"My Story Lives is a cornucopia of hope and optimism in the midst of challenging and sometimes dark circumstances. You're doing great work!" Dr. Mel Waldman, Psychologist'

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Saturday, March 31, 2012

From Plywood to a Work of Art Called "Flow"


By Kellie Meisl

"Creating Flow"

I came out as a brook from a river,
and as a conduit into a garden.
I said, I will water my best garden,
and will water abundantly my garden bed:
and lo, my brook became a river,
and my river became a sea.
I will make doctrine to shine as the morning,
and will send forth her light afar off.
I will yet pour out doctrine as prophecy,
and leave it to all ages for ever.
Behold that I have not laboured for myself only,
but for all them that seek wisdom.
--The words of Sophia, the Book of ben-Sirach, 1st century B.C.

I located this passage when I was doing some research on goddesses recently, preparing to make another piece of goddess art for a series I am working on. They are the words of Sophia, goddess of wisdom. Her name is contained in the Greek word philosophy which translates to love of wisdom.

I was astonished to find the passage well after I had created the mermaid “Awareness,” whose goddess name is Venus. If you have already read the story of “Awareness” then you know she literally came from a brook!
And you know she is part of a greater dream where she was rescued and lived in a garden bed.

So to find these words from Sophia, while preparing to do my next goddess art piece, was just such an amazing synchronicity, a boon to me about my process and the meaning of my work. For me, it is a confirmation that I am on the right path, aligned with my soul’s purpose, and connected to the divine creative energy source.

The title of my new art piece is "Flow," with the goddess name, Sophia, and as you will see in the photos below, it has gone through a number of transformations. This work -- which started with a plain piece of plywood -- is a composite of several materials and a number of my dreams. To begin, I work very intuitively, selecting materials that catch my eye and touch my heart. One such material was a discarded piece of plywood left over from a hardwood floor we had installed in our home a few weeks before. It beckoned to me from the wall where it was leaning in the garage. Each time I would pull my car in I'd glance at that plywood against the wall and all of a sudden something would kind of flutter up in my heart and light up my mind.

As is usually the case, dreams followed; dreams always help to form the foundation for the art piece, and the art in effect always honors the dreams that appear.

In the case of Flow, two big dreams featured the theme of flow. The first big dream came in 2009, and in it there was a huge amount of turbulence that resulted in the walls of a disturbingly oppressive classroom being blown over, with the floor opening up to reveal a gaping river of fermenting apples flowing along beneath it.

This dream is always with me; it summons me to heed its plea, “Look below the surface, transformation is happening, be aware of the process, give in to the flow.”

In the second big dream, which came in March 2010, I was in my neglected gardens and had been given a helper, an older woman, with white hair; she helped me to remove a thorny, dried up rosebush that had not received enough nutrients, plucking it out with her bare hands, and casting it in the flowing brook behind my home. As we stood from above watching the water move by, a large tree stripped of its bark, its roots and branches neatly severed off, came rushing by. Its wood was light and twisted, I saw it as a work of art, but it was so big and moving so quickly I did not know how to retrieve it alone. I was panicked. In the dream, the wise woman somehow reassured me, without words, as dream guides do, that I need not panic, but should instead let the tree go. I was relieved to be relinquished of this huge task and grateful for the support I received from the wise woman. I have returned to her advice often in the past year. I am reminded again and again to let go, to be mindful of the process and be aware, but not to panic--instead to go with the flow.

And so, it is in the spirit of the messages of my dreams that I created “Sophia.” When she was finished I asked for another dream and this is what I received:

I am vacationing on the ocean with my family. We are in a cottage, separate from a chain of resorts, along the ocean, where others are staying. I am standing by a picture window, like the one in my family room, and the glass breaks from the pressure of a wave...I realize there is a storm and I must act now, it is up to me to move us...I look out the window and see that others along the chain are trapped by the waves. I feel fortunate that the location we are in allows us to get away from the rushing water. I look back and see a woman, who appears to be trapped by the water, but she is not worried, she knows she will be okay…

So the flow continues…I am curious, but I am not worried.

Artist and writer Kellie Meisl, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, relies on dreams as a springboard for her work. In 2009, she published her first book, "Dream Stories: Recovering the Inner Mystic." Her visual art, including the collage "Shattered Cups," which appeared on the cover of Seeing Red, can be viewed at her website: www.kelliemeisldreamart.com.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

FLIP YOUR SCRIPT: "Where Did I Go Wrong?



Note to Readers: Students continue to participate in the research project I launched last year called "Flip Your Script." In each case, the student is asked to write a personal story about a difficult relationship. If the student is willing, he or she then "flips" the story by rewriting it from the perspective of the difficult person. What follows is Part One of a Flip Your Script exercise. The writer, UAlbany undergraduate Emely Nova, will now decide whether she can flip it, and how. -- Claudia Ricci

By Emely Nova

The ground was white, the sky was white, and snow was falling, falling hard. I opened my mouth and tried to catch the snowflakes. They were cold, freezing cold, sending chills throughout my body. I threw myself in the snow and yelled “Mami look I am making a snow angel.”

Mami smiled and said “Come on mi amor, let’s go, we still have to pack.” I did not want to leave, I loved the snow, I loved how it turned my neighborhood into my own personal winter wonderland. I stayed playing in the snow, this time I attempted to throw a snowball at Mami and she gave me that look. The look that tells me everything she is thinking without her saying one word.

That look requires me to stop immediately before I get into big trouble. I froze and dropped the snowball and marched my way up to the third floor. By the look on my face, Mami knew I was upset because I couldn’t play in the snow. She knew that I loved the snow, but she also knew that there was one thing I loved more than anything and that is going to the Dominican Republic to visit Papi. My mother reminded me it was time to come upstairs and pack because our flight was only a couple of hours away.

Immediately, I forgot about the snow and all I thought about was seeing Papi.

It was December 22, 2002, and Christmas was in a couple of days. As part of my family tradition we would be traveling to the Dominican Republic on the 23rd of December. We did this every year, and every year I would be more than excited to see Papi waiting for me at the airport. It never failed; he was always up front waiting for me with flowers and my favorite Dominican candy, dulce de coco. However, to my surprise this Christmas was going to be different, the events that would occur from midnight on would be events that would forever scar my life.

