29 December 2011

February Fifteenth Twenty Twelve

My - over 60 - cousin Susan & her lovely daughter Kimmy
No matter how I say it or write it, the reality of the upcoming year for me is that it is the year I turn 60.  And that's freaking me out.  Sixty years old - some synaptic process interacts with some idea I picked up somewhere - years ago - and I only think "Old!"  Reality, evidence to the contrary, how others see me, what I see in the mirror, what I feel - none of that matters in the face of this belief - that, at 60 I will suddenly become old.

I suppose it's no different really from the belief I had in adolescence that I'd become "adult" at 18, from considering 30 as the age to "get serious" about life, from feeling, at 46 (don't ask me why it was 46) the entrance to "middle age."  The belief itself - the message I've carried around within me - isn't different, but how that belief has affected my capacity to imagine and consider is VERY different.  For reasons I don't yet understand thinking of 60 as "old" has kept me from planning for or playing with what life might look or feel like, what life might hold when I am old.

So - though I could put it in terms that make me sound more OK with it - the truth is this belief tells me that when I get old, life is over.  God, have I swallowed the Cultural Gatekeeper whole, or what!  Our culture tells us older women are invisible, that we're "done" - no longer desirable sexually or even as customers (which, of course, is the most important thing anyone can be in our culture).  We become overlooked, even invisible, after a certain age.  And because I have held this belief I haven't imagined anything about what life may be, look like, feel like, hold, or bring into being once I reach 60.

I understand that writing this, telling it, confronting it - I'm doing the work of debunking this myth I've given space to in my head for so long.  So that's a good thing.  But I'll tell you honestly that prying loose this belief that 60=old=game over brings up tons of uncertainty, wheelbarrows filled with the rocks of self-doubt I've always tended to throw at myself.  Going against such a long held belief, backed by the cultural dictums, reminds me of the labor of birthing.  The pain of birthing comes from opening - as the cervix widens the entire body loosens to prepare to push - and our core musculature and skeleton becomes more flexible.  We require support - physically and emotionally.

I guess, in allowing my words to flow here I'm finding the metaphors my imagination can work with.  Birth is a good one - and one I have worked with many times in the past ten years.  Yes, it involves pain, and hard work, letting go of trying to control the uncontrollable - but what in life, what that's worth having anyway, does not.  A re-imagining is required then, and now.  And sharing the unfolding story, developing it, getting feedback from those who hear it - this too is necessary.

At least that's how it looks to me as I sit outside in the breeze and sun of this late December day.  Sure as the weather changes so will my consideration of what it means for me to reach 60.   I'll keep writing here as it happens.

16 November 2011

The Occupy Movement - or - How I Came to Think About Being an American

When the Occupy movement began my immediate response was, "HELL, Yeah!"  I still respond that way - more today than when it began.  The events taking place at the various sites, the responses of so-called Conservative media and commentators (I say so-called because I don't see these institutions as conserving anything, except their own status and power and grabs for more), the struggles (often against guns and other weapons) that the Occupiers have undergone to continue the movement - all encourage me in my view that this movement is important.

At the start I didn't see the underpinnings of the movement.  Yes, I'd had an immediate positive response, but I think that came more from a place of Aquarian rebellion than from a creative or critical thought process.  Even when I began supporting the Occupy Louisville group, I still wasn't sure what it was about.  Like so many others I was used to asking, or posing, the question "What do they want?"

It was only with the recent moves in three separate cities, on the same night (interesting, hmmmm?) to remove the Occupiers from their peaceful (mostly) and organized locations - moves undertaken in the dark of night (another hmmmm) and by police in riot gear - that I really understood the importance of the protest.  What they/we of the 99% want has less to do with specific issues and everything to do with the assumptions most of us have about what it means to be an American.

There's so much to articulate about what that last sentence means, that I feel a sense of overwhelm in the idea of trying.  Luckily I happened upon an article in Rolling Stone that says it, and better than I could.  Here's a link to it:  http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/how-i-stopped-worrying-and-learned-to-love-the-ows-protests-20111110 

I'd encourage you to read this article - it's not long.  The author's journey to understanding the Occupy Movement felt really similar to mine - and rather reflects the thinking of a bunch of folks I've talked to.  Have conversations about it, or do something, anything that expresses your own point of view.  Me, I'm gonna keep supporting the OL group, keep considering what I'm doing that maintains the status quo the Movement is throwing a light on, and keep trying to live up to my "Hell, Yeah!" spirit.

07 November 2011

Telling Our Stories

The Sun Singer - Allerton Park
Just last week I ended regular therapy sessions with the fabulous person I've been seeing for nearly five years.  It was time - I knew it - we'd discussed it over several months, but only just bringing the idea into the room and then allowing it to be there.  Only on the day of our last appointment did I appreciate that it really was fine for it to BE the last appointment.  And that session flowed forward around the decision.

As expected, the Gatekeepers who accompany me through every day came forward in the days following to attempt their usual sabotage, to harass my adult attempts to allow the necessary grief, and to plant the seeds of fear in my child-self.  Yet their attempts to derail me, as I move into a life that doesn't include regularly scheduled sessions,  are weaker than previously.  Perhaps I've "made friends" with them after all. A wonderful teacher once said that this process of friendship with the Gatekeepers frees us to see them for who and what they really are - messengers of protection that we once needed but now can function without.

Or possibly the power of these Gatekeepers to push me into the swirl of worry, of self-doubt, of draining and tiring judgment of my thoughts and actions is weakened because I - instead of closing myself off from others as they want me to do - instead chose to share this important choice and its attendant emotions WITH others.  I told the story, and continue to do so in conversation and interaction with those I care for, and who care for me.

Telling the story to others - allowing them to hear our sadness or anger, our ambivalence (which is quite dominant in this situations), our fear, our joy - is what permits the emotions to move in and through us.  In telling this story (to my wonderful story telling group - among others) not only did my emotions become accessible, but I was able to see this ending in context - as part of the flow of growth and change in my life.  Somehow - for me - experiences of depth and soul do not become 'real' until I tell about them.  Oh, the Gatekeepers hate that - hate my facing reality.  But then they aren't in charge anymore, so too bad.

Telling my story to the group, rather than reading a story I've written (what I usually do) also illuminated that I just might be a storyteller.  I've wondered if I might have the skills of a teller as well as a writer, and telling this to the group confirms - well, at least sends a strong maybe into consciousness.

Recently Louisville received the gift of a regular Moth Story Slam.  For years I've listened to The Moth on NPR, and fantasized about going to the closest slam (Chicago).  Now, voila!, I can attend a Story Slam each month.  Why am I telling you this?  Well, as you can guess, I may put my name 'into the hat' to tell a story this coming month.  After my experience with the small group, this seems like a next logical step - get on stage, tell my story, and be open to the response of an audience.  It may not be THIS story (at least not this month - when the Story Slam theme is "Busted"), but then I've got plenty of other stories to tell that fit this theme.

