Apryl's Musings

25 Years ago

See and realize that this world is not permanent.  Neither late nor early flowers will remain.  ~ Ryokan

A day of reflecting on a lot of heartache.  Much has happened in 25 years.

A day of reflecting on a lot of heartache. Much has happened in 25 years.

The end of summer 1994, I left Ypsilanti.   Our car fully packed, I remember as we pulled away from our last apartment, my mom, youngest brother and former roommate stood in the drive way.  I looked back and waved good bye to all I had known in my 26 years of living.

My first husband and I made the decision to move to San Francisco after visiting my younger brother.  He had contracted HIV due to drug addiction.  He had been a troubled child, teenager and young man.  At that point, I had been estranged from him for 7 years.  Now he was in hospice care. 

3 days later, my first husband and I rolled into San Francisco.  My college academic advisor put us in contact with a colleague who was able to house us temporarily until we found our own place.  The minute we arrived, our host said that the hospice was wondering if I had arrived.  That they had been calling for me.  My brother was actively dying. 

We didn’t get comfortable or unpacked toiletries.  We pulled out the AAA map of San Francisco then headed over to the Castro district.  I was shocked when we arrived.  It was a stark contrast from the man I had seen a month and a half prior.  Now, my brother was bedridden and on a respirator.  He couldn’t hold down water.  He wasted away to skin and bones.  Though, he was lucid and talked to us, we kept our visit brief because he was just too tired.  We came back the next day and the next and the next.   

On the fourth day, we received a phone call from the hospice at 3am.  My brother was dying and wanted us there.  We headed out and arrived 15 minutes later.  In that time, he changed his mind but we refused to leave.  We slept out in the hospice common area.  I checked on him intermittently. 

At 8am, my first husband and I went to have breakfast at a place around the corner.   I checked on him before him before we left.  He was still breathing.  His eyelids couldn’t fully close because he was so emaciated. We came back just a little after 9am.  Maybe 9:10. There was a flurry of activity around his room.   I looked in and saw a hospice worker sitting quietly next to his bed.  Another hospice worker then told me that I had just missed my brother.  He died 10 minutes prior. 

I was flooded with emotions.  Shock.  Profound sadness.  Anger.  Anger because the hospice workers around the front desk were having a typical every day conversation and laughing.  How could they laugh?  I thought.  My brother is dead in the next room.  Never mind the fact, they dealt with death on a daily basis.  It was just another day for them.  They were all incredibly compassionate people and a way to deal with regular loss was to maintain a sense of normalcy for everyone. 

I cried hard and long.  I cried so hard that I cried myself into a migraine that day.  I sat there in his room for a while.  The hospice workers had laid his body out on his bed and dressed him in a sweat pants and a sweat shirt.  They placed a necklace of a Native American bear on a cord around his neck.  My mom gave that to me to give to my brother.  It was supposed to be some sort of protective thing. 

Fast forward a month or so, we received a phone call from my brother’s social worker.  He had been cremated and his remains were ready.  We made arrangements to pour his ashes out at Ocean Beach.  We picked a weekday evening.  It was a rare evening in San Francisco.  It was clear and the sun was setting.  The wind was light staving off the usual afternoon marine layer.  I looked out over the beach.  Nothing but water and sky, an endless horizon. 

Then there was a sudden flash of memories of my brother.  The tow headed blue eyed 5-year-old.  The pimpled-faced teenager with unruly curly hair.  The 17-year-old with a fucked up mohawk cut with nail clippers by a girl tripping on acid.  Then the sick 23-year-old smoking pot near a playground in the Castro district.  Then the emaciated body.  Now a 3 ½ lb box of ashes being poured on to the ocean waves rolling up on the beach. 

Then another sudden realization.  He wasn’t gone rather he simply transformed.  He was literally going back to the earth.  His ashes becoming part of a global weather and ecosystem.  He was becoming part of the sand on the beach.  He became the waves that pulled him out into the ocean.  I could envision him becoming plankton that fed fish and whales.  Evaporated up into water droplets that would rain down on corn fields in the Midwest.  My brother had become nothing and everything at once. 

Then one final realization hit me.  Each one of us are like a speck of my brother’s remains floating on a vast ocean.  Small yet not insignificant.  We’re part of something much broader than ourselves.  We’re connected.  One’s ripples impacts countless others.  Some known.  Many unknown.   

