Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tossing vitamins and other ways to love yourself

The other day I swallowed -- and then choked on -- a multivitamin the size of a horse pill. After coughing uncontrollably and rubbing my throat until the discomfort went away, it occurred to me that this happens EVERY TIME I take this "good for you" vitamin. Suddenly the $17.99 or whatever I had paid for the bottle didn't seem worth the guaranteed daily gag fest. I picked up the nearly full bottle, threw it in the trash and exclaimed "Never again!" for effect. (I can be a bit melodramatic when I'm at home alone.)

It felt good. Really good. Why had I not discarded those throat-scraping choke hazards sooner? Why was I continuing to put them in my mouth, knowing I'd choke on them every time? As I chewed on these questions my eyes came to rest upon a small tin filled with bobby pins. Most of the pins had lost their rounded tips so they pulled my hair and scraped my scalp when I used them.

I grabbed the tin from the shelf and dumped the pins in the trash.

A thought flashed in my mind: What else in my house hurts me? Annoys me? Causes me regular frustration?

  • Good-bye, footstool! You're stylish, but I stub my toe on you ALL THE TIME. (I shoved the stool under a chair. If I want to use it, I'll pull it out.)
  • Socks with holes: I deserve better. Out with you! 
  • Can opener that's hard to crank and hurts my hands and makes me cuss: Adios!
  • Jacket with sticky zipper that slows me down when I'm trying to leave: To Goodwill you go!

As I went about scanning and tossing and making minor adjustments in my home, I realized just how many little irritants I was willing to accept and live with on a daily basis. It was as if a part of me didn't believe I was worth the $2.89 it would cost me to get a new set of bobby pins.

The more I sat with the idea, the heavier my heart felt in my chest. Because, in a way, this was the truth.

In recent months I've come to notice how loud my inner critic can be. The smallest thing can set off a self-scolding that leaves me stewing for hours.

You're running late again? Really, Katie? Give me a break. Did you think there wouldn't be traffic at 5:30 pm?
Why did you wait until the last minute to address this? Your time management is for shit. 
How can you be low on money again? Ever heard of a budget? How old are you anyway?
You call this meditation? Looks like a bad case of monkey brain to me. You're wasting your time.

My inner critic can be relentless ... and exhausting. The good news is that I'm aware now how much she can color the way I see myself, others and the world around me. So these days when she starts in on me, I notice it right away and I remind myself that anger is really something else: fear in disguise. That acknowledgement alone takes the power out of the diatribe and makes room for compassion.

What exactly am I afraid of? Good question.

I (try to) meditate on that. I try to notice what circumstances make me particularly self-critical. I practice mental fitness in the gym to boost my confidence and self-image outside the gym. I sometimes see what it feels like to sit with uncomfortable feelings and not immediately try to "fix it." I take deep breaths and tell myself to relax.

And I toss out expensive vitamins. A small, but symbolic way of loving myself.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Discovering What I'm Made Of

[Editor's note: Apologies for the length of this entry. This topic has been percolating for a while, and I only recently felt ready to write about it.]

I had a random, last-minute idea to attend church this past weekend. When the pastor began his sermon, he said he wanted to talk about grief and how people generally talk about grief as if it were an event with a start and stop date, when actually it can be a lifelong process that evolves as you evolve.

He also spoke of ways to cope with grief. Among his suggestions, he said to listen to your dreams. Snippets of my dream from the previous night suddenly flashed through my mind like a film in fast-forward. I got goosebumps. I felt heat in my ears.

He talked of Carl Jung's theory that dreaming was the body's natural mechanism for healing. And he referred to John Sanford's book "Dreams: God's Forgotten Language," which talks about the psychological and spiritual significance of dreams. Sanford points to the many cultures across the globe that believe God speaks to humanity in dreams.  

