It’s hard to write from an open wound…

These are the words Azalea Moen said to me on our last call.  She coached me into getting this website up and helped me break through some of the blocks keeping me from sharing my story.

This weeks content is a video where I cry a lil bit in sharing why this ‘memoir’ process has been harder than I imagined. I could only upload the audio, so you’ll miss seeing my crybaby face, unless you go to Facebook where I uploaded the video last week.

Listen and comment – your feedback, questions and ideas are appreciated and valued.

 

 

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When every day feels like Everest.

I made the choice not to get an actual bed in my new apartment.  Yup, I sleep on the floor in my cozy little micro-bedroom in my Pittsburgh apartment.

During the moving in process I decided to grab this opportunity to give sleeping on the floor a try.   It was a few years ago that I got the idea that sleeping on the floor could be better for my body.  It emerged from the healing benefits I’ve felt lying in Savasana for extended periods on my yoga mat on hard flat surfaces.  But until now, it’s been a hard choice to make (pun intended) when there was a soft cushy bed waiting for me.  So now, I’m single, my cash flow is low, I’m sleeping in a micro-bedroom (read large walk-in closet) this is my chance to sleep on the floor like I’ve been fantasizing about.

And I am and it is awesome. I have created a sweet little lavender fluffy nest-like corner spot on the floor that I curl myself into each evening.  I fall asleep easily and sleep more soundly than I have in years.  I wake up most mornings feeling well-rested.  And then it is time to start my day and I have to get up. From the floor.

And that is when everyday starts to feels like Everest. 

That sentence came to my mind in chatting with a sweet friend and past yoga student Ricky Munday who is about to embark on his second Everest attempt. He recently started doing motivational speaking based on his extraordinary life. I asked him to share with me how he got started as a motivational speaker because it’s something I want to try.  He explained his process of starting in small speaking engagements for free and working through his closest networks, and encouraged me to give it a go.

I love the idea of it. I love speaking in front of audiences. In fact I can remember a conversation in the car with my Dad over 20 years ago about wanting to be a public speaker. I can clearly hear him say, “Well, you’ve got to be an expert about something to be a speaker.”  And my response was to admit he was right, and I’ve been half-looking for my area of expertise since. Instead of being a speaker, I became a teacher. First of software and then of yoga. The desire to speak to larger audiences has remained, but a self-doubting voice has held me back.

That same doubtful voice today spoke up with, “Well, Ricky climbed Mt Everest of course people want to hear him speak motivationally.” and another stronger more newly confident voice in my head answered sassily, “Well, everyday feels like Everest to me.”

The process of learning to be in this body that was paralyzed and has slowly been revitalizing and reconnecting every day for 28 months, is a bit like an Everest expedition.  Ok I don’t actually have a clear idea of what it’s actually like on an Everest expedition. But I followed Ricky’s story and honestly much of what he explained about going through physically and emotionally feels a lot like what I’ve gone through my experience with a spinal cord injury.

Every single day starts with an incredible amount of mindful effort, just like on an expedition.  The first effort comes with having at least one, and often many, full body spasm every morning. As my body transitions from the resting state of sleep to a waking state, something triggers a semi-violent set of contractions that is not unlike what happens when you sneeze.  But I don’t sneeze, my whole body just convulses a bit.

I was terrified of these full body spasms earlier in the healing experience, now I try to ride it like the wave of sensation it is. I try to feel grateful so much of my body has it’s own ability to engage and contract with no instruction from my mind.  As my body spasms I try to feel into and learn about my body’s movement needs from it.  Most morning’s my curious mind is present without needing to stop it.  Some morning’s I playfully try to control it, and of course there are mornings I straight up try to fight it.  But my body always wins, and I’m mostly enjoying the game of being fully present in the learning experience as it happens day after day.

Next up, I have to get the my sheet and comforter off of me. I don’t know what it is exactly, but the physical motions required for dealing with my bed covers is one of the things that just hasn’t gotten much easier.  aybe it’s because they are kind of light and I am numb to feeling where they are still on me? Typically, there is some kind of kick and spin and tug and struggle and then finally free of  covering, it is time to physically get up. From the floor. Always a challenge since the spinal cord injury, but after a full night’s rest even more so.

