• An email thread or how to get a Specktacular speaker in your classroom

    by Cathy Speck

    Hi Debra,

    Every day I write. Every day I think to myself, “this will make a great story for Ipinion.” Every day turns into every night. Every night I go to bed, strap on (ahem…) my oxygen mask and fall asleep. Every morning I get out of bed, and start my everyday adventure.

    Today is not like everyday — well, yes it is. This day is the same as the others. It is behavior that changed.

    I’m finally sending you a string of emails between a Sac City College psychology teacher and me. If you start at the beginning, which is at the end of the string, it will all make sense. Wonderful, magical sense, which is always here — we just need to open our thought pathways and let this synchronicity slide in…

    I have never officially met this woman, a situation similar to yours and mine. I will ask her permission to use her emails in my Ipinion story. I bet she’d prefer I delete some of the personal family stuff, I’m certain she’ll say yes, and if not, I’ll change her name.

    Anywaaaay, go back to the beginning, strap on (ahem ahem) your writer’s helmet, and hang on for the wild ride… Born to be Wild!


    Hi Laura,

    I haven’t been able to reach Cathy and I have postponed asking her for years, but I teach Psych of Death/Dying at Sac City College, and this semester I have two sections back to back. I would be so unbelievably honored if she could speak to these classes, but I do not want to tax her energy or even assume she is willing or capable.

    The topic is so personal but it seems, by virtue of her blog name, that her attitude is certainly something she works on each day. Do you know how I reach her? My classes are at 10:30 and then at noon so not too early and not late.

    It’s just a thought. I’m OK with a no. She is such a role model for so many things. I know her from the Co-op and her music, but she doesn’t know me personally.

    Thank you for any light you can shed.

    Joanne Moylan-Aube


    Hey Snarffule Puff —

    Write back to this woman: Joanne Moylan-Aube

    She wants you! (see email above)


    Hi JoAnn,

    (please excuse my “typo-ing,” my fingertips don’t listen to what my brain is trying to communicate.)

    I just receved Laura Marsh’s email. How do you know her? I met her in 1987(?) at the Davis Food Co-op where she worked in the produce department. That year, I had gone back to college to take classes that truly interested me. I decided to learn everything I could to make me a “whole person, ” for self -enrichment, if that is the proper description. If it’s not, oh well. What’s it gonna do, kill me?

    Ah yes, gallows humor rears its laughing head.

    Anyway. the courses I took that semester (while working full-time at the Co-op) were: Voice Class; Campus Choir; Creative Writing; and the Pychology of Death & Dying. To this very day I attest that the Death & Dying class was the best class I had ever taken — it taught me about LIFE.

    How fitting it is that you should write to Laura Marsh, who was also taking a class at Sac City, to contact me. Here I am, and my goals/mission for the years I have on Earth are to help people live more fully. Embracing dying as part of living, and death as part of life, in my view, makes us whole. I had been thinking about this since I took that class, and now I know it in every cell of my body.

    I feel honored and humbled by your invitation. I would love to come to your classes, so how ’bout you and I talk/email/text soon, to work out the details and we’ll go for it. I would be extra happy if we could do this before the Walk To Defeat ALS on Saturday, Oct 1. That way, I could recruit more walkers, and your students could look death and dying (and living in the now) face to face. At the walk/rally, almost every person you see is either dying of ALS, or they’re losing a loved one to ALS. And, it is one of the most inspirational, motivating events I’ve ever experienced. My number one event was the very first San Francisco Gay Pride Parade in 1981. I had no idea there were so many gay people. I felt safe, no — encouraged, to walk down the street with my girlfriend, holding hands, embracing each other intimately, and yes, kissing in public. Just Like our song says.

    The parade was a different, yet similar motivational event as the walk. Both inspired me to go out into the world and make positive changes, and to bring out into the open that which for so long been hidden by the cloak of darkness…

    Yikes, I’ve strayed way off topic. I want to come to your class and be of service to you and your students. Let’s pin down the date, time, where, bibbety bobbety boo!

    In the meantime, take a peek at what’s going on with the “ALS Walk-a-thong” as I like to call it. My personal page is: http://web.alsa.org/goto/cathyspeck and our team “The Specktaculars” page: http://web.alsa.org/goto/speck

    The general information about the walk is at www.walktodefeatals.org. Our local ALS Chapter is www.alssac.org. I write a monthly column for the monthly newsletter, which this time is on page 7. I think you’ve read some of my “blong”:

    www.cathydyingasliving.com. And. you can see some intriguing videos on YouTube — just search Cathy Speck ALS. My skydiving video is also on my “personal page.”

    Upon reviewing this email, it seems like I’m an egomaniac — but there I go talking about myself again. Oh well.

    My contact info: speckduval@gmail.com. I do most of my work from home now, but I do pop into the Co-op for a few hours (total) each week. The Co-op is so supportive of me — I’m so fortunate to work among so many kind/generous/compassionate folks.