Nothing screams of impermanence like death.  These strings of epiphanies hit me, like a Thor’s hammer, came after a lot of challenges and changes in a very short period of time.  It felt like a series of hit and runs.  It was traumatic.  Even with this knowledge, life was/is still full of loose ends leading to a giant knot impossible to unravel.  To this day, I still struggle with my brother.  There are things I still haven’t forgiven.  Even so leaving Ypsilanti, 25 years ago, initiated a journey full of loss, heartache, failure, challenges, gains and triumphs.

Space in Broken Hearts (part 2)

mushroom.jpg

The project is starting to grow.  There are a few people on board already.  I’m quite excited about that.  On the flip side, I continue to unpack a lot on a personal level.

This meme popped up on my Facebook feed: 

One day you will tell your story of how you overcome what you are going through now, and it will become part of someone else’s survival guide.

This is at the heart of Something is wrong with me.  I firmly believe that sharing our stories with each other becomes part of our own personal survival guide.  Maybe even a pathway to thriving. 

The surviving, healing, thriving can’t wait for the mess to clear up.  It’s diving in deep; witnessing and feeling.  Looking into the muck and toxic materials that has been internalized and reincarnated as self-harm in our lives; potentially harm we have unwittingly done to others.   

Over the past weekend, I have been doing this very thing.  It’s emotionally exhausting because I’ve been seeing myself and my habits in a different light.  It’s not being my usual hypercritical self.  It’s more of an awareness of how I fall down the same rabbit hole time and time again.  The obsessive grasping.  The contorting and wedging into limited emotional spaces.  The co-dependent helper still seeking external acceptance. 

The results are the same.  Anger over feeling ignored and disrespected.  The hurt of rejection.  Re-enforcing that ancient narrative that I internalized almost a half a century ago that:

  • There is something horribly wrong with me

  • I’m stupid

  • Not deserving. Not good enough. Not important enough.

Growing up never feeling that I was enough and easy to throw aside.  As I became an adult, I have re-invented that narrative over and over again.  Not only was I the expendable daughter.  I became the expendable partner/lover and expendable worker. 

A painful realization and difficult one to witness in action to say the least.  While I have felt overwhelming anxiety over this deeper awareness, there is seems to be a twinge of self-acceptance. 

I’m a whole lot of fucked up and a walking contradiction.  I want to be loud and proud yet feel I must hide away in shame and/or fear.  Again, an old narrative tied to my step-father; always hidden when there was company over.

I sit here writing this feeling deep heart ache and on the verge of tears.  The characteristics that make me an amazing person are equally my Achilles heel.  I know I’m not alone. 

I suppose it’s finally time to abandon that narrative.  It’s time to stop being expendable.  To stop contorting.  To stop hiding.  To be loud, proud and unabashedly visible.

Space in Broken Hearts

murky water with sun.jpg

“To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feelings of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening.  Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.  Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves is the path of the warrior.”

~ Pema Chodron

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about broken hearts; the big T and little t traumas we sustained from childhood; the wounds inflicted on our very spirits and souls.  Those who know me well, know I’ve had a challenging past.  One filled with emotional/psychological abuse and neglect. My biological father was in my life till I was about 5 years old.  The few memories I have from this time, I wish I could forget.  The best thing he ever did for me was leave.

My step-father was rather young and ill-prepared for an instant family, at 20 years old.  When he married my mother, I was someone else’s kid; the step-daughter.  I grew up feeling like an unwanted house guest.  I was told I was stupid.  When I hit adolescence, I was shamed about my body, as well. 

By 8, I already developed a low sense of self-worth.  I became very quiet.  It was mistaken for shyness.  It wasn’t. I started to withdrawal, often hiding in my room.

It was at this time, my mother enrolled me into ballet classes.  This experience saved me on a subconscious level.  Dance gave me a safe emotional outlet.  It put me in contact with adults who saw something in me.  Something I couldn’t see or even knew existed.

It didn’t repair the damage done.  It didn’t stop me from internalizing the shame.  Or recover memories that long buried.  It didn’t stop me from engaging in failed relationship after failed relationship. 

However, dance did give me a place where I felt engaged.  Where I learned I had something to offer.  It gave me something to strive for.  It encouraged me pursuit an education beyond high school.  From there I discovered, I loved the process of learning. 

While it has kept a spark alive in me, I hit a wall in my late 30s to early 40s.  Financial hardship.  A string of abusive relationships.  Depression.  Anxiety.  Again, life became incredibly messy and overwhelming.  There were days I fantasized about disappearing because non-existence seemed liberating.

