New York City: Creative Fix

Lincoln Center Fountain

Lincoln Center Fountain

JOE: Good evening Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good evening Joe. I haven’t heard from you lately. Have you been traveling?
JOE: Very perceptive. I have been in New York this week to spend time with Mike and other creative friends.
CALLIOPE:  What did you learn?
JOE:  Not much factual, although I did bathe in the creative juices flowing through the friends Carol and I spent time with.
CALLIOPE: Any special experiences.
JOE: On Tuesday, Mike got us tickets to La Boheme at the Met. We had been up since 4 am and the tickets were standing room. Our limited endurance caught up with us despite the grandeur of the performance. After the second act we reached our wall. Sitting in the box office waiting for Mike, I met a man.
CALLIOPE: Tell me about him.
JOE: He is writing a book about opera and its place in culture. He seemed quite ordinary and carried bags with him. (His manuscript which he never lets out of his sight.) I realized he planned to listen to the rest of the opera on headphones in the lobby. I had a choice of learning more about his book or 0ffering him my ticket for the last two acts. I chose the latter and felt grateful the rest of the week that I made this choice.
CALLIOPE: Did he appreciate it?
JOE: Most definitely. We will probably never meet again and I will never know how he enjoyed the opera but we both felt good for the opportunity we afforded each other.
CALLIOPE: Good job.
JOE: Thanks. It will keep me going for a while.

Sliding Otter News 11/19/2011

Sliding Otter News

November 19, 2011

The Challenge of Getting and Staying Healthy

Allegany River Sunset

 It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease
than to know what sort of disease a person has.


My age finally caught up with me and my mailbox swims with ads for Medicare programs. Maybe it’s just the time of year but I can’t turn on the television without facing an onslaught of ads from Medicare insurance programs and drug companies. My next medical appointment also creeps up on me and it will be time to see what condition my condition is in. I will soon be asked to account for my efforts at keeping my body healthy.

Drugs abound for every conceivable condition and some conditions beyond imagination. I should ask my health provider about each drug and tell her if I have any conditions from a long list including, strangely enough, death. Ads tout each Medicare program as my best possible choice. I decide to check the Medicare website and find fifty-six different plans available to me. One most likely will be enough. Still, the other fifty-five vie for my attention.

I don’t review all fifty-six plans and fortunately narrow down possible selections of interest to a handful. I learn that the best way to keep medical costs down is to stay healthy. No big surprise there. I know my enemies: overweight, hypertension, cholesterol, triglycerides and too little exercise among others. These are the usual suspects. Then arrive all the other conditions typical of my age, some commonplace, some more exotic, and the screening tests to keep them at bay.

Lately my lunchtime conversations have turned to nutrition, the field of medicine, drugs and health in general. Fast foods keep popping up on TV, mail advertising, newspapers and billboards. We see and hear how quick, easy and tasty each one is. The effects on our bodies and health somehow don’t make the ads.

I wonder why the sudden need for such a variety of drugs and supplements. We can’t be so different from our ancestors who had little need for them. I stumble on a book about the Mediterranean diet and realize we have forgotten how to eat. Traditional Mediterranean communities took the time to incorporate their wonderful foods into their daily routines. Many of the lifestyle illnesses and conditions which plague us are rare among them.

Sugar, fat and salt have shanghaied our diets. Even the Mediterranean communities have started gradually moving toward our frenetic pace of life and seemingly easy but dangerous eating and lifestyles. Yet their traditional variety, emphasis on fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and a little wine offer to prevent or minimize the conditions we create for ourselves and then try to remedy with drugs and supplements. I for one have started exploring the Mediterranean option.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Spend some time thinking about how you eat.
  • Look at how you spend your leisure time.
  • What did you hear about your health last time you saw your doctor?
  • What is your health worth to you?
  • Consider Mediterranean, Hawaiian or other traditional diets.

Another Saturday Afternoon

Jetty on Nantucket Sound
Jetty on Nantucket Sound

JOE: Good afternoon Calliope. How are things in muse world today?
CALLIOPE: That’s the first time I remember you asking. Fine, actually. Just waiting to see if you would show up today. What are you up to?
JOE: It’s been a busy day. This morning I worked on a rare Saturday helping with a grant evaluation meeting at GO ART!
CALLIOPE: Doesn’t sound too exciting.
JOE: It wasn’t. But it was important to many agencies and artists. I’m glad we could do it in the current economic climate.
CALLIOPE: Was that your whole day?
JOE:  No. I had some time this afternoon to work on Marital Property. I thought I would have quite a few changes to make but not the case.
CALLIOPE: Why do you suppose that is?
JOE:  The beginning of the the book has been the most heavily edited and is in pretty good shape. I think I will find a need for more change as I get into the middle of it.  From what I have read, that is the hardest part to make coherent.
CALLIOPE: I’ve heard that too and it’s been my experience with other writers.
JOE:  I will keep plugging along and see where it takes me.
CALLIOPE: Stay alert.
JOE: I will. Talk with you again.