In my mind's eye I see my dream again. I am on the floor, face down in a lunge. I am leaning into the stretch when suddenly the floor turns to sand and a terrific and terrible wave comes crashing down on me. I feel the full weight and power of the ocean on my back; it is almost suffocating. I dig my fingers into the sand, trying to maintain my position, but the force is too great. The water rips me off the floor and hurls me through its murky blackness until I eventually land flat on my back. I open my eyes only to see that I am yards — perhaps miles — deep into the ocean. The light at the water's surface is so far above me, so unreachable, that it feels like tomorrow proceeding without me.

I realize this is death. I will not breathe again.

The pastor talks about the death of his wife, how he had studied the psychology of grief for years in academia, but none of it prepared him for what he felt when he lost his wife.

I feel the vast emptiness of the dark ocean around me. It is absolutely frightening and foreign, but I am doing my best to relax into it, trying to trick myself, keep my fear at bay. But then I feel another wave coming from miles away, like a tsunami on a radar screen. My heart is pounding sickeningly in my chest. I know how terrible it is going to be and I know I have no control over it. Instead of digging my fingers into the ocean floor, I go limp and the rush of the water sweeps me up like a ragged doll into a blurry, swirling blindness. I am not without fear, but this time I am one with the turbulence. Then another realization: I am being projected upward. And just like that, my face pops through the water's surface. I am floating on my back in the water. I am breathing again. 

I try to take in the expanse of blue sky above me. It is as grand as the ocean beneath me. But I can only see part of it from where I float. And that is when I suddenly find myself in the sky, looking down on my body.

Now I can see so much more than what my earthly body could see. This perspective is also foreign, but — unlike the turbulent ocean — it doesn't frighten me.

I don't feel any attachment to that body I see way down there in the water. I know I am dead. But from this viewpoint, it feels more like ... a renewal? A beginning? 

The pastor finishes his sermon and asks us to bow our heads in prayer. As everyone lowers their heads, I quietly gather my purse and head to the chapel doors. 

I walk outside into the bright sunshine. I get in my car. I drive in silence. No radio. Phone off. I drive and then I cry. Because I understand my dream now, and the divine significance of the vision, the comfort I find in it, breaks my human heart.

You see, back in January when I had a retinal hemorrhage, the eye doctor suggested that I get a physical exam because such hemorrhages aren't typical and it could be symptomatic of something larger going on with me. So I did, and my GP uncovered something new: I tested positive for anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA), and these antibodies show a homogeneous, speckled pattern. What does that mean? It means that I carry the same genetic coding as my mother. Coding that says I am genetically predisposed for autoimmune disorders — specifically lupus, Sjogren syndrome, scleroderma, polymyositis, rheumatoid arthritis and mixed connective tissue disease.

My mom was diagnosed with scleroderma at age 44. She died the day before her 45th birthday.

For a week I sat on this news about my genetic makeup without telling anyone — save for a friend who happened to call me only hours after I had read my blood test results via an email from the doctor's office. I was a bit of a mess and had no business answering the phone, but I did. I was sitting on my bed, mostly numb, hot with tears and acutely aware of everything, like I was watching myself in a movie.

I told my friend that I needed to see a specialist to fully understand what the results meant. It was wasted energy to panic and I needed to stay calm. I needed more information. He agreed. He told me to keep him posted. I could call him anytime.

Thanks to some personal connections, I was able to get in the following week with a highly regarded rheumatologist who stays booked months in advance. He examined me, interviewed me extensively, asked about other symptoms I might have and reviewed my blood work. Then he told me:

  • I have Raynaud's disease, which is typical among those who have an autoimmune disorder, but Raynaud's can exist by itself too. Having Raynaud's does not equate to having an autoimmune disorder.
  • I have a significant vitamin D deficiency, which is typical among those with autoimmune disorders because your body can't process it, but this deficiency is extremely common among the general population too because we now wear sunscreen and are mindful of sun exposure.
  • Aside from being ANA positive, nothing in my blood work indicates an active autoimmune disorder. My numbers are in healthy ranges across the board.
The doctor said all of this in a cheerful tone, as if it were good news, but all I could think was: So, you're saying I'm OK now. But what about later?

