Flashback Friday

I stayed in bed all morning. Yesterday I had to give myself a Sumatriptan injection first thing; the morning before I’d needed to take a tablet. No migraine this morning, but maybe postdrome. In a sort of desultory way I scrolled through Facebook. I don’t always check my “On This Day” memories, but I did, even going so far as to read the blog post that came up because I remember it being significant.

When I went downstairs, I had a very uneasy, not-quite-anxious, not-quite-depressed feeling, an ache below the rib cage that made me feel helpless and vulnerable. My depression has been very well controlled lately, so I felt like I needed to figure out the source of this. Postdrome? Trump angst?

I finally realized maybe it was from reading the blog entry.

It was titled “WWED: What Would Elizabeth Do?” and was about the fact that I didn’t like who I’d become in the year since quitting my job and in fact barely knew myself. At the time I wrote it three years ago, Dr P had only recently dumped me as a patient after I bared my soul to him. I hadn’t yet seen anyone in my neurologist’s office, so I was without medication. It was before my first CGRP trial, before Dr Mac and Dr Mitzi, right when I decided to taper off Cymbalta, before John got his social work job. It was probably one of the lowest points of my life.

In the entry I described my crazy, desperate run through the hospital parking lot after Dr P so ruthlessly attacked me. I’d forgotten that I’d been sobbing, tore away from J and  fell, scraping my hands and knees. Reading the descriptive prose I vividly remembered how worthless and hopeless I’d felt, and scared I had been. It’s hard to explain how much being rejected or misunderstood by a doctor feels like the end of the fucking world for someone with a chronic illness. I had literally nowhere to turn.

That helpless, hopeless feeling today morphed into an uneasy vulnerability. While I am much happier and more fulfilled now, with new friends, new activities, new jobs, I am unfortunately at a bit of a crossroads again with my medical care. J has a fantastic job now at our local state university, as a full time instructor, which is another reason for my increased satisfaction now as opposed to three years ago. However, one of the most attractive features of a good job, for me, is the health insurance. I had been on Ohio’s expanded Medicaid, which was life-saving, but limiting, so I was excited to be on regular private insurance again and am particularly grateful for it now that the NOTUS is trying to repeal all aspects of the ACA.

But there was a paperwork issue. J filled out all the many many pages required for our family to be covered, and it all went through fine. What he didn’t know is that almost immediately, he would have to fill out yet another spousal form for 2017, as he will have to every year. He was behind on checking emails, falling into the “ignorance is bliss” ravine that so many of us do when overwhelmed.

On January 1, my coverage ended. I haven’t had insurance since then. J is trying to get it worked out, but because the open enrollment period had ended, now the HR people need my Disability paperwork, my Medicaid and Medicare paperwork. Which J found and gave to them. And then he didn’t hear anything. He had to go to his dean for help in speeding it up. This week, he still hasn’t heard anything new about the progress. Bills are piling up. The uncertainty of not having coverage constantly makes me feel on edge. Scared.

I finally have an appointment with a new family doctor in March, Dr. C. My spoonie friend Julie, who is local, found him first, having read reviews that he’s excellent with complicated cases. But again, uncertainty. Fear. My wonderful, sweet pain specialist, Dr. Mitzi, who refused to conduct pill counts and seemed so concerned with me personally, has apparently caved in to the federal pressure and taken an extended leave of absence. She does have a nurse practitioner, Judy, but she is considerably less warm and makes me very nervous. They are trying to find a replacement for Mitzi, but I have read enough horror stories from people in my support groups that I know it’s a possibility the new doctor will be a strict asshole who will not want to keep prescribing to me. Uncertainty. Fear.

But. The pain clinic isn’t closing, and Dr. C seems very promising. Even without insurance, if worse comes to worse, I can pay cash. Things with Dr. M (the neuro) are going okay. I haven’t had to go to the ER for six weeks. J is doing well, the girls are doing well. I have my work for migraine.com, which is a dream come true, and BG Independent News, which is so great I would never have fathomed my involvement in such a thing. Working with journalists I’ve always admired, in a field I chose for myself twenty years ago. Lucky. I’m lucky.

I have to let this false fear wash away. I have so much that is good right now.

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My girls on top of the Cape May lighthouse. X, Zo, & K, June 2014

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The cast of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, December 2014

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Zo & me after her first Nutcracker performance weekend, Dec 2014

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Me at the Historical Center, where I frequently volunteered from 2014-2016

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Part of our theatre family. I’ve been on the advisory board since early 2015.

