Saturday, December 7, 2013

Inhaling the sweet scent of a perfect Thanksgiving weekend

I have to write this now. I have to write before the scent of the last few days fades away, and I find myself sniffing the air, or my sleeve, or my pillow, hoping for an olfactory remnant I might have overlooked, one that will bring Thanksgiving weekend back all over again.

You know how some days are filled with moments you want to tie together with twine and put into a drawer with your favorite t-shirts and softest socks? They don't come around all that often, and truth to tell, what makes them special isn't anything you'd find in a movie or a book, or something anyone other than you would care to watch or to read.

They tend to occur quickly as a finger snap; occasionally lingering as long as a few castanet clicks, maybe once in awhile even stretching to the length of the last lyric of a favorite song. You know that very second they're happening, and you smile, and you feel like honey was poured into your very soul. You vow you'll remember and then, by the time you get home or the sun drops below the horizon, you've forgotten.

But I determined when the first bit of goodness tickled my nose that I would remember. It must have been Thanksgiving morning, as my son Charlie and I jogged together from our perfect parking place to the starting line of the Turkey Trot -- which, this year, was blissfully next to a corral for the timed runners. 

I remember how happy Charlie and I were watching my nephew/his cousin Paul cross the 8-mile finish line, and walking to our car with him, his sister Julie and her boyfriend Tyler. I freeze-frame moments at dinner, as well as the game we played and how much we laughed.
Saturday morning, my run merited a gold star -- which I knew before I'd even reached the corner because it felt so good. I didn't even realize till I checked my watch 6.2 miles later that I'd never run that distance so fast. But what keeps touching my memory is gazing at the blue, blue sky and being almost-stop awestruck by the storybook V-formation of geese -- whose honking as they headed south jostled me from my running trance.

Just now, a day or so later, I find myself taking a deep breath, wanting to recount on the exhale even more moments from a weekend that Charlie and I each marveled at during those days -- more than a few times, and completely out of context.

Instead, I'll tug at a roll of twine, snipping off one piece, two pieces, a dozen. I'll wrap each one around a moment, a smell, a piece of sky, a drop of honey. I'll scoop the pile into my arms, shifting a little; freeing my fingers enough to open a drawer. As I lift my wrists, the little bouquets will fall inside. 

I'll close the drawer and, just for a second, my eyes. I'll inhale deeply, holding onto my breath, onto the scent. Then I'll open my eyes as I empty my lungs, fill my soul, and allow myself to linger. Just -- but really never quite -- long enough.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Komen and going

There are many reasons to run Komen Dallas Race for the Cure. Some are obvious and huge; namely, the ever-growing number of women with breast cancer. The race, with its 20,000 runners and walkers, plus who-knows-how-many police officers, volunteers and spectators, raises awareness and money to fight this awful disease.

The numbers make you shake your head with disbelief and horror. The Komen represents that staggering, hard-to-wrap-your-head-around number of people whose lives have been touched, whose stomachs punched, whose psyches left reeling, by this disease.

But it also reminds us that each number is a person -- someone honored or memorialized by pink rectangles on the backs of runners and walkers, or t-shirts emblazoned with photos of loved ones who fought the good fight, but who ultimately succumbed.

As my son Charlie and I fast-walked to the Race for the Cure starting line on October 19,  we drew near a man wearing a yellow long-sleeved t-shirt. On the back were words that said something like "Here in memory of my wife," and the likeness of a smiling and beautiful woman. A few feet ahead was a young man with a similar shirt and the words "Here in memory of my mom."

I looked over at the husband and told him how sorry I was for his loss, and that he was doing such a good thing by being here. Clumsy, yes, but I wanted to say something to acknowledge the sorrow that must be so all-pervasive.

Charlie and I got closer to the starting line, and he tugged on my arm to stop walking so we could sing the national anthem. The gun sounded; Charlie and I started off together, and he quickly took off. For the first five minutes or so, I could see him up ahead, his fluorescent half-zip jacket and matching ear band weaving through the spreading-out crowd. I lost him in the dapple of leaves, and focused more on my own breathing and pace.

When I crossed the finish line, I looked around for Charlie and was surprised to see him almost immediately. He was talking to a young man who somehow looked familiar (but who, as it turned out, Charlie had never met until 10 minutes earlier).

