Archive for the 'Life Stories' Category

24
Sep
13

Dancer Down: an unexpected seclusion

The morning of August 7 was unusually bright and sunny. A series of personally difficult life challenges had come to resolution and I was filled with immeasurable joy. Driving to my dance session that morning, I felt glad to be alive. Normally an experience like this would have made me eager to dance, but I had a vacation coming up in two days and things to do in preparation. I didn’t really want to go, but the body can get rather lazy. Like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz, it can come to a rusty impasse. I didn’t want that, so I drove on and arrived—all smiles—without a hint of the disinclination I really felt.

Jane, my teacher/partner, was not her customary, cheerful, and optimistic self. Something was off. Normally we will match each other in body-spirit whether we start out that way or not, so I didn’t think to question, nor did I state the truth of my disinclination. Undaunted by the disparity, I was confident we would find each other eventually, and so we began as we often do, moving in our separate spheres, performing for each other. Midway through the hour Jane put on the album I’d brought with me: Picture, by Night Ark (a quartet of musicians known for their fusion of instrumental jazz with tradition Armenian tonalities). Little did I know: I was about to meet my Waterloo.

I felt this hypnotic, seductive rhythm as a call of connection to the culture of my ancestors, hidden deep within my DNA, and my joy quickly increased to excitement. Although far beyond my improvisational abilities, I threw myself into moving interpretively to this hauntingly beautiful music, without the willing consent of my aging hips, and in a manner I think may have looked something like my little diagram drawing.

Within minutes, there was an audible a POP sound, followed by white-hot, searing pain! I knew something had torn inside. Groaning, IThe fatal twist 2 crumpled to the floor, where I stayed motionless and incoherent for several minutes, as the shock of the experience overtook reason. Time lost dimension and I was swimming in painful slow motion—a curious 4th dimension of my customary reality.

Having spent much of her life as a professional dancer with a collection of her own dancer’s injuries, Jane sprang into action, as I laid there in stunned disbelief. Prone to responsible problem solving and somewhat stunned herself, she tried her hardest to get me to consent to an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital emergency room. There was no way I was going to see the inside of one of those buses, before my time was up! Absolutely not! I took ibuprofen and arnica and continued to try… unsuccessfully… to reach my partner, Judy, by phone as well as text message.

As an InterPlay leader of 20+ years, with a talent for cleverly overcoming roadblocks, she reassessed the situation and applied InterPlay’s signature principal of incrementality to moving things along. She would suggest a move and I would try it. Little by little, I was miraculously on my side, then sitting up, then standing on one leg, and then leaning on the back of a chair. Using the chair as a walker, with Jane cheerleading, I hobbled to the elevator, out the door and into the car. Within 10 minutes, Judy arrived on the scene and drove me to an immediate care facility, where we learned that no bones had broken, but the pop had indeed been a tear, requiring weeks of rest, ice, pain medication, and a walker, along with patient acceptance of the situation (a challenge for me).

A stunned state of shock persisted for the first week, deepening as Judy and I felt our way around and through the daily realities of a crippling injury—a disability of unknown durWalker after immediate careation—to a person of a certain age. This was something I couldn’t accommodate without anticipating a measure of public chastisement. Had I been a bit too pleased with myself for having a fairly agile, old body? Perhaps I’d pushed it beyond reason…colored too far outside the box? Won’t people think I fell and broke my hip, like many older persons before me? But I knew I hadn’t crash-fallen; Jane taught me a dancer’s fall and that’s the way I went down.  Still, the idea haunted me and I didn’t want the humiliation of being thought of as a silly old lady playing at dance in her old age. The truth is: if I could have been anything in my life beside a visual artist, it would have been a dancer. To dance now, even past reasonable age, has been life affirming. All things considered I was even pretty good at it…for an old lady. 🙂

It wasn’t until a follow-up orthopedic appointment 10 days later that I learned my pop had been an avulsion, i.e., a tearing of the Sartorius tendon where it attaches to the iliac spine area of the pelvis. (The Sartorius is the longest muscle in the body, resolving in a tendon attaching to the pelvis.) This accounted for both the bone and tendon pain I was experiencing. No bone chips, no fractures—just a painful separation between the tendon and its point of insertion. I was assured that it was a common athletic injury—particularly in football—one that occurs when the muscle is stretched beyond its capacity. Well, I clearly did that, without doubt…but football? That was worthy of a laugh out loud!