As if he were reading my mind, the doctor squared his shoulders to mine, looked me right in the eyes and said: "Katie, I am looking at a very healthy 41-year-old woman who shows no signs of an active autoimmune disorder. And as far as scleroderma is concerned ... we know the least about it, but we do know that it's very rare to see two cases back-to-back within a family. If you were to develop scleroderma like your mother did, you would be an exception to the rule. I'm not saying it isn't a possibility, but it would be a departure from what is typical and expected of the gene's behavior."

What about the other autoimmune disorders? The doctor said that I'm "genetically predisposed" (read: at increased risk), but being ANA positive by itself doesn't mean I'll inevitably get sick. Autoimmune disorders are highly linked to environmental triggers. There must be a "perfect storm" of triggers to elicit an autoimmune response in my body. What are those triggers?

  • Regular exposure to toxins (household cleaners, yard chemicals, highly processed foods, highly polluted air);
  • Physical trauma (a serious accident, invasive surgery that's hard on the body, a serious viral/bacterial infection); and
  • Regular exposure to emotional stress (no work/life balance, mental health issues, toxic relationships or lifestyle choices that cause long-term distress). 
The doctor went on to point out that I am already living ideally, given my genetic makeup: I work for myself and place value on work-life balance; I am passionate about physical fitness and being good to my body; I make good decisions about my nutrition and indulge in moderation; I have strong familial and personal relationships that keep me emotionally sane; and I have volunteer work that is emotionally gratifying.

"I couldn't prescribe a better lifestyle if you were a regular patient of mine," he said.

To further comfort me, we went over a list of symptoms that would indicate something could be going awry inside me.

"If you notice any of these things going on, come back and we'll talk," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, you can view yourself as a carrier of this gene. It meant one thing in your mother's body and I'm so sorry that happened to her. But it doesn't have to mean the same thing in yours. What your exam today tells me is that you're a healthy woman — healthier than many her age."

I walked out of that appointment with a strange mix of feelings. I could no longer hear the ticking of an impending death sentence, but I felt a new fragility inside me — a fragility that continues to color everything I think, see, feel or do.

This fragility, though, isn't a bad thing. I think it's a precious gift. It reminds me that I need to take care of myself — always. That I need to be gentle with my heart, patient with my mind, good to my body. It also furthers my conviction that the only thing I can control is what I do with my time today. I can still plan. I can dream. I can prepare. I can hope — all of which are ways to take care of my future self. But I'm learning not to bank on things unfolding a certain way, just because that's what I expected or worked toward. The only sure thing I have is the present moment.

Day by day, this is my journey to live out, and I feel incredibly empowered — genetically wired — to not waste it. I want to live it with arms wide open until that wave comes for me. And when it does, it'll be OK. Because I feel in my heart now that death is just as much a beginning as it is an end.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Wonder of Witnessing

In a modest dance studio, two preteen girls stand face to face, mirroring one another's movements in slow motion. The taller girl is leading. She circles her arms overhead, looking to the ceiling, and then bows forward at the middle, letting her head hang and arms swing at her sides. Her "mirror image," a Hispanic girl who's at least a foot shorter, keeps a watchful eye on her partner, trying her best to mimic every move in real time.

When the music started, the girls were suppressing nervous giggles. But now their faces have assumed a calm concentration. They are reflections of each other.

They see one another.
They are seen by one another.

This was just one of a handful of performance pieces I witnessed this weekend at a very informal recital of sorts at Cafe Dance in West Austin. The performers -- seven female adolescents -- were residents of The Settlement Home for Children, which provides housing, counseling, schooling and a multitude of support services for girls ages 7 to 21 who -- for one reason or another -- have no family or are no longer living with their families.

The recital was the culmination of a workshop hosted by Barbara Jo Stetzelberger, a licensed clinical social worker and dance movement therapist. For two days, Barbara Jo led the girls through a series of Interplay activities, which offer "embodied paths for self-discovery and personal healing." The recital I attended was basically a demonstration of what the girls learned in the workshop. As a group, they voted on what they wanted to perform for us -- us being about 20 community members sitting on folding chairs arranged in a semicircle. 

