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.
“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.
“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
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.
the urge to cry from worry
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.
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.
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?!).
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.
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.
So the first thing you see is a happy young Paul Newman. Which is fine, but for me it was really about his nipples.
Have I written about the weird fascination I have developed about men’s nipples since I had the cancer cut out of me? No? Maybe? I dunno, but it is this bizarre thing that I noticed shortly after coming home from the hospital and watching Netflix… It is one of those feelings like one might get when they become fascinated by a car accident, rubbernecking their way past it all attention focused on the crash and not on the road in front of them.
So, my first thought was Nipples are a “non-spiritual” thing that makes for daily happiness? I don’t think so?
But I read on, and decided I had to try it out and here are my observations:
1. Touch water. Which feel good type thinks telling a fire sign that they should play with water to feel better is obviously a narrow minded water sign… I played with fire, sat with the family in front of it while drinking warm turmeric hot chocolate.
2. Sweat once a day. I did, enjoyed it too! 😉
3. Eat real food. I ate a small piece of my fudge pecan pie, because it is that good.
4. Support, subscribe, read a good magazine (print or online) that’s better than you are—with a hot drink of coffee or tea and a little sunshine and quiet. I don’t believe that anything is better than anything else, it is not even a matter of degrees – shit just is so this one pissed me off because who or what the fuck is better than I am and to its contrary, what the fuck am I better than? So, in lieu of this better than shite, I picked up a favorite book.
5. Keep our clothes off the floor. PASS
6. Community. OK, so some of my friends (many who took care of me while I recovered) and I adopted a single mom with stage 3 breast cancer this Christmas… knowing how fucktastic cancer makes the holidays I do feel good about this one! Most of us went shopping together the other day and it was all kinds of awesome!
7. Don’t be afraid to be a fool. I am not really afraid to go here, I do it often… BUT, and it happens to be a big huge BUT… I have to do it, if someone else does this to me, I crumple like a dead witch that had water poured over her! Working on letting others tease me with cruelty.
8. Work in an office, or live with, a dog. I have “Flash aaaahhhh ahhh Savior of the Universe Gordon Boba Fett [redacted last name to protect the unborn].
9. Breathe in and out, slowly, once a day. Thankfully, I have to do this or I can’t get out of bed.
10. Never eat while standing up, or driving. I rarely eat in these situations, though I might want to consider no longer eating at my desk because that is how I consume massive jars of peanut butter.
11. Never cell phone while talking, or walking. I hate it when people do this to me, seems only fair.
12. Hike. I walk, on occasion.
13. Stop obsessing about one’s own happiness. I don’t think I obsess about this, though it would be nice to feel less of the angry ennui.
14. Put on a favorite song and sing it out, like we mean it. Yes, during most commutes home.
15. Pick up trash in the street. I try to do this every day, try – don’t always – but never saw this as a way to feel less grumpy.
16. Watch a movie and eat a little too much ice cream/pop corn/vegan ice cream/edamame/nuts. With peanut butter!
17. Put a few photos of loved ones around. I do this, in many ways.
18. Be honest. an important value I hold dear.
19. Sleep more. My fit bit helps me keep tabs on this. Interestingly enough I find that on the night I have time to drink turmeric milk (with or without hot chocolate) I tend to sleep really well.
20. Write. this. here. meh.
21. Meditate. Ever since I became inspired to teach my son to meditate I have had to do this every night. He loves it, we usually play some you-tube videos for this, but I stay with him for a bit and play along.
And… just because I love to self torture, here are my reflections on how I tried to fight being grumpy the “elephant journal way” with the suggestions not listed above (regurgitate much elephant journal?):
4. Friends – phew, this is hard – I have two days worth of texts from friends that I have to reply to because they want to do something for my birthday.
5. Sunshine. Arizona.
7. Flirt – I work in a school who would be my main contacts, that is just creepy.
8. Dress well. I have played dress up all week. It helps.
Sometimes it helps to list shiny, happy things out especially when I am feeling dark and curmudgeonly…. as a clue as to how dark and curmudgeonly I am feeling I am fighting the instinct to start out this paragraph with “Some people have told me that this is a stupid thing to do but sometimes it helps…”
It seems like I am one angry mother fucker as of late. Just ask my mother, she would agree.
1. My son, when I feel all dark and evil inside, I look at my son in the eyes and there is so much goodness in there that he saves me from myself (at least in terms of letting the dark win), I also feel really guilty that I do this, seems like a lot of pressure to put on him though he has no idea what goes on inside my head, So, my son, he makes me happy.
