24 February 2015

what happened to my book?

fleur de lisConfession: I rarely ever do this, but I am reposting this article from my other blog because it took me forever to produce. I started writing this post today originally with a completely different intention. I'm familiar with the practice of letting my words carry me somewhere I never thought I'd go in the moment -- welcome to writing and the art of conversation -- so I surrendered to it. I promise this post has a point, so please be patient and let it unfold. 

After my junior year in Florence, I decided to change my major to Italian (that way, the culture classes I’d taken wouldn’t have been for nothing -- this was an attempt to speed my degree along, though we obviously know that didn’t work). And then I declared myself pre-med, which was ironic considering the fact that my dad had been trying to coerce me into becoming an MD since I was six and I was always all, “I wanna be an artist! An author! A teacher!” 

No. This time, I wanted to become a doctor because I’d been overcome with gratitude for the doctors I’d had at the University of Chicago Hospitals, who had saved my life and my spirit when I’d been hospitalized for the stroke. The staff I met there was so genuinely heart-centered, so beautiful in their service that I loved them all and thought of them often. I felt that if I could touch a single person in my life in the way they had touched mine, it would make my time on Earth worthwhile.

Anyway, I toiled about being an Italian major and pre-med, not knowing if that was going to be okay. So naturally, I added creative writing to the mix.

I’d been writing since I was 10. The first “book” I ever wrote (and I’d do nearly anything to find my one and only first edition copy!) was, for lack of a better term, fan fiction. My favorite book growing up was Roald Dahl’s Matilda, to which I wrote my own sequel . . . illustrated -- wait for it -- in the style of original Matilda illustrator Quentin Blake. (Seriously, if I ever find it, I will have it coated in something to preserve it forever.)

from http://www.the-platform.org.uk
from http://www.the-platform.org.uk -- man, this makes me nostalgic!
 And ever since, I’d written story after story. It was a self-imposed discipline. My first completed original work was a novel called All That and A Cup of Milk, which I wrote at 16 and “self-published” in a binder covered in magazine cutouts of models I’d used as representations of my characters. (I was 16. ’Nuff said.) 

This was my bliss. I used to come home every day after school, and like clockwork, would type away at the computer (you think I type fast now with my one superhand! I believe I even have video footage of me writing at the giant box that was my old-school desktop back in the day) working away at my stories. But . . . 

To this day, I haven’t completed another book. Something anti-magical occurred during undergrad. My writing degree required what I fondly call half an English major’s worth of literature classes. (Ironically, I’d spent a few years as a kid believing I wanted to become an English teacher. HA!) When I first learned how to read as a child, all I did was read. I used to go to the bathroom reading. I recently dragged myself to the eye doctor -- one of my least favorite things to do -- because I carry a hefty -10.5 contact lens prescription. This was the first year the eye doc had ever told me one of my eyes had stabilized and not gotten worse since my last visit. 

 Anyway. I’ve been nearsighted since I was six, and I’m sure all the 100,000s of hours I’ve spent with my little nose in a book was a heavy contributor. 

 When I was a creative writing major, I pretty much quit reading for pleasure. (The U of I might revoke my hard-earned degree for this.) I would come home from the school bookstores at the beginning of each semester with a stack of books as tall and thick as I was.

Meanwhile, all my scientist and numbersy friends/roommates would be all, “Why don’t you ever study?” Italian came easy to me. After a year of forcing Florentine shopkeepers and residents to talk to my Eastern face in Italian, I had done the impossible: I’d returned to the States not only proficient, but fluent, in the language. Because of this, I had pretty much placed out of any language courses U of I could have offered for my major, and all that was left was cultural courses. I may have been a wizard at rolling my Rs and conjugating verbs in any tense, but history is a different beast to me.
This is Dante.
This is Dante.

And then there was Dante. I spent a semester reading and studying his entire Divine Comedy (that’s three canticas -- not just Inferno, but also Purgatorio and Paradiso). Let’s not forget that as a writing major I also had to dive deep into Shakespeare . . . If you escaped the education system with only an overview of Romeo & Juliet, know that for a writing or literature major, that sounds like graduating from high school with only a proficient knowledge of basic arithmetic. 

And then there was Nabokov. Who to this day I still can’t say I fully understand, other than appreciate his genius. 

 So pretty much, “studying” for me was reading. All the time. And besides the stories I had to write for my actual writing classes, I quit writing for fun as well, after a terrible blowout that had gotten me in trouble with a roommate I had as a sophomore. 

The period of pre-med lasted only a couple years at most. Physics took over my life so much that I even found references to Newtonian laws in my writing(!), and I had no social life. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am naturally an extravert, despite the fact that I have consciously chosen a very solitary pastime as my favorite vessel for carrying my voice to the masses. 

Pre-med made a total nerd out of me, and it soon became apparent that I’d been trying to mold myself around subjects that I merely found interesting, but wasn’t passionate enough about to shape a career out of. (Is anyone surprised that the Italian-CW major wasn’t dedicated enough to chemistry and molecular biology to pass the MCATs?) 

 I think what really drove that home was the semester I was lucky enough to get kicked out of a writing class (more on that later too) and then into an independent study in the creative writing department with one of its chairs. Prof. Madonick (or “Mike,” as he insisted I call him) inspired me to start my memoir. 

