New paths, new opportunities

I was thinking about my friend Jen, something that happens a lot. I was sitting on the screened-in porch, which is about as close as you can get to heaven in the summer. I can talk trash to the mosquitoes and they cannot touch me. Otherwise, I would be slaughtered by them, especially this swarm-laden summer.

Jen always wanted to sit there when she came over, and hang out when the breeze was blowing. We never got to do that enough.

But she is still here with me. And I was kind of talking to her, asking her what would she do in my position. Would she take a big risk, add more work to her life, for an opportunity to craft her own path?

I felt her answer. Go for it.

So I am.

I am partnering with Facebook, to be part of their new Bulletin platform for journalists, content creators and influencers. Bulletin is designed to be a space where people like me can do their thing, via newsletter and the platform, and hopefully an audience will come for the ride.

My site, will be a mix of sports, science, life and the things I am thinking about. Open Court means the freedom and space to do things, like in sports and in the law. We’re not going to be hemmed in, we’re going to run.

There are stories I’ve wanted to do, and stuff I’ve wanted to explore. So this is a great opportunity, and I am grateful. Look for around six pieces per month. And other stuff like FB lives, etc. I want to build a community, and share things. This will not be one-way traffic.

Or I will stop the car. Hah. Just joking.

Please sign up for the newsletter. It’s free and I appreciate your support.

I feel Jen’s spirit pushing me to take chances.

Let’s go.

On things to appreciate and ponder

Spring is here. Sports are coming back in many ways – meaning fans and interaction. At least here in the U.S., COVID-19 vaccinations are available. (A huge shoutout to science and the smart people – thank you for developing this vaccine so fast).

I have been regain being more mindful, now that I don’t have classes every day at the MSU School of Journalism. The real real at the end was we were all burned out. The Zoom life was, well, effectively brain-melting for all. Since the prof never has the luxury of turning the camera off and just ghosting through a class (and ZERO negative vibes to the students who did that, I get it, it is OK), I learned how draining it is to always be on. My eyes were dry, my head pounded and my voice was shot on most days after classes. I downed more coffee and power-chomped more Halls than probably is recommended. I was staring more, taking more, and ergonomically tragic too many times over the past 2 1/2 semesters of online online life. Yay!

I am hopefully done with the live Zoom class world, as fall classes look to be in-person and with HUMANS. Yay HUMANS.

I have learned the small things really do matter, because we are all ultimately in charge of our own joy. A few things I have found to lift me up:

  • BTS. Yes, that BTS. If you laughed, it is because you do not know the deal. (To quote Jin – DO YOU KNOW BTS!?!) They are super talented, straight up chaotically funny, and have found a way to make massive bank by breaking out of a sick K-pop system. I recommend starting with their hip-hop tracks, as that is more my jam, and focus on anything from Suga. He is a savage with words. RM too. And then J-Hope finishes you off. Go look for Ddaeng, Bapsae, Ugh, Tear, and any of the Cyphers (hat tip to C3). I guess what I love about BTS is their flexibility. The hip hop, when they are in a well-arranged song, flows normally. It’s not like a “very special verse” added to a pop song. That being said, they can roll without Halsey, Nikki Minaj and others not adding much to BTS tracks. I am not sure how I feel about Army, their longtime fan group. They are a force to be reckoned with, in many good ways, but when they go rogue or turn bad – look out. And remember, if you see passion in their eyes, it’s just the eyeliner (sage savage Suga).
  • Sports. Yeah. That stuff. I love seeing sports back, and I especially love seeing the elevation of women in the conversation. The WNBA, NCAA women’s championships conditions have been in the news – because people know what is going down. The mirage of the NCAA caring about student athletes (and that term alone is worth a masssssive discussion), is a joke. Bless the athletes and coaches who blew that up real time. My real joy is seeing people doing what they do best, like the Master’s, or French Open (Soon! SOON!), We need those parts of normalcy to reclick into our lives. AND YES – TELEVISE WOMEN’S SPORTS.

Grateful. A list.

We all have been reflecting a lot in the past few weeks, as we mark the one year journey of hell through the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s easy and logical to get into the place of remembering everything we have lost. I think of my cousin, a wonderful family friend, a few dear friends from the sportswriting world, some lost directly to COVID, others from the lingering damage, and even from the despair of the dark, closed world. They’re gone. And even the ritual of mourning them, honoring their lives, and physically being with the mourners was denied. As a friend said to me, we will be winding all the things we have held in for a while. A long while.

