Sunday, January 26, 2020

Kobe

(from Kobe Bryant's Twitter profile)

My grief today is not simply for a basketball star. My grief is for an icon, inspiration to innumerable young people, and for the absent father he will be now to his surviving daughters, and for Vanessa, his wife, who has stood by this man through so much and will now have to live in that shadow world of "widow of...." Mostly, though, my grief is for my son, because I feel his own grief so deeply, I cannot help but weep for him.

My youngest son was a freshman in high school when Kobe was a senior. To my surprise, Sam decided, upon entering high school, to play basketball instead of football. From the time he was a young toddler, Sam had been my companion in watching pro football every Sunday. By junior high, he was reading the sports section of the Los Angeles Times and had far surpassed me in his knowledge of sports.

He wanted to play Pop Warner football. I wouldn't let him. We still argue about that.

Kobe was his inspiration in high school, and Sam launched into playing hoops like he did when he played soccer, learning all he could as fast as he could and practicing constantly. I credit Kobe Bryant's work ethic for that.

And I remember a discussion I had with Sam that went on for a long time, one we returned to over a period of weeks. I can still see my young son standing in the doorway of my bedroom while I sprawled on my bed, trying desperately to catch a quick nap.

"Kobe might sign with the NBA."

"I hope he does not do that."

"Why, though?"

"Because he needs to go to college first--as all young men need to do."

"But if he has that opportunity, shouldn't he take it? I mean, he can always go to college. But the NBA? Right outa high school? C'mon. He's gotta take that shot."

I said no. I was wrong. Sam was right.

Thus began the era of basketball watching for Sam and I (and my daughter, when she wasn't working or attending school or chasing her own toddlers). I knew enough about football to call plays from the couch, but I knew nothing about basketball. I quickly learned that asking Sam questions during a game was a faux pas; so intent was he on every move of the players, he didn't have time for trivial distractions. At times, his intensity was... epic, for lack of a more fitting word. He was known to frighten the dogs with his sudden outbursts about fouls or bad calls by the referees.

And we loved Chick Hearn, with all his quirky yet knowledgeable passion for the Lakers and the game of hoops.

I lost my voice screaming at Sam's final basketball game in high school--that his team won--beating their biggest rivals--in overtime--by one point--from a free throw--shot by my son. My son. A member of our school board, Sam Knight, was there that evening, sitting behind my family in the stands. I turned around--I had to, with more parental pride than I knew what to do with--and said, "Mr. Knight, that is my son about to make that shot, and his name is Sam."

"It's a good name," he said, smiling. "Let's hope he makes it."

I will never forget that moment. My son looked back at the bench, at the man who had coached him for four years, then turned back to the basket and sunk the shot. I laughed, I wept, I screamed, and then couldn't speak for the next week.

Thank you, Kobe, for that moment. And for all those car rides to and from games when my son and I talked about nothing but basketball--not his homework or his behavior or why he was grounded again, but just his passion for the game. And for the times when I became the silent chauffeur to Sam and a handful of his teammates, rolling through McDonald's countless times to try to fill the bottomless pit stomachs of these teen boys who chattered and laughed and made fun of each other while eating Big Macs and fries and sipping sodas. For all those precious moments with my son, I thank you, Kobe. And, oh yes, for all the many, many similar moments I know you inspired between other parents and their sons and daughters--because you said you didn't have to have a son to continue your legacy in basketball, your daughter could do that just fine. Bravo.

(This image was taken from pbs.org.)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Blue Devil


Coming home from the hospital. You can see the misery on his face.

ICYMI: On January 4th, 2020—exactly six years to the day that I brought Sgt. Thomas Tibbs home—he was hospitalized for pancreatitis. For the dog-loving-faint-of-heart, he is home now, nearly fully recovered, feeling happy and back to being my walking partner, thank the Universe. But—all of his pain and trauma could have been avoided. Here’s what happened:

When I adopted Thomas, I wanted him to have a premium dog food since he’d been near starvation before his rescue. After trying a few, I put him on Ideal Balance. He liked it, did well on it, so I kept him on it for a year.

Then it disappeared from Petco and Petsmart. When I inquired, an employee told me that Target had purchased the formula and would be offering it at Target stores within the next year. (That never happened, although it is now available through Hill’s, the Science Diet folks.) On the same day of my inquiry, as I stood perusing all the brands of dog food and squinting at the tiny print on label after label, a nice, grandmotherly-looking lady handed me a coupon for a few dollars off a bag of Blue Buffalo, telling me about the “True Blue Promise” (no corn, wheat or soy, blah blah blah). I bought it. I bought the ad hype and the dog food and Thomas really, really liked it, so he’s been on it ever since.