Will I do well when I do this?  Will the audience come along with me as I tell?  Will I cry, or become confused, or forget the next part (since stories must be told without notes)?  I guess we'll find out.  What I know now is that telling my stories is important for me.  And maybe it's as important for others to hear them as it is for me to tell.

28 August 2011

The Challenge

In the world to come, I shall not be asked, "Why were you not Moses?" 
I shall be asked, "Why were you not Zusya?"
- Rabbi Zusya

And isn’t that the challenge, for each of us – to be ourselves, our largest self, the self that burns, perhaps, too brightly for some of the people in our lives.  Most of the people I’ve met seem to struggle with this.  I know I do.
Rabbi Zusya gave this answer to someone who asked him why he wasn’t more like the Patriarch.  In answering as he did Zusya was not saying he couldn’t be as large a figure as Moses, but that his task was to act from his own authority, from what God had given him to work with.  To be the most Zusya he could be was his task, what, and all that, God wanted of him.
I’ve struggled most of my life with the belief that I should be “better” than I am – with feeling a failure because I can’t write like Fitzgerald or Welty, and other equally ridiculous premises.  Conversely, I fear to try, to speak and write from my own voice, with passion, power, conviction - what a conflict.
And then there’s the belief that I think most of us have – that we “should” be like “most” people.  I’ve only met a few people who have that inner sense that they can speak and act from a passionate and empowered position, from a sense of self that, while they may fail at things, or take a wrong path, it is all in the service of learning who and how and what they are – and that’s just fine.  We are too often raised, or at least acculturated, to fit in, to not rock the boat, to avoid taking the big chance.  The risk of being only, and absolutely, ourselves places us on the outside, or sometimes in the lead – both lonely places.
I know – not everyone can do what Moses did – leading a people, making decisions that affect life and death outcomes, listening only to that voice that he called God and some of us might call inner self.  And we tend toward thinking that our individual choices, our inner callings, the actions we take when we aren’t sure what to do – that those don’t matter anyway.  But what if they do?
What if that is what Zusya is telling us – today?  What if being faithful to, trusting, acting on and from our authentic self matters as much as parting the sea did?  How do we know it doesn’t – in some future we may not be around to see?

Certainly, it ought to be evident, I don’t have any answers here.  At best I can consider these ideas, these questions, this challenge – and share them with whoever shows up.  At best, and for what it’s worth, I can be Mary Jo (she of the incorrect name) and try appreciating, if not understanding, what a good thing that is.

30 July 2011

Summer Rant

         For over two weeks now the majority of my experience of the world has taken place looking out the living room window.  I’m not the only one, I know, hibernating indoors, avoiding fifteen days of over ninety degrees and heat indices in the hundreds.  Even from the window this neighborhood seems to be holing up, hiding out where it’s cool, shades drawn. 

Across the street the young couple - earlier this month they hung Buddhist prayer flags, planted daylilies, and carried home a high backed wooden bench which they struggled up to the porch – the ones who spent mornings on the porch with coffee and cigarettes, evenings on that bench too – they’re inside now too.  The squirrels seem lethargic, while the cars move down the street, faster, it seems in the heat – particularly those with windows down, with no working air inside. 

Although a nearly continual breeze tricks me into hoping for air that may refresh, sets the prayer flags waving merrily; when I succumb to that hope all it takes is opening my front door to dash it against the furnace of sticky concrete.  Outside the air smells like room temperature mayonnaise, left on the counter after the sandwich is made. 

After fifteen days of it my body still won’t adjust – probably because I only go out when I must, when I’ve promised to be somewhere.  Yet the body isn’t interested in becoming regulated to life in a sauna, because this body sweats.  Not one of the healthy, good workout sweats either, the kind that lets you know you’re doing yourself some good.  Even getting in a short walk in the relatively cooler morning hours results in coming home drenched, so slick the doorknob won’t turn in my hand, unable to see for the salt pouring down into my eyes.  It’s just too tiring, too trifling a reward for the effort.

Looking out the window will suffice.  As will focusing on what I can do indoors.  Some good has come of it after all:  the apartment cleaned, de-cobwebbed, a first-rate start on a short story made, working my way through the journals of the past few years to see what I’ve learned and what I’m still working on, making space on the bookshelves, and writing a series of articles on working with dreams. 

Mostly this time has been an exercise for my psyche and spirit – a practice in sitting, accepting that sitting has value to me, time to hold awareness of my tendencies to self-punishment, following my relish for reading and films into the creative places they take me.  The most surprising gift though has been locating in myself something I’ve never had - faith.  Not faith in a religious or even a practical, plan-filled sense – but finding faith that, just as, eventually cooler weather will arrive, so too does acceptance of who and how and what I am seem to be showing up. 

How interesting I find it to discover that I can rant about the weather, among other things, and not see myself as a whiny bitch.  I get to know and act on my body’s inability to deal with wet heat and not find it weak and lazy.  To understand that it isn’t just about escaping into fantasy when I read and watch movies, but a creative jumpstart for my own writing is part of that faith.  To know that I am a woman approaching sixty, still learning, becoming ever more her own creation, and even more comfortable with herself – that’s a faith I never thought to have.

Not bad for this summer I guess.

25 July 2011

A Nightmare Come To Life

   Someone is after me - a threatening and dangerous someone, with a weapon or just with the capability to hurt or kill me.  And I can't get away - can't run because my feet are stuck, my legs won't move.  Or I find a place to hide from the danger, but know, somehow, that the person will find me anyway.  
   This is one of my worst dreams, one that will reoccur, a dream I continue to seek to understand.  It varies, but is always about being "got" by someone who wants me dead and I can't do anything to stop it.  Brrrr - makes me shiver to recall it.  But that dream has been on my mind, poking at my consciousness - since hearing about the recent slaughter of nearly 80 people at a youth camp in Norway.  
   My usual Saturday morning ritual is an NPR marathon - propped up on my bed with coffee, a notepad for ideas or thoughts or interesting words heard, and, lately, a stash of kleenex to handle the allergic responses to our lovely Kentucky summer weather.  This past Saturday the first story I heard was about the massacre at the youth camp.  Suddenly Click & Clack, Bob Edwards' Weekend, and even This American Life lost their appeal.  It felt to me obscene somehow to be relaxing and enjoying myself after hearing a mother speak of how her daughter had hidden in a bathroom while the (apparently) lone gunman had shot another youth right outside of her hiding place.
   With each report - of how the murderer had chased those who tried to escape the island by water and shot them as they swam, of the young man who hid behind the very rock the gunman stood on - he could hear him breathing raggedly, of the woman who watched while the man (dressed as a police) called people to him and then gunned them down - I imagined the fearful music of Pan's pipes playing in my head.  I felt a connection to the mothers and fathers of those children at the camp.  Every parent's nightmare - being unable to protect a beloved child - urged me to a need to speak to my own daughter even though I knew she was safe, and sleeping, not far away.
   And my own dreams, of being unable to escape from sudden danger, certain death, were aroused - brought into the waking world for review and interpretation.  Just recently I wrote about my understanding that the world isn't safe, that safety (if such exists) lies in ourselves rather than in the environment http://companionforthejourney.blogspot.com/2011/07/what-in-world-is-safe.html.  Yet here I was reacting to an event in that world from and around an unconscious and deeply held fear - one I don't usually let myself know about as I go on my daily round.  
   Why is it we respond so emotionally, so strongly from the unconscious, to some stories, some events and not to others?  Across the planet, every day, people are killed, mass murders take place, terror as well as weaponry is used to do no more, often, than make a point.  I don't usually react to those stories so strongly.  And I suppose that's good - for if I were to take every story of death and defilement to heart I don't believe my heart or my psyche could stand it.
   Is it enough that my dreams and my waking life connected through hearing this story of horror and madness?  In doing the further work to open my unconscious, my shadow, to connection with the conscious - in furthering my own healing through writing (for I hear several "stories" knocking, requesting awareness, wanting to be told) am I contributing something to the collective consciousness?  
   Given that this is all I CAN do - I only hope it will be enough.

