Why I’m Writing This on a Plane to Argentina

Dec 5, 2021

Wait, you’re probably thinking, Is she “literally” on a plan to Argentina, or is this going to be one of those posts where “flying to Argentina” is some weird metaphor? The answer is I am typing this on an American Airlines flight that just took off from Dallas Fort Worth, and in nine and a half hours will land in Buenos Aires.

The plane is full, it’s dimly lit. Some folks —including my traveling companion—have already taken their in-flight drugs and are sleeping, chins to chests. Glowing screens on the walls show our flight path, and more glowing screens on the seat backs silently play commercials, episodes of Ted Lasso, and movies with car chases and fight scenes. One contented baby is sleeping in the seat in front of me, while one discontented (and incredibly strong-lunged) baby cries across the aisle. It’s okay. I’m wearing earplugs.

But you don’t care about any of this – you’re wondering why I don’t get to the point and tell you why I’m on my way to Argentina. I’m procrastinating because the answer is a little embarrassing.

It’s because an astrologist told me to.

Some background:

A few years ago, a friend (who’d been having some good luck in love, career, etc,) told Paul that she had been consulting an astrologist, K, who specialized in Solar Returns. The idea has something to do with looking at the position of the stars when and where you were born and somehow using that information to calculate where your “best stars” are for any given year. The astrologist then recommends where on the globe you should spend her birthday, in order to mitigate transits that might be unlucky, and optimize what can be optimized.

That was the first year that, for our anniversary, Paul got us readings from K. I can’t say I exactly believe in the astrology, but I do believe in affirmations, and it seemed like taking a trip with one’s goals in mind is a strong affirming action. And it could also be fun. At the same time, it always feels a little “out there” to spend a lot of time effort and resources on an astrology trip… at least for me, if something feels too frivolous it becomes more stressful than fun. Paul is someone who takes big swings more in stride. He sometimes enjoys something more because it verges on the ridiculous!

For the last few years, things worked out in terms of our personalities. The first year I had the option of making a road trip to Eureka, California, while Paul went to Japan. The next year, I took a two hour flight on Southwest to Loreto, Mexico, while Paul journeyed to a small town in Italy. Last year, because of the pandemic, we told the astrologist to just give her best shot within driving distance. I got Goleta, California (near Santa Barbara) while Paul took a longer trip to Arizona.

But this year, when our recommendations arrived, the tables had turned. K noted that that even if Paul stayed in Los Angeles, it would be “neutral,” though he might improve his horoscope with a fairly easy trip to Hawaii.

But after that she said:

For Barrington the choice is much more difficult. She will have very bad transit trends for health this year (Saturn for about 4 months puts health at risk), so we need to do ASR possibly very protective for health and without dangerous values! In view of the heavy transits, I would like to offer you the best possible horoscope for health protection and throughout the US there are NO places that are completely safe! This means that I could NEVER make the positive prediction with birthday 2021 in the US (too bad stars).

Then she offered up my BEST options, which she said would be “VERY protective for health, with success in all kinds of projects and extraordinary benefits for human relationships and love, money and carrier.”

They were specific cities in:

Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Guyana.

The second best choice was in Barbados, which she said was protective for health, projects and relationships but with some stress for money with extra expenses throughout the year, (apparently because of Mars in the 2nd House—something astrologers will understand but not me). A third option was Guam. Lastly, she included Boston, although she described this as “NOT a completely safe horoscope. I can only propose it as a ‘less worse’ emergency solution.”

None of these were the kind of easy, inexpensive trip I was hoping for. Distracted by other things happening that evening— like watching our Creepshow episode for the first time and doing fun prep for a morning colonoscopy—I put it out of my mind.

Until, twelve hours later, I received the completely-out-of-the-blue cancer diagnosis.

Which certainly felt like a coincidence right after the big health warning. In several years, K has never been quite so specific or adamant about health. I figured it couldn’t hurt to explore the options. And, of course, planning a trip is more fun than planning a cancer journey…

Our friend Brazil didn’t have time for a road trip to the recommended city of Curitiba, and said he wouldn’t recommend trying to drive there from Sao Paulo during monsoon season.

Guyana—just a hop from Miami—was the closest and cheapest, but it had big red travel advisories for both Covid and a huge recent crime surge.

But then my friend, A, said, “I’ve been thinking about going to Argentina.” She speaks much better Spanish than me, and has a friend in Argentina who wants to show us around his city, which is midway between Buenos Aires and my “magic birthday destination” of Bahia Blanca. We’ve been friends for a long time, but have never traveled together and the idea started to seem more fun. Clearly, I’m at a place where the future is feeling uncertain, so… why not?

