Featured Fool: Shane Koyczan, Master Alchemist

gildedtarotfool

(Image Credit: The Fool Card from the Gilded Tarot Illustrated by Ciro Marchetti)

I’m a bit behind on my “Fabulous Friday.” Thankfully, it’s not because I’m all out of fabulosity (cause I’m not!), but rather I’ve been trying to find words fabulous enough to do this entry justice. I just hope I have succeeded.

After getting lost in Youtube for a while, I realized I couldn’t wait til Friday.

One of my favorite books of all time is The Dodecahedron: A Frame for Frames, by Paul Glennon. I stumbled upon him (read: had it forced upon me) during a Lit class, and it’s definitely overdue for a re-read.

What I first took for “gimmicky,” twelve short stories, each reframing the one before it, was actually quite brilliant. Not only was each of the stories strong enough to stand on its own, but it was powerful enough to completely change the story before it.

It’s been years since I’ve read it, and yet the concept, if not the specific details, still sticks in my mind.

We think in language; we experience and remember in perspective. As each story reframes another, the perspective changes. The book itself was enjoyable and well-written; its theme is what resonates even now: reframing is alchemy.  Reframing turns lead into gold; it transforms pain into wisdom and beauty.

Reframing is the key to transformation.

We tell ourselves stories of who we are, who we want to be. These stories often contain strong elements of other people’s definitions, other people’s goals. Our reference points can be our heroes, (I want to be just like Sally!) or our nemeses (I want to be anything but like my mother), but they’re just one perspective.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the story we’ve created is incomplete. Not only is it unfinished, but it’s from a very, very, limited point of view. It’s just one side of the story.

There’s an old parable about three blind monks who discover an elephant. Each monk feels a part of the elephant, and describes it one way, but no one gets the whole picture. No one realizes it’s more than an ear, a trunk, a leg.

Shane Koyczan is, in my humble opinion, a Master Alchemist.

I’m not sure how I first ran across him, but it was with this video, “To This Day.”  It’s difficult to watch; I won’t lie. It’s one of those things, while terribly beautiful, is simply haunting.

It’s one of those things, in a sea of terrible internet memes, that you can’t “unsee.” It’s also something that you never, ever want to forget.

You should really, really watch it. You can watch it here. You can see his TED talk, which includes his poem here. You can also read it here.

(Note: It doesn’t look like my hyperlinks are showing up against my background. Until I figure it out, all of the “heres” link directly to his work.)

His spoken word poem is specifically about bullying, but in this case, bullying is the set up for Koyczan’s Master Alchemy.

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Looking for the Next Right Action

RemytheRARAte

Remy from Ratatouille, or, as I like to call him, Remy the RA Rat (Bastard).

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. -Joseph Campbell

This is my starting point: Joseph Campbell. You might think it’d be easier to let go of the “live we have planned,” if in fact, you didn’t have one very planned at all. I have found that this is not exactly the case.

I am sitting on my porch, the rain on pause, at least temporarily, like prison guards on break, allowing the mosquitoes to break free from their larval lockup and wreak all sorts of vampiric havoc on woman and beast alike. Indian music is undulating in henna and saris, emanating just beyond the northeast corner of my yard.

That’s something you don’t hear every day in Southern Mississippi.

It’s a whole new world.

When I had “a maybe diagnosis,” I was okay. I was surprisingly accepting, and I found myself thinking, “I got this.” Life is all about adaptation, and I was up for the challenge. There was a space between what I was experiencing and the possibility of a label, some ocean of unknowing that I was comfortable in, that I could tread with no expectation. I had some good days and some bad, and some really, really good days, and some pretty bad ones.

But I was adapting.

The past couple days, I’ve been lost. It’s too soon for me to be pessimistic; and I’m not really pessimistic so much as just…stumbling.

I have a picture of this little mouse that probably looks a lot like Remy from Ratatouille, moving around the inside of my body is ruining tissue like power cords, his little teeth gnawing and shredding everything in sight. Today, he’s in my hip, running in circles with bits of black plastic flying over his head. I can type, and I can walk, but I can’t sit down or stand up. Yesterday was in my hands, his teeth scraping against the nerves, not doing any damage exactly, not causing any swelling, but setting every bone in my hands and wrists on fire.

I need to take away his matches.

