Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Texas Page 2 of 8

Day #17 of Cancer Treatment Did Not Go Well—(Or At All)

At the risk of becoming a “woe is me” blog, I am sharing today’s latest cancer concern.

I made it through my 16th day of radiation with no bad side effects, but a slight amount of redness. Some nurse assistant (whom I had never seen, although she seemed to know my name) handed me a green printed handout that said I should add 1/4 cup of vinegar to 2 quarts of water and then soak a cloth in this and put it on my slightly red upper right quadrant. I am sorry that she handed me that really antiquated advice at that moment in time, because I was feeling fine until then and the redness was quite slight.

I thought when she told me this that it sounded like advice from the 1920’s. Why do I say that? My mother had a favorite story about her bad sunburn when she was 20 in 1927. She was supposed to be in a girlfriend’s wedding as a bridesmaid and they had to sew her into her dress. After that, she described exactly this therapy for her bad sunburn: vinegar in water. Surely there is something more up-to-date and modern in 2022, nearly 100 years later?

So, my husband and I (who had been actually out CELEBRATING how well I had been doing, dining at the TreeHouse in Davenport) secured a vat of vinegar roughly the size of my head (K & K Hardware) and carefully measured out this concoction and I spent most of the evening of 6/3 applying carefully wrung out cloths to my right breast.

This  turned out to be a very bad idea.

In the night, I woke up in pain and realized that the skin under my right breast had totally sloughed off. This, despite having NO problems up to the point of the vinegar soaking. The difficulty is keeping the area under a 44D breast dry to heal, which I well know, so I was actually sleeping with a wash cloth tucked in strategically, but it didn’t help.

I now am very, very red and in a fair amount of distress and some pain, but I showed up for my radiation on time and, when I did, ran into Daniel, the male nurse, who asked how I was doing.

Me: “Not that great, Daniel. All of the skin under my right breast has left the building and it hurts like a son-of-a-bitch.” (At the time, I was waiting to be shepherded back to the radiation table, where I have spent the past 16 week days. This day would mark the halfway point of my 33 day ordeal. I was in “the pond,” pictured below.)

Daniel spirited me away to an examining room and secured a radiologist (not my normal one), who nixed radiation for the day and prescribed the ointment I had asked for much earlier in the festivities. (I wanted to have it on hand when/if things got bad). With a name like Silvathiazole, it immediately conjured up memories of the sulfathiazole ointment my parents always applied to injuries during all my growing up years.

Now I am applying this white salve (a prescription with sulfa in it) for 3 days (Friday/Saturday/Sunday), putting it on four times a day, [but not 3 hours before radiation]. I am scheduled to meet with my oncologist at 2 p.m. on Monday, and I have been told to show up a half hour early on Monday, to make sure that it is okay to radiate at all on Monday.

Known as “The Pond,” one waits for pick-up to the radiation room here.

The problem with all this is that I have a very narrow window of opportunity to get all this done before boarding a plane for Texas on June 30 to fly to Austin for the Family Fest. I was supposed to have been “done” on June 27. That has now become June 28th. Then, of course, we have to drive to Chicago, which will probably occur on the 28th or 29th—unless this doesn’t heal up. And we fly on the 30th.

Do I really expect this to heal up? It is impossible to keep this area dry. I learned this the hard way when all of my stitches from my low faneuil incision tore out after my second C-section in 1987. That was an emergency room visit with my then-19-year-old son doing the honors, as his father was busy being plant manager at a Deere plant.

So, whoever made the 1920-era suggestion of vinegar in water for ME, in particular: VERY BAD IDEA. I realize that the cumulative effect of the radiation is just now evidencing itself, but someone should have given some thought to the concept of trying to keep the midriff and under-the-breast area of someone with 44D breasts DRY during this sensitive period. Now, I’m paying the price and the jury is out on whether I will make it through 33 days of this or not by June 30th, when I leave.

Keep in mind that no less an authority than Iowa City, Iowa, told me that they would not have radiated me at all had I had surgery there. While I felt that some of that was ageism, some of that was sexism, and some of that was probably just the insurance company not wanting to pay for anything they could avoid, I am still in agreement that helping reduce the risk of recurrence was worth trying to go through radiation. Not sure if cutting off “the boost” part of the process (i.e., the last 5 days of the 33, when they aim the beams directly at the hole left by the incision, rather than simply radiating the entire upper right half of your body, as it seems we are now doing) will be enough. Not very happy that I was handed the green sheet with the 1920-era advice on it, which I blindly followed.

I remember asking how much of this 33 days would be necessary to do me any good after my May 6th Iowa City visit,  on upping the odds of no recurrence and being told nothing very firm. It sounded, to me, as though the final 5 days might be omitted without that much loss of the % benefit, but what do I know?

This has really shot down our premature celebration of making it through the first half uneventfully.  I can’t help but feel that the introduction of vinegar and water to treatment—which is about as old-fashioned as you can get—was a very bad idea. And I am crossing my fingers that this salve—which I asked for right out of the box for the time when this started to happen, which could have been predicted from the get-go given my uber-sensitive skin—works.

R.I.P., Jennifer

My best friend in Austin, Jennifer Berliner, died today (May 23, 2022). She was a heart transplant survivor and 44 years old.  She and Adam, her husband, had just celebrated their twentieth wedding anniversary.We met playing euchre and hand-and-foot canasta and I encouraged her to start her blog, www.anewheartrocks.com. The post below is from Jenny’s blog and written some time ago. At one point, Jennifer wrote:  “Honestly even if the end game is death, at some point that is okay too. Death is not a personal failure, it’s a biological ending. If I die, I won’t take it personally.”

Rest in peace, Jennifer. You fought the good fight. I will miss you, and so will the rest of your tribe.