It was 11:45pm; I had just gotten out of the shower and was walking towards my room. Mami had just finished packing our last luggage, the phone rang. I stared at Mami, and as she answered the phone, her facial expression changed. She went from having a big smile to looking angry and sad at the same time. After seeing Mami’s expression I ran to my room to pick up the other line; my heart was racing. I knew something had gone wrong, and plans had changed. However, not once did I think this situation was going to involve my father.

At first, all I heard was a lot of yelling, and then I heard the voice of my drunken father on the other end of the phone. I couldn’t believe what he was saying; there was no way my father would ever bail on me, especially not on a day like tomorrow.

“I have something I have to tell you,” Papi said to my moher.

“What is it, Robert?” Mami replied.

“I can’t pick you and Princesa (me) up from the airport tomorrow, see I am stuck in a sticky situation.” Papi was stuttering.
Mami started to get irritated; she couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. “What are you talking about? What did you do now?”

“Well, my wife called me today and said that she needs me to pick her up at the airport tomorrow at 12 pm, which means her flight arrives at the same time yours does. Now I cannot pick you two up at the same time, because I have yet to tell Princesa about Marilyn.”

“Listen here Robert, you asked me not to tell Princesa about your new wife, I agreed because I understand that you were waiting to be face to face with her to explain that you had gotten married. I didn’t mind lying to her since I thought it would be best for you to tell her. But now you are asking me to tell my daughter that you will no longer be waiting for her at the airport? How do you want me to tell her that? Do you understand that news is going to crush her? That is all she has been talking about in the past two weeks. You know that is all she looks forward to, is to see you. Maldita seas, how can you do this to her?”

Robert was quiet; this time that bastard didn’t have anything to say.

“Robert answer me! Dammit!!” Mami yelled at him.

“Please help me? I didn’t know this was going to happen. How could I possibly imagine that you guys were going to come home on the same day.” Robert sounded worried.

“Robert, I will speak to my daughter and I will tell her everything she needs to know. I will tell her how you got married and how you didn’t want to tell her. How you can’t pick her up because you now have to pick up your wife. I would not bad mouth you, because I am not trying to brainwash her, and have her hold it against you…”

Before Mami could finish her sentence, though, I interrupted her. “You don’t have to tell me anything Mami, I heard it all.” My voice was shaking; my heart was being shredded into pieces.

Robert, surprised hearing my voice, said “Princesa, wait, I can explain…”

I hung up the phone before he could say anything else. I sat in my bed puzzled. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t get my tears out.

My body felt cold, my hands and feet were frozen. It was like my world had come to a stop, my body just stopped working. I felt a huge hole in my stomach, I wanted to throw up, I wanted to scream. But I just couldn’t do anything. I wanted to punch the wall, I wanted to call him back and listen to his explanation, but I just couldn’t do anything. Mami came into the room and sat on my bed. I jumped up immediately and started getting dressed. She knew something was wrong but I refused to show her any emotions. Not because I was mad at her, I just felt like from the moment I heard Roberts’s confessions I was alone in this world.

I just couldn’t trust anyone. I understand that Mami was only trying to protect me, but I wished now that she had given me the heads up.

“Mi amor, are you ok?” Mami’s voice was quivering, it seemed like puddles were forming in her eyes.

“I’m ok Mami, but not now please.” I gave her a blank look. She got up and before she could leave the room, I told her “Mami, everything is going to be ok. We are better off without him anyways. Everything happens for a reason. OK?”
Mami smiled and said “Te amo, mi amor, don’t ever forget that. No matter what happens I will never leave your side.”

I hugged my mother and then continued to get ready to go to the airport.

The ride to the airport was a quiet one; we did not say one word. After boarding the plane, Mami noticed that a woman was staring at me frequently. I had a feeling that this woman had to be Robert’s wife. Three hours later we arrived in the Dominican Republic; the woman who kept staring at me decided to stay back and hold a conversation with me when we were exiting the plane. I noticed that Mami started to get angry, and told me to keep it moving and not to stop to speak to anyone again. I did exactly what she told me.

As soon as I exited the airport, I saw Mami’s side of the family. I was happy to see them, but at the same time, I was a bit distracted since I was too occupied searching for my father. I knew that he was supposed to be in the airport, and as angry as I was, I still was hoping to see him.

My eyes wandered the airport a couple of times, and my last time around I saw him and he saw me too. We made eye contact and right when I thought he was going to come say hi to me. He turned around and hugged his wife -- that same women who had bee staring at me since our first encounter, the same women who had tried to speak to me before exiting the plane. That WOMEN was his wife.

His actions crushed me; I have never been more humiliated in my life. I never felt unwanted before, I felt invisible. How could he do this to me? Once again my body froze, he made me feel like the world was ending. I felt like someone was stabbing me in the heart repeatedly. Each stab took my breath away. I became weaker and before I knew it, tears rushed down my cheeks. Mami was disgusted with Roberts’s actions. She hugged me, and whispered in my ear, “It’s OK, mi aikmor, you still have me; I will never leave your side. This is something we both will get over. Remember what you said to me last night, EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON!”

Writer Emely Nova is a student at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tibeten Monks: Making Sand Mandalas in Massachusetts

By Claudia Ricci

No it isn't a rug, or a painting or some kind of game board. The magnificent design you see here is an intricately constructed sand mandala, created via painstaking methods by a
group of seven very special Tibetan monks visiting the U.S.

The monks, who hail from the Ganden Jangtse Monastery in Mundgod, South India, are on a year-long tour through the U.S. that began last July, spending time in communities that are interested in learning more about Buddhist philosophy and practices. The monks spend stay anywhere from a week to two weeks in each location, during which they practice meditation, chant, and dance in amazing costumes. They also bend over for hours and hours pouring minute quantities of sand into designs on the floor. They pour the sand -- which has the feel of face powder -- from long brass instruments that narrow down to the width of a pencil point.

The result: magnificently colorful designs out of sand. All the designs are done from memory, using patterns created 2,500 years ago. Mandalas made out of sand are unique to Tibetans; the mandalas are said to have healing and purifying effects and yield up positive energy to the environment and those viewing them.

