Category Archives: europe

the sky is empty

“I talk to God but the sky is empty.”
~ Sylvia Plath

Ge’ez, Sylvia Plath is sure a downer!

When I was little, I thought my grandparents lived in heaven, not because they were dead, but because they lived in Arizona (a stretch to see how I got here, I can imagine, but bear with me)….

I came to visit them with this kind of sky:

From this kind of sky:

So, when we went to visit (usually in early summer) our plane went up above the clouds, but never came back down through them… so, they must have lived in heaven, right? Please, also note that this was also around the time I was very saddened that Zeus and the pantheon of gods was not “real” and that my mother found me once, kneeling in the front yard praying to the moon-god. I was a wildly spiritual child.

Considering my family did not practice any real form of faith as I was growing up, they were Protestant in Roman Catholic countries after all – and any Protestants that lived where we were tended to be evangelical missionaries and not the most fun to be around – add in that we were considered to be “converted” and there were all those heathen Roman Catholics and indigenous cultures that needed to be saved. 

Many people tell you to lean in to your faith in trying times like this. It is amazing how much you seek something out, something that requires faith. But looking for something that is comfortable, that does not mean I must have a rebirth in any fashion, that means I don’t have to believe fossils were put on earth by satan to lure us to his evil ends,  something other than the spiritual connection to the cancer I got is because I have mommy issues, something other than I am not godly and got cancer because I am being punished… 

fuck – fuck – fuck – fuck

FUCK

How do you find faith in the midst of such fucking insanity.

Notice that is not a question, though it probably should be.

Anyway.

I learned that I had a sizable chunk of muscle removed with my last surgery. Granted, it was not the breast surgery removal of days of yore when women begged for a radical (nay, they wanted uber radical) mastectomy – the kind that took out muscle and bone (think ribs and clavicles). I’m missing 2 inches of chest wall muscle… and I’m still in disbelief… faith.

The way humans think is sometimes shocking to me. BUT, and it is a YUUUUUGE “but”, I get it. While my head understands that if treated correctly a lumpectomy has the same results as a mastectomy and you heal faster – but WTF does treating something correctly mean? My tumor was muscle adjacent, so does that mean that one of those a$$hole cancer monsters escaped and is it hiding somewhere? Somewhere that chemo and radiation can’t find?  Faith.

This is where finding faith again is crucial – but it is so freaking different this go around, faith that is.

If you are prone to that which is beyond the physical and don’t judge, I can share how I am re-learning how to lean in to faith again.  The thing is, I will most likely appear a heretic to you.

The one thing I know, is that I don’t think faith is about re-birth (that concept is what caused me to abandon faith before)… if it is for you, that is awesome – but I don’t buy it one effin’ iota.

I, beautifully enough, am finding this process of rediscovering faith kinda cool. and a bit painful.

It is especially nice since there is a disquiet in this process, of being a person diagnosed with cancer. It was present the first time and it is present again this time.  The subtleties of it that I experienced the first time is magnified, but both of my cancer experiences, so far, are incredibly similar… at least internally.

Because my first round was stage 1 and caught super early and only required surgery it was subtle. I felt like a fraud of a cancer patient because phht, it just needed surgery. People (most of them), aside from the time during the surgery put me at the bottom or low-end of a cancer continuum (that was practically equated with being cancer free).

In this round, where I am currently listed as stage 2B (and probably only because they did not take out more nodes and we will see if that changes after the next battery of test results come in), it is still sufficiently low on that continuum that I still feel like a fraud (though only less so because, after all, it looks like I am getting chemo and radiation this time) and the news about the cancer itself has just gotten progressively worse. Many of those same folks from my first experience are still like “well, you aren’t dying”.

I am adding silently  in my head; “that I know of” because I am still waiting for more tests and results of tests.