18 July 2011

what in the world is safe

I was telling a friend about a poetry reading I attended recently at a downtown hotel.  21C is such an interesting place, filled with modern art exhibits, and including one of the best restaurants in the city – the kind of place you take out-of-town visitors who like art or enjoy gourmet food, or who just like to sit with a well prepared and presented cocktail.  That it’s located downtown is a problem though for some people who, like my friend, wonder if “it’s safe” to park and walk to at night.
My friend expressed this concern – she’d like to attend the readings, held at the hotel once a month, but worries about the neighborhood.  In reply I said something I’ve heard myself say many times to others.  “Sure it’s safe, I suppose.  Well, I don’t worry too much about it.”
This time I must have actually heard what I said.  And I’ve been wondering about it since.
My wondering took the form of a question.  Why does everybody else worry about that so much?  But soon I began asking a different question – why don’t I worry about it.
What I first told myself was – well it’s safe enough at night really.  There are people in the restaurant, coming and going from others in the next block.  And the rest of that block between 8th St. and 9th on Main contains museums and one of the biggest tourist attractions (Hillerich and Bradsby) in town.  But the reality is that, at night the museums and H & B are closed.  The next block really is a long one, pretty far away to expect help if something happened.
Then I got into defensiveness.  Well – I live alone, and sometimes don’t have anyone to go places with.  Unless I want to miss out on things I just can’t worry about this.
Defensiveness became resentment.  Well, these other people have someone, a live-in spouse or partner, who will go somewhere with them if it’s not safe.  They can afford to worry.
Even without the defensiveness or resentment those things are true.  But they aren’t to the point.  Why don’t I worry about safety?  Should I worry about it?  More than I do?
This line of thought led me to a question that I’d never asked any of those who’d queried me about safety – what did they mean by safety.  I knew what they meant, in a particular sense – was there a danger of mugging or purse snatching – would they return to their car to find it stripped, the windows broken, or even gone?  In a larger sense though, they were, I was sure, asking about emotional wellbeing as much or more than physical safety.
Just to make sure I was on the right track I called a few people who’d asked me that question.  Sure enough, each of them said yes, they were asking if they would feel secure.  One person brought it all into focus when she said, “Downtown isn’t familiar to me, so it’s just scary.”
And that statement provided the final puzzle piece.  The familiar feels, to most people, safe.  The unfamiliar – scary – to most people.  Looking at the completed puzzle, I got it.  I’m not most people – not anywhere close.  Safety, security and wellbeing are NOT things I expect from the world because I didn’t grow up with them, did not know what they looked like.  Instead, I learned early on that my only safety was in not showing fear, in plastering a brave countenance over my panic, and in escaping what was familiar in search of . . . well, I wasn’t sure what, then.
It has taken decades, thousands of hours in therapy, education, and even heart attack to learn that fear isn’t shameful, to appreciate that safety isn’t Out There somewhere, to understand that my early learning was based on bad teaching.  Yet that learning did hold gifts.
One is this lack of worry about external safety.  Now, I’m NOT out in the world taking foolish and unnecessary risks every day, though I did some of that when I was younger.  I do have, and use, common sense, and have at times pointedly driven away from places, people or situations that were clearly dangerous.  With time and learning and experience, I’ve identified what’s worth taking a risk for, and learned how much risk I am willing to take.
I suppose my way of being and doing looks mighty brave to others.  Honestly, I’ve never felt brave in going places alone, or exploring events or new cities solo.  Courage is fear that has found its legs, and I’m not afraid when I go out in the world – if I’m interested in what’s out there, engaged in what’s going on, meeting new people and trying new things.
In some ways that early, ungratifying, environment from which I learned a lot of wrong lessons has better prepared me to live in and explore a world that really isn’t essentially safe, or set up to be so.  I’ll never be one of those devastated by its inherent indifference to our individual wants or needs, as so many are.  I’m learning instead that safety comes from occupying my own true ground, from authenticity and even from vulnerability.
In learning this I understand that I really don’t have to worry if the neighborhood or the situation is safe.  All I need to attend to is the answer to the question – do I feel safe in it.