 When I wrote the first several pages of this memoir, I found five years’ worth of pent-up emotions release for the first time. Things I didn’t even know I’d been processing came out of my fingertips and onto my screen. I could barely see the words as the vision of my words blurred through the tears. There were so many tears. They created a waterfall. 

I was 19 years old when the stroke happened -- so I was pretty much just a punk kid in the world believing I was invincible and capable of anything I could dream up. (Heck, I’m 31 today and still believe I’m capable of anything I can dream up.) But when I was 19, I both knew a lot and nothing about myself. Any self-exploration had been only at the surface level, and it wouldn’t be until I graduated that I really leapt into the vortex of personal development and self-study, because that was when I decided to give entrepreneurship a shot.
So the memoir really helped me process a lot of what I’d been feeling and experiencing underneath the façade of “everything’s just fine, and I’m just like everyone else, just a bit more gimpy.”
It had been precisely that façade that had kept me denying a lot of my own feelings. Things weren’t “just fine,” and I certainly wasn’t just like everyone else. “A bit more gimpy” looked like regular accidents and spills, anger and resentment, and an inability to do what I wanted to do how I wanted to do it. 

 (Hey -- wearing heels is as worthy a desire as it is to not want to drool on someone while kissing them.)
The memoir had become so game-changing for me that I decided the world needed it.
I’ll say this again: The world needed it. And I believe this is why my memoir has been incomplete since I began it in 2008. Who was I to dare provide the world with something it needed? Two years later, I created Rehab Revolution, so that I could get a head start on creating a community of people who needed my voice. Since then, a small number of young stroke survivors have indeed reached out to me to thank me for what I’ve done for them. They truly warm my heart -- and if any of them are reading this today, please know that you guys are why I write. 

 Four years ago, I sent myself to the UW-Madison’s Writers’ Institute conference for the first time, and I experienced a misplaced sense of shame. Shame that I was willing to put money on the line, invest the dollars into myself as a writer, but not willing to finish my manuscript before I came. There were what felt like hundreds of writers there, of all kinds, backgrounds, and genres, most of them there preparing to pitch their manuscripts to agents and editors who had traveled there to pick up new authors, and there I was, reeling. 

What? There were people there who could potentially propel my little 34-page-and-counting Word document into an actual, tangible book? I -- the twentysomething stylish girl with a limp -- could actually launch this dream of becoming a full-fledged author at this conference?! “Next year,” I told myself. “Next year I’ll have it ready.” 

“Next year” came around and I said the same thing. And again, and again. 

In retrospect, I don’t blame myself for freezing. I had no idea what I was getting into going to this conference in the first place, so that first year was a learning experience. I discovered that the conference, rather than focusing solely on the craft, taught the side of writing I’d never learned as a writing major -- it taught the business side of writing.

How to pitch. Practice your pitching. Writing a query letter. Networking. 

I wrote a couple networking posts from 2013; that was my first year learning to network. And the first Writers’ Institute I attended was in 2012. #forshame 

 I remember finding myself seated next to an agent (who was looking for memoirs to sign! *facepalm*) at the (ahem) networking lunch and spiraling out of control in my head.


I told myself that this was the Universe’s way of handing me what I wanted on a silver platter, and that if I passed it up, it would not happen again. I forced myself to start a conversation with him . . . right as the lunch started wrapping. He was gracious enough to indulge me for several minutes, and he even gave me a little feedback and advice before he had to run off for someone’s pitch. I remember something he said was along the lines of not rushing my memoir, that it would take as long as it had to take. This encouraged me. I kept repeating the “Next year I’ll have it ready” and even signing myself up for non-traditional participation in NaNoWriMo a couple of times, but I found myself somehow blocked.

Next month, I’ll be going to my fourth Writers’ Institute conference. My manuscript still sits at 34 measly pages (though to be fair, they are single-spaced). I honestly thought I’d written more. But the truth is, that’s only because of my blog. To this day, I’ve published 209 (210 if you count this one) articles -- most of them completely original content by me or by my guest writers -- and while I am so happy to know that my posts are helping a small number of readers, it’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because it fools me into believing I’ve made more progress on my book than I actually have, but it’s a blessing also because it’s deepened my resource of exploration into what my memoir could include. 

On a slight aside, I totally believe in Divine Messages. What these are are repetitive whispers from the Universe, gently guiding me to what I need to embrace right now. These whispers often crescendo into outright declarations spoken by actual people I see in my day-to-day existence, and then if I’m not receptive (I’ve grown to become very receptive -- the Divine always knows what I need), I have to learn the hard way why I should’ve listened in the first place. I’ve been consistently reading Mastin Kipp’s Growing Into Grace and religiously following author Danielle LaPorte online these days, and both of these leaders (who run majorly successful businesses in spiritual and personal development work) have been through and come out on top of some major upheaval that makes my current “I’m starting my life over at 31! What to do?!” sound like major #firstworldwhining. 

 Mastin started out his brand, The Daily Love, with nothing but a Twitter account and an e-mail list of friends and family. Danielle got out of a humbling, bad business deal with nothing but her blog and 60 followers. That the two of them now are spiritually fulfilled and serving the world in the ways they know best is so inspiring to me. They’re both graduates of Marie Forleo’s famous B-School, which I FINALLY signed up for this year after standing at the sidelines like a wannabe for five years. 