And what happens to these extraordinarily works of art at the end? The monks hold a closing ritual in which they ask for healing blessings and then, they sweep away the millions of grains of colorful sand, a reminder to all of us that life -- and all of our labors -- are fleeting.

The monks have been crisscrossing the U.S., visiting communities in California, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas and other states. The monks are being sponsored in the U.S. by a Tibetan Buddhist Center in Los Angeles.

This past weekend, the monks were making their second visit to Massachusetts, and staying in a Veterans Center. On Saturday, we joined community members in Shrewsbury, MA while the monks created a mandala, and then demonstrated their remarkable dances.

Later, friends of ours hosted a dinner for the monks that evening, and before we ate our vegetarian meal, the monks performed their evening puja, a long chanting and meditation ritual. The event lasted about an hour, and was full of music and deep-throated chanting, as well as ringing bells, and horns and drums and a purification ritual that involved a pitcher with peacock feathers. At the end of the puja, the monks blessed the home of our friends.

It was a very special and thrilling event, deeply moving and full of spiritual significance.




To see the monks in action, making a medicine sand mandala, go to you tube.






Sunday, March 25, 2012

READING


By Camincha

I don't want to read
all there is to read.

Really, I don't.
All these lovely stories
that sound so charming. And
often end so commonplace.
I write them myself. Of course
not commonplace, though!

Really don't want to read other's
except they beg me. Like a kitten
scratching at my ankles
for attention, they beg me to caress their
lines with my eyes. To share
their turn of events. To turn the page
and keep up with the story. I do, and feel
good afterwards, like when I share
a cup of coffee with Mary even though
I should have gone on with the house cleaning.

Turning the pages I find out about foreign
lands and exciting characters, though more
often than not I find out about people just like me who also
enjoy and survive and hurt and read about
others like me.

Camincha is a pen name for a writer who lives in California. She is a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives.

“…………But Camincha wants to take in continents and hemispheres. She is a woman of extraordinary vitality, passion and a hunger for life. Read her, enjoy her.” Michael Krasny KQED FM

Friday, March 23, 2012

Oh Deer!


By Kellie Meisl

Spring has caught me completely off-guard. Gone are my days of walking for hours in the forest, opening my heart and getting my head clear. I didn't plan on this. So far I have walked every day of 2012 and had planned to continue until April 9th, on my one hundredth day, when I would then switch to neighborhood jaunts, or more likely the treadmill, spending outdoor time in my gardens.

Why have my walks ended abruptly? Deer ticks. I found about twenty of them on me and my dog Ribsy (none embedded) after our walk to the beaver pond yesterday, one of my favorite locations. The warnings are stern, don't mess around with these Lyme carrying creatures, most no larger than a common pin head.

That said, I was making my morning cup of tea, and thinking that I don't feel quite ready to tackle the gardens yet, though the 80-degree March days seem to be nudging me to do so. And then I thought about a big dream I had two Marches ago where I was standing in my yard, reveling at my neglected gardens and realizing they had survived just fine on their own, even their borders were in tact. In the dream, a wise woman who stood beside me ignored my frenzied call to pull a large, twisted tree from the rushing stream beside the gardens, one I thought I should grab--for the sake of art--it would've made a great piece. In her simple defiance of what was supposed-to happen, she transmitted to my mind and spirit a calm that let me know there was no rush.

The dream has taken on a life of its own, becoming a piece of art work, truly, but more so, a creed by which I now fashion my life (when I remember to): Go With the Flow.

Flow 3/17/2011

And then I remembered the words of my dear friend who told me, just yesterday, she has been consciously telling herself of late that she should do the things that she usually tells herself she shouldn't and she shouldn't do the things she normally tells herself she should, and it has been giving her great peace of mind. All of this came about as she, like me, has been examining her core beliefs and how she has bought into some backward thinking she would now like to reverse.

To add to this, I just read in The Mastery of Love, by Don Miguel Ruiz, that we shouldn't believe a word we say. He says, "Don't believe [the inner voice], because it isn't true. Open your ears, open your heart, and listen." He is referring to the inner voice with the negative belief system, the one that was basically implanted when we were innocent children and, still developing, hadn't the awareness yet to hit the delete button for beliefs that didn't resonate with us.

And so, with the simple inconvenience of the deer tick, and the true words of my dear friend, along with the life-changing message from the wise woman, I have come up with my annual summer garden theme: let go and Listen.

I am quite sure the gardens are trying to tell me something and have politely waited as I've rushed around in frenzied fashion scooping up their dried up remnants, thoughtlessly planning their future without even consulting them.

Ahhh, this a relief then, for I am invoking the guidance of the wise woman and nature devas, what more have I to do, but listen.....

Writer Kellie Meisl, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, keeps a blog called Walk, in which this piece appeared first. A visual artist, Kellie relies on dreams as a springboard for her work. In 2009, she published her first book, "Dream Stories: Recovering the Inner Mystic." Her visual art, including the collage "Shattered Cups," which appeared on the cover of Seeing Red, can be viewed at her website: www.kelliemeisldreamart.com.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

White Sandy Beaches and... Wild Horses?


By Claudia Ricci

We expected Vieques to have beautiful white sandy beaches, and that emerald green water so characteristic of the Caribbean. We expected plenty of palm trees, and bounties of colorful bougainvillea and other flowers.

But what we hadn't realized is that this beautiful Caribbean island off the coast of Puerto Rico is also home to herds of wild horses, wandering freely all over the island.



Lying on a secluded beach not far from our inn last week, we looked up to see a small herd of horses drinking from a watering hole a few feet away. They looked to be such gentle animals, although a bit thin; some of their coats looked a tad ragged. But what a marvelous sight to behold.

Driving the narrow roads around the island one also frequently encounters locals riding horses. And sometimes you find residents galloping along the beaches, and then plunging into the green water to cool off!



Despite the fact that this island has the look and feel of paradise, Vieques in fact has had a rather tough troubled history, thanks to the U.S. Navy.

For many decades, the Navy used -- or more appropriately abused -- Vieques as its main Atlantic military training site. The Navy performed air, sea and land maneuvers -- including regular bombing -- on some 23,000 acres of the island.

Wandering the magnificent beaches, one can only wonder what idiotic people decided it was appropriate to batter such a beautiful natural setting with bombs of all things? Who in their right mind would do such a barbaric thing?