Laughing or crying, in 3 weeks I would begin a course of physical therapy that would help me regain 95% of my former function. My inquiring and restless mind finally had an understanding of what had happened and a course of action. Between the relief I felt with the diagnosis and prognosis—along with the homeopathic care I knew would hasten healing—I returned home ready to welcome this secluded time out as an unexpected gift.

The story continues…

25
May
13

doodling like a rolling stone

Bob Dylan, the poet-singer-songwriter of the Baby Boom generation, in his 1965 hit, Like a Rolling Stone, asks plaintively:

How does it feel how does it feelto be without a home… like a complete unknown… like a rolling stone?

Between each of the song’s four verses, comes this haunting refrain—pointed, probing and challenging. The song references societal expectations of the 1950s and 60s, which may no longer carry quite the sting it did then; nonetheless, the refrain lives on timelessly in the Boomer Generation—invincible in 1960—not so much in 2013.

We are aging…sometimes gracefully, sometimes awkwardly. How does it feel and what does it all mean as we roll along toward the once, unthinkable senior citizen horizon? I am not a true Boomer, just an honorary one due to some life events that put me back a few years, but I have a good Boomer friend who wrote an essay for this blog about her experience of aging and transitioning. It comes complete with a graphic she calls a doodle.

April 15, 2013 • How it feels and what it means…

There’s a little ditty we used to sing as kids: Head and shoulder, knees and toes, knees and toes (repeat) while touching each of these body parts as a form of exercise. Now, in my senior years, it seems that there is a problem with each of these (maybe not my toes, but my feet). Memory is fading, can’t hook my bra in back due to bursitis and tendonitis in my shoulder, old knee injuries have been flaring up, and plantar fasciitis causes pain when I walk.  I was feeling old. As a former dancer, these physical losses take on a lot of significance.

Our church made plans to offer a grief recovery workshop starting late March by a specialist in that field and I was considering if I should participate to process my grief around aging. However, it was a ten-week commitment with homework assignments and I questioned whether I had the where-with-all to do the work.

I learned of Sybil MacBeth’s book, Praying in Color, from a friend and presented a short segment on February 23 during a weekend Lenten retreat at my church, where we all tried our hand at this form of prayer. I decided to use this method of spontaneous doodling with words and color as a process of discernment, but it became clear that I wouldn’t get my answer in 20 minutes.

Basically it sat there in my journal until a women’s retreat I attended in Santa Fe the following month. During a movement ritual I needed to sit down because my knee was complaining and I began feeling sorry for myself again because I could no longer move as freely as I once did. As we went around the circle sharing why we were there, a huge realization dawned on me. Seven years ago on March 1, 2006 I had a hysterectomy because various tests and scans pointed to probable ovarian cancer. As it turned out I did not have cancer, but if I had, I would not even be at this retreat because I would no longer be alive, as life expectancy with ovarian cancer usually does not exceed five years.

The next two nights I continued with the doodle, noting that I could be dead, but I wasn’t and asking why. The second night brought it to a near completion, but only after participating in a craft project with the group. In the afternoon we had walked out on the high-desert land to each collect sticks or a piece of weathered wood to create a “Spirit Doll.” There was an array of beads, feathers, ribbon, fabric, glue, wire…you name it…available to dress our wood into something that resembled…well, some sort of doll, I guess. I immediately went into a familiar insecurity, comparing myself to everyone else who would create something profound, more meaningful, and just plain better than anything I could do. So, with a slightly rebellious attitude, I decided I would create an alter ego. Using part of a pink boa around her torso, pink feathers in her hair, which was actually sagebrush, and sparkly netting for a skirt I called her “my lady of the night” who stayed awake nights for reasons different than my insomnia-ridden ones. With a few added doo-dads she was sufficiently garish and I felt satisfied.

