Big Birthday Memory #10: Grey’s Anatomy, Bruce Springsteen, Memory and Me

Fade Away Mountain Lake

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from April 23, 2007.

Research shows that I’m hardly alone in this, but I have a deep and abiding fear of disappearing into the fog that is Alzheimer’s disease.  I’m approaching my 61st birthday, which, these days, is young.  Horrible to contemplate, but NOT old.  Actually even for the last generation it’s not much – my dad lived to be 78 and my mom 80.  So even in WWII generation terms, I’d have a good crack at at least 20 more years.  And when I think about dying I really worry more about the sadness of those I love than anything else.  No one wants her life to be over, but unlike many of my friends, including those far younger, I’m not terrified.

Alzheimer’s is different though.  If you read the statistics, the odds are pretty scary for all of us.  Today the New York Times reports (actually I think a little late – if you don’t have Times Select try this story on amNewYork) on a new awareness program by the Alzheimer’s Association.  Here’s the video(short.)  That’s good.

It even includes Kate Burton, Meridith Grey’s mother (Grey’s Anatomy for those of you not (Grey’s Anatomy for those of you not addicted already.)  Her character, in a series of almost unbearable episodes, suffered from Alzheimer’s.  There is so much written about this disease and the risk to our nation’s future, one person at a time, but if the documents are to be believed research is far behind potential.

As usual it’s a question of money.  And I know I should care about that.  I guess I do.  But what’s tougher for me is to face, almost daily, the small memory losses and forgetful moments of aging and not fear that they are all connected to the disease.  People my age even joke about it – calling it “old timer’s” disease or “senior moments” but all it is is awful.  To lose a word, see know the star of a classic film and not be able to retrieve the name, work a crossword puzzle (recommended to maintain brain “muscles” and besides I love them) and KNOW the missing word somewhere in your brain – but no place where you can get to it…. it’s all terrifying.

Think about it.  Spouses who’ve shared years of generating memories suddenly seeing you lose yours; knowing daily that your access to those moments is disappearing.  Children who’ve struggled to build strong and independent lives burdened with the emotional obligations created by a wasting disease in a parent.  Friends self-conscious and uneasy on visits they know they should make – if they even have the strength to make them.  Can you imagine anything worse – except the painful, protracted ending that cancer often brings?

As I write this, random thoughts wander through my mind.  Most dominant are lyrics from a Bruce Springsteen (of course) song.

I don’t wanna fade away, Oh I don’t wanna fade away, Tell me what can I do what can I say, Cause darlin’ I don’t wanna fade away.

Yeah it’s about the end of a love affair but it’s playing in my head as a kind of Alzheimer’s anthem so you have to listen too.

The other things are really corny but right now I think I need to be corny.  This one is part of what we read at the beginning of our wedding almost 36 years ago:  In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.  It’s from William Saroyan’s play The Time of Your Life.

The other is from Our Town.  And I know it’s old fashioned and sentimental.  But as I look this terror in the eye, I know it’s what I have to do to keep it at bay.

Emily: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?–every, every minute?
Stage Manager: No. Saints and poets, maybe–they do some.

I guess the answer to all this is to aim for the saints and the angels.  Nothing is going to prevent the future from happening; not faith, not love, not Hogwart’s magic, not even the miraculous gift of children.  So each day I need to be as present as I can.  Whatever happens it’s a blow against the unknown and a prayer of gratitude for the privilege of being present and aware.

The Engineer at Anthropologie Who Taught Me Plenty


This is Julia. She’s a stylist at Anthropologie, the wonderful, whimsical store frequented mostly by younger women, although lucky are the older among us who show up for bargains and get so much more.

I was there today, my husband safely on the boyfriend couch as I poked around,  found a ton of stuff and made my way to the fitting room.  Among the crowd and line of shoppers waiting their turn was this woman, headset on, jaunty scarf around her neck.  I must have looked as overwhelmed by my choices as I felt because she just plain took charge.  Showed me why my sleeves couldn’t be full length, which things should be tucked in and which should be left out.  My favorite lesson:  “Don’t hide your hips.  They’re good.”  Miraculous advice for someone who, for at least a decade, wore size 14 jeans. (Not anymore….)  I so wish I’d met her years ago; she taught me how to make  simple choices that looked great in ways I would loved to have mastered long ago.