Not-Zen Driving

Driving home from story telling group - this is a drive that feels much the same as when I’m returning home from seeing my therapist, driving done with mindfulness and attention to the moment, aware of having opened myself to another, of being vulnerable in the world and thus more part of it – sort of Zen driving, if you will.  The route differs, but my awareness of myself as driver, and of other drivers on the street, all of us in charge of our machines, of the need to attend to our own driving behaviors while watching out for others, scanning ahead, knowing what’s going on around us – all seems heightened on those drives.
What I notice on those drives is not the power I wield behind the wheel, not the possibility of speeding up to get there faster (though I am looking forward to home, where I can process my experience in quiet).  I’m aware instead, during those journeys, of my part in ensuring the safety of the experience, and of the need for each person behind their own wheel to know and follow the ‘rules of the road,’ so that we can each get where we’re going in one piece.
On this particular Friday though, a green Chevy, a rather banged up vehicle, pulled into the lane behind me and its driver came right up my tail pipe.  The driver was female.  She was so close behind me I could see her bangs, and the graduation tassel hanging from her rearview, blowing in the breeze of her open window.  What I couldn’t see was the front of her car.  She was that close.
Gone my mindfulness – the Zen moment fled – and what replaced it was a combination of fear and anger.  Now I am a good driver.  All of Manuel Stevens’ kids were taught well, to always be looking for “a place to put it,” to not overdrive our brakes or headlights, and so forth.  My dad was a critical and rather harsh teacher, but we couldn’t drive his car til he was sure we could do it well. Defensive driving, what my dad tried, in his own way, to teach us, isn’t about emotion, but about attention to what is happening.  Nevertheless, both emotions jumped right on top of my chest as that speeding chick in her banged up Chevy stayed on my tail.
Now, driving in fear or anger causes accidents.  I know that.  And this wasn’t the first time somebody had waxed my tail on the road.  Usually I can simply keep an eye on the rearview and do whatever I need to stay calm, to maintain focus until the other either passes me or I can get out of their way.  Not this time.
The fear was simple.  I could not move to the other lane, filled with cars, nor could I speed up to make some distance between us because of the cars in front of me.  It was also complex.  I wondered if she was crazy, wouldn’t care if she hit me, was “looking” for a wreck, or if she was even paying attention to how she was driving.  I wondered if she was drunk, or high.  Mostly the fear came from powerlessness.  There was nothing I could do but keep going, but, instead of being able to focus on what I was doing, I was focused on what she was doing, or might do.
And that powerlessness was where the anger came from as well.  I felt pushed, shoved, forced – as if I had to give this chick what she wanted.  And I wanted to push and shove back – to tap my brakes and either make her hit me or slow down.  Fat chance of that last, since she was so close I doubt if she could even see my brake lights.  Mostly I wanted to stop, force her to stop too (don’t ask me how I thought that would happen) and unload on her.  The anger was, I see as I write this, in some ways healthy.  I WAS being endangered by her driving, and that’s an appropriate time for anger.  The fantasies of what I wanted to do with my anger – understandable but not so healthy.
Anger also rose up because, well, this crazy driving woman had spoiled my peaceful mood.  Maybe that’s the most important learning from the journey.  Maybe all this writing poured out of me to remind me how quickly I give away my power, my hard-won serenity.  There are few enough experiences in daily life that provide us with opportunity to feel at peace in the world, that encourage us to feel grounded in our own authentic power.  And, it seems to me, the world offers us plenty of experiences of the opposite kind – more than enough to tip the scales toward living continually in fear and anger.
Now that I think about it, maybe the lesson here has little to do with the experience, with a dangerous driver or an few minutes of emotional reaction.  Maybe what I’m supposed to learn has more to do with searching out more times and places and people and activities that promote my own serenity, my own sense of inner grounding.  Maybe if I had more of those in my life it would be easier to weather the crazy drivers and other dodgy encounters that will, certainly, show up on every kind of road I travel.

04 July 2011

The Story of Who I Am

   "but these stories don't mean anything if you've got no one to tell them to"
Brandi Carlisle  "The Story"

   I don't really 'do' groups very easily.  Yeah, I've been a member of a church, and actually got into belonging to the community - I belong to a writer's group, but that's a necessity if you're gonna try to improve as a writer.  And once, for two years, I was invested in a group of fellow seekers, people who came together for educational purposes, purportedly each of us was there to earn a degree - but on some level, and once the masks were off, we were all there seeking more than that.  But, out of fifty-nine years, that's not a lot of experience or time being a 'member.'
   Yet for the past several months I've enthusiastically awaited, prepared for, and dived into a group we call the "storytelling group."  It sprang into existence from a workshop on finding the mythic in our own stories, a combination of the creative, the authentic, and the time-honored.  The workshop leaders wanted to continue the spirit of what started there, and invited some of us to join a group where we would read, or tell, personal 'stories' in whatever form we wished.
   This group doesn't feel like something I have to do - but more like an experience that 'does' me - affects me both in the process of decision about which story to share and in the sharing.  It's not therapy - the storytelling group - but often has healing effects.  It's purpose is not to critique each others' writing, but many times the responses of others to what we read, or tell, does shine a light on phrases or words, or even tones/ colors in our story.  In truth I don't know what the people who had the idea to start the group envisioned as its purpose.  Maybe they don't know either.
   What I do know is I need to maintain and continue participation in this group.  I need witnesses for my stories, people to hold up a mirror, to respond to my vulnerability and authenticity (for I find that these open up readily as I write, and read what I've written) from their own places of depth.
   See - I've always looked at my own life as too sad, at the incidents and happenings in it as too small - in short - as worthless.  In the group however I am learning the value of even my small stories, and learning too to say "so what if it's sad - it's the truth."  In this group stories that I've never been able to tell are showing up.  Soul level, and soul filled experiences spill out on the paper as I write - seem to shine with their original luster as I speak them.
   It's having someone to tell them to, like the line in the song, that gives our stories meaning.  The first line of that song, "All of these lines upon my face tell you the story of who I am," breaks my heart.  If we don't share our stories, if we've "got no one to tell them to" they batter at us, wear at us, sink into our skin and our souls, creating an ennui that makes us think we're not ok, not really.  In the recalling, the writing down (another form or sharing - with oneself) and the sharing with others the story of who I am enlarges, joins with other stories.  Cool.

23 June 2011

Only Physical

         After a recent bout of the ‘snots’ – my term for what more polite people call allergies – I was  telling a friend about my methods for dealing with the onslaught to my sinuses, throat, chest, and tummy.  I described the numerous bowls of steaming salted eucalyptus water I inhaled under a towel (an excellent start to a cleansing facial, I might add), the four times daily neti pot nasal rinses (supplemented at 3 am a couple of nights), and sleeping (if you can call it that) on three pillows to encourage drainage.  I spoke  of drinking so much water it will take a week, at least, for my pee to have any color, of having to hold a pillow over my ribs when, as the nasty, viscous white gunk finally made its way down, the need to cough with every deep breath arose.  I spoke of forcing myself out into the sauna we call summer in Louisville for a daily ritual of walk, sweat, breathe deeply, sweat, cough it up, sweat, spit it out, sweat some more. 
         My friend listened sympathetically.  We’ve been friends long enough that this ain’t the first body fluids talk we’ve had.  But when I stated that, thanks to my ministrations and natural methods, my health was much improved after only three days, she countered, “but, if you’d taken sinus pills wouldn’t that have helped just as much, and maybe even faster?”
         She had a point.  Knowing that friends are there, mostly, to keep us honest, I had to laugh while I replied, “yeah, but I’d rather tell myself that it was taking care of myself that made it stop.”  We both laughed.  I coughed.  And when I came back from the bathroom, after spitting out the lingering snot, my friend changed the subject.  That too is what friends are for – to let us be who we are without getting caught up in self-absorption.
         After this conversation, on the drive home I thought about my statement – about the things I tell myself.  Most of us, I believe, tell ourselves what we want to hear, what strokes the ego, what strengthens the image we want, or need, to have of our self.  That doesn’t mean it’s not true, but neither does it mean it is.
         Do I tell myself I can, and do, take care of myself because I need to hear myself say it, and have that affirmed?  Or do I say it to make myself feel superior to those who choose a different path, who take a pill and go on?  Am I serving a persona, a self-created image of myself as “different” from the mainstream, when I choose holistic methods (for choice requires conversation with self, after all)?  Or are the methods I choose arising from what feels natural to me, ways of supporting my own uniqueness?
         Or is all of this consideration simply navel gazing?  Does it matter what I tell myself, or why?  I hold that it does. I believe that it’s important to understand if the messages and choices erupt from the structure surrounding my wounded self, built to defend against further wounding, or if they arise from my authentically vulnerable and unique self.  If I don’t know the source of what I tell myself it’s too easy to get caught up in self-protection, which really is self-absorption, to go through life as a persona rather than a person.
         I was in a relationship with a persona once – the persona I’d built behind that structure that protected and defended me against being hurt.  The problem was that I DID hurt as that persona – that girl and woman who was always “fine,” who didn’t need any help with anything, thank-you-very-much.  I hurt worse being her than I did the spring I got the flu so badly my hair was painful.  Back then I hurt even worse than during my midnight heart attack.  Those events were only physical.  Existing in that persona created soul-level pain, psychic pain that nearly caused me to disappear, certainly caused despair, and spilled out onto those I loved and who loved me.
         The only way to break free, to become a person, was to begin listening to what I was telling myself, and why, to question the source of my messages and choices.  And despite the time and energy and thought it takes to understand the source of what I tell myself, I’d rather be in relationship with the person I am now (who I find rather interesting), than the persona I used to be.  She wasn’t really much fun - with or without the snots.