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Me & J at the Chamber of Commerce dinner with BGIN last month

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My migraine.com profile. I will be going to a conference in Philadelphia in March!

Thoughts on the inauguration of the NOTUS

Today I read a powerful blog post someone wrote called “Let the record show.” I linked to it; you should really go read it. I am not feeling very eloquent right now, and there’s no way I could communicate these thoughts any better than this author already did.

The NOTUS, Narcissist Of The United States, is not my president. I didn’t vote for him, I hate everything he stands for, I am horrified that Republicans are trying to wipe away the Affordable Care Act, which will likely lead to people DYING. (Pro”LIFE,” huh?) Newly involved in the business of journalism, I am paying attention to how he is treating reporters. I just read today that he is going to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.


I feel like our democracy has been yanked away from us. DJT lost the popular vote by almost 3 million. I am reading Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and feel indignant that he anticipated this exact scenario, hence the creation of the electoral college, but the Electors refused to use it the way it was intended. Now we know that Russia was responsible for the DNC hacking and Wikileaks release and STILL Hillary won the popular vote. The election is invalid. There is treason in the air.

Up until a few months ago I was on  Ohio’s expanded Medicaid. If John hadn’t gotten his university job…

I’m not feeling super great, and just rambling, really. I love President Obama, and going from him and his lovely family and the Bidens, who called The White House “The People’s House” and opened it up to poetry slams, concerts, and other cultural events, to Trump, who tweeted a ridiculous photo of himself “writing his inauguration speech” at Mar-a-Lago, calling it “The Winter White House” fills me with horror and disgust.

HERE IS THE WINTER WHITE HOUSE

Obama and his daughters play in the snow. Photo by Pete Souza.

DJT disparaged Muslims. He has a proven history of assaulting women. He strikes back at anyone who criticizes him. He can barely string two sentences together. He definitely has an unsavory connection with Putin.

I wish I could go to the Women’s March in DC, or the sister march in Ann Arbor, but I am proud to be participating and helping with the Disability March, which is now an official partner. If you have a chronic illness or visible or invisible disability and would like to participate, go to www.disabilitymarch.com.

Trump protest posters by Shepherd Fairey

Here is a portion of Obama’s goodbye email to the American people.


We shall overcome…

I definitely need to be taught how to say good bye.

The home of a Muslim family in a nearby city was vandalized with a swastika. After the outpouring of love they received, one of the family members painted over it. Their garage door was eventually replaced free of charge and the Toledo Symphony Orchestra played outside during a peaceful gathering.

DJT canceled a trip to the African American Museum on MLK Day after attacking Rep John Lewis for not attending the inauguration

I will never call him President. He will be DJT, or NOTUS, or He Who Must Not Be Named. And we are Dumbledore’s Army.

We now know they were listening to Obama’s speech the day after DJT’s “victory,” but still.


RISE UP.

When and if the time comes, I will do whatever is necessary to keep my family and friends safe. I also pledge to step up and intercede on behalf of anyone who needs help. I will attend and participate. I will teach my children tolerance and kindness. I will continue to live and work and write and play.

As scary as everything is right now (and make no mistake, I AM scared) I keep thinking of something Obama said at his last press conference: “The only thing that’s the end of the world… is the end of the world.”

We shall overcome.

Mix Tapes: The Buckle and The 8th Floor, 1997

I recently got a 2002 RAV4 from my mother-in-law, and I have never loved a car so much. I have always wanted a small SUV, and she kept it well maintained, so even thought it has over 200,000 miles on it I feel it will continue for many more.

It also has a tape deck.

Earlier this year I bemoaned my lack of ability to play all my old mix tapes, which were like an art form for me. A friend had an extra boom box which she promptly delivered, and I imagined writing a new blog post for each new mix tape I rediscovered.  However, that never happened. The boom box sits in my room, with old dust and new dust.

A car tape deck though is a different matter. We all have to drive. I like to listen to music while I drive. I waited awhile and then, last week, I grabbed some tapes from my collection and popped the first one in, unlabeled, which turned out to be a taped-off-the-radio George Michael concert from the FAITH era and pieces of favorite albums (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and sadly, Boston). The tape survived being flipped and re-wound, and played well, so I listened to a couple more. I posted on Facebook about them.

A friend (one of those FB friends I’ve never met in person) commented how much he was enjoying my Tape Updates, and I thought again about possible blog posts. Facebook seems much easier, less time consuming. There is also the privacy of those for whom I made the original mixes to consider. But this particular tape, which was made just for me, Mix Tape #4 according to its Facebook post order, definitely needs its own blog entry, as it represents such a personal and important crossroads for me, along with its sister mix, “The 8th Floor,” made soon afterward.

