Taking the Long Way


It’s been two long years now
Since the top of the world came crashing down

In May of 2006, the Dixie Chicks released their album “Taking the Long Way” which included songs that were a direct response to the scathing treatment and death threats they received for criticizing President Bush and the Iraq war in 2003. Country radio stopped playing their records, and some even hosted CD crushing parties in their station parking lots. The album earned five Grammy nominations and went on to win all five categories: Best Performance by a Country Group, Best Country Album, Song of the year, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year.

And I’m getting it back on the road now

At the end of that same May 2006, I finalized my divorce nearly two and a half years since the filing took place. I listened to that album once a day everyday for months. I blasted it on road trips, added my favorite songs to playlists, daydreamed about being the Chicks best friend. There was rarely a time when the title track didn’t cheer me up, even if I did need to let out a few tears first, a release of worries that gave way to the truth and comfort of the chorus…

But I’m taking the long way
Taking the long way around
I’m taking the long way
Taking the long way around

Two years seems like the unit of time that most upheavals require, in order to move through all of our cells, both physical and emotional. It’s the amount of time it takes so that when we are inevitably confronted with a ghost from that upheaval, it doesn’t knock the wind or spirit out of us, and hopefully, if we have been going to therapy, and accepting the love and laughter of friends, we confidently stand our ground with the ghost and tell it to get the fuck out.

Well, I fought with a stranger and I met myself
I opened my mouth and I heard myself
It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself
Guess I could have made it easier on myself

Life is relentless, so it also happens that just as you are coming out of a two year cycle of hell, you’re not winning Grammys, but instead filing bankruptcy. And for that one, you have to add on another four years of lean years, but, the aggregate of therapy, love and laughter of friends, Life Experience, and learning to once and for all be nice to yourself, you get to the other side of that too.

Today, I realized I am finishing another two year return: in 2013 I was too injured to run or hike without significant pain or discomfort, and it was discovered that I needed surgery on my right hip. Fitting that it was on a hike when I put this all together, and I was listening to this song when I had the epiphany. Yes, I was crying. But they were happy tears.

Well, I never seem to do it like anybody else
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
If you ever want to find me I can still be found

Taking the long way
Taking the long way around
Taking the long way
Taking the long way around

Open Letter to Texas School Superintendent


18 February 2015

Dr. Kevin Rogers, Lewisville Independent School District Interim Superintendent

Flower Mound High School
3411 Peters Colony Road
Flower Mound, TX 75022

Dear Dr. Rogers,

Although I live far from Texas in Northern California, I am writing to you in reaction to the news stories reporting the abhorrent behavior of Flower Mound High School students at a varsity basketball game last Friday night. I could not get through my day without being interrupted by my emotions about what happened at the game, and the alleged grotesque vandalism of the Plano East School buses. I posted the story to my own Facebook page with a sarcastic and defeated rant about how can this still be happening, and questioned what kind of community of adults enables these kinds of outright racist acts by their children. Frankly, I am glad that the world was allowed to see this with its own eyes, and hope that maybe NOW some action can be taken to stamp out racism at the core, starting with your homes, LISD schools, and surrounding communities.

I read your statement posted on February 17, but I do not think it was strong enough in denouncing the behavior, even as the school district is doing the necessary investigations. You say, “We regret that this unfortunate event has been elevated to this level on so many social media circles.” I don’t think you should regret it at all; in fact, this is how you will be held accountable in starting to address the systemic racism your school community is facing, and ultimately, how to fix it. Starting with me, just some woman in California who read about it on Twitter, I am holding you accountable for facing the racism in the LISD with some courage, and charge you with a challenge to change it.

Discussion with my friends in that same Facebook thread suggest that you should start with the following:

  1. Suspension of the students involved
  2. Criminal investigation of the students involved (this will include property damage, and some civil rights violations as well)
  3. Letters of apology written by the students to the Plano East varsity basketball team, coaches, fans, and greater school community
  4. Mandatory and long-term racial and diversity training for the entire LISD, students, teachers and staff
  5. Events that bring school communities together in celebration

I am a former teacher. I work at a nonprofit in San Francisco. Maybe I am a bleeding heart liberal. Today though, my heart is broken.

May you find the grace and courage to create real and lasting change.


Justine Hebron


Grateful, 2014 Edition


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

And I mean ev-er-y-onnnne!!

