A Heartbreaking and Liberating Tale

Therefore, dark past,
I’m about to do it.
I’m about to forgive you

for everything.

– Mary Oliver, from WHAT DO WE KNOW

I saw the new movie Leave No Trace this week and was deeply moved by the story. I left the theater with a heavy heart – acutely aware of the pain so many people carry around inside of themselves. And then I came across this Mary Oliver quote and thought about how hard it is to begin the journey deep inside to those dark places allowing the light to illuminate what’s hidden there. In my experience, this is the way the journey to forgiveness begins, whether it be of self or other. Sometimes forgiving oneself – for what we’ve done to our unique, precious beings – is harder than forgiving others.

There’s little back story in the movie, but there is one clue to Will’s (Ben Foster) pain – a newspaper article about a Marine suicide squad, of which we get a few-seconds glimpse as his young teenage daughter Caroline/Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) sneaks a look through papers he’s left in full view in a zip-lock bag on the couch of one of their ever changing residences in the deep woods of Forest Park, Oregon. And, there’s the never-answered question of what happened to Caroline’s mother. Although, there are many other questions that come up for me during the movie – for instance, how long had they been living in the woods? – the story is so compelling my questions don’t seem to matter. The present – what’s happening inside the father-daughter relationship as the drama of their return to the world of houses, furniture, and human interactions unfolds on the screen and inside my being – is what carries me.

One thing I do wonder about throughout the film is how each of them understands the circumstances of their capture. Along with that, I’m curious about how each of them comes to grips with his/her separateness from the other, when for so long it seems they may have lived as one being – together in everything, including their minds and hearts. The story never speaks to either question directly, but as the film unfolds we see in their faces and body-language, and hear in their words exchanged, something of the inner workings of Will and Caroline, as they understand more about themselves and each other.

The story is simultaneously a heartbreaking, and a deeply liberating tale of two people who deeply love and feel each other, and struggle, inside of that love, with their own pasts. Caroline has her unshared story about her mother, and the beautiful, yet isolated, life she shared with her father in the deep, accepting woods. Will, it seems, has a darker past, and certainly a longer one, which we never know much about but, which by the end of the movie, has me weeping for his pain, and for the depth of pain present in many configurations in our world today. A pain that I sense may be wedged deeply within the collective heart and soul of our world conscience.

Now I’m asking myself why I wrote this post. Maybe to remind myself how much I appreciate the opportunity to connect with the empathic, compassionate part of me that can, after many years of frozen feelings, finally feel deeply again. Through well-told stories, I have the chance to see and feel into the lives of others, to open my mind to other realities, and hopefully, soften my judgments. I’m offered a way to connect with my own dark past, and my personal and collective, on-going liberation and self-forgiveness. As my own journey of discovery into the dark places where I’ve held much of myself hostage for many years continues to unfold, I realize that the feeling of freedom – to love, to weep, to create, to relate, and simply to be without fear – deepens when I dive down and let the light in, no matter how grave my fear. In those times when fear pokes it’s head in to deter me, I remember how the universal good energy has had my back so many times before, and how, like I heard from a dream analyst many years ago, the universe (God, infinity, the cosmos, good juju) would never put a challenge before me that I could not handle. My biggest challenge to feeling free is most always my fear of change, of the unknown, and I know that by not allowing change, not stepping into the unknown, I continue to be a prisoner, hiding and running.

Maybe Will’s dark places, his demons, are just too overwhelming to even fathom. I cannot know another’s reality. Maybe that’s why I left the theater with such a deep grief. So, where is the liberation? Caroline comes to realize certain things as she and her father maneuver awkwardly outside of the woods. I wonder if the light inside her shone so brightly it was seen by the forest workers without her intending it. Her father had taught her so many things about survival – and my guess is her young self listened well, and learned things she and her father never realized were being taught. I imagine she will find her own sense of freedom, and continue to grow in her love for her father and her understanding of his pain.

I love movies!

 

 

.

 

Naïveté with a Dose of Arrogance?

Do insights into the way you see yourself ever come to you after you’ve had a beer or a glass of wine? As if maybe some flimsy curtain suddenly flutters to the floor and a lightbulb pops bright. It’s most common for me when I’m reading or musing on the couch in the evenings, but not so common that I’m not curious when the poke comes. As it did the other evening while I was looking at myself in the mirror, brushing my teeth before bed. I like to talk to myself as I peer into my face peering back at me, and so I began.

Why was it I thought announcing myself as a first-time author, one who had read few books and had never seriously written anything, not even a diary or journal, would win the hearts of readers, media folks and publicists everywhere? Was that something to be celebrated? Was I patting myself on the back, impressed that my authorship came without my ever having dabbled in the arena of writing? Did I fashion myself some unrecognized genius whilst embracing my self-claimed naïveté?

The answer to all of the above is yes. I touted the first-time author story with the kind of arrogance that pops up when I’m afraid of failing. It’s a fuzzy undertone I detect at times when I’m feeling vulnerable and want to have reasons to fall back on if things don’t work out to the highest-of-the-high standards I set for myself. Curiously, both narratives, the arrogant and the naive, float around inside my consciousness and cellular fluid simultaneously, side-by-side – they even hug and commiserate. Yet, I can’t grasp and learn from the duality until the curtain falls.

Neither arrogance or naïveté is an end-of-the-world take on anything, and the difference in the two can be as subtle as an accent or a state of mind, never sensed by anyone but me. Is it even important to me, then? Does it matter if I notice and am curious about why (as if I could I ever definitively know?) I have such tendencies toward that edge of arrogance?