 (I did enter the scholarship contest again for the last time -- once you’re a B-Schooler, you’re forever a B-schooler. Here’s my video entry.) 

When I first began rebooting myself and my business, I started networking again like it was my job. (I mean . . . it totally is.) A virtual assistant that I’d met a year or two ago at a different networking group, Mary, started talking to me about my book and began supporting me in a significant way. I told her that if I didn't finish my book now, I was never going to do it. Rather than just “being excited” or giving me verbal encouragement and then forgetting about me, she’s been nudging me and keeping me accountable to my commitment to get my memoir out there. 

 Have I written anything yet? Well . . . this counts, doesn’t it? 

Seriously. I’ve learned that sometimes pushing through resistance just makes the resistance stronger. The fact that I’ve had my memoir actively on my mind this month and that it is sitting open on my laptop right now are already big steps if you consider my manuscript’s distinct absence from my radar for the past few years. Here’s a screenshot of a Facebook status I posted two weeks ago. (Mary suggested I post it.) 

Facebook accountability status

 I also promised Anthony that I’d make a super honest effort this week to work on my memoir. He kind of thinks I should save the time, energy, and money this year, sit out the conference, and buy myself another year. 

 But I know better. Enter more Divine Messages: Yesterday, I came across a blog post by one of my favorite friends and leaders, success coach Kris Britton. It’s about having the courage to go “all in.” (Funny sidenote . . . she actually featured me in this post!!)

(I think the whispers are getting louder.) 

 B-School starts on 9 March, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to start. (The conference is on the 27th.) The year 2015 may have begun nearly three months ago, but I can feel it in my soul -- this is the best year yet. I feel the culmination of everything I’ve ever done and everything that’s ever happened for me bubbling up in this moment. I’ll be posting on my progress and anything else that comes up as I go. March will be a busy month of more reinvention, more exploration, more leaps and dives into the unknown.
The Universe will give you everything you want -- and more -- as long as you show that you are committed.
Thank you for reading this and allowing me to speak to you the way I know best. I love each and every one of you -- even if you disagree with me and/or think I’m off my rocker. :) 

If you have anything to say, please leave a comment!

To our healing,

15 June 2014

body love

Today’s post is a little different from the usual. In honor of this year’s “Spirit Season,” Get On the Floor Dance Co. (where Anthony and I take ballroom lessons) has challenged its students to write their most creative and inspiring essays on how ballroom has changed their lives. I’m sitting at an airport in Denver after an intensive women’s retreat, and I felt it appropriate to post my entry on the blog. (Warning -- it is lengthy.) The idea is to make my story as “interactive” as possible through multimedia through the Web. Enjoy!

#NoApologies: My Journey into the Feminine Through Loving My Body & Getting On the Floor

When I was 19, I had a stroke.

I was helicoptered in to the hospital, where a neurosurgery team would open up my skull to relieve the pressure building up on my brain. The stroke had been caused by a massive bleed from an arteriovenous malformation, a tangled mass of artery and veins -- something I’d never known I’d had until it nearly killed me that day.

When I awoke from the coma after surgery, perhaps two weeks later, half of my body was completely paralyzed. It was as though someone had drawn a perfect line down from head to toe, declaring the right side normal and the left side utterly useless. It was just dead weight for about a month, when I started getting movement back.

This story could go on for pages, so for brevity’s sake (and levity’s), we’ll skip to the part where I was able to finally go home after two and a half months of living in the bubble of the hospital, where everyone understood what I’d gone through and would do anything to help me.

After two brain surgeries and tons of physical rehab, I was able to go home with a quad cane, a custom-made ankle brace, and a pair of gym shoes. Recovery was slow, and I felt isolated -- thanks to the loving care of my parents, I wasn’t completely alone, but suddenly, I found myself at not even 20 and having to learn how to do everything -- and I really mean everything, because so much of what we do involves both sides of the body -- and accepting that my relationship to my body was forever changed.

Had you asked me at age 18 how it might feel to suddenly lose function of half my body, I wouldn’t have given it much thought. I’d have said, “I donno, it would kind of suck to have to use a wheelchair.”

I would later find myself envying a girl I met who used a wheelchair because she was able to wear heels.

But it wasn’t just that it “kind of sucked” to go from bedridden to sitting in a wheelchair with a helmet because I was missing a part of my skull, and then upgrade to using a quad cane, then a normal cane. It was that my body, the one I had used all my life to run, climb the walls, and dance, had betrayed me.
When I was 23, I had the most devastating heartbreak of my life -- a betrayal of the faith I had had in my relationship with a guy who I realized only years later was emotionally abusive to me because I had not set the right boundaries that would tell him a) it was not okay to make me feel inconvenient because of my disability and b) that he was not entitled to try to change who I was.

To better illustrate the extent of the latter issue, there was a day that I had a seizure in his arms because he had made me stop taking my medication due to it “giving me bad breath.”

