October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"I found a lump in your breast" was almost (but not quite) as unsettling this past spring as my doctor's followup. "And I want you to have a mammogram right now." She walked me to the mammogram side of the building herself, and because it was all such new information to process, I made small talk during the walk, not really grasping the situation. "Most of these lumps are nothing to worry about," she said.
At least, at first. Now that I look back, it was all just routine procedure, but at the time? At the time, a co-worker had just been diagnosed. Two classmates of mine were survivors. Another friend wrote a book about her experience. So, when my mammogram showed a particularly obnoxious little mass, I was scared.
In the span of a week, I had my first mammogram, my second mammogram, and my first trip to the cancer treatment center for the ultrasound. Again, these experiences were mild. I don't want to diminish anyone else's actual diagnosis or treatment. I was scared for a week. In the scheme of things, that is no big deal.
But at the time? Yikes.
No matter how pleasant and soothing a cancer center is designed to be, there is some bad juju in those places. Even after being greeted by the nicest possible reception volunteer and noting both the natural light and high ceilings, I walked the length of the hallway with a sick sort of resignation.
The room was waiting for me. Top off, lie down, cover breasts with the towel were the instructions.
I looked around, and this button immediately unnerved me. It was big, paperback-sized, and reads "PUSH for HELP."
I have a very vivid imagination, and I began that strange spiral that happens when you imagine all possible scenarios for what might constitute a need for the big, red alarm button.
To calm myself from the many possibilities for emergency, I stared at the ceiling.
And then I took photos of my shoes and wondered what other people wore to their appointments. I wondered if jeans were too casual, and then tried to isolate when, exactly, women shifted into regular jeans-wearing and if there was a book available that traced the history of dungarees.
Then I took photos of myself, trying to document the emotion.
That's when the doctor walked in. I wanted to ask her about her experience with the big red panic button, and the typical dress code for breast exams, and if she could remember the first time she ever wore blue jeans, but instead when she asked how I was doing, I said, "okay."
She used this machine to get an insider's view of my breast.
The whole experience was over in less than two minutes, and as she studied the image on the screen, I braced myself for bad news. In the week leading up to this moment, I'd planned for the worst. My life, a charmed one, seemed destined for a big dip.
That's when she told me I would get the official results in the mail, but after seeing the images, she was not concerned. There was some formal language about monitoring the lump annually and watching for changes, but for now, there was nothing to worry about.
Nothing to worry about. As promised, my letter arrived in the mail the following week.
I am among the extraordinarily lucky ones. Please, ladies, get yourself checked.
In an effort to lighten the mood a bit, here is a piece about tattooing in Maine
that's been a very, very long time in the making. If I was responsible for the art direction, I would have highlighted (in addition to the fab Phuc Tran and Chris Dingwell), the work of Danielle Madore at Sanctuary Tattoo
and Tom Murphy at Tom's Terrific Tattoos.
There's some neat stuff happening in Maine's tattoo community. Click here for my Modern Love essay
that inspired my interest.Challenge:
Study your community for any unique or unusual subcultures. Resolve to learn more about them.
Because there is no clear social script for our friends and family, I offer this on my husband's behalf.
He appreciates concern, but rather than express that emotion with sympathetic hugs, well-intended notes, or your own personal story (especially when he's performing)--his hope is that you will show that love and support by adding a higher level of vigilance and commitment to protecting the little ones in your own circles.
That was his intent for sharing this aspect of his life.
And now, here is my piece for The Atlantic.
It's part of a larger dialogue about pedophilia in our culture, and it's an important discussion to have.
While I love, love, love raw oysters, I confess to an initial fear of trying them at home. I'm not sure what magical incantation or special training I thought happened at oyster bars, but there was something complex about the process, and for years, I dismissed oyster home love as too intricate for my skill level.
That changed last weekend. I saw oysters for sale at my fish store, and thought "How hard could it be, really?" (It's important to credit Kinky Friedman for that phrase. It was his campaign slogan when he ran for the Texas governor position. Think about that for a second. It's okay to laugh.)
So, I tackled oysters in steps. First, I bought knives. I bought them at LeRoux Kitchen
, home of the best balsamic vinegars in the state, and I also came away with some good advice. I'd intended to buy a protective glove, too, but it turns out, they do not recommend them for oysters. The preference is to anchor the oyster on a counter, wedged between a folded dishtowel. This improves stability and lessens the possibilty of contamination.
My knives cost about $8 each. I bought two.