**********

Jennifer Berliner

“Maybe if I can shed light on how I endured a heart transplant, cancer and the death of my mother all at the same time, then maybe it could bring comfort to others facing their own adversity.

I’ve danced with death for so damn long that sometimes it’s work to remain optimistic, but I try. So many things are out of my control, and this infuriates me. In the face of these challenges, how do I instill hope in myself and others?

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference. ~The Serenity Prayer

I wish I could share some recipe with how I overcame my adversities, unfortunately my recipe is complicated and unique to only me, the chef. No one wants to hear that it takes time and persistence. People want a quick fix, a panacea, and I don’t blame them. When you’re in pain, you need it to end quickly. Maybe from my list you will walk away with one or two strategies that I know helped me to go from surviving to thriving.

How I Avoided Death in 10 steps:

My top 10 survival guide is listed in random order, except number 1, because it’s the most important and that is: Do not attempt this on your own. Humans need other humans. If we are left alone we will die. When you are faced with insurmountable adversity, you need one person who will walk with you on this bumpy road.

Admittedly that one person can get exhausted, so ideally you need several people to

support you and walk at different times. A support system or what I call “my Tribe” includes my family, friends, fellow congregants at my synagogue, and friends from my card clubs. (I love playing cards. I’m 43 years old, but I’m really an old lady on the inside).

  1. My Tribe:

There was a time I begged for death. For months on end, during my Chemo to treat bone cancer, I contemplated dying. I only survived that experience because of the love of my family and friends. Then when I was faced with a heart transplant, my family was still at my side, and now I also had a husband who became an amazing caregiver. Adam spent months in the hospital with me. He was exhausted and yet his commitment never wavered. My sister also helped me out significantly during this time when I lived in her home for two years. And my friends, were incredible.

After my first battle with chemo, I made a pledge to myself that I was going to have good friends by being a good friend. Twenty five years later, these same friends were at my side. Taking time away from their jobs and children to put on gloves and stay days and nights with me in the transplant hospital. Incredible.

I have many people I love, so I will endure any pain to remain on this planet to be with them; likewise, their love keeps me afloat. A good support system is vital to my existence and well being. If you don’t have a support system, a good place to start is to get yourself to a place of worship. The community will surround you and it will lift you up in ways you can’t imagine.

  1. Therapy:

I’ve been in counseling on/off for most of my life. I need guided relaxation and hypnotherapy to get me through painful procedures. Then I need the talk therapy to get past the trauma.

I’ve also had to learn (and still relearn) coping skills to get me through the traumas I’ve experienced. We are not born with inherent knowledge of coping skills, they are all learned, so I go to counseling at different times in my life. I’ll keep this one short and sweet, you get the idea.

  1. Drugs:

Ok, medication is really how I should title this section, but you get my point.

I don’t take anything that isn’t prescribed because I am a transplant recipient and even a herbal mouthwash can prevent my anti-rejection medication from working. With that said if I’m in pain or facing an uncomfortable procedure, I will not let a doctor or nurse shame me into thinking I’m not brave (I’ve already proven I’m crazy brave).

I am no longer willing to soberly submit myself to a drill in my back (bone marrow aspiration) or a 2 hour MRI (in a casket). My mind and body have their limits and if medication can help, then I’m taking it.

  1. Grit:

I don’t know how or where I mustered the ability to endure Chemotherapy at age 15. This was my first big test with adversity. I fought everyone and everything the entire time to avoid my chemo treatments. I mean, I literally would run away and have panic attacks to avoid my Chemo, but somehow I just kept going. I think got my resilience from my Mum.

My Mum was always at my side cheerleading me on while she received more than her share of mistreatment and suffering. My Dad also spent countless nights at the hospital. The scales were terribly unfair towards both of them, but particularly towards my Mum because I lashed out at her the most. I was rotten and had terrible coping skills, but somehow she persisted too. I think like a cub I just followed my mama bear. The biggest gift my Mum gave me during this time was being with me, so that I wasn’t alone. This empowered me, fueled my grit and gave me the ability to keep the course. Misery loves company.

I also focused on the idea that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, that someday this Chemo will be over or that I will heal from my heart transplant. Honestly even if the end game is death, at some point that is okay too. Death is not a personal failure, it’s a biological ending. If I die, I won’t take it personally.

5, Goal Setting & Rewarding Myself:

My idea of setting goals happened organically. I was refusing Chemotherapy at age 15 and I bribed my parents for money over the course of many months to help me buy a car. I’m not proud of this manipulation, but we both got something we wanted out of the deal. They got a more compliant, less hostile patient who did her Chemo and I got to dream about my car and freedom. (My car was an old beater and I loved it).

Since then I’ve kept my eye on the apple. I have set many goals in my life and achieved every single one of them. It takes time, patience and mindfulness to set and achieve your goals. These steps can be slow with setbacks at times. However, the reward is sweet.

I’m still setting goals, most of which include traveling somewhere. On my bucket list after my heart transplant is going to Paris. This is a big one and I’m hoping to go next year. I’m planning now for it.

6, “It Could Be Worse” & “Not Sweating the Small Stuff”:

I’ll use bumper sticker mantras any day if will help.

Not sweating the small stuff is easier said than done. The more I’m faced with challenges, the more I have to let some things or even relationships go, so that I have the energy to battle with the life and death issues in my life. Some might say, that I have developed a fuck-it attitude or that I don’t care. This is actually not true, I care so much that I have to walk away sometimes or I will make myself physically sick from worry. I have to set boundaries sometimes, and these lines can be tough to draw.

“It Could Be Worse” is a mantra I’ve used many times to get me through painful procedures. Like an athlete before the big game, I have to use self-talk to get ready to do a procedure, like when I talked myself into staying strong right before going in the OR for my heart transplant. I was tearful at the idea that my unknown donor died leaving me such a profound gift. I was so grateful that I had a heart. I spent months exploring this issue in therapy. And when it came down to it, I thought it could be worse: my donor could’ve died with viable organs and not be an organ donor and I wouldn’t have a heart. It really could’ve been worse.

