Tuesday, October 28, 2008

finding joy again

Since I last wrote, my life has been consumed with job searching. writing one resume, then another version, then another. each new job listing requires a new version of the resume and a carefully crafted cover letter.

There is an art to this thing I am doing, to job searching.

All I have power over is what I put out into the world. This resume, these letters, my smiling face and best gifts. Somehow, I've been trying to express my energy, my outlook, my essence in these applications. Nothing less will get attention in this fierce job market. To even gain an interview will be cause for celebration.

I am remaining open, flexible. At the same time, learning to articulate who I am now and where I would most love to contribute in this world of ours. It's a bit exciting, wondering about what is next. Each job listing I apply for I get a little invested, I let myself fall in love with the job, just a bit, just enough.

And I've been inspired creatively since my decision to place my jewelry business on the back burner. Once I let go of the idea that I needed to make pieces for market, both my ideas and enthusiasm have flowed naturally back. I am paying attention to that truth. Without the pressures and constraints of profit & loss, my creative self expands. I can make objects and not keep track of how long they take to complete. I can let the art determine what materials to use and when it is finished! There is much to learn here in this life transition. Starting to think about art as joy, not as my work, brings a deep sigh of relief. Perhaps owning my own business is not the end-all, be-all of existence.

This past year has not been one with enough joy. For long stretches the joy completely vanished from my life. It no doubt lurked in the corners, just out of my field of vision. I am ready for more joy. To find it and to cultivate it. Life without joy is simply surviving.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

who's that girl?

while i've pondered the big picture for the past several weeks, the most intimate little concerns of the body have also been getting top billing in my busy brain. yes, i have been thinking alot about my breasts. those assets i took for granted for so many years.

i loved them, counted on them. my perfect breasts allowed me to look more kindly on my ample bottom and squishy belly. from the time my breasts first grew, i was proud of them. i had my grandmother's figure, the hourglass shape of old hollywood. i loved looking at photos of my grandmother from the 1950's, with her sweater-girl look -all red lipstick, waved hair and jaunty scarf. my identity as a woman, my sense of self as a sexual being, my confidence in pulling off a smart new outfit -in all these places and more, my breasts play a starring role. my breasts were more than just part of me, i often thought of them as the best part of me. speaking about strictly the physical, of course.

at the times i've spoken on this touchy subject with others, people are quick to point out that i am more than my body, that it's a warped culture that tells me i need to look a certain way to feel beautiful. that beauty, true beauty is on the inside. my heart, my mind, my spirit.

sigh. i know, i know. yet, i've harbored doubts about my surface beauty for years. it's not really even about how i look to others, it's how i feel about my looks. don't expect this to be rational.

here is the thing. i have never doubted my talent or my intellect (ok, i do have a bit of low self-esteem with math) or my compassionate heart. i know i am a good, smart, creative person. i know i am one of the sharpest tools in the shed. i know my ability to connect with others, to inspire and teach and learn, to make a difference in the world - none of that rests on my physical beauty.

except it does. it maybe shouldn't, but it does.

the truth is, i have been hiding in my house alot this past nearly 11 months. when i am out, i just want to be invisible. for many months, i wore only black, shapeless clothes. i have rarely gone out and only with very close trusted friends. (except for once -remember how disastrous my attempt at dating was?) how i feel about my body directly impacts my confidence in connecting with real, live people. how can a girl like me survive socially in a year when she lost her great breasts and her cute shoes? (oh that dratted foot again!) no wonder my circle of friends in the virtual world has grown. online, i'm just my words and my avatar from the neck up.

so, my friends, here is the unvarnished story. i feel deformed and disconnected. i wear a sports bra nearly everyday because my more flattering bras, with the pretty lace and encouraging underwire, they push painfully on the still tender tissue on my side from the radiation treatment. my ribs are sore on the side of my breast. and i wear a prosthesis to make up the radical difference in size between my two breasts. it's a strange silicone thing that looks like a raw chicken breast. it's a bit heavy and hot. every night when i take it off, my breast is warm and sticky from sweating all day under the prosthesis. my breast smells funny. at home by myself, i don't wear it, i can't wait to be rid of it.

that day is coming soon. the week before christmas, i am having another surgery. (thank heavens my sweet mom is returning to care for me) for weeks i have been reading, researching, crying, trying to sort out all the complex feelings. finally last week, i made a decision. all of the choices before me had risks and i was factoring in the financial piece too strongly. my mind had been clouded by fear, raw and frozen fear. i am tired of making important, life-altering decisions driven by the shitty health insurance issues and fears about money.

i have decided to give my cancer breast a break. to turn to my unaffected breast and reduce it to match. this decision fills me with sadness and i've been grieving. i am giving up my hourglass figure for something much more pear shaped. at my current weight (still 25 lbs from my healthy goal) these two smaller breasts will still look ok, i think. only time will tell what i have left for breasts at a lower weight. i try now to think positively. perhaps they won't shrink as much as i think they will, as much as they have in the past with weight loss. perhaps there will be benefits to smaller breasts i haven't considered or ever experienced.

