Category Archives: Inspiration

An Open Letter to My Colon

Keezel planting flora at the incision sites

An Open Letter to My Colon

In Memory of Platoon 2A, Sigmoid Sector, Near Serosal Wall

Dear Colon,

First, I am sorry that I did not know you well–did not know your names, your layers, your length. I can dissect a sentence, discuss archaic verb tenses, conjugate Latin, but I cannot anatomically name my body parts. You didn’t mind. You had a job to do. But then you called me–no doubt first softly, but I did not hear; then louder and here we are.

On this four month anniversary of our surgery, the conclusion of your battle, we are planting flowers—healthy flora—along the places where you were cut, sacrificed in service to life. Where there was a wound, and then a mending, there will be a garden. Keezel, my fiercest of all fierce monkeys, tends the garden, plants the seeds, breathes in the fragrance of the flowers. We are reconstructing our physical form through our images and our stories. We are being assisted with plant medicines, gifts from trees, and pure water. We have a physician-guide for our physical rebuilding who sees us not as our pathology, but as our wholeness, and we have guides for our soul rebuilding—some we know in daily life, others virtually, and others only through texts and art and music. We are not alone.

This morning, Keezel said we should build a bridge across the scars and fill the pond with koi that will shimmer and flicker and flow with the movement of the water, waste, and unneeded energies that pass through the colon’s walls every minute of every day. We will fill this inner underworld with sparkle. We will keep the energy in motion. We will visit this bridge, this garden, these flowers and koi, every day.

Today, we erect an historical marker:

On this spot, March 8, 2017, the Battle in Service to Life Ended.

Sacrificed: 10 inches of sigmoid colon

Platoon 2A, we are grateful for your service.

I have now named every part of my body—not the anatomical terms—those clinical words don’t reach my soul.  But I have named the organs nonetheless, created characters for them, engaged in dialogue with them and allowed them to be in dialogue with each other. I say hello, every day, to them. I rub my belly; I trace her scars and anoint them with Vitamin E oil; I whisper, “thank you.” I visit the memorial garden in my mind. I kiss the new flowers, and I honor the sacrifice of tissue, cells, and energy that had to happen in the service of life.

Colon, you are remarkable. You held the chaotic cells back. You protected the perimeter — the serosal wall, the last line of defense before metastasis — at great personal cost. You fought valiantly to ensure the tumor remained encapsulated and did not extend its chaos into the lymph. For this, you were brought into the light of surgery and removed. For performing your work perfectly, you were taken.

Some people say that a cancer diagnosis feels like a betrayal of the body, but I don’t feel that way. I feel that you defended me at the cost of your own existence. You fought so hard, and you bled and you bled and it was through that bleeding that I knew. It was through that bleeding that you sent the message: Help us. We can no longer do this alone. And it was through that bleeding that you reached out to me in the service of life.

This is anything but betrayal. It is the deepest love.

I promise you I will work only with healers who are capable of seeing us as whole, not as data points or labels or stages. I will engage only with those who understand the power of life to be alive. You, who have lain down your life for me—for us—have through that sacrifice offered tremendous gifts, not the least of which is bringing my body back together again. You have introduced us to one another and filled the cells and abdominal cavity with golden light.

I am sorry to no longer have you in my body, but you are in my soul, and your spirit infuses my days and my dreams.

Thank you for your service to life, to love, to us.

❤️ Laraine

Hello! It is I, Keezel! Do not worry. I got this.

On Discernment, Activism, and Being Difficult

I organized a #writersresist event in January at our local bookstore around the time of the inauguration. We set the date in April, the weekend of the Earth Day and Marches for Science. Election night still loomed in my consciousness like the last remnants of a virus. I have always had a precarious relationship to activism because it’s not my nature to confront or to tie myself to trees or lay down under tanks. I have often felt that by not doing these things I didn’t care enough, and then I felt ashamed and privileged. And then this election happened, and I went to local meetings and I gave all the money I could to everything — the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, ProPublica, Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Resources Defense Fund, KNAU, PBS — and then in February I found out I had colon cancer and by early March I was in a hospital in Scottsdale recovering from having 8” of my colon removed and a malignant 5 cm tumor excised. All I could do was get well. All I could do was step out of fear and into love. If I was afraid of my cancer, I’d be at war with my own body. If I was afraid of what might or might not happen next, I would be at war with the very nature of being alive. If I was afraid of change, I would be at war with our only constant. I cannot resist the reality in front of me because I now know my finite energy, and if all my energy is spent resisting I have none left for alchemy, and it’s within alchemization that my own activism and power lies.