Anne's Doodle Design

Back in my room the doodle grew. Of course there was much more happening in my thoughts and emotions than appear on the page but it is a good summary. And what I also realized was that I had created something meaningful in the doll; that in her flamboyant attire she represented not what I had set out to create but rather a celebration of life! I finally had a clear answer to the question I had posed several weeks earlier. My conclusion: Rather than grieve my losses, I need to celebrate the life that is still before me.

01
Feb
13

hornet’s nest of good intentions

Imagine a situation that is simple enough if kept to the surface and dealt with as is, but it has legs, roots that go deep into the ground of your being. It could be work oriented, family oriented, school or church oriented…something that is private. You’ve inadvertently lost control of that privacy and now there are people trying to help who don’t know the whole story. You don’t want those roots made public, but with each attempt from loved ones to help, comfort, aid…the roots become more and more exposed, igniting fire-stories in your memory bank that cause more distress, not less. You try to keep it simple…to say more will be overwhelming for everyone…you try to graciously say just enough, but not so much that the exposed roots cause you, or anyone else pain. Finally the effort becomes muddled and confusing between yourself and those with loving intentions. You begin to think that maybe you are speaking a foreign language, but you know you aren’t, so what is the problem? Why are you causing pain in others? That is not your intent. You go over your letters and your conversations. They seem clear to you. What is going on?

Type Embellishments_H 36pt_white.

Maybe you identify with this scenario and have your own hornet’s nest of good intentions, maybe not. This is my story today. This is what is happening. My effort to draw personal boundaries has alienated some loving friends. I feel quite sad about this. I’ve done all I know to fix it and don’t blame anyone but myself. Time will lay it’s mossy blanket in a while.

The sun is shining cold on white today. It is a bright, crisp day that hurts my tired eyes. The gray of yesterday was a better fit. “Too bad, take what you get,” the Oracle of Life says to me. I don’t answer back. I just keep breathing.

I’m thinking about an island somewhere in the south pacific where this drama is not happening and my eyes are not burning from lack of sleep. “It will all work out,’ says the Oracle, ‘this is only one page in the Book of Life and it happens to lots of people. You are not unique.

“Good,’ I say, ‘that’s good to remember.”

31
Jan
13

deep memory days

Have you ever had times when you feel a life-time of painful memories sweeping down around you, enveloping you, not letting you go; memories that spread their awesome distortions on the today of where you are but cannot claim being there? These are the memories of things wrongfully done either to you or by you, that have woven their woeful song deeply into your name. You may feel it somewhere around your heart, but it’s not about your heart; it’s physical as well as emotional, but not organic. It’s about feeling trapped in the old songs with their voices—loud in the head—fueled by something in the present—words or deeds that layer themselves upon each other until the deepest pain is reached and you are just a mass of deep purple hurt. Sometimes it happens fast and you’re down for the count. Other times distinction between today and all the yesterdays melts slowly downward like an ice cream cone…all over your hands. These are times that I struggle to stay oriented and call upon God as the Ground of My Being for help. They are also times when, as an aging person, I feel tired of the effort and just want it all to be over. (Don’t worry, I’m okay.)

This can be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder…what is now referred to as PTSD. It is that for me. The inclusion/exclusion experiences of the past several years since returning to church, have attached themselves to a number of earlier church experiences of abuse, as well as early personal experiences of betrayal. I am sensitized to this in many colorful ways. Now, thanks to thousands of veterans, survivors of military malevolence, we have an explanation for what happens to people when they can no longer tolerate painful memories that tend (like flash-fires), to blossom disproportionately without consent. For some of us with much simpler forms of this human condition, compassion and consideration is a good bit of first aid. I would like some of that please. And for dessert, I would like affirmation. One never outgrows the good affirmation can bring. It’s like yeast: makes the spirit rise and the soul feel loved. This quote from Gladys Bronwyn Stern is a favorite of mine: “Silent gratitude isn’t  much use to anyone.”  Ah…so very true for me.