Setting the right boundaries is a skill mastered only by those who love themselves enough to do so. My self-image by this time was not recovered enough -- plus, I had the immature, needy quality many young girls approach boys with -- and together, this created a poison that would erode the relationship. We were only together for a little over six months, but the story continued for another two and a half years. It never would have lasted so long if I hadn’t insisted that he was my soulmate, that he was all I needed to be happy. (The lesson here was that as long as I tried to pull him towards me, the farther he would run away.)

I finally made the life-saving choice to let him go on a fateful day where I realized I couldn’t spend the rest of my life toiling over someone who didn’t appreciate or honor me and forced me to apologize for my conditions. (Not only the physical one, but the fundamental condition of being myself, as well.) It was a completely one-sided abomination of a “relationship,” and after three years of thinking of nothing but him, I made the shift.

I was free.

The Universe, in its perfect wisdom, had handed me on a silver plate another person, the one you all know as Anthony, not too long before I liberated myself . . . It whispered to me gently, “When you’re ready.”

We were friends first because I had been so entangled in my ex’s energy, but soon after I made the shift, our love story began -- slowly but surely, as I opened up to the possibility of letting another man into my heart.
When I was five, all I wanted to do was take ballet. My father wouldn’t let me, claiming that if I did, I would build “muscular thighs.” (Joke’s on him!)

Instead, my mom signed me up for Chinese cultural dance, which I did for several years. I relished being on stage and in my body.

In later years, I made the spirit squad at school, which was a combination of cheerleading and dance. My favorite part was always the halftime dances.

In high school, I was also involved in our drama club, where I was invariably cast as a dancer for the musicals I was in: a tornado and Jitterbug dancer in The Wizard of Oz and an Indian dancer for Peter Pan

As a freshman at U of I, I took my friends dancing at the High Dive virtually every week, as I loved to dance, even if I had barely had any formal training. When music played, it moved me, and I was confident in my body. I was never sick growing up, and I had tons of energy -- my body was something I could always trust.
Before I worked at Art of Seduction, I was a client there first. I’d won the door prize at one of her open houses and scored a free boudoir session out of it!

I was nervous about whether I’d be able to pose properly for my photoshoot because I knew the posing was difficult for everyone. Let alone me, with half a weakened body -- and throwing in a pair of stilettos? Fuggedaboudit!

Thanks to Argentina’s patience and help, though, the shoot was a success. I felt so excited about the experience and what it did for me, a young stroke survivor, that she pretty much hired me on the spot. Together, we created the concept of the Women of Strength series for her blog, and I of course featured myself as the first story.

So I had experienced firsthand the empowerment that was celebrating my body in a feminine way. At the beginning of 2014, I decided to explore this concept deeper and started my journey into the “Red Tent,” a revolutionary movement into understanding and implementing femininity, which involves channeling all the energy we cultivate every day in a hypermasculine world down into our body and making it a celebration of our birthright as women.

Feminine movement is about curves and undulations, about the senses. It’s about being, about surrender -- things many women today have forgotten or lost touch with.
Without going into too much detail, the Red Tent and its partner program, the Pleasure Tribe, deeply explores the nuances of reclaiming feminine energy and self-love. Rather than concentrate on getting things done, staying in our heads, or stagnation, feminine energy is about movement and just “being.” It’s also about connecting to the masculine in a synergistic way, partnering with it so that the doing masculine can lead -- and the feminine can surrender, and follow.

It’s also about reclaiming an ancient lost power -- well explained by Sheila Kelley (who is incidentally one of the Pleasure Tribe teachers):

If her claim that the new wave of feminism can be found on a stripper pole shocks and disturbs you, that is exactly the point. In ancient times, fertility dances performed by groups of only women were a celebration of what fed the community -- and it eventually evolved into what is striptease today.

It is only in an energetically imbalanced society that the celebration of the nurturing force that gives life to the people themselves is warped into a highly stigmatized, condemned thing. It’s a damn shame, and leaders like Sheila Kelley, who brings the art of sensual dance and femininity into everyday women, piss a lot of people off. Because what they don’t get is that the feminine is as important as the masculine, and because they think if it seems a bit sexy, it can’t possibly be empowering.

This is SO far from the truth.
Remember when I said my body was something I could always trust? After the stroke, I shut it down and told it I couldn’t dance in public.

Because my left side was always still so weak, I was rarely ever moved by music anymore. Dance disappeared from my life because I was filled with a sense of shame. Though the stroke had not been my fault, I responded to my body’s betrayal by disconnecting from it. My mind was still intact and sharp as it once was, which only gave me more reason to stay safe inside of it. Like, all the time.

I didn’t realize at the time that anything was missing, but my life without dance is an inauthentic one. It was a lifestyle of fear and self-judgment, as though I had snatched back a gift I’d had to offer the world and buried it deep for none to see. It was an apology for something I could not have been to blame for.

I disconnected from dance for about eight years. Finally, a friend of mine who’s also a dancer invited me to go to a Zumba class with her.

Resistance flared. I couldn’t go to a dance class -- in public! What if I couldn’t keep up? What if my ankle gave out?

But then these questions which stemmed from fear gave way to slightly more empowering ones: What if I simply let the instructor know that I had special needs and asked her to modify?

I felt a little excited, yet nervous, to go to class with her. But if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that the little steps just outside my comfort zone are the only ones that will grow me, so I sucked it up, put on my dance pants and my old jazz sneakers and went to Zumba.