14 June 2011

The Mystery of Being Here

     The Poetry God is dead.  That's how the others, who'd known him longer, referred to Mark - as The Poetry God.  That appellation was, I'm sure, partly teasing, partly self assigned (as he was often the only male participant at meetings), partly in honor of his amazing capacity to create art as poetry.
     I didn't know him well, had only encountered Mark at workshops, meetings and readings since I joined the writer's group.  No one seems to know the what, or how, or why of his death - only that he died in his forties, that he'd battled depression, that he'd struggled with physical health problems, that he'd been isolating, and he'd turned down an invitation to teach at a recent workshop.  None of that may have to do with his death.  But it's part of Mark's story, of his being here.
     Though I didn't know him well, my impression was that Mark was quirky, earthy, sensitive, shy, incredibly talented as a writer, amazingly knowledgeable and well read, an excellent teacher and a willing editor when someone asked for help.  He once deconstructed one of my poems, seeing images I didn't know were there, praising my use of metaphor, the images I'd chosen - helping me understand my work in ways I hadn't before.  I know I'm not the only one Mark assisted in this way, and that each one must surely have felt the gratitude I did for The Poetry God's help.
     John O'Donohue, the Irish poet and Catholic scholar, wrote that we must, "Awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of [y]our own presence."  These are words I struggle with for myself - since I don't want to be in the mystery of being here - I wish instead to know why I'm here.  I struggle too with accepting my immense presence - with understanding myself as the gift others see me to be.  
     Yet today, in thinking about Mark, in recalling the gift of himself he offered to me, the gift he gave to others by being here and being himself, I feel a shift in the struggle, a realignment toward awakening, a move to acceptance.  I'm reminded that, not only don't I have to know why I'm here, I cannot know it.  I am here, as Mark was here, in the immensity of his presence.  What matters is the waking up, the entering into, the risking while we're here.
     The Poetry God is dead.  Long live The Poetry God. 

10 June 2011

and all shall be well

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.  
Julian of Norwich
  The last few days have been ones of forced rest, soaks in Epsom salts, mandatory ice packs to the quads and glutes, ibuprofen every four hours, and an emphasis on hydration - all the result of the muscles from waist to knees becoming overstrained as I tried for two days, and failed in the end, to master physical crisis management skills.  Bottom line - a phrase I really dislike, particularly out of it's correct context, but it does serve here - my body simply isn't capable, nor is my brain either interested in or focused on instructing my body how to accomplish these skills of physically managing an out-of-control client.  
   I understood when I took this job that physical management of clients was part of it.  And it truly never crossed my mind that I wouldn't be able to do it - until my ankle sprain.  But even then, it was only the "take down" moves that I worried about.  Turns out those I was able to do - it was the complexities and brute strength requirements that weren't happening.
   My two days of down time, of needed self care, were the gift of this experience.   Too tight muscles and painful joints from waist to knees forced me to extremes of self soothing, allowed long hours for self reflection and consideration.  During this time I kept thinking yoga would help, IF I could get into a posture without getting stuck.  And that thinking led to remembering the last time I was part of a yoga 'class' - and how one of the teachers would end class with that Julian of Norwich quote above.  There we'd all be, occupying the geography of our individual mats, stretched out and breathing through, and Vince's voice reminding us that all would be well.
   No matter how much discomfort I'd be in during those times, no matter how tired I felt, the comfort of those words, the sound of his voice and the breathing of others in the room, the peace that seemed engrained in Vince's voice, always guided me to a place inside that truly was well.  
   Again over the last two days, revisiting my own "wellness" despite my somatic pains and strains, understanding that all of this is no more than another lesson life has offered, reflecting on the entirety of the experience - and without self punishment (hooray for me), and doing the next right thing for my own healing, soothing, and comfort - well, yes, all manner of things will be well - including me.

28 May 2011

Report from Third Shift: Want - versus - Need

   Suzy refuses to go to bed, insisting instead on making noise, writing furiously in her journal, and whispering sotto voce about our failures as counselors, as care providers, as women, as human beings.   And the more we try not to engage with her behaviors, to behave consistently and calmly, not to get caught up in the misty grey cloud of fear and anger Suzy is spewing out all around her - the more visibly frustrated she becomes.  What she wants - to get rid of her uncomfortable and seemingly unbearable feelings - isn't what she needs.  She HATES all of it.  In this moment she particularly hates me and my co-worker.  And even though Suzy can't see it - I hate it too, particularly hate my powerlessness to do more than I can do.

   Of all the nights to have to simultaneously notice my reactions and my emotions vis-a-vis one of the girls' acting out behaviors, of all the nights to need to monitor my boundaries - a night of too little sleep during the day and, consequently too much worry about retaking  the physical crisis managment training later in the week.  Yet I can't do what Suzy's doing - can't project my anger onto someone else, spew my own mist of fear into the air.  All I can do is teeter along the path between wanting to behave like Suzy, like the child who still lives in me and wants to be parented, and needing to behave as the caring adult that both Suzy and my own inner little girl need me to be.

   This being a grown up sure ain't what we think it's gonna be when we're kids.

