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Happiness

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batgirls2My big summer project has turned out to be redecorating my Chicago apartment. It all started because I told my landlord I was moving in order to gain a dishwasher and a vent above the stove. He countered with an offer to put both of them in and then some. That has created an interesting discussion among my friends about women and comic books that has been more disturbing than you might have thought possible.

By the time the renovations were done the kitchen was taken back to its foundation and that made my old furniture suddenly seem a little shabby. Before I knew it, I was updating everything else. What emerged was a more accurate picture of me that as it turns out is a cross between a little science, a lot of DC comics and some sci-fi for good measure. I already knew that but apparently most of my friends were caught off guard.

bat ironThere’s a few classic DC comic posters, an amazing bat signal an artist cousin of mine cut out of iron and a few insects suspended in glass that are hanging in the kitchen. There’s more but you get the idea.

Any nerd girl would feel right at home.

Several friends have commented that I had created every ten-year-old boy’s dream home but they missed the point. This place was a celebration of the nerd girl.

The nerd world at large is just starting to catch up with the women’s movement from forty years ago. All of a sudden, women who are into gaming, science, sci-fi and graphic novels are speaking up about being ignored or even put down by their male counterparts.

I’m one of those nerd women and it’s about time we defined ourselves instead of always standing in the background. It’s about time because frankly we’ve been here all along. I not only watched the original Star Trek series in its first run, I dreamed of being Captain Kirk, not Lieutenant Uhura. Gene Rodenberry felt he was being ground-breaking by having a multi-cultural cast and including women in bigger roles, and he was but that doesn’t mean that his female audience in the 1960’s wasn’t dreaming about leading the charge.

We aren’t a new creation just catching up with all of the guys. Think Marie Curie, the pioneer in physics and radiology or even Sally Ride, the youngest and first woman astronaut in space. We’ve been around for awhile and we’ve been making contributions in environmental science, biology and even comic books, although that’s been an even harder glass ceiling for us to break.

Gail Simone, former lead writer for DC Comics’ Batgirl was fired last December and many believe it was because of her outspoken comments about the disproportionate number of women who are maimed, raped, beaten and murdered in comic books and movies. She called it ‘women in refrigerators’ and was even roundly chastised in social media, which is a disheartening comment about how male readers may see women in general. Largely disposable accessories.

A population that was most likely bullied during their formative years ought to have a little more compassion for a similar group. Nerd-boys ought to stick up for us more but if they continue not to, we can become our own super heroes more and keep speaking up for ourselves, and use our purses to get our point across in a way that has proven to be effective.

Comic Con was this past weekend in Chicago and my entire family was there, as usual. There was artwork I would have liked to buy but the ridiculous portrayal of the women isn’t something I want to display in my home. It’s been reported that Simone will soon be the lead writer for a new Tomb Raider series, which is good news for not only my older generation but little girls who can grow up with a better idea of what’s possible that goes beyond the label survivor. Maybe we can start to look for the super heroes we admire and support them by buying their stories and artwork and just rescue ourselves. More adventures to follow. Tweet me @MarthaRandolph and tell me your own super heroine story.

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smaller coyoteI am over my worry allotment for this month. It’s not without some very good justifications. My mother, Tina died suddenly at the age of 86 in April and just like that all of the older generation that I knew is gone. There are still relatives out there but we haven’t traded even a Christmas card in too many years to count. I have a feeling that to my son’s generation of twenty-something’s I am now firmly in that older generation anyway.

Feeling out of kilter from the loss of a parent, no matter the age is normal. The grief comes in mostly small bits and pieces and creeps up on me. Things that I can usually roll with, like a snarky comment from a coworker get under my skin more easily these days.

It’s odd what has left a hole in the routine of my day.

In the last months of my mother’s life we were mostly talking about television and weather, which was fine with me. It was about the connection, no matter how momentary. My son, Louie who’s 25 does the same thing with me when he calls to tell me about the overturned car on Clarke Street or the coyote he just rode by on his bike. I call it the news of the day and having someone who will take those calls every time reminds us we’re tethered to the world. No matter what happens there’s someone who cares.

However, there comes a point when something reminds us that it’s all very temporary and for a moment I’ve lost my footing. When that happens there are ripe opportunities for change in some very different directions.

I could have done some serial dialing and lamented to everyone who would listen that I had lost my connection to something important. There would have been some sense of kinship for a moment but in the end I would have felt worse.

