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Archive for the ‘Autobiography’ Category

I watch a lot of interviews because I believe they give a behind the scenes look at people’s lives and circumstances.  It’s similar to what Andy Andrews shares about autobiographies, no one ever wrote an autobiography who didn’t succeed.  The same can be true for interviews, only those who overcome challenges (I’m not referring to celebrities, it’s all walks of life) get interviewed.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s new movie “Stronger” about Jeff Bauman who survived the Boston Marathon bombing was the focus of the interview.  When asked about his process he shared advice from an acting teacher, “The target draws forth the arrow”.  What do you think about when you read that statement?  It shouldn’t be a surprise that when I heard the quote I jumped for a pad and paper because these words of wisdom will make you think about how you take on life’s challenges.

When faced with a life challenge, especially a chronic or life-threatening illness there is a primary target…wellness!  It’s similar to the saying Keep Your Eye on the Prize!  When we have a target to focus on, we are given something to aim our physical, emotional, and spiritual energies.

The doctor gives us the target.  The moment you hear the words “I’m sorry to tell you but…” you become an arrow.  You are summoned to take aim and make conscious decisions.  It will take the momentum you absorb from friends, family, medication, and faith to propel yourself toward the target.

Champion 24-Inch Bullseye Archery Target (2-pack)

There is something empowering about picturing yourself as an arrow, moving with force and speed toward a desired outcome.  My ongoing reminder is, you may not get well, but you can always get better.  Remember a target has rings with the bulls-eye in the center.  What do the outer rings mean to you?  What if you don’t hit a bulls-eye the first time or ever?  What level of comfort do you have focusing on other aspects of your life if wellness isn’t in the cards?

I hope when picturing yourself as the arrow, you equate it with being a real-life superhero.  Your journey is unique to you!  The outcomes may or may not be within your control, but where do you have control?  You have control over your determination, perseverance, and attitude.  You have the right to create a relationship with your doctor that is both respectful and honest.

We will all have targets that arise in our lives because challenge is part of the human experience.  The arrow you become shapes your narrative.  Your narrative is the force behind your momentum…keep it going!

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I was listening to the audio of Andy Andrews book, Mastering the Seven Decisions. It is the follow-up to his monumental book The Traveler’s Gift. Andrews talks about the seven decisions not as suggestions but as principles. He makes a point of stating their principles because principles are universal. They aren’t specific to any one person but to everyone. His seven decisions (or principles) were derived from reading the autobiographies/biographies/memoirs or more than two hundred people. He found that the challenges these people faced and the tools and strategies to overcome their challenges could be reduced to seven decisions.

The idea that principles are universal makes me think about how important it is to find these gems. It’s one of those things I’m on the lookout for and when I hear it, read it, or experience it, I grab hold tightly and see how to make the principle (a universal strategy) more conscious in my life.

I was listening to the acceptance speech by Michael Sam, the first openly gay pro football player drafted to the St. Louis Rams, who received the Courage Award at the ESPYS. In his speech Sam referred to another great athlete Arthur Ashe. He shared Ashe’s philosophy of, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” This simple three-part statement took me by surprise. How could something so simple, so true, so applicable to everyone’s life not be needlepointed on every cushion in the land?

The first part of the principle “start where you are”, can it get any simpler. It requires us to make a personal assessment of what’s going on in our lives, in the now! It doesn’t matter how things used to be, but what is your current reality. This is very important for all of us who have experienced any type of life interruption such as an illness, divorce, bankruptcy, or other challenge. Where are you today and on the map of life that’s where you put the red dot that says, “You are here!”

The second part of the life principle, “Use what you have” is just practical. There are no imaginary resources. If you need more tools in your life toolbox seek them out. You can augment “what you have” by taking a class, attending a support group, going to therapy, or seeking counsel of a spiritual advisor.

The final part of the principle’s trilogy, “Do what you can” requires you to take action. If you’re facing an illness how will you support your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs? If you’re looking for love you have to get out in the world; UPS doesn’t deliver life partners to your door. If you’re having a spiritual crisis finding support, going on retreat, setting out on a pilgrimage, or attending a service are the things you’re able to do to change the situation.

We know that Arthur Ashe came to these principles based on a long career as a champion tennis player as well as someone who eventually died of AIDS. The challenges in his life were eased because he lived by these principles. He learned how to make the necessary accommodations to live a full life.

What will you do today with Ashe’s three-fold principle?

Facing some form of life interruption?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to implement Ashe’s life principles through art?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

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Yesterday I spoke about the closing of Visual Aid, an important San Francisco nonprofit.  I received an invitation to a fundraising event taking place in the coming days.  You may ask why would a nonprofit that’s closing continue to promote events.  I’ll tell you why; it’s because they are forward thinking.  They are showing their true concern for the participants in their program.  Julie Blankenship, the Executive Director, is creating a transition plan for those who have depended on the organization for over twenty years.

Transitions are difficult for everyone, but when you have a chronic or life-threatening illness transition becomes a way of life.  I’m not saying transition is easy, but I am saying it becomes more of a constant than for those without a health challenge.  It’s one of the most trying aspects of a health challenge…change!

What if we took the idea of transition management and applied it to our lives?  As someone with a health challenge, it’s easy to get caught up in the trials and tribulations of the day-to-day uncertainty of what our bodies will do at any given moment.  It’s not uncommon for medications to change their level of efficacy.  Symptoms may change or emerge without notice (symptoms don’t send a warning to our conscious selves).

I’d like to say that change is easy, but I’d be faking.  Change is often equated to loss.  This is apparent when we see the emails coming from Visual Aid as they begin the final phase of their story.  I hope we can all take lessons from as we move through out own set of change and loss.  Visual Aid is being proactive, supportive, and compassionate in their transition.  How can we become more proactive in our lives when it comes to our health (I’ll discuss this more in days to come)?  How compassionate are you to your own body, emotional state, and soul?

Transitions allow us to seek options.  They provide us with a continual set of crossroads allowing us to consider alternatives.  Possibility has to be a part of our consciousness.  What lies ahead for the participants of Visual Aid I can’t say, but I can ask you, what are you going to do today to manage your life transitions?

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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!!!

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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!

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