Category Archives: culture

Gentleness

I feel a little better today. I still am working hard in my brain as to what to do about everything in my post yesterday. I am sure it will come to me.

One of the images I use when I want to feel better is one from my life back in Ecuador.

Specifically, being on our ranch and sitting on the grass higher up on the mountain.

This is the mountain our ranch was on:

Pasochoa

I have no idea where our ranch was in relation to that picture, but I have many good memories there.

The one that I am calling to mind is about sitting on the soft mossy grass, just above the tree line. There is a grass there that is soft like moss, but is a very small almost light green ground cover. It has these tiny pink berries, berries so small you can’t even see them unless you are looking closely. I can feel the high Andean wind burning my cheeks a bright red. I feel like I can hear the sound of God in that rush of wind blowing past my ears. I weave my finger in to the soft plants, smelling the earth. Listening to my horse hobbled nearby, and the chit-chat of my family enjoying a picnic. I feel connected to the earth, an extension of her, like a small dendrite-like messenger. I feel my hair blow across my face and whip around wildly in the wind. I pick the tiny pink berries and put them in my other hand, which is cupped in my lap… filling my cupped palm slowly with these little light pink jewels. Fairy food, I am certain it is fairy food. I put them in my mouth, one by one. tasting their faintly sweet juice. I watch our cattle off in the distance, grazing.

There is something about that moment that is so gentle, so peaceful, that it can still evoke a certain calm when I am weathering a storm.

update – the last 4 weeks have been interesting

So, what an experience these last few weeks have been.

The surgery went abut as expected.  A scratched cornea in the hospital.
The final diagnosis was the best to be expected. No chemo and no radiation.
Big blessings.
I took a nose dive after I got home… lost over ten pounds in about 24 hours.  
Family took care of me. Friends feed me. I felt/feel deeply loved. 
I have been torn down in a way that has built me back up.
I am exhausted, tired and eager to get on with life.
I even drove once!

Day 17 – 40 days of writing – procrastination, anger, and trying to let go

I have had my paperwork to fill out for my upcoming oncology appointment for over a week.


It was on the floor for several days, then I put it in my work bag to take and complete on a break, but it still is in there. It is not filled out.

I have to fill it out this weekend. 

I want to avoid this whole thing. It is all encompassing. It permeates so many things.

***

An email sent to explain why I have to turn over some of my volunteer efforts and how I would like to see them handled gets forwarded without thought to the information contained within. People   who see that email decide it is OK to come up to me and tell me the email has been forward and mentions of things like “your condition” and “your health issues” permeate the conversation that she thinks is acceptable to have in front of my son. 

I want to know why everyone thinks it is appropriate to think it is a good think to talk about this in front of a child. 

Others have done this, talking about my cancer in front of my son.

And they can frolic away thinking they have been so good and noble and all because they got to tell me they are concerned while I am left with a concerned son, who has since started throwing up at school (again)… something I believe is tied to stress and concern.

And I want to yell at these well meaning but stupid people; “Why the fuck have you decided you can make this more complicated for me and then think you are so dammed just and gracious?”.

They are so blissfully unaware. I have to let go but as I deal with a son who I am trying to convince that I will be fine and nothing is wrong and because he dwells in silence from not understanding what is going on has no idea of what questions he needs to ask and I can’t know what I need to address.

I don’t know how to tell these people that they have been wrong in how they handled this. I am not even sure that I should. I know that if I would do something so thoughtless that I would want to know. but I don’t know how to be gentle about it.

I wonder if this is about displacing the anger at the way my body has betrayed me towards others. It is hard, and confusing, and ever so extremely frustrating.


I recognize it goes both ways, allowing what will continue I mean. Do I allow myself to dwell in my reactions or do I allow them a lesson learned so that they can learn from their experiences. 

Who needs the most of my energy?



How do I travel this road gently and with grace?

Day 16 – 40 days of writing – cosmos and faith

A conversation I had about faith.

Link


This assignment is due by Sunday night, but I certainly hope to have a nice “dent” in its completion by Friday, if possible. I truly appreciate your help on this. Would you mind telling me your age, where you are from, and if you followed your worldview since your youth or did something influence a change?
I am 45 years old. I was born in Bogota, Colombia to American parents, though we did not often socialize with other expatriates. I also lived in Spain, Ecuador, and Mexico before moving to the USA.  I think it was this experience that led me to my world view. I am an agnostic, but specifically a theistic one; meaning I believe in a supreme power/being, I just feel that knowing who or what that is lies outside of the purview of human understanding… and since faith is outside of the realm of scientific understanding I do not hold it to the rigors of scientific research.  I do however, approach my faith with a deep curiosity and search for more knowledge and insight.
 