Julia herself was fabulous.  Her mother was stylist for Lucille Ball, beloved star of  the long-running 50’s sitcom I Love Lucy.  Avoiding her shadow, Julia became an engineer, rising high in the executive suites of Hughes Electronics.  When she retired, she surrendered to the natural gifts and love of style that she had indeed inherited from her mom and went to work as a stylist herself.  “I’m having a blast.” she told me.

This, one of my last NABLOPOMO posts, is a thank you note to her for the fun I had and the things I learned through her generous guidance.  I have some great new stuff, too.


Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Cancer, Courage and Rage

Cancer has taken so many people I’ve loved and admired. This new interview with two hugely admired and much-loved celebrities reminded me of how deeply it affects us all .  We know, in our heads, that the presence of beauty, courage, fame and an amazing marriage and family can’t keep the monster at bay.  Neither can being the most respected broadcast journalist of the past 30 years; Tom Brokaw had cancer too.  So did my husband, by the way.  Thankfully, they are still with us.  But it’s a roll of the dice, not fame or fortune, or even education, that’s made it so.

So why are we not all enraged?  Why do we refuse to keep this plague at (or at least near) the top of our agenda?  We face so much right now: attacks on women, racial tension, income inequality, climate change, declining education systems and infrastructure – fill in your own particular blank.  But no matter how we feel about any of these issues, we all grieve for those we’ve lost to cancer; we all long for their presence in our lives and know that it is just a lack of knowledge that took them from us.

No family is untouched; the lucky ones face it among older members but so many lose loved ones — family and friends, well before they’ve seen their children grow up, or get married or find their way in the world and before they’ve exhausted the gifts that brought so much to all of us.  I’ve been thinking about them a great deal recently, and have felt, for some time, a need to honor them once again here.  Many died before there was an Internet but I’ve added links where I could.

We were young journalists together:

Margot Adler

Mary Halleron

Mark Harrington

Joan Shorenstein

Teachers, mentors, friends:

Ed Bradley

Ed Hornick

Eden Lipson

Maggie Morton

Susan Neibur 

The Dearest:

Laurie Becklund

Bob Squier




My Friend Laurie: the Post I Never Wanted to Write

X Cindy and Laurie 2

“Inside you someplace” laughed my friend Laurie, “lives a 16-year-old boy!”  We were talking about cyber fiction; I was trying to explain my attraction to this geeky, otherworldly material to the only person who would really understand what I was talking about.

I’ve known her since the early 80s, when I produced her appearance on TODAY; she had come to discuss her masterful LA Times Salvadoran death squads series. Our friendship deepened in the years I lived in LA, her long-time home.  We were both major Web freaks.  After all,  both of our minds bounced around like the facts on the Web (often to the confusion of those with whom we were speaking.) We were struggling to, between us, get enough information to understand how this astounding Internet worked.  Laurie found The Electronic Cafe, an arts space in Santa Monica that hosted speakers ranging from the EP of The Legend of Zelda to the founder of Earthlink.  We were on our way. It was thrilling.

We never stopped talking when we were together – circling around topics, bouncing to other ones then back to the first — or third.  We never got lost and were always intoxicated by the messy exchange that was our conversation, sometimes joined by her husband Henry Weinstein and their daughter Elizabeth.

They were, Laurie called it, “a triad.”  From the beginning Elizabeth was an active partner in their lives; the “adult” events, the travel, the baseball, the cooking and, lucky for all of us, the time spent with parental pals.  The three of them were a beautiful thing.

When she decided high school journalists needed more resources, she founded, from sheer determination (i.e. with hardly any money) Associated Student Press, to help high school reporters learn the rules, skills and sheer joy of journalism.   I worked with her on a couple of their events, including a high school journalism convention, and it was so great; the kids loved it.   We did too.  I knew the depth of her affinity for teenagers because she had become a real friend and mentor, quite independent of us,  to our younger son.  It was a friendship he treasures to this day.  She and Henry came to his wedding.