Well, so, thankfully, the Navy FINALLY ceased its military activity in 2003 following years of local protests, and after an errant bomb killed a civilian guard.

Since then, the Navy has set aside millions of dollars to remove military wastes and explosives from the eastern section of the island.

One would hope we learned lessons on Vieques that will never be repeated. One would hope, but one is not entirely convinced.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

When the Rose Bends, Part Two

By Dr. Mel Waldman

What is happening? I asked myself. My wife’s small, claustrophobic hospital room, filled with one bed for her and one chair for me, had become our cage.

Trapped inside this tomblike room, I feared there was no exit. Michelle was weak, disoriented, confused, delirious at times, and often overwhelmed with pain. She had entered a separate reality, more frightening than Carlos Castaneda’s dreamlike worlds.

I sat and watched her. Sometimes I kissed her forehead or held her head in my arms. She mumbled. I listened and struggled to understand all her words. When I missed a word or phrase, I still felt some of her pain and despair. Perhaps, we can never fully understand someone else’s pain or suffering. But through love and empathy, I believe, we transcend our boundaries and experience a sacred intimacy and union. In times of joy, the experience is beautiful. But with suffering and life-threatening illnesses, we join our loved one in pain.

My wife seemed lost in a private universe, floating across a dark dreamscape. What is happening to Michelle and to us? I asked myself. We were one, I thought. But we were also separate and unbearably separated at that moment. And then I fell into an abyss. Deep in the bowels of my psyche, I descended into my Hell.

I watched myself cross the river Acheron. Charon, an antediluvian boatman, took me on his boat to the other side. I entered the first circle of Dante’s Inferno-Limbo. Ensconced in darkness, my only sin was my inability to experience hope and see the celestial vision of Michelle’s healing and renewed health.

Each day, I watched my wife’s life force dwindle, her will to live slowly vanish. The perception that she might die shattered my spirit. I needed a miracle. We needed to obliterate the virulent illness that had gripped my wife.

I prayed. I meditated. And I empowered myself by asking the doctors and the rest of the medical team many questions over a period of 10 nights and 11 days.

The mystery of the blood loss was never fully solved. The physician’s assistant (P.A.) told me the blood thinner Michelle had been taking was discontinued. Perhaps, she had been on the blood thinner too long.

The results of the endoscopy showed that my wife has gastritis and a hernia. She also had a mild case of colitis. The gastroenterologist postponed the original colonoscopy. A few days later, the surgeon performed the colonoscopy. The results were normal.

Unfortunately, I learned that Michelle’s admitting diagnosis was 038.9, Septicemia NOS. Septicemia is a life-threatening illness.
Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, shaking chills, sweating, very high fever, weakness, exhaustion, drop in blood pressure, and elevated heart rate. It is also known as blood poisoning and can lead to failure of vital organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and brain.

The P.A. denied that my wife had septicemia and insisted she had sepsis upon discharge. She also stated that my wife’s condition was stable. Sepsis is an infection in the bloodstream and is also a life-threatening illness. Sometimes septicemia and sepsis are used interchangeably.

Symptoms for sepsis are similar to the symptoms of septicemia and include shaking, chills, fever, weakness, diarrhea, confusion, and disorientation. Sepsis may lead to a septic inflammatory state known as Septicemia. Both conditions are treated with massive doses of antibiotics.

Thus, I asseverated that I did not believe my wife was ready for discharge. I was overruled.

However, the night before my wife’s discharge, she confessed: “I didn’t think I was going to make it. I thought I was finished.
But I feel stronger now. In the last two days, I experienced a miraculous change.”

“That’s wonderful, Michelle. You see, I thought you were dying.”

“Yes, that’s what I thought too.”

We held hands and I stayed late that night. And I prayed her progress and healing would continue in the nursing home. In the days and weeks to come, I knew we would face her obstacles together.

Love is the most powerful force in the universe. It binds us in the most spiritual and liberating ways. When I left Michelle, I felt soothed by our oneness and the flow of love between us. I visualized her healing. I didn’t feel alone on this special night of revelations.

Writer Mel Waldman is a psychologist, poet, writer, and artist. His stories have appeared in dozens of magazines including HARDBOILED DETECTIVE, ESPIONAGE, THE SAINT, and AUDIENCE. He is a past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis and was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature. He is the author of 11 books. Part One of "When the Rose Bends" ran in MyStory on February 28th.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jasmine, Meet Little Jas!

By Jasmine Abreu

As I walk into a darkened hallway, I see a bright light at the end of the hall. I keep walking towards the light, slowly, as if I am walking towards my death.

I pass a bedroom with a man inside smoking cigars while throwing back one Corona after another. He's listening to that familiar country Spanish music.

I keep walking until I reach the kitchen. I stop because I hear a little girl crying. I don’t know where she is.

I look inside the kitchen and it’s very pure and white with shiny brown tiles on the floor as if no one has been in there cooking in a really long time. I finally reach the end of the hallway and the bright white light and then it dims. I’m left with the little girl crying, sitting in the lap of a little boy. I sneak behind the tall brown dresser that has a huge television on its shoulders so the kids won't see me.

“I don’t understand why she left me?” mumbles the little girl with watery brown eyes, still on the boy's lap.

This to me seems like a deja vu moment. I feel like I’ve been here before or at least have felt the same way this little girl has.

“She has her reason Jas, we just have to be strong and look out for each other till she comes back,” the boy says.

Suddenly I see it! It’s me! I’m the little girl, I remember now, this is when our mom left us for the first time and my brother was trying to console me.

“But I hate it here, with all these strangers and bad people, and I’m so hungry, I haven’t eaten in days,” Little Jas says while picking up her head from his lap. I see myself mumbling the words just as she did because I know exactly what she is going to say.

“C’mon Jas, you have to be strong, you can’t show people your weakness, that’s how they take advantage of you, C’mon lets go find something to eat.”

Oh no, they’re coming my way now, what do I do? I get entangled in the wiring of the television cable and trip foolishly. They definitely hear me.

“Hey! Who goes there?” the boy asks.

I emerge and show my face in the light. Little Jas says “hey, don’t I know you?”

“This may sound strange Little Jas, but I’m…I’m…. I’m you from the future.” I hesitate and look down immediately after I say it because I know they are going to look at me as if I am some weird alien or something.

