Monday, March 28, 2005

Finding Courage ...

The singing lessons are going pretty well. On Saturday, I met my duet partner. We'd been chatting online during the past week. We have a couple things in common: 1) We live very near each other; 2) We both suffer stagefright, which makes this singing thing slightly daunting.

Briggetta, that's my partner, is new to the Vocal Tech classes and to Gwen, our teacher. Briggetta ended up in Gwen's class because the time was convenient. I first ended up in Gwen's class because my friend Eric recommended her. In one of my e-mails to Briggetta, I wrote, "Gwen pushes you to the level of your talent, which is very cool."

So we met, Briggetta and me. And standing up in front of the class, I realized fully two things that I had only thought about before: 1) It's much less scary to stand up in front of an audience if there's someone standing next to you; and 2) Being part of a duet makes me want to perform better, because I don't want to let her down.

We prop each other up, dispell each other's fear, I think. And maybe, in the process, muster up some mutual courage.

We have several rehearsals scheduled. And I'm still nervous about the show (our classes perform at a cabaret to get experience singing for a "real" audience), but I'm also looking forward to it, too. I give myself little, silent motivational speeches. I can do this.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Is There A Better Show On Television?

I never remember to grab a Kleenex first. So every Sunday, when "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" pops up on my TV, I start wiping away tears with my hand, and then drying my hand on my pants.

"EMHE" is everything that's right with television. No backstabbing, no disgusting stunts all in the name of money. Just people helping people, making the world a better place, one home, one family at a time.

Tonight's show (my mom's first, and she was crying right along with me) told the story of the Leomiti family and the Higgins family. The Higgins children lost their mother to breast cancer and, two months later, lost their father to heart failure -- a broken heart, literally, in the wake of his wife's death. Four children were left behind. The Leomiti family welcomed all of them into their very modest three-bedroom home.

Eleven people under one roof, coping with grief, adjusting to a newly blended life, three of the boys sleeping in the garage so lacking was the space.

So along come Ty and his design team, and seven days later, despite the worst rains in 100 years in California, this family is given a new home -- mortgage-free -- that not only has room for all of them, but is also a model of environmentalism. The old house was demolished and sent off to be recycled. The new house receives 70 percent of its power from solar energy. It's insulated with recycled newspaper. The appliances are hyper-efficient.

And, as if the new, free house wasn't enough, new hybrid cars for everybody who's old enough to drive!

Governor Arnold was there, and said to the father, "When you give kindness, you get kindness in return."

No kidding.

Hats off to ABC for doing its part to showcase goodwill.

The fortunes of the world aren't found on "Survivor." Often, they live right next door.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Comedic License?

I loved "Bridget Jones's Diary." The book and the movie. My friend Marlea loaned me the book, and I couldn't stop laughing. I remember lying in bed one night, long-ago boyfriend at my side for the evening (oh, stop it -- we were *reading*) and I was prone to fits of giggling until I turned out the light.

"What are you reading?" he wanted to know.

I told him, but no man could appreciate that book. Only women -- every woman, yes, even Paris Hilton, if she's honest -- can relate to that book.

So when I heard they were making the movie version, I was thrilled. When I heard Renee Zellweger was cast as Bridget, I was not.

But she pulled it off, didn't she? An Oscar nomination for Best Actress, even.

I saw the movie. I bought the DVD. It's sweet. It's charming. It also stars Colin Firth. Any woman who tells you she doesn't find Colin Firth the leading example of male perfection is lying.

So successful was the first film based on the first book that a sequel was planned.

Except one of the main storylines in the second book is Bridg getting tossed into a Thai prison.

Having worked with a man who's daughter really was in a prison in Thailand for being duped into transporting drugs, I wondered how that could ever factor into a lighthearted movie. But then, I also wondered how Colin Firth, who's a character in the second book, could be included in the second movie, as Colin Firth is already busy being Mark Darcy.

Silly Beth. This is Hollywood we're talking about! Adaptation, shmadaptation. Cut the Thai prison business down to 10 minutes and set Bridget up to learn a life lesson about what really constitutes a "bad" boyfriend, and as for that Colin Firth conundrum?