I get that. I have a lot to unwind, but I want to do it with the duality of also thinking about the things that have been blessings.

My students: they have never failed to surprise me with bringing their hearts and open minds to each class. Our classes went from a blink of an eye into Zoom mode last March, a reality I had not planned. But we adjusted, made a concerted effort to be present for each other, and yes, try to laugh as much as we could. I am sure my BTS-laden pre-class Spotify playlist concerns them greatly (DO NOT DIS MY LOVE OF K-POP hip-hop…Suga, J-Hope and RM can throw down). The students know I am trying to lift their spirits, even with interesting music. We are all in this together, and taking even a minute to have some joy is important. So many of us have heavy hearts from stress and grief, even from having COVID.

Amazing women: I have truly gotten to see the power of women advocating for each other over the past year, as many of us have been thrown into crisis situations we cannot solve alone. The world grew smaller: job losses, pay cuts, schools shuttering, taking care of parents and children at the same time, and having the pressure of taking care of home – with no escape of help. We can long debate the fairness of these things, down to how society values women and provides resources vs. men. A lot of us are very tired. Having a strong group meant the world, professionally and personally, as things could be said without subtext or explanation. My prayer is for us all getting back what we need.

SaY wHaT? It’s still hard to process for me, much less say, that I am going into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame. Yeah, really. They’re letting female sports writers crash these days, which is a good sign. (according to the student to who recommended the BTS jam as my walk-up) I may be the first to come through the door, but I vow I will be far from the last. There are so many that needed to come before me, because of their influence in the 80s/90s. And heck, I’ve still got many chapters left to write in my career, so I intend to use this belief in me as a good kick in the ass to keep going.

We have a ways to go before life comes back to us, but I see the evolution coming. Like spring, some stuff is coming up. I look forward to those days, when I can really start unwinding and be present in the world.

Until then….fighting.

A new calendar never felt so good….

Time for a new year, a new calendar, and hopefully, some peace and joy for all. My calendar at work was still on the March page, a strange sight when I went to go clean my office in December. It felt like time was frozen, and in some ways, it has been.

In other ways, time has gone too fast. Too scary, too sad, too hate-filled.

This past year has taught me a lot of lessons, and I think will make me stronger going forward:

  • When people show you who they are, believe them. Maya Angelou was right. I am done making excuses or rationales for people or organizations that reveal their abhorrent behavior so clearly.
  • See the good people and embrace them. I think we have taken the good ones for granted for too long. The others may be louder or more dramatic in their words and deeds, but what are they really accomplishing. I am looking for the people that say and do good.
  • Fear makes people do irrational things. COVID is scary. The world is scary. I get it. But we need to find ways to keep ourselves grounded and centered in the values that matter.
  • You always have a way to bring change. Even the smallest things, words, deeds, thinking of somebody by sending a link, can bring about change. I saw it in my students on a daily basis. They helped each other, supported each other, and we grew from being together in our Zoom classes. We chose to embrace the good.

It is not naive to think the world may be very different after all we have been through. The dead will not come back. The angry ones need a place to vent and heard. I have chosen to align my energies with being a force for good. I want to amplify the efforts of others, continue to do my passions, and maybe, just maybe, find us in a place where people are smiling and laughing together again.

Time to fire up a new calendar. Let’s go.

Ferris was right

We already know Ferris Bueller was right about a lot of things, way back in the dark ages of the 80s. Life does come at you fast. But I not sure how to slow it down. I mean, a stay at home order for COVID is one way of slowing down. I mean slowing down the washing machine of insanity around us. The swirling news, breaking horror, cruelty and stupid that is flung at us non-stop.

I had one of those – better slow down – moments recently. Like in 48 hours, I realized a good colleague was not going to live much longer thanks to colon cancer; the world would know I am Oakland University’s distinguished alumni of the year; and I may also have cancer.

Take all that in.

I was first sad about Jamie, knowing his wife and kids were soon going to be trapped in the netherworld of being grateful that he is no longer suffering, but angry and sad that he is gone too soon at 48. I have been in that world with Jeni, and the pain of all of those powerful emotions rips you open for a while. I don’t wish it on anybody.

The OU thing is cool, unexpected and I am grateful. I never needed awards tell me I am doing the right things. But having something realize you are working hard is lovely. So thank you.

And me. Yeah. The thoughts running through my head while they biopsied were wild. What do I do if this is cancer? Is this what Jamie, Jeni, my mom, Michelle all felt like before they were told they had cancer? Michelle and my mom are still here. Jamie and Jeni are not. And no, do NOT believe the lie when they say it shouldn’t hurt. I call massive bullshit. It hurt, it sucked and you do it because you need to know. You go into your head and pretend you don’t feel what you feel.

