A couple of months before I left Seattle, and the reason I left the lovely house and neighborhood where I was living, the neighbor to my east (the one who had done four months of heavy construction tearing up the street in front of my house, to fix his sewage, and refusing to let me know specifics about loud machinery, so I could protect myself) struck again. When I woke up that Shabbat morning, it smelled like a cow farm. I opened my front door and got hit by an overwhelming noxious odor of manure. Why did it always come down to shit with that neighbor?
Despite it being a hot day, I left all the windows shut. It still reeked, though not as bad as when anything was open. Within an hour, I had an intense headache and realized that there must have been toxic chemicals used in fertilizer, most likely by the neighbor to the east. As soon as I was able to get myself together, I left for the day, to get away from the stench and toxins. That evening, I emailed the neighbor – sharing my experience in a polite, matter-of-fact way, asking if perhaps they had used fertilizer and if it might have had toxins in it, and requesting that in the future, if they plan on using such products, to kindly give me a heads-up, so that I could leave in advance.
I received a snarky and overtly hostile email in reply, saying it seems I have lots of health issues, that he’s “so sorry” about that, and that maybe I should move to some remote location, far far away from other people (ie him), where I could have the serenity I need and where I could play my constant loud music and do my constant band practice (we’d been broken up for two months from then, ie, zero band practice) and my constant singing. He further advised me that using fertilizer is totally normal and that therefore it’s intrusive for me to attempt to involve myself in what he’s doing and that he will not under any circumstances notify me about that or any other matter, now or down the line, and that in the future, I should direct all correspondence to my landlady, not to him.
Back when I moved in, I went to all my neighbors and asked if it was ok with them – I actually asked for “permission” from this neighbor to the east – to practice with my band in my garage. Everyone, including this neighbor, was fine with it. I said if they changed their minds, once they heard the music – ha – they should let me know. The neighbor to the west requested that we practice in the early evening, sometime after 5 pm and before 8:30 pm, so that we avoided the napping and sleeping time of her daughter. We subsequently practiced from 6-8 pm, once a week, and avoided Sundays, because that’s when neighbors liked to be in their backyards, barbequing or whatnot.
This neighbor to the east never communicated with me that the band rehearsal or singing or general music I played (none of which were “constant”) were in any way disturbing to him. I doubt they actually were. I think he was miffed that I had asked him to be courteous and communicative with me about the construction issue and that he went off on some major power struggle. It’s a whole big mess of a traumatic story, which I don’t feel like getting into here, and which I wrote a bit about previously. Suffice it to say, I actually had been mindful of my music and singing – checking volume outside my windows, closing my windows, and/or leaving one window open a crack for air, but in the kitchen, when I was practicing in the living room. In other words, I demonstrated care, actually to the point that it irritated me, given that this jackass didn’t give a shit about his impact on my health.
The long and short of it was that being hated on for creating music – for singing from my heart, in particular – adversely impacted me. Ironically, because I actually do care, I became anxious about irritating people when I played music or sang, as if making music was a bad thing.
Fast forward to the magical apartment I scored in Kauai, with the ocean to one side and the mountains to the other, and a grand piano in the middle. I promptly began creating music on the piano, which is one of the manifestations of my soul, and singing in accompaniment. It was glorious and powerfully healing. Meanwhile, I had constant background anxiety about whether I was annoying the neighbor next door, outside the window near the piano.
About a week into my stay at this apartment, I bought a djembe and started drumming on the beach just down the street from me. One day, when I walked toward one of the shady spots on the beach, I saw a young woman sitting right next to where I had planned to drum. I asked if she would mind it if I drummed. “I would love it!” she replied enthusiastically. Before I began drumming, I looked at the ocean and said a prayer that the drum rhythm would be healing to her, in whatever way she needed healing. I then began to drum.
As I continued drumming, I had anxiety about whether I was drumming “too loud,” and I was anxious about singing in addition to drumming, not wanting to annoy this person. I thought about moving to a different part of the beach but decided to stay. The woman was writing in a notebook, and at some point, I asked if she was journaling. She said yes and shared that she initially had been unsure what to write, feeling kind of bored, but that as soon as I started drumming, she felt the rhythm throughout in her spine. Suddenly she felt inspired, and all this stuff came gushing out, into her journal.
