I’ve been stating to people lately “I”m so grateful I’m an artist.” Which is comes much later than that first statement, “I am an artist.” – which I had to give a lot of thought and contemplation years ago when I did that mid-30’s change of life thing and started writing. But once I embraced that and began to build a life around honoring my writing, I still didn’t feel the gratitude of having this calling. Even when I attended school, working towards my MFA’s, which I know statistically for a COC of a certain age (Chick of Color at 40-something…hee hee) puts me a small percentage of all people in this country earning degrees at that level, I still didn’t really fully feel the gratitude.
It’s now been 14 years since I started writing. Playwriting, prose, and now screenplays, I’m a storyteller and this is just a short list of what Art Does For My Soul:
1. Art feeds my imagination. Like a child playing make-believe, I get to imagine worlds, people, scenarios, winning wars and creating joy.
2. Art helps me figure shit out. I can give my characters my flaws, my insecurities, my anger, my hurt and let them figure it out on their journey so I can live a life in reality in peace.
3. Art gives me a vital purpose. This is a calling. It is. Just as we all need doctors who love to heal, lawyers who believe justly in the law, teachers who love a student’s mind, I’ve been really blessed to hear this calling, I love writing and knowing what I”m suppose to contribute to this world.
4. Art teaches me about who I want to be. The layers of my complex characters show me what I want to change in myself and what needs nurturing.
5. Art has created a community. For as much as writing is an individual act, in my head, at the page, for the amount of time I spend in my robe with tea by my window in the mornings, I also have an incredible community of writers, filmmakers, poets, novelists, journalists, painters, designers, musicians…the list is long of the creative minds in my life.
6. Art simmers down the prickly past. When old wounds burst open, or an old fear grips onto my heart, hijacking my day, art gives me a way to work it out. I write letters, draw, paint, fill journal pages with stickers and swirls of crayon marks. I write stories of badass women who kick the shit out of the bad guys while they heal their own pains.
7. Art lets me be selfish, in a healthy way. I’m a caregiver. Loyal to a fault and that hasn’t been a healthy trait. Extreme caregiving was about seeking approval and intense need. My art makes me explore what’s happening in my head, what’s making my heart ache, what’s bringing me joy. And helps me balance what’s self-care and what’s for everyone else.
8. Art means daydreaming’s cool! I never got in big trouble in school as a little girl for daydreaming in class. I was a pretty good student. But I do remember times being told to pay attention. I remember being asked where my head was and the shame of that. I never told anyone what I dream of- about my mom, about my family not being so damn poor, about being someone special and important. One of the hardest thing for me when I was a little girl was admitting I even had dreams. How dare I, right?
9. Art sustains my family. Art brought my husband into my life. We met as members of the same theatre company and our friendship grew out of working together with kids, telling stories over beer. And years later, when my daughter chose art school for her education and SFAI chose her, we couldn’t have been prouder. Art is woven into the foundation that holds my family together. And that same art has made us all better for our extended families. And now art, making films, has created Through the Wilderness, LLC, our film company.
10. ART IS PLAY! In this photo the lamp illuminates the little girl spirit who hangs out on my desk in the mornings, waiting for me to show up and play.
I am so grateful for being an artist. So today’s Toast! is to Art And What It Does To My Soul.
What does art do for yours?
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted about what I’ve Toasted, so sitting down to share with you, Inspiration is the what I’ve been thinking about and here’s why.
This spring as Peter and I have been gearing up for our first Through the Wilderness, LLC production- a short action film about a Native American cop who is forced to deal with her feelings around miscarriage, motherhood, and justice when a dying hooker leaves her baby in her garage (btw, I LOVE this story but that’s a different posting) – I find myself attempting to develop a business mind while watching for the obstacle to my creative work that I fear this business mind will create.
I get that might not happen and perhaps this is just the work of my critic taking advantage of the change in my life to whisper more shit in my ear. I get that. Yet, the reality is, the time I spend researching to understand…franchise taxes, accounting practices and deal memos and marketing strategies, is all time that I’m not writing. And let’s be clear, before all this other business in my life, getting to the page to just write was hard enough to begin with. Sometimes.