Over the past year, I have committed myself to paying attention and trying to unpack all this shit by looking deep into my heart.  Its battered from a lifetime of trauma (self-inflicted and imposed by others).  Two weeks ago, I think I felt that softening in the heart that Pema Chodron talks about.  It was a dull pronounced ache and sadness.  It travelled throughout my body for over a week and a half.  It has made me feel ancy; anxious.  I found it difficult sitting still for any length of time. 

As I tried to sit with that feeling, I realized how I have shrunk myself to fit within someone else’s available emotional crevices.  I’ve contorted and limited myself, clinging to a hope of acceptance.  The act of constricting and reducing myself has led to choices and behaviors I’m not proud of, reaffirming the shame I felt years ago.

While this is sad in one sense, there is a strength and resilience.  In those wounds there is space.  There is opening.  This makes me curious. 

Healing and recovery are long and arduous processes.  However, there is change occurring.  I can’t quite name it or define it.  Maybe it feels more like self-acceptance.  I feel less inclined to hide it and more inclined to ask for help.  I’m less lonely.  Less isolated.  I know who accepts me with all my flaws and warts. 

There is still a mess to clean up.  There are still aspects of my life that are in limbo and not completely stable.  However, at this moment, I am content/comfortable.   

This exercise has compelled me into a deeper exploration through art, story and movement. It’s how I best process issues and it also helps me see the broader context. There are lots of people dealing with these feelings. The working title is something is wrong with me.  The project is in its beginning stage and will be presented June 2020.  Right now, its research and collecting material.  As I gather my thoughts, I will be looking to set up workshop dates.  If you are interested in participating, comfortable sharing your journey, watch for more details in the upcoming month or so.  And feel free to contact me. 

Bittersweet Pill

Our electronic sign not functioning as many of us would lovingly say #TruEMU!

Our electronic sign not functioning as many of us would lovingly say #TruEMU!

During my visit to Portland, I was offered a new job.  It is not as an educator in higher ed yet it is something that I’m equally passionate about.  As of Monday, I will be transitioning from dance instructor and part-time dance lecturer to full-time labor organizer. 

This transition brings up a host of feelings.  I’m excited about my new job.  I am looking forward to this new adventure.  I wonder what I will discover along the way. 

I feel anxiety and trepidation.  For the most part, I feel I am putting all my eggs in one basket.  This terrifies me.  I have spent most of my adult life working multiple jobs; constantly in pursuit of the next gig.  I’ve realized that I have found a strange sense of comfort in the very precarious nature of my income streams.

Those income streams haven’t amounted to much of an income.  That has been a continual source of anxiety.   There have been times I have waited 2+ months for a paycheck as adjunct faculty or for a client to pay for me for my work. 

My gig work is being whittled way as I transition into one job.  One job that promises the highest annual salary I’ve ever been offered with benefits.  I could live life somewhat comfortably for a change.  What a concept.

Finally, I am feel deeply saddened.  I do love my work as a teacher and professor.  It was really difficult to tell my students.  Over the past 2 and a half years, I have taught at my alma mater.  I love all my students.  It’s been deeply meaningful to return to Eastern Michigan University to teach.  It was coming home for me.  Being able to guide, foster and advocate for students in our department was an utter privilege. 

After I told my students, there’s was an unexpected outpouring of support.  I’ve received this from my colleagues as well.  Often times as a teacher, you have no clue as to how you are impacting people.  All I’ve ever hoped for was that maybe I’ve planted a seed that will grow later.  I know there were a few teachers who did this for me and for that I am grateful! 

(Mr. Bott and Viv, I did eventually figure it out.  My deepest gratitude to both of you for believing in me.  Your generosity has meant a lot and I’ve tried my best to pay it forward.)

In a perfect world, I would be a tenured faculty member.  However, I realize that I don’t have the pedigree for such a position.  This doesn’t mean that I can’t be or haven’t been a capable professor.  It simply means that I don’t look attractive enough on my CV to even a third tiered university like my alma mater. 

It doesn’t matter how much I give.  Or how passionate I am (or any of my peers are) about the work, I will not be given the proper chance to prove myself.  This has been a bitter pill to swallow. 

As an adjunct professor, I am not afforded the prestige nor respect I deserve.  I have fallen into a what I have begun to consider as a type of serfdom or caste system that is endemic in academia.   As I became more and more mired in academia, I spent many sleepless night preparing lessons for classes I was offered on a minute’s notice.  I did my best to advocate for my students and colleagues.  I did my best to resist the feelings of isolation, invisibility and veiled academic propriety.  This has left me exhausted and burnt out. 