“Really!” She says excitedly. “How cool.”

Well I really underestimated myself; I should have known that I was into supernatural things even when I was growing up.

“Well yeah, and I know why you’re crying, too, I think I know why I’m here at this given moment as well. I’m here to tell you that you will get past this, it may feel horrible and like your world is crushing down on top of you but you have to push through it.”

“But I can't do that, Big Me, I can’t handle this on my own.” Little Jas is looking at me as if I am going to save her. She wants a miracle in the snap of my fingers.

“I’m not going to lie to you Little Jas. I'm not going to tell you that your life will get better and you’ll be magically happy, because you will end up going through some tough stuff with your mom and it will scar you for life, but what I will say is that you will meet friends and people who love you as you grow older and eventually go to college.”

“Wait, what? What am I gonna go through with my ma?”

“I can’t tell you that, you will find out later on in your life, all I can tell you is to be strong, OK?” At this point I kneel before her and hold her hand. As I do, I can’t help but feel sorry for her. I didn’t want her to go through what I went through. I wish I could save her. I surrender to the tears that already fill my eyes. Little Jas tucks her hand in her long sleeve shirt and wipes my tears away slowly and gently.

“I’ll be alright,” she says, still hopeful. “Will you visit me again?”

At that very second I knew she was definitely me because she could face a hardship and still be hopeful and optimistic no matter how hard life was or what brought her down. At that point I knew she would be alright. Of course she would make it through, I know, because I do.

Jasmine Abreu is a sophomore at the University at Albany, SUNY, where she is majoring in English.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

At "The Edge," In Yoga and In Life!!

By Judith England

‘”Here be dragons” is a phrase used to denote dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the medieval practice of putting sea serpents and other mythological creatures in uncharted areas of maps’. -- Wikipedia

There’s been a lively discussion of late on several yoga chat sites centering around a term we endearingly refer to as “The Edge." No, I’m not referring to U2′s guitarist. “The Edge” isn’t a person, but a place.

In yoga practice it describes the “sweet spot”, the time when you’re in an asana, holding and breathing, and you know that you’re working, perhaps pushing just a bit, but there’s the total absence of struggle. Yet, another definition to consider – “The edge is the place where ease meets effort.”.

We’ve all been there, the place where the the unknown lurks menacingly or enticingly one step further. The place that in the map of our lives would bear the words “here be dragons”.

There’s no doubt when you find that invisible border. Breath becomes ragged. Stomach tightens. Thoughts begin to do a wild and crazy dance of judgment and self-doubt.

Even if you’ve never inhabited a yoga mat you’ve still met your edge – again, and again and again.

Yoga is a metaphor, a way to learn through a physical practice ways of dealing more effectively with life on a day-to- day basis. If we can hold a pose and breathe as sensations build, and mind-chatter escalates, perhaps it might be a little easier to give that presentation in the board room, or stand one’s ground when personal values have a face-off with peer pressure. If we can recognize that we’ve moved past the edge, even if we met it comfortably the day before, then maybe, just maybe, we can grow a bit in tolerating what challenges us, or be less judgmental when others voice views different from our own.

Certainly on my recent trip to Panama, there were countless opportunities to dance on the edge. So much new and unfamiliar – the language, the food, the flow of time and daily life. But here’s the amazing paradox: the edge is not simply a limit, it is also an invitation.

On one particularly long and difficult trip further into the jungle to visit a distant community, we traveled over roads that were more like clearings in the thicket, across streams, with enormous ruts, and stones the size of lawn furniture. The truck’s suspension was way past its prime. The trip went on for hours.

At first I could feel myself tensing as I ricocheted around the back seat. Only being wedged tightly next to another person restrained my movement. My head connected with the side window with painful regularity. Holding myself so tightly, and anticipating every oncoming bump, and wondering when the journey would end was exhausting.

I decided to switch gears and simply let myself bounce.

Sensing that rise in physical sensation and mental discomfort, finding my breath and letting go into the experience, I found “the edge” would soften and move, just a bit, further away. The trip became pleasurable again, the time manageable, the scenery spectacular!

So I guess what it all comes down to – whether in yoga, or in life – is that “the edge” is where learning happens. All we have to do is notice and try to befriend the dragons.

Writer Judith England, an R.N., is a certified massage therapist and yoga instructor in Albany, New York. She keeps the Holistic Health blog for the Albany Times Union, where this post appeared on March 5, 2012.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Journey We Take Alone -- Part 20


By Alexander "Sandy" Prisant

It was about 10 minutes to 6 in the morning when my arm woke me.

I was lying in a hotel room in Boston. It was December of 2002. I was experiencing a steady pain in my left arm, not sharp but not dull. I lay back. “What was that old rule? Wait for half an hour and if your upper left arm still hurts you’re probably having a heart attack”. (Much later, I learned this does not apply to people who have already had major heart surgery. People who have already had major heart surgery should get help immediately.)

But back in Boston, it was now 6:20 a.m. Based on my wrong-headed do-it-yourself doctoring, time was up. I rolled over to face Susan: “Hon, I’m having a heart attack.” Susan has had a lifetime of me saying strange things like this to her. She doesn’t flinch.

As I reached for the phone to call the desk, she was methodically waking and moving out of bed toward the closet. She was picking out my matching shirts, socks and slacks for the hospital. She knows her mate.

There was a knock at the door, but it wasn’t the paramedics. It was two fireman dressed in full gear, right up to the big hats. They strode past the bed and stood over near the bay windows. Taking their positions, they stared at me, but said nothing.

Minutes later, the ambulance crew arrived with a rolling gurney. The firemen, apparently there because of a union dispute over which city service could respond to emergencies, continued to gawk. I never saw them again.

The EMS team rolled me down the elevator, through the lobby and into the ambulance, parked at a discreet underground entrance. When the doors closed the paramedic leading the team said, ”The closest hospital is New England Medical Center (Now Tufts Medical Center). Where would you like to go?”

In one way, chronic illness is like the rest of life. Sometimes you have to be lucky. I was in Boston for the first time in years and, of all places, I was having my first heart attack here.

“Mass General,” I replied. The paramedic almost smiled. That’s where I’m going,” she said, “when I have my heart attack.”