But before I can go to the page, I need to be inspired, so what is that and where is it?
I’m at my messy desk, in my robe, blanket wrapped around my feet- yes, this is the glamourous life, and I ask myself where is that inspiration. I look to books next to me. The Quran, Jon Kabat-Zinn Full Catastrophe Living, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, my bills to be paid, my bowl of nail polishes, crayons and greeting cards, The Ten Indian Commandments on my wall, my empty bowl that held oatmeal and berries, my now cold cup of green tea. Then I hear the birds outside. The hummingbird that flutters to my window and peeks in at me in the mornings has arrived. Outside my window beyond the bush, I see the new bistro size patio table and chairs, the big bright yellow and white umbrella, the expansion of my office. Then my mind travels outside our gate and down the street. The sky soft blue (yes, under the LA smoggy haze but stay with me here…smog is an inspiration, too, different post, different story), the palm trees create a landscape so different than home in MN, which I now see in my mind, the big oaks, the flat farmland alongside the highway to my mom’s, the tall cedars along the North Shore, all so different than…awww…there it is- the places I’ve traveled this year, the people I’ve seen, the voices and languages, songs and food. O yes, the food. But there’s more that inspires me.
The last couple months have been filled with great joys and opportunities. Celebrations, one after another rolled through my life. In May my daughter, Bird, graduated from college in San Francisco. Family met us in Santa Cruz for beach time, for little girl laughter and salt water taffy on the boardwalk. And in San Francisco, a beautiful city filled with rolling hills and tall skinny houses hugging at the shoulders, I had early morning moments on bagel runs for the family packed into the hotel suites. And in those mornings, with the sun on my face, feeling grateful for love and support, I felt inspiration, too. I did.
I listened to speakers at SFAI send the graduates out into the world with advice. Some was good. Most was daunting, but I saw fresh and slightly frightened young faces eager to run out and show us their world. And at the gallery, I saw my amazing Bird beaming in front of her painting, revealing to us, her family, what she learned about herself at school. And I was inspired by the depth of her creativity, by the young woman she’s become.
For her graduation gift, we took her to Tokyo. Yes- we are able to travel like that. A blessing beyond our wildest dreams. While there, oh, the sounds and smells. I was often overwhelmed but yet, I had moments of sheer joy, moments of being deeply awe-struck by beauty, like in Kamakura, the tiny beach village where the huge statute of Buddha lives.
While there, we walked to the shore. And standing on the “other side of the Pacific” while Peter waded into the water, I looked to my daughter and nearly fell over with love and admiration. The three of us inspires me. Our family in MN and across the country inspires me. Our journey that got us from the the tiny, poor little places we lived in while Bird was a baby, to that moment on the Japanese beach, inspires me. Yes. the memories will keep inspiring me, will keep my creativity alive.
So, the Toast! is to Inspiration whether it’s from the photos on the desk, a song on Spotify, the wee bird at the window, or a breeze that invokes a memory, inspiration is all around me. And my wish for you is to be inspired by what’s in your life, what’s in your heart, what’s in your memories.
This is my desk on some mornings. Many mornings. Most mornings.
I discovered a long time ago that what I write is good for me, for my heart, for taking on the emotions that sometimes seep into the morning from the nightmare that wrecked havoc with my soul.
I appreciate that about writing. I am so grateful I discovered this for myself. I know that when I create a story about a woman who’s fighting for her family, I’m dealing with what it means to be a mom and what I’d fight for. How I’d fight. I also know that when I create a story about loss and grief, that I’m trying to heal my own wounds.
Right now, I’m in pre-production for a short film called Blessed. It’s a story about a cop who is trying to make herself believe she doesn’t want a baby and what happens when her wall she creates to hide behind comes tumbling down… in the most incredible way. She is forced to deal with her pain, her loss…her understanding of her faith and who she is.
It’s a tall order for a short film. It’s powerful and deeply connected to me.
