Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Creativity in the Time of Covid

Creativity. Creation. Creators.

Growing up, I was taught that I was called into being by a Creator and that I had the ability and the responsibility to become a co-creator. It seemed like a very daunting future. What was I to create? What could I offer the world?

I started with trying to discover what I might be good at. I majored in Music/Voice Performance in college, and I married my High School sweetheart in my senior year. By graduation, I was pregnant. I had a talent for producing children, turns out. I had four children by the time I was 28.

I met a celibate priest and author, Rev. Martin Smith, at a church event. He spoke of how people would always wonder at his sacrifice of creativity and fatherhood. He assured them that while he was not making babies, he was making meaning.

“Making meaning” became a phrase that stuck with me. When I was 30, I began to write poetry. I self-published a book of poems and parables and sold 50 copies in our church bookstore.

When I turned 50, I bought myself a digital camera and started blogging. I had been using the Canon AE-1 that my high school sweetheart and late husband had bought me as a teenager to develop a photographer’s eye. Having the ability to see the frames instantly fed my appetite to produce images.

All this time, though, I wasn’t sure if I was really “good” at creating anything. I felt like I dabbled. I thought that I might not have earned that co-creator status that I was supposedly destined for.

During “the Time of Covid”, I clicked through a lot of psychology videos while sorting out some major life transitions. That is how I came across the very affirming words of Brené  Brown, who maintains that we are inherently creative and that shame is the major obstacle to our living out that creative purpose. She and Scott Barry Kaufman (co-author of Wired to Create) did a podcast in which she shares this quote from one of her books:

“Unused creativity is not benign. It metastisizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame.” -Brené Brown

Wow. So, on top of all the grief and rage of “the time of Covid”, not using your creativity will cause another layer of unhealthy detriment to your soul.

Must. Create.

I had re-entered the community theater scene last year after 14 years. I was in a musical last summer and a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in February. In March, I played Irish fiddle (badly – having first picked up the violin only two years ago) in an improv comedy act, but the last performance, on St. Patrick’s Day, was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Via the magic of Zoom and Discord, I have been able to connect with folks to do reader’s theater versions of plays by Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Thornton Wilder, and others. I do voices – English accents, Russian accents, old people, young people, men, women, and storms.

I started trying to learn to speak Spanish yesterday. My youngest daughter is teaching herself Russian. Together we are also addressing income insecurity and racism and politics in our precious face-to-face discussions. For me, making meaning in this “time of Covid” and after a cross-country move is about affirming life, affirming values, creating community, and living wholeheartedly into an uncertain future while braving the vulnerability and shame that always hovers around my humanity.

Creativity in the Time of Covid is essential for all of us. It is a practice for our individual mental health and the health of our shared humanity. We need to see ourselves as beings called to make meaning together and hard-wired to connect around our vulnerability. We are navigating in treacherous, uncertain waters. If we can make ourselves into a human life raft, we might just stay afloat. 

Thank you, Tina, for inspiring creativity and self-reflection with this challenge, and for the very kind “shout out” to my previous post, Under the Sun.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Admiration

optimistic 2

“Guess what, Mama! I got another scholarship!”  

My middle daughter was battling major depression at the beginning of the year, experiencing crippling panic attacks and an ED that was out of control. What did she do? She quit her disastrous job, went back to school, and found a new job. She enrolled in Communications and Psychology and did a PowerPoint presentation on Depression. Her school essays have all earned A+ grades and have been used as examples for her classmates. I am incredibly proud of her and in awe of the personal reserves of strength she has had since she was a baby! There was never something too difficult for her to tackle, once she put her mind to it. 

Admiration

Think Continually of Those At Risk

I wrote this article for The Be Zine whose November issue was dedicated to “At-Risk Youth”.

Under the light of the half moon, David Attenborough speaks to the camera on Christmas Island, surrounded by a moving mass of red crabs. Tens of thousands of crawling females, heavy-laden with hundreds of fertilized eggs, are approaching the high tide in order to release their burdens into the surf. The water turns reddish brown as a surge of life heads out to sea. Millions, no, billions of little babies are set adrift. Enormous whale sharks cruise the waters nearby, ready to feed. Sir David explains that the hatchlings will spend one month in the water before returning to land to move into the forests and begin their lives as adults.