Cut it out!

I didn't see the second movie until tonight. I'm glad I waited to see it on DVD, because I would have been tempted to walk out of the theater. The movie relies on all the same gags and good bits of dialogue from the first film, a crass, commercial attempt to cash in on our love affair with Bridget, the modern-day Everywoman.

But Renee does her job dutifully, managing as best she can with the script at hand. Hugh Grant is spectacular, and he and Firth share in yet another "fight" scene that's funnier than Elaine Benes dancing. And hats off to Firth for daring to date a woman who's larger -- GASP! -- than a size 6.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Uh Oh, Something Political ...

My two cents, added to the MoveOn.org petition to be sent to Congress about Terri Schiavo:

The issues surrounding Terri Schiavo's life and death are enormous and raise a multitude of questions, but it simply is NOT the place of Congress to intervene and override the work of the judicial branch, to pass legislation on an individual level. Yes, life is sacred, but in the view of Terri's husband -- her legal guardian -- Terri is no longer living. She is existing. And she may well be able to exist for many more years, but what will be served? In the absence of a living will, we must heed what her husband says are her wishes. Medical experts agree that she has no chance for meaningful recovery. Her parents' anguish is understandable and America sympathizes with the grief of losing a child, but they must think about their daughter, not themselves. Euthanasia is not legal, and so removing a feeding tube seems cruel, but if Terri cannot support her life without artificial means -- and she cannot -- she should be allowed to die, however that death may come. The religious right will say it's not God's will that she die, but she is not being kept alive by God. She was being kept alive by a tube depositing nourishment through her navel. If it is God's wish that she live, without the feeding tube, she'll live. In any event, it is not the place of Congress or George W. Bush to make that decision for her, or to force even more litigation. We must respect the judges' rulings, whether or not we agree with them.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

One Week Anniversary ...

I created my blog one week ago today. I've decided that blogs are a mixed blessing for compulsive people. It's a lovely thing to have control over part of your publishing life. The capability, however, brings with it its own breed of performance anxiety. I don't want to be one of those bloggers who lets down visitors. Nothing like going to a site and seeing that it hasn't been updated in days, weeks, months.

So I think, "I have to come up with things to write about." And then some days, that seems hard. And then I think, "Why? Everything you write about doesn't have to be earth-shaking. You can write about anything, banal though it may be." But who wants to read about banalities? So then I think, "Maybe my life is uninteresting." Yikes.

But no. That can't be it. I have interesting friends, and enough family drama these days to write a new soap opera. But are blogs the place for dirty laundry?

About a year and a half ago, I read Sting's memoir, "Broken Music." It pissed me off, in a jealous way. He's a great writer. He's a great singer. He's a great songwriter. Why does one guy get so much talent? What's that about? But while he was doing press for the book, he said that he thinks everyone should write their autobiography, whether or not it's ever published. He thinks it's a good way to get in touch with who you are. That Sting ... Wise man.

So I made a list of life events as they came to me. Interestingly enough, the first part of the list is exclusively embarrassing moments. Maybe writers don't need therapists. They can just write, and then mine the results for information. I made myself remember of all manner of memories, and before I knew it, had filled four pages with entries, each just a line or two long. Maybe that list will be blog fodder.

Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Twice in Two Days?

Subject: Be advised, US government is giving away 50,000 Green Cards!

LIVE AND WORK IN THE U.S.A
http://www.gc-nine.info?aid=624

Every year, the US Goverment hands out
50,000 Green Cards to non-us citizens all around the world.
A Green Card will allow you and your family to permanently live, work or study in the United States.

Do you wanna know if you can participate?
take our 3 question eligibility quiz and find out now!
http://www.gc-nine.info?aid=624


I think I "wanna" know if my passport is still where I keep it. How the hell did I get on this e-mail list? And why is this e-mail addressed to "colt68@earthlink.net" and still getting to me?

Giving the Gifts of Sites ...