Tomorrow, Remy may be napping, or decide to take a vacation to Belize and have a layover in my ankles.

That’s the thing about this rat, he’s more indecisive than I am.

I’m messing with my WordPress, trying to find something that suits me, and I haven’t quite found it yet. I thought I knew WordPress, but judging by my success rate on my own domain, I know very little indeed.

The point is: life isn’t about to change. It is changing. Every day, every hour. Walter White knew what was up:

You see, technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change: Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that’s all of life, right? It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation. It is fascinating, really.

(Breaking Bad, 1.1 “Pilot”)

I’m stuck, right now, looking for the next right thing, the next right action. Tomorrow will be better, whether Remy is partying down south or hanging with Mike in Belize. I just have to find that next right action, that next right step. Any step, maybe.

In the meantime, I think I’ll play some Koko Taylor on repeat.

The Things that Change Us, Part One

mindfulness-copy

Once upon a time, I was working on a book of essays of moments and milestones, of unexpected blessings, of tiny crossroads with huge repercussions. It was a list of catalysts and was to be entitled “The Things that Change Us.” I worked on it for a while, then discovered I was blocked, and became distracted by every day minutia, eventually putting it to the side and forgetting about it.I wanted this series, this book to have a certain format. I wanted thirteen stories, each reflecting the magnitude of the impact they had on my life. I wanted it to be just so. Even as I write this, this introduction, I realize that stories take on a shape of their own, that they are living beings, possessing the spirit and will of their own.

Moments like these often come when we least expect them. Lost in the mindless chaos of the drudgery of day-to-day activities, we often keep going until we’re brought full-stop by something that interrupts our routine.

This full-stop can be the smallest of things: an overheard phrase uttered by someone speaking to someone else; fireflies on the darkest of nights; an image; a “chance” meeting. These moments have two sides; you never know when you’ll be the recipient of one, and you definitely don’t know when you’ll be the provider for someone else.

These moments, for me, are miracles. That word—miracle—often gets thrown around, especially in marketing. Whether I call it a paradigm shift, a wake-up moment, or a miracle, the change is the same: an instantaneous yet fundamental change in my belief system that creates change with no resistance.

I didn’t have enough essays to fill a book, and still don’t for that matter, and yet it is one of those stories that I feel MUST be told. Thanks to takingthemask off and this post, I really feel the time is now.

This is the story of my Grace.

In the United States, much less the world, there are hundreds, if not thousands of emergency rooms. We, the staff of those emergency rooms, number in the tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands, perhaps.  We bear witness to millions of patients, all with individual stories, all with individual reasons for being there.  While all emergency rooms treat basic emergencies, the larger hospitals may have a specialty—trauma, cardiac, perhaps even psychiatric.  The common thread to all emergency rooms, that commonality that lies beyond the common staffing, overwhelming patient numbers and limited rooms, is the trauma:  the physical trauma, that brings them to us; the emotional trauma, that makes them wary and carves upon them life-long scars; and the spiritual trauma, which steals from them their courage, their connectedness, and leaves them even more vulnerable than before.

The emergency room creates an environment of frenetic pace–twelve hour shifts of being on one’s feet, oftentimes without significant pauses, without relief, or without a meal break consisting of anything more than hurriedly eating between fetching medicines or escorting patients back to draped rooms.  Multiple accidents, multiple patients, and multiple complaints can all converge on one place at one time, again and again, making those who care for those patients worn and weary. With such limited energy, the niceties, those little acts of compassion can be forgotten in favor of the important, the life-saving, the necessary.

There are thousands upon thousands of emergency room staff, and patients number a thousand thousand times that.  Each person, staff or patient, carries his or her own story. There are a thousand stories in the world, but this one is mine. There are a million Graces in the world, but this is my Grace, and this is my story.