I introduced myself. He had a beautiful smile as he motioned to Charlie and said, "Man, he kept me going."

Charlie said, "We kept each other going."

He explained that during the third mile, he felt himself slowing down a bit. Then he saw someone in his right-side periphery who a moment earlier had been on his left. The person -- who turned out to be this young man -- said, "C'mon. You can do it."

They stayed pretty much together. At one point, the young man said he felt like he was going to throw up. Charlie said, "No, you've got this. C'mon."

They crossed the finish line together and started talking. That's when I came up. I asked what had brought him here. Turns out I should have asked "who." He turned around to show me the pink rectangle on which he'd written "Running for Granny Moss" in black felt-tip pen.

"My grandmother's a two-year survivor," he said.

"That's great," I said. "How's she doing now?"

"Good," he said, "but I lost my granddad."

I said I was sorry and asked when. Last summer, he told me, and I told him that my dad and Charlie's grandfather had died in 2012. He expressed his condolences.

"What did your grandmother say about you running today?" I asked.

"She doesn't know," he said. "I just decided to do this. I'd never run a race before. I'm going to go see her and bring her a bunch of stuff."

He turned again to Charlie. "Man, you are ripped," he said. "I bet you don't smoke or dip or do drugs or drink carbonated drinks, do you?"

"No," Charlie said, equally amused, embarrassed and flattered. "I haven't had a soda in four years. You look like you work out, too."

"Oh, I do construction," he said. "This was really rough though."

He told us he hadn't eaten before the race. I said he really should eat a couple of bananas or something. I also noticed the cotton race shirt he was wearing. Cotton -- as any resident fitness nag, former running-store employee or frequent runner will tell you -- absorbs moisture, which can be mighty uncomfortable. Therefore she'll tell you (as I told him), the fabric isn't the best for working out.

"Oh thanks," he said. "I didn't know that."

As we talked and our heart rates slowed down, the northerly breeze became obvious again. I was getting chilly and then noticed the cotton t-shirt our new friend was wearing seemed stuck to his body. He was starting to shiver.

Charlie and I had carried our own race shirts as we ran, mistakenly taking them with us to the registration table, where we picked up timing chips. When I saw how cold our new friend looked, I handed him shirt.

"Here," I said. "You need it more than I do."

He was pretty muscular, and said he might bust right out of it.

"Take mine," said Charlie. "It's bigger."

"Wow, man," he said, pulling his own sweaty shirt over his head and putting on Charlie's dry one. "Thank you."

I told him how much we enjoyed meeting him. We reached out our hands to shake, but instead hugged each other. Charlie held out his hand, and Monty (oops; I let his name slip) engulfed Charlie (who's a hugger anyway) in a big bear hug.

Monty walked away smiling and just looked so darn happy. Charlie and I stood there for a moment; for a second, I thought I was going to cry. I think Charlie was taken aback emotionally, too.

"That was worth every minute of sleep we missed, all the traffic, the cold -- everything," I said.

"It was," he said. He slipped his arm through mine and we walked -- first to try to find my friend Laura, and then back to the car. All that day, which turned out to be really busy, periodically one of us would mention Monty.

"I wonder, did he just wake up and decide he wanted to do this?" I asked, totally out of context of anything we were doing or talking about. But Charlie knew exactly what I meant, offering his own wondering a few hours later.

"Do you think he went right to his grandmother's house? I wonder what she said," he asked.

We'll probably never know; our questions were, in all likelihood, rhetorical. What we do know, though, is that Monty and his grandmother put faces on huge and almost unfathomable numbers of those touched by breast cancer. That complete strangers can find commonality in shared steps and requited support.

And that this caring person and loving grandson unknowingly gave a mom and her son yet another connection, yet another something sacred and shared.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Crossing the finish line

My son and I don't often -- as in we never -- run together.  We had great plans to run the half portion of the White Rock Marathon (as it was called back then) his senior year of high school. But Charlie did something to his knee while playing volleyball, and while the details elude me, I do recall that not wearing knee pads was a significant factor.

His physical therapist was pretty specific about the race, saying (or perhaps he shouted) NO RUNNING.

Charlie's knee healed, but then track season started and thus, the two of us running together was out. He graduated; summer came. Any race we would have trained for would have taken place while he was in college.