I am cycling out of this gloom that I’ve been in this morning. It’s a given…I always do…eventually. But I never stop wondering why it has to be this way…so complicated and dense? Maybe it’s because we are always the same age inside? Human nature, I guess…we are all a little bit dumb and careless with each other. Me included.

I need to dance.

I feel better already. I hope I didn’t bring you down… 🙂

24
Jan
13

something on my mind

Last week, in an Oprah Winfrey interview we heard Lance Armstrong, the world-class Olympic cyclist confess to having used several performance enhancing drugs to achieve his string of seven Tour de France medals during the period 1999 to 2005. These medals were stripped from him late last year, and recently the Olympic bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney games as well. Lance is a proud man, a fighter—a winner at all costs sort of person. Oprah did a magnificent job of drawing him out from shadow to full light truth. She did this by offering him kind, compassionate support all the way home. He needed that and she, out of her storehouse of experiences, could give it. I don’t think she skipped a beat.

For two hours I watched and listened to two amazing persons reveal themselves to the world: one a fallen celebrity newly discovering his feet of clay, the other a celebrity interviewer/entrepreneur who has never hidden hers, even from herself. This is a distinction of importance as I look through the pages of my own book of life. I find identity in both areas and I am not at ease.

I am annoyed with Lance Armstrong, not for the doping, arrogant lying and power-driven will to win, win, win, but for the cancer mythology he helped to perpetuate through the LIVESTRONG theme of the foundation bearing his name. The foundation has done good work and raised millions of dollars for research, but it did that based on Armstrong’s own cancer experience turned into the thematic slogan: LIVESTRONG. Many thousands of people carried this message to heart—persons unlucky enough to have contracted the disease, were caretakers for them, or otherwise touched by the disease.

In 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with late-stage, metastatic, testicular cancer that had spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain. He ignored the warning signs at the early, easily treatable stage of this cancer, common in men aged 15-35. Had his body not been as fit as it was, he may very well have been a statistic instead of a survivor of heroic proportions. LIVESTRONG worked for him because it was his personal modus operandi. People want and need heroes. He was a winner, so the slogan became a word to live by for many, but not for me. I survived cancer and didn’t have the strength to live strong for a very long time. I simply survived. It took many years to overcome the side effects of the treatment, some of them permanent.  I am still surviving. There is a 50/50 chance that my cancer will return at some point. I live with that daily. Is that living strong or living true?

The yellow LIVESTRONG wristband always turned me off. I didn’t know what it meant and still don’t. In the absence of broader knowledge of this disease, responsibility for outcome tends to shift to the sufferer. How does one live strong when the drugs that flow intravenously through the body every three weeks (or less) leave you chemically depressed, thin as a bone, bald as a bat, sick and wobbly as a toddler learning to walk? Does that mean soldiering on through, fighting on through, or what? Cancer is still incurable. Oncology speaks of remission these days, not cure. So, is remission the goal of living strong? Is that what is meant by “beating it?” I don’t know. We see the happy faces of cancer survivors in commercials and advertising. We don’t see the thousands of people permanently disfigured and/or impaired by the side effects of these chemical cocktails, nor do we understand that each recurrence of the disease further weakens the body’s ability to counter. We don’t see the epitaphs of those who apparently didn’t live strong enough to survive. We aren’t ready yet to admit that the war on cancer, started 40+ years ago by President Nixon, has not produced cure. Treatments are better and drugs are becoming smarter, but it is still treatment that will be deemed barbaric some hundred years or so in the future.

