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

Massage Magic

I spent the morning at the keyboard wanting to write a post but coming up blank. No inspiration. I had only a few hours before a scheduled massage and the time tick-tocked away with nothing to show for it. I left the house asking the powers that be to send me something – some kernel of something that might jumpstart a post.

My masseuse is a friend and my yoga teacher. We always spend the first fifteen or so minutes catching up. Although I didn’t mention my wish for an inspiration to her, I hoped that what frequently happens – the experience of being showered with positive energy and the movement of healing hands over my body – would open the channels for something.

As she worked my muscles soft, I drifted to places mostly not remembered. Then, toward the end of the hour, I had an overwhelming sense of myself as “a being in a body” and sensed a connection to one of themes in my memoir, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance. While still under the spell, I began to repeat the phrase “a being in a body” and add other phrases, like “two arms, two hands, ten fingers – last I looked.” All the while in the semi-trance state that frequently occurs when I succumb to the whole enchilada of a massage experience. I mused about how it might grow into a poem – maybe even story – and began to remember the various body-centered experiences I’ve had that slowly, over the course of a few decades, created the pathway that has allowed me to be “a being in a body.” Things like swimming, skiing, sailing, even painting, and fooling with clay – and most especially improvisational dancing, which I began in my forties. In my first few years exploring Authentic Movement, (a form of dance featuring eyes-closed movement that’s witnessed, then written about or expressed in some other artistic way, and finally shared verbally, in a specific structure, with the witness) I would sometimes just move into a physical shape and immediately begin sobbing. The outpouring would be a huge release, and a mix of pleasure and curiosity. I understood it to mean that some emotion was caught up in the cells of my body – maybe pushed way down by my inability or unwillingness to feel it. During the movement, my cells released whatever it was, and the space that had been clogged with it for who knows how long, was finally clear, and free to experience something else. I’ve been dancing in similar ways since – eyes open and closed, sometimes with choreography, though more often improvisational-ly inside various loose structures designed to provide a focus, while leaving the mover free to play around with whatever desire and curiosity arises.

This ties in to one of my most recent desires and fears. At the end of June, I’ll be a part of an event in Seattle produced by the North West Film Forum. Along with four fantastic, diverse dance films featuring creative, inspirational dancers, I’ll be reading from my book and moving solo, and with others, to my words as others read. I want to find my way to a place where improvisational dance performance excites me more than it scares me. In workshops and informal groups, I’m more than comfortable as “a being in a body” dancing itself silly and seriously, with all of it’s altered shape and quirkiness. Somehow within the workshop venue I feel I can hide – I’m not showing myself with an intention or specific purpose. But, dancing solo, to my words, in front of a group of people who have come to be entertained – YIKES! That feels scary – and I want to do it.

I told my masseuse pal about this before I left her place. One thing I said pops out as the truest in all of it. I want to feel this desire to move for others – whether to my words, or to some other inspiration, whether alone or with others – as coming from the heart and soul of the “being in this body.” The one it took so long to embrace. The one that shines when I allow it to, without censoring or restricting or judging. The “being in this body” who is connected to the universal body and all the other “beings in bodies” wherever they may be.

Here’s a link to the NWFF event in Seattle at the end of June. Take a look…

https://nwfilmforum.org/films/joy-ride-screened-alive-adventures-unavoidable-embodiment/

Sledge Hammer

I heard the song Sledgehammer on the radio today and it took me back a few years to a short-lived relationship I’d had. It was released as a single by Peter Gabriel in the spring of 1986 and became a huge hit. I liked it then, I liked it when I heard it a few years ago, and I still like it. This post is about who I was, and what happened with that relationship and another I had soon after it, a few years ago.

He was someone who’d done some work for me over the course of a few years. One day, as he was ready to leave, he got down on his knees to meet me at my wheelchair height and said, “you’re beautiful.” Without missing a beat, he laid a huge smacker on my lips. I was surprised, flattered, curious, and hadn’t been kissed like that for over 15 years.

What followed was a few weeks of sexual encounters, maybe six or seven in all. We tried many things, but never came to full consummation for some unknown reason. I heard the Sledgehammer song during those few weeks and shared my desire that he be my sledge hammer. It never happened, and the relationship ended when he texted me that he’d just been told by #17 (the seventeenth woman he’d been with in maybe as many weeks) that he was the best lover ever. YUCK!

