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…

 

The Thrills and Spills of Book Marketing

Here’s the scoop. I self-published a book before I ever considered marketing. The fact that I’d even written a book that could be published was beyond my comprehension. Who thinks of marketing before the book is even a real thing? Well, as it turns out (as many of you likely know from personal experience) any self-published author who wants their book to be read has to think about the whole ball of sticky, gooey marketing wax. It’s the same in any artistic endeavor – the artist must ask, “how am I going to get this art out to people who may be interested in it, who may benefit from it, who may love it?”

I’m a social media light-weight dummy (slowly losing my fear), but – I created a website including this blog, made a Facebook page (Joy Ride – Rolling Around in Life), had a book launch, and some spotty opportunities to share the book at a few minimally-attended events. I approached the local papers and venue newsletters and scored a couple of small mentions. Next – I decided to pay the bucks for a Kirkus review, secretly hoping, (honestly, more like believing) it would solve all my marketing woes. If it was good, I imagined Kirkus would roll out their plan (free, of course) and that would be all I needed. The book would be snatched up by everyone in every country in a matter of days.

Ha! What am I? Dumb, naive, a wishful thinker? Obviously, all three and just a tad out of touch!

Here’s what’s happened. I got a nice Kirkus review and an immediate offer of a phone meeting with one of their marketing folks. Great! I thought. The woman I spoke with was a dear – she hadn’t read my book, but said she’d known of others like it that had benefitted from Kirkus’s marketing “packages”, and proceeded to outline individual and bundled options ranging from $500 to $5000. She sent me the descriptions earlier in the morning the day of the call. They looked good – lots of ads, maybe a book giveaway, arranged by Kirkus – likely 300,000 print views of my book in three weeks. I was almost sold – how else would I get that much press? I have no access to any of the stuff she was talking about, and isn’t Kirkus supposed to be the best?

Thankfully, I’ve grown up enough to know it’s best not to sign on in the moment of excitement, when praise and adulation is being heaped on me by someone who knows nothing about me, or my book (since she hadn’t read it). Granted someone had, but…so what?

I emailed my editor, the woman who helped me finish and publish the said book, the one person I can confide in about all things book-related knowing she has my back. I told her I was considering the $5000 Great Book Package. Really – I was, even though that small voice deep in my wise-woman gut was shaking her head, mumbling, “yes, you have the money, but what’s the guarantee?” Here’s what my editor wrote back:

“I’m nervous about you spending $5,000 on ads that don’t include widening your social media presence. It’s a lot of money being spent in only one direction. I don’t doubt Kirkus will do all they say they’ll do, but it’s book marketing—a highly ephemeral ratio between effort/cost: results…I know you’re flying high from that great Kirkus review and Kirkus is your new BFF and you’re excited about what they’re offering, but I feel that you’ll be disappointed with the results from Kirkus’s narrow campaign track…”

A wise woman! How many books would I have to sell to net $5000? At ~$9.00 profit per book, more than 500. That’s a ton of books. What if I sold just 20? Would I feel the investment was worth it? Would I say it doesn’t matter – I tried, wanting to justify my desire to see results without having to do much work? I’m sure I’d secretly regret it – another episode of impulsive, wishful thinking/acting that I’d get to add to my list of similar experiences. When. Will. I. Learn?

I have another phone meeting with the same Kirkus rep in early July. I’m still tempted to go for the Great Book Package. Like most authors, I want my book to be considered great, though I don’t want you to know that I want that. I want you to think it’s not important to me. Truth is, I know from experience that feigning indifference rids my soul of all it’s passion and joy – so best put the truth out there and hold onto the live-giving soul juice.

Meanwhile, I’ve contacted Smith Publicity. Maybe they have something to offer that’s more suited to my book and my marketing needs. I’ll still need Eva, my life-saving editor, to catch me as I’m falling under the spell of their pie-in-the-sky offers. And, I’ll watch out for the BFF phenomenon, and do my best to remember that nothing comes without some measure of work.

Dancing a Life

Becoming Who I Was is a 2017 documentary about a Buddhist boy in the highlands of northern India who discovers that he is the reincarnation of a centuries-old Tibetan monk. He and his godfather embark on a journey to discover his past. I saw the film this week, and the journey is truly a fantastic one. They travel on foot, with minimal supplies and no way to summon help, for more than two months, crossing the great mountains of India and Tibet. The scenery is awesome, and their relationship, already beautifully captured in the first part of the film, is the epitome of love and respect. I sat in the theater mesmerized, in love with the people and the place. Yet it was something more subtle, something I’m ever curious about, that struck me the most.

As I watched, I saw people who were dancing through everything in their lives. Their bodies were alive, in stillness and in movement, with the beautiful nuances the physical body expresses on it’s own, without intention, pre-conception, anticipation, or even awareness. We all move in our lives, frequently in ways that we’ve scripted for ourselves, ways that leave little room for the spirit to move us. And often we’re not even aware we’re moving, we don’t feel our bodies as they carry out the awesome tasks of daily living. We don’t acknowledge or find curious the way our fingers glide across the keyboard as we write, or the way our legs maneuver as we take each step. Many of us analyze our actions, and the shape and size of our bodies, yet fail to notice the grace and beauty in our unique contours and our unconscious gestures.

The dancing I witnessed in the film was a continual flow of individual bodies contacting other bodies, both physically and spatially, without body to body contact per se, but with powerful connections between bodies over the space that separated them. Bodies were alive and in communication – words and physical touching seemed secondary to the energetic and spirit connections. All of it seemed entirely spontaneous – there was no need for choreography – the bodies intrinsically knew how to dance their lives, solo and in relationship.

