Tag Archives: culture

the soft song of the white beauty

Searching for the sacred in the midst of my second cancer diagnosis

“The sound we hear when it snows is the soft song of the white beauty!”
~ Mehmet Murat ildan

My mother, I think, realized that I was falling into a kind of despair. I professed that I had lost my faith, though I had not become someone who hates faith – it was just gone.  She had noticed my flailing to make sense of my world, again and suggested a trip up north. A trip that included good food at The Turquoise Room at La Posada in Winslow and drives up to Hopi.

I pondered her offer, and thoughts of how I always loved going up to Hopi as a child were recalled.

I grew up in a magical place, there is a reason it is the birthplace of magic realism. My move to the USA (because I refuse to call it America, because frankly there is North America and South America and the USA being called America has never sat well with me) was not an easy transition, the USA doesn’t understand that kind of magic. There are exceptions to that. One such place was on my regular visits to Hopi as a newly transplanted child. There were two Hopi women who brought me back that magic. One was Helen Sekaquaptewa and the other was Elsie James and interestingly enough I just learned that they were related.

Elsie was local, and I got to see her more often. knew my great-great grandfather from when they both were at the Indian School in Phoenix, as a matter of fact he apparently introduced her to her husband. Whenever I would see Elsie, she would smile and tell me how much she loved my grandfather. She taught me how to make fry bread, often sitting with me at festivals at the heard Museum – teaching me the right consistency of the dough and the best way to pat the balls into a good piece of fry-bread, poking your fingers just so in the middle to prevent it from getting too puffed up when put in the oil. I cried deeply when I went to her funeral, she was extremely special to me.

Helen was the person that showed me that the special kind of magic from my youth in the Andes was present in the USA. I was relatively new to the USA, when my family went up to Hopi for a snake dance (probably back before non-Hopi were banned from freely joining them). I remember sitting on the roof, watching the most amazing ceremony – if you ever get a chance to see a snake dance, you should – they are memorable. I remember being in her kitchen, helping her fix food, and then I remember her taking me outside with her great-grandchildren to forage for wild spinach. Pointing out things that she thought I would find interesting as we walked to the edges of the village on the mesa.

So it was with these two influential Hopi women in my life that gave me a tie to my ancestors and the ability to see the magic in the land that I said yes to my mother, regarding a trip to what I could call my most local sacred space. It was a pilgrimage.

The drive up to Winslow was nice, we took the route through Heber-Overgaard and Holbrook. The Hotel La Posada is a fabulous space, designed by Mary Colter. I have a friend who claims, and rightly so, that it is a space full of feminine power that one can draw upon. We dined at The Turquoise Room.

I struggle as I write the next parts, as I want to honor Hopi guidelines on etiquette and yet share my experience as it relates to coming to greater peace with my own mortality and my hopes that I am of a Pahana clan. I met a Hopi prophet once.

We drove up from Winslow through to Second Mesa and the Hopi Cultural Center (HCC), stopping at the Little Painted Desert (in Navajo) on the way.  One of the things I like about visiting the Hopi Cultural Center is that there are carvers at the edge of the park next door.  There is something special about meeting the person or their family when purchasing something from them. You can find baskets, teas, rattles, bows and arrows, sculptures and Kachinas. I was able to bring to my life, five Kachinas; Crow Mother, Grandmother & Long-Haired. and Snow Maiden & Warrior Maiden.

I didn’t bring Snow Maiden to me at first. We decided to drive to K-town and see what was going on. The story is that a bunch of MIT student drove through once and fixed up a bunch of their computers, promising to return only to not be seen again.  One of the people with me has a son that teaches there and so we went to take pictures to share with them and see if we could get some MIT students to return. The whole ride, the image of her was in my mind, she was beautiful. We drove back to the HCC and held in my heart that she was still there. She was. I talked to the artist and his friend (who made my Warrior Maiden). They shared that the dances were happening this week and that I might see the Snow Maiden if I visit the ones at Shungopovi.

