Thursday, April 30, 2015

Rethinking small.

I have a story I sometimes tell myself. It begins, "This town is too small." I dream of faraway places. Of belonging somewhere else.

This morning I attended a breakfast fundraiser for ArtWorks. I piloted the True Body Project with them 10 summers ago. I return to them this summer to help me out with City Silence with a bit of back-end logistics know-how.

I sat at the table with Heather Britt, Julie Sunderland, Victoria Morgan, Ron Lauck, Sara Vance and others. Heather and Julie and I dance together at Heather's DanceFix at the Cincinnati Ballet, with Ron and Victoria and many others. My ex-husband and my son's father, Michael Sharp, danced with the Ballet when I met him. My son was on stage at 3 months old during the party scene in the Nutcracker as "the baby."

We watched Pam Kravetz rev up the crowd and speak on behalf of ArtWorks. We dance with Pam. Plus Pam and I worked together at the Diner. I met her when I came back home to Cincinnati in 2001, when she was my son, Nick Sharp's, project manager for an ArtWorks summer program at Children's Hospital. Pam has supported my projects for years. Sara supports more arts project than I probably even know about and has helped out True Body Project along the way.

We watched Tamara Harkavy talk about the program she has grown. I met Tamara when I moved back from Cleveland and Dale Lamson said, "You two HAVE to meet." A few years later, I helped out with some fundraising at ArtWorks and True Body Project was born, nurtured and sent out into the world. Tamara's husband Matt Kotlarczyk was there too. I had just seen his gorgeous work of art in Scott and Diane Durban's home. I met Diane an hour later to work on the designs for the City Silence t-shirts. I met Scott in the 80s when we worked at Uno's in Clifton. That's where I met Allan Berliant too.

At the ArtWorks event this morning, Mu Sinclaire made a generous matching grant - matching dollar for dollar any donation made at the breakfast. I met Mu when my mother, Sheila Sims, was dating his father-in-law, Bob Orton.  I was in high school and Mu and Robin were living and working on a farm, making a difference on sustaining for the future in an entirely different way.

I could go on and on and on and on. In one and a half hours, I saw no less than 50 people whom I have connected with, worked with, been inspired by, and supported by. 

So I am rethinking my story. 

This small town is filled with people who stay connected to each other and to what matters. We make art. We teach each other's children. We dance together. We invest in a better tomorrow.

That is my kind of small town.

Friday, April 3, 2015

8:30 am, April 3rd. On losing my mother.

7:20 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

It was Wednesday morning. I woke up first. My brother, Dave, Aunt Betsy and I had slept on chair/cots in her hospice room at St. Elizabeth's in Northern Kentucky. Both Dave and Betsy had arrived earlier that day after the doctor reported in his Monday morning visit that my mom had only a day or two left.

The night before, we sat around the bed of my dying mother. I think there was pizza (my brother will remember. He remembers everything I don't.) My vital mother would have loved it. She loved laughing. She loved family. She loved silliness. My morphine-filled shell of a mother would have hated it. She was so restrained. So proud. So private.

We didn't know what else to do.

7:34 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

I woke up first because I had been trained over the last many nights to be vigilant to her needs. The night prior, before family arrived, she had called out "Pauline!" - her mother's name - and I had responded, "What, honey?" If those were the last words we exchanged, it would be a beautiful story. But in truth, the last words we exchanged, before the morphine dose increased, went something like this.

"Mom, you can't get out of bed."
"Shut up!"

She had never in her life said anything hostile to me. Based on my daughterly assholeness, I figured she deserved a dig in her last hours.

I woke up because her breath had turned to rattle in the night. For the last month of her life, I read the list of "death signs" pretty much every day: feeling her extremities, watching for her to pick things out of the air, looking for a burst of energy. Like labor, once it is the real deal, there is no mistaking it.

The hospice nurse confirmed it. She had a few hours left.