The mix is called “Buckle Songs”.

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In February 1997, I quit my job at STAGE Stores Inc, which had been Uhlman’s Department Store until the sale / takeover. It was not nearly as enjoyable as Uhlman’s had been, particularly since, as an old fashioned Southern chain (one I learned during the presidential race of 2012 was owned by Mitt Romney), they told me I could no longer be manager of the Men’s Department. Because I’m a woman. And my fancy gold plated name tag with my full name on it was replaced by a cheap one with a sticker that said simply “E. Roberts.” No first names.

I’d also dated a co-worker there with disastrous results (a man hired to work the Men’s Department!), and though he’d quit already, I had fallen hard for him and being back there was rough. I had graduated from college in December. I was ready to go. I spread applications to retail outlets all over BG and Toledo, because working retail was all I knew, and I liked it. Who called? The Buckle, a trendy clothing store at Franklin Park Mall, a 40 minute but very familiar drive north.

Because of my degree and experience I was hired to be a sales associate on track to become Assistant Manager. Tish, the manager, was very like other women bosses I’d had, though younger. She was sharply enthusiastic, and nerve-wracking. We were on commission. We were expected to “build on” sales, to not just help people find what they were looking for but also talk them into buying more. We were trained to look out for the types who were easiest to do this to. We got a 40% discount on clothes and could only wear what was purchased from the shop. My collection of Doc Marten boots and shoes, and Lucky Jeans, and thin, cheap, trendy tops would become monstrous. We’d all have “hold” piles and when paychecks were issued there was a long line to purchase. My sales were never high enough to begin the process of promotion to Assistant Manager, though I was a key holder, as I’d been at Uhlman’s / Stage. My migraines at this time were occasionally disruptive but I didn’t have to miss so much work that they were a real problem. I wouldn’t become chronic for ten more years, though I was definitely heavy episodic.

My relationships with my co-workers were pleasant, but odd and uncomfortable for me. Another key holder had dubbed The Buckle “The Meat Market of the Mall” as everyone who worked there was rather astonishingly good-looking, and easily classifiable into a “type.” My favorite co-worker was Jeff, my first flamboyantly gay friend, who was funny and sweet and danced like he was in a musical whenever “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Björk came on. There was the guy I had a crush on, Jake, who looked just like a Jake and was therefore not really my type at all. There was also Vinny, I think his name was, unless I just called him that in my head. He was sort of a combination of Keanu Reeves’ Ted and Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape, in retrospect. He had long shiny dark brown hair and loved the Wu-Tang Clan and tended toward the more “urban” line of Buckle clothes like JNCO jeans. The girls  were young and beautiful, from the one with long flowing wavy blonde hair to skinny, alternative types. I had no idea where I fit into this schema. Since I’d been hired into management but stalled, I suspected I fit nowhere.

The best part of this job was probably the music. We had long compact disc playlists to choose from, and they were all good, introducing me to some new things and re-affirming my love for The Beastie Boys, Björk, Liz Phair, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Beck. Some of them were more club oriented and therefore totally unfamiliar, and I was able to track down my favorites for the mix: “Whoever You Are” by Geggy Tah (“All I wanna do is to thank you, even though I don’t know who you are / You let me change lanes while I was driving in my car”) and “(C’mon Ride It) The Train” by Quad City DJs. When these songs came on we would dance and sing unabashedly. There were 1980s mixes as well, both alternative and dance styles.The Buckle, not a bar or dance or wedding, was the first place I ever saw the “YMCA” dance being acted out. Working there felt more like working at a club, but instead of drinks people bought clothes, shoes, and belts. Despite the underlying competition of being on commission, we all got along pretty well, though the social and friendly environment was not extended for me outside the store as it probably was for the others, who were mostly one to five years younger. I was about to turn 24.