2. Giving – giving of my time mostly, since I don’t have a lot of money. My husband hates this part of me, told me the other night “I wish I were a charity so you would be with me”
OMG – I am two in and already they are deeply tempered with crotchety…. how do I fix this?
3. The color orange. It makes me happy. This is in spite of the fact that I was told by an “wu-wu” artist that orange is the low color on the totem pole and that only real cool people love purple – what a douche! I still love the color orange, purple reminds me of mean old ladies that hit you with their umbrellas.
4. Stupid games on my phone; Yahtzee anyone? How about Draw Free (I play this with my son, which is actually awesome), Cascade, Smurfs 2, Criminal Case, Words Streak, Words with Friends, or Trivia Crack. It is treasured mindlessness.
5. My Fitbit – love it for its reminders of how crappy I sleep when I am in a uptown funk!
6. Meat. I love meat. It is something dead.
7. Boots, I love boots. It is cold out now, they help keep my feet warm.
8. Friends, they always manage to come out when I need them most. I can’t imagine that I am an easy friend to have.
9. Coffee. I have brought myself to the point where I only take one cup a day, and I take it with cream only. But it is a glorious 12 minutes of so of my every morning!
10. My husband. Paragon of patience with me. He reminds me to be happy, even when he is his grumpiest self!
I was sitting on a short wall that was facing a Japanese pagoda house set upon a pond on the campus of my University in Ecuador. The waft of acrid smoke from the Belmont cigarette curling around my head. I was horribly homesick, and slightly uncomfortable with my leg stretched out in front of me heavy with my hiking boots. My leg was sore from falling off of a moving bus, and I was thinking I was grateful I had access to healthcare through my schooling, which was to say my fellow medical students.
In the midst of this pity party this sweet perky girl sat down next to me and in halted spanish, asked for a cigarette. I handed her one and my lighter and we struck up a conversation. She eventually asked me if I was Brazilian… and I started laughing. I was delighted to finally be considered to be from somewhere closer to the country in which I was born. I turned to her and began the long explanation that usually accompanies this kind of question.
I had met a dear, dear friend. We spent quite a bit of time together, laughing about our respective “viejo verdes” and other assorted scholastic adventures. We would sit in our college cafeteria eating french fries dipped in a sweet mix of mayo and ketchup telling stories about our lives. I was in medical school and she was doing a research project on homosexuality in Ecuador and we had access to a plethora of surveys given to our fellow alumni about their sexual attitudes, beliefs and practices as a part of her project. Analyzing that data was fun and a part of our shared love of things anthropological. We traveled together and developed a sound track to our friendship. I loved hearing about her friends and family back east.
We would dish on our favorite professors; the plastic surgeon turned medical anthropologist from Colombia, the Jewish philosophy professor that specialized in the German thinkers, the nutrition professor that shared our love for anthropology. She helped me manage a friend (acquaintance really) that came to visit me out of the blue. I helped her realize the hearts of palm farmer was a poor love interest. We both loved, we both cried, we both laughed.
It was the first time I had a girl friend that shared a similar intellectual curiosity. Sarah was also incredibly girly, and it was a welcome change for me… to have a girly friend that let me be me. She was about ten years younger than I was, so I was able to live vicariously through her. I am filled with fond memories of her.
Sarah and I stayed friends from that day she sat down next to me and I am ever so grateful for her presence in my life. When she died this past October, I was devastated. I wasn’t done being her friend yet, at least in the kind that involves voices and hugs and contact, I still am not. I miss her emails, I miss her phone calls, I miss her writing.
She was a wonderful writer, she had a clean way with words that was always a pleasure to read, even if the topic was outside the scope of my interests.
This day I brought in my fellow members of the Junior League of Phoenix to come help! They saved me, most of the other volunteers did not show up! I did, however, bring my son. He was actually a good volunteer!
My co-chair showed up in the afternoon and I told her to go watch traffic, she only had to do it for a couple of hours – but still. I am so relieved the experience is over, but I am still so proud of the event!
The next day was open tot he public, and again traffic needed to be managed. MY co-chair had left me in the dust and canceled her shift to help out for the day. One other volunteer helped with traffic, yay for awesome volunteers who will do even most unpleasant work!
This is my friend, she was adopted into the logistics team and was super valuable!
This woman is a heritage and preservation (and arts) human of awesomeness!
This is a picture of what we called our “chair” when we volunteered to manage traffic! Not pleasant to sit on!
I talked my husband and son to join me at the end of my shift!
and we got one of those fun picture things taken too!