In the meantime, I encourage you to consider what mantra helps you and is uniquely you?

  1. Luck:

I was born at the right time, in the right country with the right resources.

I was born in time when Chemotherapy was available and had been honed over 25 years to become more effective at curing childhood cancer. Then when I needed a heart transplant many years later, Cyclosporine (an anti-rejection drug) revolutionized the body’s ability to keep the transplanted organ, increasing my chances of survival.

Finally, not many want to hear this but this, but it’s the brutal truth–I was born with access to the right financial resources. I could afford health insurance and I was born in the United States, which performs 66% of the all the transplants in the world.

In many ways, I won a lottery. The odds that I slipped through the time-space continuum to make all these things happen, which have contributed to my ability to cheat death, not once or twice but three or four times is incredible.

I can’t not explain my luck other than the circumstances of my birth. I have deep gratitude for my position and realize that many others at home and around the world do not have my opportunities.

I know that time also makes a difference and I’m mindful to honor those they went before me. My paternal grandfather died at age 36 in the 1960s with his “body riddled with cancer,” per his autopsy. I suspect he had the same heredity cancer than I had (something I only discovered in the early 2000s, thanks to the Genome project and the advent of the internet). My grandfather and others like him, endured great suffering to help our medical advances.

American values teach us that if you work hard enough, your merit will be rewarded. However, I believe that luck also plays a part in making someone’s dreams come true. Well how do I get Lucky? I don’t know, and for that reason I apologize that Luck is even on my list of how I cheated death, because you can’t recreate luck. It’s unfair.

  1. Violence Fast

For years, I avoided internet searches and I didn’t watch any videos about Heart Transplant prior to having the surgery. That’s pretty unbelievable when you consider I read reviews just to buy new bed linens. When it came to transplant, I was too scared. This surgery is not optional and I just had to plow through it, so why get bogged down in the gory details. Ignorance is bliss.

Instead I met face-to-face with a few heart transplants recipients that I met through friends (we’re a small community). Interestingly they all approached me the same way. They told me briefly about the what’s, why’s and where’s but when it came time to really get down to the details, they said “ask me questions. Every person’s experience is different, so rather than me just go on and on, ask me your questions and I’ll tell you my experience.” Wow, this blew my mind. Especially, now that I’m on other side, I understand why they approached our talks with opened ended questions and avoided advice giving.

Everyone has their own journey. When I mentor a pre-transplant recipient, I don’t offer advice, instead I listen, I validate, I empathize and I share my feelings. Ok I will offer this advice, when in the hospital always pack an extension cord, so that your cell phone can be in the bed with you and you can reach it. Jokes asides, no one can predict how well they will do during the transplant, so all I can do is sit beside them on their journey, and perhaps my presence encourages hope that they will survive and thrive too.

 

  1. Humor

Laughter really is the best medicine. During my darkest days, I find that I watch the most vapid, silliest TV shows or read trash novels. I don’t have the heart for violent movies (pun intended). But give me back-to-back episodes of “Schitt’s Creek” or “The Derry Girls” and I’m a happy woman. I need light hearted humor and laughter to offset my tears.

Prior to my transplant, I was crying a lot. I was depressed and grieving my Mum’s terminal cancer diagnosis. My brother-in-law, a funny guy, set his ring tone to a woman sobbing, so that when I called he heard tears. He said he wanted to be prepared to take my calls. I quickly stopped sobbing myself and laughed until I was out of breath. The Greeks taught us that Humor is a powerful antidote to Tragedy.

The secret to Humor in the face of adversity is that you have to actively seek it out. Be mindful to block media that takes you down and instead focus on the stuff that lifts you up. Yes, I am telling you to binge watch your favorite TV shows.

  1. Asking for Help & Self-Care

The first time, I reached out to ask if friends could make meals felt awkward and embarrassing. I couldn’t eat restaurant food because it was too salty, so food had to be prepared at home during my quarantine. I was physically incapable of cooking, my sister & her husband both had full time jobs and a baby, my Mum had cancer and my Dad was her Caregiver. My husband worked in Austin three hours away and when he was in town over the weekend, he would make low sodium casseroles to last for the week. But if he couldn’t cook them, we had a challenging week.

When a friend said to me, “let me know how I can help you,” I wasn’t prepared. Don’t let the moment just flitter away in fear and awkwardness like me. Be prepared for a real conversation the next time this question is asked. Consider replying with, “Well, how or what do you think you’re up for?” Then be ready with a small list they can choose from: meals, babysitting, yard work, driving or attending doctor’s appointments.

Most of your loved ones may be unsure of how to help you. Each person has a desire to help, combined with some sort of skill that can be brought to the table, so take a moment to consider their best role. My neighbor adores dogs and she was invaluable to us with last minute pet sitting that turned into weeks at a time.

Asking for help is a form of self-care, but more specifically the act of “self-care” is doing things that make you feel better. Maybe it’s taking a walk in the park. Ok, well with Congestive Heart Failure it might not be a walk, so take a beautiful Sunday drive.

Me, I love to go to the movies. For those two hours, I get to escape and enter another world. My dad and I would go to the Dollar Theater once a week when I was in chemo. We snuck in candy from the nearby Walgreens. The whole ritual was fun and a diversion from my grim reality. Caregivers, just as much as the patients, must engage in self-care to combat Caregiver Fatigue or Exhaustion. The point of self-care is to actively pursue JOY. So it is my hope for you, especially during times of adversity, that you are mindful of experiencing JOY every day.

Bonus 11) Try to be “OK” with not knowing….