The other obvious choice to me was to make changes based on what I really wanted to be doing in the first place. The phrase that keeps running through my mind is to run my own race. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a terminal cancer survivor of just four years and three years over my expiration date and counting. No doctor can explain it, which is fine.

Surviving a terminal diagnosis should have been enough for me to really be bold and make some daring changes and it did to a point. I started eating right and exercising more and lost 86 pounds. That’s noteworthy but for the most part I was grateful to have my old routine back.

But then my mother died, quietly in her sleep and there was no one in my life who I could call and comment on the rain without an awkward pause.

One of my mother’s last comments to me though was odd because we had ventured into newer territory. She asked me how the crowd-sourcing was going for the new thriller. I was raising funds from family and friends to venture out into self-publishing for the first time in 20 years with the fourth book. She said, “You’ll be fine. That’ll be easy for you, no problem.”

I’ve been coasting ever since on that off-handed confidence my mother gave to me about my ability to not only write but market a book. Every decision I’ve made since that moment and in particular, since April has come with this other idea. In the end, what will be left are the people I love and the things I’ve created.

Traditionally, I’ve wanted to gather a lot of professional opinions and sift through all of them to discern what would be the next move. There have been very mixed results.

The new thriller, The List, the first in the Wallis Jones series is coming out in November and it’s been easier to make decisions about what to do next without all of the normal hand-wringing. There’s a speaking tour in the works to benefit some readers’ local charities and we’ve been busy contacting book clubs with offers. There’s more clarity and even more fun this time. After all, as my son said, “let’s get clear about two things, it’s just a book and you’re still alive.” The news of the day. More adventures to follow. Tweet me @MarthaRandolph and let me know what changes you’ve been making in your life. Sign up for special offers for The List and announcements for upcoming events!

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What the Campaign is About: I’m asking for help to raise $2,500 to self-publish my next book, a thriller called The List.

There are two ways to live a life – in theory or in practice. One involves talking about what might happen and the other requires taking risks and letting go of the outcome. I was stuck in the first camp for a long time, which meant I preferred to turn over most of the work, the rewards and what I saw as the risk of failure to a traditional publishing house. The results are Wired, The Sitting Sisters and A Place to Call Home – three great books that have been well received. It seemed like enough.

But then in 2009 I was told I had cancer and only a one percent chance of living longer than one more year. I walked out of the doctor’s office shaking, trying to come up with something comforting to say to my 21-year-old son, Louie. Instead, he looked at me and said very firmly, “You weren’t listening. They said there was hope.” Something clicked and I realized that I was going to have to figure out how to be present for every day I had left rather than stare at my death.

It turns out that for now the doctors were wrong about the year but I’ve had four more operations for cancer since then. I’ve had to learn how to live with cancer without making it the focus and to be grateful for the rewards that come along with being reminded that life isn’t a guarantee.

The biggest reward I’ve gotten so far is learning how to ask for help from friends and family. At times I’ve really needed it because I couldn’t walk very well or because my face was bandaged and I couldn’t speak. I’ve learned that help can also be about just needing comfort and company like watching a scary movie with friends or throwing together a potluck or learning how to ride a bike again. That one took four spectacular spills but eventually I stayed on the bike. This past year I even started acting like I plan to live a long time and lost 86 pounds.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.

So, I’m doing my best to let go of old ideas about everything and learn to live in the moment. To make writing more about why I started – to share something – including the journey to get the book in your hands as well as every conversation afterwards. If you want to join in you can take a look at the different things you can get by making a donation. You can even be a part of what is turning into an amazing journey just by letting your friends know about The List Campaign. Share the link www.igg.me/at/MarthaCarr-TheListCampaign.com. Or use the share buttons at the site.

Thank you so much for your ongoing love and support. I am really looking forward to seeing what comes next, whatever it is – and to walking through it, to enjoying it with all of you.

What the Book is About:

The List is a novel of suspense about a happy family caught between two old political powers that have always existed behind the scenes, invisible to most of the public. The two sides have battled over control for hundreds of years actively recruiting new members at a young age to groom them for politics, Wall Street, Corporate corner offices and the military. Good Old Boy networks, private clubs and political action committees were all formed with the same idea in mind to grease the wheels of life because we all want to ensure a nice, fat piece of the American pie, especially for our children. However, families find out a little too late that once they’ve joined there’s no out clause.

