Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

18
Dec
13

A Most Magical Christmas

A Most Magical Christmas is an adaptation of the original story written for me long ago by Korin Heinz. As with all Armenian stories, this one was…
and was not…

karenswhimsy.comOnce upon a time, there was a little girl named Melineh, who lived with her parents, her sister and her brother in a big house. Melineh liked to pretend and play imaginary, magical games, especially at Christmastime. Starting the day after Thanksgiving, and right up to Christmas, she listened to The Cinnamon Bear on the radio and imagined herself right inside the story.

She was happy except for one thing: she dearly wanted a pet—not just any pet—a warm, furry kitten all her own to love and hug. She asked her mom and dad for a kitten many times, but the answer was always no, because they thought animals should always be outside—not inside the house. Then one day, after thinking it over carefully, Melineh’s father came home with a small, tabby kitten that he found near where he worked.

“Look what I found, Melineh,’ he said, ‘He begged me to bring him home, so I did.”

Melineh, filled with joy, held out her arms and begged her mom,  “Can I keep him… please?”

“Well… if you will promise to take care of him and not let him scratch the furniture, then we will try it for a little while,” Mom said, rather reluctantly.

Melineh named her new kitty, Buttons. She fed him every morning before school and in the afternoons when she came home. She brushed and played with Buttons and sometimes even put doll clothes on him. At night, Buttons slept on her bed in a tight curl of fur. Melineh was happier than she’d ever been in her whole life!

A few weeks later, just before Christmas, Melineh came home from school to play with Buttons, but couldn’t find him. She called and called and looked in every nook and cranny, but could not find him. “Mom,” she asked plaintively, “Where’s Buttons? Have you seen him?”

Mom looked away and said quickly, “Oh, he must have run away.”

Melineh wailed helplessly, “No, that’s not possible! You know where he is!” Inconsolable, she cried for days. There was nothing she could do but wait, hope and dream.

Then, on Christmas Eve, while Melineh was making make paper chain garlands for the tree with her sister, she heard a faint scratching noise at the back door: scritch, scratch. “I wonder what that is,” she thought, and got up to look outside in the fading afternoon light. At first she saw nothing and was about to close the door when she heard a tiny mew from under the porch. Melineh bent down and saw something dark and furry; “No, it couldn’t be,” she thought, but there, rubbing against her hand was Buttons, back from wherever he had been!kitten_in_holly 2

Melineh brought her precious tabby kitty inside and gave him some food. Buttons, once again in Melineh’s loving arms, purred happily. This was the very best gift ever—for sure!

Buttons lived with Melineh and her family for many years, bringing warmth and fun into the big old house in the city. When Melineh grew up she had lots more cats, but she never forgot that wonderful Christmas when Buttons found his way back home.

And, of course…they lived happily ever after…

Visual images in public domain from:
karenswhimey.com and clipartpal.com

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.

13
Jun
12

art then / art now

I need to reorganize the house I’ve been living in for the past four years!

In 2008, we moved from a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright house to a small, unassuming, 1960s tri-level with joyous expectations of becoming part of a particular church community in the neighborhood. Shortly after moving the housing market fell, leaving our FLW house without a great many qualified buyers. At the same time, we entered into what became a long, painfully drawn out series of backwards and forwards efforts to become part of this church. Toward the end of that first year my sister died and I was heartbroken. Then partway into the second year our dear friend Bettina discovered her cancer was on the rise and she moved in with us. We were a chosen family of three working for inclusivity until the end of May, when the church body proclaimed that it could not, would not make the leap to inclusiveness. We were stuck with two mortgages, taxes, and much deep bruising around the heart and brain. By January of 2010, when it was clear that her cancer was unstoppable, we turned our home into a hospice dwelling encompassing all of us. Then, when she died on March 6, 2010, my world fell apart for a very long time.

We lived here in this little house for four years with shattered dreams and could not make it a home. Now we are on the brink of finally selling our FLW house, albeit at an enormously reduced price. It is time to move into this unassuming tri-level and make room for the next chapter of our lives. Making room means re-organizing and that requires cleaning out and thinning down my files…all those things I’ve carried around thinking that they will be needed at some future time. As I am in my seventh decade and climbing, I think the future is now.