7:41 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

Soon after my brother arrived, he took over the role of hospice inquisitor, asking the nurse medical-sounding questions about my mom.

"Are you a doctor?" she asked earnestly, charmed by Dave's competence.

He looked at me with a wry smile. I groaned. My brother's one-ups-man points had tripled. He had just won hospice.

7:47 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

When I say alive, I mean that more as a technicality. Betsy, Dave and I stood around Mom's bed as her body prepared to shut down. I had the impression that her soul had vacated her body (probably when we sat around her room eating pizza!) the night before and we were watching her body go through the final machinations of being a body.

I imagine that there is a spirit that helps the soul ascend and another one that stays behind to systematically shut down the lights.

Her mouth was agape. I had seen this before with Kristin. Maybe that is the way in and out for the spirit.

7:52 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

It was a beautiful morning. Canadian Geese walked around outside her room, just beyond the porch where she had hoped to smoke. Before we left her apartment, on Easter Sunday, just three days earlier, she had said to me "Be nice to the hospice people." My mother was always concerned with my not-niceness. She told me once that she had heard Oprah say that being nice wasn't the most important virtue for a woman. This comforted my mother.

I assured my mother I would be nice. She was again comforted.  "So they will let me smoke," she reasoned.

8:00 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

Coffee. No matter what, coffee.

8:07 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

She had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, metastasized to the brain and bone, four months earlier. They gave her 6-9 months. She never faltered from grace with her terminal diagnosis.

I had written Swimming Naked, my novel about a woman who becomes final caregiver to her dying mother (stage 4 lung cancer,) 12 years prior. It was published in 2004. In April.

8:14 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

The human body is a miracle. Breath is a miracle. Pulse is a miracle. Consciousness is a miracle. A mother's touch is a miracle. A mother's laugh is a miracle. A mother's love is a miracle.

8:16 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

She stopped breathing. Dave, Betsy and I stared at her, then at each other. We held our collective breaths. Then she started her rattle again, her lungs pumping like they were more machine parts then muscle and bone. Her eyes remained closed.

8:22 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

8:25 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

8:26 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

8:27 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother was still alive.

8:30 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, my mother died.

She turned her head toward my brother. She opened her eyes. She took her last breath. My brother fell forward across her, weeping. I was aware of his immediate and visceral grief. My aunt's too. I think I might have left my own body with her.

8:32 am, April 3rd, 2015

Two years ago, at this exact time, we didn't have our mother.

For those of you who have lost a mother, you know. For those of you who still have one, we can assure you that all of the beautiful complications of your relationship will make complete sense the second you lose her. So don't wait.

Share your love and gratitude.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Shiva and Shakti: The Sequel

The place. Photo by Jeremy Ragland.

My offering to Katie Silcox and the interventionists at our AMAZING Happy, Healthy Retreat in Kona, reprinted here.

Dear ones:

If you are already in repose, languid in your own sunset, I don’t have to remind you about the upheavals. Heavens no. You most certainly recall when the earth was scorched by both sun and greed alike. This is for you younger ones, you with all the Ojas, trying to understand the not-so-long ago time when all the sap in the world wasn’t going to help you or anyone win this mortal joy-battle we call life.

You already know the first story. About how Shiva sat, illuminating the world with consciousness and his lava lamp of semen, spinal fluid and secret sauce. He was a heavy hitter; a blissed out, tuned in, primordial dude. Shakti, with her fan dance and toe rings, kept herself amused for a good long time. She sipped on air and spun silk in and out of the trees. She innovated the tides. She devised fantastical choreography for the stars. Think Pina Bausch by way of a once famous band called The Monkees. That will get you close.

Eventually she fatigued of her lonely dance. Only a handful of stars would agree to her idea to “shoot across the sky!” and the rest made clunky formations and refused to move. “Uh, boring!” thought Shakti.  

You know the rest. Third eye NOT blind and all.