See- my character, Kiona, has suffered her third miscarriage. She’s asking all those questions about why and what has she done to deserve this. Her mother, however, straight up believes that Kiona will be blessed when she’s ready.
Of the many beautiful characteristics of these women, the main one for me is that they’re Native American. So to have Mary Beth state so matter-of-factly that she believes the Great Spirit will bless Kiona when she deserves only deepens Kiona’s exasperation of dealing with her loss. Why doesn’t she deserve?
Grief is grief- that’s what my shrink said when I told her about making this film and how exposed I am. See- I suffer…struggle with secondary infertility. I just found that term and a bunch of amazing women, mothers, who suffer this, too. It may not be the same miscarriage as others but none of us are the same, except grieving the loss of a child who will never be.
I know the incredible joy of creating a child, and carrying her inside me only to give her life…I know how I felt when it dawned on me that God must see that I’m worthy of something grand in this world to give me a child.
Now- I truly believe that is true for any parent, no matter how that child comes into their life. When you are chosen to be a parent, through whatever means, that’s what God is doing. Blessing you. And I know Peter and I will blessed with more children.
For me, right now, though, the wound lies deep inside me. In that place of creation that is no longer capable of creating any life. I went through an early menopause at 43. And have never felt so alone. Because so many women my age are just cool with not having more children. Or at least that’s what they say. Their lives are filled with college-bound teenagers and elementary school-agers…and they don’t seem to ache as much I do.
I had my daughter, Bird, by myself. I was a single parent from pretty much minutes after conception. Seriously. And it was hard at times…and it was lovely. And warm. And I love her in ways I can’t even find the words for. I love her with all that I am, with all my essence. Becoming her mom gave me purpose. Gave me direction. Bird saved my life. She did. (that’s another film – to tell the story of the life I was living before her)
But now, I have a husband who is the most incredible dad. His love for Bird is unmeasurable and I wanted to create a baby with him. When we first met and became friends, he told me that what struck him the most was the kind of mom I am. On one of our first dates a couple years later, he told me this and that he wanted me to be the mother of his children. But I can’t have babies. His babies. I can’t.
The pain is so deep. I’ve lost friends who couldn’t stick around to help me. I’ve lost friends who weren’t capable of showing up. I’ve suffered through newborn happenings and baby showers and birth stories and struggled with balancing my pure love and joy for all these incredible mamas in my life while tending to my wounds. My grief. It was private and personal. Intimate aches.
So last year when I pushed to finish a draft of Blessed I didn’t recognize what I was doing, actually. I didn’t see the healing I was committing. I found a brilliant director who not only dug the story of Kiona, she also appreciates the beauty of Kiona being a cop who believes in laws, justice and strength. My director also is committed to the action and suspense in this story, which apparently doesn’t happen that often – female leads in action films about a more feminine theme. She’s bringing me extremely talented people who are joining us to make this film and they get it, too. And I’m so grateful.
I’m meeting actors who take my breath away. Fierce and strong, and yet so wounded, they are giving this story life so that I can heal. I get to keep healing.
Along with my therapy, my daily writings, my Brene Brown work, my watercolors, my collages, tea, toast and dark chocolate, Blessed, the film, is healing me.
So today’s Toast! is to Art That Heals.
And here’s wishing you all some healing love and magic today.
Wow. I’m sounding sorta vague. “sorta vague” Redundant, I know. That’s where I’ve been lately, I think. In this hazy vagueness…Due to having alot on my plate, many balls in the air, juggling with both hands and feet, running in circles, breathing too fast and too shallow, feeling angst that’s keeping me stuck and wow…how many other ways can I describe what’s up with me?
See- we have been blessed with good fortune. Good health. Many friends. Family support. Love. Laughter. Confidence in our work. Peace.
And yet, my mind battles the fear that’s it’s all some cruelass joke, it will crumble and I’ll get hurt. YET….here it comes…YET there is nothing to indicate any of my fears are true. Or will BE true. Reality is good. My inability to accept that–is the mind game that is keeping me awake at night. And it’s exhausting worrying all the time.