This can be your good deed for the day: Find the Links section of my blog (it's over there, to the right, underneath my profile) and go to The Breast Cancer Site. You'll notice that it's actually a group of "click to give" sites, all bundled together for your conveniece. So while you're there, you can also fight hunger, help children receive healthcare, save the rainforests, aid animals in shelters, and give books to kids.

It only takes a few seconds to click through all of them. You can do this in the time it takes for your Starbucks to cool down enough to drink it. (For those of you without a high-speed connection, you needn't wait for all the graphics to load on each page. The words will show you where to click, and the fields will be hot even if the pictures aren't loaded.)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

This is the Best Bit of Spam ...

... I've ever received (better, even, than the postcard I received a few years back touting long-distance rates in Cyrillic ). Thing is, these days, I don't think I'd want to take these guys up on the offer. (Note the wording of "US Governments" -- it sure *feels* like there's more than one these days, doesn't it?) But if anyone would like to follow the link, be my guest. You can vie for my spot:

Subject: Are you happy with your country?

LIVE AND WORK IN THE U.S.A
http://www.gc-nine.info?aid=624

The US Goverments holds an annual lottery giving out 50,000 Green Cards to non-americans from all around the world. Chances of winning are astounding, one out of 70 wins! If you win you will be able to live and work in the United States forever.

However, applying to the Lottery is not as simple as it sounds...submission of the documents is done solely online, and the registration process is long, complicated and commonly misinterpreted. If you make one mistake - your form gets disqualified!

Let USAGIS professionaly submit your application for you - just sit back, and enjoy the high odds and prospects of living in America.

Check here to apply now!
http://www.gc-nine.info?aid=624

OK, I Might Not Know Much About Sports ...

... but given that we're a nation at war (two years running ...), the deficit is bigger than it's ever been in the history of the country, the Senate just passed a bill that jeopardizes the Alaskan wildlife refuge because there might be a few gallons of oil lyin' around under the surface, the Bush administration doesn't seem to care -- and neither does most of the country, somehow -- that the Government Accounting Office has called the White House's video news releases "propaganda," and an alarming number of Americans can't even get enough to eat every day, why the hell is Congress spending so much time "dealing" with the issue of steroids and baseball?

Steroids are bad. Yeah, I get that. But is this the most pressing issue facing the country?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Georgia Brown's in D.C. ...

Oh, do I have a restaurant for you!

I spent most of the week in D.C., working. The first night, Bill and I had dinner at a very mediocre Italian joint. The ambience was good. The food was not. The best part of the meal was dessert: fresh strawberries and sabayon. The rest of the meal was entirely forgettable. I won’t bore you with the details.

Next night, Thai. Greasy Thai. Who knew Thai could be greasy?

So on night three, I could scarcely face another bad experience on Bad Restaurant Row. Bill and David had been to a place on their earlier trip to D.C. called Georgia Brown’s. So we hopped in a cab and arrived to the news that the wait was 45 minutes. We waited.

I am so glad we did.

I had a Ketel One on the rocks while we waited for our table.

We were seated and Bob appeared. I fell in love with Bob. So cool. Older guy, ponytail. He had a schtick, but it was great schtick. Bob brought warm cornbread sticks and biscuits with whipped peach honey butter for us to nosh while we perused the menu. We decided.

To start, I had the Low Country Louie: Lobster, crab, and shrimp (maybe the occasional bay scallop?) in a Creole mustard remoulade with fresh corn. Served in a martini glass. Outstanding. So fresh, the corn burst when you bit into it. And the mustard was perfectly subtle, not overpowering the seafood.

Main course was roasted chicken with smashed potatoes and bacon green beans (delightfully smoky!) in a mushroom jus. Oh. My. God. Perfection. The chicken was roasted with rosemary, the perfect woodsy, earthy complement to the jus.

With both courses, a glass of red zinfandel. Not the usual choice to pair with seafood and chicken, but one of my favorite wines, so I was happy, if slightly non-traditional.

We were all full, but Bob’s dessert spiel was so good, we had to order something. So we shared a piece of Key lime pie (perfect silken heaven) over our coffee.

One of the best meals I’ve had, ever. You should go to D.C., just for dinner.