Jamie dies. And I wait. I found out 5 days later that I don’t have cancer, and I am relieved. I’m grateful that I have access to healthcare that lets me know that. But I am also pissed that health care can’t save people like Jamie, who want to live and need to be here.

We all need to take better care of each other. More respect. Less cruelty. It’s just so obvious. So that will be my mantra for the rest of the year. Care. Be there. Love.

Try it. And don’t make life come at your so fast.

What day is it?

It’s a swirly, weird world right now. Days run into each other, making Thursday feel like Tuesday. The excitement of seeing old friends on Zoom has worn off, because for most of us, our “happy hour” marks the seventh Zoom meeting of the day. Kids are watching too much YouTube, cats and dogs are getting too many treats, and the adults are getting too many cocktails.

Welcome to Quarantine Life.

I made a big shift today, doing my final grades and bidding farewell to my Michigan State seniors. It’s bittersweet, because I was excited to celebrate their graduation. I also will miss seeing them in class – either in person or online – because our time was a ton of fun.

But where do we go from here? I don’t know. A few students have asked if we are going to continue the online class mode in the fall. The generation we have labeled as living online too much is ready to get off the screens and back into human contact.

And I hear them. I want to see them too.

I know we won’t be able to be packed in, shoulder to shoulder, in class anymore. I know our hunching over a laptop together to review a video probably isn’t safe either.

Distilled down, we miss genuine human contact. No more screens. Our friends, our coworkers, our anonymous colleagues in yoga. Our pets want their couches and secret sleeping places back.

I don’t know the way forward. I just hold on to hope that it is the future – soon.

Happy 2020…I think

This is the part of the year where the new year is real. I am adjusted to writing 2020 on things, it doesn’t look weird anymore, and it just is that we’ve left 2019 behind. I spent the last four months of 2019 in a very reflective and open mood. It felt clear to me that I need to read, listen and take in the world; avoid contributing to the noise.

Queen Sophia remains unbothered. As long as there are treats.

I ran a few changes to see where it would take me. 1) I dramatically lowered my Facebook intake and output. Once per week. No app on phone. I am beyond conflicted about the platform – I see the good, I know it has helped people, brought groups together, and even brought political change. However, the damage is real. I was getting more upset every day seeing the totally inaccurate posts put up by friends – and especially parents of friends. This blind, “if it is on Facebook it must be real”, mentality.

I had two friends, which I have known and liked since grade school, post memes about “Make the world better today – take out a reporter” with a photo of a gun. When I chimed in, asking …”do you really want me dead?” The response – “oh, not you, we meant the other liberal, trash, CNN media”. Not wanting me dead, but still wishing serious harm on the rest of my profession, does not make me feel better. Another former colleague sent me a message saying they think women were never good at sportswriting and that I am a token who took a job from a man.

Less Facebook made me happier. Less Facebook made me not want to be part of the anger. So, in 2020, Facebook is going to be on the back-burner. I am better for it. I will post what I need to for work and my career, but personally, I am pretty done.

2) I read a lot of books to help me process the 1,000 emotions I have about Jen’s passing. It is possible to be sad, angry, happy, frustrated, proud and heart-broken at the same time. It still doesn’t feel like Jen is dead. It feels like she is back in the hospital, and I just can’t see her in isolation. I talk to her every day. I think of the weirdest things, telling myself I have to let her know. Well, she knows. 🙂

3) I am going to be writing more this year. I have some ideas I want to launch, and I feel ready to be an educated carrier of info. Why the book reading binge helped so much.

I am looking forward to 2020. I am happy to cover the Laureus Awards in Berlin; happy to be speaking again for the Jacobs Foundation; and excited for my students to have the Study Abroad adventure that will change their lives.

I want to bring joy and passion into the world. There is already enough anger. Not going to play that game.

Happy fall!

I consider spring and fall the most magical seasons. They are the changing into something new, making the transformation the show. Spring makes me more excited, because I have the joy of seeing all of my flowers come back. Fall is the beginning of the end, but still cool, because the leaves are incredible.

Summer is the jam for me, because the warmth lets me stay outside. I am the person who has no issue with a 90 degree day matched by 90 degree humidity. Others are bitching about their hair. Yeah, so my hair turns into Mick Hucknall or Sammy Hagar, so what? I am warm, and that counts for everything

Winter is the devil – you know what you are going to get in Michigan. For me, that’s freezing, cursing being cold, and hating the thought of snow. I am just not a winter person. Never have been. And I used to ski, and still have my ice skates. But you will not compel me to get bundled up and freeze at the same time any more.