“It just takes a pinprick of focus,” she then said, “to open a world of magical possibilities.”
Again, wow. It was like my prayer had come back to me, guiding me. Right around that period, I’d started thinking about focus – namely, that by focusing on healing naturally from cancer, I can make it happen. Her words were affirming to me.
We kept chatting, then asked each other where we lived. Turns out this woman was the very neighbor right outside the window near the piano! I laughed and laughed and laughed with my head thrown back. I told her that I’d been traumatized about playing music, that I had resultant anxiety about irritating other people when I created music, and that I was nervous about annoying the neighbor next door when I played and sang. “And that neighbor is you, who said you’d love to hear me drum!” She laughed heartily too, and we agreed the serendipity was all very magical and healing.
This woman additionally told me that she heard singing from both my side and the other side, because the other neighbor is a singer too, and that she had liked it, that it had a kind of eerie vibe (she said it in a positive way, like “haunting”), because it got carried in the wind – which is very strong from the ocean, where we live – in such a way that she never knew where it was coming from.
I subsequently shared with her the prayer I had said before starting to drum, and she said, “It’s so beautiful that you would say a prayer for a stranger.” Yes, well, that’s how I roll.
It takes time. It takes time to thaw out. I cannot expect to come to Kauai after years of trauma, and heal automatically. Or know how to heal. Or know what the fuck I am doing, at all. It takes time. Time to allow the land waters skies rain to pour over me wash over me heal me break me open transform me awaken me so that I am born again. Pure and whole. In harmony. With my Soul intact, reawakened, with the cells of my body cleansed purified washed out born again pure and whole, healthy. With the memory of my essential self, my soul before the trauma, before the assaults, before the injuries, before the condemnations, before the betrayals, springing to life and embodying my entire Being, taking Over, becoming Me again. Who I Am. My Essential Self. My True Self. Music drumming chanting singing night skies ocean waves crashing waves stormy days stormy nights getting wet getting dirty sand everywhere bliss bliss bliss. Connecting with people. Losing people. Connecting with other people. Sometimes things get worse before they get better. Facing myself my limitations my fears the ghosts the demons. Allowing them to come up. Staying present. Crying bawling aching. Descending into the pit of despair. Contemplating ending my life. Popping up bursting up through the darkness, Shining like the Sun itself like the billion night Stars. Alive. In Love. True. Kauai. Thank you.
- I need to focus and refocus, commit and recommit: Set my intention, meditate on my vision, in the morning when I wake up and in the night before I sleep. People and situations will pull on my energy all day long, distracting me from my focus and follow-through. Gently come back to my focus and commitment, as I transition into and out of sleep.
- Schedules may be useful in helping me find balance between all my needs.
- Wherever I am, even in a run-down area, I can find and experience harmony, bliss, and joy.
- Every place will have its strengths and weaknesses, light and dark, positive and negative. Notice what the place has to offer me. Step into and fill up that space with my whole being. Juice it for all it’s worth. If something is lacking there, I can fulfill that dimension in me, somewhere else, at another time.
- Wherever I am, even in paradise, I can feel doom and gloom inside.
- Magic is everywhere – in nature, serendipitous events, and human connection. Revel, rejoice, and dance in it.
- Maybe start shifting my focus to the magic instead of focusing on things that need to be fixed. Pondering this one. I think it’s important to be conscious of where things can be uplifted and how, and to take action to that end – which requires focus.
- Wearing a dress or skirt makes it easier to pee when I hike, especially if there’s not a lot of privacy on the trail.
- I like beaches without people or dogs.
- I feel a certain loneliness everywhere I go, because I live differently than others. I have done the work of boldly stepping outside the confines of socialization, and most people have not. I am therefore typically the only person dancing in my chair at a café; ululating, jumping around, and hootin’ and hollerin’ in the waves; and singing through the streets.
- Given that I don’t participate in the cult of female conformity, it’s challenging to connect with men romantically – I don’t engage the usual roles and cues. And yet, that’s more exciting – I get to chart my own course and experiment and be bold.
- People defy dog laws everywhere and let their dogs run loose, without any thought of the consequence to people in the vicinity.