The required elements are outlined below:
1)      For this assignment, you will interview two people with different worldviews. One will have the Christian worldview and the other will be one of the following:

a)      Atheist/Naturalist
b)      Secular Humanism
c)      Pantheistic
d)     New Age

I do not consider myself to be any of these, I consider myself to be a theistic agnostic. 

2)       Include in your interview, the following prompts:

a)      What does it mean to be human?

I see humans as part of a cosmos. We are on this planet/universe and part of a whole ecosystem of things that evolve and works both for and against each other.  I am seeking to understand why there is a need to see how we separate humans from the rest of living things as I am not convinced this is an appropriate means of thought.  I tend to eschew thinking that humans are any more special that other living beings, but get uncomfortable at the use of the word special here… perhaps it might be a word like meaningful. I think that since we seem to have things that we call “reason” and “thought” that using those involves a certain responsibility (and should add that each living organism has the responsibility to act according to its make-up; so a cell must do what cells do and a fish must do what fish do and thus a human must do what a human does).       


b)      What happens after death?

As I assume that this questions seeks to discover my thoughts on the concept of an after life, I would have to say that I don’t know, but I am OK with this uncertainty. I tend towards falling back on certain principles in the hard sciences in that our afterlife continues in forms of energy, quarks and strings. I do know that ancestors carry on an important legacy and perhaps that their roles and stories being carried down in various forms (traditions for example) might be the most beautiful thing that happens after death. 


c)      Elaborate on who Jesus Christ is according to your worldview.

He was one in a series of people who have served as messengers regarding valuable lesson in human cooperation. 


d)     How does your worldview deal with the concepts of evil and suffering in the world?

Nature is cruel and has no remorse. I don’t think there is evil. Things that tend to be associated with evil in terms of humans are aspects of human behavior. I think that this is where things like religion are important (I tend to tell people that I am religious and not spiritual) as they serve as guides to encourage cooperative behavior and perhaps to curb tendencies that might not be as socially productive.

Thank you again for your time!!

No, problem. It was very delightful trying to get my thoughts on paper though I do feel like I did not do them justice. 

Day 15 – 40 Days of Writing – Poetry

“but in the end

if we’re lucky

we’ll have the love 

of a precious few

maybe the ability to stare

death in the eye”


I am not shy to say that I loathe / hate / dislike  am ambivalent about poetry. OK, OK… Most of it. I love Yeats, and Keats. And Robert Burns. and a few isolated bits and pieces from others… I love the poems that Doralice puts on her blog… they are pretty [insert expletive] awesome… but really not much more. I only own poetry books that people give me. I have never purchased a book of poems.

If you navigate to my previous posts from 2011 you will see my desperate and unsuccessful attempt to try and find the magic in poetry that so many postulate that it has… (the posts start with “My favorite Line is..” if you are curious).

I even took a Coursera course to try and get it, figuring that I was reading them wrong or something along those lines. But, I found so much of it to be sad and pretentious and boring and far too much work to enjoy.

Maybe it is that I prefer Hemingway like poets, meaning that they use simple images, words, phrases, and images that make conjuring up the magic story that poetry can be, so seamless and easy.


Is this really true?


Anyway, that line above appeared in my feed on “The Facebook”. 

The whole poem can be found here.

So, I know now that what it is is that I am not a fan of most of the post modern poetry, I love the romantics, the ones who use and understand words with so much more grace, who don’t try to fray you out of feeling a place in our world, I don’t like the ones that push you into spending hours trying to decode what in the hell they mean, that make you feel like you are sitting an a very uncomfortable perch as you try to find meaning in them, that seem haughty and petulant with words meant to tease the reader. Those, I find difficult. I can’t read them without wanting to throw the book they are written in across the room.

I don’t need a poem to make me feel good, I can be pushed to sadness, and anger, and any other emotion but I need to connect to the words. I fight bitterly to do that in those times when I have sought to read poetry.

But that makes me ask, what makes you tick when it comes to poetry? What poems do you love? what poets have inspired you enough to purchase a book of their poems? If you write poetry, what inspires you? Do you feel ridiculous (exposed, vulnerable) when you do?