I start with deep breathing and strategizing. What method should I work on today? Left side roll and lift or right side? Or maybe roll to my belly and lift to all fours first?  Should I try to stand with no assistance for fun? Or should I use the wall or the door or my dresser?

Do you see how it starts to be like Everest? The simple act of getting out of bed every day requires strategy, focus and effort. I’ve got to be dialed or I’m not getting up. I’ve got to be ready or I’m falling down. And this is just the beginning of my day. Every single action throughout my day requires more effort and concentration than it ever has in my adult life. Yes, some things are much easier than they were when I was in earlier stages of recovery. But the kind of sucky part is that as some movements get easier, expectations just go higher, and so the potential for struggle remains constant.

I’ll explore and elaborate more on the parallel’s between my spinal cord injury experience and Everest in another post. It’ll be fun to see if at the end of a more careful comparison, if I still feel like every day in the life of spinal cord injury healing is just as monumental as a expedition to climb Mt Everest. My suspicion is that it will.  Because this experience that I am living through is flipping hard and I can’t imagine much in life ever being harder.

The Hero’s Journey as a Narrative Arc?

It has been dancing around the edges of my mind for a while to use Joseph Campbells mono-mythic story-telling structure to guide my memoir. After 5 failed attempts at an audio recording from my closet, I am going to see what it would be like to apply the structure to my story.

Coming back here, after I worked part of the way through the outline, I am feeling like the journey is still very much in process.   When I got to number eight, “Approach to the Inmost Cave” I saw and felt my closet in my mind’s eye.  I feel like I am sitting the dark of my inmost cave right now here in Pittsburgh.  And this is a little disturbing because the next stage in the outline is “The Ordeal” and shizbit, I thought I was done with this ‘whole ordeal’.

But if I’m honest, I know that I am not.  There are still critical Hero Story pieces to emerge in the overall narrative arc of Falling Down. Waking Up.

After the ordeal, which I don’t quite feel as having happened yet, there are still four more phases! Maybe I’ll finish when I’m 50, which is only 2 short years away.  Or maybe this just keeps going and going and going like a pink Energizer bunny rabbit…maybe my entire life journey is that of Joseph Campbells hero.

Through this writing session of playing in the Hero’s Journey outline,  I can see a bit why I’m having a hard time to ‘write this memoir’. Because I am still in it. It isn’t as wrapped up as I can think it is.  But still I’ll keep writing and sharing as I live along the path of the hero who wanders, and heals, and loves and breaths and shares my story all along the way.

The outline and italicized text below comes from from Movie Outline‘s “The Hero’s Journey – Mythic Structure of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth” By Dan Bronzite

1. Ordinary World
“This is where the Hero’s exists before her present story begins, oblivious of the adventures to come. It’s her safe place.”

  • When did I ever live in an ordinary world? Never. Ok not precisely true.
    For the purpose of telling this story, I could call the 6 months of living in Pittsburgh, post-Haiti and pre-Falling Down,  my “Ordinary World Phase”.  There I was going along happily reassembling my life threads into a more neatly sewn garment. Teaching yoga and bartending for income, attending massage therapy school to build for my future.  I was plugging along in as ordinary of a world as I could be in and then BOOM – fell down the stairs and broke my damn neck.

2. Call To Adventure
“The Hero’s adventure begins when she receives a call to action, such as a direct threat to her safety, her family, her way of life or to the peace of the community in which she lives.”

  • Well this one is obvious, falling down the stairs was my clear call to adventure.

3. Refusal Of The Call
“Although the Hero may be eager to accept the quest, at this stage he will have fears that need overcoming. Second thoughts or even deep personal doubts as to whether or not he is up to the challenge.”

  • This one is harder.  My truth is that I never refused the call and never felt that ‘not . being up to the challenge’ was an option. From day one, I accepted that my new path in life included having to relearn how to use my body and establish a new way of being to accept each day as it unfolded.
  • Of course I had fears and doubts and experienced deep sadness. While I never let those feeling waylay my courageous response to the  ‘call to adventure’ of a full and meaningful life with a spinal cord injury, still they were hard, loud fears and doubts I faced. I can definitely write about that.
  • Am I in a stage of refusing the call right now? By trying on an ‘ordinary life’ for a while?