21 May 2011

Rapture - Not

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence something that wants our love.
Rainer Maria Rilke

   Two a.m. on the morning after the promised Rapture didn't come.  Even though we joked about the possibilities inherent in watching the righteous rise up bodily as we sat on our porches sipping gin & tonic and smoking, there must have been some small part of me that believed this might just be the time.  I must have believed, even just a miniscule amount - because I find myself rather glad to still be here, as if maybe I was afraid that there wouldn't be any more chances to do what I'm here to do (whatever that is), any more learning opportunities.  Hmmmmmmm.
   I'm thinking of the Nelson Mandela quote, that "our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light . . . that most frightens us."  That sure is what the Rilke (above) reminds me.  Even at two a.m., at work, all the girls asleep, and me struggling for the right words to express what I think I am here, in this job at this hour, to learn and to offer - I can get a glimpse of how afraid I am of feeling my power to maintain and hold a safe environment for both the sleeping girls and the awake me.  Is this making any sense?
   See, I've tended to think that power is only strength, is comprised of doing, that power means big and bold action.  It does frighten me to be learning that acting from my limitations, my vulnerabilities, from where I'm AT without trying to be anyone or anywhere else, really constitutes the authentic power of being me.  Learning that just being authentically me is enough, is more than enough, is really, even . . . wait for it . . . important to me and to those I encounter - well, what a lesson.
   Guess that's why I feel a little relief that the world didn't end yesterday.  This learning to love and accept myself, to love the fearful and trepidatious in me - it's taking a while.  Today I'm grateful for the opportunities to keep on learning.  And though I don't know, sitting here at two a.m. after checking on the sleeping girls, how my learning might benefit anyone else, I have a sense that the learning itself is what I'm meant to love.

11 May 2011

Nothing to Hang On To

The bad news is you're falling through the air, nothing to hang on to,
 no parachute.  The good news is, there's no ground.
-       Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Yes, it feels like falling, what’s happening in my life these days.  Yet I realize that it was I who stepped off the cliff into this new job.  It involves working with adolescent girls who’ve been victims of trauma for all or most of their young lives, girls who’ve been shunted and shuffled through the “system” of foster care that may have lacked any real caring, that often has been unkind, and certainly been inconsistent and unsafe. 

The feeling of falling comes from the questions floating around and inside of me.  How will I respond to the triggers of my own emotions as I observe these girls’ struggles?  What will I do with my anxieties when, as will surely happen, one of the girls tests my capacity to care by acting out, perhaps violently?  How will I take care of my own needs during an eight-hour shift in a place where trauma and its effects color the environment?  Such questions make me long for a parachute, something to slow the descent so I can take time considering these questions.

It feels like falling as well because I did fall, during training in physical restraint and take-down – skills I must have to work in this place, and which I will need to use to keep the girls, and myself and others, safe.  In the fall I sprained my fifty-nine year old ankle – there certainly was ground under me then, on which my foot twisted and bent wrongly.  Since then new questions have arisen.  Will I be able to, at my age, use these skills without getting hurt again, or hurting one of the girls?  Am I too old to even be attempting this work?  WHAT was I thinking in accepting this job?

It seems that all there is to hang on to is what’s inside of me.  And throughout my life I’ve not trusted what’s there – even as I’ve gained experience and knowledge, pursued education and worked on healing my own traumatic wounds.  Throughout I’ve wanted, even believed I’ve needed, something or someone else to grasp on to for safety – in order to believe I was o.k. 

     Experience tells me that I've got what I need to hang on to even as it all feels scary and unsafe in this free fall.  And if I could ask each of you, in person, who have supported and encouraged me over the past several years as I've learned and risked and changed I know you'd reinforce my "enough-ness", tell me to trust, to keep on risking.  And you'd tell me to how fortunate these girls will be to have me working with them.  And you'd be correct.

     Hmmmmmmm - something to consider - that won't add to the anxiousness - as I fall. 

16 April 2011

Thunder Saturday

Today is Thunder Over Louisville - our annual kick-off of Kentucky Derby Festival and an awesome display of pyrotechnics, synched to music - put on in our fair city.  I am not attending this year, but in the few years I've gone it's been an energizing, pride-filled experience of what Louisville can do, how a half million people can behave in celebration (without the "public drunk" behavior that often occurs at such large events).  The full hour of fireworks places one firmly in the body, in the sensory experience of explosion of sound and color that overwhelms, that draws (at least from me) screams of approval, dancing in abandon with a half million others - an experience of joyous joining together.

Then we all walk to our cars, or catch the bus to get to them.  People are tired - some having camped out the night before - some having been there all day with children, too close to the folks next to them - and ready to go home.  It's after 10 pm and some carry children, nearly empty coolers, lawn chairs.  But still most are courteous, or at least civil, even in the knowledge that it may be after midnight before they get home.

I've found it to be a changing experience - one in which there's a glimpse of what we could do all the time, with a little joy in experiencing our neighbors, with a modicum of civility toward each other, with cooperation in our endeavors and our creative impulses.  And I've often wondered if others have seen it the same way, if there aren't more like me - who feel to bring back to daily life and daily actions more light than we had before.

I feel this experience in the same way I feel the  Zen Buddhist Proverb - "Before enlightenment - chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment - chop wood, carry water."    Before changing experiences we do what we gotta do.  After, we still gotta do the daily thing.  But maybe it doesn't feel like such a chore.  I don't know.

What I do know is that we need the glimpses of what's possible - be it through mountaintop enlightenment - or be it through screaming and dancing with a half million others to light and sound.  Maybe that's all we get in this daily world of chop wood and carry water - glimpses.  Maybe it doesn't feel like enough, at times.  Maybe it can be.


05 April 2011

Put it on a Post-it

When I can't locate my emotional compass, when what seems to have taken over is lethargy and ennui, when all I want to do is wear sweats, eat chips, and watch every episode of 'West Wing' from all seven seasons, it's as if I've been locked in a solitary cell to serve out a life sentence.  Yeah, sentenced to life, that's what it feels like, with no possibility of parole.

Of course I want to blame this on external events - on being surrounded by death lately, on a too-long car ride two days in a row to and from the memorial service for the first relative of my generation, on the sinus drainage that wakes me up at night, and especially on the need for continuing to search for and secure a job so the rent will continue to get paid.  All this stuff is real, and each has contributed to a wearing on body and soul recently - even though I've truly made every good faith effort to provide self-care, to watch for signs of overwhelm.  

When I feel this way I think there's something wrong:  with me, with my attitude, and I fear letting people know.  They won't want to be around me, I think, will think of me as a downer, a buzz-kill, as too broken to deal with.  And it's in writing it out this way, in telling you (whoever you are out there) that I see the error of my thinking.

