Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health, Empowerment, living with chronic illness

Who Are the Legends In Your Life?

Legends, those people in our lives that blazed a trail before us.   These are the people whose work, ideas, and personhood, inspire us. They are the people whose shoulders we stand on. How do you know who the legends are in your life? The legends in your life are the people you make reference to on a continual basis. They are the people who let you now the path may be hard, but it’s worth it.

I’ve had the pleasure, honor, and joy of having legends in my life. Fortunately, some are still living, but recently two legends have left this earth. Angeles Arrien, a noted cultural anthropologist was the professor of the first class I took when I started my doctoral program.

Arrien was teaching The Nine Muses. The course explored the mythological and current implications of creativity. We looked at the many ways we can all use our stories and realize that our stories are told in an individual way. I followed Arrien’s work for years. Fortunately I had the opportunity to have a full circle experience with my legend; she was the external examiner for my oral defense. Having Arrien read my work, dive deep with me about the material, and offer ways to utilize the information moving forward was the greatest gift anyone could ever receive.

Unfortunately Angeles Arrien died on April 24. She asked that instead of memorials that anyone who wanted to commemorate her life to light a candle, every month for the next year, on the date of her death. It gives me the opportunity to connect with her and her work on a regular basis. It also gives me the opportunity to honor the impact she had on my life and work.

The same can be said for another American treasure, Dr. Maya Angelou. A poet, singer, actor, producer, teacher, etc. broke barriers, inspired many, and provided us with a life story that, although difficult, shined brightly as she overcame adversity. If you watch anything that Oprah has done you know that Angelou was a legend to her. Her favorite lesson from Angelou is, “When you know better, you do better”.

This weekend to honor Angelou’s life, OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) has been showing programming about the legend. One of the rebroadcasts was of Oprah’s Legends Ball. The Legends Ball brought legends in the African American community such as Maya Angelou, Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, Valerie Simpson, etc. In addition, she had the Youngins’ who included Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, etc. Celebrating the continuum of talent, experience, and possibility is critical for all of us. Having those moments of honoring those who come before us punctuates the decisions we make in our lives to follow a particular path.

Where am I going with all of this? I believe we need to honor the legends in our lives. Identifying why specific people past and present are important to you gives you the opportunity to continue on your own journey and do so with the blessing of those who walked the path before you.

Diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness and looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Interest about the impact Art has on Healing?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Posted in after the diagnosis, art and healing, Autobiography, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health, Having a Voice in Healthcare, Storytelling

Who Will Fill the Gap?

I received a very sad email this morning.  Visual Aid, a San Francisco nonprofit, is closing its doors at the end of the month.  Visual Aid’s mission is to provide resources to artists with life-threatening illness to continue creating works of art.  They provide financial assistance, an art supply bank, entrepreneurial workshops, and exhibition opportunities in their gallery.

I found out about Visual Aid almost 3 years ago when I began doing research for my dissertation, “Artists and Illness: Narrative and Its Impact on Autobiography and Meaning Making”.  The Executive Director, Julie Blankenship, a true arts community leader, assisted me in finding and scheduling artists to interview for my research.  This is the love and care that Julie has offered the Visual Aid community for the past eleven years.

This organization has served as a place for artists with life-threatening illness to make connections aiding in eliminating the isolation often felt by both artists and those with an illness.  They have served to gain exposure for artists who may not have the resources to buy art supplies or promote their work because they have limited connections in the art community.

Why has this organization been so important?  They have given voice to a community that holds a story we don’t often hear.  Visual Aid artists tell their pathography (stories of their life and illness journey) that we usually only read about in books.  I came to see clearly that artists wouldn’t write their pathography, but they certainly create works of art sharing that journey.  I was and still am deeply moved by the artists’ works of art, their story, and their generosity to share these personal moments in their lives.

So who will fill the gap?  Illness isn’t going away!  Artists with illness aren’t disappearing from the planet, although eradicating illness would be phenomenal.  Who will be the guardian angel for these artists with life-threatening illnesses?  These stories need to continue because they are a part of our social fabric.  The provide insight into the disease and healing process.  They share experiences of the social aspects of illness that can only be told through art.

Without an organization like Visual Aid we may potentially lose part of our cultural story.  Even though the stories of individual’s illnesses will continue, without the artists’ stories, it will be incomplete.

As we say goodbye to Visual Aid, I hope you’ll consider ways to continue promoting the stories of artists’ with illness.  We need to have the complete story of healing and/or coping with illness, not just the written word!!!

Posted in art and healing, Autobiography, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health

Where I’ve Been…Where I’m Going

It has been almost five months since I last wrote, but I’m back to share my experiences, thoughts, and questions I’ve developed over that period of time.  The last 6 months of 2012 was spent completing my doctoral dissertation, and the first five months of this year I have been in rural western Tennessee for work.

I had the enormous pleasure and honor of interviewing artists with chronic and life-threatening illnesses for my dissertation.  I completed my dissertation the end of July and successfully defended my dissertation the end of March.  I have to share that being called Doctor is a bit surreal, but still pretty cool.  It has been a long journey, six years to complete this accomplishment.

