It’s freezing cold on New Year’s Day morning and I’m standing on the beach in Atlantic City wearing nothing but a bathing suit. At age 53 , I feel completely exposed and embarrassed. All I want to do is pull my clothes on and run. I seriously consider it but I look around and know there’s no turning back. I’m surrounded.
First, there’s a group of about thirty people in swimsuits, mostly guys, some in speedos, telling me the best way to take the plunge into the ocean. Secondly, my 22 year old daughter is fully expecting me to follow through on this and she’s taking pictures. Third, there’s a news crew from the station that I work at and a fellow reporter here to document my first act of insanity of the year. Or perhaps it’s the most sane thing I’ve done in many years.
Two weeks earlier I was whining. I was whining about my life and my work. I just felt stuck. Part of me felt ashamed for complaining. I tried to remind myself I should be thankful just to be alive. My medical history is too long to fit in those forms you fill out at the doctor’s office, but here’s the short version. I was 33 when my entire large intestine was removed because of ulcerative colitis. The intestinal bowel disease runs in my family. Fortunately doctors were able to put me back together with an experimental surgery at the time. I returned to my life and my work but at age 35 I was smacked down again with an aggressive breast cancer. But hey, nineteen years after chemo and a mastectomy you wouldn’t know it. I look like the picture of health.
There’ve been other medical issues: a kidney cancer, ovarian tumors, other small bits and pieces removed over the years. Let’s just say I don’t have many spare parts left. I don’t tell you this so you can feel sorry for me, only so you can understand why I’m thinking I have no right in the world to be whining about anything. Nevertheless, I’m whining about everything.
Now, it could be when you survive all that, you expect a lot more. I suppose anyone who faces potential demise at a fairly early age reacts differently. All I know is that in January 2010 I wasn’t happy. I felt stuck. I’d been a tv news reporter for over 30 years. Despite all my crazy health issues I was able to raise a beautiful daughter, have the love and support of my husband of 28 years, traveled much of the world for work and pleasure, landed a National Emmy for investigative reporting and was living a healthy life. Again, you might ask, “what the heck are you complaining about?”
Perhaps the issue was I’d been content and happy for a good decade. I loved my job, my life. Then the business of tv news changed dramatically, almost overnight. There were cutbacks, layoffs, job convergences. My job was safe but the investigative unit I worked in had resources taken away. There would be no more travel, no more full time photographer, no full time researcher. It wasn’t what my managers wanted to do, it was just what had to be done. Every department took hits. I came home angry every night and didn’t like hearing “We’re going to have to do things differently”.
Meanwhile, technology was changing all around me and I really didn’t care to learn it. I didn’t facebook. I didn’t tweet. I didn’t blog. I didn’t want to. If I didn’t know how to do something online I had a college intern do it for me. I also sternly scolded my interns for texting me. “Why can’t you pick up the phone?” I asked them. They just looked at me with that twentysomething smirk I’d seen on my daughter’s face that clearly read “What’s wrong with HER???”
In December, my daughter came home to Philadelphia from Los Angeles where she’d graduated college and was now working. She looked at me one day and said “You really have to start a blog”.
“A blog? Blog, shmog. What am I going to do with a blog?”
“Mom, you need some outlet to write, to be creative and it would be good for you to learn how to do this.”
Something akin to “Bah humbug” came out of me.