I have arrived at the place in my life where it is reflexive for me to be grateful for the people who love me unconditionally, and I can access the words to tell them, and the actions to show them how much I appreciate their presence in my life. It takes years of practice to get to this place, because deepened gratitude requires constant reflection and action, and a lot of times examining your thoughts and actions feels shitty because you realize you didn’t do your best. You also realize that you can’t and won’t be in sync with everyone you care about all the time, but that is the space you fill with your gratitude.

I have also learned to be grateful for the antagonists in my life, from people with whom I don’t agree on Facebook, all the way to the plainly hostile. These are the folks who teach me the most about my character. How I react to their provocations is under my total control, perhaps the only real control any of us have at anything. So for those lessons, I am grateful.

As years go, it has been a good year. My second of two beloved dogs died, I failed myself and a deeply respected partner at work, I didn’t save any money, and I had hip surgery. None of these things broke me and I was well supported and doted upon through each. They still visit me in quiet times as shards of torment and frustration, scraping away at my confidence, leaving me raw and confused. But another thing happened this year.

I fell in love.

And someone fell in love with me.

The great power of love is still far beyond my understanding to put into actual words, and I strongly resist trying for fear of sounding like a bad greeting card. But I am in love and feel loved, and am intensely committed to showing him how grateful I am for his presence in my life today, and every day always.

Again, Happy Thanksgiving everyone. May your time with family and friends be warm and tender, just like your turkey.

Robin and Joan

I know I need to give an update about surgery (short story: all went well, recovery is appropriately challenging, more news to come), but dammit if I am not out of sorts and struggling under the avalanche of just total crap news the past four weeks. Physical therapy is slow and hard and slow, work is being weird, I haven’t seen my boyfriend since July 7th, I miss my dogs, and too many good famous people whose job it was to remind us to lighten up through laughter have died.

I was still home in the hip brace when the news came of Robin Williams’ death. Since I live in Marin County, only one town away from his home in Tiburon, it felt more personal to me, knowing his neighborhood, and having several friends who cycled with him, they all, in terrible shock. I cried, bawling, loud jags for about an hour as the news reports and tweets rolled in, each one echoing the same basic story: Robin was tender and kind, shy and vulnerable, giving and warm, intelligent and well-mannered. Being a comic genius was actually much lower on the list.

Today, Joan Rivers died. She lived to be 81, sucking all the delicious marrow out of a long life while working her ass off every single day. For all their differences, she and Robin shared two things. First, the gift of comedy, which shows me time and time again to be the most potent medicine for the widest range of ailments. Second, they are widely hailed as people of integrity and humanity, always there to support or mentor, and always looking out for those coming up behind them.

It strikes me that the reason it hurts more to lose actors and comedians like Robin and Joan is because of this magical combination of humor and humility and the talent and drive they have to perform it for us, out loud, in public, on a stage. They make us feel as if they live inside our brains, saying all the things we want to say at JUST the perfect time, all the while an entire audience shares this same feeling, and bam, we are all connected. Most of us don’t know them personally, but they express our emotions and validate that we are not alone with all our complicated feelings through their writing, performance, and support of others doing the same work. They relieve us of our anxieties by pointing out how absurd our behavior is. There is real power in this exchange. Much more powerful than, say, creepy extremists carrying out horrific violence on other humans.

I hope we keep our focus on all the joy they brought us, because the world feels really terrible and overwhelming lately. They both made it a little easier for me to get up and face each day. I think I will read all the gushing remembrances over again and watch some good videos of them and others who make me laugh.

And hopefully the next person to go will be Vladimir Putin. And Pussy Riot will dance on his grave. (Joan would like this joke.)

Day 13: The Year of Surgery


As the years roll on, each seems to assume an identity, or at the very least they take on some strong character traits, which then get imparted to me as Life Experience. For example, I have taken lessons from Bad Hair ’95 and Was I Really At My Dad’s House for Three Whole Years in the Mid-2000’s? and applied them appropriately:

  • NEVER cut or color your hair as an immediate reaction to a break-up.
  • Yes, staying at your dad’s for three whole years while you were trying to start every part of your life over is fine, BUT, …no wait, no buts. That was all the way it was meant to be. Carry on.