Fast forward to 2019. Thomas began having digestive issues—lots of foul-smelling burps, mucous in his stool, and sudden bouts of oh-my-Buddha-he-pooped-on-the-kitchen-floor-again. We had a lot of those in 2019. I talked to most of my dog-loving, dog-training friends. I got advice like, “add pumpkin” (done) or “add a probiotic” (done). Most had their dogs on other foods, but when I compared ingredients, it always seemed like Blue Buffalo had the best.

Thomas is twelve now. I thought his decline, his lack of energy, lack of playfulness, his more and more frequent “accidents” had to do with his age or his anxiety or his pemphigus (an auto-immune disease probably generated by his extreme anxiety). I never once suspected the high-priced, “premium” dog food I was feeding him. I didn’t realize his gut hurt. Dear god, I wished I had realized his gut hurt. My poor, poor boy. If only dogs could talk.

On the morning of January 4th, Thomas was clearly in pain, frantically following me from room to room, stopping suddenly to stretch his belly, whimpering. I got him in to Banning Veterinary Clinic right away. This is what the vet said before she ever examined him:

“It’s probably pancreatitis. We see it all the time in dogs that have been on Blue Buffalo for an extended period of time. Great commercials. Bad dog food. Blue Buffalo is too rich for most dogs to tolerate over time.”

I was skeptical. How could this be?

“How do we pinpoint the pancreatitis diagnosis?” I asked.

“Blood work,” she replied. And then she examined him, head to tail. His heart was strong, his lungs clear. Then she dragged him away (because he won’t go with anyone else), and I sat in the exam room, crying and waiting.

She brought him back quickly, assuring me that he was a good boy, and told me we’d have to wait 20 minutes for the test results. It seemed like hours, but then she was back.

“All of his blood levels are perfect,” she said, “except his pancreas.”

The treatment required hospitalization. They would have to put him on I.V.s with antibiotics and pain medication.

I couldn’t imagine leaving him behind.

I couldn’t wait another minute for them to get started on relieving his distress.

I pulled off the flannel I was wearing over a t-shirt and handed it to the vet to put in his kennel with him, and I kissed my dear, sweet boy good-bye, hoping and praying I would see him again on Monday morning. (They would be closing for the weekend; I wouldn’t be able to visit.)

I had to sit in the truck for a long time before I could stop crying and drive home.

Those who know me well know how much I love this goofy dog. He has been my daily walking partner for six years. He has hiked up mountains and into canyons and across streams and over boulders and through fields of wildflowers with me, past deer and coyotes and bobcats (on more than one occasion) and a fox. He has gone from being a terrified, shut-down dog that hated being touched to a nutty, spoiled pup who runs to my bedroom floor and plops himself on the carpet when it’s bedtime in anticipation of his nightly “love.” When I wake in the night from nightmares—which is often—I lie in the darkness and wait until I hear his deep sighs. They comfort me greatly. He is not “just a dog” to me.

When I picked up Thomas from the vet two days later, he was a mess. Though they’d tried to clean him up, his fur was flecked with tiny pieces of dry dog shit. His nose was dry from dehydration, and his anxiety level was through the roof. He’d never stopped pacing, the vet explained, so they couldn’t keep an I.V. in. He didn’t eat or drink or sleep. He simply reverted to being a wild dog in a cage. They gave him pain meds and sub-cutaneous fluids.

“He’ll recover much more quickly at home,” the vet said.

No kidding.

He has bounced back like a super-ball. He spent the first hour at home lapping up water and eating and trotting around the house, sniffing everything, so happy to be home. Then he crashed and slept for hours. He woke up to eat and pee, then slept and slept all night.

He is back to being his goofy, happy self.

As he’s been recovering, I’ve been researching Blue Buffalo dog food. Oh lordy….

A dear friend and dog rescuer (“I wish I had known you had him on Blue Buffalo,” she said) pointed me to the Consumer Affairs website and the reviews of Blue Buffalo dog food. I am blessed that I didn’t lose him but so sad and angry for others who have lost their pets to this food. Many have mentioned pancreatitis in their reviews. And there are a lot of negative reviews.