This was the time period of a major self-destructiveness on my part. My life, private and professional, was a mess. I had dumped Craig, my longterm on-and-off boyfriend, the previous fall for the last time to date Hazelwood, the guy from Stage, who had dumped me over the phone right after Christmas. The longterm boyfriend relationship had been a seven year tempest of fighting, reuniting, being unofficially engaged and then breaking up and getting back together, hanging out and hooking up without commitment, though every time, it felt like coming home. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and who to do it with. I thought I wanted to be with Craig, but I always thought that when we were apart. And I knew the Buckle wasn’t the right place for me but had no motivation to do anything about that. So I did stupid stuff like driving around the parking lot during lunch breaks with Vinny, in his car, blasting music while smoking weed and menthol cigarettes like that was our actual job before returning to work the rest of our shift. I let some stranger “pick me up” at the store, and dragged my friend and her boyfriend to his house, which was a glass and white monstrosity in northern Toledo at which he turned out to just be crashing. I remember there was weed spread all over the glass table in the living room, and I suspected there were other drugs tucked elsewhere. We smoked this weed. I went back by myself next time. The guy, Derrick, was a drifter with a temporary type job, but was actually pretty clean and cute and ended up not being a crazy asshole or rapist or killer; he didn’t slip Rohypnol in my drink, didn’t poison the food he made for me or get angry at my “everything but” reticence. In fact when I declined to see him again he seemed extremely crushed. I got lucky there. I also invited a random kid into my apartment when he knocked on the door looking for someone else, and smoked his weed too. I smoked so much weed belonging to strangers and near-strangers that it is astonishing I never stumbled upon any laced with anything.

I know this “risky behavior” is somewhat laughable. Even in the late 1990s it was known to everyone that marijuana is spectacularly safe. I didn’t fuck any of these guys, I didn’t snort cocaine off the glass table, I wasn’t shooting heroin. But for relatively cautious me, these risks felt huge, and I had the tantalizing spectre of my luck running out, the possibility always on my mind. I wanted it to run out. Because I was fucking miserable. And I needed a Deus ex Machina of an overdose or severe injury to derail me. I ended up derailing myself, but it was like a quiet, tipsy drive off a foggy road into a ditch rather than a plane crash.  Oh yeah, I drove home drunk from Toledo too, but that was later, when I was working for Family Video in Sylvania, and we used to go to a nearby dive bar afterward, where my newly tattooed still young body was obviously tantalizing to my middle-aged average male supervisors who enjoyed buying me jello shots. There, I was in transition, trying to re-build self esteem but letting myself be objectified, my tattoos not allowed to show at work, the “Adult” section behind a red curtain in the back. Family Video was the final frontier of my displacement.

First, still at The Buckle as my birthday approached and a Back To School fashion show was being organized, I had to ask Jake to attend a party with me, have him say yes and then totally blow me off when the day came, after which I drove home in a thunderstorm sobbing and ended up in the cemetery, taking some pills and quitting The Buckle by phone from a hospital bed. I also arranged an interview at Family Video from the hospital.  Jake blowing me off was a last straw, the hiring of a new Assistant Manager another last straw, the memo we all received about a company issue called “Familyocity” where you cared about your co-workers too much to compete with them or fire them was the last last straw. Oh, and the fashion show kind, handsome Brent put together that I was supposed to participate in with all the hot youth that I couldn’t actually bear to imagine. Me? Strutting down a catwalk in the middle of Franklin Park Mall? I was realizing NOPE fast. Brent was the only one to call the hospital to make sure I was okay. Brent, thank you. Jeff, who had already fled to work at Sufficient Grounds with Sarah, another favorite who was also someone I could have been friends with outside the Buckle world: I wish we had stayed in touch.

The mix I made right after getting out of the hospital is a nearly laughably typical late nineties depression mix with Nirvana, Soundgarden, Fiona Apple, Natalie Merchant, Depeche Mode, and the Cranberries. It took a number of months to put my shattered self back together. The first step was applying for a job at Grounds For Thought, which was just downstairs from my apartment. The Buckle (a symbol for the more important events of graduating from college, being dumped and losing Craig) had broken me, and as the pieces started to fit back together, I became the me I would be for the rest of my life. I was poised on the edge of meeting John and all the people who would matter in the years to come. When I was promoted to full time Night Manager at Grounds in October of ’97  I was able to finally quit Family Video, where they were quietly disapproving and suspicious of my “moonlighting” at a coffee shop. I worked at Grounds For Thought for almost a decade, through meeting and dating John, getting married, getting pregnant and having X, and going chronic.

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My “Buckle Songs” mix contains mostly the happy, dancy music that made us squeal and start dancing in place no matter what we were doing when the songs came on. Some of the songs reflect my frenetic despair. There are a few songs from Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet, which was important to me at the time. It started with Urge Overkill’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” from Pulp Fiction and ended with “Make It Home” by Julianna Hatfield, which had been in the Christmas My So-Called Life episode when Rickie was homeless. As I found more songs from our actual Buckle playlists I replaced throw-away songs with more authentic ones, so it was edited a few times over the next year, much like my actual evolving life.

