Diagnosis: Kitty Cancer

10420424_326186204243005_738054507636583290_nSeven weeks ago today, we arrived in California to pursue my boyfriend’s career in the film industry. We buckled our cats, Sinja and Sunny, in the back seat of my car, and with the help of my bestie, we drove the 2,024 miles from Nashville to Los Angeles.

Over the course of the drive, the kitties were in good spirits. They also took really well to California life, even though neither of them ever lived anywhere but Tennessee. The drier air seemed to clear up Sinja’s allergies. Sunny, who used to be startled easily, really came out of her shell.

Then, this past Monday, something seemed to change. Sinja was more lethargic. I know sleeping a lot is a regular part of a cat’s life, but he barely left our bed. Even stranger, his meow changed. What once was the cat equivalent to an almost grating, old man meow, became a high-pitched squeak— as if he’d lost his voice. A morning or two later, he wasn’t even interested in his breakfast, so we knew something was wrong. I’ve had Sinja since he was 10 weeks old, and he has always eaten like a dog; he eats so much so quickly, he throws up. So, we made an appointment with a nearby vet who was highly rated on Yelp.

We hoped it would be something simple, like a cold or virus. Before we left Tennessee, we did our parental diligence and made check-up appointments to ensure the fur babies were in good health before making our multi-day trek across the desert. We were told Sinja was a little on the thin side, but it was simply a symptom of age— that like elderly humans, cats, too, begin to loose muscle mass in their formative years. The vet in Tennessee said even though he is 14.5 (as of this month), we shouldn’t be concerned unless he continued to loose weight even though he was eating regularly.


Thursday morning, I brought Sinja into the L.A. vet’s office. The nurse and I chatted about where I was from, because she swears she’s seen me before, but I told her I’m new to town. We made small talk while I filled out paperwork, and when she asked if I was from Tennessee, I told her I was an Army brat (she later helped us out with a military discount as a gesture to help us right now). Then, Sinja and I waited in Room 2 when the vet, who looked like a blend between Kylo Ren and Josh Groban came into the room. He talked to Sinja, took his temperature, and felt his stomach while I rambled about his symptoms.

Almost immediately, he said he felt tumor in Sinja’s stomach, but they’d have to take an x-ray to confirm it. He exited the room and was replaced with a nurse who talked to me about the prices of x-rays and exams, and I was told I’d have to wait in the lobby while a tech came to take my fur baby into another room.

By the time I was in the lobby, I was told it would take about 15 minutes. It was all I could do to keep it together. Couples came and went with their dogs. Post-Sarah Chalke episodes of Roseanne played from the Netflix queue in the lobby, but I only remember it was about Becky’s relationship with the Irish, Half-Brachen demon guy from Angel. I thought, “Netflix in the waiting room. What a good, money-saving idea.” But after that, I kept thinking it was the longest 15 minutes of my life and willed myself not to cry, even though I kept tearing up. (I hate crying in front of people, and that goes doubly for strangers. Even my best friend of six years has only seen me cry two or three times.)


After, I was brought back and left alone in a room where Sinja’s x-ray was displayed on a large light box. It was a side-view. I could see the way his veins branched out like a tree, the arc of his ribs, the heart of the animal I loved. Call it mother’s intuition, because I can’t read an x-ray, but I knew something was wrong. All the air left the room, and I felt like the smallest, most helpless person in the world.

When the veterinarian came back, he confirmed Sinja had a tumor. There’s no real way to identify the type, but he said the prognosis wasn’t good. I immediately burst into an ugly, Claire Danes cry, and he had to tell me where the tissues were. He was gentle but direct— they don’t recommend surgery or radiation for a cat his age.

He said, “What you should do now is take him home, and if I gets to a point where he won’t eat for a few days—”

“He’s letting me know it’s time,” I said.

He added his stance on prolonging a cat’s life at that stage being cruel— something we’d already discussed and agreed upon as cat parents. In the meantime, the vet suggested we try cortisone shots for Sinja. It can potentially break up the tumor and increase appetite, so we’re trying it. In three weeks, we’ll follow up and see how he is doing. If it goes well, we can do more rounds of cortisone. So far, it seems to be perking him up.


I’m heartbroken. Living 2,000+ miles away from my family and best friend, who all love Sinja as much as I do, makes it even harder. It’s easy to feel like a bad mom, or wonder if something would be different if our Tennessee vet were more adroit. However, I’m trying to stay positive for our little man. I’m trying to keep things as normal as possible and treasure every second I have with him.

And in the car, on the way home, I told him, “Your Poppa had cancer when he was an old man, too, and he beat it. You’re strong. You can beat this.”

Dear Sad Writer (Who Ain’t Got No Job)

A few years back, my friend and former student, shared an article with me about self-publishing. The article was a piece from The New York Times about 25-year-old Amanda Hocking, who’s earned about $2 million self-publishing and landed a contract for about the same amount with St. Martin’s Press.

I want to sell books, but I honestly don’t want to know these writers’ “secrets” most of the time. A lot of these stories make me sick. Disgusted. So much so that my insular cortex hurts. However, I am tired of success stories about people who had time to write because they went through a shitty break-up or didn’t have a job. (How you can’t have a job, I don’t know. Maybe they’re like Pip and have a Great Expectations-level benefactor.)