It's in confining myself to NOT sharing the sadness I've felt about the recent (and more distant) losses, in not discussing my fear of having to settle for a job that will only provide money and nothing else, in not allowing myself to bitch (even a little) about feeling worn out by seasonal allergies that I place myself in prison.  It's in admitting that I've a right to shut down and watch all the damn 'West Wing's' I want for a while that I accept that sometimes life is just hard, and each of us needs a break at those times.

It's trite but it's true - where there's life, there's hope.  And as much as I've often wondered why I survived a heart attack, an alcoholic marriage, a childhood that wounded - the only truth I get in wondering is that I did survive them.  That's the hope.  And I not only don't have to, but truly can't answer the why questions - for those are God questions.   

Of all places and times and situations that teach me, teach all of us, it seems that those that feel the worst are those from which the most important lessons are learned.  Maybe I ought'a write myself a reminder of that, put it  on a post-it and stick it to my bathroom mirror.

21 March 2011

Part of the Conversation

Eco-psychology, a modern term for indigenous wisdom, reminds us that absolutely everything, including tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns, is a form of speech, an immense conversation of which we are a part. If you have lost your voice out of shock, numbness or impotence you can begin to reclaim it by speaking this truth to another, be it tree, river, sky or receptive human.
Aninha Livingstone
PhD Candidate, Meridian University

Over the last two weeks I have often felt voiceless as I listened to “experts” discussing the global economic impact of the earthquake and tsunami, and then the continual problems at the nuclear power plant affected by these disasters. My voicelessness arises from not knowing what to do with my rage at being told what to focus on. How rapidly these experts shift their conversation from the thousands of people dead, or trying to survive after these events to the drop in the stock markets, to concerns about manufacturing being held up – to matters that seem to me callous in the face of the human tragedy.

I’ve spoken about this very little, in comparison to the amount of anger I feel. Why? Because each time I’ve wanted to talk about it, the response from others has been that economic concerns ARE human concerns. Since I cannot deny this reality, the conversation quickly draws to a close. Yet I’m left with my rage, with a sense of powerlessness I cannot seem to shake.

I do understand what this is about, in part. Our culture holds as axiomatic a belief that we should focus our time and energy on those things we can do something about, those situations we can fix, on keeping ourselves and our immediate families safe from the unknown. Yet shit happens. We spend our dollars and time on potions and exercise, on plastic surgery and weight lifting to keep ourselves young, and we’re encouraged in this at every turn. Yet we age anyway. And we will die eventually, or sooner.

Everything about the society in which we live wants us to seek security and safety. Yet the world offers neither. The playwright Tom Stoppard wrote, “Life is a gamble, at terrible odds. If it was a bet, you wouldn’t take it.” So we make the choice, it seems, to pretend we can change the odds, and in doing so, pretend we’ve reduced the risk. We become callous and cynical.

It seems to me that focusing our conversations on economics and production, on stock market fluctuations and nuclear meltdowns allows us to avoid participating in the conversations we really need to have. Conversations about what we do with our lives and our inner resources, in the every day, how we live with each other, are more difficult ones to have. Talking with our selves and others, even without words, about our fears and dreams, our failings and hopes, requires risk. And though I feel angry that, too often, our public discourse doesn’t include these conversations, I must admit that I too, avoid that risk. In avoidance I contribute to the very thing that generates my anger.

Maybe this is where my anger comes in handy, serves to teach me something. Maybe my anger too is a form of speech, a conversation that it’s time, and past time, for me to be more fully a part of.

17 March 2011

Perfect or Good Enough?

Yesterday - still cool, still winterish though sun filled, thank the Maker. Training for comprehensive clinical exams for third year medical students - very detailed and exacting - only the first of three training sessions. I generally enjoy these trainings, as they provide chances to ask questions and envision how the exam will intersect with our mission - to help make better doctors. Yesterday however I noticed a disconnect inside - something unsatisfying to me I couldn't identify.

Today - spring's arrival! - 75 degrees and breezy, even the trash blowing in the streets sparkling. A shorter training for comprehensive clinical exam for the second year students in the afternoon - and my balance is back. The connection between how we teach and how we test is made in me, and my comfort level returns to its usual state during the training.

OK - so what's the difference? I think it has to do with the difference in assumptions about students, even more, the difference in how individual faculty members see themselves. Doctors, I have learned (in part) through this work as a Standardized Patient, really aren't any different than the rest of us. Some of us are guided by an inner need to control, to strive toward "perfect." I know this driving need too well. Others of us have, or have developed, a belief in living and working within and through a reality that says "good enough" is really the best we can do.

When it comes to training future doctors these different ways of looking at the world and ourselves in it show up clearly, even harshly.

The training yesterday was conducted with an eye toward "perfect" - and from that viewpoint arises the assumption that we should not trust the examinees, nor should we conduct the exam with any forgiveness for nervousness or the pressure that students are under. Many would hold that view - that we are training them to hold the lives and health of people in their hands - that they should perform perfectly under pressure and in situations that push them to the edge physically and psychologically. Is this possible? Is this view consistent with how people learn? Even as I type these questions I hear a Gatekeeper hollering from way off - from out in the center of our society - "well it SHOULD be!"

Today's training arose from the idea that learning is process, that "good enough" at the given stage of learning really IS good enough, and that the examination of what has been taught is as much an examination of the teaching as an examination of the learning. Clearly, I resonate more with this view.

I'm sure that I feel more comfortable and capable of greater vulnerability (in asking questions and making suggestions) in the "good enough" view because I used to use the "perfect" yardstick both on and against myself. It still shows up, this idea that what I do and who I am has no value unless it is perfect. But nowadays I see it coming, and attend to its affect on my body, rather than jumping to obey its commands.

This surely was what happened during yesterday's training. The old familiar came to life in that room, where perfect beige was the color being painted in broad strokes over all of us, and over the students by extension. I couldn't meet the expectation of perfect - and couldn't as a result really focus either.

Today as we sat in that grey-on-grey auditorium, the breezes of mid-March spring wafted through the room, and even without a brush, the color of just-opening daffodils was visible in the corners and at the edges of our chairs. Maybe spring can help us see that we - like what we learn, like how we learn, how we take and do on exams, like what sort of people we become - are all, at best, good enough.

02 March 2011

In The Gap - Or - Lessons From a Heart that Broke

In the gap between desire and enactment, noun and verb, intention and infliction,
want and have, compassion begins.
Margaret Atwood

Late March 2008
I’d survived a “major” heart attack with no damage to that muscle, with two pieces of plastic, tinier than the tip of a fingernail in my arteries, the only physical evidence. I’d recovered some of my energy and strength with exercise, rest, diet, and knowledge. I was slowly resuming my so-called life, making plans to fly again to California for school in a few weeks, to return to work two weeks later. I’d begun to drive again for short distances. Today I was returning to my solo apartment to gather clothes, take care of mail, and simply spend time getting reused to being alone there.
In truth I looked forward to the solitude. I’d hardly been alone since the heart attack. Even this short journey back to normalcy was book-ended by my promise to the friend I’d been staying with, a promise I’d be back, or call, in two hours. Yes, I’d been knocked down, but I was getting up again.
Yet throughout the recovery, despite my hardheaded intention to prove that others could stop worrying about me, a continual yearning made itself known. Since the day I’d awakened in the ICU, with a tube down my throat and my hands tied to the bed rails, I’d been involuntarily looking back, over my right shoulder for someone. I longed to see there someone with eyes full of pride, compassion and love, someone to envelop me in their arms, to softly tell me I was OK, to take my fear and weakness away.
Of course no one was ever back there. So here I was walking up to my front door alone, another step along this particular path.