I’ll say again that I probably don’t believe in astrology, specifically. But from experience, I have to acknowledge that sometimes the universe gives you enough little pushes.

And that’s why I’m writing this post on a plane to Argentina!

Health Concerns

“When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.” (Augusten Burroughs, writer)

I don’t believe this entirely (in particular, you have to wonder if the writer had children), but I certainly understand the sentiment. The first time I had cancer, there were so many things I was trying to organize before going to the hospital, things I assumed I was coming back to as soon as the surgery was over.

Once the diagnosis came back, and turned out to be bigger and scarier than expected, I remember being amazed at how quickly all those things felt completely unimportant. Faced with the proposition of losing your health, so many things that feel important fall away with an ease you could never have imagined. Getting a hard health diagnosis is like being confronted by a big guy with a knife. When he starts chasing you at high speed, and you start running, you aren’t thinking about some report you have to turn in at work the next day.

At the same time, living with a hard health diagnosis is like running from a guy with a knife who is moving in slow motion. You have time to eat something, take a shower, and even turn in a report or two — but you can’t really forget that the guy with the knife is coming for you, that at some point you’re going to need to dodge and weave, and keep moving. It’s a different existence from people who don’t have any slow motion knife guys in their lives.

All of this is just the way my mind tries to intellectualize and metaphorize my circumstances.

Like the fact that the doctor came in after my colonoscopy last week to say she’d found a polyp that she thought looked cancerous, and that, due to some scar tissue, she’d been unable to remove it. Her proposal, even in those first moments coming out from sedation, was daunting: Remove the rest of my colon. As in all of it.

It didn’t seem much less daunting a few days later, when we had a video consult. The polyp—the cancerous polyp— is very small, but because of my genetic mutation (Lynch Syndrome), the larger surgery is recommended —I guess it’s the doctors’ way of avoiding the knife-guy — or at least slowing him almost to a stop. But it would entail some big lifestyle changes that I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace. My instinct to opt for something a little less life-changing, even if that means I need to spend more time in the future looking around corners for the knife guy. Because my mutation affects multiple organs, I feel like, knife-guy’s never going to go away completely no matter what, so maybe concentrate on quality of life over quantity.

Working through all this — organizing more scans and conversations, and making some immediate changes to my diet and meditation — has quickly become a preoccupation. Maybe because it isn’t immediately dire (I’ve managed to push any surgery to late December or January), things in my life haven’t dropped completely off my radar in terms of importance in the way that I’ve had happen in the past, but certainly they’ve become smaller blips.

One blip that is still pretty large is this: Paul is having his gall-bladder removed today. It’s supposed to be an outpatient surgery. I’ll be taking him to the hospital in about an hour. In another timeline, where my results last week were clear, this would have been the big headline news, perhaps the only topic of this blog. Indeed, we both have lots of thoughts and feelings around it —what it means in terms of lifestyle, identity, overall health — but for the moment, we’d appreciate all good thoughts just to get through the procedure with no complications.

B’s 2020 Look Back (Silver Linings Edition)

View from Baldwin Hills Overlook, December 25, 2020.

Wait… Did I send a 2019 update? I did not. I started (in my head at least), but so much was happening at the end of 2019 that I put it off, figuring I’d finish it once everything got “back to normal” in 2020.

To which 2020 said:

😂😂😂😂 HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA 😂😂😂😂

While I didn’t finish an update letter in 2019 because life was frenetic, the true-true is that even before the frenzy hit the fan, I was having trouble figuring out what to write. Though I’m a fan of “honest” holiday letters, no one needs a depressing whine-fest, and coming to the end of 2019, I was more than disheartened. Events and circumstances during the year had led to a loss of faith in people, in the universe and in myself. 

What were these events that led to my year-end funk? I don’t remember. Looking back, it’s all a blur. So, I guess a silver lining of 2020 is that it has pretty much obliterated my recall of  2019.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this update: Silver Linings. Winning out over topics like Year-End Podcast Lists, Great Books and TV, and Even More About Writing, I offer a small sampler platter of bright spots and blessings.*

JANUARY: Paul and I got the opportunity to go to Gainesville, Florida and teach film classes for the spring semester at University of Florida! Two days before leaving Los Angeles, our Florida housing plans fell through (thanks again, 2019!). When we arrived, Paul’s friend, Iman, and her family opened their home to us and hosted us for a month, sharing rides and meals and stories and downtime in front of the TV. I think my favorite form of getting to know people better is simply co-existing in their environment, which made this detour in our plans a gift.