It liberated me.

I’d locked up a sleeping goddess inside me for eight years and she’d finally woken up! I realized quickly that no one in the class was watching me; they were too busy worrying about themselves. And, in a slightly self-satisfied way, I also noticed I still had a better sense of rhythm than a lot of the other students.

It was a challenge, to be sure. I really had to work to keep up, and in the end I never spoke a word to the instructor. Even though my dancing was no doubt strange, I still did it as though no one was watching -- because it wasn’t about external feedback. It was about what I felt in my body. About not apologizing for it not being pretty, but enjoying the experience regardless.

I became quickly addicted, and then added hip hop classes, which greatly reminded me of old spirit squad days (without the pom-pons.)
At 18, my friend Kevin and I decided to take some group salsa classes. We started out in Grant Park in a massive, sweaty Chicago SummerDance setting. We then upgraded to group lessons at a restaurant every week for the rest of the season -- but we never became actually good, because we merely learned steps, and not the actual nuances of ballroom. I didn’t take anything away from the lessons besides the basic step, and I only ever would use it today in Zumba where a partner doesn’t exist.
Now that it’s been over 10 years since the stroke, I’m pretty functional. I still can’t run or do many things with both hands, but on a good day, I can usually fool the layman into thinking I’m a perfectly able-bodied woman. But I work with a personal trainer, do yoga, and gym it up often to build up strength in my body (Zumba and hip hop included). It’s continual rehab because the brain needs constant stimulation in order to rewire itself, and as certain movements get easier, I have to challenge myself some more.

Since that summer with Kevin, I hadn’t given ballroom dance another thought -- until fate moved its hand yet again and I won another door prize: an intro lesson with Get On the Floor!
“It’s weird staring into your eyes,” I told Anthony at the intro lesson. It was the first time I’d held eye contact with him for such a loooong time. It felt awkward. And since Anthony had had zero experience with ballroom dance prior to this point, and I’d had virtually none in the realm of partnering with someone in dance, our movements were stiff and contrived. I also found it impossible to dance and talk at the same time -- it required too much concentration.

Anthony and I had been together for three years at that point, and I was eager to create a “thing.” Something that was uniquely ours that we could practice together and maybe even become known for among our friends and family. He was a little less excited about it than I was, but that was typical. (He is the pragmatic one of the two of us, anyway.)

Not to mention, I had learned that ballroom dance could be a really effective way to train the brain in a physical therapy aspect -- because it requires responding to a lead or anticipating your partner’s next move, it stimulates those neuro-pathways in a way unlike much else. Not surprisingly, months of lessons later, I found my ability to walk backwards to be drastically improved -- all that backward reaching in the follow had trained me!

We opted to sign on for a bronze program of lessons; we’d chosen to learn the art of swing, tango, foxtrot (Anthony’s favorite), salsa, and rhumba. I’d particularly wanted to try rhumba because I had learned about the flirtatious “conversation” in the dance from Chen Lizra:

As we journeyed on with our ballroom practice, Anthony and I really jumped in headfirst.  Our goal, besides deepening our connection and trying something new, was to become proficient at social dancing. We began setting out on nights on the town with the sole purpose of dancing. These events began with shy, clumsy series of basic steps and a lot of lurking around the refreshment table, but now, we “get on the floor” with eagerness -- even if we don’t remember some of our latest moves. 

I hadn’t gone out in the pursuit of dancing the night away since my freshman year of university, back in 2002!

Slowly, slowly, I began to feel what it meant to follow Anthony’s lead. On occasion, I would be invited to dance with Get On the Floor’s Steve and find that he could somewhat smoothly lead me to do steps I hadn’t yet learned!

This, my friends, is feminine energy. I am finally able to surrender enough and allow my masculine lead to guide, protect (against others, poles, walls, etc.), and inspire movement in me.

Not to mention, I have an extensive collection of high heels I still can’t wear -- my ankle strength is still questionable at best, and I really felt like that extension of my feminine style expression had been cut off from me. The moment I found out there was a pair of (ugly, but functional) Latin heeled practice shoes that I could actually dance in was a proud one. Seriously! I even considered buying a second pair just for the everyday.

Our lessons really hit a turning point when Anthony and I decided to move in together in March of this year. Our relationship had truly become one based in trust, safety, and growth together, much the opposite of any other romance I’ve ever had, and it was a huge milestone for both of us. 

I really felt compelled to share the experience of dance with our loved ones, and I proposed that Get On the Floor lead a group lesson at our housewarming. As a little treat and challenge for ourselves, I also suggested we put together a short, intermediate salsa routine to perform for our guests. (I will post the recording of us from the party as soon as his mother gives us the file.)

As Anthony held me in frame the day of our party, I could sense that he was really nervous.

Rather than letting the pressure of all the attention affect my energy, though, I was surprisingly able to just look straight into his eyes and anchor myself there. I remained present as I followed his lead -- which, due to nerves, wasn’t completely true to the choreographed routine we’d practiced. But it was okay.