Laurie Becklund died on February 8th of metastatic breast cancer.  She used every reporting skill she’d ever learned to locate experts, treatment and allies and I believe extended her life through her fierce determination.  In the past year, she applied that determination to advocacy for people with advanced disease and the need for “big data” tools to aggregate and parse new information and the effect of new treatments to help find trends and flaws in treatments, drugs and drug trials.  She also challenged researchers, in talks and in person  “We have the cells to help your research.  Use us.”  She called her campaign Use Us or Lose Us.

(I’m telling you about her post-newspaper years.  You can read about Laurie as an award-winning journalist here in this LATimes profile and other stories that will, I’m sure, keep coming.)

On the day she finally told me that her cancer had returned, Laurie sat in my car as we drove out of the driveway and said “Don’t put the sun visor down. I don’t want to waste any chances to look at the trees.” As I struggle to write this post, I think of that afternoon and her hunger for everything from a beautiful view to a cool new technology to visit to a new country to a personal story gleaned from a conversation.  She was full of courage and curiosity and loyalty; she was a gifted mother and wife and friend; she was — Laurie.

We are about to leave for Los Angeles for her memorial service.  I have been so haunted and sad; it’s very hard to write this.  I’m hoping to find some — some something — as we join what I know will be a crowd of people who Laurie, Henry and Elizabeth so generously included in their lives.  When I told one friend how sad I was, she wrote “I wish you comfort in your memories.”  Yes.

The traditional Jewish version is “May her memory be a blessing.”  That it certainly is.

The War on Science? Anti-Vaxxers Trump the Right

Vaccine chart lat
We’ve all been ranting about “The Republican War on Science: anti-climate change, anti-evolution, anti-God-knows-what-else: all those conservatives refusing to see what’s in front of them.

Well, my friend Erin Kotecki Vest, whose immune system is seriously compromised, posted on Facebook yesterday from a pharmacy where she’d gone to pick up a prescription.  Next to her was a man who had brought with him his son, who has whooping cough!  That’s kind of the equivalent of waving a gun at her.

Whooping cough (Pertussis) can usually be prevented through a DPT injection; although this kid’s vaccination status is unclear, the more people who  refuse to vaccinate their kids, the less safe the rest of us are.  This is not an observation, it’s an epidemiological fact.

Meanwhile, measles is haunting California, from Disneyland to affluent Marin County and other Northern California communities*.  And the folks fighting the science?  We have met the enemy and they are us:  Whole Food progressives who refuse to accept hard evidence that the “vaccines cause autism” research was a fraud.

Imagine how scary this is for those of us in California (which always leads the way for the rest of the country by the way, so don’t write this off as California crazy.) I have three grandsons under four; two of them are under 6 months old. They can’t have MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) immunizations under 12 months. So here we are: Daycare at the gym? Children’s concerts? Family restaurant dinners?  Story time at the library?  Would you go?

What I want to know is, if it’s wrong to deny the theory of man-made climate change and wrong to deny the theory of evolution – both of which have been repeatedly found to be true by researchers, why is OK to risk the lives of entire communities of kids when the decades of research have proven these vaccines to be safe and reliable?  What’s the difference?  And which side’s “war on science” is doing the most damage to us and our families — and threatening our children and grandchildren —  right now, today?

*The  chart above is from the Council on Foreign Relations via the LATimes.

Ada Lovelace, Al Gore, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Google and Where They Took Us All

handshake ccflickr smYou know what?  Not only did Al Gore never say that he invented the Internet, but he was one of its best advocates and understood the importance of the slew of people who really did.  They’re part of a surprisingly exciting and remarkable story told by Walter Isaacson in The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.   It’s a fast-paced tour through the evolution of modern technology, from the prophetic work of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (aka Lord Byron’s daughter) through the first computers, programming, the unsung (big surprise) but enormous contribution made by women technologists, transistors, microchips, video games, the Internet and the Web, as well as personal computees to access it.  The story is pretty amazing and yes, inspiring.

The people behind these developments, and the process that carried them, provide a rich narrative and a couple of surprising through-lines.  First, about patents and Nobel prizes: the men (and women) who brought us from The Difference Engine to the microchip to the Internet of Everything were not hoarders.  Although many of them received patents and made money from their work, rather than withholding developments, most shared them, even precise details.  They collaborated to build upon the genius of the ones before.  Secondly, much of their work, basic development and science as well as more sophisticated details, was funded by governments; a lot of the American work was funded under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  He saw American science leadership as a national security issue, and, as we consider what emerged from that federal funding, it’s hard to argue.

