A Stitch in Time

When my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001 and was going in for surgery to have it removed, I immediately knew I wanted to fly down to be with her.

But I was 6 months newly sober, so it was daunting to fly across the country, leaving behind my support system. But more frightening than that was the fear that my mother would die while on the table, or that they would find more cancer than they could treat.

It was a challenging time.

I knew that I would be experiencing many emotions as I navigated her illness and surgery, and I really wanted to deal with them in healthy ways, not fall back into old coping behaviors.

Someone suggested to me that I take up knitting as something to occupy my hands and eat up some of the extra energy (aka anxiety) that I would be experiencing.

Thankfully, I took their advice, bought some knitting supplies and took them down with me. And as I waited for her to come through the surgery, I began to knit.

My mom had been the one to teach me how to knit in the first place, so it felt really right to sit and knit, waiting for those awful hours to hear how the surgery went. Anyone who has gone through it knows how difficult that waiting can be.

I only remembered one stitch, but that was enough. I had no pattern, so I just started knitting a row about the width of a muffler and took it from there.

Thankfully, my mother came through the surgery very well. I moved back into her hospital room, and the knitting came with me. In fact, it would continue to be my sober companion for the rest of her hospital stay and afterwards as she recovered at home, because I ended up staying longer than I had planned.

My mother had her surgery on September 10, 2001. We were both sleeping in her hospital room that next morning, when a friend of hers called my mother and told her to put on the news. We watched together as my adopted home city was terrorized.

In shock, I immediately did two things: I went to a meeting and then I went to donate blood.

Then, I went back to the hospital, where knitting became a lifeline again as my world was rocked from its axis a second time.

I was so desperate to get back to NYC, but could not leave until they allowed flights again. I knitted with fervor through those days following 9-11, as I helped my parents take my mom back home and settled her in.

And then finally, I was able to return home to NYC, and my knitting accompanied me on the plane and through the weeks as our city began to heal.

Eventually, I stopped knitting…though from time to time I will pick it up again when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan or I feel that I need it as a way to stay calm under duress. I guess that is just the nature of my relationship to it. I am grateful it is there for me when I need it.

I still have that piece of knitting from that time when my world was rocked to its core. It is a very, very long muffler-type knitted piece that is a bit misshapen and not at all suited for anything. But it stands as a reminder to me that there is always a way to show up and consciously move through even the hardest of times. That I can survive anything, be of service and even be creative even as my world is falling apart.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: knit

Exhalation

How can I release this grip

This clinging on to everything good

As if my life depended on it

It feels so dangerous to release

All that I’m attempting to control

It is exhausting to hold on so tight

But it’s all I’ve ever known

Learned early to clutch and grasp

At what little good was parsed my way

If I loosen my fingers, if I let go my grip

Will I slide into the Void

Disappear into Nothingness

Or will I float into better climes

And find out what Life really feels like

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: clutch

Gratitood

I practice gratitude every day, so when Thanksgiving comes around, it is just like brushing my teeth to take time to acknowledge all in my life that I am appreciative of.

You see, I am a member of a tribe of gratitude list makers. I post what I am grateful for (and why) daily.

The “Grat List” that I am a part of was the brainchild of the wonderful fitness expert and life coach Erin Stutland. I joined it in 2011, when I regularly took a live Shrink Session class she was teaching at the time, and it has been a blessing ever since. (More about Erin’s class and how it changed my life here.)

The Grat List is a place to share gratitude, as often as you wish.

Some, like me, post pretty much daily.

Others pop in as they want or need to. “Need to grat!” “Feeling down…time to do a grat list!”

It is so much more than a space for expressing gratitude. There’s no one way to share, but somehow the format has evolved into writing a list of ten gratitudes, ten things to be excited about, and some brags thrown in for good measure.

What’s beautiful is how the list has become a virtual safe space, a place where we share wishes, heartbreak, fears, dreams, successes, prayers and, above all, love and support.

We ask “the list” for good thoughts or prayers, advice and help. We hold each other’s dreams and hold each other up.

I am ever grateful today, and every day, for the Grat List and its magic and power, and all of the souls- past, present and future – who make it the beautiful safe space it is. (Super extra gratitude for Erin, who is about to give birth to a real living child soon!”)

