Fear means that things are getting juicy. It means that you are challenging the boundaries of what you thought was possible. Fear can be a friend, a harbinger of good things to come. Last night the fear rolled through my body and I welcomed it to tea. I know I don’t need to be afraid of it anymore.
I am thinking that I will change my posting style on this blog a bit—to write smaller pieces, largely thoughts and vignettes from my daily life, share peaks into my art journal like the one above, and, perhaps, to post more frequently. This week, I’d like to share with you a collection of these.
On Monday, my mother and I were at Hobby Lobby and saw a sign that read:
I said, “That’s what I want to be right now.” She replied, “I was just thinking the same thing.”
On Tuesday, I was going through a journal I wrote when I was in Ireland and Scotland for two weeks back in 2010. I love the funny little things it reminded me of, like the Irish tour guide saying to us in regard to seatbelt wearing “It’s compulsory, but it’s your choice.” Also, that the Australians on the tour started to call me DD, short for Deadly Diana (which, if you know how mild mannered I usually am, is pretty funny).
It got me thinking about the different nicknames I have acquired over the years. In my childhood, Dizzy Diana (all too true, I experienced a lot of vertigo) and Doctor Diana (you had to be there), compliments of my sisters. Sneaky Pete from a teacher in the fourth grade (I think because she thought I was cute? Still curious about that one). Princess D from my friends in college (they had fun imploring me to “let down my hair”). Other than my given name, I am now most often called Nana (a mash-up of Aunt Diana)—this by my nieces and nephew and to the utter confusion of people who think of Nana as another term for Grandma.
I recently started the free daily yoga challenge on doyogawithme.com and am really enjoying the beginners’ practices even though I’ve been doing yoga on and off for some 15 years. They are slow and gentle classes that don’t cause me any muscle ache from exertion the next day, so they are perfect for me right now as I am on a self-nurturing-take-things-slow kick right now. During one of the classes, the teacher encouraged us to feel a sense of ahimsa (a Sanskrit-derived word meaning non-violence) toward ourselves, to demur from self-criticism and negative self-talk.
I was amazed to discover that, after years of attempting to practice self-compassion, in that moment, I still felt an aversion to such a thing. I felt, on some level, I didn’t really deserve my kindness. I was astounded, though I probably shouldn’t have been. But, I will keep trying. It seems to be the only way forward. I have recommitted myself to quelling the battles beneath this skin, amid the walls of this skull. No doubt, I will fall off the wagon yet again and find reason to take up arms against myself, but I will keep trying, keep doing, because it is the only way to heal myself and the only way to help save the world.
So that was some of my week. What are you thinking about? Do you want to be wild and free, too? What nicknames have you had? How is your struggle with self-violence going? I’d also love to hear what you think about my new format. Have a lovely day and thanks for reading! 🙂
I am ridiculously late getting on the Shonda Rhimes bandwagon—about 11 years late. I blame the TV promos for shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. What I saw when I watched those promos is how much I was going to have to swoon over Dr. McDreamy and how often I was going to gasp at the actions of a gorgeous woman in gorgeous clothes having an affair with the president. Those promos told me nothing of the girl power, the total badassery (it’s a word, just ask Shonda’s spell check) I would get to experience by watching those shows. They did not tell me that I would get to see stories about people who are, like me, “dark and twisty” and loveable. Those promos didn’t say a word about a short African-American super hero named Dr. Bailey. They did not mention that the shows would explore the many double standards women and girls face in the workplace and at home. Or that those shows would talk about the fact that some women don’t want children—not because they have shriveled up prune hearts, but because they want to give everything to their careers—and that’s okay.
In spite of all this misinformation, one day last year, Netflix recommended Scandal to my mom, and I happened to wander in during the third episode. The rest is . . . well, A LOT of binge watching and a lot of feeling proud and gratified that a woman is standing up in television and telling stories, in particular women’s stories, in a way they never have been told before.
Suffice it to say, I enjoy her work and I had already taken to “dancing things out” (in my underwear, when necessary) when I picked up her 2015 book Year of Yes. I got about 50 pages in before I realized that I could not keep this fabulous writing, this humor, this wisdom to myself. I needed to read this book aloud. I needed to hear Shonda’s personal, conversational style floating on the air, dancing like dust motes in the sunshine. As in so many cases, my mother became my audience for this. We laughed and cheered our way through the book. We nodded and said, “Amen”. We had a great time.