Explaining My Other Self ...

On Valentine's Day this year, I sang at my first-ever open-mic night. This is what I wrote when I got home to send to friends.


I wore red today. Determined not to be cynical about Valentine's Day, I wore red, to be hopeful. Not just about love, but about it all. Life, possibility.

I had set aside Monday as a play day, a reward for finishing a lot of work over the past week. I met my friend Chris for coffee, I went to see my friend Dave at his studio, and I had dinner at Jay's before the two of us headed to Davenport's Piano Bar, where Monday is open-mic night. Just to soak up the open-mic vibe. Life-Coach Friend Jeannie had suggested it -- two years ago -- as a step toward getting over my fear of singing in public.

As we were getting dinner together (that'd be dumping Thai food onto plates, instead of eating from the containers), Jay asked what song I'd be singing.

"Oh, I'm not singing tonight," I said. "I'm just going there to get used to the *idea* of singing."

Jay scrunched up his face, as if to say, "Coward."

But I held my ground.

I drove to Davenport's, and boy, it was emp-ty. Just a few of us there. George was at the piano for the evening.

"Come on," Jay urged. "You can sing. There's no one here to hear you!"

But it didn't feel right. If I *was* going to sing, I figured there should be more people in the room. Seemed I wouldn't be getting over much of a fear of singing in public if my only public was Jay and the bartender.

I ordered a Scotch.

Then another.

Then it was two hours later.

I had a songbook in front of me. I was flipping through it. Others were singing. I was not.

One woman, honest to God, sang an aria from "Tosca." Yeah. She's a professional singer. A professional opera singer. Right. Not gonna follow *her.*

Then it was another hour later.

Jay said he was going to get a cab home, but that I should stay and sing.

I was starting to get nervous inside. I *could* not sing, like I planned on. But I knew I'd feel like I let myself down.

Then George announced that he was taking break.

"Ooh," Jay said. "You're saved by him taking a break."

"I was going to sing next," I said.

Jay scrunched up his face, as if to say, "Liar."

"No, really. If you go ask him if he'll do one more song before he takes his break, I'll sing."

"Really?"

"Really."

So Jay walked up to the piano and leaned over to talk to George. George looked at me and said, "Well, come on, darlin'! Let's go! What are you singing?!" (George, you may have guessed, is gay.)

I put the book in front of him. "It's De-Lovely." Cole Porter. I hadn't sung that song in at least a year. But it's up-tempo. (The song I really wanted to do, the song I made George do earlier in the evening to see how he played it, was "All the Way" (I've fallen in love with Iva Davies' rendition of it and can't stop singing it), but I figured, with the nerves I had going on, I'd better steer clear of anything resembling a ballad.)

So I took the mic, George introduced me to the crowd, and let them know that I was performing in public for the first time, and that's when I realized that I picked a song that requires that *I* bring in the piano, not the other way around. George played an intro anyway, and then said, "That was completely useless."

So I sang. And at the end of it, George brought me back for a second time. I sang, essentially, twice.

The crowd was great. Hearty applause. A fellow open-mic-er insisted I come back. "The first time's the hardest, and now that's over!" he said.

He had a point.

And, as I told Dave later on my drive home, " I didn't die. I lived to call and tell you about it."

So, friends, for all of you who know how long I've wanted to do this, and how scared I've been, I did it.

Life is what you make it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Explaining Myself ...

When I was graduating from college -- far too many years ago -- everyone asked, "A degree in English? What are you going to do with that?" So I'd answer them: "Park cars." They were never quite sure if I was serious. Then again, I was never quite sure myself. So I wrote a little ditty about what I do these days. Interestingly enough, this was written nearly three years ago. Since then, I got one of those elusive "job" thingys. And lost it, too. The message is finally starting to sink in.



I don’t have a job. Not a “real” job, anyway. I’m a writer, which nobody seems to understand. I don’t get up in the morning and schlep my way to an office. I don’t stand in line at Starbucks every morning and every afternoon and I don’t commute on a train. I don’t get a nifty little paycheck every other Friday. I don’t surreptitiously surf the Internet while I hope my boss isn’t looking.