Here’s my list today:

I am so grateful:

To be alive, for my health, for my returning vibrance so that I may do the things that give me joy, for the wisdom of my body because she has healed so many times, for my huge heart because it keeps me loving this life, for my husband, who is so loving and wise, for Miracle, our cat, for her furry love and unconditional love, for the ever-flowing abundance within and without me, in every area of my life, for our warm, live-filled home, for fresh, healthy food and clean water, for the privilege of being able to do what I love for a living, for music, and how it connects me to my soul

I am excited:

To be flexible and of service today, to pick up the Irish family members at the airport, to see my sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews, to enjoy a beautiful home, to share a loving afternoon and evening of laughter, to get there and back safe and sound, to make cole slaw late tonight, for Julia and her exciting audition Monday, to help her prepare, to get off book for the web series shoot, to work on the audition sides with joy and ease, for JC going to Hawaii, for Shayna’s song to win the contest!!

I brag that:

I love Life and Life loves me

I am enough just as I am

I am connected through words and this blog to amazing people like you!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: gremlins

Nesting

With a blog named “Life on the Skinny Branches,” you might surmise that I have a thing about birds. And you’d be right.

I have always felt drawn to birds of all kinds. I think the connection began when I was young when I was first introduced to the great poem by Maya Angelou, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

The free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wings

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with fearful trill

of the things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn

and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

Maya was speaking of many things, experiences that I do not pretend to know about. But also, for me, she spoke about something that I knew firsthand: feeling locked in a cage, grounded, longing for freedom. You see, I, too, know why the caged bird sings. (Maybe in some ways we all do.)

Perhaps that set up my lifelong affinity for and sense of connection to birds, and flying.

In 2016, my words for the year – for what I was calling in for myself – were: Emerge/Celebrate/Express/Reveal. It was a year all about self-expression, growing confidence in myself. And it definitely was that kind of year. I started this blog last year — it was a big deal for me to begin to share my words in a public way. I began intentionally living on the skinny branches, and it has been thrilling.

This year, when I soul-searched for the words to guide my year, they were: Daring Greatly/Stretch/Curious/Creative/Depth/Credibility/Courage. So I expected to be soaring, having jumped off those skinny branches. I expected to be flying high.

And the year started off strong. I was in a play. Then a play reading. I did a short film. Took an incredible trip to Spain.

And then, in March, I was suddenly grounded.

Literally. My whole system shut down.

It was if my body went on strike on behalf of my spirit and said “No more, sister. You are gonna stop and sit for awhile.”

I was forced to stay home. A lot. This was not easy for me. I have always been driven. Have always sort of hurled myself through life, a bit desperate to make up for lost time.

It was humbling to have been so completely drained of vitality that walking down the street was a challenge. But that was my reality.

So I had to stop many beloved activities. And somewhere along the way, I began to listen to whatever it was that my body and soul needed me to hear.

(I also sought professional medical help, and received it. I made many changes in what I was putting into my body and began to look at how to approach my life better, aka how to lesson the internal stress I create for myself as I interact with the external world.)

I am realizing now that it was in this being stopped, it has been in this time of recovery and healing, that I have learned to appreciate the nest.

When I got stopped, I got quiet. I had a great deal of solitude. I have been depressed before. This was not that. It was…me with me. (It was awful at first because a part of me feared I was “losing” more time. That part of me fears it is already too late. That part wants me to run around like a chicken with my head cut off. That part is misguided. I help it along today with a firm but loving hand. No more shoving myself through the world.)

In time, I began to see that this being stopped was helping me to ask new questions and to also really listen to the current answers of old questions. The answers have changed since the days I first asked them. Who knew my body was so very wise? She made me listen. She made me pay attention. She had lots for me to re-cover.

And slowly, I began to heal, and my vitality began to come back. I can say with joy today that I am almost 100% back. But I am not the same.

I cannot run around like I did before. I could, but I do not want to. I am finding new ways to do the things I want and need to do. I am giving myself more time to do these things, to process, to absorb. I am nipping stress in the bud — I simply do not want to waste my precious life energy on certain things any more.

It is a new day. It is a new me. I am finding out all sorts of things. I have much to do, but it will be on new terms. I think they are much better, frankly, than the old ones.

I appreciate the life force that calls me to soar, to live life on the skinny branches and beyond. It is a huge part of who I am.

But every bird also needs some sort of place to call home. A place to hatch their young. A place to refuel.