Then, I bought oysters. I picked the tightest, cleanest shells I could find. Although I transported them in an ice-filled bag, I removed the ice when I got home. Oysters are living creatures, and they do just fine in a loose paper bag in the fridge.
Then I researched mignonette. Turns out, it's basically shallot, vinegar, and pepper. Sugar, too. I substituted sweet onions for shallots. Interesting fun fact: Acidic tastes, like lemon or vinegar temper salty tastes. It's why mignonette or lemon is a great oyster pairing.
And then the cocktail sauce. For this, I am a purist. Tomato ketchup and fresh horseradish. Mmm.
And then, the moment of truth. I'd like to say that I grasped oyster shucking expertly on the first try, but that's not true. It's not rocket science, but it does take a bit of practice. There's a curved side to the oyster and a flat side to the oyster. Fold a dishtowel around the oyster, with its curved side down. (This creates a little bucket to slurp from, and it gives a space for the oyster liquor.) Wrap the dishtowel tightly, so only the hinged part of the oyster is visible. Brace the wrapped oyster against the counter, insert the knife into the joint, and just start wiggling it around. It's okay if some of the shell chips.
Eventually, the oyster will open.
And then this happens.
Challenge: What sounds too difficult to tackle in your own life? Why?
It's been a few weeks, and I am still thinking about a kind gesture. A friend had been poking through an estate sale and found this, a promotional key chain advertising my father's business, circa 1976. She mailed it to me, and when it fell from the envelope into my lap, I was surprised at the aspects I noticed.
In addition to learning that Ritepoint was a US-based company, I also remembered the difficulty of breaking apart the keychain's two pieces. I was maybe 3 or 4 years old, and I lacked the finger power to press the pieces apart. I'd picked one from the box on the shop countertop, and the pieces were too stiff for my tiny hands.
I remember feeling very frustrated.
Now, I can easily detach the pieces, and as I fiddled with the two sections in my living room, snapping them together and pulling them apart, it seemed very strange to suddenly have a clear memory where moments before, there was none. But, there it was. I recalled the shop's interior--the smell of oil and the clutter of small engine parts. I remembered balancing on my knees atop a stool, and I remembered reaching for the keychains in the box. Someone, likely my mother or father, showed me how the key chain worked, but despite my best efforts, I recall the tears at not being able to do it myself.
There's a lesson here. Several, actually.
1) A random kindness can significantly alter a person's perspective.
2) Memory is a spongy, flexible thing.
3) Frustration has a way of resolving itself with time.
Challenge: Think of something unexpected and kind to do for someone. Do it. See what happens.
Public service, particularly government, ranks among the most demanding, difficult jobs. It requires focus and a certain amount of native intelligence.
So does tree cutting.
Governor LePage’s recent suggestion for Senator Troy Jackson to “go back in the woods and cut trees and let somebody with a brain come down here and do some work” offended me. It offended me because his remarks moved past balance and beyond ideological difference. His words were ignorant. The governor’s comments were not, as he explained, “politically incorrect;” His comments were insulting, ignorant, and mean. And his half-assed "apology"
was even worse. (Note: An apology means owning the mistake.)
In politics, sometimes my candidate wins, and sometimes my candidate loses. Big picture, balance makes sense. I also believe the majority of people make decisions based upon what feels right and true to them, and, ultimately, good wins.
I was born and raised in Aroostook County among family members who cut trees. Some of these family members have worked for generations in the logging industry, an industry that built Maine, both literally and figuratively. To suggest that tree cutters and their communities lack intelligence? I could make a joke that right-leaning counties like Aroostook elected
this man, but that’s an easy shot.
The bigger opportunity is using my word skill to say that when Governor LePage insulted Senator Jackson, he also insulted me. He insulted me, along with my entire Aroostook County family. In particular, he insulted my tree-cutter uncle who built his paid-for house with his own hands—hands that also fix equipment, gloveless, on the most frigid winter days. This uncle raised two good and capable sons who now choose to make their adult homes in an area famous for hemorrhaging young people. This uncle barbecued for 400 guests when I got married and, most notably, possesses a storytelling talent that I, with a terminal degree on the topic, aspire to achieve.
Governor LePage used his words to diminish a community. My community. You ever try to operate a
skidder? I bet for most of us, including Governor LePage, the answer is no.
As I told my aunt, the wife of my tree-cutter uncle, nobody of consequence--absolutely nobody who matters
—takes those comments as anything but stupid. The comments themselves can be dismissed as stupid, but the idea of them hurting the feelings of good people I care about? That pisses me off.