I’m a dramatist. Notice I didn’t write ‘drama queen’?? A dramatist. I create story. A storyteller. And I LOVE A GOOD STORY! But for it to be good the stakes have to be high, like…make your heart hurt, skin ripped at the knuckles from crawling to save your soul kinda stakes. However they’re defined, they have to run deep. They have to be big. They’re the shit good movies are made of. It’s my job to be able to create these stakes, so in my life, at times like this, my urge is to find these stakes. Not create them. I don’t crazymake any more. I can proudly say that destruction doesn’t happen in my life any more. I tend to ‘search’ for the stakes now. When I sit, that’s what my mind is doing. When I’m in spin class, that’s what my mind is doing. When my husband laughs and hugs me, that’s what my mind is doing. I’m searching for what’s going to go wrong if and when something does.
And now I’m tired of it.
I have multiple story and film projects with a host of characters that are in various states of angst that I can give this energy to. I have the support to create the time to let the characters do this, for them to work out their own shit on their own journeys. I have amazing friends that let me ramble to work things out. I have the gym. If I wasn’t so scared of deep breathing, I’d have yoga (that’s coming…I know…) I have my husband. My family. My shrink. Brene Brown. Elephant Journal. Rebelle Society. Funny girlfriends. Loving girlfriends. Deep philosophical girlfriends. Music. Hummingbirds outside my freakin window! and…AND The Great Spirit.
Any of these things I can focus on and say “here’s my Toast! to….” But my feeling. Feelings… My emotions are sorta kinda spread out…not firing off in any one direction. I’ve got some hurt going on because ‘searching’ for stakes mean I peruse my memories for what’s hurt me in the past and COULD blow up now, but isn’t….like…friends who ditched me. Betrayed me. Old grief. I have no desire to engage them, to pick at those wounds….because… in the midst of all this, I have learned to find my feet. To ground. To come back to here. To now.
So…as I take up this blog again, pushing to expel what’s holding onto me, creating obstacles to my joy, to making me question my worth and what I deserve… I guess I start here. Now.
This morning’s Toast! is to Toasting this moment.
One of the greatest gifts I have in my life today is time. Really. I don’t say it often enough. Now, I’m well aware that many folks can’t say the same. I want to be really really clear- this is not a boast. There is no bragging or entitlement going on here. There were many years of my life when I didn’t feel like I had any time- not enough to get everything done that I needed to- screw what I wanted to get done. Forget about it! (been binge watching Sopranos so that phrase is now part of our household vocabulary…along with more creative ways to say “fuck”) Anyway…I was a single parent for 14 years, working full-time, in grad school for many of those years (got 2 masters…then got my 3rd when Peter came into our lives) so this concept of “time” has always been at the top of my wishlist.
Not so long ago I was having a hard time accepting this gift of time I was given to write so one gorgeous Minnesota morning in my in-laws kitchen, my father-in-law told me that I had spent so many years of my life working really really hard for everything. I grew up really poor. Came from and survived some tough places (that’s another blog entirely) and I raised my daughter by myself for 14 years. He said that he thought maybe it was time for someone else to take care me. And I cried. Shit, I’m crying now thinking about the love and support my family, The Jensens and the Parshalls have given me. Have given us. So in turn, I’ve now got time to take care of myself. Whoa! (again…sounding like a Soprano’s cast)
Today, I get to create my days. Now, don’t get me wrong- most days I still feel like I didn’t have enough time to get everything done I wanted to. Projects are still not done, I still haven’t had lunch with every amazing person I said I wanted to meet with, scripts and books aren’t read, big housecleaning projects not completed, etc… But making that list of what I didn’t do isn’t my focus today. It can’t be because that would undo what time has just given me.
I just finished a detox. Dr. Oz’s 3-Day Detox. I didn’t tell anyone online about it because that would make me feel more accountable than I was willing to be. Seriously! What if I didn’t complete it? What if I ran screaming to my kitchen round bout mid-3rd day, shoved a piece of bread in my mouth, slammed some… I don’t know..Sapporo and finished it off with a full 6 ounces of dark chocolate? That was highly possible. Shit, that’s always possible.
