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/

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

 

 

What is it about Retiring…?

From the New Yorker April 21, 2018

Immanuel Kant noted a connection between the sublime and terror. When I think of retiring I can relate to exactly that. I’m a former psychiatric nurse currently working in a medical center as a utilization review nurse, reviewing charts for insurance purposes and writing appeal letters for insurance denials of care. Eight hours a day, four days a week on the computer in a small office with two other nurses doing much the same thing. The work is tedious, the company enjoyable–there are four of us who’ve been together for about fifteen years, all most likely retiring within the next year.

My co-workers are psyched for retiring–counting down the months, weeks, days. I am too–sometimes–and other times I’m fraught with an inexplicable fear–a hollowness in my gut, an unrelenting voice in my head warning that I’ll be alone with nothing to do 24/7. I’m single, an introvert, and although I have plenty of friends and lots of interests, I also have a history of addiction (bulimia, which I’ve thankfully been free from for over ten years thanks to Twelve Step programs) and I worry that too much time to languish and obsess could just do me in.

Unlike the sun, my current job is not life supporting in any way. He dutifully, and I hope, proudly, keeps us warm, helps us mark the passage of time, and brightens our days. I am easily replaceable, don’t even like my job that much, and when I allow myself that clarity, I know it’s time to retire. Except that I do like the twice monthly paycheck and the daily banter with my co-workers. So it’s a constant back and forth.

A year or so ago I decided I’d become a dance gypsy in retirement–finding workshops taught by my favorite dance teachers around the world and taking myself to those places to indulge in one of my greatest pleasures. I still find that a compelling idea, but I need other things. Writing, sewing, art-making could be other regular activities, maybe even another book, but I have to regularly convince myself that making art of all types is a worthy endeavor. I’m certain it is and I even embrace it, but at these times when I think about letting go of my day job–the one I’ve brainwashed myself to believe is the ‘real’ work–my certainty is suddenly on shaky ground. And what about the pleasure of being free of schedules and responsibilities? Is there ever really such a thing?

Happy I wrote about this today, and I hope sharing it will take the dilemma out of the dark recesses of my private sphere and expose it to the light of the early rising Mr. Sun. I’ll end with another New Yorker cartoon…

IMG_0260

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:

 

 

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.