Meanwhile, the website for Blue Buffalo continues to tout their “True Blue Promise” and the food the Bishop family formulated and began to produce after their beloved Airedale, “Blue,” was diagnosed with cancer. You’ve probably seen those TV commercials with the family members sitting around in a living room, talking earnestly about how much they loved their dog and wanted him to be healthy, so they created this great dog food. “It’s all about family,” the Blue Buffalo website says.

Yes. Yes, it is. Just not the Bishop family. It’s all about the General Mills family. They don’t mention in the TV commercial that the Bishops sold Blue Buffalo to General Mills in 2018 for millions of dollars. The family does still own 8% of the company. But General Mills owns 92%.

They also don’t mention the class action lawsuit against Blue Buffalo brought by customers who had the food analyzed and found it to contain—you guessed it—corn, wheat and soy. Blue Buffalo’s response to the lawsuit was to throw another company under the bus, a “distributor” of pet food ingredients.

Wait. What the hell does that mean?

Let us continue our education into the making of pet food products by discovering that there are very few of the major pet food companies that use American-sourced ingredients in their food.

Yes, chances are, unless you’re making it yourself, you’re feeding your dog or cat food that contains ingredients from other countries. And as we know, not all countries use the same standards the U.S. does for pet food ingredients. I am still trying to find the source of Blue Buffalo ingredients. I’m sure it’s out there… but not readily unearthed by my digging. I suspect that General Mills employs a software company to “scrub” search results, so that negative reviews and claims of sick pets and accusations of ingredients coming from China will not be easily found. I digress.

In case you’re wondering:
For the first few days, I fed Thomas white rice and lean chicken. (Thank you, Carolyn Bass Burns, for the suggestion.) Then I put him on the Hill’s Science Diet prescription low fat food my vet had recommended. He’s still getting that. It’s $3 a can, even from Chewy.com. But he’s going to be on it for a good long while, until I can find a dog food that is made with integrity.

Wish me luck.


One week after he came home, he was bright-eyed and smiling again.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Six years in

 
Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, please stop right now, just for a few seconds, and celebrate with us. We made it. Sgt. Thomas Tibbs, my quirky, wonderful, problematic, sweet dog and I made our goal of six years.

Six years ago I brought him home from Upland Animal Shelter. He'd been listed upon intake (by San Bernardino County Animal Control) as being five years old. When I told my vet his age, he smiled and said, "They were being kind."

"So... six?" I responded.
"Six... ish," he said.

So my deal with Thomas (of which I would remind him from time to time over the years, usually at night when I sat beside him, brushing or petting him to calm him before bed) was this: Give me at least six years, Pal. Six years to show you that humans really can be kind. You need at least as many years with kindness and comfort as you've had with starvation and deprivation and the stars only know what else you've endured.

As of January 4th, we've made it. Thomas has given me six years of daily walks, incredible hikes, contented dog sighs, floppy trotting ears, post-bath victory laps around the yard, and tail wags. (Oh, I am so grateful for all those tail wags, which took sooooo long to finally see in the beginning.)

He still loves Purrl, who was only four months old when I brought Thom home,

 and his stuffy friends


and riding in Cloud, my 2003 Ford Ranger,


an activity which is now a daily sojourn to pick up mail in the afternoon, but often it also means a mid-morning break to drive around the park and look for people out walking their dogs. Well, not the people--Thomas is only interested in spying on other dogs from the comfort of his man cave in the backseat of the truck. I think he is fascinated by how happy they all seem, trotting along in broad daylight with their people attached, seemingly without a care in the world. We still walk before the sun comes up, which is when he feels safest.

That is, unless we're going off into the hills to hike. If we head out where the coyotes sing, Thomas relaxes, trotting along the dirt trails and fire roads beside me, occasionally stopping to sniff--something that took years for him to feel comfortable doing.



And I gotta tell ya, this boy has hiked everywhere with me--up steep hills, over boulders, through fields so thick with wildflowers the trail was lost to us, across streams and past a very beautiful but amorous female coyote who thought Thomas was The One she'd been longing for.

We still walk every day, logging 350 out of 365 days for 2019. (Sciatica and a couple of short vacations out of state account for the 15 days we missed.)

With all that walking and the years gone by, has Thomas calmed down, grown out of his quirks? Absolutely not.

I still have to warn him when I'm about to print something, so he can trot out to the garage and jump into the truck, as the sound of the printer absolutely terrifies him. Not the sound of the vacuum cleaner or the garbage disposal or my blow dryer. The printer. And my cell phone, which is still always left on Do Not Disturb mode when I'm at home, as it sends him tearing through the house in a panic if it so much as quietly dings to notify me of a text message.