But I did it. I skipped last night’s smoothie cuz my lunch one took two hours to drink and my snack didn’t happen til 6:30 but I did it. Sure, last night, I was whining bout some food I was planning to eat today and Peter asked me if it was on that Dr. Oz list and I said, pointing at my smoothie, “Hey, fuck that shit. This detox is done tomorrow and he can’t tell me what the fuck to do.” (Sopranos..man, I love that show!) I took a huge swig of my water and tightened my blanket around me to make my point. Peter thinks I’m cute when I’m tough so he blew me a kiss.
But seriously…through this detox, I got to sit. Each day I slowed down. I met one deadline for a revision on Blessed (now in pre-production) and I hope my director digs it. I finished a book, Defending Jacob, and started Joyland by Stephen King for my book club. I watched Season 2 of the Sopranos and multiple movies and sitcoms (but I tend to watch alot anyway…studying- that’s another cool gift of this creative life..) And I journaled and thought and sweated.
What I discovered is one- detoxes are to jump-start, to clear and make room for health, for change, and I’ve been doing that for quite awhile now. A few years with intention. It hasn’t been easy. My ass is tired! But I’ve already been doing what the detox is meant to do and I’m doing it well.
Two- food wise, for all my joking about food and pastries and well…shit, the name of this blog is Toast! which is truly a deep addiction, I eat fairly well. We shop organic, Farmers Market in Silver Lake on Saturday is a ritual. In our house, we don’t have much processed food besides my Weight Watchers Popped BBQ chips- so damn good. And I already LOVE kale. There wasn’t anything on that list of food for the smoothies that I didn’t already love to eat.
Three- It’s always time to make a change. Start right now. You didn’t. Okay, that’s cool. You can start..now! NOW!
and four- I have time. I can race through my day feeling harried and upset cuz my to-do list is way too long, or I can accept what I can get done, making sure that I’m always including time for myself on that list. And here’s the beauty of checking that off that list…it keeps me in gratitude mode for the gift of time I have now.
So, today’s Toast! goes Taking Time to…Detox…to taking care of yourself, to change, to clear, to good health, to a better you.
Today’s Toast! goes out to the movies we watched that made us cheer, cry, talk about, reenact, stare open-mouthed at the screen! For me- my list includes Die Hard, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, National Lampoon’s Christmas and Thelma and Louise. (yes, the list of great movies is WAY long) but this one…Thelma and Louise- before USC SCA, I would read the shooting script of this film while watching the film. I LEARNED so much from this film. Not just about elements of screenwriting, or incredible believable character arcs, but I also learned about “loving the movie watching experience”.
I watched this with my sisters when our girls were little. We laughed, we cheered and oh, how we cried. It just dawned on me- I might have fallen in love with southwest from watching this film. hmmm….that will be a different topic for a different blog.
My goal- is to make films that can stand that same test- that will make you laugh (okay…I’m not funny but ya know…for the sake of whatever literary thing I’m attempting…I had to repeat the phrase….) but… make you laugh, make you cheer, and Oh, make you cry.
What movies do this to you?
Deadlines can be a real bitch. Anxiety-inducing, difficult..soul crushing, even, depending on where you’re at with the ebb and flow of our draft. But deadlines are also markers. Goal posts on the road. So, even though I could still feel my skinned knees from crawling the rugged terrain of my writing path (this part rugged, others parts are deep waters and I have to swim, or multiple feet of snow and I struggle to get warm enough to melt the ice that’s blocking me, or open air against turquoise blue skies that I float on…yes, that last one does happen. Sometimes) This most recent deadline was hard. But…it was for my writers group. And I am grateful.
My husband and I raced around yesterday morning to get my tiny house ready for guests. Clean towels in the bathroom, sweeping the floors, dusting and scrubbing and… baked oatmeal. That’s the coolest part of hosting writers group for me- I make my now signature dish of baked oatmeal. Oats, maple syrup, roasted walnuts, berries and bananas, cinnamon…deliciousness that I get to share with my smart creative friends.