No, I am not dying (well, at least I don’t think so, but as I said… I will have a more definitive answer after I see the results of the next test). Trust me I celebrate that!  I am not healthy, I have a chronic disease that gives me (according to my radiation oncologist) an 81% 5 year survival rate (though this varies depending on the sites with such data). Yes, 81% is super awesome, but before this all went down I was with most others and had the general average population of a smidgen over 98% . A 17% drop in my life expectancy is still a crappy thing to have as a part of my life.

Trying to balance a good attitude with crippling doubts is a strange place to be.

I struggle. The struggle is real. Not because I have a Christian need for an after-life – but because I want to be more than just a life form – I want something divine to be a part of this experience, I want to lean in to something when I am so riddled and consumed with anxiety. A set of rituals that I can be a part of, a community where I feel like I belong. IN my head I often say to myself, I just want to be loved through this.

I read about Sherman Alexie today, something that I struggled with, but which spoke to the spiritual little girl in me that the unseen world is there for those that listen.  (the story is here).

I have found great comfort in so many people in my life, women and men – willing to be a part of this process with me.  I hate to lean on them, how do you answer the unanswerable to someone like me desperately seeking?

 

 

A year in my life

A year ago, I had sent my son off to Europe and missed him terribly.

I think it was the Starbucks app of the week that was a picture a day app. I downloaded it, because;
1) it was free
2) I was thinking about documenting how much I missed my son

So, I took the selfie… and time flowed and I stuck to it and yesterday I got a notice that I had taken 365 photos.

One year, one insane year.

A son sent abroad at a very young age and being diagnosed with cancer. Not really sure which was hardest at the inception.

I missed my son terribly and was so happy when I reunited with him.

And hearing you have cancer sucks, sucks, sucks… and somehow it infiltrates everything.

But I missed my son and that was the hardest thing ever, and yes.. in a way, it was harder than being told one has cancer.

But the cancer things has its own craziness, craziness that makes everything outside the norm seem so much scarier.

So here is that one year of selfies, and as I sit here trying to figure out what all to tell my oncologist when I call him tomorrow, I think I look so much happier now than I did when I missed my son so much!

https://www.flickr.com/apps/video/stewart.swf

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.

It is always an overwhelming experience

My parents are the kind of people that have never turned away a chance at adventure… though perhaps in some way it finds them and they are really not given a true choice.

My semi-estranged father (and I say semi-estranged because I just have not figured him out yet and he is like a stranger to me) had arranged another bullfight for himself and his bullfight friends.

This is how I grew up, from when I was born until about 1979. Bullfights. Or something bullfight related. Every. damn. weekend. Especially so when we had the bullfight stock bull ranch.

At some point in those years, my mother stopped going to them and I can’t imagine my dad taking kids with him… but I can’t recall not going having that exposure (maybe it was when we would go to the ranch?).

So, it is hard to get past something that is so in your face, to me bullfighting just was.. I mean, didn’t your dad love it too? Really, I just thought it was something all dad’s liked. Though it was in that way that it was not a surprise that other dad’s didn’t, but I just figured they had a different all consuming passion.

So, we flash forward to my father getting back into it around 2000, I was just married and had actually not been aware that my half-sibling hadn’t grown up the same way. My dad must have been miserable (though he was living in England). but somehow he starts up, and then gets divorced, moves in Spain and ends up in Northern California. Northern California has a huge Portuguese community and many of them have ranches where they raise bulls for their festivals (allowed per the California constitution) and so he starts and to me, it is like he never even stopped. As a matter of fact when he was talking and let us know that he had not bull-fought from 1980 to 2000, I was a little shocked.

In 1998, my dad gave me money for my birthday with the direct instruction to buy an abono for the Bullfight Festival in Ecuador. I did, with the caveat of buying better seats when his favorite bullfighter was there. That was in pre-blog era and I should write about that some day I suppose.

Anyway, I got to see him around 2006 when Squink was just over a year old and we go to a part to practice using the cape.