I’ve talked to many people facing a heart transplant and the answer they really want, that they need to hear is: Am I going to live? Am I going to be ok?

No one, not even the doctors can give a straightforward answer on your mortality. Sitting with the anxiety that your dying (that’s the only way to qualify for an organ transplant), compounded by the lack of knowledge of when you’ll get The Call for the transplant surgery, only to then consider if you’ll live through the surgery…well, this will make you lose a lot of sleep. You may experience restlessness, anxiety, bouts of crying and maybe even agitation at times. This is normal considering the extraordinary circumstances you are under as you wait for an organ transplant.

Connect with someone who’s had a transplant or is in the chemo chair next to you. If you’re on the other side then consider mentoring someone on the wait list. Your hospital social worker or nurse coordinator can make introductions. Or join a Facebook group in your area for your specific issue. When you’re facing a medical crisis, you realize that the community attending your hospital is relatively small.

You do not have to do this alone. And there will be moments when you will be in the dark and it’s feels vulnerable, annoying like info is being purposely withheld (it isn’t) and ultimately, thoughts wander to those of death and dying, another thing out of your control. Take deep breaths, cry when you need to cry, and consider what coping strategies you can use to get you through moments of anxiety. Me, I would call or text a loved one or a friend.

In closing, find comfort in both prayer and the science behind the medicine. Transplant recipients are chosen for the likeliness that will do well in the surgery. Check your transplant program’s surgical outcome rates, they should be posted everywhere. Finally, remember you are surrounded by your medical team, family, friends and supporters from all over the world rooting for you.

If you need to chat or you have questions, send me a message or email. I read every comment and reply.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I hope that in some small way it helped lessen your burden for whatever troubles you are facing.”

 

Sending Good Wishes to Jennifer Berliner from Illinois

Ava and Elise enjoy sunset in Manchaca on Larry’s Lane.

My friend in Austin, Jennifer Berliner (Guest #9 on the podcast posted) is in critical condition and in a medically-induced coma for rejection of her heart transplant.

I want to send good vibes and prayers to Jennifer, who is only 44 and celebrated her 20th wedding anniversary just a few days ago.

When I met Jennifer (at a bar in Austin) playing euchre she asked me about blogging, which I have been doing since 2007, and she began her blog with my encouragement. The link I am going to put here is from Jennifer’s blog www.anewheartrocks.com. It is full of wisdom, as is Jennifer.

Thinking of you, Jennifer, and hoping we can resume our card games in Austin. Words of wisdom for sure.

https://storage.googleapis.com/czhdq6spi0j792.appspot.com/s/files/d/0/fH951YZlzq5Hh.html?l=706062345471898478

On the Road Again: Poplar Bluffs, Missouri

I’m currently in Poplar Bluffs,Missouri. Yesterday, we were in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. . We journeyed across Arkansas today. Hampton Inns are our “home away from home” and I (belatedly) remembered that I am a Hilton Honors member and they now own Hampton Inns.

All I know is that we will hit St. Louis tomorrow and, hopefully, see brother-in-law Mark and do dinner and some sight-seeing.

We added up the cost of gas, so far, to and from Texas: $74 Of course, we are driving my Prius hybrid auto, which gets something like 52 miles to the gallon.

We managed to find two of the worst gas station rest rooms in the states of Arkansas and Texas. One had a rest room, but it was “out of order.” We ended up eating waffles at a waffle house at 4 p.m., simply to gain access to a rest room. Today was no better, as this rest room definitely did not earn a gold star for cleanliness. Yet there were instructions posted prominently about washing one’s hands, although I was afraid to touch ANYTHING in this rest room.

I am reading aloud and the book in question on this way home is Bob Odenkirk’s “Comedy” autobiography. On the way down, it was Mel Brooks’ autobiography, “All About Me.” Both re good books and very funny and very interesting.

My spouse insists on pronouncing “Poplar” as “popular” (!) but I will say that the Hampton Inn here is very nice. Rooms are running about $150 per night, so the trip will end up costing around $400, total, whereas our air fare back to Texas for the Fourth of July is going to run more like $600, or $300 apiece.

I can’t say that Arkansas is an improvement over Oklahoma, Folks, but Texas was way warmer and I’m getting ready to don a jacket as we head closer to home.

Texas to Illinois: 1,000 Miles in 4 Days (and You Are There)

We begin our journey from Texas to Illinois tomorrow.

We returned from Mexico (Cancun) on April 23rd and now we are battening the hatches in our Manchaca residence until the Family Fest, which usually coincides with the Fourth of July, which is only a couple of months away. (Plus, we come down earlier to help get ready for it.)

I have scheduled myself into the breast cancer center of the University of Iowa on May 6th to tell them what has happened to me, so far, since a diagnosis of breast cancer on Pearl Harbor Day. After 2 EKGs, one chest X-ray, one MRI, one echocardiogram, one radioactive injection for a sentinel lymph node biopsy, a lumpectomy, 124 Cephalexan pills for a “seroma” (rhymes with “aroma” but not nearly as fun: an infection, post surgery) and time to heal up, I now face radiation for 33 days. I will have a CAT scan (and a bone density scan) on May 2, the day after our return to the Illinois Quad Cities. The actual radiation needs to get started by May 12 so that I can finish up just in time to fly back to Austin for the Fourth of July, with tickets purchased for June 30th. (I hope I’m not as tired as I was after one week with 17 relatives in Mexico!)

But enough boring health stuff. I do want to alert folks that I’m going to be participating, in one way or another, in a lot of film festivals, with reviews to appear here:

1) The Chicago International Film Festival, which I have covered for over 20 years. It ends on Oct. 23rd and I’ll be there for the duration.

Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, screenwriters of “A Quiet Place,” the morning after the film opened SXSW in 2018 with Connie at Starbucks.