That’s probably not the first picture you conjure when you hear the phrase “at-risk youth”, but it’s the one that came to my mind. It may not be popular to approach this topic from a biological standpoint, but there is a meaningful truth in this perspective. If the “risk” you are referring to is death, that is something that youths face as much as anyone. Death is certain for all of us, and no one is guaranteed adulthood. The human species, however, is far from the threat of extinction. Our population is dominating the globe, in fact. So, “at-risk youth” is not about the peril of the demise of our race. I believe it is much more about social and behavioral dangers than biological ones. This is where we can be optimistic. We can create and control our societies and our behaviors much more readily than we can our biological tendencies.

What does it mean to “survive” to adulthood in our society? How do we measure the success of childhood? Certainly benchmarks in health, education, safety, justice, self-reliance and freedom come to mind. We set standards and often cast about for whom to blame if they are not met. Aren’t our children entitled to these milestones? Are they goals to strive toward if not guaranteed rights? And what about the risk of “merely” surviving?

My youngest child is now an adult. She has survived the death of her father. She has survived self-destructive behavior due to depression. She has survived being institutionalized in the mental health care system. She has survived living in the third largest city in this nation, finding a job and supporting herself. She has survived coming out as queer and has proudly announced her engagement to another wonderful young woman. Her survival of everyday panic, anxiety and body-image crises is chronicled in her Facebook updates. While all of this is great success that I do not mean to diminish, I keep wondering, “Is the mere survival of the hazards of our society the best our young people can hope for?” My daughter is highly intelligent. She is a naturally talented singer and dancer. She is passionate about history and poetry and science. I fear there is a great risk that these traits may remain embryonic throughout her lifetime because she is so focused on navigating social pressures – in a culture that is probably the most economically and socially privileged one on the planet!

That our systems erect road-blocks to social survival and detour our young people from paths of true greatness is a profound risk, I believe. Read the poem “The Truly Great” by Stephen Spender. I get to this stanza, and I am openly weeping.

“What is precious is…

…Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother

With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.”

We can so easily provide food, shelter, and opportunity to our youth with the systems we have devised, but those systems have become mine fields where kids are sabotaged on the journey. We have become so enamored of control that we have hobbled love and freedom and self-worth, and our young people will always be the most vulnerable to that constriction. Their symptoms are obvious. They are fighting to survive amid an abundance that mocks spiritual destitution. The Dalai Lama commented on his first visit to America that the thing that surprised him the most about Westerners was that so many suffered from a sense of low self-esteem. He’d never heard the term up until then, but everyone he asked agreed that it effected them.

Our young people have the best advantage for living long biological lives. If they are to live good, happy lives as well, we all must take responsibility for creating caring social space within our psyches and our communities. We need to nurture and model the spirit of social justice from the ground up AND from the top down. We need to encourage and not criticize; we need to live as models, not as victims. One of my favorite examples of a person who dispels social danger with kind communication is Fred Rogers. He takes time; he is present; he sees truth and speaks love. Here is an excellent illustration of that.  And a great example of modeling fairness and social progress from the top down can be found in this video about the new Prime Minister of Canada.

We will never be finished addressing the social risks facing our youth. They will be new every moment. If we take up the challenge to face each of those moments with awareness and a commitment to justice and kindness, though, we can be confident that we are living out the remedies even as problems continue to arise.

Renewed Like an Eagle – Spiritual Lessons from Nature

Do you remember when your baby teeth fell out? Do you have any memories of being without central incisors, lisping and whistling when you spoke, unable to bite into an apple or an ear of corn? How much do you remember of the physical changes associated with your passage through puberty?

Would you ever choose to re-live those changes? (I imagine in response a loud chorus of ‘Noooo!’ and laughter.)

Why do we find change so awkward and uncomfortable? Why do we imagine a state of perfection achieved and unchanged, and why is that stasis desired? Consider this: change is natural; metamorphoses are observed and documented in every species — birth, maturation, reproduction, aging, death, decay, absorption, and birth. All around us there is a process of movement, going from one thing to another, losing some properties and gaining others. This is Life. It is dynamic; it is not good or bad; it is. Often, however, we decide we like where we are. We want to stay put. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. But we are, in fact, stuck, and it takes a great deal of energy to stay there, resisting the current of Life all around. We feel drained, exhausted, spent, sapped, worn out. We want to feel the flow of energy again, but in order to do that, we must make a change. Fear holds us back. This is a pivotal point of decision – we must choose Change to choose Life.