Then we get to late in 2008 when Squink is about 3, and I see him back in a ring again.

And then, in 2012, I get in to a ring.

So, now we are at 2014 and my (full) brother and I take our kids to see dad fight and to take them to a “professional” fight.

The fact is, this is never easy on me.  I have had to find a way to wrap my head around it. I have rituals that I have developed from my youth (I always look at the bulls eyes as it dies).

It is so hard to write about all the crazy emotions that are involved in an experience like this. I don’t even know where to start when I bring those in to teh equation.

I suppose I should start by just telling folks who have the gumption to read something on this theme what it is that happened. Though I imagine it might become a multi-part series… which is a positive as it keeps me pretending to “write good”.

Friday night – Schatzy and I get home from work, load up the car and in his ever so awesome self he begins the long haul road trip drive to San Diego where we are meeting my dad, my uncle, and my brother and his kids (who are also doing the commute from Phoenix). Most of the planning gets done on our drive out there, what time we need to get together, what time we want to leave, how to check in, that kind of stuff.

Saturday means a 11:00 am departure to head towards Tecate, Mexico.

I have yet to upload the shots from my camera, but here are some from my phone.

Here is where we ended up on Saturday.

A slow and beautiful viewing of the world by car, plane and foot

I suppose it was a vacation, my last two weeks traipsing off to Austria to collect my Squink and bring him home and thus bringing back a sense of peace of having him in my close proximity.

It was an adventure, from my departure,  to my week with my in-laws (sans their son), the flight back to the EEUU (that is USA, for Spanish speakers) to a week with my mother in a state located in Americas heartland.

Living without your young child for more than one month is a strangely shocking thing, there is the idea that free time will occur, but the truth is, no such luck… if anything there were more demands for my time often coupled with phrases like “… since your son’ isn’t here…”

But, being busy was good, because the truth is that I missed my Squink sooooo much! And the freedom to trot off with friends who are not kid friendly or a wine with friends kind of thing was just not satisfying enough to make up for not having his insight into my daily life.



He came back speaking beautiful German, and considering that I last spoke the language at about his age, I feel like he has been able to bring back some of those skills for me… though I still have to make some pretty amazingly creative sentences to try to communicate with him… I am a bit pleased that speaking with him has brought back some of it, a good thing considering I have not spoken German in about 35 years.


I am also so very fortunate that I trust my mother-in-law enough to trust her with my son for such an extended period of time, though I try not to feel bad that she misses him so much not that he has returned home.

“In the first place, you can’t see anything from a car.” ~ ed abbey (my personal edit: you can, if you must)


As I was heading back, en route to visit my mother on a long trans-Atlantic flight I thought about my upcoming week with my mother… I glanced at the clouds outside and way below the window of the plane, smiling at Squink’s comment that we were flying way above the cloud line… I had noticed that as a very young girl, mentioning that we were visiting my grandparents in Heaven. My mother realized I had noticed this cloud thing and that I had made some connection… what is interesting, though, is that I actually thought Arizona was Heaven… and considering that I visited in Summer… I must have had a broad understanding that Heaven did not necessarily mean reasonable temperatures… and that the living were capable of visiting. I must have been a curiously interesting child.

Anyway, with inner peace restored by the mere physical presence of Squink back in my life, I smiled at that. Squink is rather religious so I wondered if he would have thought the same thing had we traveled as much as I did as a kid.

And there was something so perfect about going to see my mother on the trek back home, there was a ritual aspect to it on some levels; giving him the gift of time with both of his adoring grandmothers.

As such, I took pictures of the journey that Squink and I made, and will have to get those on here for the gentle tale of our pilgrimage home.


“As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow.” ~ A. C. Benson

Exploring vulnerability

Everyone, I think, would agree that there is something about being vulnerable that sucks.

I write about it here.