Inside the apartment smelled of dust and stale air. I walked through, dropping my purse on the bed as I passed it on my way to the kitchen. OK – first open some windows and then water plants – take it slow and don’t try to do too much.
Old apartments have heavy windows, but the one in the kitchen slid up easily with my push. The window in the living room is larger, twice as big and equally as heavy. I leaned into it, bracing my legs against the bookshelf at windowsill height. The window slid up easily but my legs jiggled the bookshelf, knocking off a picture I’d placed on top. It fell between the shelves and the wall.
I tried to reach that picture, but couldn’t get to it. I was squatted down at the end of the shelf, preparing to reach around when I heard the phone ring, in my purse in the bedroom behind me. I turned my head to the right, as if turning toward the ring could answer it, and there, again, instantly, was the longing, the desire to be held and comforted. But this time it was overcome by my sharp intake of breath, by sudden heat in my chest and throat, a surge of acid in my belly, and the smell of rain on a hot asphalt street.
I slid to my knees, then sat, leaning against the bookshelf, the picture forgotten, not fighting the fear, not even thinking it was another heart attack, because this was somehow more familiar.
The heat rose in my throat and became tears. Between one breath and another I felt something coming, sliding up from my belly, into my chest, down my cheeks like salty rain. As it came, I wrapped my arms around my knees, pulled my legs in and cried open mouthed as a child.
What came, without preamble or question, was - I won’t be able to take care of myself, and there won’t be anyone to help me. It rooted me to the floor.
Through the open window early spring breeze chilled my neck as I sat, sobbing, wrapped in my own arms. My face felt tacky, sticky and swollen by the time I rose to my knees, lifted the picture and replaced it on the shelf.

17 February 2011

Satisfying Soreness

We've been giving exams this week at the med school - first year students performing a head-to-toe physical on us (on me, and boy is my body sore). The students spend their hour trying to remember all 140 steps to the physical and do them correctly - and I spend mine cooperating with the "doctor", and wanting to "help" them when they forget something, but knowing I cannot.

How special though is this experience of being with "baby doctors" in their process - what a gift. Watching students (really students at all levels, but especially these guys who are training to provide us with care and healing) learn, observing how they are changed by what they learn, and being part of their development as humans and scientists, has always been something I get really juiced about. I can't seem to stay away from it, nor would I want to. I guess I have a facility for working in a learning environment, for being present with people in such a space. And I simply love it.

Yesterday I was the examinee all day, and my god how sore I was. You wouldn't think getting a physical would do that - though I got five of them yesterday. Today it was only three, same for tomorrow - and that is plenty, according to my body. I can take care of that and deal with the stiff and soreness though, because I love "watching the wheels go round and round" in their heads as they practice thinking and doing at the same time. The BEST part though, for me - is when they have "finished" and sit in the room going over what they've done - reviewing the exam. Some of them sort of walk their fingers over their own bodies as they recall their actions. Others talk to themselves, even to me, as they review verbally. I just sit.

Today one young woman sat in the chair and seemed to go into a trance - eyes closed, absolutely quiet and seemingly calm as she conducted her mental review. The exam room (which looks exactly like a doctor's exam room) took on a feeling of peace. I found myself noticing details - the way her gold-red hair shone in the lights, the air on my back where the hospital gown did not meet, and particularly the pale green "fuzz" that has appeared overnight on the tree limbs outside the window. The student sat that way for nearly ten minutes and it felt as if we'd shared meditation space and time.

What a fabulous, important, and transforming job I have found in this. And, in the words of the late, and great, John Hartford - "I get paid for doin' this."

13 February 2011

The face in the two-thirds moon tonight looks quizzacle - is that a word? But maybe you'll know what I mean - sort of puzzled, perhaps a bit confused or questioning. I don't even know why I looked up and noticed that face, except that finally we've had a day of relative warmth and sunshine here in Louisville and I've been outside a lot. I just went out now at 7:15 pm to luxuriate in the fact that a sweatshirt is sufficient to the temp, and to ponder what I want to say to the world tonight. On looking up, seeing the raised eyebrows and scrunched up mouth on the face in the moon (and, yes, I DO understand that part of the "expression" has to do with the fact that the moon isn't full) I thought, "Yeah, quizzacle, just like me."

And here's why - day after tomorrow I turn 59 years old. I've been thinking about that lately.

It's always around my birthday, rather than at the new year, that I take stock of my life, . Lately I've wondered how any of us can really know what impact we've had in and on the world, what difference it has made that we have lived. Looking down the tube and seeing 59 (I mean, really, can't we just skip years like that and move on to the next decade?) getting bigger in the window does make me think - so what have I done with the years and the talents and skills.

I don't mean to sound morbid (though tomorrow I AM playing a depressed patient at the med school), but guess I've reached the age when such considerations do arise. Maybe more though I'm considering "what next?" You reach your fifties (which, yeah, I almost didn't live through) and I suppose it's logical to wonder what might lie ahead.

There's a lot I still hope to experience. Falling in love again, and this time with someone who also wants to be in love with me, is on the list. Traveling to one or more of the places I long to see (Alaska, Australia, and the list goes on) is there too, as is publishing in a really good literary journal. But I'm not talking so much about those discrete things - though love is truly more than that - more about what sort of old person I might be.

I want to be a Crone, a Wise Woman, an Elder - a woman who has that inner quality of sensual wisdom and that beauty of countenance arising from a life fully lived. And as I consider the possibility of that I wonder if I really HAVE lived in such a way as to really have a chance at Crone-dom. Not that I could undo or re-do any of it - or would if I could. But at this point in my life I gotta consider just what the past (my past) might be prelude To.

Yes, I get caught up in looking at times I've fucked up, made wrong choices, and taken dead-end paths as mistakes rather than learning ops. I tend to lose sight of the "teachable moment" nature of each of those times - to forget that it is NOT when things are going well and we're walking in tall cotton that we gain wisdom. Wisdom is gained when times are tough, when things fall apart. I forget that it's when we look around, realize that the path we're on doesn't go where we thought or where we wanted, and say "oh well, let's see where it goes" that we discover something that may change us forever.