I am not willing to engage in conflict with my body. I am not willing to be at war with the future or with the past. I’m no longer willing to invest in fear as a motivator for doing anything. And as I lay in the hospital listening to my IV drip beeping and my vital signs buzzing I started to reconceive my activism. #45 and his cabal of fear will not take my life from me. I will not allow him to make me ill or anxious or frightened. I don’t want to wake up each day, click on the NYTimes or Washington Post or turn on NPR and hear the fear and take the chaos into my body. I can’t afford to do that. My body has made that clear. But I also will not do nothing. I will not stand by or claim blissful ignorance or stand in my privilege-bubble of being less impacted than others due to dumb luck of birth.

So what can I do that will matter? What can I do that is my activism, that allows me to maintain my health and keep getting stronger, but still impacts the direction of the country? Come to find out, it is my best thing — my only and forever companion — my words. Stories and poems and songs and essays and articles have always shaped the world’s cultures. These writers have been jailed, executed, censored, exiled, feared — not because what they do is irrelevant, but because it is profoundly important. It turns out the direction of the human heart can be altered through a poem, through a revelation in a novel, through an insight in a memoir or a piece of investigative journalism.

Fear contracts. Love expands. These were words my father wrote to me in my 9th birthday letter in 1977 after his first heart attack. Most of you know he has been long dead, and I have wanted to talk to him so much these past months as I relearn how to be in my body. But I can talk to him because he wrote to me. And when I read those words 30 years after his death, I learn more about who I am.  If I have gleaned anything so far on this cancer journey it is to hold nothing back. Give it all away. Do not die with your best thing still in you.

The first group of oncologists we saw wanted me to start on chemotherapy and radiation several weeks ago. My surgery had been successful. There is no metastasis at this time. My margins are negative. I told them no and they responded chaotically, with fear, with judgment, with contraction. When I looked at these doctors I knew in my bones they would not treat me. They could not help me. They attacked a label. They didn’t address a human. When we crossed the threshold of their offices, I got an instant flash of myself as a girl, in my favorite red dress and red Stride Rite sandals. I was crouched down with one hand over my face and the other hand, palm out, pushing away. I would listen to her. I would pay attention to my intuition.

I went to another doctor who consulted with my surgeon as well as a third oncologist and they all agreed that chemotherapy and radiation would be ill-advised at this time. “Instead,” the doctor said, “let’s build a biosphere and an ecosystem in which the cancer cells cannot thrive. Rather than blast them with an inexact weapon, let’s change the very expression of your body so the cancer cells won’t find nourishment.”

And within that framework, I move forward not only as someone managing cancer, but as a writer who is an activist, and my approach with my writing is to create an ecosystem in which the fear and duality and division of 45’s whirling dervish of chaos cannot thrive. This is what art does. Art changes the soil of our universe.

It may seem like we are doing nothing, scratching away on paper in our rooms. It may seem like our readers can’t find us or that our work lands in an empty canyon. It doesn’t matter. Write anyway. The very act of writing changes who you are. The very act of writing makes you more human, more open, more alive and more empathetic. Word by word, writers, we change souls, starting first with our own. Word by word, we write a new narrative for our bodies, our country, and word by word, if all of us do our work, these new narratives supplant the old ones. Write the stories that will till the soil of our planet for all of us to thrive.

Some of us have the gift of surgeon’s steel or a scientist’s gaze. Others are farmers, finding new ways to healthfully and sustainably provide sustenance and others still are engineers working on renewable energy technologies. What if they stopped just because the world wasn’t interested right now and the grant funding ran out? They won’t. And we won’t either because our work transcends us.

Our work is the ashes we leave behind for others to use to kindle a whole new world. Let’s leave them seeds that nourish all beings. Let’s leave them love, and when it’s time for us to go, we will have showered the planet with everything we were given to share, and when our eyes close for the final time, the covers of the book of our life, we will know we have emptied and can fly on.

 

#cancergift, #persist, #sisu

 

“Whatever comes, good or bad, don’t make a move to avoid it.”

Maurine Stuart Roshi

I think about the ways that we construct a reality. I think about how we absorb emotional experiences, intellectual information, challenges and mythologies – cultural, familial, personal –  and determine a ‘view’ for the world we inhabit. This view is only ours, and it is subjective, limited, and perilous.

I think about how what is simply is, regardless of whether we have integrated it yet.

On Tuesday, I learned that I have colon cancer. When I woke up that morning, I reminded myself that whatever I learn at the appointment already is. The cancer didn’t just arrive at 2:15 that day. It had been building for a long time. My awareness of something in my body being imbalanced began several months ago, but the imbalance began long before my awareness of it. The groundwork for its manifestation began a long time ago.