Front and back of my Snow Maiden

There was some discussion about going, but I was given the ability to decide and I did, I chose to go. If you are unfamiliar with attending ceremonies, revisit my link  above for etiquette. We drove to Shungopovi and looked for people standing on a roof, and headed that direction. We found a place to park and walked toward the sound, following people who were headed toward it. W walked through half-finished houses, through water puddles and made our way to the ceremonies.    There were not many white people there, maybe four aside from the three of us.  We sat on a door step and watched the ceremony.  It was special, oh so very special. And it was more exciting that I actually did see the Snow Maiden.

One of the things I learned from my friends on Hopi is that in a ceremony, the Kachinas are the gods… so, being able to see the ceremonial Kachina of the one that called to me was extremely special.

I ended my trip with four female Kachinas and one male.

Another goal of the trip was to find my tumor rock. This is something that my boss entrusted upon me.  When she got cancer she was in Sedona and saw a colorful iguana-esque lizard on a rock.  This was a message to her and she kept that rock, it was a representative of the cancer experience she was going through.  She came back and told me about the experience. I was in a shop a few days later when I found a lizard that could be put on the rock, as a representative of the experience.  When I was diagnosed with my second cancer, many years after hers, she brought me the lizard and said it was time to entrust it to me, that I had to find my rock.  So, I looked for my rock. I actually found two, one just outside Winslow and the other near  Heber.

My tumor rock while Warrior Maiden and Crow Mother watch.

I feel more optimistic about everything now. Instead of saying, for example, “my appointment tomorrow will tell me if I have metastasis” I am thinking in terms of “tomorrow I will learn if we can rule out metastasis”.   A simple exchange of words, but they have so much power.

 

 

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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

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.

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.

Ten things that make me happy… tempered with a healthy dose of bitter

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!

 

the sleepers in that quiet earth… (day 4)

I woke up this morning in a jolly mood, probably because I was able to get relatively uninterrupted sleep for over 7 hours… considering I was averaging 4 – 5 hours, it was a vast improvement.

I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.
~Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights

When I woke up, I listened to the silence in the still dark house, then took inventory of my body… which is a silly way of saying I paid attention to all my parts to take a chance to notice anything… usually it is the things like “headache”, “sore feet”, “happy heart”… Today it was just jolly, not from or at a certain spot, but just jolly.

I love silence, I love it very much. When I can be in silence with people is when I know we are good friends. Now, it isn’t that I demand we not speak, but when those moments that are silent, which can be as awkward as they can be beautiful… those moments are like a big reveal.

I love having a house full of people and waking up that next morning and taking my moment of silence, and being able to hear the love from the previous day still resonating off my walls.  I love those moments.

As I sit here writing about it, I realize that somehow I have forgotten this habit of mine this past year. How wonderful that it has returned.

A quiet moment
Let’s all sit, silently, and feel the magic in the room, the possibility of connection and the optimism we gain when we know we are in it together.
~ unknown

 

Another day without the dark tinge… sometimes, I imagine that the tinge looks like the gravelings in Dead like Me.

gravelings – creepy little shits

 

Shit I obsess about when I am not drinking… (day 3)

which is ironic because I only drink as an after thought…  as in “oh yeah, we have that bottle of red wine   scotch   rum  hard cider   beer   red wine  that we should open”.

I like drinking but it is not something I think about or have to do… in all honesty, some friends think I am a borderline teetotaler, ready to take a hatchet to en evil barrel of alcohol. It is a nice after thought, and can be awesome when used and abused in certain circumstances.

The medical school drop-out in me tends to get all worked up about talking about alcohol because we were taught to double what most people tell us they drink… alcohol and sex are two things most folks are willing to lie to their physicians about.

Which brings me to the think I have been thinking about…

I mentioned in my last post that I went to see a dermatologist because… “hey, skin cancer is another form of cancer and I have proven excellent at making that nasty beast grow, so get checked girlfriend, you live in Arizona”.