I am just trying to understand.

Day 14 – 40 days of Writing – Colour

A family friend keeps crossing my mind these days.

Her name was Ilza Hahlo. She was born in Vienna in or around 1908. She grew up to be a textile designer and designed costumes and sets for the opera there. She came from, what I assume to be, an affluent family. She had access to resources many did not. As a young girl she and her sisters had some warts on their hands treated by radium, by the infamous Madame Curie herself, I was told.

Of course, it must have been so exciting to be treated by someone who was revolutionizing the world. There was no way of knowing, I am sure, what the after effects of such a procedure might be.

Ilza eventually moved to New York and tried her hand at textile design stateside. She really did make beautiful textiles.

One of Ilza’s textile designs

Somehow she ended up in Arizona, which was our luck. She was a beautiful woman when I met her. We also knew that she had cancer when she came into the family friendship fold. It is assumed that her cancer was the result from the radium exposure she had as a young girl.

I recall one time, as she and my grandmother visited each other one bright Arizona afternoon, hearing Ilza tell my grandmother that as her illness got worse, her colours got brighter as if she was trying to bring all the goodness in light in and shut the darkness and pain out,

This has been running through my mind a lot these past 13 days. There is a darkness that descends and while the pain I currently feel is the result of the last biopsy procedure, there is something else there. It has hints of so many things, despair, anger, fright… to name but a few.

Managing those emotions on a daily basis is very new to me, I have been made aware of just how happy I was/will be. What an unspeakable privilege this happiness is. It weathered through me through a serious chronic illness (valley fever that symptomatically lasted one over year) and the darkness of being on bed rest for a great amount of my pregnancy.

What is so different now. I think it may be that my own mortality is coming to rear it head in front of me. Suddenly beautiful things mean so much more;  the goofy faces my son makes as his face matures from little boy to what it is now, the bright colors sweeping across the sky of a morning sunrise.

Subtle changes in myself too. The other day I ran across a nail polish set my mother had given me with wild and bright colors as I tend to prefer for my pedicures. I pulled the light teal color bottle out from the set and painted just one finger nail with its bright pastel hue.  I can’t stand to have my nails painted, but some how this one in bright green, seems to be less of a bother. I smile when it catches my eye as my hands wave about as I talk during the day.

I also chose to wear a pair of red pumps, though I am not wearing a stitch of red clothing. I am wearing blacks and browns, but on my feet are these bright red shoes. They invoke my grandmother, as if I am asking her to guide me as I walk this new path.

So colour has taken on new meaning, bright patches of it to cross my path, much like a brightly plumed parrot stands out as one walks through the mass of greens that are everywhere under Amazonian jungle canopy.

Day 12 – 40 days of writing – managing vulnerability

Vulnerable

I am feeling so very vulnerable.


vulnerable
/ˈvʌlnərəbəl/
adjective 
1. capable of being physically or emotionally wounded or hurt
2. open to temptation, persuasion, censure, etc
3. liable or exposed to disease, disaster, etc



Let me be very clear. I don’t do vulnerable. Rather, I don’t like to do vulnerable myself. Support vulnerable I am pretty good at. 

This is vulnerable:



I am not that.

But yet, I feel so exposed.

I suppose there is this thing about letting go. My whole life I have loved fiercely, family, friends, the underserved among so many other things. And there is something, with a couple of rare exceptions, that is very one sided. In most of the cases (outside of family) love not expected to be reciprocated. In terms of friends; I can love them as much as I need to but since I know how variances are in the complexities of human relationships, I haven’t really expected or even needed them to love me back.

Until now, I suppose.

I received an email from someone I think is wonderful and call a very dear friend and in her email she said she had called me a best friend. Oh, I was struck by that. I hadn’t known that she had classified me in that category, and I was deeply, deeply touched and very grateful. I am better at the subtleties of friendships with men, and not so good at them with a grand preponderance of women.

But, it feels so vulnerable to allow oneself to be loved in this kind of situation. At least, for me, in terms of relationships outside of marriage and genetics.

As an aside, I made a variation of this Ayurvedic Dal recipe, it is a family favorite that is rich and complex in flavor but so hearty and filling. I even quadrupled the basic recipe (only one can of coconut soup, and some other changes). The way the currants plump up and complement the curry power is like a bit of food heaven.