So enjoy the fall. And I promise only to mildly curse what is coming.

Good stuff!

Have some fun things coming up that I am excited about:

  • Sunday, June 8, Detroit: The Shady Ladies Literary Society‘s June Chemistry Club, at the Detroit City FC training house. It is going to be an informal yet informed chat about concussions, youth sports and how we can best protect our kids – plus cocktails! Copies of Back in the Game will be available. For event tickets…click here.
  • I am really honored to be named as a Fulbright Specialist, by the U.S. Department of State. What does this mean? Hopefully soon, I will be heading off to somewhere in the world to share my passion and knowledge for journalism, sports, the important role of women in media. It is a big responsibility to represent a free press, and I am super thrilled to be selected to challenge myself like this.
  • mid-July, Chicago: I will be the keynote speaker at the Big Ten-Ivy League TBI Conference, which has done so much over the years to advance the discussion and research in sports concussions and brain injury. I will also be doing some media training, in the important area of how researchers/clinicians and sports media can best work together. We often don’t speak the same language.

The meaning of life

I look at the last time I have posted here – August 2018. That lines up perfectly with another timeline – Jeni’s cancer battle. I have been quite occupied the past year, with work, life, and yes, watching my friend struggle to live.

It’s the new reality, as of Thursday, May 9, 2019. Jenifer Pettibone is gone, at age 48, from acute myloid leukemia, then the chemo, then the stem cell transplant, then the graft v. host disease, then the infection, then the lymphoma spots in her brain, then the chemo, then the graft v. host disease, then the pneumonia.

So why does any of this matter? Why does one woman’s suffering and death mean anything on a planet of a lot of people going through stuff?

It just matters to me because she was my dear friend. We’ve known each other since first grade, then really reconnected when I moved closer to her for a new job 5 years ago.

The person I want to remember is funny, stubborn as hell, had terrible taste in wine (the sweeter the better – please), loved her three children, loved to rescue doggies and get them to great homes, worked way too hard, and had the best laugh. Her hair was perfectly blond-red, she defined athletisure wear as a way of life before the media did, and helped so many kids find safety as a child welfare attorney.

So I have been gone from posting, spending time with her. I tried to write a 100 times about this, but just couldn’t. Putting it in words would make it even more real. Beyond what I saw.

This unexpected terrible journey will always have a cinematic start for me: I was in bed, in Rome, in my rental apartment for a study abroad trip for students I was leading. My room was lit up by moonlight. I heard crickets chirping. And Jeni called me on Facetime audio.

She was oddly reserved, almost quiet to the point of me not hearing her well. But I heard every one of the words I wanted to go away: They think I have cancer. Leukemia, something called AML.

Shit. I googled it. Shit Shit. AML is not good. We can do a lot with leukemia these days, esp. childhood onset, but AML is still on the naughty list. Low long-term survival rate. Like zero.

Jeni knew I would look everything up and tell her this. That is what she wanted. Her journalist friend, who dabbles in medical and legal things, would research the hell out of the web to figure this out. We would make a plan, and then execute it like cold-blooded lawyers. I would find the loophole and she would drive through it.

After all, we joked that I was her neurologist over the past 4 years, as she went through so many of these almost-paralyzing migraine headaches. I had taken her to the ER more times than I want to remember, as I feared she was actually having a stroke. I was able to diagnose her better than the overworked ER nurses could.

And now here we were, progressing from the damned migraines and straight on to a deadly cancer. Great. Can we save this for when we get old?

I came home from Italy, and she went into the hospital for in-patient chemo. Like carpet-bombing chemo. Napalm. Serin. Assad-worthy-against-the-law chemo. She was so sick, as the poison made her turn from the outside-looking healthy to now her shriveling outside matching her cancer-filled inside.

I went nearly every day to see her. She wanted red pop. She wanted Towne Club pop. She wanted her mail. She needed her kids. She needed somebody to sit with her and tell her silly things, serious things, or just be there to yell for help when nobody came even when we asked 5 times over more than 45 minutes ago.

Oh the kids. The invisible ink cri de coeur, writ big, was the kids – we all lived their suffering spirits every day for the past 11 months. The kids. Those awesome foster kids she adopted and loved to pieces. The kids. The kids. The kids. The kids now living with friends, neighbors, sometimes family while mommy fought to get better.