 

**Next morning update: While listening to the Buckle mix while driving everyone to school (at three different times), a memory suddenly came back to me of another co-worker I’d totally forgotten about, a beautiful young woman of color who vividly called out the Presidents of the U.S.A. regarding the real meaning of their song “Peaches” and claimed joyfully that she was going to wear a t-shirt saying “KILL WHITEY” to get out of her impending jury duty.  I realized that the Buckle staff were much more diverse than I initially remembered, though undeniably everyone was very attractive. My friend Sarah, whom I’m recalling a little more clearly now, was a short, adorable ginger with a nose ring; not waify and blonde or heroin chic. This was the most unique group of people I ever worked with, which I sought to re-create when I began hiring at Grounds. And I still say I had the best Grounds Crew there ever was and ever will be again.

I am now a Patient Advocate and Contributor on Migraine.com

Sometimes, everything lines up in exactly the right way.

My favorite headache blogger, Kerrie Smyres of The Daily Headache, had posted an article about several available CGRP studies and the pros and cons of getting involved. Since one of the studies was Amgen, I commented that I hadn’t had a hugely noticeable improvement on that drug, but that I would soon begin a new study. I didn’t think anything of it as Kerrie doesn’t always interact with readers, though she had been very helpful to me a couple years ago when I was considering trying Ritalin as a preventative, which she had also attempted. 

So I was pleasantly shocked and super excited to receive an email from Kerrie thanking me for giving a shout-out to her company TheraSpecs in an advocacy post on Facebook. She then asked if she could interview me for either her personal blog or Migraine.com about my experiences in the CGRP studies. 

The CGRP drugs in development right now are going to completely revitalize migraine treatment. They will be the first drugs to be created for the prevention of migraine – think of that. 36 million people in the US suffer from migraine and ALL the drugs used to prevent them are for other things. Used off-label for migraine, most cause significant side effects and are very hit or mis in their effectiveness. So there are millions of people waiting with bated breath for the new drugs to be approved, drugs which target migraine specifically and have no detrimental side effects. Needless to say I was ecstatic to speak frankly about my experience on two of the new drugs, and opted to have it published on Migraine.com  for the largest audience.

Kerrie sent me an email of very specific questions. My migraine brain had a hard time recalling all of the details, so I dug up my consent forms and checked my blog for dates and information. I answered the questions as thoroughly as possible, Kerrie asked for clarification on some things, and said she would submit the article to be published when Migraine.com was ready.

It was published, which I blogged about previously, and I interacted with some readers on Facebook. Because of this article, and probably this blog, it was decided that I would be a unique and valuable voice as an actual Migraine.com Patient Advocate and writer, and I was asked to join the team.

It is hard to describe to someone outside the chronic illness world how exciting that was. It would be sort of like if a musician who plays local bars in his hometown was suddenly asked to tour nationally with famous bands he always admired. I’ve been blogging for five years to around 300 people. Now some of my writing on migraine will be seen by at least 60,000. And those are just the people who subscribe to the newsletter.

I will still be blogging here about more personal topics and will post my migraine.com articles after they are published. I have two posts ready to go, whenever Migraine.com is ready. I am completely thrilled to be joining this illustrious list of advocates including Katie Golden, Tammy Rome, Diana Lee, Nancy Harris Bonk, Anna Eidt, Janet Geddis, and Jennette Fulda, whose book Chocolate & Vicodin I have been wanting to buy for some time. All of the contributors have so much to offer and I am excited to get to know them better and become more familiar with the names I didn’t know previously.

I am @headcase73 on Twitter.

Life has been hard for several years, but J and I have been working hard to make things better. And I think we’re succeeding. 

Yay!

My CGRP interview on Migraine.com

I always feel guilty when I return to the blog after a long absence, which seems silly. Like I need to explain myself. Life ebbs and flows  and I often find myself unable to do everything I’d like to be doing. I just can’t fit it all in, which I think is a pretty universal experience, especially adding in school-age children and chronic illness.

I don’t think I ever let everyone know that J got the job he so desperately needed to get at the local state university. So many of my entries over the last 2-3 years have focused on our poverty, and I hope we will be finally digging our way out of that hole. Our normal, non-government insurance coverage will begin in a few weeks and I can finally find a new doctor and file a complaint about Dr S.

I just started a second CGRP study, and Kerrie Smyres who blogs at The Daily Headache interviewed me recently for an article on migraine.com. It was published yesterday, please read it!

X is preparing for a theatre competition this weekend and starting middle school in a few weeks; Zo was awarded the roles she wanted in this year’s Nutcracker. I have been occasionally serving at my friend’s nanobrewery and contributing to a new online news source in my hometown, which I’m very proud of. In all, things are… dare I say it? Good.