Normally, I make brown rice but for some reason I bought some jasmine rice. In an attempt to make rice Ecuadorean style I followed the way Carloti (our live in maid/nanny) showed me…something like this recipe, but letting it sit longer so you get a crispy bottom.

There is so much comfort in comfort food.

Day 9 – 40DOW – a little conversation I want to have with men

I think the one thing that has been hardest on me is how the men in my life have handled this.

First of all, let me state this is not all the men.



My husband has been über fabulous; he has been there for me and has been a solid rock and really been wonderful and supportive and asked questions and made me feel like he is in this with me 100%.

It is the other ones.

Like My Boys   – sigh.

I mentioned the one that talked about himself after I shared the news… though he has sent a note back in which he sorta says one brief little thing and proceeds to write about himself for three or so long paragraphs (that is how he is). Another, that found out through his wife, sent a note to my husband saying that he knew. For those two, it was perfect. It fit their personalities and I am so glad. 

I did share with the other boys, and nothing. I am hoping that they might be out of town for a very long time or too shocked at the news and feel kind of helpless and not know what to say or even do. I mean there is something so very personal about talking about your lady parts with a man, I imagine it might be embarrassing or something along that fine continuum for a man to talk about a female friends girly parts in such a deeply personal way… even if you never utter the words cervix, ovaries, uterus, vagina.

The other three male friends that I have told have been able to reply. One with a sweet message and encouragement and stories of how his mother has gone through something similar. Amazingly supportive and wonderful. Another apologized about what I am going through and then turned into a lump that seems to want me to take care of him. The last proceeded to offer a bunch of medical advice based on his experience with his mother and her ovarian cancer.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for a male, to hear from a friend that her girly bits have failed her in such a dramatic way.  I am sure that saying “I am sorry that your cervix is going through that” just seem too ridiculous for a male.

So, if you are a male and you have a friend (or loved one) who has been diagnosed with a reproductive cancer (or any cancer) here is some advice based on what I have learned so far;

  • If she tells you, respond. Even if you just say: I am so sorry you are going through this. I don’t really know how to respond, but I am here if you need me. Repeat this on occasion if you are still speechless.
  • Prepare yourself, think about times when you have been scared, or ill, or going through a difficult time. What did you want to talk about? What did you need? Consider your friends personality; is she forthright or private and talk to her. 
  • Tell her you are sad that she has to go through this, acknowledge what she is going through.
  • If possible, invite her to lunch or dinner or breakfast or brunch, and listen to her if she accepts (and let her know it is ok to say no). Ask her if she needs a hug, and talk to her about things you know interest her; books, plays, etc. Reminisce the old times, make her laugh at how silly you both were when you were younger if your friendship has lasted decades. 
  • Don’t continuously pick up and stare at your phone or allow other distractions when you talk to her, especially if she is talking about what she is going through.
  • Let her know you are interested in her health, and are willing to help. If she is alone, ask if she needs help putting in light-bulbs or other small house projects. If she is married or living with someone and you know them, ask if you should take her partner out and get his mind of things. If you offer, and she accepts. Follow through. 
  • Be honest about your feelings.
  • If you have a history of doing things together, plan something she can look forward to.
  • If you have shared friends, ask if she would like you to let them know. Respect her answer.
  • Try not to offer medical advice. Don’t send her information on protocols and options don’t be upset when she makes decisions that you find odd or extreme or even not extreme enough. 
  • Most importantly, continue the friendship… knowing there is a support system out there for her is incredibly important (even if she doesn’t take you up on the offer)

I hope that I have given some pointers that are helpful. 

These are ideas based on my experience so far. I am sure that there is some variety among women who are going through this and I am sure that Google probably has far better advice available if you search. 

IMPORTANT UPDATE:  Please refrain from talking about her disease around her children. She may choose to really limit what the kid/s know during this time since it can be super scary, and needlessly so.

Day 7 – 40DOW – Curious George is my new hero

There is something kind of magical that happens when you get a serious diagnosis… You get a new level of patience and tolerance, and you hold closer to what’s unacceptable and intolerable.

It is as if one gets knighted and imbued with certain super powers. Probably though, it is just some form of self examination that allows for some serious decision making.

I am not dying, but this may be the closest I get to that in a while. A friend wrote me last night about how I was now in the middle of my “bull fight” and that I had an arena of friends who were supporting me through this. I was struck by their using this metaphor not only because I am a bullfighters daughter, but because there really was some intense truth to what they wrote (and also because they hate bullfights so I was surprised to see them use this).

