On Dancing

A long time ago, I began writing. I wrote in a sort of journal-esque manner whenever the mood struck me. Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, I was usually drawn to writing when I was feeling down. I scratched angry words. I painted poems of sadness. The words, always punctuated with a deep loneliness, flowed from my pen with such ease. I became a master of describing the sadness, the fear, the anxiety, and the isolation that ran rampant through me.

And then one day, I realized that I had painted myself into a corner. Or rather, I’d written myself into a box. I love writing. I love creating. I love telling stories and I love sharing myself with the world. But, I had gotten so good at writing about sad things that I was a complete novice with ZERO practice writing about the beautiful things in life (and there are so many!). Like the cartoon-figured muscle man who always misses leg day at the gym, the biceps of my depressed writing had overgrown the weak little legs of my writings of beauty, gratitude, wonder, discovery.

And worst of all, I realized that the evolution of my writing reflected the evolution of my own thoughts about life. I realized that I took great care in my head to explore, uproot, and analyze my sadness, anger, grief. But, I spent very little time discovering the essence of my happiness. I gave a cursory nod and faint smile to the sound of my children laughing, the warm embrace of my husband after a long day, the wonder of sunrises over the mountains. You get the picture.

If you consider the dance of life to be that of a pair of lovers, and the play between them is a discovery and display of their dependence and their devotion. They need each other. They want each other. The lovers are Relentless Pursuit and Supreme Contentment. (They should really have sexier names like Sophia and Marlon, but they don’t.) Who leads? Who follows?

My lovers have fallen into a sort of unbalanced, aggressive, nearly abusive dance. Relentless Pursuit of a Better Life (that’s his full name) has forced the dance. Step here, pull there, dip, slide, step. “Me not you”, he says. And Supreme Contentment yearns to linger a bit longer in the embrace, to drape her hair and add a little swivel to her step.

When Travis and I were first dating, he wanted so badly to teach me to dance. We attended classes and practiced at home. The biggest challenge was that I insisted on leading. (Yes, I didn’t know the steps very well, but he didn’t seem to have an ear for the rhythm of the music… sheesh!) One day he told me, quite bluntly, that this dancing business will only work if I allowed him to take the lead. I was offended in a sort of feminist way. Why on earth did that make any sense for HIM to lead? Can’t we BOTH just drive forward together. Can’t we both just demand from each other and ourselves the Relentless Pursuit of a Better Dance?

When we were both driving forward, our dance became more of a mission and less of a celebration. When Travis led and I surrendered to Spaghetti Arms (remember Dirty Dancing?), the dance was his dance and I was a wilted piece of lettuce. But when I allowed Travis to lead, to pursue the next step and to choreograph, my work then was to add the flair. To swing my hips and flounce my hair with each turn and dip was my role. Without me, the dance was rigid. Without his lead, the dance lacked structure and courage. It is his determination and my damn-hot booty bumps that make our dances beautiful and full of love. For years we’ve curated our dance – on and off of the dance floor.

You see how this can happen with our thoughts, actions; and, how it’s happened with my writing. The more that I drive forward to improve, the more focus there is on what is bad. When I allow for gratitude, wonder, and love to have a voice and a place, the balance of Relentless Pursuit and Supreme Contentment dance like the impassioned lovers they are, driving forward and always taking time to throw their heads back in laughter.

So what did I do to change this dance?

First, I write. I write first everyday. I wake up when the house is still sleeping, I pour a cup of coffee and I write. I don’t craft. I don’t pay attention to punctuation or sentence structure or anything other than getting words from my head onto the paper. Julia Cameron in The Artists Way calls this practice Morning Pages. And it helps me blow the dust off of my brain so I can approach the day from a fresh perspective.

Second, I practice. Rather, I am practicing. I make a conscious effort to see the pretty stuff. I take time (even a few seconds!) to remind myself how delicious coffee tastes with the perfect amount of cream, how funny Joe is when he’s describing his day, the richness in the color of my sister’s ginger hair, how soft and quiet the snowy scene appears when looking out my window. I’m taking time to stop and smell the roses, as they say.

Lastly and most importantly, I’m telling YOU all of this. Sharing with you the Truth of Me has been the single most important practice for learning to appreciate what a beautiful life I live. When I describe to you what I feel and think and why reminds me that although my sadness and loneliness has been better documented, my happiness and love is just as big and just as important.

So, I sign off with a commitment to you. I promise to explore and document my happiness. And I promise to share it with you.

Love, Kisa

The Daily Grind of Life on the Edge of Living

10276558_10152136056348992_1825844190_nTwo years ago, we walked Ted out of UCLA hospital after a surgery to remove brain tissue that was believed to be the cause of his lifetime of seizure activity. Surgery was a traumatic experience for me as his mother. I was terrified. And today, when I look at this photo, I see the smile of happiness, anticipation,  excitement in his eyes. I see the sweet demeanor working so fervently to peek through the temporary flattened affect that frontal lobe surgeries can cause. While those images remind me that he is better than he was two years ago, I am also quite clear that we are far from where I want to be.