Chapter 1967: My Man Wrote a Short Story



Chapter 1967

By The Mechanical Cat

Norma Jeane leaned back in the wooden chair and gently let her hand drift down her leg to feel the comfort of the snub-nosed .38, snugly holstered against her earthly thigh. A wisp of smoke left her mouth and danced toward the ceiling of the cabin. “Well, since every fucking agency and commission on the planet knows what’s going on in this cabin, what’s the plan now kitty-boy?” Norma’s voice was raspy.

“We’ve got an entire social revolution underway,” I said. “It’s a good diversion for now.”

“Obviously not fucking good enough. Do you even know who is outside?” Norma asked.

Across the room the glowing red eyes of the Mothman could be felt like the aurora borealis. He stood and walked toward the table where I was sitting with Norma. A murky hypnosis spread around us as the  Mothman tried to communicate.

“This is shit,” said Norma. “No fucking way. I am not doing it.” Bigfoot looked at the platinum blond wig and rhinestone dress lying in a heap on the table and raised a hairy eyebrow. Click. Flame. Cigarette. Norma inhaled and out blew a cloud of smoke. “Right now there are twelve agents out there. Watching our every move. Listening to every cigarette I light. Every word we speak.”

“Listen Norma-”

“No, you listen, Cat. Marilyn Monroe is dead. DEAD.” And she raised her eyebrows, expecting a response. She tilted her glass of whiskey back to her mouth and finished what was left. “I’m going out there.”

“Norma, it’s too dangerous” said Bigfoot through a face of fur.

“Nice,” said Norma. “Fuckin awesome. I thought you were-”

“You can’t leave yet,” I said, leaning forward through the shadows and smoke of the cabin. “We’re going with you.”

“I don’t need the help. I can take care of myself.”

“Not this time Norma, those aren’t CIA agents, those are inter dimensional beings called flyggian pony scouts.”

Norma looked at me with a suspicious smile. “Don’t act like I’m some naive school girl. I know what a pony scout is.”

And with that, Norma was out the door. Gun shots exploded in the darkness like camera bulbs flashing on her wooded stage. A red carpet spilled beneath her feet. Her attack was silent – violence at an efficiency matched by few others.

The quiet that filled the forest after she was done was complete. You could hear pine needles hit the dirt. Her heavy steps across the floor of the porch and then through the door – you could tell she was pissed. Norma sat down where she was, almost unchanged except for the freckles of blood she had attained in combat.

“How the fuck did you kill twelve pony scouts with six bullets?” I asked.

“Magic bullets,” Norma said with a twinkle in her eye. “How do you think we pulled off JFK?” A growl erupted from Bigfoot, which Norma silenced with a glance.

“I thought there was more than one gunman?”

“Well that’s just it,” said Norma. “There were no gunmen. There was a gunwoman, and a gun Bigfoot… and I don’t know what the fuck Mothman was doing. Mothman was the umbrella on the grassy knoll. I still don’t know where he’s coming from most of the time. Bigfoot was a terrible shot so I had to finish him off.”

“Where was Bigfoot?”

Mothman communicated telepathically to everyone in the room:

***bigfoot cannot be seen in direct sunlight***

“Where were you?” I inquired in complete shock.

“Dressed as Jackie. Had to make a getaway. Jumped out of the back of the car, but the Secret Service pulled me back in…” her voice trailed off. “Back and to the left. Back and to the left.”

“Oh…my…God. Why did you kill him?” The stare and silence between us could have stopped galaxies.

“Love and revenge. As simple as that.”

On Grieving, Celebrating, Writing, & Auditioning

This is a piece I wrote for the alternative local news site J created and maintains, for which I now work. It is a personal story of my experience of the celebration of life service for a beloved choral director. It is published, with additional photos, here.

What was so valuable for me in writing this piece is that after I published it and re-read, I realized that the thing with the Christmas lights wasn’t my real Mr. Brown Story. My regret over not auditioning for Madrigals actually changed the way I parented. I encouraged the girls to try out for things, to go after the dance parts and musical theatre roles and to be brave. And they did, and continue to, creating the best friendships and experiences of their young lives. Which was indirectly about Mr. Brown and is truly life altering.