Last fall, his freshman year at Hendrix College, we did run the 5K over Parents' Weekend (a.k.a. the Campus Kitty). It was tremendously fun, but we didn't stay together. One of us had youth, long legs, and inherent ability on his side. We met up after it was over and recounted our respective miles and a good time was had by both.

When Parents' Weekend rolled around again, we of course signed up for the race again. As part of his shake-your-head-at-all-he-does training, he's been running on the (gasp) treadmill (for which I've forgiven him) -- a pretty steady 3.1 miles at a pace (surprise) faster than mine.

I assumed that on race day, we'd start out together and, in an echo of last year, he'd be waiting for me at the finish line. But when we began talking about the upcoming weekend, what he said surprised me.

"Mom," he said. "I have an idea. Let's run together, and when we cross the finish line, we can hold hands and raise our arms like the marathoners do."

"That's great with me, but are you sure?" I answered, secretly tickled beyond words. "You're so much faster than I am."

"Of course I'm sure," he said. "It'll be fun."

And it was. First of all, the race was much better organized than last year. We had NUMBERS! Plus there were water stops and someone on a bike showing runners the route. But mostly, it was great because we were running together.

At a point or two, Charlie talked while we scurried through campus. "Look," he said, pointing to a building as we crossed some railroad tracks. "That's the language house" (where he'll live his junior year and speak only German). I tried to answer, but could barely get out two words: "Can'"

We passed some fellow runners, grabbed cups of water, reveled in the relatively cool weather and in the orange and rising sun. I'd lent Charlie one of my Garmin Forerunner 10 watches, and we'd compare paces as we ran and the time each mile took us.

Way too soon, we saw tables set up and people gathered at what could be nothing but the finish line.

"Mom!" he said, jostling me out of the zone I tend to get into when I run. He reached for my hand with his own and, as planned, we held them far above our heads.

Then, because he is his mother's son, when we looked at our watches and realized the course was a bit short and that we'd only gone 2.9 miles instead of the 3.1 that make up a 5K, he said, "Let's go!"

We ran a couple more blocks, walked back and picked up our allotted share of apples and bananas and energy bars.

We couldn't talk about our race right then because we had to change clothes and go to a meet-the-professors breakfast.
Throughout the rest of the day and the evening, though, we did. We reveled in the beauty of the morning and of the campus and, most truly and especially, what we had accomplished together.

The rest of the weekend was fun, too. Charlie got a haircut from a white-haired barber who looked him right in the eye while doing a questionable Elvis impersonation. We had great meals. Charlie painted his face and chest school colors -- black and orange -- and cheered at the top of his lungs for the girls' volleyball team.

I remember all those when I look back on those precious 36 hours. But when I put my shoes on in the morning to run, or when I let thoughts that aren't particularly positive block out my blessings, or most especially when I look at a calendar and all but see the pages blowing movie-like away, I remember those 24:37 minutes on a beautiful fall day in Arkansas. A day my son and I held our hands high above our heads and, together, crossed the finish line. Just like the marathoners do.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Circling back & dancing (however clumsily) forward

My father died on July 23, 2012. It was a Monday, and for awhile thereafter, we tapped out time's rhythm by that day: One week since Daddy died. Two weeks. Five. Eight. 

As the multiples of seven slipped through our fingers and into the fog surrounding us, we began measuring by a certain day of the month: September 23. December 23. January 23. May 23.

We have watched the calendar pages blow away like they would in an old black-and-white movie, marking off the milestones that make up our lives without him: his birthday and each of ours; every full moon, every season, every holiday (Father's Day was especially hard). 

And now, somehow, it's been a year since Dad died, which could as easily be two days or three weeks or 10 years or 20. I don't want my father to be dead at all, and I certainly don't want him to have been dead for a year. 

So what happens the day after a year has passed? When I see a man pull a white handkerchief out of his pocket, will it take me a second more to remember that Daddy used to always carry one? Will I smell chili and not immediately think of the pots of it (and the mess) he'd make while we in Colorado? Do I forget the words to "The Creation of Sam McGee," a major player in his poetry repertoire?

Maybe I just become a veteran, a longstanding member of that club none of us wants to join, the one made up of shell-shocked children whose parents' deaths have made them inextricably adults.

His death made me feel vulnerable, but also invincible. So to be honest, I think part of me believes that once the calendar page flips over, we'll no longer be under the comforting quilt that wraps around our shoulders and protects us from anything bad. 