The night itself was not particularly unusual.  Two out of four admissions staff had called in; only one other registration clerk along with myself was working grave shift in our local hospital. We were responsible for ensuring all patients were accurately identified, signed in with correct identification and insurance information, and given an armband. For tasks beyond that scope we were not responsible, yet somehow we were called upon to answer endless questions— many of which were outside the range our knowledge—fetch towels, water, and oftentimes other staff. The job seemed straightforward enough and simple enough. The challenge, however, often came in the pace of the job and maintaining composure in the height of such a frenetic pace.  At the height of cold and flu season, when the patients often left the section of the emergency room designated for minor cases,  seemingly as soon as they came in, the staff scrambled to register them before one patient was replaced by another presenting with similar symptoms.  When the names, faces and diagnoses began to blur, patience and compassion often plummeted. Ambulances flooded in as well, like endless cargo ships unloading patients, bringing chest pain patients, victims of varying degrees of trauma, and the usual tide of those with minor ailments who chose to ride in an ambulance rather than drive themselves to the hospital. People became diagnoses: no longer were they John Smith or Bill Jones or Mary Peters; they were “Cold in Seven,” or “Drug Seeker in One,” or “Ingrown Toenail in Ten.”

I had been working in admissions for two years or so, and for over half of that time I had been on night shift. I had recently left a horribly dysfunctional and destructive marriage, and found myself, just over the age of thirty, explosively angry, bitter, and very much full of resentment.  I had very little joy, and even less compassion. I resented everyone for everything, and spent half of my energy sulking and keeping it buried– whether I had a logical reason for being angry or not– and the other half blowing up at people and giving them the “old what for.”

I was also very burned out. The job of an admissions clerk was not only fast paced, but also thankless and possessed an alarmingly high capacity for burn out. The nurses and medical technicians referred to us as “Registration,” as if that were our name, and the doctors only noticed us at all if we had made some kind of error.  Patients did not want to meet us either on their way or on their way out. When they first arrived, they saw us as an inconvenience, standing between them and their doctor. On their way out, they especially did not want to see us, because,  we were required to attempt to collect copayments or set up payment arrangements if they did not have insurance. No one wanted to see us, it seemed, but everyone needed us.

In fact, it had not been too long before this on a night much like this one, overwhelmed with patients and terribly short staffed, that I found myself literally screaming in the middle of the emergency room at another admissions clerk, just as frayed as I was, in full view of patients, nurses, and doctors alike.

It was not my finest moment.

But this night, unlike the other, I received a lesson that I never forgot, for this was the night I met Grace.

A thin, wailing sound came from one of the rooms from beyond the door that separated the acute psychiatric and detox patients from the rest of the masses. The locking door swung open and closed with alarming frequency, a testament to our desperation as we ran from psychiatric care to chest pain, from chest pain to medical, from medical to trauma and back again to psych. In my rush to get everyone properly registered, I must have run past her room a dozen times, ignoring her.  When I asked the nurses at the desk about her, they told me “She’s detoxing. Don’t worry about her.”

She had not officially signed in yet, since she had been brought in to us by ambulance, but she was in the computer system, so her nurses and doctors would be able to run necessary tests. That was the most important thing. She was going to be there for a very long time, so getting her to sign her consent for treatment form was not a priority, not with everything else going on around me.

When I finally made time for her, she offered a weak smile and thanked me for coming to see her.  She had been asking for her nurse, and no one had answered. I stepped toward her and presented her with the clip board so that she could sign her consent form. Her hand was slow, and it seemed to take forever for her to write, in shakes and tics, her name.  Verifying her name and date of birth, proved to be another tedious process because she had trouble remembering her birthday. After what seemed to me an eternity, I wrapped the armband around her wrist and stood back a step.

“Do you know who my nurse is?” she asked, her voice as shaky as her writing.

I didn’t.  In the emergency room, everyone is entitled to know who their caregivers are, but I was leery of psych itself and suspicious of the motives of psych patients. Psych patients were a different breed, I thought.  I saw them as broken people, unable to cope and highly unstable. As poorly as I thought of psych patients, I thought twice as badly of drunks. Having been married to an active alcoholic who didn’t see his drinking as a problem, what little sympathy I had for psych patients disappeared when they were alcoholics as well.

“I could try to find out for you,” I told her, not willing to truly commit to much of anything. “Do you need something?”

She paused and, taking a deep breath to steady herself, said, “I’d like to thank her.”

“Thank her?” I asked. “For what?”

“My veins are horrible. I’ve been told, many times, that I’m not a good stick. With my hands shaking the way they are, I know that only made it worse. She was able to take my blood on the first try.”

I didn’t say anything at first, simply surprised.

She raised her eyes to mine and asked me, “Are you a child of God?”