I find the brooding, self-loathing, body-mangling artist tiring and hackneyed. When you’re not two seconds from gift-wrapping your earlobe to a hooker, people say stupid things such as, “Oh. So you’re a functioning writer.” So sorry to disappoint, but not all of us can just drive to East Nashville and get day-drunk. We have spouses and mortgages and choose not to submit to the stereotype about writers that’s as old as (insert cliche here, like a joke about old men + insecure girls = subverting their daddy issues).

The proof”s in The New York Times pudding, as Strawberry Saroyan (and let’s not even get into the naming your children after fruit thing) wrote,”. . . Hocking described what was, for someone who becomes a writer, a not-unfamiliar childhood. ‘I was seriously depressed for most of my life,’ she said. She channeled her feelings into fan fiction.”

I know this song: Play that same, tiny violin. Then, use it to beat the dead horse. Repeat.

Am I a little jealous? Sure, I’ll cop to that. It’s the fairy tale situation for a self-published author, who then gets the best gig ever (and finally gets the attention of an agent and publisher). But my point remains valid.  Tell me about a real struggle you overcame — like writing with no fingers. And for God’s sake, can’t one famous author do an interview and say his/her life has actually been pretty good?

I want to be inspired, and I am inspired, by stories like Dennis Lehane’s. He’s famous because his writing is phenomenal, but he was originally was turned down by all these publishers who said people wouldn’t like his first novel — Mystic River. Now tons of his books have been made into movies with big name actors and directors. When you read his words, they hurt sometimes because the prose is so beautiful.

Or even Stephen King, who still managed to write after getting hit by a van. Thesis? Write a lot. Be yourself. Read inspiring tales from writers who made it rather than obsess over the “overnight” successes that seem so prevalent in the news. Hell, you can even be peachy if you want to. Nobody ever said writers had to be miserable, wear all black, have addictive personalities or advised you to hire a secretary to hide all your razor blades.

Writers can be happy, too.


POV Can Defy Gender Rules


When I read Mystic City, I couldn’t believe the point of view was so well-written. Maybe a lot of people don’t think it’s difficult to write from a young adult’s perspective, or from the perspective of a 17-year-old girl, but it might be if you’re a 28-year-old man.

One of the most difficult things to do, and the thing writers mess up a lot, is writing from the perspective of the opposite gender. Even if we think we know a lot about the opposite sex, every now and then some wrong-gender language will creep into the narrative.

So, how do you it well? If you’re a woman, how do you write the perspective of a man? Or if you’re a man, how do you write from the perspective of a woman?

One thing you can do is look up the basic psychology of each gender. In my communication classes, I teach that men engage in report talk and women engage in rapport talk. In other words, men tell us what happened, while women tell us how what happened made them feel. Of course this is just a stereotype, but if you think about it, it’s a valid point. A man, for example, might come home from work and say he had a long day, was really busy, and people complained a lot at the meeting—which drug it out. A woman, however, they talk about “that bitch at work” and how angry this other woman makes her. He may have wanted to give a laundry list of what happened while she wanted to be heard and get validation that she’s not crazy or irrational for feeling the way that she feels.

Some writers are perfectly aware of these personality differences, yet somehow that makes their writing even worse. A great example is in this unconfirmed tandem writing story. Like in the story, a male writer we make the mistake of making a woman too emotional or too much like the stereotype. Similarly, a woman might write men as only being interested in sex or being super-macho.

If you’re like me, and you’re not writing from the perspective of a man, you still might want to know some of this information. For example, in my story, the protagonist is a woman. However, I still need to know what the motivations are of the men in the story. I need to be able to indicate those motivators through their body language or through their dialogue.1290 After browsing at books at a local Goodwill, I came across a book titled How to Succeed with Women. When I saw this guidebook on how to pick up women, including how to land a first kiss, getting them into bed, or the way to establish a relationship, a light bulb went off in my brain. What better way to get into the psyche of a man than to read a book on how to pick a woman up? Not only do books like this explain the female psyche to these guys (so they can use it to get to the woman), it also gives us a glimpse into how men really think or behave before they’re told how to use these methods.

However, this isn’t a book on how to use and abuse the ladies—it insinuates that women are perfectly aware that men are constantly trying to pick them up. In other books, like The Art of Seduction, it isn’t just about how men can get women, but the art of seduction in general—regardless of gender. Either way, it shows the methodology and motivators behind physical and emotional behavior. Whether it’s a certain touch, certain words or phrases used or a specific kind of eye contact, it can communicate something non-verbally or foreshadow things to come. Even if a man hasn’t read a book on how to succeed with women, there may be tactics there that they inherently knew and used. For example, How to Succeed with Women explains ways a man can tell if it’s the right time to go for the first kiss. One suggested method was to first kiss her on the face or cheek to see how receptive she was. If she didn’t turn, pull away, etc., he could go for “the real thing”. Maybe you think that’s ridiculous, but where have I seen that move before? That’s right . . . Here:

It seems to work for Damon, don’t you think?