Much as the title states, Shonda (I use her first name in this piece not out of any kind of disrespect, but out of the sense of camaraderie I feel. Read the book, and I think you’ll agree that Shonda would be okay with it.) finds herself committing to saying yes to everything that scares her for a year. She’s not happy about it. She’s not the least bit excited about it. But she recognizes that she’s not enjoying her life and things aren’t going to get better if she does not take action. She tells funny, touching stories about her life, her career, her family. She talks about saying yes, and she encourages the reader—me—to say yes, too.
She reminds me that the best way to handle confrontations is not to back down and crawl into a hole, but ALSO not to become aggressive. It’s to calmly, neutrally ask what a person means by what they are saying.
She tells me to stop brushing off compliments as though I did nothing to merit them and instead, simply smile and say, ”Thank you”.
She informs me that no one is doing it all perfectly. No one can do it all, not her, not me, not anyone. That is not how life works. That is an impossibility. There is always a tradeoff.
She reveals to me that she has realized she had been saying yes to a detrimental nutritional lifestyle for years and that she now she is saying yes to a healthy body.
Suffice it to say (again), I recommend this book. I particularly recommend enjoying it with someone else—either reading it aloud or reading it concurrently with someone with whom you can say, “Amen”. And with whom you can laugh (I’ll never hear anyone talk about meeting their client without an inner giggle ever again).
Since I started reading Year of Yes, I’ve been trying to see where in my life I need to say yes more. In a way, it’s much more basic than that though. It’s not really about saying yes to one particular thing or other. It’s about saying yes to me—to all of me. To stop thinking that I am better or worse than I am. To be honest about what I want, what I can do, and what I am living for—to say yes to all of that. And to follow through on being who I already am.
Wishing you love–in whatever form it comes to you and in whatever form you are able to offer it! ❤
Yesterday was a busy day.
So was the day before.
And the day before that.
Life has been piling up. Mostly it’s been good things. It’s been me taking steps in the direction of my goals. It’s been me investing in my family and my community. It’s also taking care of my ailing cat (who is completely recovered now, by the way!). And unexpectedly having to take my car to the garage. It’s been a lot. And, somehow, there always seems to be more. One more thing I must do today, this week, this lifetime—just so that everything will turn out the way I want it to. Do you hear God laughing at me right now? Yeah, me too.
I still have several things on my to-do list for this week, but I know I’m not going to get to all of them, so I am making accommodations. For one thing, this was not the blog post I had planned for this week. I was going to make a video and write about making art every day. I was excited about it, but it’s too much. A part of me says, Hey, just push through. It’s just one more thing. Pour another cup of coffee. You can do it! And that part of me is right. I probably could do it, but at the cost of becoming more energy indebted and less, well, me. Does that make sense? Have you noticed that when you overextend yourself for too long that you turn into an ugly, ungrateful, wretched, slobbering monster?
Or is that just me?
Anyway, the biggest problem with my monster is that she invariably makes things worse. Every little molehill becomes Mt. Everest. Every tiny slight becomes a gaping wound. Every mistake becomes life-threatening. This attitude perpetuates a cycle of unhappiness and, ultimately, under-productiveness.
A few months ago I read a blog post on Kris Carr’s website titled The Myth of Finding Your Purpose. She says it’s her most popular post of all time and I can understand why. In it, she begs the question, “What if finding your purpose is about . . . nurturing yourself?” At first, I felt a little perplexed by this. How can that be a purpose? Isn’t that just something that happens when you pursue and achieve your true calling(s)? But when I thought about it, I realized that my callings—literally, the things that call to me—are simply things I do in service to my purpose. And my purpose is to be the best—the healthiest and happiest and kindest—version possible of this particular conglomeration of cells and spirit that my parents happened to name Diana. My purpose is to spend as little time in the monster skin as possible.