He still flinches when I touch him if I don't let him know in advance I'm going to do so.

Of course, he is showing signs of aging. We no longer walk miles when we hike together. He's good for a mile and a half, though. He will always have Pemphigas, the auto-immune disease, but it is currently well controlled, and only flares up when he is particularly stressed. Every few months, he has severe gastro-intestinal issues, so he's on a probiotic and gets tasty organic pumpkin added to his food.

Most days he is active and happy, and he has gone from barely tolerating my bedtime routine of petting and singing to him to eagerly anticipating it--so much so that, as soon as I begin my flossing and brushing routine, he camps out on the floor just outside the bathroom door, ears up and waiting for his ear scratch + back massage + belly rubs. Spoiled? Yes, absolutely. I can't begin to imagine the horror of his life before, having to scrounge for food and water in the desert, being literally eaten alive by mange--not for days or weeks or months, but years. Oh, my poor boy! But he's safe now. And hopefully, I have a few more years to spoil him.



 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Painted Canyon


I don't always recommend following the advice of one's dentist (because, trust me, I've had some pretty bad ones), but my current guy (Scott Parker in Calimesa) is really good at what he does, and he's also an avid hiker, bicyclist and mountain climber. After we chatted one day about hiking, he whipped out his phone and showed me pictures of Painted Canyon in Mecca, California (south of Indio, for you SoCal locals who are now searching Google Maps for it).

"You have to go," he said.

Well, then. I had to.

So last Saturday I made the trip (I-10 east to CA 86 south, then a couple of turns to finally hit Painted Canyon Road, which is five miles of rutted sand and gravel, so if you're going, be prepared). I kept thinking I would find a parking area with a Jeep or two in it. Not so. When I finally arrived at the trailhead, there were at least twenty cars there already, more when I left two hours later.

Back home, it was 55 degrees and drizzling. At the canyon, it was 71, clear and sunny. I left my jacket in the car, and off I went to wander. The photo above was taken near the mouth of the canyon. It's a broad expanse, steep sandstone on either side. But as you walk further, the canyon narrows. The type of rock changes. Deep holes have been carved simply by the wind swirling small rocks around for decades.


Those caves must be really cool inside, but there's no way to get up there unless you're a rock climber.

As I walked, I went in and out of sun and shadow, too warm one minute, a bit chilly the next. Then I came around a corner and saw this:


It may be hard to make out, but that's an aluminum ladder leading up a rock face... to another aluminum ladder leading up another rock face. Here's a more close-up view to the first:


Intriguing, no? I mean, I couldn't turn back. Look at that, my wanderers, adventurers, and dreamers. Would you turn back? Or climb the ladders? Exactly. But... here's the photo I didn't share on Instagram. (Please don't tell my niece, an ER nurse who was concerned about me climbing the ladder in the first place.)


The ladder has been used so many times, the bottom rungs are broken. Not such a bad thing going up. A bit dicey coming back down for those of us with hip and back issues. Oh well. Up I went. And look at the view from above looking back:


Cool, huh? I walked on. And... I'd love to share many more photos with you, except about 20 minutes later, I did have to turn back. It's hard to tell from the photos, but when you're hiking this trail, it's slightly uphill and in sand. Neither are good if you occasionally fight with sciatica, which I do. When the nerve in my leg started reminding me of my age, I decided to deny my heart's longing (sorry, heart!) and listen to my extremity. I turned around and went back, saving the rest of the hike (which leads into a narrower section of the canyon) for another day. I can't wait to return. When I do, you can be sure I'll post up about it here.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

My Last Cat


A year ago, when I adopted Jenny, I wrote a blog post about her (find it here). The last line is: "Because I don't want another cat." Please understand, I've been saying that since 1992. I'm a dog person. I am. I really am. But... cats have been in my life continuously since 1972. No kidding. No break from cleaning litter boxes or being the victim of periodic maulings if I petted incorrectly. Sheesh.

I have to say, though, Jenny has turned out to be quite the sweet little buddy. (In most cases, she is kind enough to retract her claws before batting my hand away because she doesn't like the way I'm touching her. Sheesh! Cats!) She generally hangs out wherever I am working--on the yoga mat if I'm doing yoga (or under it), on the table or my desk if I'm writing, on the bed, diving under the covers if I'm trying to make it. You get the picture. She's just a zany girl.