MARCH / APRIL: In early March, the pandemic lockdowns began. While the best timing for a pandemic would have been never, the second best timing, for me, was when it happened. After a precarious 2019, a semester-long gig felt stable, and teaching 3 three-hour classes a week offered structure. I had the distractions of deadlines aplenty, learning  new technologies, and students who were depending on me.  All of this meant my existential angst was supplanted by a more fun “race to the finish line of this project” anxiety.  At the same time, friends Matt and Dmitry started a War and Peace Covid-19 challenge, with a goal of reading 50 pages every day. With the gyms closed, I listened to War and Peace on audiobook as I went on walks in the mornings and evenings. I didn’t always meet the page quota, but it was a simple pleasure and  a perfect distraction– and now I’ve read War and Peace

B and Paul outside the Publix in April, wearing 1st-gen, DIY masks made from paper towels and rubber bands.

MAY/ JUNE: We’d been back in Los Angeles a few weeks when the killing of George Floyd and other injustices prompted the Black Lives Matter protests. During this time, a friend, Beto, proposed an “anti-racist bookclub.” He and his friends did the work of planning,  organizing and facilitating a group with clear intentions and dynamics. Over the last six months, I’ve benefited from their insightful company while reading the works of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Ibram Kendi and others. In parallel, old friends Kendall and Annie nudged me to join their book club just in time to embark on Howard Zinn’s 800-page A People’s History of the United States.  Throughout my life, especially during pivotal times, certain books have helped me, prepared me, gifted me with new perspectives and a clearer vision of the world — and this year’s reading experience falls in that category.  

SEPTEMBER  The fires in California turned the skies to smoky haze, and then orange. For days we avoided going outdoors and felt unsafe breathing the air even inside.  We felt fortunate that our neighborhood was never in jeopardy, just as people everywhere feel lucky when disasters seem to be happening elsewhere. The other silver lining is that the fires added urgency to my growing feeling that, in the face of our social and environmental issues, it is not enough for me to simply be unobjectionable. Writing postcards, and phone banking for democratic candidates were steps too long delayed, but ones that have started me down a path of greater engagement. I owe thanks to folks (Megan, Caitlyn, Tracy) who made themselves vocal and visible on social media, offering instructions and opportunities that made it easier for people like me to become more a part of our political process. 

NOVEMBER / DECEMBER Amidst health concerns for the world, these two months were touched by family health concerns. November began with my mother’s knee replacement, ended with news my uncle had suffered a stroke, and in between, Paul experienced a painful bout of pancreatitis that was traced to some gallstones. Though travel to Indiana and then Texas during a pandemic had not been part of our plans, I appreciated more than ever the opportunity to be with loved ones, under any circumstances, and am happy and relieved to report that everyone is on the road to recovery.

And these most recent events have reminded me how, even with the world’s myriad problems, these are — as Paul Simon sings — days of miracle and wonder. Knees are replaced, helicopters airlift you from tiny towns in Texas, machines scan inside you and tell you what’s wrong, information and our own images zip and Zoom around the world in an instant— and scientists create vaccines that can help our cells fight (electron) microscopic viruses.

I don’t want to place too great a pressure on 2021 — January 1st will not be the day we arrive at the light at the end of the tunnel. But I do think we can see it from here, and that we have the opportunity to make the tunnel itself a little brighter and easier to travel with the light we carry with us. So, with lots of love and good wishes, here’s to a —

Happy 2021!

* A few disclaimers: 1) The overarching fact that we are healthy, we are housed, we are together… those alone mean it has been a great year. 2) This list leaves out so many moments and people, of course. My thank you list would be longer than at any Oscars speech. 3) Several of my silver linings exist against dark clouds like pandemic, systemic racism, fires that have caused countless people to suffer. I don’t know what to do with that fact, except to acknowledge it, and pray and work for an end to those clouds.

The Semantics of Survivor

This article, about how “cancer survivor” came into popularity, is my first attempt at posting something on Medium.

Update: I got a note from Medium saying I had been “curated,” which is apparently a good thing, and would be promoted in the “Health” section. Woot!

Life in a Time of Pandemic (March 21-March 29)

In Florida, the temperatures have soared into the 80s. With my former fitness routines out the window, I take advantage of the cooler temperatures in the morning and evenings to walk around the neighborhood. I aim for 5000 steps per walk, tracking it on my phone, to reach the recommended allotment of ten-thousand steps daily. Who recommended that and when? I have no idea and lack the curiosity to look it up. It’s a round number, a goal, and is as good as any.

Others in my neighborhood clearly have established similar routines. I pass mothers with strollers, fathers and sons, couples. There are not many of us, so it is not crowded. We give each other a wide berth, wait at cross walks for others to pass, cross to the opposite side of the street if we find ourselves heading toward each other on the same sidewalk, smiling and waving to show that it’s not personal. There is a sense of solidarity in this.