I write.

And not because I have some glamorous notion of writing in my head. God knows this is anything but glamorous, sitting here in the same clothes I wore yesterday which are also the same clothes I slept in. I write because I don’t have a choice. I didn’t chose writing. It chose me. Wherever gifts come from – God, the universe, parents – however they get handed out, I was destined to be a writer.

I’ve fought it for years. Ignored all the signs, some subtle, some not, tried to wedge myself into the “working” world. It hasn’t worked. So just about the time when I started to understand that I wasn’t long for a 9-to-5 life but I just couldn’t make myself leave the sense of security, however frustrating, I lost my job. A big karmic kick in the pants. The universe all but yelling at me, “Get out of here. Go. Go do your own thing. You have something to say. You have the talent to say it. What are you still doing here?”

I never did fit in at my jobs. Maybe it was for lack of trying, but I didn’t want to fit in. I was likeable and liked, but I always felt like an observer. It wasn’t the life for me. It was the life of others. I was just a guest.

So I lost my job and for the past year and a half, I’ve been trying to get back to the working world because I miss the security, and because it’s what you’re supposed to do when you lose a job. Go and get another one. But all of the doors to “real” jobs have closed. And I get so close. I’m right there, hand on the doorknob, when I hear the click of the lock from the other side. "Nope, you’re not coming in here," the universe says to me. "Sorry to have gotten your hopes up yet again, but you just aren’t getting the message, are you? You just aren’t understanding that this isn’t where you’re supposed to be. You’re a writer. You’re supposed to be writing. You’re not writing if you’re looking for a job. And by the way, a little dose of self-reliance would suit you very nicely."

So, here I am. Slightly starting to panic about the money. Writing isn’t the most lucrative pursuit at the beginning of the game. Unfortunately, my mortgage company doesn’t seem to care if I’m struggling to follow my dream.

Those following dreams should rent, I guess, not own.

The Pitch Letter ...

Many friends and familly have received my e-mail asking for their 3-Day support. This post is for everyone else. Care to contribute? Click the link to My 3-Day Web Site under Links on this page. And thanks ...


The first time I did a Breast Cancer 3-Day was October 2001, just three weeks after September 11th. It was a balm on my shaken soul. So many people, united in a selfless mission. So much love and compassion. It changed my life.

This year, I'll do it again. I'll walk 60 miles over the course of three days with thousands of other women and men. The net proceeds will support breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment through the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the National Philanthropic Trust Breast Cancer Fund.

I've agreed to raise at least $2,100 in donations. Of course, I want to raise as much as possible. So I need your help. Please visit my 3-Day Web site and designate the amount that's right for you. Please keep in mind how far I'm walking -- and how hard I'll have to train.

According to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, approximately 200,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and nearly 40,000 will die from the disease. That's why I'm walking so far. To do something bold about breast cancer. I hope that you'll share this incredible adventure with me -- by supporting me in my fundraising efforts.

I don't have e-mail addresses for everyone I know, so please feel free to forward this to friends and family if you think they'd be interested in lending their support.

I'll be posting updates here and on my blog, www.bethkujawski.blogspot.com. I invite you to share the journey.

Thank you.

Love,
Beth

Monday, March 14, 2005

Walking Toward A Cure, Part II ...

Well, that's done. My registration is complete for The Breast Cancer 3-Day this coming September. Many of you will have received an e-mail asking for pledges. If you didn't, you can visit here http://www.the3day.org, look for Donate in the left-hand frame, click on Sponsor a Participant, enter my name (Beth Kujawski) and you'll be directed to my 3-Day Web page where you can lend your support. (Or you can just click the link for My 3-Day Web Site under Links on this page, now that I've figured out how to include the link!)
Or, even better, if you'd like to join me (literally, you know, on the road!), post a comment and I'll answer any questions you have about the whole shindig.
Yes, it's grueling. But I promise it will be the most fulfilling grueling thing you ever do. And later on the third day, when you collapse into a bed, you'll sleep better than you've ever slept in your life.

My New Favorite Book In Life ...

