Posts Tagged ‘Personal Growth

01
Apr
13

looking backward / going forward

Every now and again an old friend or acquaintance will come to mind and I wonder what they are doing now…where they are. Sometimes I Google to find out. Maybe it’s a way of measuring the length of my days in years? Some time ago I found an artist friend through Facebook that I’d known a dozen years ago and wrote about the encounter in my June 13, 2012 post, art then / art now. A few weeks ago I reconnected with another friend through Facebook that I’d known in the glorious, early 1970s (when some of us were still young and others, not yet born). That was great fun.

Last week…in a more serious mood…I looked for a person I’d known six years ago in a cancer support group. I’d been thinking about him for a while. I wanted to thank him for all the invaluable help he’d given me—help that changed the course of my recovery for the better. We both have a form of incurable lymphoma that can capriciously become active or lie inactive at will. I’ve been in remission for five years and wanted to know how he was. I Googled him, and found his name in connection with a cancer support group’s phone listing. I called and was delighted to find that he is a survivor and continuing with his cancer support mission. It felt good to send a message of thanks and affirmation. Many cancer survivors like to pay it forward, including me.

A few days ago, I thought about two persons I’d known from my days in the art world.  Despite that association ending badly, I Googled them hoping to find an avenue for constructive reconnection. To my dismay, I found pages and pages of articles linking them and the gallery to fraudulent misappropriation of federal grant funds from 2004-10. I was shocked and wanted to know what had happened. I began reading the articles. When I got to the FBI Press Release dated December 14, 2011 what I considered the most reliable—I stopped to take stock. My partner and I had known these women for many years. Until my last show in their gallery in 2002, we had considered them close friends. The exhibition—Inheritance: art and images beyond a silenced genocide—was a production showcasing Armenian-American artists and the Armenian people. It was nearly a year’s work and a major undertaking for me as artist, curator and producer.

A few weeks before the exhibition opened, our tax preparer urged us to ask the two women for an accounting of the money contributions that had been donated toward funding the show. Asking for an accounting touched off a firestorm of angry accusations toward us, and threats to cancel the show, which put me in a state of ongoing anxiety for the two months of the show’s run in the gallery. Naively, we assumed the contributions that came in from our contacts were earmarked and set aside. We had virtually no understanding of non-profit gallery operations at that time, and no idea of the potential threat this request to the gallery directors would be.

Historically, the gallery had been an important outreach to the community and an alternative for rising artists to the traditional, market-based gallery system. I do not know how the current situation happened, when, or why it happened. I only know my own experience in what would be my last show there. It had been my labor of love. We were fortunate to receive in-kind donations that included a four-color catalog, marketing/advertising help and a marvelous array of catered, Armenian food and drink for the opening reception.

Everything was in order, but the enmity that ensued—the demands and constant threats to close the show at a moment’s notice made a basket case of me for most of that time. Trust was broken on all sides. What had been friendship for many years became a battleground and a living hell. I didn’t understand it then and mourn the emptiness of it all now. I am sorry to have lost the friendship we had with these two very interesting women, but in light of this new information I am thankful to be on this side of current events…thankful…but still sad to have all that collateral damage sitting in the roadway of my past. I cannot think of it without great regret for relational carelessness and wasted time.

Looking back, I remember the government shutdowns of arts funding hitting the small enterprises hardest. I am not excusing anyone or anything, merely seeing two sides of what has become the vanishing coin of the power-Study in time–3x2.5elite. I have compassion for these two people, regardless of circumstances, because I knew them at their sincere best…maybe not as deeply as I’d thought, but well enough. We are all looking for our way…our path in life. I am sorry about detours and sink holes and broken pavement. I do not know where these women are today, or how they are coping. There is nothing online past December 2011, so I assume the allegations are still pending. I am a bit of an idealist. I love resolution and reconciliation. I would like that with these two, but I dare not dream of it. I don’t really know how to swim with the bigger fish and my skin has not yet hardened. ~¿

Waiting

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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… 🙂

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…

27
Feb
12

Mondays not Sundays

In the 1970s I was a member of an intentional Christian community north of Chicago. It was a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences in those days. Living in Community was a total immersion experience with shared purse and decision-making. The positives could reach beyond imagining and the negatives could inflict deep wounds that only confession and forgiveness and the passage of time could heal.

I met my life partner there. We left together at the end of a very dark time, re-entering a world that had changed in a myriad of ways. Time passed…30 years to be precise…with the best aspects of community living ingrained within us. Although we prospered in many ways, we could not even remotely re-assemble the best of those times. These were years of growing and learning the ways of the world. We did well.

In 2006 our world fell to pieces when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgekin lymphoma. I survived the attack of the cancer beast, fell in love with God again, and a year later found myself  returning to the church, which was and still is, in change-process. Change within the church, or any large organization for that matter, is slow and tedious with its own litany of hits, runs and errors. It has been both a painful and an enlightening experience, as many of my previous postings can clearly show. Writing this, remembering the events of the past half decade, I feel battle-scarred and tired. I am an artist, a seeker and a visionary. Moving forward within the church structure is a slow and burdensome process. I do not naturally travel slowly. Sometimes I wonder why I am still here…in church…any church at all for that matter? Good question.

Yesterday was another Sunday survived. Today is Monday, the day of healing—the day I get to dance in a spaciously beautiful room—with beautiful Jane, who is my teacher and friend. We come together in this place, with its strips of colored sunlight streaking across the old wood floor,  and a ceiling that dwarfs us by its height. We come with our body spirits as is—a come as you are party of two. Through the various InterPlay forms, and her years of expertise and training, we shake it out, sing it out, shout it out and dance it out. We dance for ourselves, for each other, and with each other in familiar forms. We even create new ones. We are clay on the potter’s wheel, laundry on the line, birds unfolding, flags unfurling. We are movement in time and place—each of us doing our best, reaching for our personal sense of wholeness within and without. And when we achieve it…when it happens…we are altogether amazed and elated. We are uplifted—a Lazarus moment in time that requires a bit of exclamation and a roll or two on the floor!

And that is why I find myself so looking forward to Mondays with Jane, when my body-spirit regains its equilibrium and I am One with all of Creation.

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.)




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