In terms of why I am cross referencing both blogs, the answer is that I am still looking at both platforms, not sure what to do. I think they both have advantages and disadvantages in a manner such that that I do not feel in-any-way-compelled to use one over the other… I sorta wish I could use both in one.

What are your thoughts?

Anyone?

Anyone?

Anyone?

Dear Squink

My dear beautiful little boy –

I miss you! I can’t even put in to words how much I miss you.

After you left, I couldn’t clean your room because it smelled so much like you. Your sheets had sand all over them, and that made me miss you even more.

However, Nana came to visit and I could not let her stay in your room, so I removed and washed your sheets, and finally put your dirty clothes in the laundry. Your room doesn’t smell as much like you as it did.

When Nana was here, we went and picked out a ton of new things for your room! You have a new desk and chair, new bed side tables and lamps. We bought you some art about Leonardo DaVinci and you have some new rugs and things in your bathroom.

I am picking out new paint for it too, and you will have such a wonderful space when you come back! I can’t wait to show it to you, but I want for you to be surprised… so I will just show you this little bit, which you sorta already saw:

I am so excited about finally getting rid of that wallpaper!

So, I hope you are excited about coming back home! I worry that you won’t want to, that you will love living in Austria so much that it will be better than living with us here in the United States.  I wonder if you miss anything here at all. What do you miss, kiddo? What are you excited about coming back to? Do you miss certain foods?

And then to follow up on that, what do you love about Austria? What are you going to miss from there when you come back?

Sweetness, I love you!

Love,

Mama

Embracing My Wild God – 40/40

I am a theistic agnostic.

The Green Man of Winchester Cathedral.

This is not your typical agnostic… this kind of agnostic acknowledges that there is something… we just add that we are too mortal to understand what that might exactly be.

I do have a certain envy for my friends who claim and demonstrate a devotion to “God” (in terms of a global belief in a higher power). And I have the same envy for my friends who shared their path and practice (yet do not proselytize their path, they are just as bad as fundies to me) to atheism.

One atheist friend said “I just let go, and it felt good”.

A devoutly Christian friend said “I just gave it to God, and it felt good”.

I envy that kind of certainty.

However, I am also an anthropologist and for as much as religion is maligned in our modern western culture… I feel compelled to defend it, staunchly. Pretty much all of them. Yes, there are things that might be horrid and awful too, but that isn’t something that is limited to religion… being awful is a human disease, not a religious one.

So, please take a moment to consider what it is like to be an anthropologist who claims to believe that there is something more, and unexplainable. Not an easy feat.

What are things that I think the idea of the divine might be?

  • Quantum mechanics
  • Animism
  • A Divine Spirit

I don’t really know, and that doesn’t bother me

As my mother says, “Don’t quibble about matters of faith, no need to worry about the things that can’t be defined (it is, after all, a matter of faith)”.

Source for this post

I never knew what she had witnessed (while she was alive) – 35/40

I met a woman once.

She was Antonio’s great-grandmother.

This woman was from a caste that we call the peninsulares.

A Peninsulares family

She was a lovely lady, who could carry a conversation with anyone and she and I had one delightful exchange.  She asked about my fathers bullfighting and my mothers travels and seemed so delighted to have met me. I left thinking I had met a woman with a gentle life and a gentle family.

What I did not know then, and did not know for over twenty-five years is that when she was a young girl in her early teens, she was forced into exile during the Mexican revolution. That idea enough is a hard thing to image, but what I find so much more heart wrenching is that she witnessed her whole family being murdered; strung up by their feet until their temples exploded. Her parents, and brothers.  She had to cross the border in Arizona… and somehow ended up in Phoenix where I would have the pleasure of meeting her forty years later.

When I was told this story about her, my heart hurt. I began to think back on all the dictatorships, riots, rebellions, the fear of the Shining Path, the Colombian Civil war. All these warlike experiences that I had managed to live through I realized that when you are an expatriate there is a huge possibility of this very thing happening. Being an outsider is never easy.