What are the odds that anyone will be within 10 minutes of one of the very best hospitals in the world when a major cardiac event hits? By the time we reached Massachusetts General, there was no more pain and I was feeling in very good hands. After all, this is the teaching hospital linked with Harvard, what more do you want?

As they worked on me in the ER, not frantically but professionally, I saw Susan over a doctor’s shoulder, on the phone. She was calling our cardiologist, Eddie Anderson. It was 5 a.m. in Palo Alto, California. She passed the phone to a doctor, who took a quick history from Eddie. I felt calmer than I probably had a right to be.

Indirectly this heart attack had been caused by my lifelong kidney ailment. In an age of specialization when doctors are focused on only their organ of choice, somebody’s got to look out for the other parts. A lot of things that can help a wounded heart are not at all good for the kidney. Unlike some places, Mass General knows this. They sent two cardiologists to my room, but with them a respected nephrologist, Dr. Myles Wolf. Though young, he was already an Assistant Professor at the hospital, an Instructor at Harvard and he had links to MIT. He has since received numerous awards in every aspect of medicine—as a teacher, researcher and clinician. In 2009, he was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation, one of the most prestigious medical honor societies.

Dr. Wolf was my defender, keeping the cardiologists away from treatments that might be nephrotoxic (harmful to the kidney). In the end every medication you take for anything works its way through to the end of the system and the gateway -- your kidneys. If the “gate” is shaky, you need a gatekeeper, looking out for it. That was Myles Wolf. We’ve known each other for a decade now. Dr. Wolf was cherry picked to become Director of Clinical Research, an Assistant Professor and an assistant dean at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He continues to know more about more organs than all the doctors I formally work with.

Within 36 hours of admission however, it was clear there was a problem that Dr. Wolf couldn’t solve. Some of the vessels supplying the heart were becoming blocked. I would need another open heart surgery—another triple bypass.

This is where it got tricky. This is where I had to make a choice. Alone. The kind of choice you may have to make some day. The doctors won’t make it for you.

A self-confident gentleman came into my room on the third day and introduced himself as the cardiovascular surgeon who would operate on me. He tried to reassure me, mentioning that my first heart surgeon was an old friend. He’d even had dinner at Dr. Vincent Gaudiani’s California home. Fortunately, he then sat down and explained in detail what he would do. He even predicted the vessels he’d take from my leg to put in my chest would last for seven to nine years. That discussion was 10 years ago.

When a surgeon is willing to talk, be quiet and listen. Without going to medical school you may hear something that helps you work out what is really going on. This surgeon had said something we didn’t understand. He mentioned inserting some kind of heart assist device without explaining why. Questions swirled around—I’d already had this operation seven years before, why was this one being done differently? Was I going to be a research subject for this man’s latest technique? If I was uncomfortable with this guy, did I have any options? Was it realistic to fly out of Boston with my heart in this shape, to do this elsewhere?

We needed a second opinion. We called Eddie Andersen and laid out what we’d been told. Eddie had been receiving reports from Mass General. He wouldn’t come down for or against any surgeon, but based on what he saw he intimated there were options with some risks. For one, we might be able to come back to California and go to Dr. Gaudiani.

With echoes in my mind of what my father must have gone through when I was an infant--seeking advice everywhere for a risky surgery--we talked to anyone we could find, even in this hospital away from home. Mass General’s rabbi appeared in our room; we pounced on him in search of wisdom. We talked to everyone. Doctors propose options, but these days the patient literally has to sign on the dotted line. Lay people have to make the decision and accept liability in every sense of the word.

In the end Susan and I decided to go with what had worked before. We opted to go back to Dr. Gaudiani in California, even though it put my heart at risk on a 3,000-mile plane ride, complete with oxygen. Even though it meant delaying surgery for a few weeks. We decided to go with someone we knew, rather than the unknown.

This is a world with fewer “permanent cures” but many ways to “extend” or “improve” a patient’s life. We are sometimes offered subjective odds of success from well-meaning physicians for wholly subjective outcomes. This even applies to the most fundamental issues: risk, survival, longevity.

We may cling to an offhand suggestion that this procedure has a five percent better results than that procedure. But we may be kidding ourselves. Just this afternoon—in another place and another situation—a cardiologist said to me: I’ve given up paying much attention to those predictions for my patients. They’re often wrong.”

So then, what’s left for lay people to hang onto? Probably the same tools you use to pick a dry cleaner. Go with what you know. If someone’s done a good job before, stick with him until they don’t do a good job. I know. A lot could be riding on it.

While it might seem like an insignificant decision at the time, in medicine it rarely is. What would have seemed more innocuous than deciding whether or not take the last free seat on the plane with Buddy Holly and Richie Valens?

This is the stuff of real life--part of the journey we take alone.

Writer Sandy Prisant has for most of the last year been engaged in a writing project he has called possibly his last. A lifelong survivor of a serious kidney ailment, he is now on dialysis awaiting a double transplant, kidney and heart. He and his wife, Susan, live in Florida and are both writing. To read their work, go to the Search function on MyStoryLives, and type in each of their names.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Old Man Thoughts


By Erick Harr

The bus lurched forward and lazily circled the roundabout which surrounded the historical monument commemorating Mexico’s independence from Spain. The “Victoria Alada” stood atop a 50 meter spire in the middle of one of Mexico City’s main avenues.

The statue itself, complete with gold plating, represented the greek goddess Nik√© holding out a crown of laurels, ready to place it atop the heads of Mexico’s victorious heroes. Looking up at the statue from inside the bus the old man could barely make out a silhouette, teetering on the edge of the railing. His sight was not what it used to be and by the time he had reached into his coat pocket and put on his glasses, the figure, which he could finally identify as a man, was plummeting through the air towards the ground, finally coming to a stop with a resounding thud.

His initial shock was overcome by his desire to see. It wasn’t a morbid curiosity which drove him to get off the bus and, even more frightening, it wasn’t his desire to help. As he took his first steps towards the monument he began questioning his motives. Why had he gotten off the bus? Why was he walking towards what were surely the mangled remains of a grown man? He could give no justification as to why his feet were carrying him in the direction of what were surely some poor fellow’s remains.

