Jeff Pearlman

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Tiffany Ackley

#383
Two years ago this Aliso Viejo, Cal.-based attorney underwent a nine-hour surgery to have a brain tumor removed. So how did she respond? By seeking out the good in humanity, then running for city council. And winning. POSTED December 7, 2018

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A Quaz can come from anywhere.

Some come from TV.

Some come off of movies.

Some are friends. Some are friends of friends. Some are recommended. Some are in the news.

Tiffany Ackley, the 383rd Quaz Q&A, arrives via a Facebook post.

A few weeks ago, while dingling around the information superhighway, I stumbled upon this Facebook post from Tiffany Ackley, a local political activist who had just won an election to serve on a nearby city council …

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And I thought, “Quaz!”

Why? Because, more than ever, we need some positivity. Some inspiration. Someone to look at and say, “Yes, it’s still worth believing.” So I reached out, and Tiffany was all in. Which brings me great joy, because this is one helluva Quaz.

One can follow Tiffany Ackley on Twitter here.

Tiffany, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK Tiffany, so a few weeks ago you ran for a seat on the Aliso Viejo City Council—and won. And I wonder, do you feel like local political elections have lost any semblance of quaintness, of warmth? Like, has the anger of the national seeped into the locals? Did you need to go after opponents? Did they go after you? Were Trump allegiances factored in? Or was it a relatively peaceful process?

TIFFANY ACKLEY: When I decided to run, I wanted to be a force for the good. We were all being inundated with bad politics and politicians on a national level. I didn’t want to be that type of person, and so I kept my campaign positive.

That being said, I more than realize that national anger helped local politicians. Given the country’s temperament, people were mad, and willing to get out and volunteer. I can’t count the times I saw a Harley Rouda volunteer while I was canvassing. It was national anger that motivated people to show up in record numbers to vote.

For the most part the Aliso Viejo race was tame. I was anonymously attacked several times—for example, someone told me I was a bad mother because I was running for office. I was also attacked online by a prominent figure in Aliso Viejo who invented allegations about me. I was attacked anonymously on Twitter. There were mass emails trying to scare conservatives out of voting for me (comparing me to Elizabeth Warren). I had signs stolen. But these are pretty tame, especially considering how bad things can get in places like Irvine.

In the end, I’d say my race was more cordial than not—something I believe Aliso Viejo residents wanted.

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J.P.: On Nov. 28, 2016, you underwent a nine-hour surgery to have a brain tumor removed. You’ve said you woke up and decided to make life changes. What did that mean? And what did you do?

T.A.: When I had my surgery, my children were young—very young. Laurel was 3, and Keith was 6 months. The day before the surgery, I had to drive them out to family members and say goodbye to them for what might have been the last time.

At the same time, the world filled with hope—a world where Obama was President—was gone.  I had spent my whole life doing what I thought was improving myself: education, travel, reading, etc. But what I hadn’t done enough of was improve the world, not only for my children, but for everyone.

I woke up and really understood that life is short. I had spent so many years working at a national law firm—which was an amazing experience that allowed me to grow so much as an attorney—but the job took me away from home too much.

I would travel, work late, work on the weekends, and was on call all the time. I didn’t want that life anymore. I wanted a job where my clients were my friends, and where I was working to make this world better. For me, that eventually translated into working for water districts, helping make sure our water is clean and accessible to everyone.

I also made the decision to be happy and kind. People spend far too much of their lives focused on what is wrong, or that they are unhappy. It was like a light switch went off—I wasn’t going to do that anymore. Just being alive is amazing. There is good in everything, and in everyone. It’s our job to see the good in all situation. It’s our job to tell people what is good about them. It’s a cycle—the more we see the good/verbalize the good, the more good that comes, and the happier we get. If nothing else, I hope that people are kind to one another. Everyone has a struggle. Everyone.

I didn’t wake up thinking I was going to run for office. But I realized that if I was going to be faced with a president who didn’t represent my values, I was going to work hard to make sure this country still embodied my values.

I opened myself to opportunities to make a difference. Opportunities like going to LAX and performing volunteer legal services for incoming foreigners facing the Muslim travel ban. Opportunities like providing pro-bono legal work. Opportunities like taking part in the first-ever Women’s March up in Los Angeles. And, eventually, opportunities like running for office. And I wanted my children to be a part of that—to see that journey, win or lose. And I don’t regret any of those choices. Not for a second.

J.P.: How did you first know you had a tumor? Were there signs? Tell-tales? And what was your reaction when you were told, in fact, you had one?