There are dozens of anecdotes as well as illuminating biographical profiles in The Innovators, including Alan Turing, currently played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the highly anticipated film The Imitation Game (Isaacson interviews the cast below).   Each story is a worthy candidate for inclusion here.  Better though, that like these heroic creators of what became our present and future, you read the book and discover them for yourself.





Whole Foods, Whole Paycheck, Whole Antivax, Holy Cow!

whole foods idealist. . . Whole Foods’ clientele are all about mindfulness and compassion… until they get to the parking lot. Then it’s war. As I pull up this morning, I see a pregnant lady on the crosswalk holding a baby and groceries. This driver swerves around her and honks. As he speeds off I catch his bumper sticker, which says ‘NAMASTE’. Poor lady didn’t even hear him approaching because he was driving a Prius. He crept up on her like a panther.    on The Huffington Post

You know it’s true.  I’ve asked many Whole Foods workers about the rude entitlement of so many of their customers and they roll their eyes and nod.  Now there are efforts to organize these workers, against major C-Suite opposition, and it won’t be pretty.

 It’s all starting to piss me off.  Between the company, its image and its customers, it’s easy to get angry.  I’m a Sixties product with all the baggage that that implies, including the right to organize, and basic kindness and respect from one person to another, but at my most granola I didn’t question the responsibility of public health, of immunization, first for me and later for my kids, and wasn’t predictable enough to produce this:

I talked to a public health official and asked him what’s the best way to anticipate where there might be higher than normal rates of vaccine noncompliance, and he said take a map and put a pin wherever there’s a Whole Foods. I sort of laughed, and he said, “No, really, I’m not joking.” It’s those communities with the Prius driving, composting, organic food-eating people.  Science journalist and MIT professor Seth Mnookin in a 2011 interview

So here I am, cranky and irritated after an emergency trip to one of the many Whole Foods in the Bay Area, astonished at the alleged vaccine/Whole Foods connection and up to my ears in fair trade, cruelty free, organic, shade-grown, beautifully displayed, hugely costly foods, vegetable prices determined partly by the cost of workers piling and re-piling them in perfect order (not that it’s not pretty, it just seems so….)

These are cruel and dangerous times.  We have substantial issues to confront.  We should be healthy and well-fed when we face down these crises but how did we get to a place where it is also a virtue to be smug and self-satisfied about being able to do that?

I will be a proud Progressive with my last breath, but please try to get those rude, cart-pushy, deli-line crashing, parking place stealing people to behave a little more socially conscious about the people in their immediate environment (um, your store),  oh Whole Foods, so the harmony you sell (see image at the top of this post) in your ads can emerge inside your stores, too.

Do We Americans Still Have It? Do We Care? #MicroblogMonday

Apocalypse-road-sign-resizedI’ve spent most of my life thinking about disasters and potential apocalypses and injustice and misery: I’m a journalist, or at least I was, so I don’t get discouraged easily.  So far the world, or at least our country, has always seemed to right itself in the nick of time.  I seriously wonder if we can still do it though.  We all know why:

A bitterly divided country


Institutional injustice

The terrifying assault on women’s rights and well-being, here and elsewhere

The decline of our public schools

Climate change

The rise of fundamentalism

The coarsening of our culture

The cost of a college education




Anti-Vaxx-ers (seriously)

Add your own here____________________

Beneath those individual issues lies the biggest threat: what appears to be the larger change in our values.  As I watched The Roosevelts and, strangely enough, re-watched The King’s Speech, I wondered (not for the first time) where those sorts of world leaders (FDR, a president with political skills, toughness, vision and an understanding both of where the country was and where he needed to take it, Teddy Roosevelt who took on income inequality through trust busting and began what became the environmental movement (and yes he also started a couple of wars… or a reluctant King George IV, who not only held Britain together and committed under horrible circumstances but also led by example) are today, whether they could be elected or heeded —  whether they would even be willing to try.  Even more, I wondered if our country would accept them; whether we are still capable of selflessness or a sense of duty or a thoughtful response to a call to sacrifice.  I hope so.