Do you know what this meant? I had grounded into my own body, surrendered control, and allowed my man to take me on a little journey. It was such a unique and symbolic way for us to start our new life together in our new home; at the moment of our performance, as far as I was concerned, it was just Anthony and me. I had grown into the surrender, too, of holding eye contact without discomfort. I was home in more ways than one.

I gave in to the moment and set an example for our friends and family. If I, with my broken body, could use ballroom dance to channel my energy from headspace to core and feet, and connect through eye contact and touch, then so could they. It didn’t have to be pretty, and I’m sure it was far from it, but the fact that we did it was a huge thing in itself. Remember when I wouldn’t even dance for myself? Let alone in public? What a long way I’d come.

The next step -- quite the challenge -- will be for me to learn to style the way we dance and give our dance partnership (and probably also our real life one) the juiciness that draws all the attention to what I’m doing. The female half of the ballroom is meant to sparkle, to command the attention in the same way that the male counterpart commands the direction of the dance.

Draw attention?! The idea terrifies me. But bring it on.

09 May 2014

forgiveness friday: energy in motion, part 1

Mark Twain forgiveness quote
I had a profound discovery last Friday. While journaling that morning, I realized that I often have a tangle of thoughts in my head jumbling me up for what feels like hours, days -- even turning me into the kind of person that just obsesses over philosophizing or whatever is bothering her. “I’m too in my head,” I’d tell people. “I need to somehow channel that energy in my head down into my body.”

Since the next free Red Tent Revival event is around the corner (and I recommend all women participate), long story short, part of what I’ve been doing in this extended absence -- huge apologies for abandoning you!! -- is plugging into the Pleasure Tribe, which is an online community of enlightened women banding together to learn about multiple facets of womanhood. The leader of our tribe is a woman named Kristin Sweeting Morelli, who established her multi-million-dollar brand on the principle that “everything is energy.” (Her iTunes Podcast of the same name was second only to Oprah’s back in the day.)

Part of the reason why I signed up to join the Pleasure Tribe is because I was interested in reclaiming by body and reconnecting my mind with it. I was feeling too “heady,” which I recognized as a very masculine energy, and I wanted to shift my focus back into my body.

But the huge realization I made last week was this: The tangled mass of thoughts I constantly had in my head reminded me, energetically, of the tangled mass that once was my AVM, which used to reside in my brain!

Could it have been that I’d been holding on to that energy all this time? This July, it will be 11 years -- that’s quite a while to cling on to something that no longer serves me, don’t you think?
Even to this day, it almost makes me sick to look at my old arteriovenous malformation.
I had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around this. I didn’t even know the AVM existed until it caused my stroke -- how could I be so attached to it?

When I began writing this post, I realized it would go on for far longer than should be contained in one single blog post, so I’m breaking it up into different parts. For now, I’d like you to ponder these questions and ask yourself whether you’ve been somehow hanging on to the memory of what happened to you -- when you or your loved one had a stroke -- and whether this energetic attachment serves you anymore.
Steve Maraboli forgiveness quote
I call this Forgiveness Friday for a couple reasons. When I realized I was holding on to the energy of my AVM, it occurred to me that perhaps in order to truly let go of it, I needed to acknowledge it and forgive it. Sounds crazy, but this led me to a pretty profound evening that day (more on that next week -- promise).

Second, a lot of us see Fridays as the end of the week. The end of the week is a great time to reflect back on how far we’ve come and what we’ve gone through. It’s an excellent point to reflect on what’s brought us here. Many times, when I think about what I’ve done, I can get tripped up on my mistakes or things I should have done differently. To me, this signals it’s time for me to forgive myself of my own stumbles, and begin to move forward with the lessons they taught me.

Share your thoughts in the comments below, and never fear -- last Friday was too monumentous for me to be a flight risk again. (I have plenty to share with you tomorrow about the #loveyourbody #6whealthy challenge I started this week, as well.)

Have a great weekend!

To our healing,

25 October 2013

food for thought

Red quinoa salad -- yum!

I’ve had requests for articles on food, but I’ve put off writing them because over the years, I’ve realized some truths among all the confusion. Not only this, but I wasn’t really ready to tackle it until recently, as I’ve made some major lifestyle changes (thanks to Tony Robbins, of course).

Without further ado -- here are five discoveries I’ve made about food, nutrition, and the industry.

1. There’s a lot of controversy and contradiction even among experts. Do you eat meat? Drink milk? Like peanut butter? Want to snack? Drink coffee? I’ve heard opposing stances from food/nutrition authorities coming from every angle for each of these things. Which brings me to . . .

2. Every body is different. Ultimately, what works for one body may not work for another. We all have varying sensitivities, from what we like to what we’re allergic to or what weaknesses we have built into our bodies. I know a guy who swears by eating identical meals every single day, and another who essentially fasts all day until dinner, at which point he practically binge-eats. I disagree with both these approaches, but at the same time, I do think a large part of what eating habits work for us is the result of trial and error. Not everyone benefits from cutting out certain types of food from their lifestyles, but for one reason or another, others will swear by it.

3. There are multiple dimensions to every claim you’ll find. In keeping with number one, sometimes you kind of have to weigh the pros and cons to any food choice you make. For instance, there are some authorities who tout coffee in moderation as good for you (because of the antioxidants), and others who shun it as detrimental (for its acidity or for its caffeine). When it comes to these things, I think it’s really up to you and your particular strengths and weaknesses to decide what’s more important.