T.A.: In 2009 I lost all hearing in my left ear. The hearing loss was so rapid, that I made an audiologist cry when he tested my hearing twice in a week and saw how much hearing I had lost in just a few days. I went through some crazy tests—I had a massive shot of steroids injected into my ear drum, all sorts of hearing tests and scans.

I eventually found myself up in Los Angeles dealing with experts who performed an MRI and they found the tumor. I tend to have measured responses to unusual situations, and this was no different. I didn’t cry. I didn’t scream. I just digested the information as fact and tried to go on with my life.

Because of the tumor’s location, it was too dangerous to operate on, so we decided to monitor the tumor’s grown with MRIs every six months. The tumor really didn’t grow at all for a long time. Once I gave birth to my son, I had a “routine” MRI and expected the same result I had been getting for years.

I knew something was different when I got a call from the doctor. I was at the old Redondo Beach courthouse and sent the call to voicemail. That courthouse was always one of my favorites—it was on the Redondo Beach pier. I always made it a point to park with my car looking out on the ocean/pier. That day was no different.

Once I was done in court, I got to my car, sat in the front seat, and returned the doctor’s call while looking out at the ocean. “We need to schedule surgery as soon as possible.” Those words are burned into my brain.

After the call, I sat in my car for about 45 minutes, just looking at the ocean. I’m a planner, so I started planning—who was I going to call first? What would I do with the kids? How would I tell my work? What did I need to do to prepare for the worst case scenario? It was a lot to process.

J.P.: You needed to go through physical therapy to learn to walk again. What does that mean? Like, you come out and your legs won’t listen to your brain? Do you know how to walk, but don’t know-know? In short, what is it to learn to walk again?

T.A.: There is a lot entailed in learning how to walk again. In my case, my legs didn’t listen to my brain at first- but eventually did. At that point, I had to learn how to walk without balance function.

We all use our inner ears for balance. My left inner ear had been removed in the surgery, so without physical therapy, the room spun all the time, and I’d fall over just standing up. I probably looked like I was drunk. It certainly felt that way when I would fall over just standing still. This was one of the most frustrating times in my life.

My physical therapist was amazing. She’d work with me for hours, taking very small steps, catching me when I fell, but encouraging me to keep going. I was pretty adamant about getting back on my feet, so I would go to therapy almost every day, and I would keep practicing my exercises at home for hours on end.

I still have something called oscillopsia (best described as your visual field feeling like it’s shaking)—which makes running impossible. And I still lose my balance every once in a while, but overall I function just fine.

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J.P.: How does that experience change your relationship with death? Does it make you more scared? Less? Neither?

T.A.: My experience didn’t change my relationship with death, it did change my relationship with life. Life is too short to not do something to make this world better.

J.P.: Your website bio says, “As an attorney I have spent the last decade of my life defending cities.” What, exactly, does “defending cities” mean?

T.A.: Smaller cities do not have in-house attorneys to represent the city in litigation, because the cost of such attorneys isn’t justified. As a result, the cities often participate in a joint powers authority—similar to an insurance program. When the cities are sued, the joint powers authority will hire counsel to represent the city in the litigation. My firm was one of the firms that provided that service.

The cities I represented—from San Clemente, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Beach, Rancho Palos Verdes, and more—would be sued for various things ranging from a fall that someone sustained as a result of crack in a sidewalk, to wrongful termination, to wrongful death, to discrimination.

J.P.: You posted something on your Facebook page recently that said BE GOOD TO PEOPLE FOR NO REASON. I feel like that’s a beautiful, necessary statement in 2018. I ask you—why does humanity seem so awful right now?

T.A.: I think humanity seems so awful right now for several reasons. First, things are bad, and we have elected a bully to the White House and our top governmental officials are committing crimes.

Second, bad news sells. There are more clicks on the articles highlighting the bad, and news media has to make money, so they post more of the “bad” news.

Third, we are all constantly on our devices. Seriously, when you walk into an elevator, look around and you’ll note most people are staring at their phones. And when you compare yourself to a curated image on Facebook, Instagram, etc., it’s easy to think our lives are bad comparatively.

But here’s the thing—take a second and look up. Ask the person in the elevator how his day was. Compliment her on something she is wearing.  When you are in a drive-thru, pay for the person’s meal behind you.

When we stop interacting with people, we start thinking we are the only ones with problems and we become bitter. But everyone—everyone—has a struggle. Be good for no good reason. It might take 2 seconds of your time, but it might mean the world to that person.  And maybe that person will do something kind to another person for no good reason. And the cycle goes on and on. I promise you, it’s worth it.