She had to live. For them. So bring on the poison, the puking, the hell. It was all to live. For them. She was going to beat this because she was needed in this world.

The summer of chemo turned into the fall of waiting. She went home from the hospital for a little bit, then went back in to prep for her stem cell transplant. She had a match, which was amazing. A match from Germany no less!

I joked that her donor was a German woman, which automatically had to be awesome. She then would be totally stubborn for a good reason. She joked she would be more German like me, which may be scary! If she developed a craving for Deutsche Küche stuff from Aldi’s, then we would know the stem cells really kicked in. Ja wohl.

More chemo. More isolation. More total fear of one rogue germ making her sick. Masks and gloves and gowns for all of us to see her. When we were daring, we lowered the mask to kiss or touch her. She had no immune system, no hair, no color in her skin anymore. She was turning into the sick person who lived in the hospital, every day a step away from her vibrant self. But she had hope, because the stem cells were the Obi Wan that would surely slay the evil Sith Lord AML.

Thanksgiving came and we were all thankful for the procedure. It was a success. She should get better now. Slowly.

Except I never really saw her recover at all. She went home for December, so weak. Her bed was her prison and safe space. I would come over, and we would lay in bed to talk. We kept waiting for the day when it would all kick in, turn around as promised. That day was always tomorrow. Hope was always the code word. We had to hope and believe.

New Year’s Eve is my line where the roller coaster started the hard downhill turn. Jeni went back to the hospital, and it never got better. Infections, graft v. host, then the lymphoma diagnosis, and the rest.

Did you know that if you get a transplant of some sort, you are more likely to get lymphoma? That is utterly cruel and insane – we fix one thing (yay) and then it opens the door for you to get something even more incurable.

They never really knew for sure if Jeni had lymphoma, as I put a hard veto vote on the creepy neuro-oncologist who wanted to open her skull and do five biopsies. He was nearly overcome with giddiness at the thought of that. I wanted to slap him. Jeni did too – and just said no thanks. He went away.

We had our brief moments of hope, little shards that would end up cutting all of our hearts as they slipped away too fast. She went to rehab in March, with the goal of building her up to go home and resume life. She was back on chemo, this time for her brain.

But she was determined to get stronger, for the kids, so she amazingly walked like a champ all over the PT center. There were a few times when it was a perfect spring day, and I loaded her up in her wheelchair, threw on her kelly green St. Patrick’s day hat, and we went for a long walk around the building. We loved every minute, because it was normal. She was outside and free.

But then the slide started again, faster and faster, until it was obvious there was no more sliding to do. We were at the bottom.

The last time we talked was April 28. She was in the hospital, and was hoping to start making a plan to go home in like a month. Looking back, that was crazy. She could not even get to the bathroom without help, much less think about going home to be a mom to three active kids so soon. But there we were, making the plans. I wrote down all the things she wanted done to the house to make it more friendly for her. She wanted the kids to have Boy Scout camp, princess parties and summer school. These things were going to happen. Because everything happens in tomorrowland.

We ordered her new glasses, a funky blue pair that she said she never had the courage to try before. We were going to go there. We paid her bills. We even had a surreal discussion about where she wanted to take the kids (with my help per her order) on vacation to Northern Michigan. Mind you, she was not allowed to be in the sun without being covered up. She had to be careful of public places and germs. She had to be close to medical services in case she needed them. She needed someplace that would be disability accessible for her walking scooter.

Maybe camping. Maybe the Sand Dunes. Maybe Traverse City. Maybe Mackinac Island. Maybe a waterpark.

I told her we will see what looks best. She was so happy, there was a plan. Then I kissed her bald head, which had some funky little alien tufts of white and brown hair growing, and said I love you. She said the same. We always did that, as we learned last summer that this all could be over fast. No words left unsaid.

And that would be the last time we talked in person. We shared some texts on April 29, before she had a biopsy. She was put in ICU the next day. I cancelled the online order for her glasses two days later, because I felt she wasn’t going to need them anymore.

She was gone a week later. I saw her one last time in ICU, on that Monday, a visit so nightmarishly terrible that I cannot write about it. I have decided to forget about it and focus on April 26.

I can’t honestly tell you what I have “learned” from this. There is no greater meaning, yet, from watching a strong, vital woman get destroyed piece by piece by medical intervention.

They gave her six weeks to live without treatment. She lived 11 months with treatment.

Jeni wanted to live. And she fought like hell to live. That’s probably all I can say I know for sure right now.

So yeah, I have been away from my blog. But I think you can give me a pass.