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Louie

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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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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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Martha and Green Lantern

My love of comic books started at a pretty young age. I have an older sister, Diana, who’s now a bone surgeon, who loved Star Trek, the original version and all things DC Comics and was willing to let her younger siblings get their grimy hands all over the new Aquaman. Back then comics were only 15 cents and it was easy to get piles of the latest Batman or Superman.

We had an enormous packing crate full of them and even though our washing machine regularly overflowed and destroyed a few, the crate always seemed to be full of further adventures of my heroes. I was never into the Archie-style comic books.

I like the heroes who were willing to do what was right without ever resorting to killing anyone.

My grown son, Louie who’s now 24 came to the last ComiCon Chicago with me and I was amazed and delighted to see that he knew every character in the large convention hall, even if that had to include Marvel comic book characters. Anyone who’s into comic books will get that one. You pick a team and you stick with it for life. His enthusiasm matched mine and I remember thinking, we have a common language that I gave him. This is my legacy and I’m okay with that.

That’s right, I’m a closet nerd. My living room is painted Superman blue and I’ve been shopping for an orange couch, plus I have a few DC Comic classic posters I’ve been getting framed. More than one friend has pointed out that my living room is every 10 year old’s dream. I’m okay with that too. Life’s too short to make everything HGTV-bland-beige just so everyone who comes through the door likes it. It’s not my goal to cater to the world.

Godzilla and Louie

William Shatner is coming to this convention and I’m hoping to score an autograph for my sister, who I’m seeing in just a couple of weeks. The only signature that could surpass his would be Adam West, the original Batman and Shatner’s autograph would be the best hostess gift one grateful, younger nerdy sister can give another.

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Louie Carr talks about helping his Mom, Martha Carr recover from melanoma and the removal of part of her leg, to learn to walk and to live again and about the 5k Project. Runners from Infinity Training and PROskydiving are going to run and then skydive at Chicagoland Skydiving Center on the same day in celebration of life. Money will be raised for the Northwestern Dermatology Research on Melanoma fund.

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My son, Louie's usual expression

There is really only one skill required in order to be a good parent once your children have grown into adulthood. It is the ability to appear supportive without really saying anything. Any comment that borders on opinion travels through the air waves and lands as judgment in the fragile ears of our children. An innocent remark about how a new car looks or an old job is doing and the wheels start turning in our offspring’s head.

“What did you mean by that?” asks our incredulous twenty-something. It’s as if we’ve just confirmed their worst suspicions that we had always hoped for more out of them. Truly, if our children are paying their bills and not asking us for money we’re already on the road to parental bliss. If they’re also putting money into any kind of investment plan and have some kind of faith in some higher being, have started looking around at someone nice to settle down with and might volunteer at something while cutting back on the processed foods, well, that would be nice as well. However, all of that we as parents would be wise to keep to ourselves for a couple of very important reasons.

The first is because the time has passed to guide our children toward some bright and shining future. They’re actually in that future and it’s their turn to pick and choose what it’s going to look like. Every time we butt in we’re actually telling them they’re getting it wrong, try again. That can be a real confidence blaster.

The consequences of over-parenting any adult can end up being that our grown children stop trying to create bigger and better and start settling for smaller and what appears safer. The results of that are often a lot of great opportunities get left on the table. Worst case scenario is that the child is living in your basement. No one wants to see that.

Risk is a necessary part of the big picture and its cousin, failure is vital as well. The first adds a certain amount of exhilaration to life and pulls the idea of faith out of theory and into practice. The second teaches us what we want to keep or discard in the description that is our lives.

Failure is also a much better teacher than success when it comes to building a nice, big fat dream. When we find ourselves able to stand back up again and can see how to solve a problem a piece at a time we also catch on that there actually is a solution to just about anything. There will be some compromise, some letting go, a few bumps and bruises but even the worst of it can be resolved. We learn to take that with us as we move forward. [click to continue…]

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Cancer Zero & Martha One

In October of 2009 Dr. Jeffrey Wayne at Northwestern said there was a good possibility that I was looking at just one more year of life. I remember him quickly flipping through a notebook that his nurse, Jennifer had put together for me that showed the various stages I would probably be going through shortly.

I was looking in the general direction of the notebook but I was making a point not to really look at any of it. My brain was stuck back on that part of ‘most likely one more year’ and I was thinking about how fast a year spins past.

My son, Louie, who was 21 at the time, was sitting right next to me. We had recently reconnected on a day-to-day basis in August when I moved from NYC to Chicago where he lives.

My whole body was shaking on such a small scale it felt like a deep hum and I don’t know if it was visible on the outside but I couldn’t be sure of any of my movements.

Louie took one look at me just after Dr. Wayne and his nurse left the small, windowless room and said, “You weren’t listening. He said there was hope.” I could feel part of me instantly relax and not because I was able to grasp that concept just yet. I could see in my son’s face a determination to believe in something better.

We say that someone, Cowboyed Up in the South and he had done a great job at it. I knew in that moment that no mattered what happened he’d be okay.

The day of the surgery he had my iPhone and when I got it back it was filled with gun apps so not everything had changed. It gave me a good laugh even while just coming out of the sedation. I left them there for months and yes, it was partially because I didn’t know how to get rid of them. [click to continue…]

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