For those of you who didn't receive my e-mail, gushing about "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time," let me tell you, too: You must stop what you are doing (just as soon as you finish reading this) and find a copy of this book. Go to the library. Wrench it out of the hands of the person who's about to check it out. Go to the bookstore. Go to Amazon.com. Whatever. Just get a copy. My friend David (one of many friends named David, which is another topic for another time) recommended it to me and I read it in fewer than 24 hours. It's charming and funny and honest and happy and sad. Mark Haddon is the author, and I, as a writer, stand in awe of him.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Walking Toward A Cure ...

Less than a month after September 11th shattered everyone's world, I did a most healing thing. I flew to Atlanta (strange and somewhat scary, being on a plane then) and joined 3,000 other people for the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day. It changed my life. This year, I'm going to do the Chicago walk (sure, you can contribute to my fundraising -- I'm not proud!), but in the spirit of inspiring others to get involved, I wanted to share what I wrote to my friends and family when the walk was through. I started this on the back of an envelope at the United gate at Hartsfield, waiting for my flight home. In person or in spirit, I invite you to walk with me.


Monday, October 8, 2001

Friends and family:

I’m back. The Atlanta Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day is now a memory. I wish that all of you could have been there with me to experience it firsthand, but here’s a recap:

It was amazing. I had no idea what I was in for back in March when I registered for the 3-Day. Well, no. That’s not right. I knew I was in for a lot of walking. I knew I was in for camping. (I am not a camper.) But nothing could prepare me for what I experienced over those four days: so much kindness, so much emotion, so much raw endurance of the human spirit.

I had an early flight out of O’Hare on Thursday morning. My good friend Gemma (and her “good friend” Dave) were my Wednesday-evening hosts. She made dinner for me. And she insisted I sleep in the bedroom instead of on the futon in the living room. She trumped up some excuse about her brother who would be visiting needing a good night’s sleep before the Chicago marathon, and how she needed me to sleep in the room and alert her to any distractions. I protested. She held her ground. I slept in the bedroom.

We were up in the darkness, Gemma and I. The drive to O’Hare is nearly pleasant at that hour, as long as you don’t spill your Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in the car on that damn-bumpy Irving Park Road. Gemma left me at the United terminal curb with a hug and two pieces of advice: “Lots of Kleenex” and “Surrender to the schmaltz.” At the gate, I met Sherri, fellow walker. She noticed my casual clothes and waist pack.

“Three day?” she asked.

We talked until we boarded the plane.

In Atlanta, we met up with her friend Shannon. The three of us met Pat and more walkers at the Marta station in the airport. And then we met more walkers on the platform. I thought about what this must look like from the aerial view, so many people starting from so many cities, slowly congregating and moving toward Atlanta, all of us toting our luggage and sleeping bags, all of us eager and maybe a little apprehensive.

We arrived at Day Zero at Lake Lanier on a big coach bus. We “checked” our luggage (we put it under a tent in a parking lot) and began the registration process. Pallotta TeamWorks, the event organizer, is comprised of logistical geniuses. Everything runs insanely smoothly and everything is thought of. By the time I was done registering, I was wearing four wristbands: green for the shuttles, purple for towel service, pink for walk participation (imprinted, smartly, with my walker number and a 1-800 number to call in an emergency), and neon orange for safety. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can be accomplished during a 3-Day if you’re not wearing the orange safety band. And everyone with the event makes sure you know it. Safety isn’t spoon-fed at a Pallotta event, it’s crammed down your throat. And that makes you feel better. Quells the nerves.

In a huge darkened tent, we watched the “safety” video. It was about safety, but it was also a call to action. One of Pallotta’s slogans is “Humankind. Be both.” (The other is “I’mpossible dreams.”) Pallotta’s theme music is a haunting string composition, a sort-of New Age lullaby. As the first words began to scroll up the screen in that makeshift theater, tears began streaming down my face. There would not be a tear-free day. I had already been crying every day leading up to the race in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. But these were different tears. These were tears of pride, for myself and the hundreds of other people in the tent who had come together in a spirit of love to help others, most of whom we will never meet. I don’t know about the others in the tent with me, but in that moment I offered up a silent prayer that I will never need to avail myself -- or anyone I love -- to the benefits of the research our effort was helping to fund. On the way back to the hotel shuttles (for the last good night’s sleep me and Sherri and Shannon and Pat – and everyone else – would have for a couple nights), I ran into my friend Adam. Adam is one of my best friends from college and one of the best people I know. (I know a lot of “best people.”) Happy screams. Hugs. More tears.

