Category Archives: 40 days of writing

idyllic mayhem or excuse me, my privilege is showing

I will be the first to admit that I come from privilege. I have been so shockingly lucky for so many things that were and are in my life. Privilege, however, does not mean life is easy. I share many things with people who are not as privileged as me.  One thing I don’t do is fear facing the dark aspects of life. I work hard at being vulnerable. I tend to think that vulnerability makes us more open to others.  Social media may prove this to have many exceptions.

Mary granting the Great Privilege in a 19th-century painting by Charles Rochussen.

One story that makes me deeply consider privilege was when I had a friend visiting from the Midwest and was excited to take them to our local border town for something different but close to home and an example of life similar enough to how I grew up . I did not immediately notice, but my friend was deeply uncomfortable and asked to return to the USA within 10 minutes. I was so bewildered.  I talked to them about it a few years later and they shared that they had never seen anything like it, it was so foreign that it was uncomfortable. I did not quite understand, I tend to embrace those moments of being uncomfortable, they teach us so much. Perhaps that attitude can be too much for some?

I was called to recall this memory when I happened across this quote:

He (John Mellencamp) also confessed he could never live in Manhattan. “I’m too sensitive to live there,” the musician said. “I can’t see poor people. I can’t see the suffering. I can’t see the trash on the streets…I’m not leaving Indiana. I’m going to die here.” (source)

 

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and the post that appeared here on Blair Necessities yesterday started out as a Facebook post. It was truly my intention to highlight that women can be cruel and that any success that women can have depends on then being ready, willing, and fully able to lift each other up. This is not to say that you can’t call a woman out on something we perceive as bad, but it certainly was not a call to attack. That is, however, exactly what happened over on The Facebook.

Someone I knew from High School thought the post so offensive that she decided to call me out for it. It was bizarre. I am still trying to wrap my head around what exactly happened, what she found so offensive… I do take issue with her attempt to direct my narrative when she suggested that someone elses’ comment would have made a better story. When she went on to call my story disgusting, I just had to stop. I was knee deep in a migraine and dealing with a kiddo who was not feeling 100%. I turned off the sound of notifications.

It was kind of crazy.

I have preserved that conversation here.

The thing is, I don’t hate being uncomfortable, I wonder where she got that from?

And this post started out as something completely different.

“The idyllic mayhem of two cultures colliding just doesn’t seem as funny anymore.”
~ Kris Kidd

 

Is there such a thing as an art based EULA?

“A good book deserves an active reading. The activity of reading does not stop with the work of understanding what a book says. It must be completed by the work of criticism, the work of judging. The undemanding reader fails to satisfy this requirement, probably even more than he fails to analyze and interpret. He not only makes no effort to understand; he also dismisses a book simply by putting it aside and forgetting it. Worse than faintly praising it, he damns it by giving it no critical consideration whatever.”
~ Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading

One of the biggest arguments I ever got into when I was in college was about artist (and specifically to the discussion then, authors) responsibility.  It was one of those life changing conversations and it has played out in my mins for the last 25 years in varying forms and with multiple applications.

One of the concepts that was brought up minimally then, but seems much more relevant now is that of the artists spectator. The actors viewer, the artists watcher, the authors reader.  I would argue that art is a social process, there is an end-user and a silently understood agreement (a EULA, if you will) between the artist and the one who “experiences” the art. I am not saying that a painter paints for a specific audience, I am saying the artist paints for an audience. This plays out in many ways.  I am not speaking to message of the art form, nor am I speaking to interpretation of the art form. I am speaking about the end-user. The watcher, reader, listener, or viewer.

I think we readers, watchers, viewers have gotten piss spoor about this part of the social contact. I know of only a very few people who consistently do these things actively, and even they slip up. We have gotten lazy, we react before fully reading, watching, listening or viewing. It may be that artists have stopped giving a shit about that their audience thinks or responds to their work, but on some level they have to want the people who experience their works to not pass by it in ignorance? I don’t know.

I, personally, write in the hope that the person reading my works thinks about something.  While I may be working through something deeply personal, having a reader respond often offers me greater insight. If they misunderstand, it helps me learn how to be clearer.

