Transitional Phases

I’m in a weird state of disability right now, in which I have a foot with four different conditions that doesn’t want to heal, and a back that has decided it’s going to stab me with burning cold stilettos if I move even a centimeter the wrong way. Even better, while sleeping helps the former, it makes the latter MUCH worse.

(I’m glad I didn’t Konmari; my Lordoloc back brace from my disk surgery in 2016 is proving to be a life saver.)

Before this happened, a dear, beloved friend of mine actually asked me “If you could heal yourself just by not eating meat, would you?” I had to remind her I’d already been vegan. I’m not that kind of meat eater. And I was well aware that her intentions were “holy cow there’s got to be a way my friend can heal. Maybe I can help her.”

It’s got me thinking about transitions and liminal spaces, and how much people want to be, and help you, through them. Most forms of sickness and disability are viewed as a phase that you need to get through. Healing is to be rushed through to get you back to an “acceptable” state.

There’s no real space for accepting where one is.

It’s frustrating, this rush to get back to the “healed” state. I mean, certainly I do NOT want to be in pain. That’s a given. But it’s not like I’ve had a trustworthy body all my life that has suddenly fucked off on me. I’ve had all sorts of issues since I was quite young. Skin, feet, back… all before I hit the double digits.

It’s not like all this stuff I’m going through wasn’t heralded.

When I put my foot back in the protective boot in order to not be in pain I felt a surge of rage at my backsliding that surprised me. My mental process was “As if I don’t have enough to deal with, the only way I can be pain-free is to encase my left foot and ankle in this clunky plastic-and-foam-and-velcro… almost exoskeleton. What the actual fuck.”

Didn’t even occur to me to be grateful there was an option. Some folks are just… in pain. And sometimes I… am just in pain. So on comes my lower back, stabbing me, to remind me what THAT constancy of agony felt like.

I think it’s about time that I stop treating this aspect of my life as something I can heal from, and quickly. That’s pretty ableist of me.

It’s time for me to think about what I can do to make this life, this immediate, as-I-am-right-now, life work for me.

Choosing A Word Of The Year For 2018

I never used to do a word of the year. It seemed kind of reductionist to me, like how can you fit a whole year’s worth of intentions into a single word? I would do other things instead, like spells* or tarot spreads* or wishes or resolutions … which to me all boil down to the same thing: announcing myself to myself for the Janus moment of the Julian New Year. It was a fun thing to do on New Year’s Day when the hangover brunches were done.

Flash forward to few years ago. I started a new therapist, and he’s all about words of the year. One for the year itself and one for the anniversary of our work together. I started to like it as a theme for the one most important thing I wanted to accomplish in my work with him. It was a metric to use, an assessment of where I wanted to be rather than an obligation.  Yet January of last year it was difficult for me to choose, because I couldn’t get quite the right connotations for what I wanted to achieve. In order to make it work,  I did an image that listed all the associated synonyms** that conveyed the meaning I wanted, and that kept me from agonizing anymore.

Of course, in December he asked me to choose a new word for 2018. Since I’d had such a tough time last year, I whined about it (like I do). Last thing I wanted was either a crappy word or the frustration I had had last year. But after a bit of conversation, I agreed I’d have one for January.

…And didn’t think about it again, because I was on the way to family events, and fuck that.

But it came to me on Dec 31st.
Just jumped into my head, then out in front of me, ready to roll. Kinda like Athena.

My word of the year is howl.

At first I scoffed. Seemed silly, and too on-the-nose for me. But as I thought about it, and subtracted the connotations of pain or distress? It really clicked. Wolves howl to communicate over great distances and, in particular, to keep connected with their close packmates***. They also howl to establish territory, and as I thought about it, I realized my stories are my territory and it’s time I treated them as such, rather than as a sidebar.

This silly, on-the-nose word ended up being hella appropriate.

So there it is. Happy Howl Year!


* I do spells and tarot spreads to trick my brain. Rituals are pretty powerful ways to embed things in one’s psyche, and the symbolism in many tarot cards are a fun way to allow my brain to find connections I might not, otherwise.

** For the record, I chose fierce, as in strong, protective, and unapologetic. Not as in looking incredible. ;)

*** Per this study

My Butterfly Year

Monarch butterfly with wings together sits on a tree. Photo from right side.