 

What You Can Do & What You Can Get*:

  • First Level: $25 – You receive a signed copy of The List.
  • Second Level: $35 – You receive a signed copy of The List and your name in the dedication.
  • Third Level: $50 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication AND a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper.
  • Fourth Level: $100 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication, a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper AND a Skype visit from me to a meeting of your book club.
  • Fifth Level: $250 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication, a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper, a Skype visit from me to a meeting of your book club and a character in The Keeper named after you. (Only two available at this level.)
  • Sixth Level: $500 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication, a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper and a Skype visit from me to a meeting of your book club, AND an appearance by me, to speak at an event** for the local charity of your choice. All proceeds from book sales on that day will go to your charity.

 

*All rewards will be processed after March 31st at the close of the campaign.

**Event to be organized by the person or group who chooses this level.

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Photo by Jarod Carruthers

I’ve lost 86 pounds and have only five pounds to go, which is only half a dress size. It’s not like I’ve never been here before, in fact I’ve been here many times. However, all of the other times, it never occurred to me that it would take the exact same amount and kind of work as it did to lose the weight. I’m not sure how that nugget of knowledge eluded me for so long. I’m 53 years old after all. But in the past every time I lost the weight and got to a goal, I slowly went back to my old habits.

The real slide back toward being overweight began when a crisis occurred and I lost interest in eating. That’s right, lost interest, not gained interest in eating more. What I’ve discovered this go-around is that when I’m under stress I want to eat less and bother to cook even less than that and will reach for the easiest possible solution. That translated into processed food that came in a bag. Junk food in neon colors covered in varying amounts of sugar and salt.

A few interesting things to note this time in the weight loss phase. I’m actually eating more in terms of volume, a lot more and less in terms of calories, a lot less and the weight, even at 53 has come off easily and without the obsessions of the past. I’m not longer eating lunch while wondering what I’ll have for dinner. Food is in its proper perspective.

But maintenance is an entirely new topic and I’m a little freaked out. If you’ve been reading my column or blog for awhile you already know that any kind of big change unnerves me at first until I settle in, so no surprise. This is where I’d often sabotage things by procrastinating, or in general trying to fix something that didn’t need fixing.

Instead, I’m allowing myself to just be uncomfortable and approaching maintenance with the same kind of plan I had to lose the weight – a sensible and balanced food plan.

I’m sure there are people out there who can eat without having to figure out how much or exactly what to eat but I’m not one of them and I probably never will be. There are worse things to come to grips with and I’m letting that part go. In fact, there’s a certain amount of comfort in having a plan and knowing that will help me, this time, to stay within the range my body needs and to fuel my ever-more-promising future. More adventures to follow.

 

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From left: Mary, Katherine, Mimi, me, Linda, Libba and Tammy. Great women who are part of the Class of '77. Go Green!

It took me 35 years to get back for a high school reunion at my alma mater, St. Agnes School, class of ’77. In the intervening years the school merged with our brother school, St. Stephen’s and has become known more by its initials, SSSAS. A rose by any other name is still a rose and I owe a lot to my high school, like my profession.

Miss Meyers, a history teacher, took me out into the hall and gently taught me how to take copious notes. When I got there in 9th grade I had no idea how to do that and that talent would serve me well, years later as a journalist. Mrs. Fuller was the first person to tell me I was a good writer and submitted an essay I wrote to the school magazine and then told me about it. She correctly gathered that left to my own devices I’d have stuck to the middle of the pack and not sent in a single word. Her faith in me would come in handy years later when I sent my first novel, Wired around and would get all of those letters of rejection. Miss Levins taught me about Fitzgerald and Hemingway and her favorite, Faulkner and set me on the road to being a published novelist.

All of the teachers at St. Agnes never gave out multiple choice questions and instead we had to work out math problems by hand and write essays, a lot of essays. The answers had to restate the question and then build a concise argument that led to a logical conclusion, every time. Not only did that make me a strong writer, I became good at looking at a problem or an opportunity from every angle looking for solutions.

My favorite moments this past weekend, though are the ones where I realized 35 years can go by but in the end it doesn’t matter. Time compresses and suddenly I realize these women are a part of my family and I really need to do a better job of staying in touch with many more of them. More adventures to follow.

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Leela and Nana

I’m off today to my 35th high school reunion to meet up with people I haven’t seen since I was 18 years old. I’ll pause here for a moment so everyone can do the math.