 

 

I have a friend that writes. They have an incredible vocabulary, though it is sometimes a bit archaic. They are pretty good at giving the reader what they want them to react to. I would say it is a mark of a good writer.  The interesting thing with my friend though, is that there is a general laziness with interpersonal conversation. That is frustrating. I imagine that the marvels and instant gratification of social media play out in these things.  Based on how I see communication working out now a-days, people seem to like to get their panties in bunch. They read a post, or see a picture and form these hard-line reactions.

I am no saint in this regard. I caught myself doing it all the time. it was to the point where it became personally embarrassing. Thankfully I have some friends who loved me enough to tell me to go back, read it again.  So, I would pull my panties out and go back. And 99% of the time, I had reacted rather than read.

So, what are some things that I do that help me know I am doing this?

If something pisses me off, I go back and read or look at it again. Occasionally I will read it out loud, or view it in a different place.  I pinpoint the words/images that I am reacting to. I ask myself what are they trying to communicate? If I am still unclear, I ask questions.  Am I reacting very strongly, then take a break and go back to it later (in instant gratification land, this can feel tough). In the case of written work, write it out. Look up words that you may not be sure about how they are being used (this one has been fun, for my friend with the archaic vocabulary, I sent them a list of all the words I had looked up when I had read their work… I thought it a fun conversation).

In the world where texting, email, posts, and comments have become a regular form of communication, it might behoove us all to become better at what I might call active appreciation.  Actually, you do whatever you want… but as for me, I am going to try to listen, watch, read, and view  with more attention.

whose boat is on the running stream…

“What should I possibly have to tell you, oh venerable one? Perhaps that you’re searching far too much? That in all that searching, you don’t find the time for finding?”
~ Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

ecbracletred22-020

We are cleaning house to host Christmas. And as is often the case on such endeavors (at least in my life) things have been found that elicit powerful and profound reactions.

I was tidying up our mantle and found a stone jar with a fossil lid. Curious, and willing to delay the tidying up to explore, I opened it up only to discover something I probably needed to find.

It was a 5 foot long string of red beads.

as i pulled the strand out, I thought back on when I must have bought it. 17 years ago, when I was in Quito and roaming one of the many folks selling things in the parks.  I remember picking this one out because it had two “gold” beads in it.  I twisted the string of beads onto my wrist, feeling a simple pleasure as I felt them wrap around.

It is a simple standard of beauty that has carried with me. Many of the indigenous women, of varying tribes, in Ecuador wear them. It is said to ward of evil and to protect the wearer. One will see these wrapped in various widths and on various ages of the women in Ecuador. Red bracelets are actually something pretty widespread and come in a variety of materials.  It is a familiar one to me, and I have worn it on my wrists for these past few days, a certain level of comfort in seeing its length wrapped around my wrist. I touch them, roll them against my skin, admiring the variety of sizes the beads come in.

Last night, I was in the bath tub and wondered if the string would suffer from getting wet. I rolled and untangled my bracelet and gently laid it out to dry.  This morning I picked it up and twisted it back on my wrist.  There was such a comfort in that ritual. I wondered how many other women had gone about starting their day by twisting these beads around their wrist, in a mix of superstition, habit, and because of the gentleness of it.

 

red beads
This is my red bead bracelet.

“For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

And my doctor says I’ll be alright… But I’m feelin blue

I love me some Tom Waits

 

 

I had what was my one year follow-up appointment today… even though it is one year plus 47 days from the day I had my surgery.

I do love my oncologist. My oncologist told me about grants they have written to the CDC . Exciting stuff!

Then he looked at me and said he had something he thought I would appreciate and that he would come back and show me what it was, after my exam.

My doctor returns with a frame, inside of which is a pathology report from 1960. It sounds extremely modern, excellent description of the sample but what was the most fabulous part was that it was signed by Dr. Georgios Nikolaou Papanikolaou. The father of modern cytopathology and responsible for the test that saved my life.