There’s the micro-second between sleep and waking up where I have forgotten, and then I remember, and the remembering settles its downy wings over me. This happened the morning after the election. And the next morning, and the next morning. It happened the morning after my dad’s death. And the next morning, and the next morning. This is part of the grieving process. The old view — the default — is still a residual part of the burgeoning view. It has to reshatter each morning as it reconstructs itself. This is part of integration.

I have spent most of my life working on grief and loss and transitions in academics, in practice, and in art. My first thought after I received the news was that this will transition into some fantastic art. It will give me the next layer of my teaching and my writing. It will forge my soul into its next thing, and what I learn I can bring back to others through my books and classes.

Absorbing this knowledge of cancer is a slow process. It’s like pouring water on the earth. A little more awareness seeps in each day. A little more integration. But the cancer was there before I knew. That’s the first piece to address holistically.

I am not fighting this cancer. I will not be at war with my own body. I will not hate it. It is a tremendous body, and it has done good work. I do not like the language of illness most of Western medicine uses and I will not use it. I will not stand in a place of aggression towards myself. I will not “beat” this thing. It is not a villain to be destroyed. It is not an invader. It is my own body’s response to too much inflammation. It is, ultimately, a gift to be unpacked.

I will alchemize it. I will integrate it and I will transform it into something else. I will not kick its ass or blast it away. I will not put my emotional energies toward destruction and I will not let the dualistic language of medicine turn me against my own flesh.

I will extend my hand to this gift and I will put my energies toward reconception. Rebirth. Renewal.

This is not passive.

I am actively seeking help from a blended group of sources. I am meeting with a surgeon on Wednesday and I will have the tumors removed. I feel like this step is the equivalent of first putting out the house fire so you can understand underlying structural issues. The ‘fire’ must first be contained. But there is more. I do not want to rebuild the same structure. This is my opportunity for new architecture. I have several incredible healers in various modalities in my life who I am privileged not only to have in a professional role, but also in a deep-love space. From my Taoist yoga writer friend Cain Carroll, to my acupuncturist Traeger Stertzbach, to my massage therapist Carolina Morton, to my genius Jungian therapist Dalena Watson — I have help.

I am grateful to have access to top surgeons down in Phoenix. I am grateful to have a flexible job and loving friends and family and cats. I am grateful for health insurance. I am grateful for my panel of alternative healers and my background in psychology, grief theory, trauma and mythology and story.

Everything I do in my life revolves around writing and teaching. I am at the threshold of the next door, and I will not look away.

“In the heart of the fire lies a hidden spring.”

Giun

feel free to share

#persist #sisu #cancergift

Stay Sane Inside Insanity

made w/Paper 53

From the darkness of Frank-n-Furter’s castle in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Columbia sings out, “Stay sane inside insanity!” I’ve thought of that line frequently since the election. I’ve felt like everything that mattered to me–the planet’s health, women’s reproductive rights, the ACA, civil liberties, on and on–has come under attack. I’ve been tossed away with each day’s news, and I’ve felt the fear of helplessness start to silence my work. I grow more afraid as I watch many news organizations start to normalize the gaslighting of a narcissist-on-Twitter. What rabbit hole is this?

What does a novel matter when the world is flooding and heating up and our new government could care less? What does fiction matter in a world where facts are apparently optional and synonymous with opinion? Why should we write at all when there’s talk of registries and walls, privatizing education and repealing health care?

And then I remember Eugene Ionesco’s play, The Rhinoceros. If you weren’t an English or Drama major, you may not know it, but it’s a phenomenal work in which, in a far-too-simple synopsis here (sorry Professor Dunn!), a rhinoceros comes to town and people debate it, ignore it, and eventually normalize it. Then, they become the rhinoceros, willingly abdicating their humanity in favor of the force and power of the rhino. Only Berenger, our protag, refuses to capitulate as the whole world turns rhino.

And that is one demonstration of the value of what we do as artists and writers. Ionesco wrote the play in 1959 as a response to the rise of Fascism and Nazism prior to World War II. The play is still relevant today.

What we writers write in these unsettled times serves many purposes:

1) Helping us, the writers, stay sane (which allows us to show up fully for our families, jobs, and activism work)

2) Providing respite, laughter, and contemplation for people fighting difficult fights (Never underestimate the value of escapist literature in mental health!) Don’t self-censor your stories by thinking they’re not ‘important’ in these new times

3) Providing cautionary tales for future generations

4) Resisting, resisting, resisting normalcy of the rhino with every word in us

The coming years promise unfamiliar ground for many of us. Be vigilant. Take a stand for the rights of others. We all will need each other.

Writers are often the canary in the coal mine of societies’ trajectories. Don’t stop sending the signals. We never know which ones will be heard. Be gentle and compassionate with yourselves as you find the ways of resistance that work for you.

But do not, do not, do not become the rhino.