Once the setting is done- furniture moved in a circle, tea brewing, table set, some 80’s music in the background (again, another signature of coming to my house)- my girlfriends arrive. Hugs. Food. Laughter. My house is filled with the beautiful energy of these storytellers.
When we finally get to the work submitted we all put on our smart caps- using the tools and skill we learned at USC SCA and have applied to our work since then. We share books and movies as inspiration. We laugh more. We support and share.
For me- we reviewed the half draft of High Card Trumps. A deeply dramatic film that breaks my heart to write. And out of all the notes- what’s working, what’s tender, what are the questions, I discovered that I’m so sorry for breaking my character’s heart over and over that I’m pulling her out of the toughest moments. I literally cut away and show the results. The fallout. The aftermath. It just hurts so much to make this mother go through what she’s experiencing. She already lost one son in the war and now with Sam… she’s losing it all. Her faith. Her family. Her place in her community. She’s not just floating alone in some vast emptiness, she’s being hurled through her world without direction, without guidance. She’s being torn apart by the forces of life.
I cried. But these amazing storytellers, my writers group, held me in this space. They teared up, too. They understood the difficulty and supported me as I told them of the emotional angst I feel every time I go to the page, that it’s so hard to keep hurting Dahab over and over. No mother should have to suffer living after her child is gone. That’s a hole nothing can ever repair. And although I don’t know this exactly, I’m blessed that my child is alive and well, I did stand witness as my sister died. My family has endured the pain of death multiple times. I’ve watched my mother suffer a grief that nearly destroyed her. I want to protect Dahab from this so the real pain happens in the cut away.
My peers, my literary colleagues while sipping tea with their bellies full of baked oatmeal, curled up comfy on my old furniture in the bosom of my home, they listened with love and told me that they need to see these scenes. They need to see these moments in Dahab’s life. And then they told me that because I’m a mom and I can envision my deepest fears as a mother I’m exactly the person to be telling this story.
I’m exactly the person to be telling this story. Me. This story. Whew!!
Today’s Toast! goes out to these women. My creative community. I wish for you all to have a community that holds you and understands you, who loves you just as you are, and for the love and gratitude you give them.
Yesterday I wrote bout five new pages, edited a few minor things and then gave myself the day to go shopping. I often do this while story brews. It’s sometimes a mindless task and not too damaging when I make sure I kick my awareness to full tilt before I actually purchase.
In this case, I was shopping for something specific. We’re going to Mexico in a couple weeks for a wedding so of course, there’s new clothes needed. But how did this influence my creative process? How was this a part of living the creative life?
I could tell you it was wonderful and that in my head, I fixed multiple hiccups from ACT II and cleaned up blurbs of shit that currently fill my screenplay drafts. I could spin you a tale about startling revelations of pure literary genius that struck me in the dressing room at Old Navy. I could tell you that detailed arcs of the deepest emotional journeys for my protagonist revealed themselves while trying on boots at TJMaxx. (and yes, I know, I don’t need boots for a wedding on the beach, but a girl can’t help herself sometimes) I could say that the ahhh moment of resolution appeared in a vision while I wandered like a crazed woman through The Americana on Brand. I could say that I was so deep in thought, so enthralled with the films I’m writing in my head, that I actually walked passed IN-n-Out burger and didn’t even see it until I had crossed the street and realized I had…crossed…a street. Okay, this last one did happen.
The rest, though. Eh. Nothing major hit me. Nothing surfaced and made itself clear to me. I still see Dahab sitting at her husband’s bedside, alone and scared. The doctors and nurses eyeing her like she’s the mother of a terrorist, wondering what’s in her bag. I see Cassidy running hard down a country road, forcing herself to look into the cornfields, unearthing the horrors of her memories that lurk there so that she can move through them to find the lost little girls. And Kiona is still holding her arms tightly in front of her, stuck, afraid to hold the infant because she’s feels like she’s barely keeping her head tethered to her grief-stained body. And Tammy…sweet sweet Tammy, I still see her with a gentle smile on her face, watching her new “friend” hum and twirl and love the life she seems to be creating for her son, not knowing what and how terrified her “friend” really is. Not knowing that her smile means love and that it could kill her.