I can forget to wear sunscreen and I won't get sunburned. I can eat as much peanut butter as I want and not gain weight. Storm clouds may gather while I'm running, but I know they won't release their torrents until I'm home safely.

I lost my father, I alternately whisper or scream from under the cloth; isn't that enough?

This popped into my head last week, when I was desperate because I didn't know where my son was. Charlie said he was going to Tom Thumb to get a can of tuna, and then (because I wasn't in the mood to cook) pick up dinner at a nearby restaurant. He'd skipped the part telling me that he'd do those things after volleyball, which I'd forgotten that he plays on Thursday nights. I only knew he'd been gone more than an hour, and that the grocery store is five minutes away.

Before he called, I paced the sidewalk, willing the comfort quilt not to slip as I looked up at the stars and thought, "No no no no no. My dad died and that's more than plenty."

My father taught me how to ride a bike and how to drive a car, how to take a refrigerator of seemingly disparate leftovers and turn them into a culinary work of art. He taught me to love coconut, and that crying is OK, and that being tone deaf should not stop anyone from belting out Christmas carols.

He taught me to be kind, to cherish my brothers and sisters, to pick up dropped items with my toes. (He tried to teach me to dance, and to believe more completely in myself, and that airplane turbulence is nothing to fear, but those continue to be works in progress).

He didn't teach me how not to miss him. And as awful as parts of this year have been, as many paper towels and shoulders I've soaked with my tears, I'm realizing -- in miniscule doses -- maybe that isn't knowledge I'd want imparted. I will always miss him. And for that gift, I am eternally grateful.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Climbing higher

We are here in Colorado -- my sister Susan and her family, our mom, my son Charlie, his friend Lee, and I. Charlie and Lee have known each other since first grade, when the G and H of their surnames first soldered their bond in an alphabetically seated classroom. The link has been tight at times, and looser at others, but they've kept their friendship solid for 13 years now -- even after Lee began attending a different school in tenth grade, and despite their college choices being 800 miles apart. 

Lee was last with us up here -- six? seven? -- summers ago, and another week in July a year or two earlier. Back then, the tops of his and Charlie's heads barely reached my shoulders. The boys lollygagged through hikes, preferring to play on the boulders outside the cabin where my parents always stayed.

This summer, we'd no sooner arrived than they were talking about doing a major hike. Less than 36 hours later, we started out on a build-up six-miler called Twin Owls. But at just about the one-mile mark (which meant Charlie and Lee were about twice that far), we heard thunder. So I, the self-designated hike master (admittedly relieved because I could see the boys beginning to clamber up rocks) opted for a scamper down the path we had worked fairly hard to ascend. 

By the time we reached the trail head, of course, the thunder was barely a faraway echo, and the sky crystal clear. But in the interest of time (my niece Julie needed to leave for the airport to pick up her boyfriend), instead of attempting Twin Owls again, we hiked to Gem Lake -- a steep, shorter, and too-familiar hike not far away.

That almost-four mile jaunt was just fine for me. The boys, though, weren't satisfied. The perceived taste of the top whetted their appetites for -- if not the Twin Owls apex -- that of a tougher, longer, steeper, above-the-treeline actuality. 

That's simple to understand, really. It's like anything you come close to grasping -- then catch yourself at the cusp of letting yourself think you already have. The love you've waited for all your life, maybe. Or a perfect pesto, or that driest of martinis. If you're a surfer, maybe you can all but feel that wave of serenity under you, the one that holds you aloft while the ocean roils below.

Until -- if ever -- you truly taste on your tongue whatever you are reaching for, until you feel it on your fingertips, until you see it even when you close your eyes, it absorbs you and holds you rapt.

Charlie and Lee decided to sate their craving by climbing a mountain called Flattop. I've done that hike with each of my sisters and also with a cousin years ago, and can vouch for its breathtaking vistas, its oxygen-deprived air. 

Neither of the boys slept well the night before the hike. Lee told me in the morning that he'd woken up at 2 a.m. and decided he might as well get up and make his peanut-butter sandwiches. (He also packed a baguette and a box of Twinkie knock-offs, but that's another story).