Suffice it to say, there were many loose emotions flying around inside of me. Since he was the first man I’d been with sexually after fifteen-plus years of celibacy, I was tender, but I’d also been through some serious soul-searching (I was pretty much finished writing my book, Joy Ride, by then, and had faced some of my more thorny relationship issues). I wanted to meet someone – still harboring the notion that it would validate me somehow, or make my life more whole than it already was. At the same time, I knew what I was doing when I signed on, I did so consciously – maybe for the first time ever – and I knew I could handle the emotions that would follow. I knew it was a step I had to take and, although there was some regret and humiliation (that I’d opened myself up to someone who didn’t really care, or that I should have known and stayed away), I felt proud of myself and stronger for having taken the chance.

Soon after that ended, I had a summer infatuation that I hoped and prayed would turn to something more intimate. I figured the six-week fling was my intro back into the world of intimacy and this next one would be the real thing. It started slowly – we’d meet and talk at an outdoor cafe with live music . We were both writing and that was a topic of conversation. He was a musician and had self-recorded songs, so he knew some things about the self-promotion game. I would follow him around to his gigs, hoping each time would be THE time he’d kiss me or take my hand. I was determined not to make the first move and didn’t for a few months. We skirted around the issue of whether we would ever be more than friends, and although I knew the answer (no), I kept hoping it would change. One day I wrote him an email asking for a definitive answer – did he ever see us being more than friends? He spent a few weeks after that trying to be honest without hurting me or losing our friendship. He eventually said he just wasn’t attracted to me – my body was so much different that any he’d been with, and he knew it just wouldn’t work between us. It may have been the most honest thing a man has ever said to me, and although it hurt and I was disappointed, I was grateful I could hear the truth. I almost felt like I made him say out loud what he knew was true but didn’t want to say because I wanted to hear it and not beat up on myself.  Years ago, after I’d been sleeping with a man for months, he told me he never thought he’d be attracted to me because of my one-leggedness. Back then, I imagined every man felt that way, and internalized it as a terrible, awful truth about me.

Where am I today? I’m single, I still have only one leg, and I know that it’s likely a deal breaker for some men. At 66, I continue to have some pangs of sadness about that, but they’re not all about me. I feel sad that we judge each other (me included) based on how our bodies look, that we’re still so afraid of difference, and afraid to enter into situations where we fear we won’t be in control. I feel sad for young people with altered bodies who long to be loved by a partner, and find it difficult to make relationships because there are few people who are open to such relationships, or because the self-esteem, self-acceptance issues of those seeking relationships make it difficult for them to open to others. That was certainly one of my biggest barriers during my younger years. Another was thinking that finding a partner would make everything in my life better. Ha!

Do I want someone to be my Sledgehammer? Yes and no. Peter Gabriel’s version is all about sexuality which is a pleasurable way to be opened.  I also celebrate the opening that comes when I feel moved by the beauty all around me – in nature, in other people, in waking up to each new day, in dance and art and writing. I can feel electricity move inside my skin. Sometimes tears come, clearing out the space for more true feeling in each moment, and connecting me more viscerally with others.

The sledge hammer can be any number of things, or people. I can be moved and opened over and over again. I say – bring it on!

Here’s a link to YouTube – it doesn’t open the song, since that’s restricted on some sites including this one, and I’m a web light-weight. But the visual is good…

 

A Few Details about Joy Ride

I’ve been wrestling with whether I’m doing enough to promote my recently published book, and so I thought I’d post a short synopsis and excerpt here. Sometimes just doing something helps settle whatever restless beast is stirring things up inside.

Joy Ride: My One-legged Journey to Self-Acceptance tells my story of losing my right leg to cancer at age 11 in the 1960s. This was an era when “cripple” was an accepted word to refer to someone like me, and the choice for the disabled to live either as a “cripple’ or as “normal” was a difficult one either way. 

I chose “normal” and how my life unfolded after that is my story.  I would look for love in all the wrong places, and it would surprise me in the right places, too. I would meet generous people of all abilities along the way, ski, sail, and swim with self-referred “gimps,” and create opportunities for career and travel. 

And yet I kept important parts of myself hidden from those around me, and especially from myself.

When I discovered improvisational dance and began work with Karen Nelson and later with Alito Alessi, I found my inspiration and the life I was meant to live, one without secrets.  I found the courage to shine the light on those hidden and terrifying places.

I wrote Joy Ride to come to terms with the secrets I kept. I wrote to remember and embrace all the things I tried so hard to forget. I wrote to celebrate finding a relationship with my body, soul, and spirit through movement and share its extraordinary gifts of joy and freedom.