I mention years as markers because once you are smack in the middle of life, they no longer feel like the largest, most never-ending measurement of time fathomable. They pass on at a steady clip, seemingly going faster each year, piling up the experiences and stories along side the ark in some vast warehouse of memories, photos, and boxes of receipts. Events get compressed and classified by year, and the older we get, by decade. (If you have kids, well then, you have some extra weird human-time machine living in your house to also contend with, who is constantly pulling you into the future with all their growing and changing and learning.)

Last year, and now seven months into this one, are going to be known as Oh, That’s When I Wasn’t Running years, because, like all active people, I have been injured and trying to heal. 2014 will be, The Year of Surgery. In 13 days, on Friday, 1 August, I will be having a fairly extensive arthroscopic hip surgery on my right hip (see my MRI above!) to remove bone spurs and repair a torn labrum caused by my acetabulum impinging on the top of my femur, which in turn is caused by the way my hip sockets and pelvis are formed genetically, a weak right side, and repetitive motion, AKA, walking, hiking, running, skiing, yoga, sitting, standing, AKA being alive.

That surgery is in 13 days is both daunting and exciting. I have a to-do list a mile long from prepping my house for recuperation and lining up friends in a schedule to come check on me, to buy plane tickets for Christmas, as if I can’t do that, say 17 days from now while I am laid-up with a computer in my lap. That is the funny thing about time and getting things done. Once we are contending with a massive project (surgery in this case), we tend to go into overdrive trying to get all the shit done we have been not doing over the years… like throwing out those boxes of receipts! While my focus is of course on my health and putting my most ardent energy into healing my body, the life experience I am taking from this past year and a half is:

  • Do the annoying/daunting chores or tasks a little bit a day as much as possible. Then before you know it, every photo album is filled, and you have space to have a little meditation room! (And no, these are not done yet!)
  • Demand an excellent physical therapist. Figure out which side of your body is physically weaker. Do the required, annoying, repetitive, constant, sometimes painful, daily exercises and stretches to strengthen and balance it. Don’t avoid massages because you deem them frivolous. Do these things. You will then rule the world.

Updates to follow, thanks for the support, and any surgery prep/recovery tips are most welcomed!

Lucky Walk

Tonight I went for a walk to the grocery store. Just the regular ol’ neighborhood Lucky, where fluorescent lighting glares, the cashiers are all union, the clerks and baggers all have special needs, but their customer service is extra special. I needed to get the most mundane of items: ant traps, insecticide, and some paper towels. I have a lot of ants to kill, so I could have driven and disposed of this task in 15 minutes instead of 45, but I wanted to walk. I needed to walk.

Since my injury odyssey started over a year ago and I have been unable to run or hike regularly, I have been in a kind of mild mourning. Perhaps I have just been giving my focus to trying to diagnose and heal my body, but I think I have been sad too about losing the routine that brings me so much joy and balance and clarity and vitality. (Losing Duke in March also compounded my detachment from how much I truly love a regular walk or run… it just felt terribly lonely without him or Rocco. I am healing from their loss.) But tonight, after having a really good cry over this tender and funny remembrance of Tony Gwynn by Keith Olbermann, I laced up my shoes, threw my debit card and house key in a well-worn Lululemon bag and headed to the grocery store.

I live in a little town, among several other little towns, that are all part of the near-idyllic Marin County. I like my little town; there is still a bit of plain charm and a lack of pretension that balances out the Tesla people and their unvaccinated children wearing $200 sneakers. The Lucky is the epicenter of plain and normal and humble, the living example of what politicians strain to describe in endless stump speeches.

It was a hot night, fitting for only a few days from the start of summer. I decided to walk on the main road rather than the bike and running path so I could walk through town. I passed the baseball field where families were packing kids up after practices, and boys were still playing ball with shouts of, “No! Then we are adding another rule! You can’t do it like that!” I walked past the Presbyterian church, no crowd of smokers on a break from the AA meeting. I smiled at my favorite house and pretended I lived there. I thought of how Duke and Rocco stopped in certain spots to pee on this route. I got to the redwood stand where a historic restaurant is undergoing repairs from a fire a few months ago. I made a mental note to find out when they will be re-opening. I got to a crush of people outside the very popular pizza place, little girls doing dances to songs they mumbled to themselves, moms pulling them by the arm out of my way. I stopped to meet a very sweet dog, who let me scratch her back and licked my face in gratitude. I went past the library, the fire department, the Catholic church and its thrift store, the hair salon, the dive bar, the empty space where the original gift shop/stationery store/office supply local once stood. There were workers painting the facade of the Italian bakery. I could smell the paint and turpentine. It reminded me of my dad’s jobs sites. I cut through a parking lot, deliberately walking on a patch of dirt and grass in a diagonal from the sidewalk to the next walking path, because it shows love to your town when you use her shortcuts. I got to the Lucky and was greeted by a clerk with a big smile and an aura of confidence in his job. It made me happy.