- I love grey on grey – grey clouds, grey water, especially when it’s raining. I particularly love swimming in the ocean when it’s raining. Especially when everyone runs for shelter and leaves the ocean all to me. I also love dancing and drumming in the rain.
- I love the stormy ocean. It’s beautiful. Given my ancestral and family history/circumstance, my life is like a stormy ocean, with crashing waves. Why do I try to turn it into a placid pond? Placid ponds are boring. Celebrate the messiness and intensity of my life, no matter how others judge me or it. The crashing waves are energy and inspiration for art, motion, life.
- I like having my own space. And I like lots of space.
- Music is essential to have in my life, constantly, in different forms. I need a piano, drum, and my voice, always. I miss my bass.
- I like things in Seattle – proper cafes with stuck-up people, excellent organic coffee, electrical outlets, bathrooms, and ergonomically appropriate table-chair ratios; a vibrant indie rock and punk music scene replete with a couple radio stations that play this music; bike paths every which way you go; and hipsters with aloof attitude and quiet desperation. I miss those things. I do not miss the traffic or aggression or construction on every street or – get this – the nonstop grey clouds. I like sunshine, it turns out! Grey, yes. Grey 24/7, no.
- I like things on a small scale – like an island where you run into the same people, which can help build a sense of community over time.
- I hate roosters. Kill, kill, kill.
- While there are things I love about traveling, there are things I love and miss about being in one place. I got all my stuff for a reason – because it serves me, takes care of my needs, is a reflection of me. It’s there. I’m here. I want my stuff! Also I like creating/investing in a space – again, it’s an evolving reflection of me that takes care of my physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs.
- In the blink of an eye, darkness turns to light. What I feel in this moment may be completely different than what I feel in a few hours.
So I’m on this big bold healing journey. I’m running around with cancer and a hypersensitive body. People don’t “see” or understand hypersensitivity, and we’re living in a big, bad world where a whole heap of people are not particularly dialed in to other people’s needs and space. Going through life can feel like navigating a battle field.
Then there’s the fact that there’s this nonstop soundtrack going on in the background, and sometimes foreground – cancer, cancer, cancer, cancer – and I’m not getting the support I need from “family” members who have the means to support me (and, by extension, my mom), but not the mindset, and who nonetheless expect to be in relationship with me, while I am overwhelmed by the financial demands of healing from cancer, never mind the psycho-spiritual demands.
And I want to be in relationship with them. I want complete healing, wholeness, and harmony. Among other things, it feels essential to my healing. How much better off would I be, if my relationships with all my family members were positive and supportive and filled with light, love, and goodness? I’ve been working nonstop for 30 years now, in various capacities, to achieve that state with them. And I got close, very close. But the latest round with my father and sister made it clear that it’s just not going to happen.
How can I possibly be investing in a relationship with someone who knows what I’m dealing with but who either patently refuses to help out (sister) or helps out 2% of how he could help out (father), especially when they are my immediate blood? In my sister’s case, she’s the consummate victim, no matter what, and she has all these stories about me in her head, like I’m some big bad monster out to crush her. Meanwhile she’s oblivious to her actions and inactions and the impact they have had, and she’s behaving out of her victim state, which is just dragging everything and everyone down.
I cannot have them in my psyche right now. It is a complete drain – especially in the case of my father, who somehow, even when I’m actively healing from cancer, can manage to make it all about him. My family literally could kill me – in particular, because trying to communicate with them, to convey what I’m going through, requires that I get into a poor-me, victim-y narrative – speaking the language of illness and using the currency of suffering. It’s all they know and respond to. Even then, they might not step to the plate, and they might still make it all about them and paint themselves as the victim.
Case in point: When I was 18 and in great danger of suicide, I somehow mustered the strength to ask my parents for help. When I asked my dad, he put down his newspaper, said, “Oh, so now you’re going to make me feel like a bad father?” and put his newspaper back up, cutting me from his view. That I survived that period is remarkable.