4. A lot of experts place too much emphasis on weightloss. While most of us would probably love to release a few pounds (I certainly am not immune), unless you are actually obese and it is truly an issue that is hindering your well being -- and thus, is a health issue -- the reason why this bothers me is because calorie counting culture promotes more what you look like than what’s going inside your body and feeding your organs and bloodstream. This is like promoting Oreos because they are vegan. No matter how you look at it (or how the cookie crumbles, if you’re so inclined!), an Oreo is not a health food. I much prefer looking at food from a health perspective as opposed to aiming to have a slimmer physique. Look, eat healthy and exercise, and the excess weight will naturally come off. I speak from very recent experience!

5. You have to do your research on most things. Question EVERYTHING. I’ve found, annoyingly, that the United States food industry has among the most corrupt business practices I’ve ever seen, and you can’t just take someone’s word for it. There are hidden, potentially harmful ingredients in most processed foods, and often even things we’ve been raised to believe are really good for us have skeletons in their closets. So just because it’s organic or “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely risk-free. I’ve built up pretty good intuition on this type of thing over time, and you will too. A good resource I’ve found is Foodbabe’s blog. A word of warning, though, doing research on what you’ve been eating can be very disconcerting. Better to know than not, though, as eating what’s easy comes with a hidden, VERY expensive price tag that usually sneaks up on you after years’ worth of accumulation.

Personally, I think it’s irrational and unrealistic to eat perfectly. There probably is no such thing, so generally speaking I aim for an 80/20 ratio. This way, I never feel deprived of little indulgences, but on the whole, I feel great and I’m nourishing myself properly most of the time.

Some people recommend having “cheat days,” but I dislike this approach for myself because it creates a sort of worshippy mentality when it comes to crappy food. Plus, if you do eat clean regularly, the idea of an entire day of cheating sounds like a nightmare. (Take it from me -- the stomachaches, bloating, feeling like you’re going to vomit is so not worth it.)

All this said, I’m wary of labeling myself any kind of authority on food. There is so much opposing information out there, so much confusion, that a lot of the time I’m not even sure where I stand. (This is very uncomfortable for me, as I usually have very strong stances on any belief I hold.) I’m happy to share what it is I eat in the form of recipes or Instagram (#rehabrevolution) photos, and I’m down with writing some content that I feel will be helpful in educating you on little-known facts about foods a lot of us eat, but I want you to take it with a grain of salt.

Please be the pioneer of your own body’s health. I can’t possibly know what’s best for your body, so take my words as a guide, not as law.

To our healing,

15 October 2013

[repost] rethink pink

I decided to repost this article, originally published on Refinery29, with Felicitys permission. With October now in full swing, I felt called to help her truly spread awareness of the reality of breast cancer rather than just following a trendy and charismatic marketing movement that sweeps the nation once a year. 

It especially resonated with me because I am all too familiar with the alienating nature of surviving what is often considered an older persons malady. . . .

As teenagers, we considered ourselves immortal. This idea carried over into our 20s, and we imagine it will linger the first few years of our 30s. We have genuinely lived as if nothing bad could ever happen to us, because our lives were too great, too important to be interrupted. Though this devil-may-care attitude has been responsible for some of the greatest memories of our lives, it's easy to forget that we are not immune to danger, that we have reached an age where we must learn to take care of ourselves and be mindful of the future of our health. Case in point? Felicity Palma is a 29-year-old woman living with breast cancer.

As a gut reaction, youre pr
obably thinking that Palma is way too young for cancer. After all, havent we assumed that the big C is something that could happen, but only later in life, after we have kids, or become aunts, possibly grandmothers? Certainly not to young, talented photographers living in Brooklyn at the prime of their lives. But sure enough, this unlikelihood is exactly what Palma faced. The problem with being so young and uninsured, is that it takes quite a bit of effort to get any attention. My doctor at the breast center felt the lump, shrugged, and said it was probably a cyst. Even after multiple inconclusive (and mind you, expensive-as-hell) tests, my doctor was still convinced that because I was young, that it just could not possibly have been something to worry about. Though the process was more drawn out than Palma would have hoped, she is still grateful she pushed her doctor for testing until they had answers.

But she certainly wasn
t expecting the diagnosis she received. The doctor came in, sat down, took his glasses off, looked me in the eye, looked back down at his chart, and awkwardly said, So, it's cancer.  We imagine this sort of news isnt something you can really prepare for, and so Palma's reaction seems on point: I just sat there. Numb. Totally unable to react. It took me a couple hours to really absorb it and start crying. In some ways it felt like reality was ripped away from me, and I no longer was a part of the present. All I could think was, What? How? Why? Is it my fault? What did I do wrong? Am I going to lose my breasts? Am I going to lose my hair? Am I going to die? And all the doctor could say was that he couldnt tell me much more, nor do anything else for me. I had to find a surgeon, and I had to somehow get health insurance. Without any health insurance and now facing the burden of an indefinite amount of treatments (and bills), Palma had no choice but to adopt a take-charge attitude against the cancer.