What have I learned from the dissertation journey?  I learned that when you are totally engaged in a process the time flies.  I learned that being of service to others is a blessing.  I learned that it’s never to late to begin a journey that fills your soul.  The completion of the dissertation was a huge accomplishment.  However, the oral defense was a spiritual experience.  Having three examiners share some special time, ask provoking questions, and request that I delve deeper into the subject I spent over two years exploring was uplifting, exhilarating, and terrifying.

The last part of the dissertation process took place while I was working in rural western Tennessee.  I spent over four months in a farming community.  It was a close-knit community and somewhat isolated from things I take for granted like cultural centers and a bookstore.  However, I did learn about living in community, knowing everything about most of the people in a town, and how to thrive in a new environment.

I’m back at home and getting ready to travel to San Francisco for graduation.  This will be the culmination of my educational career (at least I say that for right now).  I’ll spend some time with my friends who took the dissertation journey with me and also received their PhD.  I’ll be honored by the faculty for this glorious accomplishment, and celebrate the result of perseverance, tenacity, and love of a subject.

Where will I go from here?  I want to begin sharing my background in art and healing.  I’d love to come to a state, city, town near you and share the impact of your personal narrative on how you share your autobiography and its impact on meaning making.  We all have a story that needs to be shared.  Our culture requires that we share our stories so that we create a cosmic gestalt.

I look forward to sharing this next part of my journey.  I hope you’ll join me!

Posted in after the diagnosis, art and healing, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health, Storytelling

Paint Your Life

I’m very attracted to the idea and philosophy of “Art and Healing”.  It doesn’t matter if you’re an artist, we are all creative in our own way and those unique abilities allow us the greatest gift in life, ultimate self-expression.  One of the questions I asked all the artists in the interviews was whether or not they had created a self-portrait.  Overwhelmingly the answer was yes, but a few didn’t feel comfortable doing a self-portrait as a result of their health challenge,

Visual artists will most likely paint, sculpt, or create a self-portrait artistically.  They may sketch in a journal or on large pieces of paper, but that really isn’t the only way to do a self-portrait.  What if we painted our life with words or through choreography?  What if you we wrote a song that personifies our health and healing journey?  Painting your life doesn’t have to be colorful because you squeezed color out of tube or picked up a crayon; it can be colorful because your add color with the words you choose, the textures you create based on your life experience, and framed by your hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

Painting your life requires that you dig deep.  It means coming home to that place in your heart and soul that exemplifies the best you.  Your self-portrait is a reflection of your experiences, but also the attributes and strengths that allow you thrive in this crazy world, especially following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own self-portrait and what it would look like on the design wall.  I feel like it would be a mixed media piece with fiber being the predominant material used, but I also envision words, lots of words printed on the fabric surrounding whatever figure I translate onto the piece.  It’s something I believe I will do in the coming months because there is something magical, for me, in projecting myself outside my own body with all its challenges, it’s still my body and my life!

I’d love to see your self-portraits.  Feel free to email them to me at greg@survivingstrong.com.  Let the self-portrait fest begin!

Posted in after the diagnosis, art and healing, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Did You Put Your Life Jacket on this Morning?

I love watching dancers dance; I think it’s magical.  “So You Think You Can Dance” is heading into its last few weeks and the competition is tough.  As part of the programming last night they did spotlight segments allowing the audience to get to know each dancer a bit better.

One of my favorite dancers, Will, who unfortunately was eliminated last night, had some amazing insights about his life.  He shared about how difficult his life had been growing up.  He felt a bit like an outsiders, wasn’t always doing great in school, and then at the age of 11 he started dancing.

He credits dancing with “saving his life”.  Once he started dancing he had found his place in the world.  He developed new levels of self-confidence.  His true personality, his soulful self was allowed to emerge.  He became the person he was meant to become.  When you watch Will dance you can see the joy, the essence of his being, and has the perseverance to move forward with his life and his career.

So what is it that will save your life?  After being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness that question comes up all the time.  Let me be clear; I’m not discussing what will save your physical life, although I believe that’s an outcome of your emotional and spiritual life jacket.

We all need something that gives us meaning in our lives.  We need to know that we made an impact in this world.  Erik Erickson, noted developmental psychologist, one of the stages of adult development is generativity vs. despair.  Generativity is the idea that you’re life will have an impact on the future generations.  This is why people get buildings named after them, become benefactors, and start charities.

In my life, creativity is that life jacket.  As a textile artist I get to play with color and texture all the time.  I often follow the piece with writing about it as part of the multidimensional extension of the work.  It allows me to live my life in the mode of ultimate self-expression.

I connected deeply with Will when he talked about dancing saving his life.  I don’t know what my life would have been like without my creative outlets.  It’s truly an extension of me.  What’s your emotional and spiritual life jacket?  How does it impact your life?