Then there are the casualties – namely, my relationship with my aunt, who keeps talking about my dad despite my repeatedly asking her not to, and my uncle, who has never brought up my dad, but whom I am not calling for a host of reasons (my aunt would be deeply hurt if I was calling him but not her, which would lead to more drama; my uncle’s wife likes to take the phone away from my uncle and talk about my dad, and nobody gets “boundaries” in this family, making it difficult to ask her to stop talking about my dad and/or put my uncle back on the phone; and my uncle is painfully awkward on the phone – until recently, bolting off it as soon as possible and passing me off to his wife – leaving me feeling tense and/or uncared for).
I feel guilty. I feel like a failure. I am still in the mindset of fixing, repairing things with the family. If only…if only…if only. I know, in my head, that I have to let them go. It just feels devastating to me, so entirely unnecessary. And my parents, aunt, and uncle are all in their mid- to late-80s. If I go on retreat and withdraw, for weeks or months or years, they may no longer be around when I’m strong enough to re-embrace them. Which leaves me feeling grief-stricken. Not exactly ideal for healing from cancer.
To do this, to heal myself, I need complete focus, like an Olympic athlete. As an Olympic diver recently said, I have to “tune out the noise and focus on what I’m doing.” And as a neighbor said recently – amazing story for another time – “a pinprick of focus can open a world of magical possibilities.”
I have these moments of total clarity, of vision, of complete alignment, of hardcore power. I feel the healing happening. I know with certainty that I can do it. And then I feel scared, frazzled, contracting. I have discovered that it’s a matter of things pulling at me – energies of other people, situations, circumstances – and distracting my focus.
For example, I am now recovering from a setback, which was set off by yet another unleashed dog running up to me and wreaking havoc in my body. So I went from having a vision of jogging, to starting to jog again (which is a major accomplishment, given that I wasn’t able to walk for three years), to being laid up in bed for 12 hours and having to overcome pain that makes it difficult to walk from the bedroom to the bathroom, never mind run around on a beach.
The setback in turn triggers anxiety – how long will this last? Days, months, years? It also causes anger, not only about the never-ending assault of dogs off-leash, and the infuriating lack of care by their owners, and the impact on my body and life, but about the interference in my healing from cancer. As in, great. Now I have to divert my mental and physical energies to healing from pain, instead of having total focus on healing from cancer.
Add to the mix that I have to work to support myself, and that I don’t have the safety net of a loving family, and the pressure is on. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to break.
I was contemplating how I am able to be in such different headspaces at different times, and I realized this: It’s all about focus. And refocus. I am an Olympic athlete, but the playing field is not the same as tennis or swimming or gymnastics. It is my life. To defy the cautions and naysaying of doctors and conventional thinking; to listen to my soul and heart; to activate my healing powers; to be able to make any of this happen, I must be 100% focused. And recognize that there are a million and three thing that will be attempting to pull me off course, all the time. And to dial them out – not try to fix them, not try to change them, not even to engage them – but to completely block them out. And come back to me, to my vision, music, dance, soul, heart, to what I can do.
To this end, I think that writing is critical. It enables me to “dump” the energies that are not serving me. To face them, process them, not to ignore them and therefore allow them to fester, but also not to take them on and allow them to take over my time and mental focus. Every morning, every day, I need to refocus and recommit myself to me, to my process, to my path, to my healing.
Here is what I need to focus on:
- Create music on piano, with my drum, and with my voice
- Be physically active – kayak, walk on the beach, swim in the ocean
- Write on my blog, to release that which does not serve me
- Dance, pray, and meditate – ideally on the beach or somewhere else in nature
- Visualize internally killing the cancer cells
In addition, I need to pray from my heart, for all of my family, whenever the grief strikes. Transform that energy into something positive and healing and wholesome. I just cannot engage directly with them anymore, although perhaps I can send postcards, to keep some kind of connection but not put myself in emotional, and therefore, potentially physical danger.
Every morning, every evening, when I wake and when I go to sleep, I need to remind myself what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what I’m focusing on today. Especially in this world, where the ideas and forces and pressures are off-key and off-center and otherwise off my path. The world’s energies are like the Sirens singing, calling to me, beckoning me to crash.
I must sing my own song. Just as I discovered back in 2010, when I had a severe and debilitating auditory injury, that when I hum, my vibrations block out the vibrations that hurt me (leave blowers, lawn mowers, etc). When I vibrate myself, my soul, my heart, my body, my vision, that becomes my entire reality.