He and Charlie reached the summit -- 4.4 miles from the trail head -- in two hours and 30 minutes. Even before they glanced over their shoulders and saw that last vestige of trees, the boys said they had a hard time moving their legs because the oxygen was so thin. But what they saw -- and you know it must have been astoundingly beautiful for 19-year-olds to say this kind of thing -- made every gasped-for breath worthwhile.

Before beginning this hike, they had decided that they -- along with the three other classmates who had spent time in Colorado with us through the years -- would climb Longs Peak together the summer before their senior year of college. At 14,259 feet, Longs is the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park. Its name evokes reverence; those who have climbed it, awe. 

After ascending Flattop, the idea of Longs became more than words strung together, more a possibility than a lark, more an adult aspiration than a daydream shared between childhood friends. 

The route up Longs is 6.2 miles farther than Flattop. Getting there takes 12 hours at the very least, so hikers are strongly encouraged to begin around 2 a.m. to ensure they're off the summit when afternoon thunderstorms begin. Flattop was way above the tree line, but Longs would bring them 2,000 feet closer to the sky.

Although Longs, quite honestly, holds no great appeal for wimpy me, I understand its allure; I appreciate its invisible but very real bridge that connects childhood to adulthood. Which is why, ever since they shared this with me, I'm crossing my fingers, picking pennies off the sidewalk, scanning the sky at dusk for that very first star.

My wish is a bit tangential, a sidestep off the trail leading up Longs or down Flattop. I want Charlie and Lee to remember being on top of a mountain the summer they were both 19 -- within touching distance of a thousand clouds, at the starting point of a dream. To hold close what they told each other up there where the air was almost too thin to talk, and what they promised themselves. 

And in days or months or years to come, when life is crazy and Longs seems so very far away, I hope they can bring back the feeling of being on a mountaintop with a friend whose connection goes far beyond alphabetical. Of remembering what it feels like to be standing tall, high in the sky, believing with all your heart that anything is possible.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

When Mom slashes her shin, we siblings start texting

I could show you the picture my sister Susan shot of our mother's shin wound, and Mom would helpfully and happily point out where the doctor lifted the skin to show Mom the bone hiding in plain sight underneath.

The wound-causing accident occurred as Mom headed for the shower Saturday morning. She apparently brushed against the tile-and-wooden sign on a bookshelf and it fell off, hitting her poor little shin. (The sign, in a note of irony, said "Home Sweet Home." And I'm a bit mortified to realize, I gave it to her.)

Mom called Susan, calming saying, "We need to go somewhere," and Susan rushed over. I'll spare details of the crime -- I mean accident -- scene. Suffice to say there was a lot of the red stuff involved, and it wasn't pretty.

Susan drove our very calm mother to the emergency-care clinic nearby, and then the text messages between her, our sister Jeanne, brother Ben, and me began.

The first came after Susan took this picture of Mom. You can see how she's looking intently at what the technician is doing.

Susan: "Always smiling. Home Sweet Home sign fell on Mom's leg."

Ben: "Oh, no! Stitches?"

Susan: "No stitches. Open wound. Doc hasn't come in yet."

Me: "What does that mean, open wound? Don't they want to close it?"

Jeanne: "My head is between my knees. It's just as well I'm not there. I'd be the daughter in the next examining room with oxygen."

Me: "Haha and I'd be fighting you for the spigot."

Susan then sent us all the picture of the shin wound, which I will spare you (and me).

Susan: "Enjoy."

Me: "I'm going to put in stitches if no one else will. And then I'm going to throw up."

Susan: "Hahahaha. Maybe 'open wound' is the wrong term. Skin tear?"

Jeanne: "Hmm. Maybe worse."

Ben: "Looks like more of a scrape to me."

Me: "Artery rip?"

Susan: "Doctor said deep gash, some clots. Ugh. I want to go home."

Me: "Why did the doctor have to say CLOTS? I'm down for the count."

Susan: "It doesn't help that she takes a baby aspirin."

Ben: "Has Mom gotten the doctor's life story yet?"

Me: "He's coming over for Thanksgiving. And I'm going to purge the baby aspirin I just ate."

Susan: "Poor Mom. It hurts. She has no questions for the doctors, just kind comments."

Me: "Chuckles (my son Charlie) said, 'If we could incorporate Oma's personality to everyone in the world, there would be world peace.' "

Susan: "Tell Chuckles to button it. You can't imagine how deep the cut is. Scary."