The process of reducing files requires opening and looking through them. I could only manage four drawers without mental/emotional exhaustion overtaking me as I walked back into my life, folder after folder, making decisions that sometimes brought unwanted memories to the surface. In one of those folders I found correspondence with a friend from the past—an artist from Armenia whom I’d met a decade earlier when Judy and I were visiting friends on the east coast. It was a period of my life when I was doing a lot of genealogy in an effort to understand my heritage as a building block for knowing myself. This period culminated in an exhibition I produced involving nine Armenian/American artists.

Inheritance: art and images beyond a silenced genocide. (The electronic version is hosted by the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota.)

Curious about this old friend and somewhat lonely for people of my own ethnic temperament, I looked him up online and found he was here in this country, with a partner of six years and still a practicing artist. I sent out a Facebook friend request, Twittered and emailed him at the art center address where he teaches ceramics. About a week later I received an email from him that made me happy; he is a person like myself in so many ways, and one of the few remaining links to my own heritage. When he asked so plaintively why I got out of the art world, I had to give a brief history of the past decade since I’d last spoken with him. Haven’t had a response to this yet…must be busy…

His question brings me front and center, having been asked by others from time to time: Why did you get out of the art world…why would you? Revulsion is one answer. Cancer’s clearer vision is another. I am a professional artist gone AWOL. There is an article in the New York Times—How the Art Market Thrives on Inequality—that simply renews my sense of revulsion. I recommend reading this for all art lovers. It’s educational.

I will always be an artist. That is my temperament and training and it filters into everything I do. Some have questioned why I pour so much of that artfulness into the church I attend when they see so little reason for doing so. My answer is: Why not? The Church having separated itself—to its own detriment—from visual art at the time of the Reformation, is in desperate need of beauty for soul’s nourishment. I can do it and it gives me pleasure rather than pain. When I hear that someone’s experience of the sacred has been enhanced by a bit of beauty I’ve had a hand in providing, I am blessed, because I’m acting in accordance with having been Called by Name back in those gloomy days of cancer treatment and recovery. Clearer vision, that’s the reason.

Art created for one’s own pleasure is personal and edifying, but in a broader, societal sense, it is one hand clapping. Art created out of one’s own spirit and shared freely with others is two hands clapping—communication, pleasure and edification all around. As many of my friends and acquaintances know, I’m big on movement, hands, feet, whatever. Clapping counts.

Now I go to my weekly dance class where I can be art as well as make it…where I can be beauty as well as behold it.

This is the street where I live now…

31
Jan
12

moving on

There are times in life when our wheels stop turning and we seem to be parked in neutral. This is one of those times for me. When I started this blog I had a mission, something to say personally about human rights, the church, social justice and a host of other timely issues. I’m not sure what happened, but I seem to be in some sort of transition state and that is why I have written so little for the past many months.

In our society, we over 65 are not expected to be transitioning to anything beyond retirement, traveling and grandparent-hood. This is a popular misconception that isolates and insulates this strata of society. It brings to mind the baby-boom mistrust of anyone over 30, popularized (I think) by that  iconic figure of the 60s and early 70s, Bob Dylan. Of course we all crossed that line of demarcation (including Bobby Dylan)  and are living to tell the tale. The slogan, popularized by John Lennon was: Make Love Not War. It was not an original concept, but certainly a controversial one, just as it was long ago in the messianic teachings of the preacher from Galilee. He (probably) wasn’t talking about sex  as we were, but the concept is still significantly similar. We had a dream of a just society. Some retain the  dream and work toward that goal—others internalized it in private ways and seek personal wholeness in a cracked and broken world.

I am both of those, but having shed about as much blood over  issues concerning LGBTQ inclusion in our churches as I can manage to lose, I feel like I need a transfusion. The past several months, since achieving my own legalized civil union, have been a time of painful waiting, watching and listening. I find myself walking the bridge that leads to what used to be termed, the golden years. I do not find them all that golden, except for the wisdom that experience brings. Dylan Thomas, in his poem, Do not go gentle into that good night, urges us to “…rage against the dying of the light.” I am raging about something, yet it eludes me. It is not about getting old or dying. It is about wisdom having its voice; it’s about aging as evolution, not devolution. The longer we live, the more we know—the more we can share. The more we share—the healthier, inter-generationally, our society can be…but this is not the world I live in.

