Saturday, February 11, 2012

Nancy Ann Livingston
Born May 1, 1933
Died February 11, 2012
Rest in peace, Mom
I love you

Nancy Livingston was a 78-year-old woman you wouldn’t notice in a crowd. Barely five feet tall in shoes, with short black and gray hair and brown eyes given to flashing in humor or anger, she was unremarkable physically.

Her life was like so many of ours, full of the usual American events. She grew up during hard times, went to school and became a nurse, believed that if you worked hard you could give your kids a better life than the one you had, and did just that. She was married, had three children she loved with a ferocity you would not know unless you dared to try to hurt them, and she died unexpectedly in an accident.

Her life was also, like so many of ours, far richer and more unusual than it first appeared if you bothered to take a closer look. She survived not only hard economic times but also an abusive mother and the early death of her father. She trained in nursing in a poor New York City hospital, where she “saw it all,” as she was fond of saying. She later co-founded the first Veterans’ Administration alcohol and drug-abuse treatment center in Bay Pines, Florida, where she helped vets who had also seen entirely too much that no one should ever see. She was married and widowed multiple times. She fought and beat cancer three times, losing both breasts and enduring both radiation and chemotherapy in the process. She did everything she could to make sure her children were able to better themselves. She instilled in all of them a willingness to work hard and the same fierce love for their children that she had for them. She wrote a book, Choices, which I published for her in an edition of a hundred and which years later led other women, many themselves abuse victims who had read pass-down copies, to contact her and thank her. She worked for the Florida Holocaust Museum and fought hard for the “never again” cause. She loved to sing and prized her time in her church choir.

I could go on and on, because after all, she was my mother. All of us look so much the same from a distance, and so wonderfully different up close.

She could drive you crazy, as she often did me, with nags and guilt trips and an incessant worry that today would be the day she died. For the last almost five years, I called her almost every day I was in town, a practice I began when she was in the throes of her most recent fight with cancer. I took trips off, because she still believed that cell phone calls cost more from cities other than your home, a notion I never disabused her of. Now, I wonder if I’ll feel guilty about those days. Time will tell.

About of a third of the way through the last chemotherapy sessions, she crashed hard. She was in the hospital, on the edge of dying, throwing clots and in so much pain that the drugs weren’t strong enough to block it all. I was at the same time flat on my back with horrific back pain, the worst pain I’ve ever endured, and for the only time in my memory taking both a muscle relaxer and a pain medication (a practice I kept for only four days; more would have been self-indulgent). I called her in the hospital.

In tears she begged me to give her permission to die.

“No fucking way, Mom,” I said. “You will not give up. You’re a fighter. You raised us to be fighters. No fucking way are you going to give up now.”

“I just want to die, Mark,” she said. “Please.”

I was on my back, past due to take a pain pill and using the agony to keep me sharp, my face wetter than it is now. She never knew I was in that state.

I made my voice hard. “No,” I said.

“Please.” More sobs, more tears.

“No,” I said, “but I’ll tell you what. You give me twenty-four hours, one day, twenty-four hours from right now, and if you don’t feel enough better that you want to live, I won’t fight you. Think of everything you’ve endured. One day. You can do one day no problem.”

“One day?” she said.

“One day.”

“You think I can do that?”

“No, Mom. I know you can do that.”

“Maybe I can.”

“No ‘maybe’ about it. You can.”

“Okay,” she said.

And she did.

She really was a fighter. Even the best fighters, though, sometimes need their corner people to push them.

For years, multiple times each week, she told me in our calls that she was sure she was going to die. Each time, I would joke that one day her prediction would inevitably be right, but that it wasn’t going to be today. Grudgingly, she’d agree.

When we talked Friday around noon, the last time I spoke to her, our call ran a bit long. She had just received the news that she was cancer-free and didn’t have to come back so often for check-ups. She’d beaten that third cancer. Nine days earlier, she’d had ultrasound to remove a kidney stone and was feeling great after that. She was, she said, having “a great day.”

“I think I’m going to live after all,” she said.

As we signed off, as I always did, I said, “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too, dear,” she said.

Six and a half hours later, she was walking out of an Arby’s, on the way back from visiting a friend who was fighting cancer, drinking a milkshake. A van slowly circling the lot had come to a stop. She and the van didn’t see each other. It bumped her, and she fell to the pavement and hit her head.

That injury caused cerebral hemorrhaging, which the doctors detected with a CAT scan after the paramedics rushed her to the hospital. Her heart stopped en route, but they were able to bring her back. They had to operate on her brain to try to stop the bleeding.

Even after neurosurgery and the removal of two parts of her brain, even with the best machines available keeping her body going, she died today, Saturday, at 1:23 p.m. She really died, though, when she hit that pavement, which is fortunate, because she felt none of what ensued.

I’m writing this on a plane on the way to Florida to meet with my brother and sister and their families and Lloyd, the man she loved and who would be her husband would the marriage not have cost her the death benefits on which she lived. We’ll sort out her final affairs--I’m the executor of her estate--and set up the memorial and so on.

