Let me see if I can get this straight. New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, back in ’03, witnessed to some events which at which he was unfortunately not a witness. More recently, Margaret Seltzer, aka Jones, penned a memoir, Love and Consequences, duly published by Riverhead Books and subsequently recalled, but you can buy it on Amazon; it was unfortunately not exactly remembered, since it hadn’t happened. Now we are confronted with a novel, Charm, written by Kendall Hart, who isn’t actually a person, although she is indeed a character in a soap opera, leading to the fascinating scene I guess we’ll all be awaiting in frantic anticipation, when the fictional Kendall shows up for a publishing party on her fictional show, attended by a real person from Hyperion, which is publishing the actual book of fiction. (An eponymous fragrance will go on sale at real Sears stores about the same time all this is taking place.) Truth may still be stranger than fiction, but the two are getting a little hard to dissect. I wonder if Truman Capote considered, before In Cold Blood was spilled upon the land, what the whole ‘creative nonfiction’ business would embolden and encounter? I remember reading In Cold Blood, believing every word, knowing I shouldn’t believe it because Capote wasn’t there to record those conversations and events, thinking it was a fascinating new art form anyway. I hasten not to blame Mr. Capote, or the subsequent devotees of creative nonfiction — good grief, you can even get an M.F.A in Creative Nonfiction from my highly esteemed and still beloved alma mater the University of San Francisco. (Not all my alma maters are still beloved; Randolph-Macon Woman’s College seems to be self-destructing into Randolph College which is neither fictional nor, in my case, lovable.)

Still, Jayson Blair and Margaret Seltzer were certainly creative about their (non)fiction and I don’t even want to think about what new category the fictional author Hart will spawn. Life is curious, and lines blur. My Dying Unafraid is, I promise, true. So is Never in Doubt, though I included in this ‘biographical memoir’ as many caveats as I possibly could about the stories therein being drawn from my father after he passed 80 and long after his lines between fiction and remembered fact were hopelessly blurred. A story is a story, a memoir is only a memoir

New words, new Stuff

I recently attended my first, and perhaps last, Webinar. Since encountering the term (and after duly registering and attending) I’ve come to understand that webinars are old hat to the tech savvy, but I remain unconvinced that all of this new techno-wonder is necesssarily wondrous. (Power point presenters, for example, should, in my humble opinion, be confined in a small room with laser beams bashing them on the head until they promise NEVER to put up a list of items and proceed to read the list of items in a deadpan drone as if their audience were illiterate.) This particular webinar addressed the issue of POLST forms: Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment, something new and handy for people very close to dying and I’ll be happy to explore these issues with anyone. But the hours of webinars, in my humble opinion again, don’t accomplish a thing more than what a few good forms (which were indeed furnished in advance by the webinar sponsors) and a Q&A Web page could do.

More to the point, while I’m sitting here being cranky, is the business of new words sneaking into the vocabulary without so much as a nod to decency. No rhythm, no lyricism, not a smidge of beauty or imagination. I’m cool with the verb ‘to google’ and a few others that may be making Mr. Webster squirm in his grave, but webinar for heaven’s sake? The world is full of better words. My husband, who is even, ahem, older than I and maintains a vocabulary about triple that of most of us, subscribes to A.Word.A.Day, a giant storehouse of words old and new and fascinating. Maybe, if someone would ask nicely, the Wordsmith people could come up with something better than webinar.