So today, I am taking a nice and easy day. Not a vacation day. Not a sick day. I thought about both of these options. I thought about not blogging, but I realized this is one of the things I do that feeds my spirit, and I didn’t want to rob myself of that. A nice and easy day means being honest with myself about what I can and cannot accomplish. It means not expecting too much. It means reminding myself that even though all those things on my list seem imperative, probably none of them are actually life and death It means going slowly, taking the most important thing first, and letting it take however long it takes. It means remembering to breathe, to release my shoulders from their defensive stance next to my ears, and to enjoy the sunshine flowing through the window.
Where am I losing energy? I ask myself this question a lot. I want to know what is draining me, what is pulling me down. I want to minimize those influences. Sometimes these things are, partially or completely, beyond my control—doctor’s appointments, conflicts with loved ones, stores with disturbing fumes. In these cases, I can take deep breaths. I can take it slowly. I can limit my exposure to necessary, but distressing situations. But, in the end, I really just have to shrug my shoulders and go through them (Squelch! Squerch! See last week’s post about this.)
I’ve been realizing recently though, that there is at least one way in which I am losing energy that is completely within my control. It’s the way that I talk to myself. I know, this is not news. Some 2500 years ago, the Buddha was warning folks that “what we think, we become”. But I’m speaking very specifically here about my attitude toward how I am approaching any given task. I have noticed that very often I am telling myself that I am not doing a good enough job. The song goes a little something like this: It’s taking me too long to shop. I am paying too much for this box of granola bars. Why can’t I write faster? Why can’t I always make the perfect egg? I’m not learning fast enough. I should be making better progress. I can’t believe I spent so much time playing games on my iPad today. I should have been nicer to that stranger. I should be getting more done. I should have gone to bed earlier . . .
You get the idea. If I let it, my dissatisfaction with myself becomes a constant drone behind all my other thoughts. It’s not fun. And it’s been kicking my ass. It’s been me, kicking my own ass, draining my energy, allowing my power to squirt out every which way. Not cool.
So what’s the antidote? Well, of course, there is the wonderful practice of mindfulness in which I catch myself having these destructive thoughts and counteract them by expressing self-compassion—maybe with a hand on my heart and an internal assurance of, “It’s okay, Sweetie.” If there are any casual observers of my behavior out there in my town, they can vouch for the fact that I have my hand on my heart, a lot. It works. But, what if I forget? What if my mindfulness is not working very well, and I get to the end of the day, and find that not only have I been disapproving of myself all day, but I didn’t even notice I was doing it? Well, that’s when I get out my gold stars. You think I’m joking. I’m not. I now have several exciting sheets of congratulatory stickers (like the ones used by kindergarten teachers) and, as I record the events of the day in my journal, I think of at least one thing I accomplished, write it down, and I plop one of those stickers down next to it. Sometimes it’s for doing something I was scared to do—like expressing myself honestly even though I feared retribution. But the bar is not always that high. Sometimes I give myself a gold star for vacuuming. Sometimes it’s for self-care, like say, napping. You’re laughing right now. I get it, but the truth is that if you’re like me, you do a whole bunch of things during any given day for which you give yourself no credit, whatsoever. Why? Because “You’re supposed to have done that. You don’t get a gold star for brushing your teeth, or feeding your family, or hugging your kids when you’re an adult. That’s ridiculous.” I agree, one hundred percent—but ONLY, if you are asking for that gold star from someone else. I can’t expect other people to get excited about my taking good care of myself. I can’t expect them to reward me. But when I acknowledge to myself the things that I am doing—even the stuff that I “should” be doing as a matter of course—I shift my self-attitude from a person who’s failing all the time, to someone who could maybe do some things better, but who is also doing a heck of a lot of things absolutely right. And that chick, definitely has more energy than Perpetually Failing Woman. Plus, she’s a lot more fun to be around.
One of my favorite picture books of all time is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. I was introduced to it one summer, almost twenty years ago, when I worked with a class of autistic children as a teaching assistant. This book was a particular favorite among the kids, and I read it aloud over and over and over. It’s a good thing for me that I fell in love with it.
It drew me in with its repetitive and rhythmic nature. And I enjoyed playfully acting out the story. Each section begins with the same chorus: We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.
It then goes on as the bear-hunting family is confronted with one or another natural element—grass, a river, a snowstorm—that they must conquer in order to continue their hunt. And as they face each obstacle the family declares: We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it!