    Cheers & chuckles, Cathy


    On Fri, Sep 9, 2011 at 4:43 PM, Joanne Moylan-Aube wrote:

    Hooray… it’s you!! I am so thrilled that you are well enough to share your generous time with us and that perhaps we can get some students motivated to do the walk. I will give them extra credit for it!

    You may or may not recognize my face as just another Co-op person in the lineup. I miss your buttons, your jokes, your presence there, as do many others. You undoubtedly took Psych of D and D from Tom Bruce, the god of death. He just recently retired completely and actually has some health issues himself, which he is completely mum about.

    I have taught his evening class for the past 6 years, and now have his daytime courses. He is hard shoes to fill, but I love what I teach… LIFE! I have a different style, which includes more guests and a few awesome films. (You may be inspired by Jonna’s Body… a film and live show by an amazing woman who acts out all her body parts as she struggles with a 3X diagnosis of cancer… lucky her, huh? (No, really) I am sooooo honored that you can come speak!!

    I am happy to work around whatever schedule you desire. Monday, Sept. 26 or Wed. Sept. 28 would be perfect. The first class is at 10:30 and then we’d pull a “groundhog day” and do it again at noon. Wednesday would probably be best, but whatever works for you. I can pick you up in my Prius.. room in back for chair/walker and my room is probably the same room you took the class in — Mohr Hall 101… close to parking. I have had people speak before who had terminal diagnosis… AIDS and one with leukemia… but I wouldn’t describe them as people willing to stare death in the face and speak out about it quite like you. I will bring Kleenex.

    Joanne Moylan-Aube

    I will call you after I hear which date you prefer and we’ll talk. We can even meet up before the date if you wish.
    P.S. Ya haven’t lost that sense of humor either.
    P.P.S. Ya think I haven’t seen you skydiving?? OMG!


    Hi Joanne, I’m really excited about speaking/tap dancing/synchronized swimming with your class on Monday, Sept 26. A few questions:

    I appreciate you picking me up and throwing me in your Prius. My walker folds up, and I’ll have a brief case or discreet brown paper bag filled with ALS Walk-a-thong” paraphernalia. I’ll also bring a Duval Speck CD so that I can play a song about “soul-comfort” after death, and I have some intriguing photos to share. And…

    Those were not questions, of course, and I don’t even need to point that out. After all, you’re a college professor, and you know what a question is, right? Get it?

    Here are the questions?

    Since you’re driving me to campus, may I assume that you’ll also drive me back to Davis, or do know a good corner where I can hold a piece of cardboard scrawled with “Have Walker, Will talk for ride.” And scrawled beneath that in smaller, harder to read Sharpie, “Not a VET, but a dog-lover. Please HELP?”

    How many students in each class?

    Does your classroom, Mohr Hall 101, have DVD,/CD players, and LCD projector?
    How long do I get to hold your students captive?

    You’re bringing Kleenex? Are you implying that I need to stuff my bra? Wait, I don’t even own a bra. Do you keep any “emergency back-up bras” in your Prius?

    Okay, that’s all for this email. And yes, it would be great to meet and chat before the big day.

    Have a great weekend.

    Cheers & bubbles,


    Hello Cathy,

    I couldn’t remember if I even responded back with answers to your questions. My in-laws have arrived… 84, 86… one deaf, the other diabetic, and both of them walking like Leaning Tower of Piss-a… (I got him in Depends!! Brownie Button for me!) I have been completely absorbed in lining up care for them, etc., and we are walking zombies. You’ll be a piece of cake!

    I will get you back to Davis… how bout I put you by CRV/Nugget with that guy with the sign. He looks kinda cute. I have about 50 students/class, which adds to 100, when they feel like showing up. It is a younger crowd and I have already shocked them with things like pictures of dead people. (What class are you in??)

    Would it be OK if I invited others? The room holds about 90. Would it also be ok if we filmed you? It may or may not be possible to film you but I think it would be a wonderful piece to share with other students.

    My co-workers are jealous. One teaches Tuesdayt night and the other T/Th morning. They both have speakers, but not like you… weird and funny.

    I promise to call you. We are trying to unpack and get them settled into an apartment this weekend. They are real troopers and I have utmost respect for them. He is the talkin” Irish though… so I may have to gag him.

    Blessings to you. Your emails are publish-able!
    Joanne Moylan-Aube


    Hi Joanne,

    No you had not replied or answered my questions, but I figured you assumed that I died, so you were looking for another performer/juggler/gymnast in a wheelchair to freak out your naive or “sheltered” students.

    But I don’t know, what could possible top (keep yer mind outta the gutter) A speaker who is an “OUT” lesbian, married to a woman, singer/songwriter, LGBT activist/ALS advocate who actually is dying of ALS, a rather obscure disease. To add to the freakish situation, this cripple has an EXTREMELY rare form of ALS – as in only 2%; it is genetic — and it runs in her family. She has watched her mother, an aunt, two brothers die of ALS before her, and each of her siblings has a 50% chance of getting the gene mutation, and it goes down through the generations, never decreasing the percent of inheriting this horrific disease. Many doctors — especially neurologists — consider ALS to be the most horrific, cruel disease. At each family party we look around (without saying it out loud), but we are thinking: “Who is next?” Does he look like his hands are getting weaker? Is she beginning to stumble when she walks? Were her jokes always this bad? Ha ha!

