Sunday, June 28, 2009

To the daredevil surgeons

A good life and a pain-free life are two different things. It may be that this information is widely available but somehow I have come to it late in the day. In the first place, I cannot imagine how one is actually alive and without pain. Ever. Of any description. Now I think how robotic that would feel; what a bland feast.

Fictional or actual models of giddy delight seem to be the norm, at least to one for whom an authentic, unforced lightheartedness was unimaginable and unattainable for so long. Many of us - and there are days when I am certain the numbers are much higher than that - come from places we recognize most easily when reading Joseph Campbell as he tells of mythic struggles, trial by ordeal, shamans as wounded healers. Abuse, neglect, exploitation, violence, indifference, damage and despair were not explored in Nancy Drew books. In the 1950s or 60s, even Charles Dickens didn't give us literature (yes, Nancy gets to be called literature in this instance) that shone any sort of light on all the ways in which children had their souls stolen by predators in business suits, clerical garb or masks that could pass for ordinary.

These children grow with the sense that they have no control over their actions, choices or lives. A malevolent force resides in the space that should belong to heart and spirit, as though even those stout allies have fled in helplessness once they assessed the gravity of the wounds. Sometimes the demons win. Sometimes the pain has overshadowed the ability to believe in anything but the pain. The child-mind is not looking for nuance; it sees black and while, pain or no pain. For more years than I can say I thought healing meant that all the hurt would be taken; that what was lost would be restored, like for like; that clarity, good and sensibile decisions, sobriety and consistency would result and only grow stronger. I believed the past could be rewritten, or more accurately erased; it never happened. This is what I longed for.

But a piece at a time, over 24 (and counting) years of relentless recovery, I discovered that to exclude certain moments, to somehow have the warping, unbearable parts of my life dissolved, would leave me a different creature. I realized there were aspects of me which I actually treasured. I didn't possess the wisdom to know what would stay, what would go, IF it had been possible to undo what already was, kind of a one-woman time travel conundrum. Which left only one choice: repair what was still fixable, modify or alter the seriously wrecked bits into something that will work, keep moving forward.

(An aside: In the Los Angeles Times of Tuesday, June 16 there was a front page story headlined "Cars in Ghana can't be totaled," which tells of the Odawana neighborhood of Accra in which no car has ever been seen as too broken to be fixed. The writer describes the area, saying "(it) teems with industry and purpose." Writer Robyn Dixon adds, "nothing is ever useless junk.")

Reclamation, restoration, redemption - favored themes in pictures and stories, the pick-and-shovel work of earthly incarnations and Divine intervention. The words mark the difference between a good life and something which doesn't exist. Pain in all its costumes is a constant guest in our spare rooms; in small quarters it sleeps on the couch and leaves its stuff everywhere. And still life is good. In lieu of literal restoration, meaning all those whom we lost to the darkness are among us again with buoyant spirits and anxieties forgotten, our best plan is to celebrate resilience, grace and a grand benevolence that has never given up on any of us. One day, like the cars in Odawana, we will realize that "daredevil surgeons" have found a way to bring our crumpled pieces back to function and purpose. We will grieve, but not every moment, and less for ourselves than those for whom the journey was simply too long.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Among journalists, at least those of a certain era, there is a classic movie or television line that induces weeping. At the last moment, the reporter has tracked down the miscreant politician, the escaped lunatic, the missing mob witness or the kingpin himself. He races to a pay phone, gets hold of someone on the rewrite desk and bellows, "Hold page one. I've got a story that'll bust this town wide open."

In the 1950s my newsman father wrote an episode for a tv detective show with, of course, a newsman as the guest lead. He wrote it true to the daily life of a journalist, he sidestepped cliches and felt he left the audience with both a sense of justice fulfilled and a glimpse into a world usually shown only in charicature. We wait for the reporter's final scene, only to see him grab the phone and begin to demand, "Kill page one..." Rewrite in the wrong hands is perilous business.

Which is a very long way around to say my page one for today reads: Guess what? You're human; you backslide. We also simply have days when the cosmos or magnetism, brain chemistry or bad dreams push us back to a starting square in the eternal match of Chutes and Ladders. For moments, if we're lucky, or hours if we are less so, we are captives in the one-person multiplex auditorium where the only feature is Your Shortcomings: the Slide Show.