Thank you, Dr Papanikolaou

ignoring my limits

​In our society, the women who break down barriers are those who ignore limits.
~ Arnold Schwarzenegger​
I would hope that women get exposed, personally, to women who break down barriers. Actually, I hope that men get exposed to women who break barriers too, because this is still something that needs to happen.  I am lucky, in 1980 my cousin was the second best archer in the world. Amazon comparisons aside, this was HUGE. Women have been slinging arrows for eons, but to get to a level where you are second best… in the world… wow, she is pretty impressive in this respect (and many others).  How wonderful is it that we live in a world where we see more women breaking barriers and becoming awesome at what they do.

This took a long time to come for me. Born in an era that was just starting to feel out the women’s rights movement.  Add to that the fact that I was born and raised in countries that have very “traditional” roles for women. So, breaking barriers was not something I even thought about until, that is, I moved to the United States. Before that, I think my most adventurous aspiration was to be a flamenco dancer.

Now, please know that I do not mean to demean flamenco dancers by that statement.  There is a ton of back story to that. My father bullfights. I spent the first ten years of my life either watching him bullfight or helping out at our ranch that raised fighting bulls. Bullfighting is the glue that hold my relationship together with my father. I live in a world where I both hate it and love it. My more intimate knowledge about it provides for this. Like many things in life, it is both beautiful and brutal.

My father is well-respected among bullfighting circles around the world.  I went to visit a friend of his when I was an adult and he told me how he met my dad. My dad had been trying to get a chance to bullfight right after we had moved from Spain to Ecuador, but it is not something one can just go to the park and find a pick-up game.  So this friend of my fathers recalls that he ans his friends kept getting these calls about this silly American that wanted to join them in a bullring. After several months they realized that they were not going to get rid of his persistence so they had him come along.  At this point in the conversation, my father’s friend looks me in the eyes and tell how he and all his friends saw my dad get in the ring and were stunned by how good a bullfighter my father was.  He is still good. Anyway, I grew up with enough privilege that I really believed that I would end up a mother of many children with a wealthy enough husband and live in a country other than the USA. Needless to say that did not happen.

I recall moving to the US just at the start of the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. Which was the same time that my cousin was an Olympic archer, my aunt had won Emmy’s and was becoming an artist. There was something empowering and horribly frightening about this. So, at this point in my life, my tweens and early teens, I realized I could be anything I wanted to be if I wanted it hard enough.
So, I hung on to my dream of having lots of children (I have always wanted six, for what it is worth) but now I could be that and do anything. In high school I was stunned when a friend stopped me after me describing my future self and said that it was great I had these ideas about what I would do with my children, but she had noticed that I never mentioned their father or a husband. I am sure that my mother had to work so very hard and had to fight to provide for my brother and I after my father took off with another  woman and left us high and dry was the impetus for this visioning I was doing.
So, I chased dreams.
It wasn’t until I was thirty that I was able to revisit my father and his bullfighting passion. I was back in the US and newly married and he invited me to join him for a special convention in Texas.  Through a random series of events I was able to share a room with a female bullfighter. I had never even really imagined this. I was aware of women like  Conchita Cintrón and Bette Ford, but hadn’t really thought about it in terms of how many crazy walls they had to tear down.  To put this in perceptive, in 1998 I attended the bullfights in Ecuador and on the last day I asked the man who was our former veterinarian if I could join him in the callejon (the inner ring, where the bullfighters and their assistants hang out in a bull ring). His reply was to tell me that I could because that the ban on women being there had been lifted a few years ago… which makes the ban on women in the inner circle to have been lifted around 1997!!!
So, here I was in a room with a woman bullfighter by the name of Raquel Martinez. A petite and beautiful blond woman. I felt like her opposite in everything, I was tall to her short, brunette to her blond, squishy to her toned, make up less to her flawless make-up. I was in awe. Never in my growing up as my father’s daughter had I ever considered this, and now in the presence of a woman bullfighter I was in awe. She was kind, gracious, gentle… had a great sense of humor, she was both strong and vulnerable. It was an amazing time. She was the first woman I ever asked for make-up advice. We talked about the men we had loved, and how crazy it was to try to be a woman bullfighter. I have not seen her since that time, but she has remained on of my treasured experiences. She was part of a group of women who were tearing down walls, and she was amazing.
For the record, I do not want to be a bullfighter… I would much rather dance the flamenco.

giving it meaning?

“Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning.”
~ Paulo Coelho

Read about words here.

 

When you go through this list… what have you been called?

girl
tall
tom-boy
ugly
pretty
mean
young
silly
dirty
selfish
scared
stupid
Just like your father
just like your mother
gringo
spic
retard
cunt
asshole
jerk
fucking asshole
immigrant
Christian
Atheist
boring
whimp
coward
bitch
crazy
anal-retentive
psychotic
lame
square
stiff
baby
chickenshit
pussy
wuss
bat-shit crazy
bonkers
kooky
freak
whacked
spastic
postal
nuttso
loony
gross
disgusting
creepy
skeeve
creeper
scum
rat
thug
worm
scumbag
slacker
Amazon
attention whore
bastard
commie
douche
hussy
mess
lurker
skank
pooper
poseur
socialite
snob
elitist
wanker
white trash
nerd
geek
dork
bookworm
dweeb
gomer
has-been
slut
loose
hoochie
trick
hoe
fugly
mangy
turd
twat
lame-o
reject
pig
thick
fat

How did being called that make you feel?

I have been called all of these.

How do you judge me now that you have heard what others have thought?

If you ask me how I feel… I would have to say that I still don’t know what to think, other than they have hurt… to varying degrees.

a moment, but not the dream… a reflection of a gentle experience

“some moments are nice, some are nicer, some are even worth writing about.”
~ Charles Bukowski

I am reflecting on the gentlenesses that life has a tendency to bring.  Those moments that are often soft, quiet… almost imperceptible.  Moments, though, that are imbued with something that makes them stand out from other moments… not because they are nice, nor because they are even nicer, but because they somehow separate themselves from the other memories and cast a soft glow where they stand.  They don’t have to be personally significant, often one is a mere observer or pulled in by the experience.

I love those moments. I should write about them more.

This past March, sufficiently recovered (physically) to travel, my son (Squink) and I set off to Mexico to meet his student exchange family. A formal program through my son’s school that introduced kids to foreign travel and boosted their language skills. It was a delight. I got to know some parents much better and was reminded why there are parents that I would do best to avoid!

So, Squink and I hopped on a luxury bus with a ton of other parents and their children and made our way south to Old Mexico!

I had a glorious time, met some wonderful parents. Our Mexican counterpart (the parents) hosted us at a wonderful beach party. There was loads of laughter and fun. There was a lot of food, and chasing, and merriment.

A mother, one that had been Squinks soccer coach in first grade,  on the trip with us revealed that this was her first beach experience. She had never seen one before and how delighted she was to have the experience. She was a little timid about getting in the water though. She and another mom and I had all laid our towels on the sand together (me for protection from a mother in our group that I find to be insanely manipulative) . We shared our snacks and laughed… this was in and of itself, a great moment… but it was destined to be greater. We walked along the water line with the mother and managed to get her to put her feet in the water and seemed happy to stay there… but the other mother and I insisted it was not the full experience.  She was nervous, did not want to do it alone.. so the other mother and I looked at each other and declared that we would go in with her… and nervous exchange and we were tossing off our t-shirts and getting down to our suits, and we all ran towards the water and jumped in, all the way in.

We all raised our head from the water at about the same time, laughing and smiling. checking into how the others felt. Our kids had seen our mad dash into the water and we had them swimming around us.  In terms of being a mom, it was a rare experience, especially with  women who are not close confidantes. There was a purity in that moment that made that simple act of jumping in the water together something magnificent, something to be treasured. I equate that experience for the mom who had just had her first ocean experience with the first time I saw snow.  It had a magical mystery to it, and that first time I saw snow was magical.

While there are many wonderful memories from that trip, the one I describe here was magic.  On the long bus ride back home, I told the mother (with previous ocean experience) that was with us when we jumped in the water that it was my favorite part of the trip, she looked at me across the aisle and said to me “mine too”.