Posted in after the diagnosis, creativity and health, Emotional Health, Living with Illness, Self-Nurture

Create a Space Worthy of Healing

I have to admit that I watch a lot of HGTV.  I’m particularly drawn to “House Hunters International” and as of recent, been watching reruns of “My Favorite Place”.  I like to see how these famous personalities create spaces that not only function for their lives, but also actually serve a purpose…the spaces are designed mindfully.

Since arriving back home from my five-month assignment in west Texas, I’ve been thinking a lot about one space in the house.  I’ve been focusing on the space that serves as my art studio and my office.  Upon arriving home from my previous assignment in Nashville, I decided I needed a real desk so I could anchor my consciousness in a place devoted to writing.  My current return has me focused on the functionality of the space for multiple purposes.  I had two big farm tables for my textile art but it took up too much space functionally and visually.  I removed one of the tables giving me room to walk around the studio without bumping into things.

I still had one problem and that was I didn’t have a space to read.  I can’t read with technical material with the television on or music playing.  I need to concentrate when I’m absorbing new material.  I also needed a place where I could knit (part of my spiritual practice) without worrying about animal hair flying around.  I decided to buy a chair for the studio/office.

Yesterday I went to a huge furniture store and began my hunt for a chair.  I had specific requirements for the chair.  Obviously it had to be comfortable, but it also had to be functional.  Functional for knitting required the chair to be armless so I don’t keep banging my elbows while creating the shawls I’ve been knitting for the past three years.  It had to have enough support since I plan on spending a fair amount of time in the chair, and it of course had to be beautiful.

Armed with my phone (with a camera) so I could take pictures I set off on my quest for a chair.  I sat in almost forty chairs looking for the chair.  I felt a lot like Goldilocks while searching for this chair, and sure enough I found it.  The chair is armless, comfortable and the fabric is neutral.  The chair is covered with types of tea; it’s from the Teahouse collection ( I drink a lot of tea so I felt it was appropriate).

Why is all of this talk about a chair important?  It’s important because part of health and healing requires you to have spaces that are calming and soothing.  Your space needs to be a reflection of you because it’s another form of self-expression.  I find that I can enter this space and my body, mind, and spirit take a break from the chaos outside of this room.  Yes, I usually have one or more animals with me, but they stare out the window or sleep; they understand the peaceful nature of the room.

I have a beautiful photograph on the wall of painted silk drying on 30-foot high poles drying in the wind, a photo taken in China.  My desk has small pieces of art and a photograph of the crew I most recently worked with in Texas.  It was a parting gift when the contract ended.  The caption on the photo is, “We make things happen”.

What type of space would you create for your health and healing sanctuary?  How can you claim a space that’s yours for spending peaceful time?  It doesn’t have to be a room, it can be the corner of a room, but it has to be yours.  It needs to be a reflection of both your soul, and the intention you set for your healing practice.

I’d love to hear about your spaces!  Share your ideas down below in the comment section or email me at greg@survivingstrong.com

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Ever Want to Runaway From Home? Listen to Twyla Tharp

I think every kid at one time or another wants to run away from home.  Unfortunately, some actually do and have a terrible time on the streets.  Overwhelmingly, kids threaten but seem to stay put and the crisis is averted.  I remember wanting to runaway as a kid.   I put my clothes in a paper bag, left the apartment, and walked down the street.  Only problem is I couldn’t get far because I wasn’t allowed to cross the street; I had to hang out on the corner until I was ready to turn around and head home.

As an adult there are times when we would like to runaway from home.  Stressful lives lead us to want a few moments of peace and quiet.  We want a sanctuary where we can’t be found so we can sort out the chaos in our body, mind and spirit.  It’s usually a time when reflection is important and yet we believe that “going away” is the only answer.

I love the great American choreographer, Twyla Tharp (If you haven’t read her book “The Creative Habit” you’re missing the creative person’s bible).  She says, “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home”.  A friend of mine had posted this on Facebook and I was awe-struck.  It was so simple and yet so profound.  It made me quickly reflect on every moment I spend in the studio, and how transformative and transported I feel when working on something that allows for my ultimate self-expression.

So what does that mean for anyone going through a difficult time, especially if you’re facing a health challenge?  It encourages you to runaway within your own being.  It lures you to a place where you can be seen and heard by your heart and soul, while creating something that allows others to get how you’re feeling.  Running away within your being gives you time to re-group and that’s most important when trying to deal with the chaos that comes with a health challenge.

Life is messy!  Even when things are going well; life is messy!  So when things become more out-of-control due to other challenges placed before you; the easiest way to face them is to runaway through art.  You don’t have to be Picasso; you just have to be willing to be honest.  Your creative endeavor has to be something that comes from the well of your being.  This is not a time to hold back because that undoubtedly is one of the reasons you’re probably pushed to the brink of running away.  It can be honest and raw.  It doesn’t have to be beautiful; this isn’t about getting into a museum…it’s about getting to your truth!

I encourage you to allow art to be your destination of choice when you want to runaway!