Friday, February 25, 2011

Miracles: Contest Entry

This is the 400-word essay I entered as part of a contest with the prompt "miracles."

A man who came home from war in Vietnam so scarred that his wife didn’t know him.

A mother of two whose doctor told her that if she got pregnant again, it would kill her.

A baby girl living in an orphanage in Saigon whose best chance for a good life lay in America.

This five pound baby whose identification bracelet is so small it fits my adult-size thumb like a ring, was strapped onto an airplane with some 300 other orphans and nurses to find her way to the promised land. The plane skidded through a rice paddy after taking off and burst into flames as it crashed, but this little fighter managed to survive.

An American businessman who opened his heart and his personal bank account to fly the survivors to the US despite the fact that they didn’t all have homes to go to.

The pilot who knew that his buddy from Vietnam was a good man with a wife who desperately wanted more children. He put in a call for help to see if they might who might agree to foster one of the children.

This is the story of a tiny baby girl, suffering from malnutrition and desperate for a family, who ended up bringing love to my mother, hope to my father that something good could come of the war, and a precious playmate to my brother and me. She has brought laughter, redemption, and a world of acceptance to our family and today she has her own little girl whose wide-eyed wonder at the world brings each one of us joy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sexual Healing?

Today I had another massage. I've had many between the previously volcanic one and this one, even given by men, without the same result. But this one started the same way: "Some women prefer a female masseuse. Do you have a preference?" Again, I said I didn't. Again, I believed that statement. Barely gave it a thought. Like before, I suddenly found myself with a lump in my throat and tears threatening to spill out. Unlike before, Jose was a young, affable, easygoing guy and I felt the need to apologize for my emotions and ask him to disregard any displays of sadness on my part.

I didn't. Instead, I lay there and wondered if the tears would fall. Or if I had come far enough that the lump would remain a lump and not morph into tears. In any case, by the time I was done wondering, Jose had begun placing eight black river rocks, flat and hot from their bath in lavender-scented oil, beneath my spine. He helped me lay back, gently exposed my legs to mid-thigh, and began massaging my calves as he palmed two more rocks.

Throughout the hour, although my eyes rested comfortably beneath a puff of lavender cloth, he made sure I knew where he was at all times. As he made his way around the room, he would gently touch one ankle or a shoulder or the top of my head with one finger: a touchstone. His shoes were soundless, as was his attire, but I was never startled at his presence.

There was something intimate and healing about experiencing the touch of a man whose only purpose was to make me feel better. The rocks were grounding, solid, weighty. They carried heat. Contained it. They imbued my muscles with their ancient solidity and Earthyness. As Jose made his way around my body, I imagined the stones as magnets, pulling electric impulses like lightning charges from the nerves and muscles - the memory cells in my body. Drawing out the electrons that shot down the well-worn pathways of remembrance. Those paths that bully me into the certainty that "victim" is a word that is as much prescient as it is historical.

Jose's touch was gentle, professional, not at all sexual and yet it was clear that my pleasure was the object of this ritual. The restorative power of this touch, given in reverence and compassion (although Jose knew nothing of my past sexual abuse) were beyond anything I expected, and yet they were exactly what I needed. I am filled with gratitude that I have passed another healing milestone, and reminded that I need only hold my own body and mind in reverence as it heals itself in it's own time.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review

My latest book review can be found here, along with many other book, music, and movie reviews. This book was a total hoot and one that is so fun to share with others. Please check it out and, if you are so inclined, leave comments at the site (there's no 'joining' or 'signing up') to let the editors know that people are reading my work.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Out of Context

There is that moment when our brain strikes a flash, "I've seen that person before." "I know that woman." "What is his name?" We pass by them at the bank or see them in the frozen food aisle of Trader Joe's or catch sight of them at our daughter's basketball game. Who is that? It takes a few moments, or sometimes we can't reel in the reference at all because it's out of context.