And so they proceed, relating the sounds they make going through each experience. Amid the grass it is: Swishy swashy! Swish swashy! Swishy swashy! In the river, it’s: Splash splosh! Splash splosh! Splash splosh!
My favorite though, is the mud the Thick, oozy mud. I like to think about it as I determine to tackle complications and struggles in my life—the small things, like going to the dentist; the big things, like submitting my novel; and the heartrending things, like my cat acting like she’s on death’s door (though, thankfully, she seems to be improving.)
I could wring my hands and rend my clothing at any of these things, but instead, I try to think about the mud. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it! Reciting these words to myself helps me smile—however slightly. It makes me feel that things are a little less wrought with difficulty than they may immediately seem. Unpleasant though the situation may be, in some way or another, it’s a beautiful day! and the rest is all just mud to be gotten through. One step at a time.
Squelch, squerch! Squelch, squerch! Squelch, squerch!
I want to smile at the woman in the bathroom. I want to put her at ease, let her know that the bandage covering half my nose and mouth is okay, that the orange wash of Betadine on my face is nothing to fear. I want her to know that I am not scary. I am not other. I want the bridge of connection provided by a simple exchange of smiles. But this is impossible. Because, for the first time in my life that I can remember, I am physically unable to smile.
In November, the surgeon told me that he would remove the basal cell carcinoma above the left side of my lip using Mohs surgery—a procedure during which tiny patches of skin are removed, then processed to determine if all of the cancer has been eliminated. If it has, the wound is closed. If not, another excision is performed and those cells are processed, and so on and so forth, until all of the malignant cells are gone. When, during the consult, the surgeon informed me that the recovery from such a procedure would require that I move my mouth as little as possible for a week afterward, I had thought only of the frustration of being restricted to a “mechanically soft diet” and not being able to talk.
These were indeed challenges. I experienced a second babyhood as I learned to drink from my Finding Dory sippy cup (I could not manage a regular cup or a straw) and fed myself with the silver baby spoon my father’s company had gifted to my parents on the occasion of my birth (back when companies did things like that). For many years, I had wondered why I had held onto the seemingly silly utensil that had my name engraved boldly on its handle, and now, I knew. As I pushed little pieces of flan through the small aperture not covered by bandages and scraped gently under my lip to remove the inevitable bits that fell short of their mark, again placing them mouth, I remembered the babies I had fed in just such a way.
I was thankful for the smart phone that allowed me to communicate with family members more quickly than pen and paper would have, but even with the phone’s assistance, I began to feel the isolation of not being able to jump into a conversation and insert my opinions and ‘witticisms’ in a timely fashion. I began to give up trying to express myself. What was the point? I thought, when the punch line doesn’t arrive until two minutes after the joke?
I had anticipated all of this—to some degree, anyway. But it wasn’t until the night before that I realized in a ‘duh’ moment, that, of course, since I wouldn’t be able to speak, I would not be able to sing, either. I spent a little extra time with my harp that evening, singing Christmas carols to an empty room. I thought about how it would be if this was the last time I could sing. What would I want to bring to it?—even if just for myself, without anyone else to perform to. I felt tenderness and gratitude for my voice and my harp. I wondered what it would be like if I approached playing and singing with this mindset all the time.
Another thing I didn’t expect about my recovery week, was that I would not be able to brush my teeth. I won’t disgust you with the details, but suffice it to say, it was gross.
I had not given much thought to the surgery itself, either. It was something I had to do, so it didn’t bear much thinking about. In addition to the facial surgery, I needed to have abnormal cells on my leg excised, and I observed, with interest, as the surgeon sliced open my skin, taking a football shaped patch, exposing the bright yellow fish eggs of fat beneath. I watched him stitch up the skin with what, I, as a crafter, would call a blanket stitch. I marveled at the fact that I was witnessing, with complete detachment, something that should be quite painful to me. Thank, God for anesthesia, I thought.
Later though, when it came to repairing my face, the painkiller was not enough to disengage my emotions from the procedure. I could not see the surgeon working, but I could hear the scissors snipping along my lip. I could smell my skin burning as it was cauterized. This felt personal, intimate, inescapable. I couldn’t help but worry about what I would look like after as the surgeon threw stitch after stitch. And later, when I faced my swollen visage in the mirror, I had thoughts of Frankenstein’s monster—before I reminded myself that I was being ridiculously hyperbolic.