In Barbara Jo's Interplay workshop, there are no false or wrong moves. It is a safe, nonjudgmental environment where the young ladies are given permission to create, explore and self-express, using their voices and whole-body gestures and movement. They are invited to work alone and to work together at various points in the workshop, which creates opportunities to develop self-confidence as well as confidence in others.

I found myself holding back tears through most of the recital. The girls reminded me of how painfully alive I felt at their age, full of hormones and self-doubt, physically awkward, prone to throwing tantrums and wanting so desperately to shine, to be accepted. I watched the girls move about the floor, some with peacockish flair and some with trepidation and frequent looks toward Barbara Jo for direction. How much had they already suffered in their young lives? What have they endured? What have they been witness to?

Too much.

The rescuer in me wanted to know their stories and to "fix" all the injustices. I had to keep reminding myself that these girls are safe for now. They are surrounded by dedicated people who are working around the clock to ensure they have support and stability at the most fundamental level, as well as opportunities to learn and grow -- like this workshop with Barbara Jo.

Thank god for people like Barbara Jo, who are doing their part to bring hope and light to people who desperately need it. As I watched the recital, I couldn't help but think of the women I meet in my volunteer work at Lockhart Prison. Every semester I am witness to women mustering the courage to stand up and tell their life stories -- to remove all pretenses and defenses and speak candidly about the experiences they've had and the choices they've made over the course of their lives that eventually led them to where they are today: behind bars.

I don't have hard numbers, but it is my experience that the majority of the women in my classroom endured gross neglect and physical or sexual abuse as children. And as soon as they were old enough to discover a means of escape (alcohol; drugs; running away to the streets; inappropriate relationships with older, often abusive, men), they dove in headfirst, initiating a path of self-destruction that led them to lives of crime and ultimately prison. Along the way, many of them had babies, who then grow up in the same unspeakable chaos.

The cycle begins again.

Which brings me back to the recital and those seven girls in all their preteen glory, mustering the courage to remove all pretenses and authentically express themselves in front of an accepting, supportive audience. They didn't tell their stories, but I can take an educated guess. And it's my prayer that because of resources like The Settlement Home and people like Barbara Jo, these girls will have much different stories to tell in their latter years.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dear Expectations

Dear Expectations:

It has been duly noted that you show up in a timely fashion to all new challenges, encounters, events, conversations, and interactions of both the professional and personal kind. Despite your track record of perfect attendance, it has been determined that you do not add value to the operations within Katie Ford's HEADquarters. In fact, an internal review revealed that your worth has been on a steady decline for several years.

This is an official notice that you are no longer welcome at future engagements. If you decide to show up anyway, your presence will be acknowledged and then quickly dismissed without ceremony.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Stepping into the Sky

June 28 and June 29 always inspire me to reflect because these are the anniversaries of my mother's death and birth, respectively. Instead of dreading these days as I have in the past, now I welcome them. I like the calm introspection that wells up inside me. I like walking around, going about my day, with eyes that see the delicate, temporary nature of things. I like getting a rush from something as simple as inhaling deeply and sitting back in my chair and just watching, noticing, everything.

Yesterday when I was training, I embraced the fact that my 41-year-old body was breathing hard, sweating profusely and straining to "stay in the fight," as my coach says. As my heart pounded and it became harder to catch my breath, I thought of my mom, who didn't live to see her 45th birthday because her body quit on her. I relished the feeling of my beating heart and I dedicated every breath, every step, every effort to her.

She can no longer, so I will.

I am of her blood and her bone; she continues to live through me and through my sister who has since given life to three little boys who will never know our mother, but will understand how amazing she was because we will tell them stories and show them pictures. And when they're old enough to have such awareness, they'll come to understand who she was because they will recognize her influence in the way their own mother and aunt treat others and embrace life. They will say, "She must have been a remarkable woman. I wish I could have met her."