She is still very kitten-ish in her behavior, zooming around the house with her tail crooked and her fur puffy when she's excited--which is usually about the time I'm getting in bed, so I can hear her galloping around the house, jumping on and off furniture (and sharpening her claws on it--garrrr! Cats! Sheesh!!), and knocking things over.

Her favorite activity, though, is finding a new place to curl up and sleep, one I am wholly unaware of, so that when I realize I haven't seen her in a while, and I start looking, I can't find her. I can remain pretty calm for the first ten minutes as I walk through the house, calling her name. (Of course she never responds when she's hiding. Because she's a cat. Sheesh!) After twenty minutes, I get concerned. After thirty minutes I am worried, backtracking in my mind, wondering how she might have gotten out or whether she somehow climbed in before I started the dishwasher. Panic rises slowly in me, but I do get there eventually. One day I finally found her sitting in the driver's seat of the truck in the garage. I'd left the windows down in it earlier, and somehow she'd climbed in and gone to sleep. Another time, after I'd searched every hidden corner in the house and under all beds and inside every cupboard three times, I happened to walk through the living room and I saw the fringe on a throw blanket move, almost imperceptibly. I lifted it. Yep, sleeping cat underneath. Several nights ago I couldn't find her, so I headed out to the garage to see if she'd climbed into the truck again. Didn't have to look that far. She was asleep on the hood, up on the vent. I'd driven the truck to pick up the mail earlier, and the engine was still warm.


See, this is the difference between a dog and a cat. If you call a dog, he jumps up and runs to you, wagging his tail and lifting his ears and eyebrows because he wants to know

Are there treats?
Are we going for a ride?
Are we going for a walk?
Is it dinner time?
Do you want to pet me??

And he's sincere about all that. He's excited to accommodate his human because he is one hundred percent loving and devoted. That's why we love our dogs so much. Because... so much love is given to us.

Jenny will come when I call her

If she thinks I have treats
If she's not sleeping
If she's not hiding
If she's not mad at me because I refused her some service or petted her incorrectly.

CATS! SHEESH!!

But... she makes me laugh every day. When I talk to her, she talks back, and not in a snotty way. She just likes to make conversation. And when I nap, all I have to do is call through the house, "Jenny! Blankie!" and she will come--eventually. When she's ready. In her own good time. Then she jumps on the bed, marches on the blanket for an inordinate amount of time, curls against my side, and purrs me to sleep.

A year ago, when I brought her home, I crossed my fingers that she and Purrl would get along. I have to say, this little girl is persistent. Purrl hated her. Chased her, growled at her, hissed at her, and scratched her. Jenny just tried to stay out of her way, occasionally checking--"Do you still hate me?"--then jumping away when the Claws of Death were unsheathed. After several months, though, I found them hiding under the bed together when a loud person came to visit. And then, just a few nights ago--a year and a week to the day after Jenny came home--I watched as Jen climbed onto the couch and curled up next to Purrl. Purrl sat up and glared at her, unmoving, for a full five minutes. Jenny ignored her. Purrl gave up and curled around again. And they slept like that for hours.

Cats. Sheesh.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Trash man

I've been working on a post about Jenny Anydots, my $25 cat, to celebrate her one-year mark with my crew. But this happened today, and I want to post my thoughts instead. (So stay tuned, cat lovers; photos and updates on Jenny are in the making.)

But first:

The guy who drives the big truck that picks up recyclable materials on trash day is well-known in our park to be a grumpy, destructive dude. He's big and burly, and he's so rough with the recycle bins that he leaves destruction in his wake as he makes his way down the street. Two weeks after I moved here, I put some plastic poles in the recycle bin that had been left behind in the garage. They were about five feet in length, and stuck out the top of the bin so I couldn't close it. I assumed they'd been used for gardening or something. My garage door was open the day he came by in the truck, and I was in there puttering around, so I heard his truck idling out front. I'd listened long enough to get curious and peeked around the corner just in time to see him pick up all the poles out of the bin in one handful and fling them down in my driveway, then get back in his truck, slamming the door and driving off.

I thought about calling his supervisor that day, but I didn't. Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he felt I should know better than to have something sticking out of the bin. Maybe.... Doesn't matter. I didn't tattle on him.