2)  The Austin Film Festival that commences on Aug. 27th. This is a “writers festival” and writers from television and movies are invited to tell “how to do it.” Last year, (Scott) Beck and (Bryan) Woods from the Quad Cities were invited to appear, based on their screenwriting for “A Quiet Place.” I wanted to participate then, but the dates overlapped with Chicago, so I couldn’t. This year, I can do both, if I get on a plane after Chicago ends.

3) The Denver International Film Festival, which is in early November.

4)  Sun Dance Film Festival in Idaho, via video.

And, as usual, I’m planning on covering SXSW in Austin in March, as I have done for the past several years.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, here are some photos of  Cancun, Mexico, which  I shot with my

brand new IPhone 13. Enjoy!

Nicoletta Italian restaurant.

The Royal Islander

Stay Tuned Here for SXSW From March 11-20th!

Rosario Dawson in new series “DMZ” at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

I’m here at SXSW 2022 and preparing to travel down to the Convention Center on Thursday to collect my badge, get my Nikon tagged, and prove I’ve been vaccinated—3 times.

This is not my first rodeo, but it is one of the most screwed-up, pandemic or no pandemic, mostly because of my own computer  shortcomings.  My computer was hacked, which ended up costing me close to $200 to fix AND an important announcement regarding things in general got lost in my SPAM folder, I had surgery on 1/27 and missed some important deadlines because we were driving to get here. Probably just as well that I won’t be standing in as many lines for as long as usual, since I’m not yet 6 weeks post-surgery until tomorrow.

Also, one year ago in Austin we had the infamous freeze and had to melt down Frosty the Snowman in order to flush our toilets. (Yikes!) Remember that? We went without water for about 5 days, but did not lose our power–although our son and wife, 3.3 miles away, lost both for about a week. Ah, the golden memories.

Armie Hammer. at SXSW in 2018 (my photo at the Stateside Theater.)

I’m just so pleased that SXSW seems to be emerging from the pandemic stronger than ever because, as you may remember, they were one of the first Big Events to cancel that year and go all online, (whereas Mardi Gras just went ahead and exposed a bunch of party-goers in the Big Easy.) Not all of the celebrities of past years will be there this year, as evidenced by THAT guy!

I’m going to be taking in a lot of the films on my home television set, because, due to recent surgery and being on the road when the deadlines occurred, I seem to have missed the deadline for signing up for Red Carpet photo ops. I’m still invited to chat with the stars of a variety of new streaming shows one-on-one, including the new “DMZ” (a fictional new Civil War with Rosario Dawson and Benjamin Bratt, where Rosario is searching for her missing son).

Another big new sci-fi offering that Steven Spielberg has a hand in will be “Halo,” which is being touted and the entire working group behind Ben Stiller’s “Severance” (minus Stiller, himself, or Adam Scott) will be meeting with registered press who wish to ask questions about that intriguing series (I’ve seen 3 episodes, so far).

All together, there are 99 features, 76 World Premieres, 4 International Premieres, 4 North American premieres, 2 U.S. premieres, 13 Texas premieres and 111 short films.

I’m torn between attending the up-close-and-personal meeting with the stars of the new “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” since I remember the original with David Bowie, or participating in a Lizzo promotional event that sounds really fun. I almost certainly will be the oldest person at any of these get-togethers, and I will often opt for the really interesting documentary over the so-so feature. (How many reviewers have been at this non-stop since 1970?)

Pick up a copy of my book on 70s movies, “It Came from the 79s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” on Amazon to celebrate SXSW and prove that I’ve been at this a looong time.

Who can choose between “Linoleum,” a Jim Gaffigan-starring light comedy (also sci-fi-ish) and Ethan Hawke’s examination of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward entitled “The Last Movie Stars?”

Stay tuned to this page as I share with you, my faithful readers, the upcoming SXSW offerings that I’ll be seeing from March 11 to March 20th.

Biden and the Border

The article below is a cobbled-together article from a variety of respected sources, all of them fiarly recent and all of them addressing the border, the border crisis, and the history of the border issues. In light of the constant litany of charges that “the border crisis” was all the Biden Administration’s fault, with little recognition of how long this problem has existed and no discussion of what all of the issues behind it might be, I decided to “copy and paste” some of the more enlightening articles out there…especially if they were current.

Apparently there are those who think that a problem this complex can be solved by simply throwing up a barrier, and that it should happen literally overnight, in the case of the Biden Administration in office only 100 days as of April 29th.

So, what, exactly, is the deal with the border wall, then and now? The following words from others are selections of articles, only, and this is far from the definitive word on the border and what has gone on there historically and is going on there now, but I thought you might enjoy reading some of the information for yourselves all in one place.

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US-Mexico border violence deepens immigration divide | World| Breaking news  and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 27.11.2018

“Some 172,000 migrants were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in March, the most in two decades. The problem is both push and pull: residents are driven out by hurricanes, crop failure, crime and corruption; they are drawn to the U.S. by family ties, work and stability in an economy expected to explode with post-pandemic opportunities, and an administration promising more humane treatment after the harsher Donald Trump years.

On Monday, VP Kamala Harris (delegated by President Biden to handle the crisis) meets by video with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in advance of a visit there and to Mexico in June. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Harris would discuss sending immediate aid to Guatemala and “deepening cooperation on migration.”

Harris plans to hold a call with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador next week after a virtual meeting with Guatemalan community groups on Tuesday.

Officials and advisers say Harris will have to figure out a mix of short- and long-term steps, find non-governmental organizations to partner with and use carrots and sticks to fight corruption.”

HONDURAS

“U.S. prosecutors allege Honduran President Hernandez participated in a violent cocaine trafficking conspiracy. His brother was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to smuggle almost 200,000 kg of cocaine into the the U.S. The effort was part of a state-backed trafficking operation that netted the president’s brother nearly $140 million, according to prosecutors.

