Instead of saying, "I'm sorry," try saying, "Thank you."
This concept has been making its way around for some time now, and last year it landed on me. I spend a lot of time dancing with guilt and gratitude. Can you guess which one is a more pleasant partner?
Well, I can't think of a better way to continue my bloggy new leaf after the dual F-bombs I dropped last week (F is for Foamies, of course...) than to shine the light on a topic that is one of the most important in my life.
I'm talking about my parents.
In the seventeen years I lived in Colorado, we were lucky if we saw each other twice a year. More often it was once, and occasionally, not at all. Until I moved across the country to be near them a few years ago, I hadn't realized how much that weighed on my heart.
By the time of my second divorce, just as my seizures were blooming into a weekly issue, my parents had moved from my birth state of Minnesota to Arkansas. That summer, I retreated from the Colorado Springs bustle and spent a week hiding from the world at a friend's house. He had a beautiful screened-in gazebo in the back yard, and I spent most of my time in solitude on the couch there and in the hot tub--when we weren't slurping down coffee and plotting how to survive the zombie apocalypse. I even slept out in the gazebo, tracking the waxing of the moon as the night hum lulled my frazzled nerves.
Until the wildfires chased me back inside.
One morning, I awoke with my hair and sleeping bag covered in ash. The sky had been painted with that puke-orangey haze overnight, and my asthma insisted that I abandon my hermit's nook for the back bedroom.
That was all right. The gazebo and the moon had already worked their transformative magic--exactly why my friend had invited me down. Just the day before, I had spent a couple hours with the Parentals on the phone where we all came to an abrupt decision.
I don't think they fully realized just how immediately final the decision was for me. It had landed in my guts the second they made the suggestion. But I knew. I recognized it from the same thud that had resonated up my spine when I decided to move to Colorado in 1997. One week, I was miserable and on the verge of destitution in Minneapolis; a week later, I was Colorado Springs' newest shiny resident.
It happens that quickly with me.
The logistics of the latest cross-country move were a bit different, but the decision happened just the same. "Soooo...we've been thinking that it might be a good idea to do what we had wanted to do for you when the crash originally happened. There's just so little we can do to help you from this far away. You've given it such a valiant effort, and we've never wanted to jump the gun on this. But...well...what do you think of moving out here to Arkansas?"
The echo thrummed across the parched fruit grove and the withered field beyond. It bounced off the siding of the house, and did not spend a second dallying in the hot tub for some consideration. It simply took its decisive place there in that home between my ribcage and my navel.
My exhalation of relief could have been that final breath seeping from the lungs of a contented corpse. Only two words could express my heart that day: Thank You.
I don't think any of us truly knew what we were getting ourselves into when we loaded up my portion of the semi truck and caravanned to my new townhouse. And I'm not referring to the three months I had to spend living out of a suitcase in their guest bedroom because my new home was so choked with cigarette smoke, mold, and the noxious odor from some horrific little combination of vitamins and...ermmm...unknown melted substances that the previous tenants had left in a top kitchen cabinet. Even after the professional cleaners came, after I painted 5 coats of Killz and 3 coats of exterior sealing paint and we did 3 weeks of ozone treatments, that cabinet still reeked. But at least I could inhabit the place without wheezing and looking like I'd walked through a mosquito's lair from all the hives.
The bonus of those months crammed in each other's hair: my parents were gifted with the up-close-and-horrific reality of my health.
Or should I say, lack thereof.
By the time I started unpacking in my townhouse just before Christmas, I was having seizures multiple times every week. Meltdowns were more common than I'd care to admit. My functionality was...
There's plenty of time and gobs of terabytes for all that. Let's suffice to say that, when I finally bit the bullet and went in to see the Social Security Disability office for the first time since 2001, I had a very different experience than the one I'd had in Colorado. In the first years of living with my condition, I was on a revolving door of "Shucks, kid. Nothing anybody can do for ya, except the people who love ya. So sad, sorry, see ya." Being embroiled in too many court cases already, while trying to navigate the car insurance rigamarole, chronic pain, a job I should have never been sent back to, the belly dance blacklisting betrayal by my best friend, the crappy public transportation system, and what I would eventually discover was permanent brain damage, I did not have it in me to fight for disability.
I'm sure you've heard the horror stories of anyone who has tackled that particular beast. I was told over and over that I should expect to have to appeal four to five times--IF it could even happen.
Thirteen years later when I finally applied, I did not have to appeal once.
The Red Tape Sea parted.
Immediate Residency on Disability Island: GRANTED. DO pass Go. DO collect $200.
During my interview, my case worker asked why I had waited for so long to apply. Foremost, I had never wanted the stigma of having to tap out like that. I had pit-bulled to the point of decimation, determined that someday--some-day-dammit--I would figure it out. I would recover and be self-sufficient once again. I haven't given up on that dream, but sometimes you really do have to tap out before you pass out. Or worse.
I had finally reached that point.
As for the other reason why I waited thirteen years, I had been married for much of the time, able to eek out an existence intertwined with my those of my husbands.
That's another tangle of spools, rife with the Guilt Dance and the eternal litany of, "Just say thank you. Just say thank you. Just say thank you..." Those two boxes are far more messy than this one we're peeking inside today, but the same principle applies.
Nobody REALLY gets it until they're staring into the fanged maw of the Beast that arises from too many seizures and not enough silence.