But those moments of tension under the knife and those bloody, bloated stitches are not what I will remember most keenly. What I will remember are those moments in the bathroom mid-surgery while I was waiting for them to process the tissue from my face the second time. Instead of spending the 45 minutes by myself in the procedure room, I was allowed to use the restroom and join my mother in the waiting room. It was then, as I tried to relate nonverbally to the various people around me, I realized how meaningful, how powerful, a smile can be. The many signals such a tiny, seemingly insignificant thing can relay: friendliness, approval, connection . . . I realized how lost I felt without my smile, how alone, how helpless.
It’s now been seven weeks since the surgery. I am healing well. Though I do still have some swelling, the redness around my scar fades with every day. And I have one more aspect of my face to make me look ‘distinctive’! In a way, I am grateful for it, because it has taught me, a little, about the true worth of a smile.
My fingers hover over the keyboard. I have so many thoughts, so many reactions. Sometimes I even type them out, giving fleeting voice to my opinions, but always—almost always—I think better of it. I hit delete. I watch as a blinking cursor erases my feelings one letter at a time.
I don’t think I need to say that it’s been quite the week. We all have feelings and many of us are expressing them—some in beautiful ways, some in hateful, many somewhere in the middle. Mostly, I have resisted expressing my political opinions anywhere on the internet. And after all that has happened, all that may happen, I wonder to myself why and if such a decision been wise.
The why is fairly easy: I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to get into it with anyone—start a battle that no one will win. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I don’t want my words to be mis-taken. There are people in my life whom I not only dearly love, but also deeply respect who vote very differently from the way I do. I live in a predominantly red community. Why risk a potential rift? I hate rifts. I abhor violence. It feels, at this moment in time, that we seem unable to speak to each other civilly—that a disagreement about ideology immediately devolves into name-calling. Demeaning the value of each other as humans whether they be called “deplorable” or “nasty” seems to be commonplace. I don’t want to participate in this.
When I was writing my memoir about my diagnosis and experience of having CFS a decade ago, I agonized over how to portray certain people in my life—people who have hurt me excruciatingly.. I wasn’t sure that being candid was the right thing to do. Who might I hurt by speaking my truth? Was it worth it? I also didn’t want to use “being authentic” as an excuse for calling people out in a childish way. Even when I wrote my first novel, I worried how members of my family would interpret certain aspects of it. Would they be upset? Would they be mad at me? I can’t stand it when people are mad me. It feels like attempting to get a foothold on crumbling land beneath me. It feels devastating and lonely. So I have censored myself—a lot (it’s actually part of the reason I have not submitted my work as much as I should). Some of it has been wise. I have been grateful when I have held my tongue in situations in which I would have liked to spit fire, but I wonder where exactly the line is. At what point does silence stop being golden and start becoming a prison warden?
Well, I guess, that point is now. People say that some of us are taking this too personally. But it is has become personal. My opinion about what constitutes good government policy differs greatly from that of President-Elect Trump. That would have been enough for me to not vote for him, but it wouldn’t have made it personal. What made it personal, was the fact that I, and many women whom I care about, have been victimized by men, and the words and actions of Mr. Trump have ripped open those wounds. The fact that so many people voted for him feels like an endorsement of a man’s right to hurt and debase women at will. I know this is not true. I know that if you are reading this and you voted for Trump, you were not thinking about me or any of my friends who have been through similar things. You were thinking about Right to Life or the next supreme court justice or repealing Dodd-Frank or any number of practical reasons—maybe even personal reasons—why you felt that Trump was the best choice for this country. People are suffering and they saw this man as a way out. I get that. I can respect that. But I also weep for it. And I don’t know how I am supposed to forget all the varied hateful things that Mr. Trump has said and give him my support now.
I have been silent. I have been fearful. Today, I am saying a little. How much will I say in the future? I don’t know. A part of me wants to speak for myself and for others who cannot, but I still don’t want to start a fight. I don’t want to cause irreparable damage. Honestly, I don’t want to put myself in the line of fire. A part of me just wants to meditate and pray and spread love with smiles and music—and I will do that. But is continuing silence wise? Is it responsible? Can anything be solved without respectful discourse? I don’t know, but I heard a stat this morning that chilled me to the bones. Approximately 49% of eligible voters did not vote in this year’s election. Almost half of the people who have the ability to help decide how we will treat our children, our fellow citizens, our country were completely silent.
