My Five-Year Mark

June 1st, 2015

I’m having a happy cancerversary

June. It’s been a long time coming, but June is finally here.

This is the five-year mark. Five years ago I got the lousy news that my blood and bone marrow had secretly been invaded by a stealth force of leukemia. After teaching a morning class, then golfing nine holes, my doctor called me into his office and dropped the bomb on me. Until that afternoon I felt fine. The next day I was in the first of three hospitals for what was the beginning of a six-month odyssey.

Cancer sucks. It was the showpiece of my Three June Hell. The previous June I was forcibly divorced from my lifelong journalism career. The June after cancer, I was back in the hospital for complications from my cancer-cure treatments: my heart lining had become engorged with a liter-and-a-half of fluid. Heart juice I called it.

Darrel Ellis snapped this photo of Leslie Ellis, who raised money, awareness and my spirits.

Darrel Ellis snapped this photo of Leslie Ellis, who raised money, awareness and my spirits.

Forgive me if I stopped looking forward to June for a couple of years. I think I actually dreaded it, having nightmares as I reported a few years ago.

But now.

But now things are different. I’m back to freelancing, both with my photography and my writing. I’ve been back in the classroom several times. And with the extra time I’ve had on my hands, I’m putting the finishing flourishes on my new novel: it’s destined to become a bestsmeller. This is my first fictional attempt and it’s a novel about Detroit, relationships, baseball and the funny things that happen when you throw a bit of mystical “Hope” into the mix.

I’m taking back June. It’s a fantastic time of year. A good friend just ran in my honor in a leukemia/lymphoma fundraiser. That brought tears to my eyes. But these days, I realize the tears have a healthy dose of joy mixed in too. I’m clean. I’m cured. I’m happy.

And that’s the best part: I’m happy. I hope your June is as incredible as mine’s about to become.

Go See Tomorrowland

May 22nd, 2015

The Disney blockbuster holds hope (and a warning) for the future.

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Britt Robertson stars in the time-twisting Tomorrowland.

As we were driving home from Tomorrowland, my wife offered up an idea for Detroit. “All the abandoned, vacant land could be turned into wind farms or solar panel forests or even subterranean geothermal facilities.”

That’s the sort of thinking that the new Disney film inspires. Centered around a brilliant young teen (Britt Robertson, who’s actually 25) and a grizzled older genius (George Clooney, who’s also actually 25), the movie offers a peek into parallel worlds. One is our current reality, racing toward full-on global destruction. The other is a utopian existence, created and comprised by the best and brightest minds in science and the arts.

The movie — written and directed by Brad Bird (Up, The Incredibles) — offers equal doses of hope and warning. But even though some may view it as a little preachy, it’s really earth-conscious preachy. And we can’t get enough of that. You can’t help but wish you were part of that alternative world, where kids fly around on jet packs (crashing safely with a laugh), and their peers platform dive — but through platforms of water. Just go with it.

It appears that reviewers across America either love or hate the movie, garnering it a 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. So add my little gold star on the positive side of the scale. The Detroit News’ Tom Long said it best: “This should be required viewing. Come for the humor and thrills and visual delights — there are many. Leave with the thought in your head: We can, we need to, do better. This is summer moviemaking at its best.”

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Hopefully future views won’t confuse Britt Robertson (left) and Chloe Grace Moretz (right)

Being a fan of cool quantum physics and fun alternate reality theories, this movie had me hooked with its previews. Sure, there are times when the writers didn’t fully explain their complex dimension shifting narrative. But like I said before, just go with it.

There are enough action sequences to keep younger viewers mesmerized and the special effects are spectacular. The storyline has some great twists, bending time & space to suit its will. Unlike my other recent favorite futuristic film, Ex Machina, this movie sports a mild PG rating, assuring you it’s fine for the whole family.