What is not often discussed is that when gods and goddesses study human lives carefully, they can’t help but to try a few things out. The internet wasn’t even invented when Zeus consorted with a swan! So stuff happens. And you need to understand that it wasn’t just the sun and the money zealots and the medieval modern terrorists. It was just so noisy with tantalizing offerings.  Who doesn’t want to watch at least one season of  House of Cards? Who doesn’t want to try at least one massage “wand”? Gods are not totally immune to cat videos, Advil and pumpkin spice lattes. Come on!

I’ll be frank. Between you and me, Shiva had eaten so many frozen pizzas and quarts of ice cream that he forgot his own consciousness and Shakti went on a Tinder binge. It was kept pretty quiet but since it wasn’t the first time, there was an intervention of sorts.

You are also aware that Shiva and Shakti had many children, so many in fact that they needed to assign humans the pretty cushy job of parenting them. It wasn’t without challenges though. Just ask Vera, earth mama to Katie. Katie was one of the of feistiest goddess bunnies of all. Yet Vera had been warned that too much meddling with Katie, even during those Tequila-fueled days in Spain, would not allow Katie to thrive so she prayed and reorganized the furniture instead. Can you say Sophisticated Living? Vera is a pro.

Katie and Vera.
It is not exactly clear when Katie got the call, or even who notified her - Rod maybe? - but when she got the text that Shiva was living in a trailer park in Vegas with Shakti out doing buddha-knows-what on the strip every night, well that was a real blow. So Katie hunkered down and fast-tracked her study. She jotted down all the ayurveda details in a best selling self-care book, then set a course to reset the Sangha.

Her first step was to find a secret sacred place.  She wanted it to be an eternal secret but since she was not able to abolish the internet, Reddit threads eventually unthreaded the veil she and her cohorts had placed over the north Kona locale at the Hawaiian Island Retreat.

Her second step was to call in a group of humans to initiate for the mission. While Katie had asked for a Genie Lamp and a hunky MacGyver dude from Shiva and Shakti and her earth mama Vera for years, they had yet to help her manifest them so she had to choose just the right group of people to rapid prototype a total ayurvedic, tantric reboot for the planet.

The first person she called was Kim. After a frank explanation of the situation, and assuring Kim that she would be able to complete the mission of consciousness rebirth before she had an actual, human baby, Kim said “Truck, yeah!”  Then came Paulo, a handstand master and an engineer. Who better to devise a way to turn the world over and then right it again? Sara T. signed on early too. Katie had to warn Sara that she may need to use Sara’s extraordinary abilities as a caregiver as it seemed that Shiva and Shakti were both in need of some major TLC.

Kim, afloat. Photo (c) Michael Rubin
Sara T.

Kelly and Autumn. Photo bombers Ruben and Stacy.
Katie then went through her contacts, looking for vedic-friendly soldiers of the new sacred. She turned to her luminous friend Danelle for her rock-solid ability to hold space and befriend all. She reached out to Amy, a contortionist of the mind and body, for tactical support and laughter as needed. She called on Rosie and Autumn, who understand the specifics of how to care for Shakti. She called on Janis, who held space for Vera, sometimes with a glass of red wine and sometimes with her own wisdom medicine. Vera? Of course she was there! Luckily there was no cat leukemia medicine disguised as candy on this mission so she was in good shape to assist as earth mother and friend to all.




Katie called forth Catherine and Jeremy, intrepid souls, who brought a sense of empathy for the temporarily unwell in the form of head colds and fevers. It is a huge gift, those who remind us that our wellness is never guaranteed, even when you’ve booked a freakin’ flight to paradise. Scott was recruited for his photographic memory and his capacity to listen, synthesize and deliver kindness at every turn.
Jeremy, feeling better.


Katie rested for a few days as she considered who else was needed for the mission. She sipped ginger tea, devised potions, and asked the cave of her heart during Yoga Nidra, “Show me the beauty, the strength and the emotion we need. Show me the light.”

