Friday, November 12, 2010


I was listening to the Nov. 7 Tranquility Du Jour podcast about creativity and the importance of creative expression in one's life. It really resonated with me, especially after my flight out to Phoenix two weeks ago. I sat next to a woman who was knitting a baby bonnet, who was kind enough to let me do some stitches. I had to give up knitting when my Lyme Disease (LD) struck, because my disability mostly manifests in my arms. I had very limited arm capacity, and it was more critical for me to save my arm strength for necessities instead of spending them knitting. It broke my heart, but I basically packed up that part of my life in a bag, stuck it in a closet, and tried to forget about it. I wasn't a good knitter, but I really enjoyed it and it relieved stress. Knitting those few stitches on the airplane really reminded me of how much I missed it.

As I've chronicled on this blog, my LD journey has been arduous and painful. At my worst, I was taking narcotics every six hours and it barely took the edge off my pain. I couldn't write, push a grocery cart, cut a vegetable, or even wash my own hair. But as painful as that was physically, it wasn't as awful as the heartache of not being able to express myself. I lost my ability to write, knit, and cook/entertain -- my three primary creative outlets. So in addition to losing my arms, my job, and my social life, I lost my voice. I felt powerless to create and share my experiences with others. It is part of what made 2007-2009 the darkest years of my life. Yes, I tried voice-activated software, but it really sucks unless you pay $2,000 for the software designed for quadriplegics. Example: I told the program to "scroll down," and instead it typed "scrotum." It takes many hours to train the voice-activated software to your voice and way of speaking, and it is so sensitive (it is based on software developed by the CIA), if you are tired, in pain, or otherwise off your game, it will impact you training the software. I was all three.

The podcast I heard reminded me how nurturing and important creativity is to my spirit, and that I need to make time for it the same way I prioritize taking care of my body, my 12-step program, and my marriage -- my top priorities at this stage in my life. Writing is my primary outlet for creativity, but -- you'll notice if you look at how often I post -- I fit it in around the edges. I'm also very wordy, so posting takes a very long time. I need to schedule 15 minutes a day to write, so I'll have my creative outlet and get a lot more writing done. I have tons of things to say! I am thrilled that I am starting to knit again -- I'm working on a scarf and I'm hoping to re-learn the things I've forgotten and pick up more advanced skills. I hope to chill out about it this time around and enjoy the journey instead of worrying about how to make the perfect X.

I encourage you to think about your creative expression and how you can build more of that into your life. We think of creativity as projects you have to take on, like scrapbooking; if that's your thing, go for it, but there are as many creative outlets as there are people. Music, decorating, making home-made cards and cooking are a few that come to mind. I like to make seasonal centerpieces for the dining room table, and arrange a little autumn tableau on our front stoop with gourds and other seasonal items. My husband teases me for this and finds it a little odd, but I think it's a nice creative activity that frankly doesn't take a real investment of time or money.

My recent thoughts about creativity came at the same time I'm learning another lesson from another area of my life I'm working on: the importance of play. When we're kids, it's natural, but we forget the importance of play as adults. It keeps our minds and souls young, and if anything, it probably becomes more important as we age and take on the burdens of adulthood. Play is also critical for a healthy sex life, but that is easily forgotten as our society becomes more and more obsessed with the state of the body. The connection, of course, is that many creative outlets also allow us opportunities to play. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What I Learned From Grandma

My husband David's grandmother, Maurine Brannigan, died last Friday. I felt closer to her than to my own grandparents as an adult, and I'm devastated. Death can be a great teacher, and naturally leads us to reflect on how the deceased lived his or her life. I don't have to think real hard about what Grandma taught me; the lesson is obvious.

For lack of a better term, I came from what I will call a "limited" family. There always seemed to be drama and strife among different branches of our very small clan. I had an extremely insular, stingy view of family. So what an eye-opening experience meeting David's family was! First of all, there are a lot of them. They are loud, but loyal and united. Above all, they are extremely inclusive. The most dramatic example of this the Brannigan's relationship to the adoptive parents of one of David's first cousins. The cousin, Jon, was given up for adoption as an infant and raised by a local family. His biological parents ended up marrying and having two other children. When Jon turned 18, he got back in touch with his biological family. There are many ways this could go, right, most of which is the stuff of talk shows, therapy, and advice columns, right? In the most stunning display of peace and generosity, the Brannigans have bonded tightly with Jon's adoptive parents. They are at every wedding, holiday, and other family celebration. At Jon's wedding, both his biological and adoptive parents were represented in the wedding party.

The Brannigans also easily adopt "strays"; people who don't have any family nearby who are absorbed as naturally as any blood relative. They, too, are invited to every single family gathering. I experienced this open generosity first-hand as an outsider. From the first time I met Grandma and the rest of the family, I felt totally welcome and accepted. This is all the more remarkable to me when I reflect on what a friggin' mess I was back then; angry, self-centered, judgmental, and wearing all of that for the world to see on my 250-pound body.  I feel like they accepted me even when I could not accept myself.

I see this welcoming family culture as Maurine's doing and family legacy. She was the matriarch of the family and set this open-hearted culture. I and many others are the lucky beneficiaries. Very importantly, my exposure to Maurine and the family she led truly changed me and helped me expand my own definition of family for the better. This was not a easy or quick transition; there was no come-to-Jesus moment. In fact, I was initially very overwhelmed and puzzled by the Brannigans' acceptance, openness, and love. I was baffled at how they could have normative relations with Jon's adoptive family. It just seemed, well, wrong. I can only shrug now and see how what I was exposed to in my own family, and what I thought was normal, was comfortable and fit into my little, tiny box labeled "Family: The Way Things Are." I am so grateful that Grandma showed me a more selfless, loving, and inclusive definition of family. It's one that David and I have tried hard to replicate in our own lives, viewing certain friends as "family-by-choice." They are closer than regular friends and no less important to us than blood kin.

I've found myself over the last few days surprised by my grief at Grandma's death, especially in light of the fact that she was not my blood relative. Then I quickly remember that that is exactly the lesson she taught me: blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.