April 26, 2016

Hair Style

Filed under: MiscellAnnia,The Healing Project — Ann @ 8:32 am

Red bow

Yesterday a 20-something co-worker said, “You have such stylish hair!” and my inner 16-year-old’s heart leapt in exaltation. In the past few years, I’ve started playing with my hair, using it as a canvas of tonsorial delights. Yesterday, I’d pinned in red and orange streamers, fastened with a gold butterfly. Sometimes I tie a big red bow in my hair. Or decorate it with multicolored bejeweled clips. I also have hair chalks so I can paint it to match everything I wear. I’ve developed somewhat of a rep at work for doing crazy things to my hair, and what I love most about it is the fun I have doing it.

Because it wasn’t always this way. When I was coming of age in the 60s, long, straight hair was all the rage and my naturally curly locks were considered anything but stylish. I HATED my hair. Trying to tame it, I used giant frozen orange juice cans as rollers (try sleeping with those jabbing your scalp). I ironed it until it steamed. And while those desperate attempts may have worked temporarily, the truth would always come out. I remember one day in 9th grade getting stuck in a rainstorm at Juan Crespi Jr. High while waiting for the school bus. We all got into the bus, drenched, and on the trip home, as I watched classmate Linda Hart’s long, straight dark tresses dry into shiny perfection, I felt my own drying hair frizz up and stick out until all I needed to be Bozo the Clown were the big floppy shoes. I was mortified as only an adolescent girl can be.

That’s why, these days, every hair decoration feels like an honor well-deserved. And when I say now, honestly, that I love my hair, I mean “love” as a way of honoring and caring for it — making it as beautiful as possible. We can “love our bodies” in a way that means we think we have the most perfect hips, the best waistline, the greatest legs — or we can “love our bodies” in a way that means we treat it tenderly, giving it the most healthful food, making sure it gets exercise, and dressing it in a way that makes us feel authentic. So when I say I love my hair, I don’t mean that I think it’s the most beautiful hair ever. I mean that I treat it as if it were. Adornments, decorations, color, bling.

It’s been a long journey from hair-hatred to locks-love. My teen self would have been horrified at the thought of drawing attention to these unruly curls. My grown-up self smiles triumphantly with every purple streak I paint.

January 17, 2016


Filed under: Sacred Wilderness,The Healing Project — Tags: , , , — Ann @ 9:09 am


: highly responsive or susceptible: as (1) : easily hurt; especially : easily hurt emotionally (2) : delicately aware of the attitudes and feelings of others

Odds are if you’re a “sensitive” person, you know it, and you’ve known it all your life. Sensitive is when you break into tears thinking about how little actual life-time your cat has because he sleeps so much of the day away (true story – me – last week).

Chances are if you’re sensitive, one or more people in your past have told you that you’re TOO sensitive (usually in the form of a non-apology for hurting your feelings). Or you’ve been told that you’re “too emotional.” In other cultures and/or at other times, “sensitives” may be valued for their intuitive gifts. In this culture, we don’t like people to be “too emotional.” It makes us nervous.

And, yes, there is a downside to facing the world with every feeling-receptor wide open. When you wear your heart on your sleeve, it’s far more vulnerable to breaking and bruising. Sometimes you have to limit your human contact. You can’t see films that are too intense or depict others being hurt.

But the pros far outweigh the cons: When you’re sensitive, you see beneath people’s facial expressions, always wondering what’s really happening under the surface. You are infinitely curious about the human condition. You make deep connections with others. If someone in the room is hurting, you’re going to be the first person to notice it. Chances are you’re a social worker, therapist, or otherwise involved in the healing arts.

The best thing about sensitive people is that they’re barometers of atmospheric inauthenticity. They embrace emotional honesty because they don’t have to waste precious energy using their superpower to break through layers of deception. So if you’ve ever been told you’re too sensitive, I want to sit next to you at every gathering. Because you’re the one who’s going to “feel the feel” and bring the real. And there’s nothing I love more.

June 1, 2014


Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays,Rants!,The Healing Project — Tags: , , , , — Ann @ 11:44 am

Being Alive
I recently met a young woman who is one of those people born to be in the healing arts. Her very presence is a blessing. As is often the case with bright-light individuals, she is deeply into yoga, spirituality, and living cleanly and lightly on the Earth. We got to chatting during a recent gathering and decided to keep in touch via Facebook. When I logged on yesterday, there was a Friend request from her.