My mother and I are walking together this morning. It’s already apparent that it’s a tough one for both of us, but we still do our daily check-ins. “My legs are hurting a lot,” she tells me. She knows that the pain in my legs have been a merciless for several days now, so she adds, “Maybe your legs said something to mine, and it spread.”
She’s making a joke. I know this. But this morning, I am not in the mood.
Despite the pre-dawn darkness she senses my chagrin. “Not you,” she assures me, “your legs!”
“My legs are me,” I explain.
This is a fairly new admission for me. I have spent many, many years dissociating from my body, talking about it in the third person, distaining its weakness.
There’s an interview with Toni Morrison from about a year and a half ago during which, because of chronic pain, she talks about her body in a similar way. “I did so much for you, body, why aren’t you helping me now, when I need you? I was so nice to you.” When asked if making peace with her body was hard, she confirms “I do feel like I’m under attack.”
It’s easy to feel this way: My body is failing me. My body hates me. I hate my body. I felt this way for a long time. Oh, I paid lip service in yoga classes to “listening to my body”, but my subconscious was really thinking: Listen to my body? Are you kidding me? That bitch doesn’t know shit!
Then, in my mid-twenties, a hypnotherapist told me to “Be in your body. You want your body to be there for you, so you need to be there for it.” I was a little confused. What does she mean, be in my body? I am in my body, aren’t I? But then I started thinking about The Robber Bride, a novel by Margaret Attwood I’d read some years earlier. In it, one of the female characters describes being repeatedly molested as a child, and that her response to this was to leave her body, so that she wouldn’t feel everything that was happening to her so intensely. This is one of the things I love about novels—they teach so much. They teach you things you don’t know you need to know. I had thought, at the time, that Attwood was speaking metaphorically or at the very least, metaphysically. People don’t really leave their bodies, and if they do, it happens very infrequently. It took a few years for me to realize that Attwood and the hypnotherapist had it right. We do leave our bodies. We hover around them because we have so much about which to think—or so much from which to escape.
My departure from my body was mostly because of the pain. I couldn’t understand why meditation teachers kept wanting me to scan my body. I knew what my body felt like. It hurt. A lot. I didn’t need to know anything more about it. I didn’t want to know anything more about it. I wanted to feel something different, something better. So I took off, without realizing it, without meaning to, I just left. It seemed better that way.
But it wasn’t. My retreat from pain was also a retreat from my life. I became less connected to myself and to everything else. How can you truly taste an orange if you’re not really there? How can you taste any of the fruits of life, if you are constantly running away? Though perhaps, I wasn’t experiencing as much pain, I also wasn’t there for myself. I had less agency in my life, less ability to accomplish things because I was taking refuge in fantasy and a future that might never come. Leaving can be okay for a while. Sometimes we all need a break from reality, but I came to realize that for me, giving up the pain meant giving up everything.
And even then, the pain chases me. Without my attention, my body becomes tenser, harder, unforgiving.
I have taken to doing body scans again—nothing formal, usually it’s when I lie down to take a nap, and I often fall asleep before I finish. But I try to feel the full weight of my body falling into the bed. I start at my feet, feeling them, expressing some appreciation for them. I work up my body in this way. Relaxing into the pain. Filling the entire volume contained by my skin with my presence, flooding the space between my cells with my being. Some months ago, without really thinking about it, I started telling myself: This is my body. It seems kind of silly to remind myself of that and as anyone who has spent much time going to a Catholic church knows, those words can’t help but remind me of the mass. It seems appropriate somehow, though—that here be an inherent holiness to those words. That fully inhabiting one’s body could be a sacred act.
When I do this, the pain does not go away, but I feel more relaxed. I feel like my body and I are in this thing together. We are not at odds. We are not separate. I believe, I know, that I am more than a body, but I am also this body. This body is home.
The artwork for this post was inspired by the work Austin Kleon and Cindy Shepard. If you like it, you might want to check out their stuff, too. Also, if you enjoyed this post as a whole, please consider sharing it. 🙂