Our brains, these wonderful computers that enable us to process information and put together bits and pieces of sensory input to make sense of the world, like context. They like to be able to put like with like. This set of people belong to the PTSA at Junior's school. These other folks go in the category of co-workers. God forbid you run into the medical assistant in the lobby of the cinerama, because that doesn't make sense. Our brains don't like well-rounded references. The medical assistant belongs in scrubs at Dr. Steeke's office. Period. He doesn't have a life beyond that. Does he?

Sunday Eve and I headed to the office supply superstore for more binders and just as my head was deep in a debate of the relative merits of dividers with pockets versus those without, I heard my name called. Turning in response, my eyes took in the tall blonde woman a few feet away. The fluorescent lights reflected off of her John Lennon glasses and she wore an enormous smile, clearly pleasantly surprised to see me. Her head tilted to one side and next to her was a cart full of notebooks and pencils, dry erase markers and post-it notes. It took me a minute.

In that minute before I "placed" her, what I saw was a lovely woman, about my age, who was relaxed, open, and ready to engage in conversation. As soon as my brain caught up with my senses, I was able to recall exactly where I knew her from, but my experience of her narrowed. Not in a bad way, but suddenly there were parameters around her: she does 'x,' likes to do 'y,' and knows 'Sally, Jesse, and Rafael.'

Two weeks ago, Bubba and I went out to the movies together. As I stood in line to buy tickets, a tall, handsome gentleman popped out of the lobby to call to a large group of people waiting on the sidewalk. He waved them over, embraced a few of them, and they all headed inside together. It took me a few minutes to realize that he is the girls' pediatrician. Not only have I never seen him out of his lab coat and giraffe stethoscope, but I've never seen him after dark. Or with his family. As someone who isn't there to serve my needs.

All too often we let our brains trick us into thinking that we know more about other people than we really do. While it is indisputably useful to be able to recall information as sets of data that fit together, I wonder whether we might be well-served to occasionally see people "out of context." Setting aside our previously constructed containers for the people in our lives may help us to broaden our understanding of each other. The first time I ever saw Bubba in a work setting I was completely floored. The first time I watched him draw with our daughters I was brought to tears. Despite the fact that we have known each other for over twenty years, I have new things to learn about him as well. There is no doubt I can learn more about the rest of the people I think I "know."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blogging Event: Love Beats Hate

Close your eyes. Think of a time when you felt loved. Describe it. Does it feel warm and sunny? Bright yellow? Or exciting and fireworks-on-the-4th-of-July? Does it feel peaceful and calm and restful and solid? Brand new and rocket-to-the-moon?

Now think of a time when you were consumed by hatred. Can you feel the closing-in happening? The colors darkening? The expansive becoming small, focused, pivotal and driven?

Whatever your experiences of these two emotions, I'm betting they have marked differences. I'm betting they elicit vastly unique sets of feelings in your physical body, and it bears some exploration to decipher them. Hatred can feel powerful and single-minded and those things are intoxicating. Love is more nebulous and hard to pin down and exists in so many different forms.

Maybe that's why it wins. Hate is an easy target that is easily defined. Love can come at it from all sides with so many different tactics and, while it doesn't feel as strong or invincible as hatred, maybe that's part of its secret. Make no mistake: love beats hate.

Today is the second "Love Beats Hate" blogging event. Want to know more? Just go to Facebook and type in "Love Beats Hate" in the search field.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Women's Rights: Convergence

I am in the center of this wheel. Instead of the spokes radiating out from me, these spokes are coming toward me, feeding me and offering up wisdom and feeling. I have been feeling something coming for a while and, at this point, my challenge is not to assume what it is or prescribe some action, but to sit and wait and honor what comes.

If you read the last post, you'll know that I recently discovered "Girls Speak Out" by Andrea Johnston. I read the acknowledgements section and discovered the name of her agent, which prompted me to send out a query letter about my manuscript "Rock and a Hard Place." Reading Gloria Steinem's foreward prompted me to contact her and express my admiration for her years of work and service in liberating women in this country and around the world.