But also, I realize, we are telling each other, with our smiles and waves, that it’s okay, we’re not a threat. Underlying the bucolic ambiance, the lush green, the Spanish Moss hanging from the trees, there is also a vigilance. I sense, through subtle, that the world’s hold on would-be predators is less than it was. The cats in the neighborhood have grown bolder. With car and foot traffic diminished, they sit in the middle of streets and watch the humans with brazen, even insolent expressions. One day a cat follows me for a block. The cars too, especially in the evenings, can also have a sense of prowling. They drive slowly down the block and the the drivers, often single men, don’t make it a point to smile and wave.

On Saturday evening, a car honks as it turns the corner near me. The man behind the wheel looks at me as he passes, at a moment when there are no other pedestrians around.

Later that same Saturday night a friend in LA posts on Facebook her story of walking alone, of a car with a group of men honking and whistling, of the car making a U-turn and heading back in her direction until a couple on foot turn a corner into view, scaring them away. The online conversation that follows explore the fears, not unique, but closer to the surface for women, of living in a world where men have no sports to watch, no bars to prowl, no gyms to work out their aggressions.

On my walk on Sunday morning, I pass a well-muscled man on a street spacious enough to go wide. Unsmiling, he maintains his course in the way of a man on a crowded sidewalk for whom asserting territory is unnecessary — he is merely occupying what is his. Probably he is immersed in whatever content is coming through his ear pods. Probably he is not even conscious of our passing, of my veering, as an interaction between us. But I am aware for both of us.

In addition to my Kindle edition of War and Peace, I’ve downloaded an audio version to listen to on my morning walks. On this morning, words fly by without me hearing them.

I’m distracted by fellow pedestrians, but also by my own ruminations. Though Paul and I know better than to read the news on our phones upon waking, we do, and in bed this morning Paul has shown me an article with graphs depicting, by state, at what point the health care system might or might not be overwhelmed depending on the amount of social distancing implemented.

In one scenario he shows me, the curve in Texas is hitting its peak the week we’re scheduled to leave. 
“Huh,” I say, “Do you think that means we should go earlier after all?”
Our conversation is mostly a rerun of a conversation we had just three days ago, with one new addition: “I just don’t want us to get stuck in Texas,” he says.
I’m confused. “Why would we get stuck in Texas? We’re in our car, we’ll just drive through it.” 
“What if they do terrible at containment and the other states decide they don’t want people coming in from Texas?” 
As soon as he says it, I can see the dystopian timeline where things get bad and states in disagreement about measures start closing their borders. 

So as I walk down our tree-lined street, my brain is continuing the conversation on its own: But we have California IDs, certainly they would let us in, right? 

Half a chapter of War and Peace has gone by without my noticing.

On Monday, March 22, more than 24,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in the U.S., with over 10,000 of those in New York state. Also on this day, Senator Rand Paul tests positive for the virus, and makes the news for using the gym and swimming pool while waiting for his test results. And Senate Democrats block a proposed 1.8 Trillion dollar relief bill, claiming that it is aimed more at helping corporations than people

On this same Monday, one student and one faculty member in our college are reported to have the virus, and Alachua County, where we live, mandates emergency “stay at home” orders effective at midnight. In accordance, UF reduces on-campus personnel to those identified as essential.

On Tuesday, March 24, in reaction to Wall Street executives warning of another Great Depression if America doesn’t get back to work soon, President Trump talks about “opening up the economy” by Easter, which is April 12. Elsewhere in the world, Prime Minister of India bans 1.3 billion people from leaving their homes, and, after some initial resistance from the organizers, the Summer Olympics in Japan are postponed for a year.

On Wednesday, March 25, the senate passes a 2 trillion dollar relief package. It’s announced that Prince Charles has Coronavirus.

On Thursday March 26, the U.S. takes the dubious honor of the lead in Coronavirus cases: 81,321 and over 10000 deaths. Three million people apply for unemployment benefits. Florida requires visitors from New York to quarantine for two weeks after arriving.

On Friday, March 27, Trump signs the $2 trillion economic relief plan. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain tests positive for Coronavirus.

On Sunday March 29, Trump extends the federal governments social-distancing guidelines until the end of April. A plane from Shanghai touched down at Kennedy Airport carrying 130,000 N95 masks, 1.8 surgical masks and gowns, 10 million gloves and 70,000 thermometers touches down at Kennedy Airport. It is, we’re told, the first of 22 such shipments.

As of Sunday evening 141,096 people in the U.S have tested positive for the virus, and at least 2469 patients with the virus have died.