My grief is bittersweet. More than anything, I just feel tender. My heart feels weighty in my chest with a sorrow that will always be, but it's also heavy with gratitude for having Mom in my life for 19 years.

Have you ever listened to a song countless times and then suddenly one day you hear the lyrics for the first time -- I mean really hear them? That's what happened to me this morning with this song that's been on my starred playlist for months. I looked up the song lyrics today and then found a homemade video on YouTube that serves as a perfect visual metaphor for how I often feel when I think about Mom. This lonesome, dark road I sometimes travel is also wondrous and beautiful. And even though I can't see what lies ahead and there are moments of total darkness, I always find myself back on solid ground -- the lines of the road clearly marked and beckoning me to keep moving. And so I do. Gladly.   

That Knot Unties
David Karsten Daniels
If you close your eyes
do you see any sky?
If you close your eyes
can you make out any skies?

Is there a sky when that knot
that knot unties,
as you close your eyes?

When you close your eyes
will you step into the skies?

As you close your eyes
do you step into the skies?

Is there a sky when that knot
that knot unties,

as you close your eyes?

When you close your eyes
I will resist
I will not cry.
When you close your eyes
I can resist
I will not cry.

I will not try
to know why

to know why

why all things die, die, die.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Inventory Of Events That Indicate I Am Not Present

1. Cashier: "Debit or Credit?" Me: "Crebit."
2. Upon returning from a walk with my dog, I threw my house key in the gumby trash bin and then walked to the front door with Martha's bag of poo.
3. Halfway through shampooing my hair I realized that I had already shampoo'd my hair.
4. I noticed a woman in the coffee shop staring at me, and it occurred to me that -- for who knows how long -- I had been making facial expressions that corresponded with a hypothetical conversation I was having in my head.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Having a ball for Marbridge

The first thing I noticed about Dan was his size. The guy is grizzly bear big; my hand disappeared into his like a ball in a glove as we introduced ourselves with a firm handshake. The second thing I noticed was that he is a good listener and almost always has something helpful or kind to say in return. I also noticed very quickly that he is a sure shot on the basketball court.
Adam, Dan and me.
I met Dan while participating in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament at the Marbridge Villas & Ranch, a semi-independent living community for adults who are developmentally disabled or mentally challenged. Marbridge is trying to raise enough money to construct a new gymnasium that will be known as the Victory Hall Athletic & Event Center. Marbridge’s existing gymnasium, built in 1959, is a 1,200-square-foot cinder block building that could pass for a sauna in the summer and a meat locker in the winter. The heavily worn equipment likely was the latest on the market when Arnold Schwarzenegger was considering a career in bodybuilding, and there’s only enough space for half a basketball court, which makes for an extremely tight and fast-paced game. When completed, the 19,000-square-foot Victory Hall Athletic & Event Center will not only be a place to host sports, fitness and wellness programs for Marbridge’s 240 residents, but it also will be accessible to the public for athletic competitions, workshops, performances, you name it! It’s a grand and noble vision that will benefit the residents of Marbridge, as well as the surrounding community.
So, back to the 3-on-3 tournament, which unfolded on the half court in the Marbridge gymnasium over the course of a Saturday afternoon.

The Rules
  • Each team consists of two volunteers and a Marbridge resident.
  • Each game lasts 10 minutes (with the clock continuously running).
  • A coin toss at the beginning of the game determines the winner if the game ends in a tie. The loser of the coin toss in-bounds the ball to start the game.
  • Any time you get the ball on the rebound or intercept a shot, you must take the ball back to the 3-point arc before starting your offensive possession.
  • All baskets made from inside the arc are 1 point; any made beyond the arc are 2 points.
  • I’m sure there are more rules, but I never understood them.
I volunteered to participate in this tournament upon the request of a client of mine whose son is a resident at Marbridge. My initial thought was that it didn’t matter that I’d never played basketball; it was for charity after all. Just showing up is good enough, right?