The book I was assigned to review for Elevate Difference this month is called "A Strange Stirring" by Stephanie Coontz and traces the impact of Betty Freidan's "Feminine Mystique" on an entire generation of American women. Reading the history contained in this book and being reminded of the myriad ways human beings have of oppressing and belittling entire groups of people has given me much food for thought. But, you'll have to wait for the review to get any more on that. Don't worry - I'll let you know when it's on the site.

I support many groups that champion women and girls and on my Facebook page, my eye has recently been caught by media coverage of sex trafficking of young girls, including the news release that there are scores of young women and girls being shipped to Dallas to "entertain" partygoers and bigwigs attending the Superbowl.

In addition to local groups, I am part of World Pulse, an organization that exists to raise the voices of women around the world. They recently put out a call for members to write letters to the new executive director of women's issues for the UN, letting her know their hopes for her tenure and I was inspired to share my five part dream for women and girls everywhere
with her. So far, I've gotten some very positive feedback on it.

Eve started learning about puberty and sexuality at school last week and, thanks to her teacher, has come home wielding pages of questions she was assigned to ask a trusted adult for her homework. This prompted a really lovely discussion the other night about my experiences with puberty and how the world has changed in the short time period between my adolescence and hers. She is concerned about menstruation and sexual orientation and exploitation and it is my job to give her accurate information and help shape her decision-making about her own morality. I am struck by the fact that this conversation never could have occurred in my 1970s world, but at how lucky I was to have a stepmother in the 1980s who was willing to at least scratch the surface with me.

So I am spreading the word for now. I forwarded the link to Girls Speak Out to all of the parents at my daughter's girls school and I've offered to brainstorm with anyone who is interested about putting together an action group. I've become recommitted to getting the word out about my book and, come h-e-double hockey sticks or high water, it's getting published by summer. Even if I have to do it myself. And I'll continue to sit here in the center and listen and absorb the information coming my way. My heart is filled with optimism and calm and patience. I know that so long as I act out of love and compassion with an effort to educate and enlighten my actions will be met with open arms and my words will fall on the ears of those who need to hear them the most.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Two Links, Please!

Sorry, not sausage links. But I think these two are better than pork bits, although pork bits are tasty. Don't get me wrong...

A Link for Writers

Mira Bartok's memoir "The Memory Palace" is one of the first books I downloaded to my new iPad. While I wasn't certain how I would feel about reading without the feel of paper in my hands, there is no doubt about this book. It is lovely, well-written, engaging, and enlightening: everything a memoir ought to be, IMHO. In any case, at the end of the book, I discovered that Mira has a website where she highlights writing opportunities (grants, fellowships, residencies, etc.). Anyone who is looking for a leg up ought to check it out.

A Link for Girls (and those who care about them growing up to be strong and independent)

Yesterday I had some time to kill before a doctor appointment so I wandered into (where else?) a bookstore. One book appeared to be surrounded by that surreal Heavenly light that sucked me in like a vacuum and hollered, "Look at me!" so I did. In my current search for ways to empower women and girls a book entitled "Girls Speak Out" with a foreward written by none other than her majesty Gloria Steinem, it's no wonder I was drawn to this book. Also in its favor was the fact that it is a used paperback and, thus, inexpensive. (I'm certain Bubba wishes my New Year's resolution had had something to do with spending less money on books. Poor guy.)

Anyway, this book is several years old and was written as a guidebook for girls ages 9-15ish who are seeking ways to discover and honor themselves as they try to navigate the murky depths of adolescence in a consumer-driven society. I was glowing before I finished reading the introduction and foreward. And then I found their website. If you go, make sure you give yourself enough time to stay a while and marvel at all of the wondrous things Gloria and the author, Andrea Johnston, have inspired girls AROUND THE WORLD to do since this movement began. You won't be sorry.
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