Rather than note a long list of Aroostook County achievers (and the list is very long—just last week, a Caribou-born astronaut
), it’s important to file this information for the next election. It will be easy to remember the governor’s Vaseline reference, but please do not let the rape metaphor’s magnitude overshadow the subtler observation that Aroostook County people lack intelligence. Please remember that, too.
In the next few weeks, our state will likely take a place in the news (again) because of our governor’s comments. People will get angry, and express that frustration with rants and head-shaking. And then they will move on.
But, I encourage voters in right-leaning counties like Aroostook to remember that when Governor LePage diminished Troy Jackson, he diminished all of Aroostook County. Do you want representation from the political party whose top state official says, in public, unapologetically, that you are stupid?
I hope the answer is no.
Those of you who "know" me, know that I generally prefer private things kept private. But when the potential for
greater good (however you define that) is bigger, getting personal in public is okay.
With that, I note with certainty that some of the scariest words ever heard during an annual exam are "I found a lump in your breast. I'd like you to have a mammogram right now."
Yeah, that. Turns out, after a couple of crazymaking days that include a followup mammogram for closeup images and anothe ultrasound appointment just to make double extra super sure--my situtation likely falls into the 80% of all abnormalities: all good.
For many women, that outcome is not as happy.
So, ladies, get checked. Start with an annual visit. Ask for a breast exam. (If my doctor didn't do one, I never would've thought to ask.) A mammogram never, ever would've been on my radar, as I have no family history, am under 40 (barely, but it counts), eat a largely plant-based diet, non-smoker, have pretty nicely shaped boobies with no weirdness, etc. etc. I'm not stupid, I know about self-exams and general health, have cancer-survivor friends--and I still
had a suspicious lump that I missed.
Gentlemen, ask your ladies if they've been checked.
I promise not to be all evangelical about this issue, but my mindset has shifted. Cost is no excuse, and I've listed some local resources here.
It's stupid not to sort this piece out early, get a baseline mammogram, and take responsibility for your health.
It's so stupid not to do this. So, do it. :-)
Two of my favorite Maine writers are Bill Roorbach and Bob Keyes. Bob writes about Maine's art and culture for out state's biggest newspaper, and this morning he wrote a piece
about Bill's new novel, Life Among Giants
. These two men offer inspiration to all writers, as well as an awareness that the writing life can look many, many different ways.
In addition to Life Among Giants
, Bill has a long career of teaching and writing. (Bill has written six books, each a preparation for the next, he notes to Bob.) One of his essays, "On Apprenticeship,"
is on my list of required reading for new writers. The central anecdote in this essay has morphed into a sort of urban legend among writer. The punch line involves an enthusiastic surgeon attending a writer's conference. Inspired by Bill, she tells him that she's been a surgeon for her entire life and is now prepared to take the next six month off to become an author. This is when Bill matches her enthusiasm and notes that is she who is the inspiration, that he has been a writer for his entire life and is now prepared to take the next six months to become a surgeon.
In addition to the (hopeful) groan of awareness, the lesson here is that writing is a process. Like any craft, it takes time to refine and perfect. The lesson is also to be patient.
Remember that old Donna Fargo song? If you are a graduate of those old school K-Tel record collection commercials, you will remember.
No surprise, but Hawaii ranks as the happiest state overall. The happiest general area? That would be Napa, in the heart of California wine country. Maine is high up there in the happiness tally, too, despite six months of winter.
Challenge: Where do you feel happiest?
For many aspiring writers, the idea of an author photo is an abstract concept. Why worry about a photo when the manuscript is still being considered for a sale? Or when the manuscript is still being written?
I understand the initial disconnect, but an author's platform is, essentially, the person's public impression. Platform is what (and who) you bring to the table. Expertise, connections, experience, qualifications, history--it's the fill in the blank ending to "Oh Shonna, she's the author who writes about_____." As a platform is being constructed, savvy authors include images in this process.
If a book or article is published, most likely it will include an author photo. Quirky or serious, readers want a face with a name. And considering that this image will be a permanent glimpse, I advocate taking care to find a photograph that resonates and represents you well. This is the image that will accompany signage, book jackets, websites, and press releases. Advice:
Spend some time getting the right author photo(s).
(If you live in the southern Maine area, I highly recommend Rob and Shelbylyn Subia at Port City Photography