Oh. I see. I took all women, these incredible characters of my films with me. I took them shopping. And although I struggle to make meaning of this all right now, and am distracted by the hummingbird at my window saying good morning–I bought a pair of jeans for $10. And a tiny blue dress for a hot Mexican day.
Toast to…my lymph node…?
Am I really toasting my lymph node? And just one? Yeah, man, I think I am.
I have this one lymph node under my arm that has become the focus of my being this past month. And it got poked and torn a bit for drawing attention to itself. But it also took this writer on a full-on, anxiety –ridden, choking down panic with pastries journey that brought on waves of tears, screaming and…o man, get this…healing.
Beginning of the month I found out that my yearly mammogram revealed a lot of breast density making the mammogram possibly inconclusive. Okay. News to me. Thank God for a new law stating results have to state this for women so we know this. Sucks to know, though. And a wee bit scary because if my mammogram isn’t taking the pictures I need it to, then…what next? I spoke with my doctor, who I dig because she’s cool and smart and diligent and wears really sweet shoes. We decided I should get an ultrasound to get a clearer picture. So I did that at this beautiful women’s center downtown LA.
While I waited for Lisa, my radiologist technician to review the results with the doctor, she came back in the room and asked if I had just gotten over being really sick, with the flu or something? I said “no.” and she said “Are you sure?” When she left the room, I found a tiny spot on the ceiling tile and tried to focus on it. I imagined it growing larger, a tunnel, or was it more of a rock. A pebble on a beach? Or the center of a donut. Yes, it was the dark center of a donut.
Lisa came back with the doctor who explained they had found a lymph node “of concern”. He asked again about any illness, unexplained infections, etc… And while holding a tiny towel over my breasts, I sat there and calmly said again, “no”. He told me “maybe, probably…most likely…his best bet…it was nothing.” Not reassuring words. Then he said that if it made me nervous I could get a biopsy but he thought it was nothing.
First- you don’t tell a dramatist “maybe it’s nothing” and expect me to not conjure up multiple scenarios of what the Nothing really was. Shit, you tell any WOMAN, “maybe” and expect her not to take quick tally of her life and see herself telling family, her friends, watching her hair fall out, her breasts removed… for me…the wave of fears rushed at me and I could do nothing but sit there, choking on that shit.
Over the next few weeks I’d come up for air. I waited four days to meet with my primary doctor to review my choices which meant me telling her I had already made up my mind–I wanted that biopsy. I needed to know what was growing in me and I wanted it out. I needed to know immediately. I needed it gone. So, she made that call to set up the procedure but due to schedules at the women’s center, I had to wait….TWO WEEKS. Two.
Peter had an already scheduled work trip to Alaska he had to take so he left. I had a pass to the Los Angeles Film Festival, major deadlines to complete a script about a woman having to wait to see if her son serving in the army was dead or alive, and rewrite a script in pre-production about a mother haunted by an evil slaveowner who wants her son. I had stories to tell, work to do, people to see. Life to live. And the waves came. I’d go to a film and come home and cry. I’d meet with my director and producer and drive away crying. I was living a life that could all be swept out from under me because of whatever was growing inside of me.
I was scared and out of control in a way I hadn’t felt since my sister died years ago. I couldn’t save her, so what if I couldn’t save myself? What if I wasn’t strong enough to fight this? I spent hours reading blogs of amazing women who fought breast cancer, who did incredible healing things in their lives, in their communities, who found activism, parenthood, intimacy and healing…healing. They healed. And I was so scared I couldn’t do any of that.
I cried to my shrink, my best friends, my husband, my sister, my herbalist. I started saying out loud that I was scared. Inside, the fear was that I would battle this alone, that I was already battling it all alone. It grew to a mountainous size, consuming me with it’s suffocating grip. This fear of being abandoned, of facing the hard truth that nobody really loved me would not just bubble up to the surface but would erupt from someplace deep and shower me and my day with darkness. I ate to stop from chewing my own damn arm off, I think.