From the news website BG Independent Media:

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bowling Green was nearly full for Jim Brown’s Celebration of Life service Saturday morning. I scanned the crowd as people filed in, looking mostly for those I remembered from high school. We sat in the section to the right of the pulpit with other members of the Memorial Choir. Stacey (Timmons) Higgins from the Class of 1990 was sitting on my left; Amanda Gullufsen, a fellow graduate of the Class of 1991, was on my right. Both had been Madrigal Singers with Mr. Brown in High School and had traveled with him to the former Soviet Union as it was crumbling. I had been in regular Choir my 10th – 12th grade years, singing such memorable pieces as “I Sing The Body Electric” (from FAME) and the Rutter Requiem. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Brown had known John Rutter personally.
My husband, John Zibbel, had graduated from BGHS some years after me and had been fortunate enough to be a student in the first Humanities Class co-taught by Mrs. Dianne Klein (Former English / Creative Writing) and Mr. Brown in their last years teaching before retirement. John’s class in the 98-99 school year was themed “Making The Midwest Home.” They traveled by bus to Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. In speaking about the Humanities class, Mrs. Klein stated that due to the closeness that the groups experienced from traveling around the country together, the students became family to Mr. Brown as much as his own blood relatives. John’s classmate Jessica Snyder Ruffner commented, “The humanities class had a major impact on me and I am forever thankful to her [Klein] and Mr. Brown for choosing me to participate.” I know John felt similarly.
As I continued watching, I spotted Class of 91 alumna and friend Michelle (Whitacre) Crites. I saw Dr. Eric Myers, former principal of BGHS and school board member, and Mayor Dick Edwards and his wife Nadine. And Andy Halleck. “Did you know he was a Madrigal my senior year?” Amanda whispered to Stacey. “He had chops!”

I was happy to hear this, because as well as being his student, I had also been Mr. Brown’s neighbor, living with my parents and brother diagonally across the street on North Prospect. Mom had told me Mr. Brown’s stately Victorian had been purchased by The Hallecks, and being reminded that Andy had been a Madrigal made me feel pleased that he would be honoring the memory of Mr. Brown which surely infused the house. The positive impact Mr. Brown had on those elite, beautifully-voiced Madrigal Singers through the years was always very evident to me. They were the best of the best, braving auditions I was never able to face.

“I was trying to think of a ‘Mr. Brown Story’ to share, and I couldn’t think of any at first,” Amanda confided in a low voice while we waited for the service to start. Her mother, Linda Gullufsen, was the director of the Memorial Choir and a former colleague and dear friend of Mr. Brown’s. At the first rehearsal, she had stated, Everyone has a Jim Brown story, and she had shared a few of her own through tears. Amanda continued, “I finally thought of one. He gave me the only B I ever got. And it was a B minus! In Choir! When I went to him to ask why, he looked at me and replied simply, ‘Just shut up!’” She grinned. The admonition had been spoken in a direct, but light hearted way. “And oh, I knew he was right. I was a talker for sure. But what was I supposed to do? I was in the back next to… oh you know, Alex DePue. And Dave McCutcheon. But he was right, and I learned so much from that.”

While the organ prelude rang out through the church, I thought about my own Mr. Brown Story. What could I say about him? He hadn’t changed the course of my life. I hadn’t traveled with him the way Stacey, Amanda, and even my own husband had. But, I was his neighbor. And I thought about how beautiful his house always looked decorated for Christmas, and how sad it was the first Christmas after he’d passed away to see it dark and bare. My friend and neighbor Geoff Howes had even written a haiku about it. But during my junior high, high school, and college years that house had been the beacon of holiday cheer, and when Mr. Brown’s white lights and garland went up, we truly knew the Christmas Season had arrived. That, then, was my story.

The service started and the congregation sang a hymn. Then there was a prayer, and Mr. Brown’s younger brother, Bob, got up to speak. He thanked Mrs. Klein and others for taking care of his older brother’s health when he hadn’t been able to; and thanked Mrs. Gullufsen, Mrs. VanBlaricom (former BGHS German teacher) and others for putting together the Memorial Choir, a group of former students, colleagues, and friends of Jim Brown’s spanning fifty years who had been moved to travel from near and far to sing and remember him. Bob then told stories about Jim as a child; talked about Jim’s love of music and theatre and directing and how a severe illness his senior year of high school got him started on piano; talked about his travels, and all the famous people he’d met. Bob became too choked up to speak at least once, and made everyone laugh several times. He then leaned over, looked at Reverend Spicer almost impishly, and apologized to him in advance before telling the final story. He talked about going to visit his brother, whose name just happened to be James Brown, a common name he shared with another, rather more well known musician. Bob said that he would do the James Brown yell for his brother, and he did it right there. “AAAOOOWW! James Brown! I feel good!” And he said his brother Jim would be always be embarrassed, and afterward would whisper an affectionate, brotherly “Stop it.”