Furthermore, I didn’t hide this from my students.  I am certain this makes me a bit of a pariah in a university setting but it is what is right.  Academic/professional propriety is an attitude that silences and white washes what are growing inequities in academia. 

Leaving is bittersweet however, it is not the end.  My support and advocacy will continue for students and my colleagues.  It will look different, but it will always be there.  You are my extended family. 

Found this stenciled on the wall outside Porter Hall on Campus a few months back.

Found this stenciled on the wall outside Porter Hall on Campus a few months back.

Soul Mates

Jen and Apryl.jpg

Over the past 10 days, I have been in a process of redefining what “soul mate” means to me.  “Soul Mate” is not a one and only love interest.  It is not a solitary life defining monogamous relationship.  Soul mate is a plural.  It is soul mates.

Soul mates are people who challenge us.  They turn our world upside down.  They get us to think outside our comfort zones.  They are people who agitate and push us to be better people.  They are people who don’t always share our world view.  They are people who make us curious and push us to want to know more.  They question us in ways we may not like.  They are our brothers and sisters in literal and figurative ways.

I spent the past 10 days with a soul mate, Jen Gwirtz.  Jen is a friend.  Jen is an artistic colleague.  Jen is one of my soul mates. 

I’ve known Jen for 20+ years now.  Back in the day, Jen showed me a different way of thinking about dance, performance and art.  Her approach was/is outside of the standard academic canon.  She introduced me to new philosophical thought and methodologies.  Jen introduced me to happenings.  She introduced me to pop up performance that was quirky, funny and subversive. 

Through Jen, I started to think of the creative process as modular; as packets of data and information.  That excited me!  That inspired me to go back to school and pursue my master’s degree. 

Jen and I are sisters from another mister.  We agree on most things but not on everything.  She considers herself a liberal capitalist of Jewish heritage.  Myself, I’m a Buddhist with socialist leanings from a working-class background. 

Jen is a woman with strong and stern maternal instincts.  Me, maybe not so much.  I have intentionally dismantled my biological clock.  If you knew my family background, you’d most likely understand my decision.  

Both of us love to cook.  It is one of the ways we explore and share our creativity.  We are both artists who are in the process of continually honing our voices. 

Jen and I started planning my trip to Portland about 7 or 8 months ago.  On Feb. 21st, I flew out to Portland. 

The two of us haven’t inhabited the same physical space for nearly 10 years.  The last time we saw each other was maybe 2010.  During that visit, I might have had an hour or 2 with her, her husband John and their daughter. 

We met at an ice cream shop in the Richmond district in San Francisco.  I remember wanting to spend more time.  I remember feeling a deep need to spend more time with her, John and their daughter.  However, I felt a tension from my husband (now my second ex).  He was anxious to get on the road.  He wanted to head back to Las Vegas so he could gamble with impunity. 

Now it was my/our time.  Someone else’s agenda wasn’t dictating the schedule.  The only limitation was winter break.    

As I rolled my luggage out of baggage claim, I felt a wave of emotion overwhelm me.  There was Jen, all 5’ of her.  I felt a lump grow in my throat.  A quiver in my voice and that all to familiar need to fight back tears. Cause Detroit girls don’t cry.

We gave each other a huge bear hug that felt like home.  Sisters reunited on a creative mission!  We spent 10 days talking about relationships, art, art creation, social issues and politics.  While we were mostly on the same page, there were times we weren’t in lock step.  Then it was listening.  Deep listening that honored each other’s position.

We spent time in rehearsal creating. We paid attention to the differences in our body types and artistic approaches. Deep listening played a crucial part in our collaboration. Now we have a 10 minute piece (a sprout of a piece) about mushrooms, mycelium and trees. Its a metaphor for our long distance relationship and how I seem to just pop up in new locations like a mushroom. (More on that later.)

Jen is a soul mate.  A soul sister who continues to challenge me.  She opens me up.  Makes me feel vulnerable in ways that are safe.  And yes, this woman from Detroit working class roots made room for that vulnerability.  For that I am deeply grateful. 

As my soul mate, she makes me realize that I have many soul mates.  Brothers, sisters, friends, work colleagues.  People who temporarily cross my path.  Others who are there for the long term.  People who make up a vast mycelium network (pun intended) and become family.  Soul mates aren’t a special one and only.  They are a vast network of people who can pop in and out of our lives and they are often right under our noses.