And so, it is so very clear to me now, do I.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: nest

Mistaken Identity

I thought I was broken, thought I was missing

Thought parts of me had just died

Made friends with the holes that I thought you’d made

Made peace with what was left inside

 

Turns out I was wrong, nothing of me was gone

Certain parts just learned how to hide

I am whole, I am thriving, I am filled with myself

And that truth just cannot be denied

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: identity

Ch-Ch-Changes

Four months ago, I wrote a whole blog about my experiences finding my inner athlete and how important that has been for me, for my healing. I meant every word.

I called it Athlete, Interrupted because my story really was of how the innate joy of being in my own body had been interrupted in my childhood.

I discovered running while I was on a quest that had begun in 2011 to “rediscover my inner athlete.” From July 2014 until around February of this year, running, training and races were a huge part of my life. If you’d have asked me a year ago if I would ever consider stopping running, I’d have said, “No way!”

I can’t believe it, but something has been shifting in me, and I’ve found it confusing.

It began with the last half marathon I trained for. I trained for 10 weeks, and loved it. On the morning of the race, it felt like any other. I had no idea what was coming.

It was a gorgeous but chilly January day in Central Park. I found my corral, and the race began. This particular race was two laps around the park.

Towards the end of the first lap around, right at the half way point in the race (6.5 mi,) I suddenly realized that I didn’t;t want to run any further. That I truly didn’t care if I finished and had no desire to do so.

Now, over the course of the years since 2012, in training for two marathons, and countless half’s, I’ve had the desire to stop while running. That comes up a lot. You push through, and you are usually the better for it. Sometimes, you really might need to stop, especially if you have the tendency to overtrain (as I have had.)

This was not one of those situations.

I felt so compelled that I ran off the path and let myself stop. I immediately felt overcome with emotion. Something in me was finally being given my own attention, and was so grateful.

But I felt guilty too. And sad. What was happening to me? How could my desire and commitment change so radically?

But was it truly radical? If I’m honest, looking back, I had been pushing myself to keep on running as intently as I had been for at least a year.

I had gotten so caught up in the running culture. It had given me so much joy, and such a respect for my body and its abilities. Awe for my own will and what I can accomplish if I decide to.

How could i be considering letting that go? To what? Run just to run? No more longer distances? No concern for pace?

Who was I to go from 5 days and 30 miles a week to 3-4 and 10- 18 miles? Wasn’t I going to go to hell in a hand basket? How could I change now? What if I reverted to before?

Yet, my spirit wanted other things. I was wanting to bring more creativity in my life. Not revolve my life around my training and running anymore. I felt a drive to write, to create more and revolve my life around that.

I wanted to simplify. I found myself craving other kinds of movement: Gyrotonic, Pilates. I had let those things fall away the last year.

My body was revolting! Calling me to wake up.

I fought the messages it was sending me. I didn’t trust them. What if it was laziness?

But I wanted to move, so it couldn’t be laziness. I even still wanted to run. Just not like I had been since 2012.

My body had to literally break down in order to get my attention. That is another blog when I have more distance. Suffice it to say that this was The Summer of Being Slowed Down. My body made it so that I had to listen.

I am still unraveling why I found it so hard to listen and trust my body. Why I held on so hard to running’s place in my life.

There’s always a part of me unconsciously looking for a formula. If I find something that creates happiness in my life, I want to keep doing A+ B to equal that C. As if as long as I just keep doing A+B, I’ll get C.

I think it has to do with my relationship to change. I mean, I know cerebrally we are supposed to change and grow. Still, some part of me gets scared that in letting go of something good, I will lose the good I have gained.

I guess that reveals a scarcity mentality. Some part of me fears losing what little good she has managed to get, so she thinks she can never change, or else she risks returning to the misery of before.

I am trying to work with the fears of that part of me. Help myself trust that change is good. That I am still being athletic, but in a different way.

And new – different – is good. It brings new – different – experiences. And that brings new information.

And through the new information gained in the experience, I become different. More.

I will help myself meet the change with trust and excitement instead of resistance and fear.

It means I am a living thing, that change-induced growth. Not a computer that can be programmed and set to repeat.

After all, I am always a work in progress. And that’s the way it is supposed to be.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word prompt: athletic

Unlearn Me

Such a good girl

Learned early on that love is earned

Don’t rock the boat

Don’t step out of line

Now I know

I disobeyed my own instincts

Pushed away what made me me

Learned to sit on my own impulses

Well, I’ve started a reeducation

Gonna free me from my self

Gonna be a good girl to my own girls

Get a masters in following my own heart

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: disobey