“Any idiot can face a crisis. It is this day-to-day living that wears you out.” – Anton Chekhov

I’ve been thinking about this quote recently. It was a guiding mantra for me during his surgery. Oddly enough, I’m encouraged by the simplicity of the complicated things in life. Maybe it’s my dad’s voice in my head? Or my pragmatic, Kansas upbringing. Anton’s succinct reminder is that there’s really no choice but to fight and move forward, despite the seemingly overwhelming circumstances in a crisis.

Well, Ted is having part of his brain removed today. Yup. Nothing to it but to do it!

Having your child hospitalized or undergoing brain surgery or open-heart surgery is just  like that. It’s a crisis. You kiss him on the forehead before he’s wheeled back to face the team of doctors, waiting to make their play at making his life better. A few hours (or several) later, you are summoned to recovery to kiss him again. This time, you kiss him on the bandages that are tightly wrapped to compress the healing wound. And then you wait.

You wait for the next nurse to check another beeping machine. You wait for the team to make their rounds. You wait for the doctor to remind you that you also need to sleep. You wait for him to begin to show those first signs of recovery. Whether you like it or not, the crisis evolves to the next stage of no-longer-a-crisis. Whether you are ready or not, life moves on. You do your best. But the window of crisis is small and thankfully, fleeting.

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Two years ago, after the initial window of post-surgical crisis was closed and curtained, I realized how deeply I wanted Ted to be “better”. It’s taken me these past two years to truly understand what I have been looking for in “better”. As Anton reminds us, this day-to-day living wears you out. Having a child with a chronic illness or lifelong condition is a bit like facing a crisis. A crisis every day, that is. EVERY DAMN DAY.

Every morning when I wake up, I listen for Ted. Despite having his tonsils and adenoids removed many years ago, he still snores softly. For me, it’s a sound that reassures me that he is alive. Ted’s condition increases greatly his chances of dying from SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death from Epilepsy). His risk of dying is highest at night. He is at risk of dying every night. So you can imagine that no sound is sweeter to me than the sound of my son’s snoring!

So, what I’m describing here is that I make my way through crisis every morning. By the time I’ve poured my coffee, I’ve already seen what I hope is the worst of my day. Most days I’m okay. Some days, my tears pour as thickly as my coffee. This day-to-day living really does wear me out. And the crisis part of the day-to-day, I suppose, is what allows me to get over it all and move on. At least until the next morning.

But what is it that I want for Ted? I want him to be seizure-free, yes. I want him to continue to grow and develop and improve his cognitive ability that has been barraged by 16 years of epileptic activity. I want him to have meaningful relationships with friends and family. I want him to have work that he is excited and proud to do. Above all, I want him to live. This is the important goal. I want the risk of death to decrease and disappear. I want my son to live.

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Unfortunately, my sister faces a similar journey tonight. Her son was hit by a car today. While it’s a miracle that he is alive, his little body full of fractures, lacerations, bleeding, and acute trauma. He has a long road of recovery before he’s back on the pitcher’s mound. The odds are with him. He has a strong will and an even stronger mother behind him. My sweet sister. I want nothing more than to scoop her up and tell her it will all be okay. But I can’t. I can’t because even I know that this may appear a crisis to others, but to us mothers, this is the crisis of day-to-day living.

Life is so short, considering all that we pack into it. It’s no wonder that we cling to tightly to each day. And we cling even tighter to the illusion of control over the lives that our children live. Yes, it’s biological that we would do everything in our power to ensure their survival. But, there’s only so much we can control. All we can do is show up, do our best, and accept that there are things out of our control, including brain lesions and speeding cars. 11426240_10153079969873992_5468293588372826986_n

Sonata

Moonlight waltzes in
Between the sighs and short whispers
Of love and fear and hope.

Soft keys play but not like the children
When the light is soft and waning.
It hangs heavy. And lingers.

But it speaks. Not in a language
Of words or actions or gestures or sound 
That is ever heard aloud.

Deep within, it penetrates and haunts
Even the rooms that were locked.
The dance consumes.

As dawn arrives with full intention,
The song of the moon penetrates.
Deeper and fuller than ever before.

I remember when…

I remember when I was infinite.
It was grand.
And now I am whole.
And it is.

All these years, we write scripts for the life we think we are living. At what point do we start living in improvisation? And when we do, what happens? Will we still be happy and sad as we were before? Or will our emotions feel differently?

There is an old proverb, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

In my yoga practice, my challenge is always to see things as they are. No small task, which is why I hit the mat on a regular basis. But I often wonder what it would be like to actually not see things in our own reflection.

Food for thought.