I made heart-breaking plans. I wrote the script in my head of how to tell my daughter, Bird, I was sick. I wrote the emails I’d send to friends asking for prayers for Peter and Bird and my family but begging them to not post on Facebook. I had long and angry conversations with my insurance about covering procedures. I even asked them to make sure they recorded me as I ranted one morning about the many problems with health insurance in this country and that when women like me needed them most, the fear of not being able to pay thousands of dollars for a freakin scan or biopsy or TREATMENT was like accepting a FUCKIN DEATH SENTENCE! I shook and screamed a lot. I ate more. I went to cycle class at the gym. I didn’t sleep. I paced. I lifted weights like a dude. I watched sitcom reruns for hours at a time. And I ate more. And I tried like hell to be present and take on what was coming my way. And I fought feeling like I was victim to that fear.
I already knew about it, that fear, it’s been around for years. Decades. It’s a bigass monster that shapeshifts at will, that lives under my bed, in the basement through the hot furnace grid of my childhood home, that lurks outside my door, in my showers, in the backseat of my car, down the street, and watches me while I sleep. I also knew that only I feed it. I keep it alive with my beliefs, my emotions. Life was sometimes pretty awful when I was kid and I see now that my belief was that those I love wouldn’t love me back and they’d hurt me. I believed that being disregarded, left to be alone, kicked aside, ignored, unheard, betrayed….hurts more than being laughted at, or…hit. Cuz when you’re fighting at least you’re being seen. When you’re hit, at least there’s contact. I believed that I deserved all that.
BUT…to not let you stay too long in the nightmares of my mind…this is what I DISCOVERED….
The BEAUTY OF FORGIVENESS. Forgiveness is not condoning the wrong-doing done to you. It doesn’t pacify or deny the pain. It doesn’t mean that you..I am wrong for being hurt. Hurt is my emotion. Pain is mine. And underneath that pain is fear and I am doing the work to take on that monster, to squash its power, to shut its fuckin mouth…I’m doing that. AND…I have decided that the space that pain held in my heart is mine to fill with love and peace…through forgiveness. And truth.
So…I finally said out loud the responsibility I have for relationships that didn’t work. I reached out and got real with them. I apologized for pain that I have caused others. I made true apologies based on my need to let them know I was sorry and not a need to know if they were sorry for hurting me. I defined capabilities and finally saw that what I wish for myself, to be heard, understood and forgiven, are the very same things that they might want and need, too.. I said “I miss you”. I said “I love you”. I reached out and HELD ON LIKE MAD to the fierce women in my life! I told them I was scared and I needed them and they showed up. I didn’t just say “I’m blessed” because I KNOW that…with family and friends, yes, I’m blessed. But I wrapped myself in that blessing. And…I was loved. Me. Go figure.
Peter came home and as I thought I was forgiving him for leaving for the two weeks, I discovered he never left me and that I was on a journey of healing at warped speed. I had an emotional eruption, a final push to get me through this cloud of darkness and fear.
I want to see who I am on the other side. I want to be better than who I was when this all began…and by begin that doesn’t mean just this past month but these past three years of menopause and living in pain, that means further back to becoming a wife, to when I decided to pursue a life as a filmmaker, to when I became a writer, to when I lost my sister, to when I became Bird’s mom, to when I was stumbling through life in bars and making up shit to tell folks that I thought made me cool, to when I was a little girl scared because we were alone. I want to know who I’ll be now. I got ready.
Yesterday, I finally found out that the lymph node is benign. A benign recessive lymph node. No cancer. No cancer.
As a writer, this experience has made it mark on me, on my craft, I know it. I feel it. It will continue to do so as I go on. Of course, I have to quit crying, but those tears of gratitude will taper off…or maybe they won’t and I’ll just be a fierce, writing, tear-streaked artist mama from here on out.
So yeah, man…today’s toast…? It’s a Toast! to my lymph node.