In Friday’s early-morning darkness, we arrived back at Lake Lanier. We left our gear at the gear trucks; we noshed on a bizarre breakfast of Danish, bagels, apples, cold cuts and cheese. We did a group stretch, and then we held hands while a circle of women – breast-cancer survivors – walked slowly through the center of our crowd of nearly 2,800 walkers. The emptiness that was created by the circle of their bodies and clasped hands represented all those thousands of women who have already been lost to breast cancer. Pat, my new friend and tentmate, had armed me early on with a Kleenex. But I was holding hands with strangers. My hands were unavailable. Tears ran down my cheeks. I was unembarrassed.

And then, with the words, “The 2001 Atlanta Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day has officially begun,” we streamed under a huge banner and down a hill, a river of walkers in identical 3-Day T-shirts, walking toward a cure. The P.A. was blaring “Now We Are Free.” If you’ve seen “Gladiator” and stuck around for the end credits, you’ve heard it. It is one of my favorite pieces of music. Kismet.

Friday’s course was about 22 miles. The area surrounding Atlanta, much to our collective walking chagrin, is not flat. But we walked on, stopping occasionally at Pit Stops and Grab & Gos, well-stocked with water, Gatorade (Ugh.), snacks, medics and more Port-A-Potties than I’ve ever seen in my life. All along the way, people cheered. Some sat on the hoods of their cars, some set up chairs and coolers as if ready for a parade, which, in a way, they were. Single-file or in groups of two or three abreast, it takes a long time for 2,800 people to walk past a single point.

Some small kids from a school came to the route to cheer us on and offered their small hands for high-fives. One little girl, missing her front teeth, said with absolute 5-year-old conviction, “You can DO it!” Some of us were beginning to have doubts. She gave us what we needed to go on. Later, at an intersection, we slowed. We weren’t stopped by traffic. In fact, we needed to turn right to continue the route. But it took a little longer to get through that intersection because a small, gray-haired lady (she must be somebody’s grandmother; she’s too cute not to be somebody’s grandmother) was hugging every walker as they approached her. No one declined the gesture. No one went around her. Everyone waited for their hug. And then we walked on. More tears.

The walk had begun at 7:30 a.m. as the rising sun painted the sky, appropriately, pink. We made it into camp about 5 p.m. Eight and a half hours. 22 miles. About a 23-minute mile. Not bad, considering rest stops, stretching and Atlanta’s hills. We got our gear. Our tent had been set up by some unknown angel. Pat and I shoved our gear inside and collapsed. Hard ground never felt so good. But we knew we had to stretch. We had to eat. And boy, did we need to shower!

We had dinner. The cook in me was impressed by Pallotta’s ability to provide pleasantly edible and abundant food to 4,000-some people per meal. Lights out in camp is 9 p.m. I’m surprised anyone can stay awake that late. I was dozing off when Pat returned from the medical tent. She was having trouble with her hip and the physical therapists were trying to tape her to alleviate her pain. We tossed and turned. The hard ground was becoming much less pleasant than it had been when we first arrived in camp.

And then it started raining. Condensation was already building on the walls of our unwaterproofed tent, but now it was raining. Inside the tent, too. We tossed and turned and dozed. We slept a total of two hours or so. In the morning, still dark, we all started our day in soggy tents. I had puddles in my shoes. We struck our tents in a downpour that didn’t let up for a couple hours. The field was nothing but mud. But nothing stops an Avon 3-Day.