On racing through life

Two years ago, seized with the notion that everyone should run a marathon before she turns 75 and realizing that didn’t leave me a lot of time, I bought a ridiculously expensive pair of running shoes and signed up for the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. Well, said my daughters Sandy & Pam, and Sandy’s running buddy Nan (later adding Pam-2), if you’re going to do that, we’ll come out and do it with you. Thus was born Team Gran. Sandy and Nan set about getting even fitter. Pam, who has rock-climbed all over the place but had never done this kind of flat-land business, signed on with a Team-in-Training group and set about getting seriously ready. I set about loping around the city — and promptly got breast cancer. That, plus a few other calamities in what became known as the Year of Medical Crises, interrupted my training enough for me to wimp back to a half-marathon. Even though I had paid for the whole thing. (Nike does not give rebates.) Ten months into the Year of Medical Crises, though, we assembled in the dark of a San Francisco morning, quickly caught the marathon adrenalin and Team Gran was off and running. Early on, going at our rather differing speeds, we each got boosts from my husband’s moving hug stations, from the cheers of friends and strangers alike and the general beauty of the course. Just to keep this blog honest, I admit to a few spans of walking. Still, when perfect strangers asked my age and said I was an inspiration, well, who can resist picking up speed? Nearing Mile 11 the first discouraging tiredness set it, only to be confronted by another hug, this one from my indomitable young friend Georg; the tiredness disappeared. Jogging across the finish line a good few minutes short of my goal, I had the utterly incredible feeling that I could easily have gone another 3 or 4 miles. (But not another 13!) Pam, not a lot later, charged across the full-marathon finish line just better than her own goal, with a grin that could’ve lit the Golden Gate Bridge. Accomplished runner Sandy blew a knee late in the race, struggled on with a lot of help from ice and friends, and finished somewhat tearfully. Unwilling to let that discouraging marathon be her last, she will run the More Magazine Half-Marathon in Manhattan on Sunday (not to mention the Empire State stair climb next year.) Pam went on to do her first Ride & Tie (you don’t know Ride & Tie? That’s another post entirely some day) and is currently into mountain biking around NC.
Here’s what’s behind this post: running is one of life’s great metaphors. It’s open to anyone, even without the expensive shoes. It doesn’t matter where you came from; you’re all going in the same direction. The encouragement of strangers makes the community work. Adrenalin can kick in when you’re not even watching. With a little luck, you can still do cancer and marathon in the same year. Hugs along the way are vital. You may not get do-overs, but you can always do more. Team Gran will reassemble in North Georgia this July for Lakemont’s soon-to-be-famous Rabun Ramble run.

Conversations 101

Talk may be cheap, but it’s not always easy. Or done well. I’m watching Barack Obama with joy and enthusiasm for, among other reasons, his inclination to talk to anybody, anywhere without even rattling swords in the background. Closer to home, and to the issues I often deal with, talk among communities of different faiths more often than not serves to show us we all believe just about exactly the same thing; at the very least we have far more similarities than differences. In interfaith gatherings we wind up wondering why religions stir up so much pain and anguish. (It’s easy to see how; we wonder why.) Several of us hope soon to launch a social group on Beliefnet.com, so perhaps if you’re reading this you can keep an eye out for that good talking place. Also closer to home, and apropos other posts on this wandering blogspot: At last night’s meeting of Compassion & Choices, N.CA, on whose board I sit, we talked of the troubles arising from the fact that so often doctors don’t talk (or listen) to patients. (I hasten to say we have two fine, genuine-listener physicians on that board.) Working with hospice, AIDS or dying C&C clients it is sad to discover, too late, that one simple conversation — with friends, family, physicians — could have saved acres of anguish. Yesterday, therefore, I Googled myself — this is what you do if you’re REALLY bored, and a fine thing it is until you see your book offered for a distress sale price. And lo, I found it, a piece I wrote for the San Francisco Medical Society several years back titled Conversations 101. That, along with last night’s meeting and the current events of the day, prompted this ramble. The point of which is just to say what a better day we might all have if we just put up the swords, the iPhones and iPods, the computerized medical charts and even the predetermined opinions, imagined ourselves in Conversations 101, and talked to each other.

New Music, Old Music, a Feast of Sound

Here’s something to celebrate: new music. I grew up (that’s me with the pigtails, c.1944 in our Ashland, VA back yard; I was very proud of that Girl Scout belt) to my older sisters’ big band dances, jazz and gospel and symphonies on the Victrola; they grew up to be serious musicians and one very accomplished artist. Recently I’ve gotten to know Carla Kihlstedt and her music. Went to hear the new 2 Foot Yard prepared to enjoy it, absolutely loved it. Then when guitar-percussion-electronics guy Shahzad Ismaily started talking in his gentle, quiet voice about recently lost loved ones and how life is short and death is certain and it is vitally important to enjoy every moment and be kind to those you love…. I was hooked. I was unexpectedly also hooked on Ara Anderson and his Iron & the Albatross group. Ara’s a “multi-instrumentalist” (a whiz on trumpet which I think is his #1.) The “multi” includes a toy piano, and Charlie Brown never sounded better. I’ve heard Carla do extraordinary new music, most recently premiering the last, great piece by the late Jorge Liderman with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players — the kid can do it all (she calls herself musically schizophrenic) — and still remember being introduced to San Francisco with her Charming Hostess group at the Bottom of the Hill. Those gigs are always fun partly in that my husband and I raise the median age of the audience by about 40 years. Still, the celebratory thing is that so much music — Mozart, John Adams, Frank Sinatra, John Denver, Duke Ellington, Carla Kihlstedt — is in the air, getting more joyful all the time. Especially if someone like me can delight in it all.