In recent weeks, I've been keeping track of his sins here in the park. Of course he's in a truck that uses a mechanical arm to pick up the bins--it's not the olden days where some guy always had to walk alongside the truck, picking up cans and emptying them. This guy just drives along, operating the arm. So why is he always so grumpy? Why does he release the bins when they're still several feet off the ground, causing them to drop hard on the pavement, cracking wheels or knocking them over so that some elderly person has to bend down and pick the awkward, heavy thing back up? Last week he released a bin so quickly it fell into his truck with the rest of the recycling. He simply drove on, not bothering to remove it. The resident had to order a new recycle bin.

Today was trash day. At 4:00, I put Thomas in the truck for our afternoon drive to pick up mail. While the truck was warming up in the driveway, I dragged in the empty trash bin, and as I did, I saw Recycle Guy coming down the street, so I waited patiently at the end of the driveway, ready to roll the recycle bin back in after he'd dumped it. I watched as my neighbors' bins were flung to the ground, lids flying, their now-empty cavernous plastic shells booming as they hit the pavement. It had been raining all day, so I was bundled up in knit cap and rain jacket with hood, but the fresh air was wonderful, and as Recycle Guy rolled past my driveway to where my bin was sitting in front of the house, I smiled and waved. He looked surprised. Then the corners of his mouth twitched, but he didn't actually smile back.

The arm came out, grabbed my recycle bin in its clutches, lifted it, dumped it, and lowered it--almost to the ground. When it was a foot off the ground, the arm stopped. I thought for a moment there was a mechanical problem. Then I heard the back-up bell ringing. Recycle Guy had put the truck in reverse. Slowly he rolled backward to where I was standing in the driveway. The mechanical arm came down ever so gently and deposited my recycle bin just two feet from where I stood. "Thank you!" I called, smiling again and waving. This time he smiled back. And off he went to finish his route.

Robin Williams spoke such eloquent truth when he said, 

"Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always."

This incident with Recycle Guy was a great reminder of how much power to comfort there is in simply being kind, even in the smallest ways. I'm going to try to carry that reminder over into tomorrow... and into the days that come, when many people are not at their best because of the holidays. If you see me, please smile and be kind. Chances are, I'm going to need it.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Circles



Last month I spoke about The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford at the Moreno Valley Public Library. It was a last-minute engagement; another speaker had cancelled, and they needed an author to fill in. I didn’t mind. I will do most anything to accommodate librarians.

Because I agreed to speak just a week before the event, there was little time for publicity. Only three people showed up to hear my talk. Two were resident librarians there. The third was on the library commission, and he had just released his own book, so he wanted to see how this sort of thing was done.

Still, it was a wonderful evening. I got to make three new friends, and I got to share Bertha’s story. Ain’t nothin’ bad about that. Well, actually, one thing was bad. In agreeing to speak on that date, I missed the opportunity to see Susan Straight speak about her new memoir, In the Country of Women. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks, because I’d read the book and loved it, and also because I’ve been a fan of Susan Straight’s work since 2002.

Funny story about that:
Back in 2002, I facilitated a small writer’s support group which met bi-monthly at the Barnes & Noble in Rancho Cucamonga. Occasionally, the PR rep for the store would book authors who wanted to promote new books, and our little group would welcome them. When I learned that Susan Straight would come speak to us about her new book, Highwire Moon, I was excited. She taught at my alma mater, and I’d heard good things about her first novel (I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots). But I was also conflicted. Rapper Eminem had a show at the Blockbuster Pavilion on the same night, and I had the chance to get good seats, and yes, I am a fan of that particular poet’s work, however he delivers it. But… as leader of our little contingent of writers, I felt I needed to be present for Susan’s talk.

While I believe I would have thoroughly enjoyed seeing Eminem live, Susan’s visit with us was absolutely memorable, on several levels.

She showed up to speak to us despite having experienced profound personal tragedy. Her brother had passed away that day. We told her she didn’t have to stay, that we would understand if she left and returned at a better time, but she told us she needed to be around writers, which made us feel as if she regarded us as equals.

In her soft, articulate manner, she read a beautiful passage of Highwire Moon, and I fell in love with the book. (It is truly a stellar read, and was nominated for a National Book Award.)

Weeks later, I decided to write about missing my chance to see one troubadour in favor of being in a more intimate setting with another. I sent that piece of writing off to the Los Angeles Times and sold it. It was my first sale with the Times.

Driving home from the Moreno Valley Library talk, I mused on all of this, how all those years ago I missed Em to see Susan, and now I had missed Susan to talk about my own book, and how life is often less linear than it is circular, as we complete the slow but meaningful revolutions in our individual journeys.