There's a few more back and forth texts -- some silly, some not, including (for instance) TV doctors and neighborhood doctors, none of whom we've seen in decades, but all of whom 'each of us remembered with much amusement.

Susan: "Two docs are in there now. Mom's amazing. She's watching the whole thing. They can't sew it. The skin is 'ripping.' "

And then, "It's OK. Stitched. Just the top of the wound isn't holding together. She has to keep it elevated and iced."

You can see how the texts start out with one medical theory -- a scrape that can't be stitched -- and how that changes. Mostly though, what struck me as we were typing, and what strikes me now reading them again, is the comfort and camaraderie and amusement that comes with being a sibling in a tight-knit family. And yes, how very lucky I am. 

Not long after Susan's last text, Jeanne sent this photo to all of us.

It's Mom at the birthday party for Jeanne's grandson (Mom's great-grandson) Eli V.

She didn't stay there long -- just enough to have some cake and kiss the birthday boy. Oh yes, and to enthusiastically recount how the doctor lifted the skin on her shin, and she could see the bone at the base of the gash. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Ghouling it

My son and his best friend ran a Zombie Race today. 

For the uninitiated, that's one of those crazy who-would-want-to-do-one-of-those? activities involving mud, obstacles, water, more mud and, oh yes, people dressed like zombies who chase you around trying to steal your three flags (i.e. red strips of fabric) and thus, render you dead. 

Did I mention there's mud?

Charlie spent Friday, the night before the race, with Luke. They woke at the crack of dawn and Lynne (Luke's mom and my dear friend) drove them and Laura, Luke's girlfriend, to the race site in Forney. 

A day or so earlier, Charlie had offhandedly asked if I wanted to go watch them run. I hemmed a bit and hawed a little more. Probably not, I finally said. Saturdays are my mornings to run and -- especially if I haven't been during the week, which this week I hadn't -- to go to yoga class.

"Oh, that's fine," he said. 

Friday around 6 though, I began reconsidering. True, maybe the glass of beer I had with a friend opened my spirits a bit and figured into my change of heart. Mostly though, skipping the chance to share this event with my son -- who was almost giddy at the idea of doing it -- gnawed at me.

In a day or a month or a year, I asked myself, which would I remember? Surprising Charlie by showing up, and then getting to watch him race? Or going to a yoga class that yes, though beloved, would probably blend with all the other yoga classes? (Unless, of course, this would be the one where I actually did go crashing to the ground instead of merely anticipating I would).

The answer was embarrassingly obvious.

Charlie and Luke signed up for the 8:30 wave (race lingo for a group that starts off together). When I saw them talking to Lynne and to Laura, I called Charlie's name. He turned, looked surprised and oh so happy to see me. He gave me his big smile, and hugged me hard. 

 He and Luke trotted off to the starting line. We took our places by the last mud pit and waited, amusing (and ooking out) ourselves by watching people crawl on their bellies like slime-encrusted reptiles through gnat-encircled muck. 

We finally saw Charlie and Luke a field away, running toward us.
They reached the mud, flopped down on all fours without hesitation, and made a valiant slosh through the final obstacle -- yeah, smiling even. Then they climbed a tower, slid down into a rather filthy water trough, were chased by a few more zombies, and got their well-earned medals. 

They didn't shower right away, instead recounting their journey and making plans for the next. Heck, Lynne and I got so caught up in the moment, we even started talking about doing one of these. 

We all stuck around for awhile, not wanting to leave this oasis of mirth and music. A giant screen showed a video of the Village People singing YMCA, so what choice did we have but to join in?

All this happened hours ago. I came home, swam some laps, relived the race some more with Charlie, ate too many pita chips, called my best friend, and haven't done much of anything else. 

But the precious few hours from this morning follow me like a happy shadow. Long after Charlie's washed that last bit of mud from his ear, they'll echo in my heart, as all good decisions should.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grasping for air

When my father died, I stopped worrying, and began not taking myself quite so seriously. I started getting out more and sweating the small stuff less. 

I turned off negative comments from people who don't really matter, and instead focused on the positive (or at least constructively critical) ones of those who do.

Or such has been my aspiration. On some days, during certain moments, amid various circumstances, I feel I'm grasping it. But on others -- half? three-fourths? a third of the time? -- I end up holding a handful of air...and holding onto it for dear life.