Enter 6’2”, goggle-wearing Mike, a Marbridge resident who embraces the game of basketball like I embrace my morning espresso – with intensity, mister! Joe’s arms and legs have no beginning or end. He had a freakish reach that enabled him to grab the ball away from anyone, anywhere. He was like a Go, Go Gadget Globetrotter. But wait, there’s more…

Joe was matched up with a quick-footed father-son duo that could communicate intricate plays with a slight raise of the brow or nod of the head. Oh, did I mention that the son plays high school basketball and that somehow I ended up being the one to cover him? And let’s be clear about this: When I say cover, what I really mean is “run in circles underfoot like an untrained, excitable puppy.”

But enough about the opposing team. Allow me to introduce the Park Place Piranhas. We had 5’9” Adam, my Park Place Publications teammate who knows his way around the court and can talk strategy like a pro. Adam and I were fortunate to be matched up with Dan, a point-scoring Marbridge favorite with fast footwork and a singular focus. He also plays on the Marbridge Longhorns Special Olympics basketball team. (I asked Dan how tall he was and he told me matter-of-factly: “I’m 5’11” but I play basketball like I’m 6 foot.”)

And lastly, there was me – very enthusiastic, occasionally spastic, mostly ineffective. I have to hand it to my teammates. Adam and Dan played really well together -- so well, in fact, that I often felt like a spectator who had a courtside seat that was really, really close to the action.

Court Highlights

I think the funniest thing about the game was my attempt to cover and block the high school kid. Wait. Am I even using the right terminology here? Do people cover and block in basketball? I’m suddenly self-conscious about my b-ball lingo. ANYWAY, you know what I’m trying to say.

Despite High School Boy’s speed, power and ability to change direction so quickly that I swear he was pulling a G-force, I did manage to stay in the near vicinity of him at all times. I mean, we were on a half court. I could have never moved and I’d still be within a few feet of him.

The only time I really got to handle the ball (which is a Court Highlight, thank you very much) was when the ref called “Piranhas ball!” and I got to stand on the sideline and throw the ball to Dan or Adam to start the offensive play. Yah, that was really cool. Sometimes I’d delay throwing the ball just to relish the temporary power I held over everyone in the Marbridge Gymnasium. Will I throw it to Dan? Will I throw it to Adam? It’s anyone’s guess, people! Only I know what will happen next! Bwahahahahahaaa!

It’s the little things in life, you know.

Other highlights include Dan making several amazing, crowd-pleasing shots from all angles of the court and Adam intercepting the ball and scoring several times too. At least I think he did. I know I should know these things. I mean, I was there and I was on his team, but I was so caught up in trying to be the best Piranha I could be that frankly many of the details of the game were lost on me.

Here’s what I know for sure: Whistles were blown, baskets were made, baskets were missed, passes were blocked, passes were caught, a ball was dribbled multiply times, there was gratuitous sneaker squeaking on the floor, High School Boy called me “mama” at one point (as in “Come on, mama! Whatcha got?”), and then suddenly the 10-minute buzzer rang.

Final Score
Piranhas          9
Hidden Talent 12

It was a nail biter, folks. You should have been there. Although we didn’t make it to the playoffs or win a trophy, Marbridge gave us medals and treated us to a Rudy’s BBQ lunch. Best of all, we got to meet some really sweet people who live and work at Marbridge. If you ever have the inclination to learn more about Marbridge’s dream of building the Victory Hall Athletic and Event Center, contact Michelle Levy at (512) 282-1144 or

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Teaching Moment

I've written about it before, but it's my firm belief that God (or a Higher Power or The Universe or Whatever You Want to Call It) is speaking when the perfect written passage, conversation, person or experience is put in front of you to shed new light on otherwise hazy terrain. At least, this is how my higher power speaks to me; I'm a very pragmatic woman and I think God understands that I'd wig out and go crazy if burning bushes started talking to me.

But I digress...

This more subtle kind of "divine intervention" happened to me over the weekend when a friend of mine sent a piece of writing to me -- not because she thought I needed to read it, but because it meant something to her and she wanted to share her thoughts with me. Little did she know that this passage would resonate so deeply with me.