Then Bob told us all to stand, and to yell it with him. So we did. “AAAOOOWW! James Brown! I feel good!” Do it again, he said, and we obliged. Then he paused and whispered into the microphone “Stop it.” The church erupted into spontaneous applause, which felt only natural at a celebration of life for a consummate showman.

Daniel Boyle, also from the class of 91, accompanied the choir on piano and had composed a gorgeous original piece called “Thank You, Mr. Brown” which he played beautifully. Next to me, Amanda dabbed at tears with one of the tissues Stacey had thoughtfully given us before the service. Dan also played the postlude on organ, the Widor Toccata, which he later said he had just played for the congregation at his own church for Easter.

Soon we were standing up and joining the other choir members on the risers for “Breathe On Me, Breath Of God.” The story about this song is that the Madrigals sang it in Estonia, in a building so cold they actually could see the white plumes of their own breath. Having attended only one of the rehearsals I was sight reading, but I was proud of the way I had no trouble keeping up and blending my rusty alto with the voices of the rest of the choir, one eye on Linda’s flying hands. As I had many times before, I regretted not having had the courage in high school to audition to be a Madrigal myself. And was proud, thinking about my own young daughters and how I taught them to start auditioning for theatre and dance parts early, to never be afraid to go after what they want and to believe in themselves in a way I never had.

We stayed on the risers through a reading, then sang “Alleluia.” When we were finished, the congregation was once again moved to applaud. We sat down.

Mr. Brown’s nephew Kevin read the Gospel with the familiar words “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live,” and singing the Rutter Requiem came back to me, with the flute and the timpani and harp which accompanied us, and those same words. “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me… shall never die.” I was wiping my own tears then.

The Meditation by Reverend Spicer was very nice, and a smaller group sang “Sing Me To Heaven,” which Mr. Brown had chosen for both his parents’ funerals. Then it was nearly over and time for the Hallelujah Chorus. Michelle, from the congregation (I keep wanting to say “audience”), posted a video of it later and wrote “The Hallelujah Chorus was sung at the end of every Jim Brown Christmas concert. He invited all previous singers that had sung it in years past to join his current choir on stage to sing as one large choir and it was always beautiful. Today’s memorial service ended the same way. Very touching tribute to a wonderful man.”

After the service, I felt the familiar flush and drone of a migraine coming on, so I didn’t stay for the catered luncheon. I later asked Stacey to describe it for me. She said there was a presentation made by Dr. Myers and Linda VanBlaricom to Francis Scruci, current superintendent of BG Schools, of a plaque commemorating Mr. Brown to be hung in the lobby of the Performing Arts Center, inscribed with the lyrics of “Sing Me To Heaven.” Brother and nephew Bob and Kevin Brown shared touching and humorous stories about his life, and were followed by loving tributes from former students Andy Newlove, Molly Ogden, and former colleagues Jan Woodend (German teacher) and Linda Gullufsen. The event ended with the serving of Mr. Brown’s favorite dessert, ice cream, which was enjoyed in the camaraderie of those whose lives he touched.

I’d like to end with the comments of two Madrigals who are friends of mine from high school and could not attend, made on Facebook after viewing J.D. Pooley’s lovely video of the Memorial Choir’s first two pieces, and shared here with their permission.

Jeremy Smith, Class of 92, wrote “I just sang w/ the basses in my living room. God bless you, Jim.”
Chris Hutchinson, Class of 91, said “I was fortunate enough to be part of the Madrigals that sang Breathe on Me Breath of God in the Soviet Union. To hear it again sung by this group as a tribute to Mr. Brown really caught me off guard…in a good way. It sounds amazing and really brings back a lot of incredible memories.”
And finally, some last thoughts from Linda Gullufsen on her way back home to Tennessee with her husband Rex this morning. “The Memorial Choir came together, not for a choral performance, but as 70+ individuals wanting to pay tribute to their teacher, colleague, mentor, and friend. A community of singers was thus created from 15 states, 2 centuries, and a dozen different choral ensembles that spanned 5 decades. We came together for one brief moment to celebrate Jim’s life. I told the singers that this experience would grow sweeter and more precious to them over time, that it would become one of their cherished memories. And I believe it will. In the words of a song from the musical Wicked, ‘Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.’”

Thank you, Mr. Brown.

“I look back on Venus, look back on Mars / And I burn with the fire / Of ten million stars / And in time, and in time / We will all be stars”

-I Sing The Body Electric