I had pretty much blown my left knee on Friday’s hills and uneven terrain. Pat’s hip wasn’t in great shape. We managed four miles on Saturday before admitting that it was best to cut our losses for the day to conserve our ability for Sunday’s final installment. We were swept (picked up and transported) to camp. To assuage my walker guilt, I set up our tent and 12 others. It had been a chilly day for walking, so the crew had handed out Mylar blankets. Saturday night, the mercury dipped to 39 degrees. But it was dry. Cold, but dry. I was surprisingly snuggly covered with my Mylar blanket inside my sleeping bag, even if I did feel like a Reynold’s Wrap recipe. All around us, all night long, as sleepers shifted, we heard the “rustle, rustle, rustle” of the Mylar. We’d wake up long enough to hear giggling throughout the camp. Rustle, rustle, rustle.

Sunday. Cold. But we were rested and determined. Pat and I promised each other that we’d sweep if we had to, but only as an absolute last resort. My knee was killing me. Pat had slowed her pace a bit but she smiled and kept walking. As we approached Piedmont Park and the holding area from which we’d make our final Victory March, the guys of the MotoCrew cheered. All along the route, all three days, the men of the MotoCrew and their cool bikes swept the route, checking for those in trouble, and blocked intersections for us to pass. Think Hell’s Angels crossing guards. They were awesome. They kept us going. And they were there, at the end, cheering us one more time. I stepped through the gate to the park and turned to watch Pat walk through, too. We hugged each other tight. We were both sobbing.

We made our way through the park and people cheered. When we arrived at the holding area, at least 1,000 fellow walkers and crew were there, forming a chute that had to be 500 feet long, cheering and clapping and high-fiving each walker as they made their way through. It was the closest I’ll ever come to feeling like Michael Jordan.

After some lunch and some rest, we assembled for the final leg of our journey, the walk to where our friends and family were waiting. The walkers went first. We were wearing navy-blue shirts. The survivor-walkers followed. They wore pink shirts. There were a lot of pink shirts. The crew lined the last part of the path leading to the celebration area. They cheered us one last time. And we cheered them. Once the navy-blues had had their moment of glory and had taken their place near the stage, the survivors walked in. Every navy-blue walker held one shoe aloft in salute. Tears? Please. A collective downpour. The speakers on stage spoke with their voices cracking, even Dan Pallotta, especially Dan Pallotta, the genius behind it all. It was an awesome event. No one can stand in that space and be unaffected. So many of us were walking because someone we know has had breast cancer. Some have been able to survive it. Others have not. We walked for all of them.

And until a cure is found, we will walk again.

My deepest thanks and all my love to all of you who so generously supported me in this effort. I encourage all of you to experience a Pallotta event. While I’ve been away from the traditional working world, I’ve been trying to decide in which direction I should proceed. I want to help people, so I thought about politics. Trouble is, I detest politics. I vote, don’t get me wrong, and I know that despite the pallor that’s cast over politics much of the time, I could be the person to get in there and change the system. But my heart’s not in it. I wasn’t in Atlanta 4 hours before I decided that I should work for Pallotta TeamWorks. Because the spirit at their events is one of absolute good. People selflessly helping people. As Gemma’s sister and two-time 3-Dayer said, “I want to live in the 3-Day universe.” It is a universe filled with the best humankind has to offer. It is a small, three-day universe, but you emerge from it forever changed. And if everyone could let themselves experience it, at least once, the kindness of humanity would move up a notch, and from there perhaps kindness could become the rule, not the exception. It’s worth a shot. If you’re interested, visit www.pallottateamworks.com. They’re hosting 27 events next year. Take a look.

I hope this finds all of you well. Thanks again. I’ll see you soon. It already applies to all of you, but it bears repeating: Humankind. Be both.

Love,
Beth

One Voice Among Millions ...

Jeff Phillips (www.postnuclearart.com -- brilliant photography, check it out) is the reason I am here. I've batted around the idea of a blog for a couple of years, but never got off my ass (or, as I am sitting at my desk typing this, gotten *on* my ass) to do anything about it. Until this very moment. But I believe that everything happens in its time, so for whatever cosmic reason, today is the day that I lend my voice to the millions of others in this parallel universe.
I can't wait to see what happens.
Here we go ...