I know not to question it too much, to just accept that it happened and treasure it like I do.

This is of Squink and me just after the event, in Mexico
This is of Squink and me just after the event, in Mexico

“I like the posture, but not the yoga. I like the inebriated morning, but not the opium. I like the flower but not the garden, the moment but not the dream. Quiet, my love. Be still. I am sleeping.”
~ Roman Payne

If it quacks like a duck… it must be stunned

Today, during what was originally supposed to be a quick glance through my Facebook feed I read the words “IN WOMEN WITH PERSISTENT CERVICAL CANCER”.

It was in all caps too. PERSISTENT CERVICAL CANCER.

fuck

the urge to cry from worry

fuck

I stared at my screen thinking; Is this a thing? Can women get cervical cancer… on repeat…

My joints started to ache, my skin flushed with needle pricks, my face got hot, I held my breath.

Is this really a thing?

How did I miss this… I mean, I am a medical school dropout for chrissake… one who has worked or volunteered in breast and cervical cancer issues for most of her adult life…

In my head, in that stunned moment after reading that, I had the idea that some women just kept getting cervical cancer… like one gets a cold… they are both viruses, after all.

So, I (somewhat reluctantly, yet with incredible haste) went to my very trusted medical internet sites to see if there was such a thing (complete with a search for an applicable ICD9 code) as Persistent Cervical Cancer.

OK.

deep breath

the urge to cry from relief

Turns out, it is another way of saying metastatic cervical cancer, and just as I had thought before I had read that post cervical cancer recurrence rates (really, it is 5 year survivor rates) are linked to stage of initial diagnosis.

fuck

I wonder if my conversation with a person (a woman who had also had a cancer diagnosis, though of a different variety) just minutes before seeing this, where we talked about how certain things just tend to have an initial thought that you have a recurrence, played into how I reacted (what a sentence this is?!).

Your tooth hurts  – it has spread.

You get a bruise – it has spread.

You have an ache – it is a tumor.

but… maybe not.

The brutal art of being… is shockingly gentle

​Word of advice; do not, for the love of well made chicken soup and all other things holy, ever ever ever  Google the words and look at the images for “The brutal art of being”.

“There is brutality and there is honesty. There is no such thing as brutal honesty.”
~ Robert Anthony.

That said, living is brutal. It is hard on our bodies, what with that getting old crap… then there are certain aspects of how we treat one another. Why the fuck are we so stupidly cruel to each other?

 

There is another part of me that kind of finds this sentiment above a bit ridiculous. I mean, we are animals after all, it’s not like opposable thumbs and the ability to breast feed instantly granted us some sort of “nice card”.  As a matter of fuck   fact, I learned at an early age that life had this brutal part to it. Between friends with bodyguards, sleeping in the same room as my brother so one of us would have the chance to scream for help in case we were kidnapped, watching my dad routinely killing bulls through his grand love-affair with bullfighting… this were in my face demonstrations that life could have a nasty bitter after-taste. It is super interesting to note that the same place that gave me all this… hmmm….. brutality, if you will…. also gave me magic.  Beautiful, glorious magic.

 

I, at this very moment, am wondering if I lost the ability to see this magic? A temporary (I would hope) blindness? Or maybe I am seeing another side to the magic, and I need to learn to recognize it. Perhaps it left when my faith in the divine disappeared in a puff of smoke? When I used to feel this kind of angst (for the lack of a better work and to a much lesser degree) I used to think it was a part of my search for grace.  Maybe it is an extension of searching for grace? A more fevered search.

When I left my life behind and moved to Ecuador to attend medical school, one of the more incredible things that happened was that a boy followed me there. I had no idea that he loved me, but he did. My Ecua-mami (my mother figure in Ecuador) and I talked about how this made me feel… I was nervous and apprehensive, I had never even considered even an attraction to him, yet here I was planning a vacation with him. We talked about assumptions and implications. She told me that I would make my own decisions, but that life would, in a way, make them for me.  That is exactly what happened.