Which was good, because at the end of my appointment my deliciously “young American of Brazilian ancestry but in love with Medellin, Colombia” doctor grabbed my shoulders, looked me straight in the eyes and said “Your skin looks fine to me. Nothing suspicious. See you in a year, unless something changes”.

Phew, right?

So, as he held my gaze to tell me the fabulous news that my body had managed to not get “the cancer” again… I noticed something.

He had a bruise under his left eye… like right under his eye. My hot young doctor had a freakin’ black eye!!!! it was a beautiful yellow bruise with a slight magenta center, like an under eye sunset. The colors were rather beautiful!

like this, only a bruise, not make up, and with man eyes.

And I think I must have tilted my head when I noticed it, which I think he must have noticed because I am pretty sure he smiled at me in that “lets keep that between us” kind of way that only hot Latin men are wont to do!

So, since that moment I have been thinking about it, and considering the plethora of things that may have caused it…

Can I tell you how magical that has been? I can try, but I don’t think I can…

It has been so wonderful to think that he got into a tele-novela style fight over a girl while dancing away wearing too tight shirt and pants while in a trendy dance club, or that he opened a bottle of wine incorrectly as he was trying to pour his beloved a glass of wine, or he had a momentary lapse of muscular coordination while trying to cook a date some dinner and opened the cupboard into his eye due to his nervousness…  really, the stories in my head have kind of been endless.

So the magic?

Not once has the dark tinge invaded my space today!

 

One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do…

One year ago I had cancer removed from my body.

1_b

This past year has been clouded. I am still working through it. I have identified and dealt with most of what I have been identified at the root. I think one does not go through something like this and remain unchanged.

I am very changed, and that new me is still trying to find her place in the world she has to navigate. This past year I felt like I was knocked down by people who love me, I don’t know why? I don’t know why I feel this way.

I am sure they did not intend to be a part of this trans-formative year, at least in a negative way. I mean they love me… but things they said and did (and frankly say and do) blasted me to my core. The things said were things I could not relate to in a way that was meaningful.

I cry at the drop of a hat, a song I hear, an image I see, the reflection of light off of my son’s hair as he sits next to me. I don’t know that there is any pattern as they can be sad tears, or happy… some even make no sense.

I am still bitter about gratitude. I dove in and tried to be grateful, but people kept telling me I wasn’t grateful enough. I don’t even know what to do with this.  Considering that I always thought I was strong in this area, it is devastating to feel like I have failed.  Especially since it was to people close to me.

 

These gems have life in them: their colors speak… (day 33)

The Day 33 prompt is:

What is/will be the subject of your next book?

The story I am writing about centers around a young woman named Clara and how her life is filled with love… a gift imbued through some magical experience had during her parents conceiving her. It is a story about how love has so many faces and how it is so important for humans to experience it. The story looks at how love contrasts with so many different emotions (as personality types). It examines the duality of life, but with rose-colored glasses. It begins with a description of Clara and her family and how they fit in to her ancestry. It follows her as she navigates out of childhood and moves into maturity. It examines the people she loves and how they are part of the magic spell she was cast upon her conception. It is a story about the role of others in personal redemption stories. It is about love, all the different kinds of love.

Image used from this article.

I remember, as a child, sitting in my gated front yard in Quito, Ecuador, looking at the people passing by on the street in front of me. A mix of men in hats, women in indigenous clothing carrying a small child strapped to their back and leading a yellow dog on a rope used as a leash.  Considering the tremendous difference between the huge Spanish colonial home behind me and the various levels of poverty and status in front of me…

I knew the gate was to keep people out, in part because I was young and vulnerable and with a high potential to be kidnapped. I stared at the glass shards embedded on the top of the wall surrounding our property, and thinking that the sun glinting off the various colors of glass made them look like jewels.  This memory, combines with many others serve as background material for the story. I had a truly magical childhood. While it was not without some pain, it was still magical and I want to re-tell it in the style of literature that came from that part of the world.

These gems have life in them:  their colors speak, say what words fail of.
~George Eliot

My hat tip today goes to Laura Hile, because she had me at pirate!