President Hernandez was also cited in a separate case in the U.S. last month for allegedly participating in cocaine trafficking. He has dismissed the accusations as lies told by convicted criminals seeking to reduce their sentences and said he remains committed to fighting the drug trade.

Hernandez narrowly won a second term in a 2017 election that Organization of American States observers called “low quality” and whose result they refused to confirm. The country will hold a presidential election in November, and Hernandez is not running. That could allow the Biden administration to hold out hope for better leadership, but there’s little optimism that corruption there is a problem with an easy solution.

“The perception of impunity or the perception that people in positions of power can commit acts of corruption without consequence discourages the population and contributes to the sense that there is no future in their countries,” Zuniga told reporters after visiting.

FLEEING THE VIOLENCE

migrant caravan

Central American migrants en route to the US starting their day departing Ciudad, Hidalgo, Mexico. (Photo AP/Moises Castillo)

“Migrants, including a growing number of women and children, are fleeing the troubled region in record numbers. On average, about 265,000 people have left annually in recent years, and this number is on track to more than double [PDF] in 2019. (And has, during DJT’s final years and now.]

Some migrants seek asylum in other parts of Latin America or in Europe. However, most endure a treacherous journey north through Mexico to the United States. Unlike past waves of migrants, in which most attempted to cross illegally without detection, migrants from the Northern Triangle often surrender to U.S. border patrol agents to claim asylum. In 2018, the United States granted asylum to roughly 13 percent [PDF] of Northern Triangle applicants, almost twice the 2015 acceptance rate [PDF]. Guatemalans currently account for the largest share of the migrant flow, followed by Hondurans and Salvadorans.

Agricultural setbacks, including unpredictable weather and a destructive coffee rust, have fueled food insecurity and become a leading driver of migration. Many households depend on money sent home by relatives living and working abroad. Remittances equal a comparatively large portion—almost 18 percent [PDF]—of the three countries’ economic output. Meanwhile, corruption and meager tax revenues, particularly in Guatemala, have crippled governments’ ability to provide social services.

Decades of civil war and political instability [PDF] planted the seeds for the complex criminal ecosystem that plagues the region today, which includes transnational gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18). Critics say that U.S. interventions during the Cold War—including support for a coup in Guatemala, brutal government forces in El Salvador, and right-wing rebels based in Honduras known as the Contras—helped destabilize the region. Though they have declined somewhat in recent years, homicide rates in the Northern Triangle have been among the world’s highest for decades.

ECONOMIC INSTABILITY

Economic instability. The region’s most significant coordinated effort to address economic instability is the so-called Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity (A4P), which made commitments to increase production, strengthen institutions, expand opportunities, and improve public safety. Announced after a flood of Northern Triangle migrants arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, the $22 billion plan is 80 percent funded by El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Corruption. The region has made significant progress in its battle against corruption, a longtime drag on economies. In perhaps the most prominent example, Guatemala appealed to the United Nations for assistance in establishing an independent body to investigate and prosecute criminal groups suspected of infiltrating the government. Widely trusted by Guatemalans, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) helped convict more than three hundred officials and significantly reduce Guatemala’s homicide rate.

Meanwhile, El Salvador has charged three former presidents with money laundering or embezzlement, and recently announced plans for its own international anticorruption panel. With the support of the Organization of American States, a regional bloc, Honduras also established a corruption-fighting committee and went so far as to fire 40 percent of its police during sweeping reforms in 2016, though citizen confidence in the force remains low [PDF].

What’s been the U.S. approach to the Northern Triangle?

Over the past twenty years, the United States has taken significant steps to try to help Northern Triangle countries manage irregular migration flows by fighting economic insecurity and violence. However, critics say U.S. policies have been largely reactive, prompted by upturns in migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Critics say U.S. policies have been largely reactive, prompted by upturns in migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.

George W. Bush administration. President Bush put trade at the top of his administration’s Central America agenda, negotiating the seven-country Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which includes El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Under his administration, the United States also awarded Northern Triangle governments more than $650 million in development grants through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. During its second term, the administration grappled more with security challenges, including rising crime and drug trafficking in the region, and it responded with an aid package for Central America and Mexico known as the Merida Initiative.

Barack Obama administration. President Obama separated Mexico from the Merida grouping and rebranded it the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) [PDF]. Over the years, Congress has appropriated more than $2 billion in aid through CARSI to help the region’s law enforcement, counternarcotics agencies, and justice systems. Midway through his second term, Obama recast U.S. strategy [PDF] for Central America, forging what was intended to be a more holistic interagency approach to complement the region’s A4P plan.

After an upswing in migration from the region in 2014, the administration partnered with Northern Triangle governments on anti-smuggling operations and information campaigns intended to deter would-be migrants. It also cracked down on undocumented immigrants inside the United States. Court-mandated removals during his administration outpaced those under Bush, totaling about three million. After Mexico, the Northern Triangle countries accounted for the largest shares of Obama-era removals.

Donald J. Trump administration. The Trump administration has kept Obama’s framework for the region, but has prioritized stemming the flow of Central American migrants to the United States and ramping up border security.

Many of Trump’s actions have stoked controversy and sparked legal challenges. In the spring of 2018, the administration implemented a zero-tolerance policy [PDF] that sought to criminally prosecute all adults entering the United States illegally, including asylum seekers and those with children. As a result, several thousand children were separated from their parents and detained in makeshift facilities, many of which were criticized for being in poor condition. Trump officially rescinded the policy following a public backlash, though separations have continued.

OCTOBER 1, 2019:

The U.S. Immigration Debate | Council on Foreign Relations
 Photo courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations

Apprehensions of Northern Triangle citizens have more than doubled so far this year  (2019) compared with all of 2018.

