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…

 

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

 

 

Post Launch Mania

I read a review of the book, Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge, in this week’s local Sunday paper. Mr. Kagge is a Norwegian explorer, author and publisher who’s been searching for the ultimate silence for many years. He trekked to the South Pole in 1993 and was alone there for fifty days and nights.

The newspaper article quoted him as saying, “When you start you have all the noise in your head,” and by journeys end, “you feel your brain is wider than the sky…To be alone and experience the silence feels very safe, very meaningful.”

That same day I had a massage with a wonderful masseuse friend with whom I spill my guts about my mental and physical state before we begin. That morning I was reeling from the overwhelming response to my book launch from local friends and acquaintances, family living clear across the continent, and New Jersey high school classmates spread far and wide. I’ve been getting emails, calls, requests for additional books that many want to sent to their friends and relatives. The outpouring of support and encouragement is at once humbling, exhilarating and exhausting! My head was like a bus full of screaming kids – yelling at me about how I wasn’t responding to emails or getting books to people quickly enough, and I was remiss in not ordering more so I wouldn’t run out, which I did before I filled all the requests people had made. Those notorious voices accused me of scheduling too many things – a DanceAbility performance for a local non-profit, Christmas cards and packages to finish and mail, on and on. As I lay on the massage table I felt like I just consumed a gallon of pure caffeine – me, a decaf coffee drinker! As Sadie methodically moved her experienced, healing hands over my flesh and reaching far down into my muscles and bones, I felt the reality of the quote seeping into my body and mind. Suddenly there was space, my cells had calmed down and time seemed endless.

The next day I met with Mary, my long time Authentic Movement partner, for our regular weekly practice. She’s a somatic practitioner and teacher experiencing a recent acceleration in requests for her time and wisdom. It seems the two of us are often moving with the unplanned intention of returning to ourselves and allowing our bodies to speak about what they need. My movement that day began with a deep, seated forward bend during which I covered my ears and was immediately transported deep inside myself. As the silent twenty minutes of movement unfolded I played a game with my moving self with the theme of reaching far outside my boundaries – exploring, searching, seeking – then coming back in to find a way to connect again to that deep place within. When my twenty minutes was up, I spoke about it with Mary as part of the movement practice, noticing how important it felt to return home to that deep place of silence, to never let myself get so far outside of that place that I feel I could lose control of who I am at the core. This is an ongoing challenge. I love being in the world –  socializing, offering myself as a volunteer, doing my best as part of my work team and lately, responding to all the support, encouragement, praise and requests about my book. And, I need and love to slip into that place of silence, when my brain becomes “wider than the sky…and the silence feels safe and very meaningful,” in the words of Mr. Kagge.

And so – I’ll sign off with a promise to remember to re-member myself, lest I’m no good to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Feeling Stuff

“We receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” Marcel Proust

“We should not think of our past as definitely settled, for we are not a stone or a tree,” wrote poet Czeslaw Milosz. “My past changes every minute according to the meaning given it now, in this moment.”

This is a page I wrote in November 2009, while in the early stages of writing what is now Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance. I added the quotes today.

I’m relatively new to writing, never, before last spring, having considered writing a whole thing, like a book or even an article, that might be published and read by other people. There are too many books in the world right now–everyone’s writing a book–everyone’s especially writing a book about his or her life–so who cares? Yes, I have a story to tell and it is somewhat different from most others–still I protested until I took the first class last winter/spring, then joined a writing group in the summer and took another class this fall. I’m hooked and struggling.
My main focus has been a memoir–begun with ‘ten minute memory’ blurbs written in 2006. This year I’ve written ten or more five-page essays–different scenes from my life from 1951-1980. Most have gotten rave reviews as compelling snippets of a life my fellow writers say they’d like to hear more about. All good, and reason enough to keep going.
This last month, out of the blue, I’m feeling blue–like the reality of the past is expressing itself in the present. It’s something about showing my then self to my now self–in the way I write the scenes, and what I show about me and the people who were close to me. It’s something about really seeing how I struggled with different things–the terror and shame–and my courage, resilience and strengths, which I’ve yet to really embrace. And maybe because of that, the hardest thing is seeing the joy of childhood reduced to a kind of happy to be alive and coping. This damped down good enough feeling persists today, which may be the real reason for the blues.
The blues are the real reason to celebrate and keep on writing. Feeling stuff, even the hard stuff, is the joy–especially to this girl, who spent so many years not feeling stuff. Now’s the time to let go of any pre-existing notions of what, when, why or how and let what’s brewing take shape–see it as it really was. It’s a time to listen–maybe go back to ‘ten minute memories’–and sit still, with the clear intention of continuing to write the story. It’s time to tell people (if they ask) how it’s going–slowly, a bump in the road–some sadness and struggle. All good–just not so easy.