I found the insecticide aisle. I took my time reading the ant killer ingredients and claims of effectiveness, made my selections based on promises of highest insect death count, and headed to the cashier. The woman in front of me had olive oil. I needed olive oil too! I gathered my items off the conveyer and went to grab the oil, and when I got back the line was two deep. I was behind an older man wearing a lot of Disney paraphernalia: a jacket – covered in buttons and pins, a hat – covered in buttons and pins, and he paid for his frozen dinners out of a ziplock bag filled with cash. Rather than feel sad or sorry for him, I decided to listen to what he was telling the cashier and the clerk. He needed the plastic bag please because his Disney bag was full, including new books, and that he was reading H.G. Wells ‘The Time Machine” and “The War of the Worlds” again rather than just watch the Disney videos he likes so much. Reading is good for you. The woman behind me was wearing a “Low Density Marin” tee-shirt, sensible capri pants, and purple nail polish on her toes. I was glad she was working on keeping Marin sustainably growing.

My walk home was also lovely. At one point I could hear a clicking noise in the trees and thought it might be crickets, but when I stopped to look and listen, I discovered it was dried seed pods falling to the ground, clattering all the way down. This also made me happy. I walked back past the baseball field, a sweet little school, and on to the shortcut stairs to my street. I walked up my hill, with a fair amount of effort, being as out-of-fitness as I am. It felt so good.

I was happy.

I am happy.


Gone to the Dogs


Three years ago, I had to get a new car. As far as transitions go, getting a new car should have fallen along the mundane, defined by checking transactional items off a list, but since I am a sensitive-type human, letting go of the old car was hitting me terribly hard in the emotion sensors because I associated it with the end of my old life (ex-wife, ex-stepmom, ex-teacher, ex-film production) and had not yet fully come into my own in my new life (renewed and happy daughter, sister, friend, aunt, cousin, niece, runner, writer, dog owner, nonprofit dream job-haver, loud-laugher, and very selective dater). Giving up the car felt like a defeat, as if by giving it up, I had failed again at my old life; I was momentarily forgetting that I kept the people that mattered, the stepkids, their mom, and the dogs, and actively left the shitty stuff behind. I was actually winning in the new life!

Part of the reason for having that big auto-wagon was to schlep around my sweet Golden Retrievers, two brothers named Duke and Rocco. A car, no matter how hot the seats get on a cold morning, cannot warm your heart like a goofy, gentle Golden. The beings that are the most loving, can also be the most perplexing; deciding to keep two 80-pound Goldens, in the middle of a divorce, in between houses, cities, and careers, can at the very least be perceived by concerned family and friends as a bit frivolous, or a little more seriously, as compromised decision making. The funny thing is though, even at my saddest or most confused times, I knew that keeping the car AND the dogs was giving me the stability I craved. I was determined to figure it out.

Duke and Rocco came into my life in May of 2002. They showed up at the house with their breeder and three of their littermates. Having five seven-week old Golden Retrievers at your house is both the best and worst thing to ever happen to you. Laying in the grass of your front yard with your young stepdaughters in the late day sun while puppies snuggle into your face, bap you with their spongy little paws, all while they make growly puppy noises and fall head over tail within a three foot radius of your nose, well, that right there is a slice of heaven. But that is also how your husband at the time gets seduced into wanting not ONE but TWO puppies, and because you really want TWO too but you know better, BUT you want to avoid a fight, you get TWO GOLDEN PUPPIES.


Two short years later, marriage in shambles, Duke, Rocco, the car and I were left trying to figure out where to go, what to do, and if I would ever feel whole again.

But that was actually the beginning of the long road to recovery they would take me on. I made the conscious, if stubborn decision to keep the dogs. Because the divorce was so traumatic, I think that my family begrudgingly agreed I should not be pressed too hard on this, and to their credit, rallied around. It cannot be counted out that it was also because Duke and Rocco were irresistible. My dad let me move into his house in Sausalito, which at age 35 seemed more insane than having the beasts he was not too much a fan of live with him too. Once settled in there with no yard, I had to become a conscientious dog walker, which eventually turned me into a dog runner, which turned into Me, The Runner.