I never was able to love him the way I think he wanted me to. I learned recently, that he just earned a significant year chip in the Bill and Bob club.  This dramatically coincides with when he realized I was not going to spend the rest of my life with him. While I can’t confirm that his experience with me served as some catalyst, my gut tells me it plays into that. Life is brutal. I took so much for granted with him, though not in a shameful way. I still think about that experience traveling around Ecuador with him with a certain fondness. It was, however, rather brutal… thankfully it was imbued with a certain magic that the landscape provided and in some ways became one of those significant romantic moment of ones in my life.

So, fondness… there is a gentle art to fondness. I used to be a master of it… it being genuine fondness. Maybe this is where I should explore next. That area is a place in my experience, my life, where some hard truths about self are to be acknowledged (like the story of the boy above, for example). The nice thing is that fondness is gentle, and even the hardest of these truths are tempered with a certain gentleness.

sitting present in the darkness

This past year and some has been a weird process. I have been angrier than I have ever been before. I have been meaner than I was ever before. I have been sadder and more confused. Those are only part of the whole experience…

I have also been lifted higher, I have had moments of intensity that I cannot compare to any prior experience, I have been deeply humbled by people who I never thought cared…

It was super intense…  It is intense.

I am in one of those places today, high off of my birthday (yesterday) greetings, feeling peaceful and loved… in a place where the dark tinge hasn’t invaded my space. I am reflective, and trying to pull myself together in this moment.

Navigating these crazy mix of emotions has been exhausting.  I am sure it has also been exhausting for those who are close to me and can see how much they torment me.

I would see a therapist, but geez.. the one time I tried it took a really bizarre accident to find the most perfect psychiatrist for me to talk to, and any after just were a joke in comparison.  I know this is temporary, and I don’t want to put myself on a course of medication (though I recognize its value,  and think they should be used… it is not for me… not at this time).  My previous experience with fighting off things like this was similar in that it came after a serious illness. What I learned then, that I believe applies now, is that I need to live this craziness and work through it and I am using the strategies I learned then to help, and they are.  The one caveat this time is that I, at a time, was rather dependent on others to take care of my basic needs… and most really let me down.  I think it is that as I prepared myself for surgery, I let go… I promised myself that I would let others take care of me. So I did, and frankly, I still ended up having to take care of myself. Please know that I am talking basic needs, like food… some of the people taking care of me couldn’t even do that to help. So, I suppose I am mad at them, and definitely mad at myself.  I was trained from an early age to take care of things, now this does not mean I keep a clean house, far from that… but I am the type that will carry all the groceries, even if I am shopping with others, mainly because they walk away from the car and leave them all there for someone else and I am like “hell if I am walking up and down my porch stairs more than once, I am taking all these fuckers (bags of groceries) in right now”.  Fuck, am I stubborn or what?

Anyway, lots of thinking about all this crap and how to get myself back in to a happy place is going on. I try not to let it get me down, but it is really in my face at times. I amble through my daily life, trying to make sense of it all, trying to make sense of a world that has changed for me. Repeating tiny mantras about how “lucky I am”, or how “this world has so much wonderful for me” flutter through my head as my body tries to grasp them and hold them close to my heart. I was a much happier person 18 months ago, when I embarked on this path, and I have learned that grief, this kind of grief (the one for loss of self, rather than loss of others) is pretty fucking intense. I have changed, I cuss more… a lot more. I didn’t use to, I saved them for occasions that seemed to benefit from a well placed expletive.

There is so much complexity to this. It involves being disappointed by members of my own family and in tun trying to figure out if I had unrealistic expectations for them… because if I didn’t have the unrealistic expectations, and they really did disappoint me, that kind of makes me kind of stupid.  So, there have been a lot of questions I have been asking myself, and I am not the type that is afraid of hard questions… so that has been easy. Learning how human I am has been a mix of easy and hard. Working through stupid things people thoughtlessly said to me and which, for some stupid reason, are ringing bells and demanding my attention has been strange. There is this strange mix of braggadocio and humility in my self reflections that is a little tough to manage.  I think though, that I am starting to tell myself that I like myself again, and that is a good thing.