There are many things that separate me from others. I am not building my life. I am bringing it to a close. I didn’t say end…I said close, as in the final act of a play, which can go on for quite a while depending on the play-write. I am transitioning from survival mode to sacred. And I know this because when I dance I am all at once whole in body and soul. My spirit rejoices and God is alive within me…there are no barriers of creed or doctrine to stumble over. It is all elation. I am a bird flying the current, just knowing and being. I waited all my life for this. It is a gift from the great giver of life. I have no idea how to put this together with the artist and writer hats I wear and don’t know what comes next. I am waiting…in the best of times floating in the current…in the worst of times doing battle with the fear and anxiety of failure and loss.

This Richard Rohr meditation—Living a Whole Life—came today from the Center for Action and Contemplation, January 31, 2012:

Bill Plotkin speaks of the first half of life as doing our “survival dance.” The second half of life can then become our “sacred dance.” Most of us never get beyond our survival dance to ask the deep concerns of the soul (we are too busy “saving” our souls, whatever that means!) to do our sacred dance. Money, status symbols, group identity, and security are of limited value, but to the soul they are a distraction, and finally they become the very problem itself.

However, don’t misunderstand me—and I say this as strongly as I can—you’ve got to go through this first half of life and its concerns. Every level of growth builds on the previous ones. The principle is this: transcendence means including the previous stages. Then you can see the limited—but real—value of the early stages. But you will no longer put too much energy into just looking good, making money, feeling secure at all costs, and making sure you are right and others are wrong. That’s what it means to grow up, and Christians need to grow up just like everybody else.

Richard Rohr

Adapted from Loving the Two Halves of Life: The Further Journey

19
Dec
11

christmas letter – 2011

Christmas Greetings from me to you!

(Text:  Last year we celebrated our daughter’s marriage to JM, a widower with two little girls. We became instant grannies. This year, while learning the ins and outs of granny-hood, we took advantage of Illinois’ new civil union law, and after 34 years together, got civilly united, i.e., wed, in our own church, by our own pastor, Gentle Spirit. We wove the ceremony into the morning worship as a sign of relational commitment to the congregation that voted yes to moving forward in love. The service was historic in terms of the Mennonite Church in Illinois, and amazingly beautiful as well.  We are experiencing a newness to our relationship we could not have anticipated. Having legal status does make a positive difference.)

31
Oct
11

aging, not old

I hear people, mostly women in their 50s, say they are old. I am astounded by this. We live in a youth culture. I want to tell them about the stages of life…that they are not old, but merely transitioning from the first half of life to the second, which if done mind fully is so much richer than the first. Ages 40-60 are sociologically classified as mid-life; 60 and beyond as elder life. I certainly don’t want to denigrate anyone’s experience, but the truth is that aging is a process we are engaged in from birth onward. It is not the same as old. Further, the term old has been replaced with elder, which can have a nice ring to it. (So much nicer than senior citizen!)

We grow older, not old—older. I am pleased to say that very often the process includes a bit of wisdom—the older we get the more experience we have. If applied thoughtfully, experience can produce at least a modicum of wisdom. Each decade has its own hallmarks—highs and lows—but the trajectory for all living things is conception, birth, bloom, fade, demise. I propose that the latter 50s and 60s of a person’s life is a fading, not into demise, but into new bloom—or second bloom, if you will. (Sociologically, we may have the baby-boomers to thank for this.)

Now in my early 70’s and feeling more rather than less, I propose the 70s may very well be the doorstep of maturity or the beginning of insight. Whether it is or isn’t, my experience is an awakening to the precariousness of time. I see endings now rather than distance and time becomes precious. I think back to my mother at this age…her joys, sorrows and pervading loneliness. I did not understand any of it. I was 40…building my life and blithely ministering to my own needs. I could not understand her because I was not developmentally able to do so, yet I could have tried. I could have listened. I did not. I regret, and am shamed by this egocentrism.

I could babble on, but I’d be late for my InterPlay session, so here’s what an elder in training has to say to all the 50 year olds out there who fear 60: Each decade will be a bridge to the next station of life; and every now and then you will be really glad to have experience and wisdom in your back pocket. Practice a healthy life-style. Wrinkles are not important. Only babies are wrinkle-free.




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