There was nothing there. No body, no splattered blood, no sirens nor spectators, nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, it all seemed overly ordinary. No cobblestone was out of place, not a sign of wear or erosion was visible on the monument. It was as if time had decided never to pass over here. He was certain of what he had seen and was left utterly bamboozled at the idea of his eyes playing tricks on him. He then caught a glimpse of something near the corner of the monument. As he approached it he realized it was a piece of jewelry. He picked it up and inspected it. It was a ring but it was old and corroded. He could tell that it had once been an exceedingly beautiful ring. It was the kind of ring that would make any woman jealous of the bride who received it.

Well this certainly puzzled the old man and left him feeling somewhat foolish - questioning his sanity. How often was it that one saw phantasms leaping off buildings and leaving behind cryptic clues? Maybe the nurses were right. Maybe he was getting too old to go on his leisurely walks around the city where he grew up. They had been telling him for quite some time now to act his age. He would always scoff at them, tell them that they tried to coddle him too much and that he should just be left to his own devices. However this experience made him question who was right. Being left with a feeling of utter confusion, which it seemed to him was the quintessential characteristic of old people, he decided to leave the monument, feeling somewhat uneasy after the experience but steadfast in his desire to complete his walk nonetheless.

Upon reaching his usual resting spot along Reforma Ave. he sat himself down on one of the many rustic benches which dotted the length of the walkway along the busy street. No sooner had his body touched the backrest when he was approached by a young man in an expensive looking suit carrying a small box in his right hand. There was a certain aura about him. He seemed to exude self confidence, as though all his dreams had just come true.

“Is this seat taken?” the young man asked in a soft yet stern voice.

The old man, who only wanted to be left alone to ponder his “old man thoughts,” because that is what he was calling them now that he was finally embracing his age, answered the young man in a deferential tone. “Yes it is”.

The young man noticed the old man’s coarseness but took no heed of his answer and sat down anyways.

“Maybe had you not always been so selfish things would have actually worked out you know.”

At this the old man turned to face his new unwilled companion. There was something about his face which intrigued him, but he couldn’t quite make it out. “Oh?” said the old man. “And who are you to be judging me young man? There are other benches you know? Leave me be and go about your business!”

The man in the suit looked away. “You never really understood how to treat people. Did you?”

The old man had had enough, as he turned to assault his companion with a barrage of insults he was met with an empty seat.

Well, nearly empty save for the box the young man was carrying. The old man picked the box up and turned it over in his hands once or twice. From the soft black velvet which enveloped its exterior and its small square shape he deduced it was a ring box.

His fingers trembled ever so slightly as he opened it. There was nothing inside but a crease, just large enough for a ring.

Writer Erick Harr was raised in Mexico City and is currently a senior at the University at Albany, SUNY, studying chemistry, and graduating in May 2012. He is a member of the UAlbany Rowing team and on a warm enough morning you can see him rowing down the Hudson River with his teammates.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Being the Father Figure He Never Had


By Scott Waldman

When Joel Livingston was a boy he wanted to look up to a man.

There were none around because his father was deported to Jamaica when he was 7 and only called once or twice a year. That meant there was no older guy to show him how to ride a bike, to talk to about sports. Growing up in the Bronx, his mother stayed on top of him, made sure he was doing his school work and staying out of trouble, but he had the type of questions, like those about sex, that a boy just can't ask his mom.

As some people get older, they surround themselves with the parts of their childhood that they missed. Livingston, however, has chosen to surround others with the thing he missed most during his childhood. He wanted a dad, so he's making sure he can be a father figure to others.

And he's helping his fellow students do the same. In 2010, he founded a group for University at Albany students to become mentors called R.A.C.E., which stands for Reclassifying All Children Equally. Seventy-seven students have signed up, and they all act as mentors for youth in the Capital Region.

Almost every day, Livingston, 21, meets with a boy in an Albany elementary school. He is a mentor for six in total. He wakes up at 6 a.m. on Saturdays to go to their basketball games. He shows up at their schools before 8 a.m. to sit in the back of their classrooms at Eagle Hill elementary or Albany Community Preparatory Charter School.

"They're not used to having somebody watch over them, it shows somebody cares," he said. Livingston hit upon a simple idea.

Show someone that you care. Listen to the kids. Play basketball with them. Hang out. You're there, that's what matters.

He works with the Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Albany Police Athletic League to find kids who need another adult in their lives. Some weekends, he does volunteer work with them at Habitat for Humanity or the JC Club, Pastor Charlie Mueller's food kitchen.

Livingston gives his boys looks in class when they're not paying attention. He's a big guy, with a deep voice. They listen. He's already seen some grades go up, and behavior marks rising from 1s out of 4 to 2s and 3s.

He carries his old elementary school report cards to show kids that he once had bad grades. Look at this, he tells them, you can turn around your grades. I did. Don't look at yourself as a "bad kid."

"Because they're being labeled as delinquent, it's hard for them to change," he said.

After about an hour or two in a school, Livingston gets back on the bus to UAlbany to finish up the few remaining credits of his bachelor's degree in criminal justice. He scored a 4.0 grade point average last semester. He texts the students and messages them on Facebook a few times a day to ensure they're doing their work.

Next year, Livingston plans to either work as an educator for Teach For America or enter Columbia University for a graduate program in school counseling. He says some day, he'd like to come back to Albany, to be the superintendent, to walk the school hallways and stop a young man and ask him "Did you do your homework?"

Scott Waldman is the Education Reporter for the Albany Times Union. This article appeared first in the Times Union's Campus Notebook column. Joel Livingston will graduate Magna Cum Laude in May from the University at Albany with a BA in criminal justice and minor in education Studies. He has earned Dean's List honors on multiple occasions and is a member of several honor societies.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Journey We Take Together -- Part Twelve


By Susan Prisant

Listen, I’d like to write to you as if you were all close friends. So here goes: I’ve been feeling like shit.

Outwardly, I’m sure no one noticed; but inside it was bad. I couldn’t write. Not even one sentence you’d be interested in reading. That phone call with the heart transplant nurse did it (Part 11). She told me all the things I really didn’t want to know. And then some.

After that, all I wanted to do was break my back tilling the soil in our garden. Feeling the dirt between my fingers. Smelling that smell that is nature’s essence: wholesome, good and clean.

But now a few weeks have passed working in the yard and I really can’t say it’s cleaned my mind. Not cleared; cleaned.