4. Meeting The Mentor
“At this crucial turning point where the Hero desperately needs guidance she meets a mentor figure who gives her something she needs.”

  • My mentors are many along this path of a healing journey.   There is no doubt that the outpouring of love and support I received from far and wide created the foundation for my courage.
  • My mom by my side, being my body when mine was immobile, was a critical beginning o the healing. And that she didn’t fight my desire to go to India was a game-changer. I can’t say she was excited by the trip, but she did not try to stop me, if she had, she would have won.
  • David Garrigues in India is the clear and obvious ‘mentor’ in this narrative arc. The way he worked with me and my body in India allowed for the next up-level to happen.
  • Others are Kevin who saved my life and stood by me in the toughest of times; George my Dad who has been a stalwart of strength and stability; Cem, Lizzy and Pele in Hawaii; David, Jolie, Vijaya, Pankaj, Durga in India; Jane, Rawan, Suzanne and Mr Bashear in Greece; Asako, Jiro, Helene, Henri and George in France.

5. Crossing The Threshold
“The Hero is now ready to act upon his call to adventure and truly begin her quest, whether it be physical, spiritual or emotional.”  

  • India 3 months after I fell. Holy hell that was a big threshold.
  • The Healing Journey from Pittsburgh to San Francisco to Hawaii to India to Greece to France and back to Pittsburgh.
  • The 9 mile walk to and from the active volcano on the 1-year anniversary of my fall.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
“Now finally out of his comfort zone the Hero is confronted with an ever more difficult series of challenges that test him in a variety of ways.”

  • I will have to sort through this one carefully.  This one feels like the core of the storytelling from my travels.

7. Approach To The Inmost Cave
“The inmost cave may represent many things in the Hero’s story such as an actual location in which lies a terrible danger or an inner conflict which up until now the Hero has not had to face. As the Hero approaches the cave she must make final preparations before taking that final leap into the great unknown.”

  • um hello – I am writing to you from my “inmost cave’ …egads!

8. Ordeal
“The Supreme Ordeal may be a dangerous physical test or a deep inner crisis that the Hero must face in order to survive or for the world in which the Hero lives to continue to exist. Whether it be facing her greatest fear or most deadly foe, the Hero must draw upon all of her skills and her experiences gathered upon the path to the inmost cave in order to overcome his most difficulty challenge.”

  • Gulp, I better get ready.

9. Reward (Seizing The Sword)
“After defeating the enemy, surviving death and finally overcoming his greatest personal challenge, the Hero is ultimately transformed into a new state, emerging from battle as a stronger person and often with a prize.”

  • Something to bring hope into getting ready for the ordeal.
  • I have definitely received rewards along the way. But I do feel that the ‘big’ reward has not yet been achieved.

10. The Road Back
This stage in the Hero’s journey represents a reverse echo of the Call to Adventure in which the Hero had to cross the first threshold. Now he must return home with his reward but this time the anticipation of danger is replaced with that of acclaim and perhaps vindication, absolution or even exoneration.

But the Hero’s journey is not yet over and he may still need one last push back into the Ordinary World. The moment before the Hero finally commits to the last stage of his journey may be a moment in which he must choose between his own personal objective and that of a Higher Cause.

  • ????????

11. Resurrection
“This is the climax in which the Hero must have his final and most dangerous encounter with death. The final battle also represents something far greater than the Hero’s own existence with its outcome having far-reaching consequences to his Ordinary World and the lives of those he left behind.

If he fails, others will suffer and this not only places more weight upon his shoulders but in a movie, grips the audience so that they too feel part of the conflict and share the Hero’s hopes, fears and trepidation. Ultimately the Hero will succeed, destroy his enemy and emerge from battle cleansed and reborn.”

  • ????

12. Return With The Elixir
This is the final stage of the Hero’s journey in which he returns home to his Ordinary World a changed man. He will have grown as a person, learned many things, faced many terrible dangers and even death but now looks forward to the start of a new life. His return may bring fresh hope to those he left behind, a direct solution to their problems or perhaps a new perspective for everyone to consider.