Fortune brought me an early morning phone call from a woman I must call a sista for all the parallels in our lives, and she managed to make dreams of escape and spiritual ascension, with everything moving like a Max Fleischer cartoon, seem less peculiar. She also spoke of a subject we've covered many times (which I've probably covered many times here, too, but it keeps coming up) - that we are here to be witnesses to each others' stories, to each others' losses and grief, trauma and through that witnessing possibly allow some clarity of vision, some acceptance, the simple relief of being heard and believed.

Once I could acknowledge and embrace (sometimes tentatively, little fingertips on shoulder blades) that intuition was a basic part of who I am, I began to act and speak from experiences of that intuition. Not always, but sometimes. It isn't psychic...I have no idea how that works and am very glad that it wasn't dropped in my bag of tricks. Often there are intuitive components to dreams and if there is a name, I have called the person in the morning and almost every time have found there was a reason for us to speak, even though neither one of us could imagine what it was as the conversation began. Words will jump like PopTarts in the middle of a phone call or some non-sequitur question will draw forth thoughts previously unexplored. As an assignment, which it seems to be, it is not awful and the feeling of assisting in someone's process makes the unscheduled slide shows feel less shaming.

One of the basic requirements of the job is letting go of the outcome, not being attached to whether or not any action is taken or insight claimed as a result of shared information. And this can lead to feeling like a nitwit, a sorry and seldom-mentioned by-product of listening to intuition. The filters which come with particular kinds of knowing are not always operational or their caution is just shouted down. If you watched the sadly cancelled show REAPER, as Sam tried to meet his quota of demons to be returned to hell, there were miscalculations. So it is with any assignment.

But don't gifts come with risks? Painters, directors, musicians, any who are guided to move in a new direction take the chance of rejection. I am connected to a world of artists, writers, creators, many of whom I believe operate on intuition only. None of the people with whom I exchange words is able to guess what will sell, what will be the next thing; we follow, to the best of our ability, the carnival music which reaches us with promises of sights unseen, the lure of a big prize at the ring toss, for me the celluloid kewpie on a bamboo stick, feather and glitter headdress, koochie costume, jointed fragile arms. We get the call and we feel we must go. To felting, baking, painting, collage, ceramics, blogging, street performance, singing or passing along the information from dreams. If the wires have frayed and the message is misconstrued, has so very much been lost? Somewhere there must be a list of great discoveries that happened by mistake. I learned some time ago that I will survive being wrong, appearing foolish, experiencing rejection. So there are moments of backsliding, self-criticism, "this can't be my life" thoughts as the roller coaster takes a particularly jolting turn. Put page one to bed; there are no seismic headlines tonight.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

For gifts received, thank you

Things I forget or take for granted: the fact that I spend considerable time at home is no reason not to wear my favorite fragrance (but it's just me, in my t-shirt, doing things of no great consequence...hmmm, not a particularly convincing excuse). Very likely I push away thoughts about life being short, or certainly of unknowable duration, and whatever the line of demarcation, I have long since graduated to the region where time has speeded up and seems to evaporate rather than pass.

Yesterday was a day of joys and blessings that came so easily and seemed so simple that it made me wonder if each day contained similar gifts which, through stress or distraction or lack of focus, I'd managed to overlook on too many occasions. The pleasures included an early (West Coast time) call to a New York friend which bore fruit in the form of a wake-up call about not keeping ideas on ice while I wait for someone to give me some universal signal for GO; it also got us rhapsodizing about Robert Mitchum, a conversational thread that was picked up at the other end of the day with a friend in a completely differet time zone. There was a generous teleconference by Patti Digh and David Robinson (e-mail which they referred to as Playing With Blocks about ways we keep ourselves from our intention and a preview of a course they will be offering which, based on the free call, will present fresh ways of looking at and not being (my word) paralyzed by things that block us.

Additional joys and blessings: I did wear Chinatown, the Bond #9 fragrance which celebrates that neighborhood of New York (story on my website: Go to the Links category, click there, go to Street Team Crusade Entries...keep scrolling, the topic is fragrance and there are two parts, Chinatown being the second, if you're interested) and it made me happy and reminded me of all the things I love about it, including wearing it a few years ago during a friend's visit and the glad surprise of discovering the scent in my car when I drove it after she'd returned home. I told you these were simple pleasures. There was e-mail from my brother who is preparing his Australian primary school students for a concert of their recorder ensemble, with drums and voice and guitar, and his tales of the magic that has infused this project. There was the chance to explore, as I get to do most days, both with him and another friend or two, the challenges of holding true to a spiritual existence while in human form, sharing our interpretations of what passes for reality as opposed to what we experience as real and true.