s remarkable about Palmas life before her diagnosis is that, in comparison to other cancer stories shes heard, she considers it fairly unremarkable. I feel like all the stories about young adults with cancer are how they were just launching their careers, starting families, etc., whereas I got caught in the middle of an existential crisis. I graduated from NYU with an MA in International Studies about two years ago, and was amped to begin working in womens rights. Despite churning out hundreds of resumes, the best I could do was anything it took to survive — bartending, waiting tables, baby-sitting, tutoring, freelance photography . . . So I kept at it, hoping that somewhere down the line, things would fall into place for me. And then cancer hit, and stopped me in my tracks. Its crazy to think how hardly a year ago, I had a totally different concept of what it meant to survive. Indeed, young New Yorkers consider survival the ability to pay your rent and eat more than packaged noodles every day. Now, Palmas definition of survival consists of just one mission: to be well again.

So, what
s her treatment exactly? On April 22, Palma underwent a lumpectomy, which removed the lump from her breast. On June 5, she froze her eggs. Later that month, Palma began taking Tamoxifen, a synthetic drug used to treat breast cancer, and one that she will have to take for the next 10 years. She also began radiation therapy on July 10, which she is set to complete by August 20. But, with her sessions running five days a week, thats a whopping total of 30 sessions. After her radiation treatment, Palma will begin ovarian suppression (a method of slowing the growth of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer), which will last two to three years. Then shell be kept under close watch for the next 10 years, which means regular check ups every three months, and regular screenings such as mammograms and MRIs. In short, her life has changed entirely. All of a sudden, your days are consumed with constant doctors appointments, procedures, treatments. And when you're not at the hospital, all you can do is think about it. Who wouldnt feel isolated and scared? Positive and inspiring thoughts can certainly be hard to come by. But Ive also found that by allowing myself to feel scared, to feel sad, to feel angry — to just feel whatever it is I need to feel — that I come out of each downward spiral feeling stronger and more inspired.

Because she is so young, its easy for Palma to feel alienated when it comes to finding a community of women in treatment to whom she can entirely relate. Though she is grateful for the positive attitudes and support of her tech team and the staff who delivers her treatments, Palma faces a different battle than her fellow patients. I am by far the youngest person in the radiation waiting room. Every time I walk in, I look around to see if maybe theres someone else around my age. This has been such an isolating experience, that I feel like I'm constantly seeking some sense of camaraderie and community. But it's always just me, so I try and make the best of it. 

Though she may be the only person in the treatment rooms under the age of 40, she certainly isn't facing her experience alone. Palma
s boyfriend, Spencer, has not only been her means of support, both emotionally and financially, but he, too, must take on a role that is normally reserved for older people — that of a primary caregiver. He has been my rock throughout all of this. Since my family and many of my closest friends live in California, Spencer has taken on much more than I think many caregivers in our age group do. He came with me to every single doctors appointment, helped me through every difficult decision Ive had to make, and hes now working two jobs, just to keep us afloat. This whole experience has been extremely difficult on us as a couple, and there are times when we both break down and arent sure how the hell we got here, nor where the hell were going. But hes been by my side since the beginning, and has been just so unbelievably selfless, kind, and loving. I feel so lucky to have him.

Unsurprisingly, cancer tends to take a toll on Palma
s stay-positive spirit, so we had to wonder: How do you get to a happy place? What's the silver-linings playbook, if you will? Sometimes what can be positive and inspiring one day doesnt always have the same effect another day. The most important thing for me has been feeling supported and loved by my family, community, and medical team. Gardening on my rooftop, yoga, and going to therapy where we practice meditation have all also been super necessary to keeping myself calm and collected. Educating myself on the topic of breast cancer has also been incredibly helpful in feeling confident and empowered. That quote from Sun Tzu has so much meaning to me right now: 'If you know your enemy and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. 

Though Palma may feel her plans for working in womens rights have been put on hold, her experience is an opportunity to educate young women on breast cancer, and how to keep an eye out. Shes also seeking to debunk naive notions about cancer that likely exist among 20-somethings. "Lots of people seem to think that just because active treatment is over, that cancer is over. It doesn't work that way. Once diagnosed, you are always at risk for recurrence. Cancer is a lifelong fight, no matter how bad you got it, and the physical and emotional rollercoaster that it puts you on doesnt just go away in the blink of an eye. We imagine this is especially difficult for younger patients who have to cope with the idea of returning to a normal way of life post-treatment. 

Palma also hopes her story helps to amplify the resources made available to women with breast cancer, both in education and support. 
It's straight-up bull shit that the number of young women being diagnosed has tripled in the last 10 years. Yet, since we are still such a minority of diagnoses (two to three percent of all breast cancer diagnoses are under 30), there are so few resources for us out there. I would go onto blogs or community boards or whatever, and I just couldnt connect to the language that a lot of people use. So much of whats out there is fear-based and can seriously make you go crazy. Im not into that. If all we do is talk about the scary shit, how the hell are we, as a community of breast cancer warriors/survivors/thrivers/whateveryouwannacallus, supposed to get through this? Of course, Palma defaults to the perfect attitude here: humor. Cancer f---ing sucks. But we also want to be able to laugh, and to believe that we can pull through this. Thats where the humor comes in. Youve got to be able to laugh at cancer in its face.