Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Separating Truth from Shame

Loony Lunettes, Paris, 2015
Like a lot of people, I find it very, very tricky to engage with people who dislike me. Especially those who refuse to admit that that is the core issue, affecting their judgment of things such as "my unprofessional manner."

Yes, it is true that part of it relates to me wanting everyone to like me - survival skill! However, there's also an element of relentless meanness that sneaks in under the radar under the guise of shame. I often experience it as them exposing something "real" about me, something I feel ashamed of, my embarrassment flushing up. But I have come to see that actually when I feel that way - red in the cheek - that's actually a sign that someone is being excessive. Sometimes even bullying. Basically, mean for the sake of being mean. Trying to make me feel bad. And for awhile, it works.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fear of Dying

Bandaged heart graffiti by Beni, Paris 2015
Travel takes me close to death, but not in the way you would think.

When I board a plane to Europe, when I find my seat on the Eurostar, when I climb down the steps of the Metro to ride the No 1 line to La Defense, I am not thinking about death. Not even remotely. When the metro car stops mid-tunnel when it is supposed to be moving, when the train slows down for a moment and the lights go out, when the plane jostles through some rough clouds, maybe I think of death just a bit. Never conscious, always under the surface, some sense of knowing the truth peeks out and makes itself known.

But when I really really think about death is when I am with the people I love. When I look at the face of a friend across the dinner or breakfast table, when I take my wife's hand on the sofa and share a smile, when I tightly bind myself to a heart another in a deep hug, at these moments, often something fleets across my awareness: this may be the last time. We never know.

This is the thing: we never know. If having lost my parents when I was young taught me anything, it taught me this. It did not teach me what to say to others when they have dramatic loss. It did not teach me how to feel or what to do to assuage grief. But it did show me that we really never know.

This is an odd kind of knowledge. Unfortunately, unlike memorizing the conjugations of the verb "to be" in a foreign language, it's not the kind of knowledge that comes back easily. When it arises in my consciousness, as it did this morning in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, I want to bat it away. I want to know what happens next, even if I know that that knowing itself causes me more harm in the end. 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Bridging the Gap of Shame

I met with a client this week via Skype. She lives in another country. We have been emailing weekly for the last six months or so. After she took some writing classes with me, first when I was visiting on retreat, then online, she realized she wanted to get back to other kinds of making. Writing isn't her main form - getting a regular writing practice got her into realizing she wanted to get back to other kinds of physical making - sewing, drawing, photography.

She was the first "client" really, the first official person to take me on in my newer capacity as creativity coach. I was nervous - could I help her get her creative juices flowing? I had all kinds of doubts - self-doubts, not about her - and went forward anyway. I am so glad I did.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

My 3 R's

I don't do much arithmetic. When called to do it, I derisively jest that I am a writer and writing teacher for a person - a classic artist, uninclined to physics except for metaphors and definitely not good with numbers. For me, the third R - a real R - that rounds out reading and writing is equally tricky, strangling even. But it's related to the writing process in a way that mathematics isn't.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Ilana on a swing at a baby shower last weekend.

UPDATE JUNE 25: it turns out she simply has basal cell and not melanoma. We are very relieved. Still, grateful for support and it's been a hard week! 

There's really no easy way to write about this. I have thought about it, cried about it.

Last week, Ilana got diagnosed with melanoma. As she said in her Facebook note about it, it wasn't as much a question of "if" she got skin cancer, but more "when" - her father has had basal and squamish cell cancers both so far in his life. But melanoma is scary - it's the most severe and though her case is "3 out of 10 in severity" the name alone keeps rattling us.

Cancer, as a word, carries a lot of weight in my family. And fear. I've been working with panic and fear all week, trying to relax enough to feel the sadness underneath. Panic and fear can drive me into depression, anxiety, and then I am not really feeling what is going on: the deep awareness of impermanence, not as a concept, but as reality.

As Ilana said in her note:
I never broke a bone despite all of my time on a skateboard. I never became dangerously ill through my childhood and early adult life. No major accidents, no long-term risky habits. Very little death in my family. I never assumed I’d live forever, but I did have a misguided idea that I’d coast along for decades and somewhere down the road just not wake up one day. Nice and easy, no struggles along the way.
This is a well-written reminder that even for a woman like me, someone who lost both of her parents and other relatives early, impermanence is still so easy to deny. Even with my experience - in comparison to hers - we are relatively on the same page. Human beings scared as shit.

The flip side - a both/and flip side, not either/or -is that we are also really treasuring each other. Savoring. When I am able to recognize the panic and dissociation, I can connect to the deep sadness underneath. And also appreciation.

Her procedure to have this tumor removed is in just over a month. They'll know more then - making sure it hasn't spread to any lymph nodes, etc, though they doubt that is the case. It's a deep tumor, all the way through the dermis, so there'll be some recovery. Then we watch and wait.

It is incredibly likely that this will NOT be what kills her.

I am reminded that, except for when we are pretending we won't die, or hoping there will be "no struggles along the way," we are all watching and waiting. Always. Cancer seems to make it more real, but the fact is either of us could go any day now, in any number of completely undiagnosable but perfectly normal ways. A car crash. A fall down the steps. Nothing so dramatic as melanoma. 

And yet. Cancer. I am trying to respect it. And turn my fear into appreciation. It is a practice. A constant one.