Celebrating the art, the beauty, and the profound wisdom of the body has been a growing passion of mine for many years. In my memoir, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance, I write about the beginnings of that passion. I came late to an awareness of my body as a vessel for knowledge, beauty and joy, having spent the first half of my life hating, berating and abusing my body in oh-so-many ways. Gradually, I’m finding a home in her, and as that comfort grows, I’m aware of what an incredible creation she is. She not only performs a myriad of tasks without any hint of conscious input from me (something I’ve been trying to change by paying more attention, and thanking her more for doing so much for me), but she is my connection to the incredible world of nature and beings of all sorts. I find when I bring my grateful awareness into the realm of my physical activities, my body is more animated and more open to the limitless universe of human experience.

In the film, I felt that grateful awareness of all manner of experience emanating from the bodies of the people. Their words were simple and brief. There were no monologues or even anything close. There weren’t even conversations as we know them. Their bodies, like open vessels comfortably infused with spirit, communicated as if they were one with the all-encompassing universe.

I’m still entranced by the feeling of the film. I hope I can keep it alive inside of me. After all, life IS a dance, and I want to be dancing with my whole self.

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/

My Eating Disordered Life – How It All Began

My disordered eating journey began in the early days of 1994 following an appointment with our family doctor. I’d just been discharged from a three-month stint in Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children (our family doctor, a Mason, sponsored me) where I had a wooden leg made following the amputation of my right leg and pelvis to bone cancer a year earlier. I was twelve.

My mom and I were there to show him the new leg and thank him for his generosity. He looked things over pleased with the leg, but bothered by the weight I’d gained since he last saw me. I’d been more than skinny before the surgery (cancer will do that to a girl) and, during the three months away, I guess I put on some padding. My clothes still fit, and no one else had commented that my body size had increased. The wooden leg fit, but because of the way I had to tighten a thick fiberglass bucket around my waist (with wide, leather straps and buckles) so I could keep the leg on and take steps, a roll of flesh poured out between my growing breasts and the solid rim of the bucket. It may have been that roll that prompted our family doc to recommend a thousand-calorie diet – so I could lose a little weight and avoid gaining more, which he feared would make it impossible for me to walk in the fifteen-pound steel and wood “leg.”

He gave us a sheet with sample meals, foods to avoid, and healthy foods to eat regularly. Even though I was disappointed in the wooden leg (I was sure the replacement would be an exact replica of my old skin-and-bones leg minus the painful cancer), I felt I had to excel at using it, so after hearing that weight gain might prevent me from walking I took to the diet like a zealot. If a thousand calories was good, eight hundred, even five hundred, would most certainly be better. Soon I was eating a few bites of pot roast and lots of lettuce most days. I lost weight, my lowest weight was around 85 pounds, had irregular menses, but managed to function well on fewer and fewer calories all through high school. I was thin, but no one commented. My mother and I fought about how little I ate, but we disagreed on most everything during those years and I had no interest in pleasing her. At least not on the outside. I did, however, want to be seen as smart and well-adjusted to my “situation” (I was NOT disabled, crippled, handicapped and if anyone suggested otherwise, I’d just push harder to prove them wrong). I also wanted to be seen as pretty, and had dreams of being a model and a tap-dancer, but was successful in pushing those and any other seemingly impossible desires way down into the pit of my gut. I deprived them of my attention, just like I deprived my body of food. I had the makings of a very good eating-disordered young woman – skilled at denial, unrelenting, and determined to be in control.

Things began to change during my first few days in college. My roommate was a cute, thin blonde with a body made for cut-off short shorts and skimpy tank tops. I saw lots of other girls who were just like her and, hard as I tried, couldn’t push the “I’m so ugly and disfigured” self-talk out of my mind fast or far enough to keep me centered. Before college, everyone knew me and my story. Even though I never really accepted myself with fully open eyes during those years, I wasn’t triggered as much by stares and the skrunched faces signaling others discomfort and confusion about how to interact with me. In college, I saw only beautiful, slinky bodies next to my big, clunky, wooden-leg clad being. I covered everything up with loose-fitting tops and long-legged bottoms, hoping no one would notice my distorted body. Feelings welled up inside at every turn and I felt overwhelmed, like I was losing control of my mind. Like all good control freaks, I quickly came up with a solution. I left college and a full scholarship which rattled my parents, who warned me there would be no money from them (rightly so, they had no money to give) to get me started again when I was ready. I made no mention of my panic. “It’s not a good fit,” I told my mother after a week. That was it – no more panic. I’d done it – taken charge and survived.

I worked as a nurse’s aide that year, and secured another full scholarship to a college nursing program. The summer before college, I found a position as a counselor at a camp for underprivileged kids with muscular dystrophy. It was more than an eye-opener of the kind I wished I’d not happened upon. Surrounded again by the beautiful bodies of late teen-aged counselors, many who knew each other and had ongoing summer romances. A repeat of my college experience a year earlier, although this time I knew I couldn’t leave, I couldn’t/wouldn’t go home again. And, at the camp, it was not only my beautiful-bodied fellow counselors poking at me, but there were disabled counselors who were eager to get to know me. I had to find a way to get away from both while quieting the panic and staying put.

It happened at the opening barbecue, before the kids arrived. There was a generous spread of picnic food, a male counselor in a wheelchair who wouldn’t leave me alone, and a dozen or so other counselors flirting their little butts off. I was stuck at the buffet table and, without weighing in on my behavior, I began furiously eating everything I could get my hands on. Stuffing my face to avoid seeing and feeling, until I panicked, imagining my body ballooning into a thousand pound blimp overnight. Then out of nowhere, a distant memory of a Seventeen magazine story about models who throw up to stay thin popped into my mind. A godsend – I could throw up. And I did. And it was like a miracle. The relief was unimaginably divine. I went back, ate some more, threw up again, and I was on the road to bliss!

To be continued…

 

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.