From cryptic comments she’d made, I knew that her long-time partner has cancer. She’d made recent references to treatments that went well, and then not so well. I know that he is a young man, and because my partner was also a young man when he developed testicular cancer a decade or more ago, I assumed that that was the brand of C they were dealing with. And because all turned out well for my partner – and for Lance Armstrong, who famously battled that very same cancer — I assumed all would be well.

After she and I Friended each other I browsed her Wall. I saw her partner for the first time. The two of them together look like a glossy magazine ad for the best kind of life two beautiful people could ever live, probably at a base camp in Nepal. Radiating promise and hope and bliss and love, these two gorgeous souls smiled back at me from Zuckerberg’s social network program, and made me smile right back. Because her photos are interesting I started flipping through them – she and her guy have traveled all over the world, I notice — and then I see that a friend of theirs has posted a photo of her boyfriend with the Comment, “This is [name]. He is battling brain cancer.”

BRAIN CANCER. Stomach-punch heartsick held-breath ohmygod ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME, UNIVERSE?!! Is how my thoughts ran. This beautiful boy, this child of the planet, this lover of life, this shining light, has BRAIN cancer?!!!

All morning long my mind reeled. Here I am, so truly far away from the situation – I barely know her, and have never met him – and yet so gobsmacked by the horror of it. When my partner came home from morning services, I explained to him in choked sobs what I’d found out, then cried for an hour. Later, on my walk, I kept looking up at the sky, “Really, God? Really, Universe?”

I don’t know how common this type of cancer is in 20-somethings. I lost another friend to brain cancer a few years ago; she was in her 60s. I do know that people young and old, rich and poor, etc etc get cancer, fight cancer, live with cancer, die from cancer. I don’t usually go around thinking about it because, well, that way lies madness. But I can’t shake this. All day long, whenever I heard someone say something vaguely whiny, I thought, “Or you could have BRAIN cancer!” Watching a television show in which 40-year-old actresses were complaining about their wrinkles, I thought, “Or you could have BRAIN cancer.”

Can your whole life and perspective be changed by someone else’s battle with cancer? I’m not sure I even feel right about it, as though I’m “getting something” from someone else’s – what? What are they even calling it? His illness? His struggle? His challenge? His journey? I want to take care how I characterize what they are experiencing: this is not mine to name or make assumptions about.

Worse, I suspect that my heightened sense of the preciousness and fragility of all things will fade. I mean, not that I particularly take life for granted on a daily basis – I am filled with gratitude – but right now, I’m way above baseline. I’m up there in self-actualization mode, where brushing my teeth this morning was a blessing and touching the cat’s fur brought tears to my eyes, so awed was I by its softness. And I remember being elevated to this state of heightened appreciation and awareness a few years back when another friend’s wife, in her early 30s, with two small children, was expected to die of Stage IV cervical cancer. As I held his hand through that, all the life-appreciation clichés came to pass: air smelled sharper, colors seemed richer, grass felt velvety. She survived that, they eventually divorced, and I went back to baseline appreciation mode.

Someone I don’t even know has brain cancer, and I’m feeling more connected to life. But every day someone I don’t even know has cancer. Every day I could be outraged to the point of transcendence. As I said, it doesn’t seem right, “using” other people’s struggles in this way. On the other hand, is this not what every person wants, for meaning to be made from their life and existence? Whenever something Bad happens, the survivors say, “I want something Good to come of this.”

And so, a friend’s life companion gets sick, and those ripples come lapping into my awareness and something feels changed. For one thing, I know I don’t want to hear any complaining. From anyone, and least of all from myself. I may even say it out loud if I hear any whines today. I may look at the whiner and say, “Or you could have BRAIN cancer!” Someone does. You don’t? Then shut up and live.

January 11, 2014

Face to Face With Self in the Sky

Filed under: The Healing Project — Ann @ 5:34 pm
She Flies Through the Air

She Flies Through the Air

Today, on a misty mountaintop in Sonoma, high above the oaks and madrone, I flew. As in, I was on a platform thirty feet up in the air, my instructor said, “Hep!” and I, holding on to the bar, went sailing down, down, down, then swung back up, up, up, the wind blowing fresh against my chilled cheeks and enhancing the feeling of SHIMMERINGLY ALIVE like I’ve never felt before. On the way down I let out a terrified holler; sailing back it modulated to an exhilarated cry of joy. Someone on the ground yelled out delightedly, “Oh good, we have a screamer!” and the (much-more experienced) students below me laughed good-naturedly. Today I flew, and the entire experience was life-changing.