And I wrote because I hope others would find something in my life that would remind them of their own bravery and their own joy ride.

Thanks for reading. I leave you with this. I’m following Mary – heading out to dance! XOIMG_0264

 

 

I am.

Those two words are true–I am . Simple, and yet enormously difficult to comprehend. I want to add words that describe me, or what I want, or what I’m working on, or hope for. Essentially, how I want to be different from, or apologize for, or know, right now in total, all of who/what I am.

I ran into one of my DanceAbility friends at a local event last week and asked him what he’s been up to . He’s a man with cerebral palsy who rolls around in a wheelchair, and has aides who help him with activities of daily living. His response to my question?

“I live,” he said with an enormous smile. Nothing more, nothing less. In truth, he thrives: he makes music and art on a computer; he rides a bike more than ten miles most days; he always has at least one dog who is devoted to him; he’s loved at the yearly Oregon Country Fair for the Flamingo Taxi he pedals around after hours, picking up those who had a little bit too much fun partying. But he never tells people what he does, or what he is, or thinks. He just is – himself. I’ve danced and been in DanceAbility workshops he’s taught many times over the years. His words of wisdom to all participants and spectators always are: “Have fun!” He utters them with a wide grin as his body involuntarily contracts and spasms.

Another friend I met at a Diverse Dance workshop in 1994 uttered the same “I live” when I asked her what she did. She’s a paraplegic, dancer, bike rider, world traveler, a fantastic cook, and vibrant party hostess. She’s always impeccably dressed and ready for the next adventure. She is herself, lives her life, and feels no need to embellish her existence.

I mention these two friends because, like me, they have altered physical abilities – sometimes referred to as disabilities – and I’ve been thinking about something I heard at the amputee event I attended last week. Could it be that having physical challenges opens people to other abilities that are not so readily visible? Maybe empathy and compassion are more keenly honed in folks with altered bodies. Maybe we’re more skilled at improvisation, or seeing things for what they are. Maybe we’re less concerned about what others think, and more willing to pursue what matters to us. Maybe we know we’re lucky to be alive, and that makes many things easier to bear.

Like all creatures, I am and I live, until I die. “Who am I?” is an open question, a curiosity – maybe ever changing, maybe something I’m awakening to in each moment, consciously and unconsciously. I am, and I live are realities that I can relax into, words I can say to simplify.

Here’s a quote from Marcus Aurelius (AD121-AD180):

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive–to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

It’s enough to be, and to live.

I Show Up – Good Stuff Happens

Yesterday, I set up a table hawking my book, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance at a Discover Your Potential local event, hosted by PowerOnWithLimbLoss.com, for folks with limb loss and other physical challenges. The program included personal stories shared by kids and adults with physical challenges, vendors with information about health and healing, prosthetics, accessible vans, bikes, archery equipment, adaptive yoga, wheelchair basketball, and rock wall climbing. It was the first event of this sort I’d been to with the hopes of not only promoting my book, but meeting others with stories similar to my own. I was excited, yet didn’t want to get my hopes up – what if it was a bust? Gotta be ready for anything, I told myself.

As I got out of my car wondering who I’d find to help me carry in my table and box of books, I was greeted by two beautiful young men, one of whom was sporting two above the knee, mechanically-slick protheses. The guys were brothers with a business aimed at designing prosthetics, and tools to repair them, hoping to give their clients maximum input in the building and maintenance of their mobility aids. The bionic one of the duo also had a flesh-and-blood hand with fingers permanently bent in toward his palm. He effortlessly picked up the table in that hand and amazed me as he strolled in to the venue, loaded down with gear and smiling, as I wheeled in my chair and his normie brother carried his own load. We laughed and joked about our situations and shared excited hopes for the day ahead. I later learned he was an Afghanistan IED explosion survivor, and filled up with tears–of sadness yes, but mostly with that full heart feeling of amazement at the human spirit’s ability to thrive despite horrific circumstances–as he recounted the story. If nothing more happened that would’ve been gift enough for having made the effort.

Not so fast, though. During the program part of the day, I heard the stories of three amazing kids, all amputees, all under eighteen, and all triggered that same joyous full heart feeling. One young boy had two half arms with rock wall climbing abilities, a personality and presence bigger than life itself, and a desire to be DJ. The middle-school boy had been legless since birth, a medal-winning and NIKE team wheelchair basketball star who performed hand stands on various surfaces, and professed his intention to become a medal-winning skier this year. Lastly, we heard from a teenaged girl who lost her entire right leg to cancer at age five. She’s a NIKE team swimmer, hoping to make the paralympics, and a successful half-marathon finisher times two. Already, I’m over the top in gratitude and inspiration.