The final reward that he obtains may be literal or metaphoric. It could be a cause for celebration, self-realization or an end to strife, but whatever it is it represents three things: change, success and proof of his journey. The return home also signals the need for resolution for the story’s other key players. The Hero’s doubters will be ostracized, his enemies punished and his allies rewarded. Ultimately the Hero will return to where he started but things will clearly never be the same again.

  • oh boy….

From my closet, an audio episode

In this audio episode of “Falling Down. Waking Up.” I talk about feeling lost and uncomfortable, now and long before I fell down any stairs.

With little to no preparation I got my Zoom recorder and a soft pillow and climbed into my closet to talk to you.  The story arc is a little jumbled, and it is so raw and heartfelt that I’m sharing it.

Over the week as I have been contemplating this week’s content, the words “I have never wished that this didn’t happen to me” kept flashing into my mind. That was what I was going to write or talk about.  What came out of my mouth as I talked into the recorder was a revelation to me. This has been an emotional week, and the emotions in this audio recording are tender and sweet.

As I did it and then listened, I’m reminded of why I am doing this this way.  I feel less interested in polished writing and audio version of my story telling write now.  I love this raw and unedited sharing. Which is good since I have no audio editing skills to speak of. And hot the patience it takes to painstakingly assemble my narrative arc and fill it in with content.

My favorite part of the recording comes just after 3 1/2 minutes as I feel myself rambling about “Godhead” and I stop and say:

“My thoughts are a jumbling mess, that is part of falling down. 
And allowing myself to sit in the jumbled mess of thoughts and quagmire of emotions that are foundational to being human, that is part of waking up.”

 

 

 

Have you ever been in Love…

Have you ever been in love with someone who didn’t love you back?

Yeah, me too. Chronically.

It’s a pattern that I am finally discerning as ‘no longer working’. In the past I loved to be in love with people who didn’t love me back. It worked for me for a few reasons.

First, it is safe. Unrequited love is a safe and easy love that requires no boundaries or negotiation or intimacy.  Second, loving someone who doesn’t love me back allowed me to work to ‘earn their love’ and I enjoy a challenge. Finally, it allowed me to stay within my ‘I’m romantically unloveable’ narrative through a feeling of rejection.

As I write this on Valentine’s Day of 2018, I know this chapter is closing.  I’m done with this pattern of falling in love with people who won’t love me back.  Not because I am finally in love with someone who loves me back. But because my healing experience of the past 2+ years has taught me more about love then I ever knew or felt before. I have a garnered a whole new skillset to engage the world and love with. It’s time to use it.

During my Healing Journey I fell in love with someone who did not love me back.

It started the same as many of these ill-fated one sided romances do. But one night it took a decidedly different turn.  I’d been holding my crush for a few weeks, and this particular evening I was lamenting a belief that the person was “out on a date” with someone else.  Hilariously, I don’t even think the person was on a date at all. But you know the storytelling power of a mind that wants a heart to suffer.

So there I was, walking along in nature, deep in my “woe is me, why am I everyone’s sweet friend and no one’s great love” self talk, when I suddenly stopped. My heart was really hurting, I was crying and just stopped in front of a big tree. I think I asked the tree for help. I could be making that up, but it’s how I remember it now. I can see myself standing there with a tear streaked face in front of a huge old tree. And suddenly, my script flipped in my mind. The tears stopped.

Isn’t amazing that all of these people cherish me as a “sweet friend” why on earth would I lament that?  Why would I honor platonic love as anything less than romantic love? And that lead to the thought of,  if the person is out on a date and having a good time, I can be happy for them.  Doesn’t love mean wanting the best for someone? Isn’t love expansive and all encompassing and why am I feeling sad about something I am completely making up in my mind?

From that moment then, to this moment now, from standing in front of that tree to sitting at my desk, there is a lesson on love growing in my heart.

I do not fall in love to be loved back. That is not what love is about.

Love is not a binding agent to connect me exclusively to another human.

Love is not a prize worth winning to prove my self worth or overall lovability.

Love is love. Grand and expansive. My birthright. Everyone’s birthright.

There is an eternal source of love I can tap into at any moment that I need to feel loved. If I choose, I can let that be magnified by reminding myself I am deeply loved by hundreds if not thousands of people. Familial, platonic, romantic – no one love is greater than another.