The Normal Heart – a Kick in the Gut

HugOf course there’s no such thing as time travel.  Of course not.

The Normal Heart though, for anyone who was in New York in the 80’s, comes about as close as you can get.  We watched it after the Emmys.  I had avoided it, knowing how troubling it would no doubt be, but it felt wrong to not look.  Too many people had done that 30 years ago.  Here’s how one New Yorker described, to the New York Times,  Manhattan in May of 1987:

‘Going to funerals has become a way of life,” said George Getzel, a Hunter College social work professor who counsels AIDS patients as a volunteer. ”People in their 70’s and 80’s experience this but here people in their 20’s and 30’s are visiting the sick at homes and in hospitals and burying the dead. Some are themselves sick. It’s become a regularized aspect of the lives of gay men and others like myself who are involved.

The Normal Heart slammed me back to those days:

The day, when I worked at the TODAY SHOW, that my friend Susan Weaver did one of the first AIDS stories that included a live guest in the studio.  There was fear in the air that morning.  A couple of studio crew members asked to be replaced and people debated in advance whether to shake hands with the young man who had the courage to show up and talk about what was happening to him, to New York and, we know now, to all of us.

The day that Allison Gertz, who succumbed to AIDS in 1992 at the age of 26 (and who spoke at many high schools to very effectively remind teenagers that for her, AIDS came from a single encounter with an infected man and that heterosexual sex was anything but safe) spoke, with enormous impact, at my own son’s high school.

The day that our sweet friend Stephen left us.

The day one of my oldest friends told me that of his entire book group, he was the only survivor.

The day Elizabeth Glaser,  wife of actor Paul Michael Glaser, stricken through a blood transfusion during the birth of her daughter Ariel, who also contracted the disease, showed up at a Georgetown party lobbying and fundraising simultaneously.  Ariel’s illness drove Glaser to form the Pediatric Aids Foundation, later renamed the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation in her honor.  She was everywhere, from Georgetown to Hollywood to endless television appearances, raising money and awareness until she died in 1994.

The day we watched Mark Harmon, the loveable, mischievous Dr. Caswell, walk away alone from the brilliant St. Elsewhere, his own AIDS diagnosis and certain death drawing him to an AIDS hospice to provide care until he died among his patients.

For everything here came days and weeks worth, years worth of deep melancholy and, for so many, pain, death and grief.    Because New Yorkers live so close together, ride mass transit, hang out in public parks, buy food from hotdog carts on the corner and, even if they’re really really rich, can’t stay clear of strangers, we all knew it, felt it and feared it.

Of course, AIDS is still with us, a terrible epidemic in the developing world, and still present in the West.  Here the reality is different today, if not entirely.

So yes, The Normal Heart was time travel; the gift of a perfect document reminding us, and portraying for those who came after, of a terrible, terrible time.


Days of Future Past

NOTE: From my archives: Today: January 2, 2006


Some radical thoughts about the future from people who actually might know what they're talking about:  I have always been fascinated by the smart, smart people who live from the center to the edge of the cyberthinker world.  Because I was present in LA for much of the early conference/thinker gatherings when they weren't so exclusive and you could get a press pass if you knew your way around reporter vocabulary, I met many of them — often humbling but exhilarating experiences.

Over the years one of their most resourceful thinkers, John Brockman, has built a foundation called The Edge, where thinkers gather to "ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."  The annual question founder Brockman has asked this community of thinkers (albeit more than 6 times more men than women) is "What Are Your Optimistic About?  Why?"  It's worth a look.  Some of those I know the most about, and respect, whose ideas might intrigue, include Whole Earth Catalogue publisher Stuart Brand, Microsoft pioneers Linda Stone andNathan Myhrvold , Jaron Lanier, the man who named "virtual reality, Howard Gardner, the Harvard professor who has had such an impact on how we see learning differences and help the kids who have them, and one of the earliest Web thinkers, Esther Dyson.

Take a look; you might actually find a route to some optimism yourself!  I was surprised by how much "good news" these people deliver.  If we can just get some political leadership to follow up on it we'll be better able to leverage these possibilities but either way, it's nice to get some good news once in a while.  Happy New Year.