I would like to hear another interview where Armstrong takes responsibility for misleading the public into thinking a catchy jingle could make us all strong survivors. We aren’t. If he does this he will be a true leader and a strong advocate. Cancer is still a dark thief riding a dark horse in the darkest of nights for most of us.  Both my niece and my sister lived their cancer as best they could…some might say strong, but the endings were not pretty. After Adopted Daughter died of cancer, I found the yellow bracelet among her things. I recoiled at the sight of it and tossed it out. My loss was too great to even look at the talisman she thought would help her. If I had it today, I’d take a scissor and sever the LIVE from the STRONG. I’d throw out the STRONG and pin-up the LIVE in my studio to remind me of what surviving is all about, at least for me: living authentically, gracefully and joyously.Type Embellishments_H 36pt_white.

Postscript:

1) My personal cancer story, Dying to Live: My Cancer Odyssey, was written in 2007 and can be seen on my website: www.inheritanceproject-2.com – project 5.  2) Reports on Lance Armstrong, the foundation, the interview, other cancer survivor’s opinions can easily be found online. Your comments to this posting are welcome.

21
Jan
13

an unexpected sabbatical

I’ve been on something like an unexpected sabbatical since my last posting on this blog (June 13, 2012). My world has turned round and round, upside down, right side up and sideways. The sale of our Frank Lloyd Wright house took on shady tones and bogus proportions that finally were unacceptable to us. When asked to reduce the price to less than half its worth, it took us only a moment to flatly refuse in unison. We shifted gears, reclaimed the house and promptly put the smaller house—our downsize house—on the market instead.

July and August were full of heavy packing, lifting, and moving—box- by-box, carload-by-carload, all day, every day until Two Men and a Truck came for the furniture at the end of August. We were not just moving our living quarters; we were moving a studio as well. Despite having either sold or given away lots of things during our move to the smaller house on Audubon Road, the volume of stuff was staggering. I started the job with gusto mid July and ended with a torn meniscus in my knee shortly before the actual move. Since I had didn’t have a lot of experience with physical injury, I paid little attention. There was a job to do and a goal to be reached.

We were excited and full of hope at coming home and starting over. Thinking to put the past behind us, we planned to live in the spacious old house in a new way. Ballroom 2We’d done a thoroughly beautiful renovation on it and lived there for seventeen years before moving to Audubon Road. It suited us in many ways, but there were some rooms that just never felt right to us, no matter what adjustments were made. We concluded that we’d been trying too hard to live there in a more formal FLW, prairie style. So the plan was to use the rooms in a different way…color outside the lines, so to speak. The most notable change was our decision to keep the 23 x 15 foot living room clear for large gatherings of friends and family, music and dance events to accommodate our current interests. We call it the ballroom. Here is a shot of the southwest corner of the room, showing the expanse of oak throughout and a great dance floor.

Once in the house, we felt an immediate sense of being at home…as though we’d been on assignment somewhere for four years and finally came home. It was glorious and it was fun. This was where we belonged, without doubt. The tenants we’d had were good people, but despite the arrangement we had made with them, they really had no investment in the place, so we had a lot to do in addition to the changes we needed to make for ourselves. The house spoke to us and we returned the greeting a hundred-fold, but my knee was steadily worsening and I was unable to dance. The big beautiful music/dance room stood waiting. With my oncology appointment looming (always a point of anxiety), I began a generalized worry pattern that pretty much centered on the idea that dancing was all over for me. I’d been too proud of my ability, so I thought; my body was now showing its true colors.

Finally, at the insistence of my very good friend, whose dancing days made her an expert on injured knees, hips and other parts, strategic to dancing health, I made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor. The MRI confirmed frayed meniscus in my left knee, a product of aging wear and tear, made worse by packing, schlepping and cleaning on hands and knees with relentless determination to leave the little house pristinely ready for the market. The doctor suggested surgery or physical therapy that would strengthen my quadriceps enough to relieve the pain.