Have you ever read something or heard something and instantly felt your body relax, or your lips curl into a smile, or a deep sigh expel from your lungs? This is what I felt as I read this piece of writing. I'm pasting it here with the intent that maybe these words will hold meaning for someone else. (Disclaimer: This passage contains a reference to the Bible and is from a Christian author. I'm not a Christian, nor do I align with any manmade religion. But the passage still held relevance for me.)

When we are dissatisfied with things as they are, or suffer and know pain, we begin to imagine what the world would be like if things were different -- if there were no hunger or thirst and all tears were wiped away (Rev. 7:14). This creative imagination reaches toward God and glimpses a new heaven and new earth. The new reality has nothing to do with the present order. In fact, the one who responds to call seeks to put something more beautiful in the place of what she sees. This is where the friction and fight begin.

Martin Luther King was not killed because he had a dream. Dreamers are easily dismissed. He was killed because he sought to introduce into the political arena what he saw with his heart and mind. The same was true of Gandhi and of our Lord.

Those who say yes to the perilous vocation of implementing vision at each stage will find new resistances emerging in themselves, as well as in the society. Opposition to the new is very natural and should not cause any of us to be taken by surprise. The best way to understand it in one's contemporaries is to have named and owned it in one's self. That process is also some protection against the self-righteousness that plagues too many reformers as well as the pious.
Source: Cry Pain, Cry Hope

This spoke to me because I've been facing a fair amount of "friction and fight" in areas of my life where I'm trying to pave new roads. It seems that recently most every direction I turn, I encounter "signs" insisting that I slow down, rethink, wait and listen.

These are not activities that come naturally to me.

Take this retinal hemorrhage, for instance. My eyes have literally shown me that I do not have complete control over my environment. Ah yes, complete control. It's a beautiful illusion at which I love to gaze -- with only one eye, currently. Sure, I give my best effort at whatever I do (and this is good and healthy), but perhaps I could learn to be more graceful (and patient) in acknowledging the red flags that rise up along the way and announce: "Bet you didn't see THIS coming!" A very good friend of mine suggested recently that maybe it's a good practice to approach these red flags with child-like curiosity versus malcontent or judgment -- or even worse, taking it personally. I'm not saying I have to be happy about hemorrhaging in my eyeball, but what is this teaching me? As I slow down, what do I notice about my environment, about myself?

I feel friction in my prison work too. For the first time in 11 years, we're not gearing up for a spring semester because external forces reduced our time inside. This unanticipated roadblock frustrated me at first and a part of me wanted to take it personally. Are we not seen as valuable? Is the administration changing its mind about our program? But the truth is, I've been wanting to revisit some of my lesson plans, as well as do some personal writing, but never have had time to do either -- the whole "too busy working in the business to work on the business" dilemma. Maybe the warden inadvertently "made space" for me to grow.

Intellectually I understand that there's tremendous peace in letting go of the "it's supposed to look like this" vision. It's my heart that doesn't get the picture. My heart daydreams all the time, and it loves the idea that it all will unfold as I see it. My friends have told me that I'm the queen of carpe diem -- We only live once! Let's go! But underneath that passion is my most basic self: the self who gets anxious when she can't clearly see what lies ahead. The writer in me loves to cook up and live out adventures, but the editor in me would like to see a production calendar -- thank you very much.

My truth right now -- if I were to embrace this opportunity to pause and rethink -- is that I'm doing what I do best: I'm making light of and intellectualizing external circumstances that are uncomfortable for me at a gut level. It's my best defense mechanism and it works beautifully. The trouble is, this approach allows me to cruise through detours without ever looking at the scenery. If I were to be really honest -- like scary "I don't really want to go there" honest -- what I've been feeling lately is vulnerable. And I'm carrying around a sadness whose roots remain hidden from me at the moment.

What I am seeing right now is that there's a bittersweet beauty in feeling "at the mercy of" instead of "in control of" life. And as much as I don't want to examine this fragile terrain, I think my Higher Power is telling me to see it differently.