One More Day

Ferry Moorings

Oak Bluffs Ferry Moorings

JOE: Good afternoon Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good afternoon Joe, Is this to be our new meeting time?
JOE: We will see. At least I am here now to sit with you.
CALLIOPE: So you are. What’s new?
JOE: A busy day at GO ART, mostly setting up an exhibit, Songs of the Season.
CALLIOPE:  And your writing?
JOE: I got to work on the initial chapters for a while last night. Perhaps tonight too.
CALLIOPE: Have you been making many corrections?
JOE: Not really. Every time I start revising I start from the beginning. The first few chapters are well pored over and not in bad shape. I think the middle chapters are the ones which will need the most attention.
CALLIOPE: That’s usually the case. Do you plan to work on Marital Property tonight and tomorrow?
JOE: Perhaps for a while tonight. Tomorrow I am off to Albany with AmeriCorps for a long day. I will probably contact you on Thursday when I have the whole day off.

On with the Book

Menemsha Pond

Menemsha Pond

JOE: Good evening Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good evening Joe. Nice to talk with you at night for a change. Usually we talk in the morning.
JOE: I’ve been busy.
CALLIOPE: Tell me.
JOE: I finished my two books on fire in fiction and showing vs telling this weekend. Today I finally got back to work on my novel, Marital Property.
CALLIOPE: What state has the manuscript been in.
JOE: It could best be viewed as a well aged draft. I have worked on it off and on but it is not ready for publication.
CALLIOPE: Now, you have another novel published?
JOE: Yes I do. The Pastor’s Inferno is my first novel about an abusive priest seeking redemption. This one, set in Martha’s Vineyard, is about a family in crisis hoping to save their marriage.
CALLIOPE: I’m glad you are back to work on it.
JOE: I will keep you posted on my progress.

Sliding Otter News 11/05/2011

The Art of Healing: Planning an Exhibit

Sunrise Over Nantucket Sound

Sunrise over Nantucket Sound

Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to do a little digging to find it

~Tori Amos~

Over a year ago I imagined a GO ART! exhibit of art by trauma survivors. I dove into my research to see whether this plan might work. I decided I could do it but the organization, networking and expense appeared daunting. My project idea generated some interest and not a little skepticism. Would survivors be willing to share their art in a small community? Could our community appreciate such an exhibit? It seemed like a risk.

As I have grown older I discovered that I don’t care as much about what people think. On with the show. I began with the Internet. Google images showed me a great variety of survivor art. Two themes emerged, the psychological horror of trauma and eventual hope for the future.

Once I worked in a sex abuse program. I saw the same two themes back then. Families devastated by errant sexual urges, felt torn apart and children felt caught between escaping abuse and feeling responsible for splitting up their families. Later in treatment, hope emerged for a life without the fear of the bedroom door opening and shadows over their bed late at night. Sometimes survival was the best a family could hope for. Occasionally a better life seemed just over the horizon.

Some trauma survivors escape to an out of body experience. They look down on themselves from the ceiling, detached from their trauma and all its emotions. Maybe survivors do this in their art as well. They distance themselves from what has happened and find a safe place in their art where their fears do not grip them quite so tightly.

When working with children subjected to sexual abuse, we had them make a book about themselves. On the cover they were encouraged to draw or paint a picture expressing who they were. Often these pictures returned to the familiar themes of terror and hope.

I wondered how art could help with trauma recovery. Angeles Arrien said, “The portal of healing and creativity always takes us into the realm of the spirit.” Perhaps she found the key. Physical trauma eventually ends and no longer afflicts their bodies. Yet the spiritual scars remain, sometimes indefinitely. Art and creativity are ways of entering their spiritual selves to understand what happened to them and find ways to mend their souls.

Art is a representation of what we have experienced, a mirror to hold up to our spirit. We can step back from troubling emotions and gain some perspective. We can draw, paint or sculpt an image of what we would like to be and then dare to become what we at first can only imagine. Making tangible our psychological scars and hopes for the future through art helps set boundaries on our pain and remove boundaries from what is possible.

Life Lab Lessons

  • What was the most traumatic event in your life?
  • Did you feel paralyzed?
  • Have you learned to put what happened into perspective?
  • What helped you do it?
  • Use what you learned to handle the next crisis.

Getting Back to Work on My Writing

Gay Head Beach from Lillian's Cabana

JOE: Good morning Calliope.

CALLIOPE: Will wonders never cease. Once again I had almost given up on you. The only reason I knew you were still around was reading your newsletters.

JOE: Sorry to be so mysterious. I know I promised to visit with you more often.

CALLIOPE: I see from your last newsletter that you have been doing some traveling.

JOE: Indeed. I spent a wonderful few days in Martha’s Vineyard.

CALLIOPE: Did thoughts about Lillian Hellman inspire you?

JOE: The did. I imagined what she would have been thinking sitting in the cabana in which I sat huddled from the sandstorm blowing in off Nantucket Sound and what was left of Gay Head beach.

CALLIOPE: Inspiration is good. But what are you doing with it?

JOE: I found two books in the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven over which I have been poring aciduously.

CALLIOPE: To what end?

JOE: I have learned a considerable amount about bringing characters to life and how to balance showing and telling to good effect.

CALLIOPE: When will we see the results of your pursuit?

JOE: I plan to finish the second book this weekend. Then I will return to my manuscript of Marital Property. The story seems to be okay but the characters need to be brought to life rather than acting as props for the story. I will keep you informed. In the meantime I have another column coming your way tomorrow.