Monarch perched on a young oak tree in Buffalo Bayou (note – this is not the butterfly I saw. the one I saw was on a beautiful Lantana.)

Yesterday, the first wildlife I saw was a butterfly!  Hurray, this means this is finally a butterfly year!

“What in the world are you talking about, Risa?” you might be asking. (Particularly those of you who didn’t know me in college.)

Since I was 25, my relationship with my spirituality has been more than a bit fraught. Before then, I was pretty clear that there was something beautiful going on in the world, and that I, and everyone/everything I knew, was a part of it. And so when I was in high school, on one of my birthdays I was walking out the door to catch a bus when a hummingbird whirred right in front of me, about 2 feet from my face, then whirred closer for about 5 heartbeats before whirring away. It was a really unusual interaction and, me being the tree-hugger I was, I took it to heart. That was my “omen” for my birthday, and I called the rest of that year my hummingbird year.

So began a regular thing I did: first animal or insect life I *interacted* with (that wasn’t a super-common interaction for humans, so no dogs or cats, no pigeons or rats in NYC, no mosquitos/fleas – you get the idea) was the icon for my year. Being at Sarah Lawrence took its toll – one year was a skunk year ;) But otherwise, I had some interesting stuff go on. I had a bear year, a cicada year (ugh!), a raven year… so it went.

After 25 I dropped this innocuous little thing I did because I was losing any kind of faith in a benevolent deity, and while this didn’t really have to do with deities I still connected it to my general “OMG something beautiful and coordinated is going on in the world.” Thus, out it went.

(Imagine a montage here of a LOT of life events. Or maybe just imagine a “calendar fluttering to now” animation – it’d be less painful.)

Recently I’d been bemoaning my lack of creativity and my inability to really connect to the old creative juices I used to have, so I wrote down all the things I used to do to refill my creative well. A lot of them were directly connected to what I used to do when I was flush with the feeling of involvement with something bigger than myself. One of those things was “connecting to my Year omens.”

So I figured – that’s a simple thing to reconnect with.

And additionally, I was kinda curious. Close to Buffalo Bayou there is a ton of wildlife to interact with. Lizards, grackles, mockingbirds, Muscovy ducks, and dragonflies are common as one wanders around here, and we’ve seen turtles, mourning doves, rabbits, snakes and gray and white cranes as well. The butterflies are hardly uncommon, but I’m semi-surprised I saw that Monarch before I saw a lizard, duck or grackle. It’s also kind of lovely synchronicity, because one of Jon’s co-workers got me a pretty kalanchoe plant as a “Get Well Soon” gift, and the motif on the pot?

It’s a butterfly. :)

A pale yellow metal pot with a butterfly cutout

Pale yellow scalloped pot with butterfly cutout

So hurrah, butterfly year!

Goodbye 2015

Two tiny tree ornaments showing Bugs & Sylvester on our tree in christmas hats

A tiny Bugs & Sylvester on our tree

I really love holidays that feature thresholds: equinoxes, Halloween, and especially New Year’s Eve*.  For New Year’s, people are encouraged to take the opportunity to look both backwards and forwards, and to make conscious decisions about what you want the coming span of time to be like.

Looking backwards, I can see the ups and downs our family went through. We lost a beloved animal family member and gained a beloved animal family member. We had a horrific move-out from a ‘luxury’ apartment where nothing worked, but the transition to a smaller, more economical apartment (where we have control of the thermostat and everything works) has been terrific. We’re both still struggling with chronic pain for varying reasons, but we’ve been getting healthier because of Kizu’s boundless energy.

We are also grateful because both our families had major health issues last year, but are all doing much better this year. *big thumbs up*

In general, I can look back on this year and be happy with the progress we made, while honoring the struggle it took to get to the good points.

We miss you, Theo. We love you, our amazing family and friends. To all others, I wish for you the best of everything for this next go round the Sun.

*Since I am neither Jewish nor Chinese, the big New Year’s transition that I choose is in January. I want to mention this because I don’t see the same posts about New Year’s from my Jewish or Chinese friends during their holidays, and I’m aware of my Western-normative internet experience.