Without delving into a treatise on bullfighting, I will say that the bullfight is not about the torero, it is about the relationship between the bull fighter and the bull, each playing into instincts and their very special mortal relationship. They are each trying to figure the other out, and while they are separate, they form a symbiotic relationship. I am here in this ring, and I am that relationship, the instinct is driving me to examine my surroundings, and as they said, I have a cadre of people supporting that.

Which brings me to something else that has been swirling in my newly seriously introspective mind.

I recall the day when you heard that someone had cervical cancer that a pretty loaded assumption was possible made:

The woman (since men do not get cervical cancer) was a loose ho-bag and had proverbial round heels

I have heard this whispered amongst the most gossipy of people even to this day. So, yes there is a certain fear of assumptions that people (stupid people) may make about me. I know that I have never been a loose ho-bag and I most certainly do not have round heels. And I don’t think that what is happening is the direct result of any karmic like indiscretions I may have made.  I am a human with a cervix and it has betrayed me (yet again).

I sit here newly diagnosed with something the most heinous of gossips use to tear people down and between that and the whole mortality associated with the word cancer causes for an astonishing amount of reflection. Self-reflection certainly, but also about the world I live in; the friends I have and thee ones I had, the adventures, the quiet moments, the rage, the gentle, the sweet peace when my son rests his head on my lap, the Ebola crisis, our southwestern drought, or awfully separatist politicians, the atrocities in the Sudan… all these and so much more… they have become different in some ways now.

At the root, though, these are extensions of curiosity, which is a true animal behavior.  There is something primal about trying to understand what is happening around you.  A certain fierceness comes, priorities seems stronger and there is a certain curiosity that reigns over me. It is like an adrenaline rush, but in a very sedate way (much like the adrenaline the human and the bull need to control when in the ring). I consider how the social animals (outside of humans) interact with each other. Elephants are amazing at this, but so are so many other animals. And there is something beautiful in that… in feeling close to that which unites all of us animals as we try to make sense of the world around us. It connects me to my surroundings, makes me feel a part of something whole and those who think this kind of thing (introspection) is something selfish, elitist, or wrong are just temporarily disconnected from the life death continuum.

Day 6 – 40DOW – another stage, perhaps.

In Old Norse the raven was a popular symbol and represented the power and wisdom of the mythological god Odin who would strike fear into the hearts of even the bravest warriors with his two fearless ravens sitting on his shoulders.

Me Hello again, 3:00am. You kind of suck for me right now, though I recall the days when you were fun and I was much more invincible.

I’ve moved into the next stage. Or is it another stage?
It happened the second I hung up on the last person in my inner circle.
The very second my finger pressed the hang up button.
I felt stupid and ridiculous for all the crying and sad.
This is stupid, I thought to myself.
You’re trying to get attention, I scolded myself.
You are making more out of this than it deserves, my inner voice admonished.
I felt ashamed for my tearful calls and emails to these people who mean a lot to me. 
My brain rattled off a list of the reasons that supports its claim that I am swimming in ridiculous.
There was a tiny voice telling me this was all OK. These are scary new words and it’s ok to be scared. But tiny voices are easily shut down.
Is this denial? Acceptance? Are there even progressive emotional states after a diagnosis like this, like the stages of grief?
I know I am not going to die, so why all this fuss? Is it really all that ridiculous that I want my mother and aunt with me, even if this causes them even bigger inconveniences? That I want to monopolize their time and play paper dolls with them, like I used to do when sick and at home as a child.

I always loved paper dolls from other cultures

And the vestiges of anger are poking through in those who mean well and tell  me what to do, or discount my thoughts on what I know may be my treatment options. This is my damned body, not yours.
Is there an angry denial phase? Am I really angry? Am I in denial?
I hate that as my body recovers from the cone biopsy, the aches and pains tease me into thinking that the cancer has taken control… that it has, in a blind rage at the attempt at its excision, rallied like a fire breathing mythical beast and waged a war inside me that I am slightly oblivious to and thereby allowing to grow with wild abandon as I navigate the days until my oncology appointment.
I decided that if it should have a name that somehow the notion of carrion should be involved. I have decided to invoke the ancient Valkyries of my genetic past, the ones that were ravens that became the ears (thought) and eyes (memory) for Odin, that cleaned up the battle fields by eating away at the carrion that resulted.
I want those ravens to remove my carrion and bring me the wisdom to do it bravely.