Yes, I think it matters. I love seeing deeper into myself and, in this case, I thought I was free of all concern about how the book would be received when published. I told myself it didn’t matter what people thought, though I reveled in positive face-to-face reviews and friends gushing about my accomplishment. Now, eight months out, I wish it would get more national press, I’m disappointed the local media hasn’t lavished more praise upon me, and I feel those pangs of jealousy when I see other similar books get what I consider more attention. All of which, I see now, would be pretty much expected human emotional responses to something as big as publishing a memoir.

It matters because I can see now that I did all it out of a sort of fear of seeing myself for who/what I really am: a perfectly smart, creative, successful, courageous human who worked diligently to write a book I wanted to write. I got professional and personal input along the way, had it professionally edited (for content, style and grammatical correctness), and proofread. I self-published it with the help of my editor with whom I designed the covers, lay-out, fonts and picture placement. I had a book launch and reached out to the local media for publicity. I created a webpage and began this blog. And still, I’m subject to all the whims of the publishing/marketing world, and to all I didn’t know before I naively dove head first into published authorship. I didn’t do enough homework, yet I’m not sure I had the wherewithal to know what I didn’t know back then, and am only slowly coming to know now.

It matters because just maybe my dose of arrogance, no matter how tiny or big, is a little bit of the why I didn’t know what I didn’t know. That self-protective edge that either says it doesn’t matter, just do and everything will fall into place; or says (secretly, of course) you’ve got the perfect situation here, they’re going love this book, you’ve done a fantastic job. In either case, it assures that nothing else needs to be done and allows me to step out of the hope/fear inner turmoil.

I’ve had endless AHAs about the whole writing/publishing/marketing world since that fateful day last fall when I held a copy of Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance in my hands. I’ve read more books in these eight months than I had in the previous ten years. I’ve marveled at how stories are crafted, and contemplated the creative thinking it takes to come up with a plot, characters, a thread, etc., even in books that follow a formula, like a detective series. All that plus the sting of rejections, even after much effort spent marketing, and still writers keep at it. WOW!

It’s more than humbling, and I salute all authors. I’m amused by how naive I was and still am. Maybe naïveté with that little hit of arrogance was the only way I would’ve made it into this wide-open world of authorship with all of it’s ups and downs. Had I known what I know now, I wonder if I would’ve so eagerly completed my project. Yet, knowing what I know now will not keep me from continuing my marketing journey and, who knows what else? Maybe another book, marketed at least partly before launch!

The journey beyond the journey continues…

 

What Does It Mean to Show Up?

I watched the annual Fourth of July Butte to Butte 10k race from my balcony this morning and had a heartwarming sense of being a part of the event, even though I was three stories above the ground the runners’ feet pounded. I sat at the wide-open French doors smiling, taking in the exhilaration, exhaustion (my apartment is near the end of the race), camaraderie, and sheer joy that comes with being a part of something with other humans. It felt as if all my pores were wide-open, inviting in whatever vibes were emanating from the crowds below. I wasn’t lamenting about how my one-legged body never took to running, or berating my self for not trying harder to make it happen if I really wanted it. I wasn’t calling myself names like lazy or jealous. And, I was reminded of my previous week of traveling and performing with two different groups of dancer friends where I enjoyed the same sense of well-being, though I showed up in much more of a participatory way. How could the two different experiences generate the same inner contentment?

Early in the previous week, I traveled five hours by train to Seattle to perform in Joy Ride Unavoidable, an event sponsored by the Northwest Film Forum. We were a group of five performers who’ve been working together for a few years. The event was a multi-art extravaganza, showcasing four films by four artists, and an audience participation performance of Pina Bausch’s Nelken Line by a group of Dance 4 Parkinson’s dancers. I presented a short summary of my book, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance, read a few short excerpts while dancing around the audience in my wheelchair, and then passed the reading on to a fellow dancer. I made my way onto an eight-by-eight foot stage set on three-foot risers and began a duet with another much-loved dancer. The reading and our movement interactions informed our ten-minute improvisation. The three of us had rehearsed briefly a few hours before the show. And, although we’ve known each other for many years, together we’d never before done anything like what we did that night. We were open to the possibilities, and invited our audience to join in the surprises.

Later in the week, I traveled south, to Ashland, OR, to perform with DanceAbility International on the Green Stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. A fully choreographed show, and a piece I’d performed many times before with my current dance partner, this event was different from the one in Seattle. We all knew what to expect…or did we? Sure, we each knew our routines, the flow of the pieces, how we’d begin and end, and since we’d been there before, we had a sense of the staff and audience. Yet, it seems all of that is just a small part of what happens during an event or a performance. It’s always something of an improvisation between the players and the watchers – the anticipation, expectations, surprises. The energy exchange. The love – dare I say?

Maybe that’s exactly it – the love, the sum total of myself I’m willing to share as either a participant/performer or watcher/audience is what brings that heartwarming sense of well-being. The runners making their way past my balcony this morning were inviting me into their experience. They were revealing themselves as participants in life, living fully in each moment while carrying on with their fellow travelers. I was a part of something I wasn’t really participating in because they opened themselves to me.

It’s my hope that I can do the same – invite others to share in my living in all spheres. It’s not that I aim to share everything I think and do with others – more just the sense of being alive with an openness that invites others into the spirit of my life. It’s why I took the time to write a memoir. And I hope I can find ways to join in the spirit of others’ lives. Seems to me this is the way we grow, and learn to accept and love. Maybe even be happy – whatever that much-overrated state of being encompasses.

Here’s a picture of the DanceAbility crew in our civvies after the Oregon Shakespeare Festival performance. That’s me in the middle in the yellow shirt.

IMG_0285