A few weeks ago my friend Kim, who’s been taking lessons for several years, invited me to go to trapeze school with her. Always up for a good death-defying experience, I said yes. I had no idea what I was in for. The first part of this morning’s training involved standing on a thick gym mat, bending my knees, and then jumping to try to reach a small trapeze bar above me. When I couldn’t reach it, my instructor added a wobbly wooden box and, standing on that, I leaped for the bar and held on for dear life, my arm muscles begging for mercy. He then told me to swing my butt up, wrap my legs around the bar, and hang upside down, and he wasn’t kidding. I did that, but at this point started wondering, “How am I going to do this….thirty feet up in the air?” The terror set in.

My instructors, M and D, were brilliant. M especially, who was working with me one-on-one, immediately assessed the various head trips I was laying on myself. He assured me that I was in fact strong enough to do this (“it’s not about strength, it’s about timing”) and — intuiting my body-worries or perhaps overhearing me tell another student that I needed to run home, lose 50 pounds, and come back — he assured me that they’d had people weighing 400 pounds successfully do trapeze. And, when I first tried to do the knee-hang thing while on the actual trapeze and didn’t quite make it and yelled out, “I can’t!”, he had a little pep talk with me afterwards about “the greatest self-help book ever written — The Little Engine That Could. And he was so right that the cliche didn’t even annoy me.

He said something else, too. He said, “We don’t get in shape in order to have fun….we have fun doing this and the getting in shape happens on its own.”

Trapeze challenges your brain’s every notion of your physical orientation to the planet below. Your brain does not WANT you to jump from a 30-foot platform into the void, and it most certainly does not want you to then roll your hind end up towards the sky, maneuver your legs over a bar and view the world from a pendulating upside-down perch. So many times today my brain was yelling, “No! No! No! No! No!” but the part of me that wants to push myself, challenge my body, and drink up every drop of life then smack my lips from the delirious intoxicating pleasure, kept going. Kept climbing that high, narrow, ladder. Kept standing on that platform with my toes at the very edge, hanging on to that bar and leaning perilously forward at a crazy-ass angle to the ground, kept leaping and flying…climbing, leaping, flying…climbing, leaping, flying.

I can’t wait to get back. I need to master the swing-by-the-knees maneuver. And then the “catch,” where I fling myself into the waiting hands of my instructor. And after that: higher, faster, stronger. Because today, my body, my brain, and I had a lovely reconciliation, and there will be no more talk of “I can’t.” I can. I did! And I will.

October 15, 2010

So You Think You CAN’T Dance?

Filed under: Memory Eternal,The Healing Project — Ann @ 10:15 am

The other day I was hard at work at the psychologist’s office, churning out 1368 evaluations (California Penal Code Section 1368) and deeply focused on the task. Although I have my own office, it’s next to the reception area in which is always playing KJZY 93.7 FM, primarily to block out sounds (read: shouts, tears) from the various therapists’ offices. Usually I tune out the music unless something familiar tickles my aural fancy. This day was different.

I was alone in the office and as I typed I heard the early strains of a song which, in the 70s, ripped me apart emotionally every time I heard it. In that regard it was the pop version of Faure’s Pavane. The song is “With You I’m Born Again” by Billy Preston and Syreeta Wright. If you know the song, you know that it begins softly and builds to a sweet and swirling crescendo, with violins and vocal harmonies and all kinds of heart-tugging melodies and counter-melodies caressing the senses.

Before I knew it, I was out in the reception area — DANCING. Part ballerina, part jazzster, calling upon my 14 years’ experience in community theatre chorus lines, I moved gracefully about the room, twirling and bending and dipping and letting Billy and Syreeta’s voices take me where they would. It was…sublime.

When it was over I looked around a bit self-consciously (geez, I hope there’s no “nanny cam” in here!), smiled, and went back to my office to resume typing. But it was a transformative experience, the act of giving in to whatever my mind and body demanded of me in the moment. It made me feel ice-water-bath alive.

This morning I went in search of the melody and found it here. (There’s also a live version which is just beautiful, as you can watch the singers make musical love to one another.) As I listened, I remembered The Dance. And then, to my great sadness I noticed an adjacent story about Billy Preston having died several years ago from a sort of hypertension. Often called “the Fifth Beatle” because he played keyboards on so many of their albums, he was a tragically young 59 years old at his passing. I wish I had immersed myself in his music more, gotten to know him as a performer, before we lost him.

I think later today I’ll dance in his memory. Because with him, and through him, for a little while last week I was, in a very important way, born again.

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