Look for Britt Robertson to emerge as a first rate talent. Though I kept confusing her with Chloë Grace Moretz (Hugo, 30 Rock). That Clooney guy’s gonna hit it big one day too. Raffey Cassidy is a stunning young actress who carries a lot of the show’s weight. And I loved the cameo by Keegan-Michael Key as well.

More than anything else, this film — with all its Disneyesque glory and morality — is a fun, exciting ride. And if their tomorrow is half as cool, I want my own secret admission pin.

(Just go with it.)

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Britt Robertson, George Clooney and Raffey Cassidy look to the past for help with the future in Tomorrowland.

Mildlife

May 16th, 2015

I’ll take this, any day.

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Nestling into her nest, a mother robin has taken up residence in our hanging geranium.

I’m surrounded by a bunch of animals.

As I sit here writing this, just outside my window sits a mother robin nesting in our hanging plant. The red in the flowers must’ve drawn her in: like attracts like.

And when Mr. Excitement does electronic yoga with his Wii balance board, Bernie and Alex show me a better pose — Downward Dog, instead of my Child’s Pose.

It’s good to have dedicated instructors like them.

Watering our porch plants has become a bit tricky. Mother robin flaps at me sometimes, so I have to sneak up from behind with a hose set to heavy mist. Apparently that’s okay by her.

I’ll take an occasional “flapping at me” as opposed to what transpired with my wife and daughter on a recent Mother’s Day bike ride. Riding along Big Beaver, we apparently angered a couple geese and their goslings. My wife was flapped at with what — she reports afterward — felt like a baseball bat striking her arm. They let me pass, oddly enough, then went after my daughter, pecking at her for having the audacity to pass them with, what we thought, was many yards of leeway.

I’ll take angry birds any day, compared with a recent story I shared with my family about a southern community “terrorized” by a wayward alligator. And heck, didn’t a killer whale in captivity attack someone down in Florida during a live performance a while back?

Even though the dead of winter can be tough up here and I find it increasingly necessary to escape to some place warm each year, I’ll take our mildlife as opposed to the south’s wildlife.

I’m happy with just letting sleeping dogs lie.

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My dogs “help” me, by correcting my yoga pose.

Ah, Spring

May 3rd, 2015

Shorts and t-shirt weather is here.

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Last fall I secretly planted some bright red tulip bulbs to surprise my wife this spring.


“There ain’t no better time of year.”

That’s what I wrote to my college roommate who has been going through his mother’s death, a divorce, a job loss, long-term unemployment and then, whoosh, finally a new job.

We’ve been there for each other over the years. He for me during my insane sicknesses and now me for him. I tell ya, it’s great to give back.

We were assigned other roommates for our first couple years at Alma College, but he was the first roommate I chose. So there’s something long-term and deep about our relationship. I was reminded of that when we visited him a few weeks back and saw a picture he kept on his bureau. I haven’t decided yet whether I’m going to share it here; we were wearing underwear on our heads.

Hey give me a break; it was Halloween.

Visiting his family and seeing him bouncing back from all the struggles did my heart good. He agreed with me about spring — this spring in particular — holding a lot of promise and potential.

As we get older, the winters seem to stretch on longer, colder and darker. Sure, that could very well be climate change, but it could also be acclimate change as well. We are less willing or able to force our bodies into hibernation. I can understand now why old folks retire to Florida.

The onset of green and warmth and the secret tulips that I planted last fall for my wife are all the sweeter after the harshness of winter. This year we set all-time record low temperatures. Last year, at least here in Michigan, we set all-time record snow depths.

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What caption could I possibly add?

So the blooming and budding feels like a deep, long exhale for both myself and my college buddy after his turmoil. We can take life and ourselves less seriously now. These days of sunshine and mild weather remind us of our youth, with all the promise that the future held.

Ah, youth.

Okay, okay, on that note, here’s the photo.

I will keep his name out of this, since he’s recently been named a Chief Operating Officer at his new job. They almost got it right. COO is one acronym shy of what he really is, COOL.

I don’t know why we didn’t think to re-stage that photo nowadays. Perhaps on our next meeting?