I sold a few books, got many compliments on my cover art, and the pictures I displayed of my own dinosaur prosthesis from the 1960-70s. I met and chatted with people with new limb loss, seasoned amputees, family members, professionals dedicated to making life easier for those of us with altered bodies, and recreation enthusiasts eager to share their innovations in adaptive equipment of all sorts.

So much had come of the short day, I was content. It was way more than worth my time. And then–the rock climbing began. I watched, secretly wondering if I could do it. Would my arms come through for me? Would I get halfway up and lose strength, feel embarrassed and have to retreat? Could I even make it up one hold? Would the sling hold me? So many questions and a big fear of failure and humiliation. As if trying isn’t good enough. I have to remind myself that trying is much more than good enough when I get out of my own way.

So I tried. Kristen, the lovely young woman from the local university Adaptive Sports program, was encouraging, gentle, supportive–a true delight. She strapped me into a special harness designed to provide more support for the back and prevent me from tipping to the right where my leg and pelvis are missing. I was belayed, and Kristin climbed along side me. We made contact with the wall and immediately I was climbing. I had to help lift my foot with my arm onto the outcroppings at some points, but, with what felt like minimal effort, I ascended–all the way to the top. I’m delighted, proud of myself, and just maybe I’ve found a new challenge to keep me inspired and fit. We’ll see if I keep to my promise to myself to attend the two upcoming adapted climbing workshops at the university. I’m pretty sure I will–they’re on my calendar!

Here’s a sneak peak thanks to the photos of a sneaky pal:

 

 

Bravado, Shame, or Seeing Things as They Are?

The “happy gene” chatter in my last blog seems to have caught up with me. This week I’ve been restless and in a bit of a funk. I’m certain the happy gene is holding it’s place, just hanging back so other, equally important “seeing things as they are” genes can make themselves heard.

Last week’s blog about my present eating routine got me wondering whether it would be good to talk more about bulimia as a second, major theme in my book, Joy Ride. This notion came up originally before a book reading event I was part of in early March. Sarah, the organizer, asked if she could make reference to my bulimia history in the press release about the event. I said sure, and sent her a copy of a press release noting the bulimia that my editor and I wrote for other media events. Sarah never mentioned bulimia – instead she said something about behaviors I’d struggled with, something like that. I think she wasn’t sure how I really felt about having it show up in the newspaper.

Since then it’s been bugging me, and I’m wondering if maybe she was picking up on my discomfort with it – although at the time I didn’t think I had any discomfort. Today, though, I’m pretty certain I do – have discomfort.

Here’s my shake-out about that. I’m wondering if my writing about my relationship with bulimia in the book came from a place of bravado – wanting to shock people from a distance. Throughout the book, I fondly and disgustedly called it E&T (eating and throwing up) before I was able to see it for the multifaceted addiction that it was. I never used the word bulimia until the epilog when I wrote about finding my way to Twelve Step programs, and finally letting it go. So many aspects of that addiction feel shameful: the gluttony, the head in the toilet, the wasting of food, the stealing that accompanied it, the lying, hiding, what it did to my teeth, on and on. And yet, as I lived with it and wrote about it in the book, I was thankful for it, even sort of worshiped it, felt proud that I had figured out how to continue it, seemingly without notice (although I was always wondering who knew).

As I step back (or maybe it’s that I’m stepping closer), I see this vacillation between a kind of bravado and an overwhelming shame. Maybe it was a dichotomy that had to exist for the secret of bulimia to continue, and for me to continue functioning.

Today, as my head spun, throbbed, and tried it’s best to rid itself of the reality of this funk, something shifted inside and I began to see how bravado and shame are my concocted stories about me and my past. They are characteristics, loaded values and judgements I’ve attached to a behavior. I can accept the behavior and it’s 40+ year history without naming it shameful or bravado. I might understand bulimia as an addiction, a coping mechanism, or something I had to do, and I can talk about that honestly, while remembering it’s simply one part of a story of a life.

I was lamenting today about how this process stuff gets old. It seems everything I do – writing a book, or a blog post, or going to a workshop, or even having a conversation, or going swimming – leads to some new self-awareness that then challenges my identity, my joyfulness, my very fragile self-acceptance.

Here’s a quote from David Niven that makes me chuckle.

“Keep the circus going inside, keep it going, don’t take anything too seriously, it’ll all work out in the end.”

Is this what a joy ride is all about?