Then my son discovered that his X-Box game console and our Netflix membership made possible the free and instant streaming of movies and tv series of every description to our tv set, which felt like finding that $50 you'd somehow left in the Christmas card, only to have it come to mind or to hand at just the right moment. All of this underscored by the recently unfamiliar presence of Chinatown's exotically spicy notes.

As I thought to offer this as the essay of the day (or week), the critical voice had about the same amount to say as my mother did the day I tried to leave the house with the short sleeves of my blouse rolled up even shorter, like a cast member from the darker side of GREASE. My 6th grade friend Linda had dressed like that or wore her cardigan sweater backwards, another style yearning I never got to realize. You are looking at the result of my rebellion. Sometimes the story of the day is one of seeming simplicity, the overlooked cloudbursts of abundance that grace our moments. An on-line newsletter which I receive reminded us subscribers that we are to say YES to opportunities and experiences. I have also been reminded in the last 24 hours that happiness is something we prepare for in advance. Shall we agree to wear our best perfume for no reason, to remember how madly favored we are to have ever been in love - whether it went, as one might say, anyplace, or it didn't - and to practice the probably long-forgotten habit of picking up pennies, real or metaphoric, and choosing to see them as signs of universal goodness and plenty, no matter what time remains.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Lost and found

Preface: Since I wrote this and saved it as a draft, there has been some resolution to the appeals process regarding benefits for my son's illness. Yet the circumstances under which these sentiments were expressed are as stated and the need to remember what we know to be true, when so much seems lost or unreachable, remains valid. So I decided to post it, even if just for my collected musings. From a day nearly two months ago...

Without leaving my apartment, I became lost. I let go of what my friend Lisa calls True North and was unable to listen to my intuition.

I am convinced it comes from not allowing one's self to believe actively in what one truly believes, of letting fear, fatigue, the duration of the battle and just temporary distraction by unreasonable people making unreasonable demands drown out our truth. It speaks of their wisdom that our minds and bodies never make peace with overload. That in this case it involves my son, my only child, his on-going health challenge that resulted from a sudden and nearly fatal illness more than two years ago and a system that continues to refuse some support for what may be life-long medical needs, all of that makes taking a wrong turn easy, even inescapable. When a mother is in what another friend calls Badger Woman mode, we are not reasonable people, we are not sane in any traditional sense and any monophasic tendencies are exaggerated to the point of obsession. While waiting for results of his tests, assessment by the cardiologist, a report from his doctor at the hospital, being ordered to see yet another doctor for evaluation, and waiting for the lawyer to tell us what to do next, I stopped caring about art, about writing, about finding moments of joy (well, not entirely), about believing in a good outcome. All I could do was stress and sleep. Once the stress was reduced, that left sleep and I couldn't get enough. This morning, finally, I woke up with something on my mind other than going back to sleep. I stamped and decorated an envelope, made (what I believe is, especially as it was created in very bad light) an especially funky and nonsensical card, allowed the sum of it be sufficient when added to the sincerity of its message and got it in the mail. Art was back, I hesitantly say that I may be back and I wish I could be certain that I will never be lost again. But I probably will and would like some ways to remind myself that it is not a permanent condition.

What caused the greatest distress was knowing there was something I could, I should be holiding onto and I simply couldn't reach. I've never been lost in an actual snowstorm but can imagine this came close. Set yourself down into days, multiple days, of not being able to raise the enthusiasm to pick up a pen or pencil. I managed to post other people's words just to have some communication with the wider world. Perhaps all this is way too much information, too revealing of a few weeks that seemed to have swallowed my life, or all the best parts of it, and left me crumpled but still with the smallest hope that it would eventually get better.

To the best of our ability, we need to keep our compasses in working order. We need to write reminders and directional arrows on poster board and tape them up around our homes. And we need to compose that essential note, folded small and tucked into whatever book we turn to when we have lost our way. In strong yet gentle words, remind yourself that you will pull your way out of this, even the crappiest day has glowing moments and you've survived this before. So you will again. Be patient and sleep when that is all that's indicated. Feel weary and wear the same flannel shirt for too many days. Reject feeling guilty about soft deadlines that may not be met. Then stir up the gesso and get to work.

Breadcrumbs, among other things, continued...

Small talk of the cocktail party variety has always made me squirm. There were years when spousal obligations required showing up at events and being pleasant - if it's not too much to ask, possibly making sense - among people with whom I had nothing in common, other than that we were human and we were somehow connected to a certain line of work. Whether shipping or journalism, it was all the same. What saved me, if anything did, was being a good listener.

