About a year ago, my buddy David Lacy and I got this bright idea to form an online syndicate, iPinion, featuring columnists, bloggers and photographers we knew and loved. It’s come a long way from its humble beginnings, with David serving dual duty as co-editor and website designer, as well as head cheerleader.
Who knew Lacy could rock a cheerleading outfit like that?
iPinion began with a handpicked group of talented friends and acquaintances, and over the months that followed, our photography editor, Tracy J. Thomas, took over the website (much to David’s relief — turns out HTML is not really his friend), and we blended in topical columnists and some really stellar bloggers, including backyard farming goddess Spring Warren, (author of “Turpentine” and “The Quarter Acre Farm”), voting watchdog Brad Friedman of The BradBlog, herbal expert Kami McBride (author of “The Herbal Kitchen”) and Amy Ferris (author of “Marrying George Clooney – Confessions of a Midlife Crisis”), and “From the Ground Up” duo Ann Evans and Georgeanne Brennan (author of several cookbooks including “A Pig in Provence”).
I’m not dropping names merely to brag. I’m providing context. In the midst of all this talent and accomplishment, a new columnist makes her debut this week and I’m impressed with her most of all. And you may know her: Cathy Speck.
Some know Cathy as one half of the popular local band Duval Speck, others as the safety director at the Davis Food Co-op, and still others for raising awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Cathy speaks with authority about ALS. She’s dying from it. If that sounds harsh, well, it’s a harsh disease. It’s the cruelest disease you can imagine, often striking in the prime of life. Your body basically just starts deteriorating around you … limbs go limp, organs fail. Swallowing and breathing become impossible. Eventually, you end up attached to machines in the ICU. And here’s the kicker — in the midst of all this, your mind is perfect: functioning, thinking, feeling, aware. Right up until the end. And it’s always “until the end.” There is no cure.
I watched a friend, Jeannie Cushman, deteriorate and die from ALS years ago, before I really even knew what ALS was. She succumbed fast — less than a year. One of the last things to go was her raucous laugh. And then ALS took that, too. I visited her in the ICU in her final days, tubes and wires attached everywhere. She couldn’t move or speak, but her eyes … they still sparkled bright. Jeannie was THERE. And then, not long after that, she wasn’t.
I hate ALS. Hate it. I started donating to the ALS Association whenever I could in Jeannie’s memory. Now it’s in memory of others as well. Keith Cross, for example, keeping his ALS at bay by restoring classic airplanes. But in the end, ALS got the best of him, too. So, donating to the ALS Association is an offering of sorts — I don’t have ALS and hope I never do. I also donate in hopes they’ll find a cure. Will one come in time for Cathy? I hope so, because she still has a lot to offer.
Ironically, I’ve never actually met Cathy face to face. As the Express editor, I’ve exchanged many e-mails with her over the years, initially press releases for Duval Speck performances and in more recent years, e-mails about ALS fundraisers and causes, like one she sent a couple weeks back about an ALS awareness day at the state Capitol.
As I was reading Cathy’s colorful commentary sprinkled with valuable information about ALS, the editor’s light went off in my head: Ding, ding, ding! I see talent! Her writing simmers with dark, biting wit and just the right dash of goofiness, and I decided it would be a tragedy if she couldn’t share it with a wider audience than her e-mail list.
I e-mailed Cathy back and asked if she’d be interested in writing a column for iPinion, not only as a way to continue expressing her artistic side but also as a venue for raising awareness about ALS. She responded with an enthusiastic, meandering pinball-scatter of words and thoughts.
I took that verbal starburst and did a little cut-and-paste job of it into her prior e-mail, polished up the seams a bit, and e-mailed it back, just to show her that she had, in fact, already written a column all by herself just by virtue of sheer spontaneous talent. It’s all her work, just rearranged slightly. The composite email became her first column. You can read it Sunday on our website: www.ipinion.us
Cathy is a hoot. I’ll enjoy watching her blossom in print. It’s so satisfying to me to spot a diamond and then give it an opportunity to shine. Cathy’s a diamond, for sure. Her writing is fresh and funny, winsome and wacky, and her irreverence about the disease that’s siphoning her life away will surely inspire others to support ALS research. Whether you have ALS or not, Cathy’s writing is a case study in positive thinking and keeping your sense of humor, even when life seems decidedly un-funny.
I’m truly honored to offer Cathy a new stage to express herself at a point in her life when ALS has taken the performing stage away from her. In exploring a new creative outlet, Cathy socks ALS right in the jaw. ALS may be stealing her health and her life, but it can’t have her mind, her determination, or her sense of humor.
Take THAT, ALS.