Obviously Anna made the next cut because of the beauty thing. When they finally render the portraits from this moment of history, it will be hers you see (after Katie’s of course) - this goddess love child of magnificent, painted flesh. It occurred to Katie that LIndsay should come along too, deliverer of light, laughter and hair-based adornments for Anna and others. When you are realigning tantra, you cannot skimp on beauty and pleasure.

Anna and Katie.

Lindsay came with an extra bonus, cohort-wise, in that she was confidant to the extraordinary Kirstin, osteopathmaker, healer and all-around cool chick.  

Next, Katie really wanted someone who could hold a fiery, Kali-esque space, if even for a few days, even with a radiant smile, so Kelly was recruited. As luck would have it, another brave Kelly was able to hold the space of sadness and surrender for the group. You have no idea how powerful it is - even for the Gods - to watch a human have a glorious, authentic emotion. Weeping is one of the few things with the power to stop the world and remind us that RIGHT NOW is the only time that matters.

Kelly. Black sand beach. Fire meets water.
There were a few final positions open. Katie was getting worried at the last minute that she didn’t have someone with equal parts light beauty and formidable changemaker, someone in their own nascent stage of transformation - the Vata quotient. Luckily, a workshop was held and Heather showed up, ready to take on the task.

“These people are pretty devoted to what I have to say.  If I ask them to shoot across the sky, they’ll do it,” Katie reasoned. But wise daughter of Shiva/Shakti/Vera that she was, she reasoned she better have at least one human who was dedicated to reason, clarification, skepticism and humor, someone who could look at a the world in all its technicolor trickery and boil it down to essence in black and white. Rubin signed on for the task at hand.

Dear ones. It is for another day and another tale when I tell you precisely how this band of merrymakers, dreamers, lovers, mythmakers, yogis, hula dancers, circus-workers, polo players, firebrands and friends came to rehabilitate Shiva and Shakti. It is safe to say that it included dancing, shaking, breathing, touching, laughing, listening and loving. It is even rumored that they brought baby monkeys and kittens, bowls of color, and objects of devotion to the final circle.
Ceremony. Detail.
I will tell you this. The real magic happened in the not-silent silence, where those who were called to Kona by Katie got to bear witness to the essence of Shiva and Shakti in the sound of the ocean breeze, the comfort of the black nights, the wonder of the leaping whales, and the soulful surrender of each to the ineffable beauty of the other.

With gratitude, the scribe.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Hope for Justice. Hope for healing.

This is my fifth year bringing True Body Project techniques to the beautiful, bold girls and the incredible staff that supports them at Hope for Justice - formerly Transitions Global.

Each year, I have found the system of support stronger than the year before. James and Athena Pond, plus the committed staff from the U.S. and Cambodia, work to understand how to bring best practices in the field of trauma recovery, and to merge them with the particular challenges and opportunities of this culture. Phnom Penh is burgeoning with development; every other block has a high rise coming (jack hammers, barefoot workers, bamboo scaffolding - a true miracle that it works) while it remains "developing" in so many other ways.

Many of you are right now watching the 40th Anniversary Show of Saturday Night Live. SNL started in the same year as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, where for over four years approximately 2 million (1/4 of the population) Cambodians, particularly the intellectuals, artists and professionals, were brutally murdered.

Trauma is in the DNA of every living Cambodian living.

Luckily, so is hope and resilience.

Most of the things I get to experience here, working with girls and staff, are not easy to articulate. I can't really share anecdotes or many photos because this is an intimate and private process.

The photos below are the ones I can share as they don't reveal the identities of these stunning girls. In the first photo, where sweet, smart and hilarious Vanna is showing us how to do a game, is representative of how our time together works. In short, we have a total blast. We find joy together. We listen to each other. We find ways to feel happiness.  We ground, center, orient, connect, breathe and nourish each other.

I am forever changed and forever grateful.