For example, if today I was catapulted to one of those painful-even-in-memory gatherings, I'd be thinking about suspended animation. Today I feel as though I have slowed down to an almost purely observational state in which everything around me moves and I remain still. Right now I can see the trees waving, the clouds changing shape, pattern and color while I feel like the fixed object. So should I be called upon to chat with strangers, I might blurt our something akin to, "Do you ever feel as though everything else in the world is swirling madly and you are not connected to it at all?" This is not what one would call a socially successful opening gambit.

With regard to the earlier "Breadcrumbs" posting and the subject of our scars, it isn't exactly scar tissue that made me dread those company dinners or benign cookouts, but the knowledge, which has only grown, that my brain doesn't seem to work in quite the same way as those of most people. It makes, at times, wild, gold-medal stride synaptical leaps from one topic to another, their similarities clear to me, baffling and probably annoying to others. It isn't something that can be stopped by any other means than not speaking. So while not a scar in the traditional sense, perhaps more of an idiosyncracy, it is one of the characteristics that I see as an essential part of who I am. And for good or ill, we are all who we are, it is just that some of us require a longer period of earthly adjustment to be okay with that. I suspect I have always seen things as connected, something is like something else, and on it goes. It is not a habit which can be broken; perhaps even friends find it trying and I know too well those attempts at social exchanges when the glazed look first appears. Oh well. We all can only bring what we have.

But identifying the quirks that define us is another integral part of self-discovery and, ultimate goal, self-acceptance. I can't say that knowledge has banished feelings of robust oddness...those puzzles we would have as part of tests (SATs? who remembers?) asking which object doesn't match...I will forever be the girl wearing purple socks when the dress requirement called for brown. The question always has been, always will be, do I let some potential opportunity slip past me or elbow my purple-socked way to the front of the line. One thing scars can add to our repertoire - toughness.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Awaiting Further Instructions (P.S. It isn't just you, we're all on Stand-By)

Here we are, waiting for our cue, our call, something that will reveal the next indicated thing. Talk about a uniting force...I do business with companies who create products using my designs. For the past 4-5 months, I have been, at intervals that come nowhere close to hounding, asking for information about sales performance, potential new lines, things that are useful to one who earns some of their income and professional reputation from licensing artwork. There has been no response to my questions. In the smaller picture, this can bring on feelings of ill treatment, the grump response, a tiny huff. In the larger picture, and I only, truly believe in the larger picture, it has no significance at all. I am content with the present state of affairs and if I want to get things moving, I can - and do - just go ahead and work on what comes to me without requiring an answer.

The recent illness of someone I love and treasure is helping me remember that, like it or not, there are no guarantees. As the newscasters choose to call it, the recent economic downturn has certainly been a deeply painful object lesson on that subject. But, you say, promises were made, contracts were written. And for that there are courts of law, ways to seek a version of justice. However, life will continue to be life and we have two choices - take it on its own terms or keep fighting the endless, futile round of battles, only to end up in line together, on Stand-By in a really big, overcrowded waiting room.

I have begun to see life as a process, or series of processes, each of which takes its own time to reach a form of blooming. It has always struck me that forcing plants (bulbs, in particular) to grow on demand is creepily unnatural. If it's not time for paperwhites, maybe we could move on to something else. A story I was told over the years concerned the family deciding to induce my mother's early labor, allowing my father who was being returned to the Pacific battle arena to see whoever his baby might be prior to shipping out (and the unstated but always lurking possibility of not returning). I'm told they did things like that in those days. She was in labor for 72 hours; I've had asthma and respiratory illness most of my life. Surely they knew about fetal distress in 1945...or maybe not. Yes, it was a situation with mitigating circumstances but...Just that, but.

It appears to me that we are all here in what could be called the dark, waiting, either patiently or not, for our orders, for clarity, for a decision that rests in the hands of someone else. How about this? Think of something else to do in the meantime, for no answer will come because you wish it would. Come up with a Plan B, learn to knit, read something really good in that devouring way we used to allow ourselves before we became so mature and felt we needed to give an accounting of all our moments. Become still, discover joy in waiting (isn't anticipation part of the fun?), do crossword puzzles, be willing to let it go. There may never be an answer, which, of course, is an answer in itself. Even going Stand-By, we will somehow, miraculously, wondrously, eventually arrive at the intended destination. Maybe not the one we intended, but the right one all the same.