no kidding helped some kids wake up to their best selves, and no one ever laughed more at the ocean of hilarious things in this world, or gaped more in astonishment at the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment. 

 I could complain a little right here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small. 

But no man was ever more grateful for Your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headed back home to the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago. 

But hey, listen, can I ask one last favor? If I am sent back for another life, can I meet my lovely bride again? In whatever form? Could we be hawks, or otters maybe? And can we have the same kids again if possible? 

And if I get one friend again, can I have my buddy Pete? He was a huge guy in this life--make him the biggest otter ever, and I'll know him right away, okay? Thanks, Boss. 

Thanks from the bottom of my heart. See You soon. Remember--otters. Otters rule. And so: amen. 

You can read other accounts of Doyle's life here:

A remembrance to and for Brian Doyle in the Catholic Sentinel, written by a friend's sister, an English teacher at St. Mary's Academy

The Story Catcher in the Notre Dame Magazine

The Salt Seas of the Heart, a beautiful collection of favorite BD stories from The Sun magazine

And this beautiful obituary written by my friend Amy Wang for the Oregonian

Rest in peace, Firefighter Doyle. You will be remembered with laughter.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Everything possible: my miracle baby is an adult!

Here's one of the many things I learned on the morning of August 23, 1996, 21 years ago today:

If you are in the medical field, never gasp when you are examining a patient.

That's what Lynn, the labor & delivery nurse, did when my obstetrician suggested she look at my cervix again. I'd already told Lynn that I'd felt the umbilical cord come down when I was taking a shower. Lynn told me this was unlikely before examining me and then pronouncing me fine.

When Dr. Weaver arrived, she was grave. After she confirmed the umbilical cord had indeed prolapsed, my water had broken, and the baby was in a breech position, she told us she was sorry because it was too early. She would not be able to save our baby. Lynn turned away in tears. They both left us alone to grieve the impending death of the child we'd been waiting for.

In Alaska, 23 weeks pregnant
Back in 1996, obstetricians didn't know as much about premature labor--or at least they didn't educate their patients as well. I'd had near-constant bleeding throughout my pregnancy, and I'd been monitored closely, but I'd never been warned about the signs of premature labor.

Now I know I'd been in premature labor the previous few days. The week before I'd taken a business trip to Alaska and I just didn't feel right. On the evening of August 21, I began having painful stomach cramps...but we thought it was constipation. Mike plied me with prunes. I was actually due to fly to Seattle for a management meeting on August 22, but I had to cancel after waking up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready and then doubling over in pain.

During the day the pain lessened, but it increased again in the evening. I lay awake all night with severe cramps—sharp, shooting pains, like stiletto heels gouging me in the pit of my stomach. I suffered in silence, though, not wanting to wake up Mike. I prayed that my stomach ailment would pass and I’d feel better. How could I have known I was in premature labor? I was barely 24 weeks along.

A few minutes later, Dr. Weaver returned to our hospital room with a tiny bit of hope. She'd called a neonatologist at Legacy Emanuel, who informed her that 24-weekers now had a 50 percent chance of survival. So she gave us a choice: we could have a radical c-section and the baby might live...but all my future births would have to be by c-section. Or I could deliver the baby naturally, and he would die. He was already at severe risk for oxygen deprivation with the prolapsed cord...not to mention countless other risks I wouldn't learn about until later. (We were told after his birth that he had a 50 percent chance of major disabilities if he did survive.)

Before even asking Mike, I told Dr. Weaver I'd take the c-section. Fortunately, we agreed on one thing: our Christopher Hugh was meant to be born. I thought to myself, "No matter what happens, we're going to will this baby to survive." And so he did, thanks to a huge deal of prayers, excellent medical care, his tremendous will to live and thrive, and an enormous dosage of luck.

At the warming bed when Chris was a few weeks old
That morning was the beginning of a four-month stay in the NICU, the most difficult weeks of our lives. Because we spent countless hours staring at Christopher's numbers on the monitor, what better way to summarize the NICU stay than do it in numbers:

1 pound 6 ounces and 11 inches long
1 terrifying bout of cerebral edema/low flow to the brain and 1 damaged kidney
1 slip of paper that said "NORMAL HEAD GETTEL"--the ultrasound report the day after the brain injury, when we'd been told Chris would probably be a vegetable
Tiny little thing
1 dose of septic shock, at 5 weeks old
2 lungs affected by chronic lung disease
2 eyes afflicted with retinopathy of prematurity
2.84 pounds at 10 weeks old
3 surgeries, the first one when Chris was just 19 days old and weighed less than 2 pounds
At least 3 life-threatening crises when we were urgently called to the NICU from home because it looked like Chris would die
4 nights I spent in the hospital before having to leave my precious baby behind in the NICU
Off the vent at last
4 weeks he was the sickest, smallest baby in the unit (until two more 24-weekers arrived)
6 weeks on the ventilator before moving to c-pap
10 weeks in Level 3, the most intensive care part of the unit
10 (?) excruciating eye exams
17 mylar balloons and handmade signs, one for each week he was there
At least 20 times nurses or doctors infuriated me for various reasons!
28 days on a warming bed before he was stable enough for an isolette
Holding Chris for the first time
33 days until we got to hold Chris for the first time (34 days for Mike--we had to alternate days at first)!!!
100 times our nurses did something truly touching or that kept us sane
117 days and nights in the NICU (he came home on December 21, the happiest and most terrifying day of our lives!)
(180 months until Legacy opened a new NICU with private rooms for families, in 2012)
234 nurse shifts and 234 shift changes during which we had to wait in the waiting room
351 visits to the pumping room
(1095 days until he began talking at age 3)

I've written many times in this blog about our NICU journey and Chris' progress through the years, and one of these days we will finish our book. The first few years were full of joy and challenges, as we saw the developmental delays that result from being cut out of your mother's womb 16 weeks early. But even though he came home on oxygen, a couple of machines and monitors, and several medications (he was totally high tech!), and even though he got reflux and was projectile vomiting all over us several times a day...he was always an easy-going, lovely child. Many preemies have a very difficult time adapting when they go home from the hospital, but not Chris. He was just so happy to be with us all the time.

Chris truly is our miracle boy, now man! He has lived out "Everything Possible," one of the songs we sang to him daily in the NICU. In fact, he loves music more than almost anyone I know--probably the result of our constant singing to him in the NICU.

He's entering his junior year at Pacific Lutheran University, majoring in theater with minors in communications and politics. He is one of the kindest, most forgiving, enthusiastic people I know. He does not have a mean bone in his body. College has been a great adventure, and I've been delighted to see him get interested in politics and social justice. No matter what he does with his life, I have no doubt he will continue to inspire people.

Chris' birth and survival inspired this blog, Every Day Is a Miracle, based on the quotation by Einstein. He will always be my hero...not just for surviving the odds, but also for living his life to the fullest and appreciating the wonders of the world.

Chris: Happy birthday, wonder boy! 
I am so proud of you and happy to be your mom. 

There was an error in this gadget