Meanwhile, Trump has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in Northern Triangle aid, and is holding back future funding until the region “take[s] concrete actions” to address migration. The administration also tried revoking temporary protected status, a program that allows migrants from crisis-stricken countries to live and work in the United States for a period of time, for Hondurans and Salvadorans.

This seems to have made the situation at the border worse.

CHILDREN AT THE BORDER

A growing influx of migrants has led to a record number of children – 3,200 – being held in US immigration facilities as of 8 March. (*This has supposedly shrunk to 600 unescorted children being held, as of late April, 2021, with faster turn-around on processing and at least four families reunited after the Trump administration removed children from their parental escorts and lost track of many of them. Two shown being reunited recently had been separated from their parents since 2017 and 2018, respectively.)

US media reported that the figure had trebled in the past two weeks. It was also reported that half of the children are being held beyond the legal three-day limit, after which they must be transferred to the custody of health officials.

In January, the month that Mr Biden took office, 5,871 unaccompanied children crossed the border – up from 4,995 in December – according to data from US Customs and Border Protection (CPB).

Are unaccompanied children being held?

Yes.

While in office, Donald Trump faced outrage over the conditions inside border facilities holding minors. Images from inside the detention centres showed children overcrowded in metal cages, others sleeping under foil blankets.

Some of these Trump-era facilities – now renovated and upgraded – are being used again.

Mr Biden has so far left a Trump-era Covid-19 emergency policy in place, which allows US authorities to expel almost all undocumented migrants seeking entry – bypassing normal immigration laws and protections.

But unlike Mr Trump, Mr Biden has decided not to refuse entry to migrant children or teenagers.

CHANGES UNDER BIDEN

Biden immigration policy stirs confusion at Mexico border - Los Angeles  Times
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

“Advocates say that with most children arriving with plans to reunite with sponsors – typically friends or family – they should be transferred immediately to their care.

And according to preliminary plans obtained by US media, such a system may already be in the works.

The Biden administration is reportedly rushing to convert its existing facilities into “reception centres”, meant to rapidly process migrant families with the goal of releasing them into the US within 72 hours of arrival.

The proposal would replace long-term detention with Ellis Island-style processing, allowing migrants to travel to US sponsors before completing asylum screenings. The reports, from the Washington Post and the San Antonio Express, suggest a major overhaul of the US immigration system. All those processed are tested for Covid-19 before being transferred.

What is happening with the Remain in Mexico policy?

On Mr Biden’s first day in office, DHS suspended a controversial Trump-era policy that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their US immigration hearings.

About 70,000 migrants were enrolled in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – informally known as the Remain in Mexico program – since it was introduced in January 2019.

Last month, the Biden administration began to gradually process these tens of thousands of people waiting in Mexico, allowing them into the US while their cases are heard.

March 9, 2021

What’s happening to undocumented people already in the US?

Biden’s administration has taken several steps to reform the country’s legal immigration system.

He has proposed a major immigration bill that would offer an eight-year pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the country.

The legislation would also provide permanent protection for young migrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, known as Dreamers.

The aggressively pro-immigration policy – which would greatly increase both family-based and employment-based legal immigration – will face staunch opposition in Congress, among Republicans and some moderate Democrats.

DIFFERENCES: THEN AND NOW

The White House has also started to focus attention on addressing root causes of migration in Central America, with Vice President Kamala Harris charged to shepherd an administration-wide effort to address conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sent a team to the region in April to scale up emergency humanitarian assistance in light of the pandemic, aftereffects of hurricanes that struck in late 2020, and other challenges. Thus far, work with these countries has focused on short-term measures to reduce the pace of migrants’ arrival at the U.S. border. But the administration has consistently noted that long-term efforts to address poor governance and create economic opportunities in Central America will be key to stem irregular migration.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Night in Downtown Austin (March 20/21)

Birthday dinner in downtown Austin at Fogo de Chau.

This will be a stream-of-consciousness retelling of last weekend’s Birthday Weekend in downtown Austin.

It was my husband’s birthday AND we had secured appointments for our second Pfizer Covid-19 shots at the HEB store on 7th Street. That is truly something to celebrate, since we are supposed to fly to Mexico in early April and who wants to fly to a foreign country if unvaccinated?

We started our weekend adventure about 11:15 a.m. (for a noon appointment) and went to HEB first (did you know that the last name of the owner of HEB is Butts? Just wondering…). There was really no line, so we were done there in record time and picked up all kinds of stuff for our room: pop, beer, fruit plate, doughnuts (for the morrow), vegetable plate and dip, chips, etc.

We then drove to the hotel on Rainey Street and checked in early. We found out upon checking in that it was going to cost an additional $50 to park the car overnight. Later, we would find out that it would cost an additional $20 to watch a movie in the room. So, the tab was now soaring to over $550.

Our first shot weekend, the entire bill was $150, at the Stephen K Austin Sonesta Hotel downtown on Congress Avenue,  and it was quite quiet there.

Jessica and I celebrate at the Hotel VanZandt in downtown Austin.

The “live” band across the street played until midnight and then some idiot outside kept revving a motorcycle until 2 a.m. I had forgotten my omnipresent wind machine. Also, there had been no mention of their much-vaunted pool deck being under construction. (The one I show in my photo is an apartment building across the street). Nor did they mention “work on the outside of the building,” which meant that we were to keep our blinds closed unless we wanted to flash someone. I will attach a photo of the bathroom, which had a large tub overlooking the city—or, in this case, the workers outside.

There are robes in the room, but mine did not fit. There were no coffee pots. We asked that one be brought up when we checked in. It took 7 hours to get it. It made one cup of coffee and then would not work.

So, we hunkered down with the son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters to enjoy our goodies and watch Iowa in their first round of play. That went well, although Iowa would subsequently lose to Oregon, so there goes the season.