In the meantime, I’d like to introduce all of you to the newest member of my extended family, Leela, Louie’s new dog who he rescued from the shelter just ahead of euthanasia. Not something I even like to think about, especially when it comes to Leela.

Louie introduced us by telling Leela, “This is your grandma.” I bent down close and said, “Nana, call me Nana.” I figured I may as well go with it and get this ball rolling and set the pattern for any future grandchildren as well. I’ve been allowed to walk her once so far, with supervision and have gotten her a new sweater and toy, which seemed very Nana-like.

Leela is of course, the best at everything. She never barks too much, walks on a leash perfectly and crawls up into my lap to curl up whenever I sit down. Louie may have more stories but I’m editing all of them down to the ones I plan to repeat, a lot, which will let everyone know how wonderful Leela is. It’s my job, I’m the Nana.

Happy Friday everyone! Plenty of new stories next week, fresh from the reunion. More adventures to follow.

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Hanging with my son, Louie, enjoying the day.

I have wondered for a very long time how anyone did anything that was good for them for longer than say six months, top. How do they keep going after all of the hurrah’s, good for you’s and the newness of a new place wear off?

Frankly, I don’t know because once the applause died down I found it too easy to slide right back to where I’d started and then some.

Regain the weight, and then some. Pile up the debt, and then some. Stop dressing up, and then some. Stop going out with friends, and then some.

It’s really easy especially when that little voice in the back of my head starts saying, what’s the point, are you really happy yet?

I was so convinced that happiness was a destination that when I got somewhere that garnered applause I was sure that this is where happiness resided. This is where all of those successful people found that little something that kept them going. When the feeling didn’t last I figured I wasn’t there yet and the idea of another long, arduous journey sunk me back into a feeling of hopelessness. I’d give up and slide backwards.

It never occurred to me that happiness can occur right where I stand and to bite off anything in life requires taking small bites, one right after the other, one day at a time. Not day after day, which sounds gargantuan and impossible, and is too much to take on in the face of that inevitable question – where will this get me? That’s an unanswerable question, by the way. Who knows?

But one day at a time, be right where you are, revel in it, enjoy the day. In other words, go local. That was great advice from my friend, Jesse Garza. Be right where you are and notice everything, enjoy everything, be a part of everything and know that it’s enough. Build from there instead of some unforeseen future or some distant past. Both are not happening right now. Besides, the future will probably look really different from what I expect and the past is my interpretation so who know if that’s accurate anyway.

It’s not always easy sticking to the present. Sometimes I feel like some of the bigger things I still want are stuck, mired in time that resembles mud. But then Jesse’s advice come’s back to me and I look around wondering what I can do today to be of service, get out of my head and actually have a little fun. Before I know it, things have changed as they always do and my life has grown bigger. As a bonus, I wasn’t whining about the past or the future to anyone along the way and I managed to be there for friends and family too. So, just for today I think I’ll put that rock down and go make cookies for that baby shower. More adventures to follow.

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The 'new' Me at the end of summer (that's a herd of guinea pigs in the background)

The summer is officially over as of last Saturday and with that goes my first season of triathlon training. And by the way, no, I didn’t sign up for a triathlon this year. Like I said from the beginning, this year was all about figuring out how to stay on a bike, which if you’ve been following along took me a few tries and a really nice scar on my right ankle, learning how to swim faster, run faster and get to know some new people.

I did okay, not great, against my expectations, which is a victory.

To recap, I lost about 35 more pounds, bringing the total to 75 pounds lost so far and only 15 to go till maintenance. Also known as the Promised Land. I’ve been at that weight before but the idea of working at staying that weight is the new part. I really didn’t get that maintenance would take just as much forethought, till now.

But, now it’s the Fall Season and I live in Chicago, which means soon it will get very, very cold outside and if I don’t care to go backwards and regain weight I’ll need a new plan of action.

It’s a tiny bit tempting to take a break but I’ve done that enough and I know that’s a slippery slope. Better to get started before my entire brain even catches on that sitting down was a possibility.

I already belong to a great gym that’s in my neighborhood that just put in a pool, has an erg (rowing machine) and classes at ungodly early hours and late at night. No excuses. Next week, I set out to create a new pattern and see what happens. The weight lifting class and the boxing are my first stops. I’ll let you know how it goes. More adventures to follow.

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