She was an ordinary American woman.

She was an extraordinary American woman.

She was my mom.

She drove me crazy, and I told jokes about her in my comedy routines. I still will, but not today. She loved me, though, and I always knew that. I loved her, too, and though she always worried deeply about whether her children loved her--a worry I, as a parent, completely understand--I think for the last few years she came to know fully and deeply that we did.

I will miss her terribly.

In case she needs reassurance, though, and on the chance she’s right and watching from heaven (as I hope she is), I’ll say again what I said to myself when I got the news of the accident last night, what I said several times as I was working until the wee hours, what I said as I was falling asleep and each of the many times I awoke last night, what I said in the shower, what I said to her all those hundreds of times at the end of all those hundreds of calls, what I hope she always knew.

I love you, Mom.

I love you.

Friday, February 10, 2012

No, I won't

My responses to some pieces of advice I've received over the last few months.

No, I won't slow down.

No, I won't act my age.

No, I won't stop feeling things so deeply.

No, I won't get completely over my anger.

No, I won't stop being so protective of those I care about.

No, I won't stop embarrassing you by stopping being silly.

No, I won't play my rock and roll softly.
Wanna know what I'm going to do instead?
I'm going to wring everything I can from life, do every project I can, run as fast and hard as I can because there is just so damn much I want to do.

I'm going to act as young as I feel, and inside I'm still sixteen.

I'm going to keep responding to the world the way I do because the world demands deep responses.

I'm going to stay angry at those people and things that deserve it.

I'm going to do everything I can to take care of those who matter to me, because in the dark hard nights of this world all we really have is each other.

I'm going to act silly when silliness is the order of the day--or just when I feel like it.

I'm going to turn my music to eleven and let me wash through me, bathe me, transport me, remind me of the power of song to touch my heart.
Hell, yeah.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

You need this album

This one: Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan.


* Purchases help a good cause: Amnesty International.

* Dylan songs are awesome.

* A few of the covers are truly wonderful.

* Even the mediocre Dylan covers (and there are a lot of those) are interesting.

Most of all, you need it so you can own a copy of Gaslight Anthem doing "Changing of the Guards."

Don't believe me? Give it a listen.

Told ya.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A good day in politics

Yesterday was a good day in politics.

First, a Federal Appeals court ruled against Proposition 8, the California ban on same-sex marriage. As I've said many times, if any group of people want to get married, I think they should be allowed to do so.

Then, Republican whack job and presidential candidate Rick Santorum swept three states, throwing further confusion into the Republican race. I'm all for that confusion. I'm happy to see the Republicans beat on each other for a while longer.

If the race is really close going into the Republication National Convention (it won't be, but I can hope), then my dream is that they settle the contest the old-fashioned way: cream-corned wrestling in Speedos on a stage elevated above a giant pool of lime jello with fruit. No room could contain the happiness I would feel at seeing Newt Gingrich body-slamming Rick Santorum into the quivering corn and then leaping into the jello while screaming, "I am the true conservative!"

Of course, that could be just me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A little more data about No Going Back

One of the reasons No Going Back is taking so very long is that I have changed the book rather dramatically since I began it. It’s so different now, in fact, that the original promotional copy is no longer accurate. Here’s the accurate version, which is basically what will appear on the hardcover.


Jon and Lobo are back–and everything is about to change.

If they both survive.

Haunted by memories of children he could not save, Jon Moore is so increasingly self-destructive that even his best friend, the hyper-intelligent Predator-Class Assault Vehicle, Lobo, is worried. When Jon risks meeting a dangerous woman from his distant past and undertakes a high-risk mission, Lobo fears this will be their last.

The job is illegal.
The target is one of the oldest, most powerful men alive.
A team of seasoned mercenaries is tracking them.
And Jon is falling in love.

Desperate and out of options on a world so inhospitable that its statues and monuments outnumber its living inhabitants, Jon and Lobo encounter their deadliest challenges yet. They must make decisions from which there truly is

Now, back to the finishing the blasted thing.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Our group's take on the Super Bowl commercials

Yesterday, a group of us gathered, as we have for several years, to watch the Super Bowl commercials. We fast-forward through the game, eat junk food, and stop to check out all the commercials.

Our collective number one pick for this year was this science-fictional Chevy ad.

Aside from that one, consensus was hard to achieve. We all agreed, however, that this Teleflora ad placed high for both its sexiness and its directness.

Most of us also agreed that the world is never that simple, but still, Adriana Lima made at least the men believe it could be.

Pretty much everyone also enjoyed this Audi offering, which I rank as one of the top three.

I wonder how a group that didn't read science fiction and fantasy would rank the commercials.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Almost a kindred spirit

As you wander through life, every now and then you see something that makes you realize that you're not alone, that at least some other people see the world the way you do, feel the same urges you do.

That's how I felt when I saw this bumper sticker.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Then, a friend told me this sticker was about a dog.


Another dream crushed.


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