I do not need to seek for love, I am love, I live in love.

Unrequited love – you are no longer my guiding star.

Love undefined…welcome home.

 

 

Ep1: Starting Where I AM

It is Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 2:32 pm. I am writing directly into the WordPress editor and I will click publish when I reach 750 words. There is a little indicator down at the bottom to tell me how many words I’ve written. 42 so far.

I want to write a memoir, but I don’t know how.

I don’t want to take a memoir writing class. I don’t know why. For some things in life, I just can’t get myself to follow the path already trodden. I have to forge my own way.

That is how I feel about writing this memoir. I’ve given it a title, “Falling Down. Waking Up.” and now I am writing it. Here. In front of you.

It won’t all look like this I don’t think. As I wrote more content for here, I’ll also start writing content that is not for here. And eventually I’ll finally have a rich collection of material I’ll weave into a book, a documentary, a performance, a podcast.

I’m doing this the only way I know how right now. By starting where I am.

meatdesk-ch1-pt1

I’m sitting at my desk in my new apartment in Pittsburgh, PA. The desk is black and simple and was gifted to me by my friend Kevin. Yes, the Kevin who saved my life by calling 911 and being by my side through the most intense parts of the spinal cord injury experience. Yeah him, he also bought me this desk.

I’m drinking tea from a big pink mug I bought at Target when I did my first ‘home-shopping trip’ and spent almost $400 ($300 of which I steadily returned over the next 2 weeks). I’m eating crispy veggie chips from a bowl I stored in Kevin’s basement for 9 years. To be clear, the bowl was stored all that time, not the chips.

I left Pittsburgh in 2009, nine years ago, to move to Washington DC for a position on Planed Parenthood’s National Data Management team. When I moved, I stored a few boxes of household items in Kevin’s basement. I had no idea they would stay there for 9 years. I am glad they did. It has been very sweet to live with these things I bought for myself so long ago.

Until last month when I got this apartment, I had not bought very many ‘things’ for myself for a long time. My life in Washington DC and Haiti and then my Healing Journey, had very little to do with things and everything to do with people and experiences.

Everything I own has been able to fit into a few boxes, a suitcase and a backpack for all these years. And now, I have been gifted or purchased plenty of things that don’t fit in a suitcase or a backpack. A desk, a bench, a dresser, shelves, a futon, a table, chairs. I own them and they do not fit in my backpack.

And I am terrified.

So many people lauded my bravery for all of my travel and adventure over the years. I would always laugh and say, “Oh this is not brave. Moving, adventure and change are easy for me. What would be brave? Me settling down again, that’s what scares me.” And finally, after nine years of wandering, of global spiritual seeking, of incredible domestic and foreign adventure, here I am sitting directly in my very own version of settling down. And I am terrified.

My biggest fear is that I’ll forget. I am terrified that I will forget that ‘things’ don’t matter to me. A $400 shopping spree at Target showed me it’s absolutely possible for me to forget. To get confused. To fall for the story of stuff again. To fall into line of societal norms and try to live life as I’m told, as we are sold and told by our conditioning in the shared reality of the society we live in.

I am terrified that I will forget that God or Great Spirit or Universal Source energy is everywhere. While I was traveling and seeking and focused on healing, I opened many mystical doors of existence. When I walked through them I saw a truth to living that hovers beneath any words I can assign to it.

Can I keep those mystical doors open and walk their inviting paths, when I go shopping at Whole Foods and Target? I am terrified that I can’t, or I won’t. It feels good to write about the terror. Because naming my fears often takes away a huge part of their power. As I state the fear, look at it, feel it – I realize it has no actual power over me if I do’t give it the power it holds when I ignore it or pretend it isn’t there. 759 words. Very little editing. I’m going to take a photo and publish. See you next Wednesday! 777 words now. More editing, 839 words 3:57pm after some WordPress fights,,,,publishing, sharing…please comment. Tell me what you want to read or hear or see about my Healing Journey and experience with a Spinal Cord Injury.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me! I’m excited to share this memoir writing journey with you. Please comment, offer wisdom and advice, correct my grammer, whatever you can offer to help me make this content better and ready for a larger audience. I love you endlessly.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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