Thankfully, I had spent a year renting the basement of one of my dearest friends. I say "renting" with one raised eyebrow, because there were many times that my contributions to the household came in the form of chores, back massages, dance lessons, and performing monkey girl asshattery entertainment in the kitchen. She was generous enough to give me a sliding scale, according to how successfully I was able to earn green pieces of paper--a rapidly dwindling capacity as the months progressed.
But Lindsey gave me a gift far greater than a place to lay my head at night. It was greater even than her extraordinary cooking skills. She allowed me to experience what it felt like to live with someone who didn't consider my dain-bramaged self to be the greatest burdensome pain-in-the-tuckus to ever change my mailing address to hers.
"Pshhhh!" she said on my bad days when all I could do was bawl and apologize for still breathing. "You think you have anything on what I've lived with? You're easy." The autistic five-year-old banging her head on the floor may have skewed Lindsey's perception of "easy." Or it may have been her years working in Special Education and with youths at a mental health hospital.
Well, no matter the reason, she gave me one of the most valuable seeds that has allowed me to stop apologizing, and to instead simply say, "Thank you," to everyone who helps me do what I was born to do.
Which leads me to the subject of Patrons.
I could go on at length about all the people who have put food on my table and warmth into my heart by supporting my dancing. I could not, however, begin to list them all by name. I couldn't even begin to list the numbers of people who rallied around me in those first years, washing my laundry and dishes, cooking, driving, hugging, wiping tears, listening (if you don't know about the Hamster Wheel, the Stop Mechanism, or Think It Say It Syndrome yet, you do not have a clue what a huge deal that is). There are a couple handfuls of particular individuals--I'll eventually be getting to you people, more than once, I'm sure--who not only saved my ass, but became my heart-friends.
Allow me to begin with Janet Emmons and Tom Whitten. They were my first artistic patrons, in addition to being two of my longstanding friends, supporters, mentors and muses.
At first, Janet just wanted to be able to continue studying belly dance when they moved down to the Four Corners. She believed in me, so she brought me down for the first IzzyFest a few years into my initial recovery. That event spawned a decade more, eventually moving to Durango and gifting me with the video footage that would launch my international career.
But early on, they made a financial contribution that I spent with great forethought on some continuing education and key supplies. That feeling stuck with me--the feeling of having the support necessary to create in my laboratory, to twist my artistic mustaches and Do My Thang without having to constantly interrupt the process because provisions must be acquired for the body to eat, sleep, and wear clothing.
The revival of this feeling is what has allowed me to face myself in the mirror while wearing my least favorite T-shirts: "Reserved Parking for the Disabled" and "Dain Bramaged Untie!" and "Welcome to the Moon Orbiting Planet Autism."
Getting my feet back under me since the initial crash, and especially since my chronic seizures and a second car wreck, has been a trickier undertaking than any of us imagined. The toll this takes on my parents and closest loved ones, when measured in the black-and-white figures of money and time, dredges up all those worst mud-slinger's terms.
Burden. Worthless. Parasite. Lazy.
I'm not going to give them any more black-space in this post, because I've been working diligently to starve those particular gremlins to death. Several of my dearest have suggested a much better way to look at this. For years, even back when I was fully self-sufficient as an Office Manager and Executive Assistant, I imagined myself in an Italian Renaissance gown or tricked out A-La-Boheme, able to spend my days writing, dancing, dueling, prancing because I had attracted patronage. I imagined being paid for my art, not just upon delivery, but throughout the creative process with rent and utilities and food and etc. so that I could create.
I had been given this offer during marriage, but the reality of supporting a health-plagued, black-sheep artist in an obscure genre while living in rural towns was too heavy on their shoulders. Resentment crept in until I most certainly was paying for it--in ways that were not only detrimental to my art, but to my well-being and health.
There are many days when I've had a hard time lifting my face, lifting my eyes, straightening my spine and walking tall because of how long this is taking. Aren't you all better yet? I thought you were all better and had Made It. You're down again? You're still on this TBI and spinal thing? Really? You still have issues when the trolls and mean-girls take pot-shots? What do you mean you can't dance on cobblestones? What do you mean you have to spend the next 48 hours in a neck brace? How many years has it been? You've been working on that book for how many fucking years? Are you EVER going to finish ANYTHING? When are we finally gonna get the Hollywood Ending?!
Trust me. I'm more impatient for it than you are, and that is one of the biggest issues. Far bigger than the trolls and mean girls on the interwebz and in the locker room, it's the trolls and the biggest mean girl of all--the one in my head.
The only way I can combat this is when I exchange apologies for gratitude, because Thank You feels like excitement. Thank You spurs me into the costume closet. Thank You lets me forget about the Final Outcome and simply enjoy the process of doing what an artist is supposed to do: play with her toys over and over and over until playtime suddenly gives birth to a masterpiece.
You know, one of my greatest dreams has come true.
I do have patrons now--a collaborative group of them that feed, house, clothe, and car me. Occasionally they even get to pamper me. Imagine my overwhelming elation when I realized that two of them are the oldest and dearest fans of my art. They put my scribbles on the refrigerator and took their seats attentively when my cousin and I donned fabulous getups to present dances and plays at holiday events. They cheered on my first lead role and my first college production and my first black belt test. During my biggest nose-dives, they cheer for me anyway.
My parents ARE my greatest patrons.
Instead of hiding my face and crawling under a rock, whipping myself to a bloody pulp over it, I think a much better way of expressing my appreciation would be to keep playing and playing and playing until I have glitterific, rainbow-encrusted masterpieces spewing out my pores.
You sooooooo thought I was gonna say, "butt," didn't you?
It's like you know me or something...