To this, I didn’t have an immediate answer.  Having been through hell during my marriage, again with my divorce, and carrying so much rage beneath the surface that I lashed out at just about anything that crossed my path, I hadn’t thought of God in a long, long time, other than to wonder where He had been during my darkest days.  I shifted from foot to foot.  After an extended pause, I finally spoke. “I’d like to think so,” I said, not really believing the words as I said them.  How could I? They weren’t even true.

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Relapse and Resurrection: The Fall and Rise of the Addicted and Mentally Ill

LyricalFool:

How perfect for Easter Sunday: Please–if you have addiction or mental illness, if you have a friend or family member who suffers from addiction or mental illness, if you work in mental health or are just open to seeing the world through new eyes–READ THIS.

There is hope. Recovery is possible. Some of the most brilliant people I know have addictions and mental illness. It doesn’t change the fact that they are awesome people. Their behavior may be terrible; I am not discounting the distance that may be needed in loving them from afar, but they are people, and fall within the category of “one another” whom Christ commanded His followers to love.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13:34

Originally posted on takingthemaskoff:

phoenix-resurrection

“Sometimes you have to kind of die inside in order to rise from your own ashes and believe in yourself.”

2 stories of 2 ride along trips that I took with paramedics that I have done. I have observed and followed the treatment of the patients.

2 ambulances driving down the highway at lightning speeds with the lights on. Cars are getting out of the way as fast as they can. Both are emergency situations.

In the first ambulance there is a man named “Jake.” “Jake” is a 54 year old man who has just suffered his 3rd heart attack. We arrive to the house, the family is in tears. The wife is sobbing uncontrollably. The children all have their heads down and they are in pain. He is not breathing. We are able to get him to breathe again at the home and the family is relieved. We…

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Fabulous Friday: The Bad, the Bad but Really Good, and the Really Good Friday

“I have bad news,” I told my friend earlier this week, “news that sounds bad but is really good, and actual good news. Which do you want to hear first?”

“I’ll take the bad news first,” she said. “Let’s get it over with.”

So I told her about Jitterbug. I didn’t cry, but I did find myself saying “I’m not going to cry,” several times. After several searches through the house, including heavy furniture in rooms that haven’t been used in months, I’m convinced she managed to get under the fence. There’s a hole in the far corner of the fence, a hole I’ve plugged with large chunks of broken concrete.  The woods hosts many animals, dogs and cats and snakes and squirrels, and the dog likes to hold rather aggressive conversations with them.  She prefers that they don’t enter her territory, but she’s not above digging through to theirs.  Thus the rocks.

The wild thing, the gray, nearly tailless squatter, however, likes to push the rock through the bottom of the fence. She, who has been a climber since she was a wee thing, climbing the playpen in less than three minutes when I first brought her home, prefers to go under the fence when she returns from her adventures. She climbs to go wandering; she goes under to return.

I’m sure there’s a message there.

I didn’t think that Jitterbug could fit through the hole, but I noticed that, not only was the rocks missing, but that a bit of dirt had been dug out as well.

Plus, day five and no discernible smell in the house.  So, there’s that.

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Jitterbug Blues

jitterbug

As I write this, I am taking a break. There is only so much search-and-rescue one can do without taking a break when one possesses joints the size of baseballs.

I’m grieving, and I haven’t even seen her yet. She’s there, somewhere in the house, her silence so very loud in my head. She was a mouthy one, that one, especially as the dementia crept over her, draping her in continual confusion, a fact she quite often vocally advertised.

The silence is so very, very loud.

She’s missed three meals; she’s never been a girl who would miss a meal. Despite the fogginess that surrounded her, she could never ignore the sound of a cat food can cracking open, its aluminum rim squeaking as the tab freed that nasty meat-like product.

When I called her, she’d holla back in her best Edith-Bunker voice, telling me she was pissed and that I needed to come. Come now. Bring your hair. I need to drool. Now.  Bring the food. Now. I need to eat. Now. Leave the dog. Dumbass. Now.

May would have been 17 years with her; over one-third of my life. Forty-point 46341463414634 per cent of my life.

Is that an irrational number? Hell, I don’t even know, but it would be fitting.  She never was that rational.

She wasn’t particularly beloved; I joked that the only reason I kept her around was because she had tenure. I know a lot of people don’t get cats. I am not sure that I particularly get cats. But I did get her.

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