Then in 2008, right smack in the middle of the national financial crisis, I had to make another hasty move. Looking for an apartment with two 80-pound dogs rightly has about the same difficulty as hiking Mt. Everest without oxygen. I was barely breathing through my stress. But, I found us a place where we lived with no furniture for a month while I waited to unload my storage unit in LA, which was also good because it gave them time to get through the first week while having their daily attacks of explosive diarrhea from “moving nerves.” My dogs were sensitive tenderonis too.

The three of us settled into a nice routine in the casita at the commune in Corte Madera. Although Duke had since been diagnosed with epilepsy and took many drugs to mute the seizures, he was still able to run, so we spent many of our evenings out on the running and bike paths logging miles and keeping all of us sane and fit. They were escape artists, so they had to stay inside alone during the day (or at night when I went out) rather than in the unsecured yard, but 78% of the time no one jumped out of a window, got into the recycling, ate the loaf of bread on the counter, peed in the kitchen, broke into the bathroom and ate all the trash, barked so loudly at a deer that came into the yard that the weird neighbor broke the front door glass with his fist in a fit of rage when a kind and firm, “No!” would have sufficed, nor did they eat my Prada butterfly sandal (the guy I was dating, that was his dog who did that), so all things being equal, we were doing just fine.


Duke’s health started a long, slow decline, mostly because of the meds he was required to take for the seizures. He could no longer run with Rocco and me, so I had to shift our schedule to walk Duke (while Rocco was impatient and at times, incredulous), then drop Duke off back at home, then sneak back out with Rocco to get some more miles in. In the fall of 2011, Rocco and I were running together about 18-20 miles a week. At age 9, he was fast and spry and loved running with me. I noticed that every now and again he’d have a little cough, but I couldn’t find a pattern to it, so did not bring it up to the vet. Rocco was also my shadow, and even though the less needy of the two care-wise, he was a love hound and would basically sit in my lap if I let him.

And then, like a doomed opera heroine, he started to cough more. Within two months, he had gone from running 20 miles a week, to having fungal pneumonia and had to be euthanized in early January 2012. Duke and I were devastated. What would we do without favorite clown dog? Who would I run with? Would Duke die of a broken and/or confused heart? Would I?

Oh man, did it hurt. I have never felt that kind of absolute heartbreak before or since. I have tried so many times to write about his death, and have pages of emotional ramble that someday I will decipher, but all I can get at is this, however clunky. The love I shared with Rocco (and with Duke too, but this lesson first came from Rocco) was at its core the purest form of the emotion. A dog cannot apply complexity or conditions to love. A dog simply loves you in every minute he shares with you. That is why when you leave the room and come back his tail wags just as hard as when you leave for work for an entire day. He trusts that you will come back. And when you do, because you want to feel his love for you, he gives it to you with abandon.

Today, I had to put Duke to sleep too. I made the decision late last week after very mindfully watching his daily routine, and seeing a marked decline in mobility. He spent seven years taking Phenobarbital, potassium bromide, and then some doggie ibuprofen, all of which I shoved down his throat daily, twice a day, and he never once winced. What never declined was his love for me, which for the last three days I have basked in, just the two of us at the casita in between welcome and loving visits from friends and family. The last thing he remembers is me holding him, and stroking his face the way he liked so much he’d close his eyes in reverie, and telling him how much I love him.

Duke and Rocco have been my little family for 12 years. They gave me what I wanted: a sense of stability during a time of immense upheaval, a devoted and endless supply of fun and adventure, and most importantly, the ability give and receive love without conditions because before this, I didn’t know that was true. They were able to depart knowing I will be okay without them because through their eyes I learned I am worthy of love.

My family, friends and colleagues who have come to love my boys as an extension of me have been so incredibly kind and thoughtful and tender and warm and vulnerable, both the past few days and when Rocco passed a couple years ago. Every one of your calls, emails, txts, hugs, treats for me and for Duke (!) has lifted my spirits and made the shittiest days absolutely bearable, and in a sweet way that only dog-love can, make them fun and funny. My vet, and my two dear caregivers Danielle and Megumi, you have become my friends over the years and I love you and thank you for caring for my dogs in my absences. I would in no way have been able to do such a good job for Duke and Rocco without your constant love and support of the boys.