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J.P.: So we’re here in Southern California. The rain never comes. The fires are getting worse. We have a president who doesn’t believe in climate change. What do we do? And do you—optimistic-thinking Tiffany—think we somehow figure something out? Or is humanity doomed?

T.A.: Do I think humanity is doomed? Yes. Is that because of this president? No. Are we doomed because of climate change? Possibly. I would defer to people more qualified to answer that question.

I don’t believe the human race is meant to live forever. But I also don’t think we need to hasten our extinction. We should take care of this planet, starting with fighting climate change.  We should pour money into NASA and space exploration. We should keep doing everything in our power to move forward. In the words of Dylan Thomas, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

J.P.: Greatest moment of your life? Lowest?

T.A.: Superlatives are tough for me.  The greatest moments of my life are the births of my two amazing kids. The lowest moment of my life was struggling with post-partum depression following the birth of my daughter.

J.P.: You and I both live in Orange County. When I moved here four years ago, I was warned that it can be a very sheltered, shallow bubble where people are more concerned with their lattes than homelessness; where people rarely venture into LA because it’s “scary” and chain restaurants rule the landscape. And, eh … well, as much as I dig it here, they sorta have a point. Tiffany, you seem to love it here. So what am I missing?

T.A.: I have lived around the world—literally. I’ve lived in Connecticut, Italy, Spain, Austria, Sacramento, Louisiana, and Los Angeles. I’ve also traveled a lot. But I always come back to Orange County.

Do people here care more about their lattes than homeless? Yes. Do people here rarely venture into LA? Yes. And do chain restaurants rule the landscape? Yes. Are these statements even truer in South Orange County? Yes.

Look, we can call these things a downside or, we can chose to see them as a challenge to make positive changes. I chose the latter.

The time period from November 2016-thru-November 2018 was really inspiring in Orange County. Thousands of people came out of their sheltered lives and started to speak up for the rights of others. They marched, they volunteered, and most importantly, they voted in 2018.

Orange County of 2018 is not the Orange County I grew up in. We are changing—and the amazing thing about those “downsides” is that we have an opportunity to change for the better! It’s not as easy as saying Orange County is a blank slate, but it is a work-in-progress, and we all get a chance to participate in that progress.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TIFFANY ACKLEY

• Five reasons one should make Aliso Viejo his/her next vacation destination?: 1. Aliso Viejo has one awesome City Council woman; 2. We are ideally located- close to beautiful beaches, amazing dining, Disneyland, great parks, Los Angeles and San Diego; 3. We have some great hiking and outdoor areas; 4. We are an example of a sleepy, coastal Orange County town; 5. Soka University is one of the most beautiful colleges in America, and hosts amazing performances throughout the year.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Melania Trump? What’s the outcome?: I’m 5’10” and played ice hockey in high school.  She’d be knocked out two seconds into the first round.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Meek Mill, Jenna Bush, Jason Spielfogel, Good Morning America, Ryan Seacrest, Wonder Woman, Michael Lewis, cranberry juice cocktail, Harley Rouda, Bach, Donovan McNabb: Wonder Woman (DC and Justice League for the win!), Harley Rouda, Bach (Cannon in D), Cranberry Juice Cocktail, Michael Lewis (I mean, he wrote Moneyball), Jason Spielfogel (I’ve only met him once, and while he attacked me online, our democracy depends on people running for office)., Donovan McNabb (next time pick a baseball player and we can discuss), Jenna Bush, Meek Mill (I don’t know who that is!), Good Morning America (I don’t have cable TV), Ryan Seacrest.

• First legit meal you ate after surgery?: I honestly can’t remember.  Maybe sushi?

• Tell me three things about your first pet: She was a black Labrador. Her name was Pappy. I still miss her.

• What are the world’s three worst sounds?: Loud gulping. Fingernails on a chalk board. Fran Drescher talking.

• Elton John is on a two-year farewell tour. Doesn’t two years seem a bit long to say farewell?: Apparently not for Elton John.

• Five emotions you felt when Donald Trump won the presidency: Shock. Embarrassment. Solitude. Fear. Anger.

• I’m Jewish. What should we bring to your house for Christmas dinner? And what time should we get there?: Matzo Brei (i.e. MatzoEggs)-  I only recently discovered this amazing dish, latkes, wine- really anything.  7pm.  See you then!

  • Sanford Sklansky

    Great quaz. Tiffany for president

    • Robert Wilson

      I agree!

  • Paul C

    I had a different surgery that also required that I relearn how to stand and walk. It was frustrating and occasionally depressing, and my therapist told me that lots of patients just give up and settle for a life of impaired mobility. Obviously, Tiffany is not one of those. Kudos to her for persevering!

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