We need an unexpected bang sometimes, to shake us up and see things better.

I’ve been locked in this house with Sandy and his illness, but last night I got one.

We went to an Andrea Bocelli concert. We had lived in Italy for eight years. No matter how good the music is in America, for me it can’t match a virtuoso Italian singing in his own language.

At intermission, Sandy and I walked outside. As usual, we were thinking the same thing. How could they put this man in an ice hockey arena? The first half had been a jumble of mismatched pieces to please every part of the audience. Maybe I had put too much on my one night out.

We returned to our seats and that’s when the unexpected bang hit. Suddenly the real Andrea Bocelli was on stage, smiling, laughing and sweating as he hit those impossible notes. Now he was fulfilling the audience’s craving. This wonderful man with no sight was getting his bang, too.

For me, this moving performance was enough. Bocelli had such a hold on me that I felt the bad feelings of recent months drifting away. In their place came his warmth and exhilaration.

The next morning Sandy had to go to Miami for a visit with the transplant cardiologist. He dressed himself as impeccably as he used to. He looked so gorgeous. And he wanted to go alone; the first time ever I didn’t go with him. The concert had had a hold on him, too.

I went back into my garden. There was a feeling of excitement as I looked around with fresh eyes. When I’d been down, I hadn’t realized how wonderfully it was coming together.

My “ bang” continued all day—even when I had to mop the floors after heavy traffic from the Schnauzer Sisters---who earnestly dig along with me in the garden, believing we’re building a dog agility course.

Thank you Andrea, for that big bang.

Writer Susan Prisant lives with her husband Sandy, and their two dogs, Dolce and Vita, in Florida. Both Susan and Sandy are engaged in long writing projects; Sandy, who has had a lifelong kidney ailment, is now awaiting a kidney and heart transplant. His project is called "The Journey We Take Alone." To read more of each their writing projects, simply type their names into the Search function on MyStoryLives.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

"Dad, It's Too Late"


By Kyle Chittum

I stepped off the train and looked around in an anxious manner. I took a deep breath, and inhaled the New York City air just like I used to when I lived here in my earlier stages of life. I had been dreading this for a week. I saw the man that I came here to meet. He was wearing a sloppy-looking sweater, and if that was not how I knew it was him, then it was his hair that was nearly all gone that gave it away.

This was it, the moment when I was going to be standing face to face with the man that is known as my father, for the first time in over five years. His devilish smile started to grow bigger and bigger with every step closer I got. I finally saw his face. I could tell he thought I was going to be excited to see him. I wasn’t. As he saw my disgruntled expression, his smile gave way to a sneer.

He screamed, “Hey buddy boy! You happy to see me or what?”

His voice was loud, too loud.

I shook my head. “Oh yeah I am just jumping out of my shoes because I am so excited, can’t you tell?”

He crossed his arms. His sweater had holes in the elbow. Those holes, however, were not as big as the one that pierced my heart. I started to feel all the pain that he has put me through as I've tried to give him quite a few chances to change.

“You know I really don’t understand why you have to continue to be mad at me son. It really hurts me. I mean I am your Dad-“

Cutting him off abruptly I yelled, “Shut the hell up. Do not play that bullshit card with me.”

My father was shocked. His face froze, and his eyes narrowed.

“Let’s start by you apologizing Dad,” I said. “After all you were never there to watch me grow up.”

He finally gathered himself, and said, “I am really sorry for not being there for you Kyle. I really am. There is nothing I can do that will take that pain away of not having me there for you. I understand this.”

“Well honestly, you don’t because you are not in my shoes,” I said in response. “You don’t know, Dad, all the hard nights I have gone through with Breanna (my sister), Bart (my brother), and Mom. I had to go some nights without even eating because of you not being there to support us. I had to see my own mother nearly overdose on drugs right in front of my face when I was 12. So don’t tell me you “understand this” because you will never understand shit.”

Once again my father stood there looking puzzled as the subway smell of the city made me feel like I was home again. He was a poker player running out of bluffs. However, like a magician he was able to pull another card from his sleeve of deviance.

“Look, Kyle, you, your brother, your sister, and your mother ran away from me. I came home the day you guys left, and everything was gone. How do you think that made me feel? Can you imagine what a father feels when his wife, son, and his daughter move without him knowing?”

Suddenly I wanted to slug the deceiving bastard. I just felt like squaring him up, and connecting my fist with his jaw to knock him on the ground where he deserved to be. But then I had to admit my mother hadn’t handled the whole moving away from my father situation well at all; the thing was she had needed it to be done.

I turned my head for a quick second to gather my thoughts. I kept hearing the beeping of cabs, and impatient employees who were late to work in the usual New York City traffic jam. I was able to think of the next thing I was going to say in a very wise manner, like I was moving one of my pieces in a game of chess.

“Look, I came here to tell you face to face where we stand. There is nothing you can say to me that is going to make me change my mind about how I feel about you.”

My father looked hurt. “Well son I am sorry to hear that. I wanted to try to relive the good memories we actually had at one point. I am sorry how much I hurt you.”

I shot back: “Those memories we had were shattered by your selfishness, greedy acts, and your drug and alcohol abuse.”

That seemed to be the final blow to my father’s psychotic head. There was nothing else that he could say.

So I continued, “I will thank you for two things,” I said. “The first thing I thank you for is being part of the reason why I was born. The second thing I want to thank you for is showing me exactly what not to be in life.”

I was fighting not to start crying. My voice was edgy. I had to show him that I would not let him get into my head ever again.

“I have to go.” I said.

Upset, my father said, “Okay, it was nice seeing you at least this one time son.”

I started to feel the tears. My voice broke. Suddenly I was shaking my head in agreement. “Even though I am not satisfied with you at all, not one bit, I am glad that I got to see you as well Dad.”

My father said, “So this is it?”

I turned to walk away. I wiped my eyes. I was determined to enjoy the rest of the day with my friends, the friends I had come to the city to see. “I can’t answer that right now Dad. I guess that's something we have to wait and find out some other time.”

Writer Kyle Chittum, a student at the University at Albany, SUNY, was born in Queens, and grew up in Newburgh, NY. His major is communications and he aspires to be is a producer/artist in the hip-hop industry.