    Let’s see, where was I? Here I am. I found me; you can call off the dogs. Your in-laws are creating even more opportunities for you to grow… another head, perhaps? The way I look at it, things (i.e., thumbtacks broom handles, salt ‘n pepper shakers, and windmills) don’t “happen for a reason. ” Stuff happens. Period. Then you get to choose your response/reaction.

    ALS took my singing/performing voice away, so I’m spreading my love/humor/harmony of being with others with another passion I have — making toothpick structures of Florida swamp boats. Not really. Writing.

    When I was growing up I wanted to be a boy. Once I realized that my penis really was not gonna grow, I decided to be a writer. But then sports took up my energy (That and chasing off girls. Ha!). Then singing consumed my passion source. So coming full circle, a writer I shall be. That will be necessary to my quality of life after I lose my ability to speak out loud… in every crisis lies an opportunity. An opportunity to grow, or one can choose to stay stuck in the mud of fear. Fear is the root of all Fear Trees. Mmm, that didn’t come out right. Or, maybe it did… Hmm…

    Perhaps life would be less hectic if you and I chat on the drive over, or by phone when we’re both in your car — nope, that would have to be texting. Or we pass notes to each other.

    Or, like normal people, I could list five or eight questions without 37 parenthetical journeys to the parking lot that used to be Paradise. Then you can answer all of my questions, or you can be cruel and answer only three of them so I totally look like a freak in front of your students (those who decide to show up).

    What if you promote it, with commercials/social networking/blimps pulling banners, update the local TV News Stations.

    Oops! time flies, and I must too!

    Cheers & cadavers!


    Hello again, you wild, crazy woman. Is it OK if you are filmed? I think we need your permission “legally” for educational purposes. And can others come in? I figured a big “Yes” for the second question, but if I can get someone to film this, can we??

    You are so damn funny. So glad you are writing because you do have a book in you. It could be “The World According to Speck” and perhaps a few people would understand but it’s worth writing. I, for one, would die laughing. (Oh dear. . now you’re rubbing off on me!)

    Peace… the old folks are hangin’ in there but thanks for the words of wisdom… another opportunity to grow is really what it’s about. I never really liked my father-in-law, but I do care about our seniors and my heart is breaking for them both. They, however, have had a wonderful LONG life. No regrets. And we won’t have them either, having loved them through to the end. You know what I’m talking about — very intimately through your brother’s caregiving. And now people get to do this with you. Surrender and let them.

    Joanne Moylan-Aube


    Absolutely you can film me. You can record me, you can share anything I say, written, oral, body language… I only know LGBT sign language..

    Do you know any film makers or phlegm makers who can use a camera? A friend of mine is making a “speckumentary” — she’s recording/filming/reading & copying & saving just about everything i do. We were gonna try to make a movie, and I had already picked out who I wanted to play me: either Charlize Theron (did you see “Monster?”) or Brad Pitt.

    Anyway, yes! Film me. I’ll sign a waiver or whatever/whomever I need to sign. Gimmee a Sharpie and I’ll scribble all over bodies who want it.

    My lovely and talented wife, Linda Duval will be filming, using our punky little camera, but we don’t know how the quality will be or not to be.

    And specking of bees, Linda will beee driving me to and from campus since she’ll be in the neighborhood…

    How long shall I talk? Do you want to show any of the you Tibe ditties? Do you want me to give hand outs? Audio visual, tangible, smellable, coffee table-able?

    Will I be speaking or drooling at the beginning of class? I can talk forever, so it’s best if you give me a limit, especially so we can leave time for Q ‘n A.

    Cheers & bubbles,


    Sure… I have nothing to hide except my butt.
    But… can I film YOU?

    Joanne Moylan-Aube


    Hi again, Debra

    I’m just so darn excited about writing fun stuff again (as opposed to pleas for oxygen) that I’m forwarding stuff like a… a… mad-forwarder.

    Let me know how you think I should cut and paste the email threads so readers can read without getting caught in a spiderweb of threads.

    Oh wait, I’m not allowed to use scissors anymore, and I ate the last of our paste. It’s so sweet and gooey.

    Anyhooo, just say the word — um… ”trombone.” OK, and I’ll fix up those emails nice ‘n purty so the column is ready for the masses, or the messes, if people spit juice out of their mouths when reading my stories — not ’cause the juice is bad, but because my writing isn’t. And the stories ARE funny!

    Dear Cathy,

    So glad you are feeling up to writing again. You are a joy, and an inspiration.

    All my love,

    • This is too funny. I hope the talks went well. I loved the one lecture on Death and dying that I attended in college. It does teach you how to live. Great column today.

      • Judy N

      • October 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm
      • Reply

      This is an amazing column. It’s like a close encounter with a life force.

    • EVERY interaction with Cathy is a close encounter with a life force – even in email! She is amazing!

    Leave a Comment