We also took advantage of the wine happy hour (5 to 6 p.m.) and, after that, went to Fogo de Chau, which I have probably misspelled, and ate.

Rainey Street on March 20-21st, Austin, TX.

This is directly across the street from the Convention Center downtown and was fairly busy. It is a chain (Brazilian Steakhouse). I think the price was $54.95 per person, but this was the son’s treat for his father’s birthday, and it was delicious. Waiters circle throughout the room constantly with roasted meats (sirloin, prime rib, chicken, pork, lamb) and they bring a very small dish of mashed potatoes to the table. Then there is a salad bar. Weirdly enough, they issue you a plastic baggie thing to use on your hand, like this is (somehow) going to protect you from spreading germs, were you to be infected with a disease of any kind. I don’t generally do much salad bar stuff, but I did take some potato salad (very bland) and two olives and some bread with butter packets. It was good that I took the bread, because the girls mainly wanted to eat bread and, at one point, they ran out of bread, which is odd. (Later, they brought some additional bread to our table, by request).

The dinner was delicious and very much appreciated. We then went back to the hotel, where we rented “Let Him Go” (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and Craig—who had his shot first on Saturday—experienced some after-effects—(fever, chills) that put him out early. I stayed up until 2 a.m. and was very sorry that I had not brought my wind machine. I was finally forced to press my phone into service, as it has a not-that-satisfactory version of my wind machine on it.

Hotel Van Zandt, Austin, Tx.

Hotel VanZandt. Corner room. Austin, TX.

When we awakened the next morning, my phone was nearly dead and we had to check out immediately to make it to my 12:30 appointment back at HEB. We were supposed to check out at 11 a.m.. but had asked for a slightly later check-out, so we left at 11:30 a.m. As a result, we got there around noon and—fortunately—there was no one there but me, at first. They were looking for someone named “Emily.” Another Hispanic gentleman signed in with his paperwork right after me. He was first; I was second, and then the MIA Emily showed and was given her shot, following mine. It is now Monday and I have not had any fever or chills or unusual fatigue or headaches, all good things.

So, we are both vaccinated for Mexico and the birthday—which included shirts, an Amazon gift card, a Home Depot gift card, and the room, itself, (with a complimentary lime pie dessert at the restaurant) feted Craig’s 76th year on the planet.

YOYO Philosophy Prevails in Texas (*You’re On Your Own)

View from Room 808 in the Sonesta Hotel in downtown Austin.

Today’s Austin American-Statesman column by Ken Herman contained the headline: “Abbott to Texans:   You’re On Your Own.”

In addition to thoroughly disapproving of Governor Abbott’s recent dictum to the state that all mitigation effort are off and everything is 100% “open” in the state of Texas now, Herman ended his column with these words:

“Abbott’s bottom line is we’re all on our own to do what we think is best.  Businesses are free to open to whatever capacity they want.  And customers are free to choose which businesses to patronize.

Sounds very Texan.  The problem is the worst decisions of the worst among us could become a determining variable about when real normalcy returns for the rest of us.  As we have seen since Day One of this life-threatening mess, we’re all still in this together.

Snide sidenote:  Hey! It could have been worse.  Abbott could have put ERCOT in charge!”

 

(*ERCOT, for the non-Texans out there, stands for The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which turned out to be ironically named when the entire system failed.)

Vaccination for Covid-19 Becomes a 4-month Task

Twenty-three million Americans are now completely vaccinated against Covid-19 and 70 million have had the first (of two) shots. I am among the seventy million who just received the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, today, at 12:30 p.m., at an HEB grocery store in Austin, Texas.

Stephen K. Austin Sonesta Hotel, 701 S. Congress Ave., Austin, Tx.

Sonesta Hotel, formerly the Intercontinental Hotel in Austin, Texas.

We have been placing ourselves on various lists (State list, HEB, CVS, Walgreen’s) for months now. I even got a local doctor, thinking that might help (it didn’t).

I finally took to tweeting to various entities and wrote an e-mail to HEB, since the state website seemed completely unworkable. That site would ask you to select a pasword, which we did. When we’d try to check back in to see if there was any vaccine available (usually not), it would not accept our passwords, even though we knew what they were. We would then be forced to say “Forgot password.” The site would say it was going to send us an e-mail (to our e-mail boxes), an e-mail which never arrived.

I pinned my hopes on HEB, which has performed brilliantly during the pandemic for well over a year. Their Favor delivery service has been phenomenal, and far better than similar services in the Midwest. Today, I spent 20 minutes sitting in a chair waiting for my name to be called outside the pharmacy inside the HEB store at 2701 E. 7th St. in Austin, Texas. Later, I wrote to HEB, “You may have literally saved my life.”

We are slated to travel to Mexico near Easter and the thought of travel at this time is scary and travel without a vaccination is terrifying. We already had Covid-19 in October, but getting the vaccination, as many of you know, has been an arduous process.

So, I kept pestering anyone I could think of to pester, with tweets, phone calls and e-mail. After writing about this to HEB, I called one of their stores and asked to be connected to the pharmacy. I held for a “live” person for a long time, but after we spoke she said there was one spot, at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28th (today). As she was making that appointment for me, another opened up and she said she only had 8 minutes to fill it, for my husband, who was booked on Saturday, Feb. 27th. This means that our second shots will take place on or near his birthday (March 21st).

It also means that I got the Big Bright Idea of driving downtown and getting a hotel room nearby for one night. We dined at the Roaring Fork and made it to our appointments and I have included pictures of the Stephen K. Austin Sonesta Hotel, which used to be the Intercontinental Hotel at 701 Congress Avenue (until a month ago.) I had always wanted to see the rooms in this hotel, since it is Grand Central Station during the normal SXSW Film Festival.

Enjoy!

 

 

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