and i have given myself permission at any point in the future to get implants in both breasts, if i don't feel good about how i look. but right now, my cancer breast is just not feeling healed enough to take an implant. there is a higher risk of complications with a breast that has had radiation. making a new breast from my own tissue would involve a way more extensive surgery with a long recovery time and there are risks, of course. and for a while, i need to close this chapter. i need to wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and not see cancer in capitol letters, with three exclamation points. over time, the scars will fade and hopefully i will learn to love my new breasts. someday, i'll feel good naked again.

i will never have back the body i had before cancer. i am accepting that now. can't change the past. can't keep driving myself crazy. i've got to move on to other things in my life.

making peace, and perhaps someday even love, with a new body isn't an overnight process.
it took me years to learn to love the body i was born with, now i just want to get back that love. i really want to get back to feeling like me. the me that walks boldly through the world with a little snap in her step and sparkle in her eye. the me that feels sexy and at home in her body.

that's the girl i miss the most.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

going somewhere, slowly

thank-you, my friend maryam for asking me to "please blog". your request was the much needed dash of cold water to the face that reminded me i'm not in a bubble. there are people out there, you are out there, reading this blog and wondering about me. i had gotten so caught up in my "stuff" lately and so overwhelmed, i couldn't even write. thanks for reminding me that my friends care about me and that my silence is worrisome.

i haven't spent much time in blogland even reading blogs the past couple of weeks. except maryam's blog, my marrakesh. she's recently traveled to rwanda and has shared the story of who she meet and what conditions are like there. please, do go read about it yourself. begin the story on october 1st. i am so thankful for maryam, the work she does and her willingness to share. those posts have touched me, shook me up and the resulting feeling i have is that my problems are small potatoes. not worth writing volumes about and i've been feeling something between self-conscious and ashamed. there is so much suffering in the world and the horrors that maryam writes so eloquently about makes me just want to keep my individual worries to myself.

so this blog has had her head in the sand for a while. i'm back.

meanwhile, this blogger has been both busy and idle. one moment hopeful and feeling free, the next wanting to fall asleep and never wake up. only one word gets at how the past two weeks have been: intense. i've melted down and pulled myself back up. there have been many tears. the group therapy sessions on tuesdays leave me feeling very wobbly. i've been revisiting my breast reconstruction choices and quite frankly, freaking out for days and days on end.

i have been questioning the very deepest parts of me and my life. soul searching, life-path searching, career searching. all i've been doing is searching, researching, thinking, writing - trying to answer for myself those big, big life questions. then sitting down and meditating, hoping the answers will plop right down into my lap. yeah, right.

who am i, really?
what path should i choose?
where do my gifts best intersect with the needs of others in this crazy world?

an initial decision has been made. i will seek and secure a job. my business will take a back seat, perhaps be dismantled altogether. what i am doing is not sustainable, i am gathering debt nearly every month and i am so, so tired. being part of a team sounds comforting, after all this time as lone wolf in my studio. i am not romanticizing any job, i know the reality of both sides. my friends, i need a break and i need to stabilize.

and i do feel i have succeeded, i made my grand experiment. that was my goal, five years ago, to take a life-long dream and try making it into a business. and try i certainly did. could i go farther? yes, of course. do i want to? no, i don't. production is hard on the body and creative spirit. i am looking forward to making art for its' own sake again. this is the time for damage control and to regain some security. the health insurance issues and costs have been the straw that broke this little camel's back. cancer has changed the playing field forever.

so now i am writing my resume, putting out my feelers and setting my intention. somehow, even in the fierce job market of portland - i will land a position with benefits that is interesting, at a company or non-profit that shares my values. i know i bring a extraordinary package to the table and i am excited to see where i can contribute. this is my short-term goal.

the longer-term goal is going back to school. i am looking at grad school and pondering my options. who knows what type of business i might launch later on, or what kind of fulfilling career path i might embark upon?

i've also boiled down the parts of my Honey & Milk business plan that i was the most excited about and found something i didn't expect. the pieces about making a positive difference in the world, working on sustainability and fair-trade, eradicating poverty, traveling internationally, teaching diverse groups of people -those things really make my eyes sparkle. turns out, the parts about focusing on my jewelry and designs, the high fashion world and marketing - those pieces aren't the heart of the plan. the service to others part is the most compelling piece. that has helped me start in a job search direction.

i guess you could call this a mid-life crisis. trying to answer that question: what was i put on this earth to do? and cancer heated up the urgency. what am i waiting for?

blessed. wealthy. fortunate. i know that these words do apply to me. i have the luxury of being able to work on all of these issues. i am not fighting for survival as the people of rwanda have and still do. as hurting people all over the world do. even with all my issues and health crap and past traumas, even with our failing economy and high cost of living and shitty american health plan - i can make big plans and dream even bigger dreams.

for a fresh perspective on wealth, check this out.