I chose physical therapy and came home feeling hopeful enough to meet with my dance teacher for some gentle, stretching, body movement. It had been nearly three months; yet, under her direction, I was amazed at what I could still do. I was floating on cloud nine after she left. It was time for lunch…still floating,  I placed a piece of my favorite Middle Eastern lavash in the toaster while I went about searching for something in the pantry to go with it. (This lavash is very thin and needs only thirty seconds to heat.) While six feet away, standing on a stool in the pantry, something bright caught my eye: serious red flames shooting up from the charred lavash toward the wooden cabinet directly above. I told myself to stay calm and get to the toaster before alarm bells (or worse) went off. I got quickly down, protecting my knee, I lunged forward, jamming my left foot into the leg of the stool I’d been standing on and sustained a spiral break in my toe and an enormous hematoma. I hobbled to the toaster, unplugged it and carried it (still flaming) out to the yard, all the while telling myself I had not broken anything. The kitchen was smoky. Windows went up, the fire alarm got disabled and the pain increased; reason returned: I had broken a left toe, a very sore left foot and a damaged left meniscus. Agony! Bad luck! Misery! No dancing for me now, for sure! My glass was not half-empty…more like nearly empty.

Ice, ice and more ice. Ibuprofen. Homeopathic Arnica and Symphytum. It was two weeks before I could wear anything but a “glamorous” orthopedic post-op shoe and four weeks before I could manage a shoe with a big cutout on the side. I was limping along with a cane, feeling awkward and immensely unlucky to say the least. The doctor said it could take three months to properly heal. After six weeks, with the help of my cut-out shoe, I started physical therapy. Four weeks later, my quadriceps were strong and I was back! No surgery required.

In the midst of all this came Thanksgiving with all its hustle, bustle, worry and scurry—our first big dining event in the ballroom. Thankfully, it was a great success. Five days after Thanksgiving Day I had a strange sore throat and cough. The next day was my six-month oncology appointment (never a fun trip). My lab tests were very good, so I didn’t think much about the sore throat, since it seemed to be improving. The following day was my last physical therapy session. I was unusually tired and low on energy with muscles more sore than usual. The day after came with chills, fever, gas, bloating and overwhelming flu-like tiredness. It was the first of December and I rallied to take the granddaughters to the town’s Frosty Fest pageant. It’s total fun to be with kids at Christmas. We had a great time…Santa, reindeer, cotton candy, hot chocolate…joie de vivre!Frosty Fest Composite

The next day my illness began to slowly return, but my youngest granddaughter, Miss Pink’s, birthday party was scheduled for that afternoon at the dreadful house of grown-up horrors called, Chuck-e Cheese’s. We had to be there. J and I soldiered through the noise, the din and the obnoxious urging to be happy, happy, happy; aren’t we all so happy today??? By the time it was all over and done with, and we were driving home to peace and sanity, illness overtook me. We had to pull into a parking lot; I sat on the curb, shaking with chills and gastric distress for fifteen minutes while my body decided which way it was going to go, up or down. Once home, I went to bed and prayed for recovery. Many weeks of illness ensued, making many return visits that simply would not stop. Since my blood work had been good, I could set aside my habitual fear of illness being cancer returning in cloak and dagger fashion. Nonetheless, I was really sick for weeks and not able to stay well for more than a few days at a time. My doctor suggested an immune strengthening regiment of elderberry, astragalus, and two homeopathic medicines to be taken regularly for four weeks. I am starting my third week of this regimen and feeling quite disposed to continuing until the robins and blue birds return and this unseasonable Midwest weather pattern gives way to proper spring days. We’ve set up a bird bath and feeder to encourage them back into our daily life.

During the course of the injuries and ensuing illness stretching into January, Incarnation Body and SoulI’d lost my raison d’être as an artist. Only dancing made any sense to me. I watched many dance films to stay connected to this. Last week I looked at the computer and heard writing and visual art calling me to return to them as equal partners with dance. I don’t know exactly what it was that brought me back; I think it best to let go of so much knowing anyway. I’m back in my house, looking to the future—not as a younger woman would do, but as a woman in her seventh decade with a lot of history, a 50/50 chance of cancer returning one day, and a mind that processes time differently than I did in my fifties and sixties. I am at yet another point of transition and coming to understand that life is all about transitions. Nothing is permanent. Only now is here. Today I am glad to be writing again, composing visual art, dancing, and by grace, moving forward.




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