The Old Testament talks about having youth renewed like the eagles’, about mounting up with wings as eagles and being borne on the wings of an eagle. Golden eagles populated the Holy Land, and their lifespans were observable to the ancient poets. I have seen bald eagles in the wild on a few occasions now, but not before I was 45 years old. What do I know of an eagle’s life? I did a little research. Southwestern Bald Eagle Management told me “In their five year development to adulthood, bald eagles go through one of the most varied plumage changes of any North American bird. During its first four weeks of life, an eaglet’s fluffy white down changes to a gray wooly down. At about five weeks, brown and black feathers begin to grow. It becomes fully feathered at 10 weeks of age. In its first year, the mostly dark-colored juvenile can often be mistaken as a golden eagle. However, the bald eagle progressively changes until it reaches adult plumage at five years. Notice in the pictures how its dark eye lightens throughout its first four years of life until it becomes yellow. Also, see how its beak changes from gray-black to a vibrant yellow. It is believed that the darker, more mottled plumage of a young eagle serves as camouflage, while the white head and tail announce that it is of breeding age.”

Renewal is for the purpose of maturity. It is not about going back to a juvenile state. It is about soaring with the movement of Life toward the next place of energy. It is not about resuscitation; it is about resurrection. We shall all be changed.

My daughter recommended to me a book titled Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The author is a medical doctor and a gerontologist. He tackles the real and practical implications of growing old and dying in this culture: nursing homes, DNR orders and advance directives, heroic life-saving surgeries, hospice and what it is to live with meaning and dignity. This book terrified me. I read it in small doses. It made me face denial and delusions head on. It was not a comfortable read, but I would recommend it to anyone. It puts Change in the forefront and invites you to get real. I would not have been able to read it 7 years ago, right after my husband died. I wasn’t ready. The book I read then that helped me to accept change was Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart (which I recently discovered is a phrase from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”).

Where are you in the flow of Life? Where are you stuck? What are you afraid of when you face Change? How have you embraced Maturity? How have you run from it? What images of Peace in harmony with Change are meaningful to you? These may be your symbols of Renewal.  Here are a few of mine:

© 2015, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

This article is featured in the blog magazine The ‘B’ Zine.  Please click on the Zine link to view the rest of the Renewal volume and support my Into the Bardo & Beguine Again colleagues!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Scale

What a great thing to contemplate: scale.  How overwhelming our lives become when our scale references are distorted!  For example, how imposing our thoughts can seem on the landscape of our lives.   My daughter gave me an illustration of this: imagine someone holding a large book in front of your face and asking you what you saw.  You’d see the book and maybe a bit of the room from your peripheral vision.  Now, if you moved the book to one side, you’d still see the book, but you’d also see more of the room.  It’s hard to make thoughts go away, but you can take them out of the forefront.  That’s what meditation is about — being aware of your thoughts, but not letting them dominate your view.   We make so many mountains out of mole hills in this culture.  There is so much OMG; like MSG, it can make us feel lousy.  Media hyper-activity and fear-mongering is like that, I think.  We need to dial down the lens, deflate our egos, maintain a humble perspective.  We are one leaf on a vast and robust tree of life.   We are beautiful; the tree is beautiful.  We are not greater than or less than the rest. 

© 2015, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Scale

80 Years in Eight Days — Day Number Four: 10 Parenting Principles

If you’re just visiting this blog for the first time, you’ve stepped into the fourth day of my birthday project for my mom, who is turning 80 years old on New Year’s Eve.  Today’s list of 10 things is about Parenting Principles.  My mother is, naturally, my primary example of mothering.  She and I both became parents for the first time at the age of 22.  She raised 5 children to adulthood; I raised 4.  Wisdom doesn’t come with numbers or statistics, though.  Wisdom comes in the actual practice of decision-making in love.   It’s not about adopting a “right way”, it’s about living out of your values and making choices that you deem appropriate.  Keeping that in mind, here are 10 ideas of mothering that Mom communicated to me over the years.

1) Your marriage comes first.  This piece of advice she always attributed to her mom.  The simple logic is this: your family starts out with just the two of you and will end up with just the two of you.  That twosome is the foundation for all that happens in the middle.  Obviously, this arrangement isn’t what everyone chooses or how events transpire for all.  But in the throes of child-rearing, it helps to keep a perspective on who you want to be.  If you want to be all about the kids, then it’s likely they will grow up happily at center-stage and leave happily stage left, and you’ll be left standing unhappily onstage with a stranger.  Keep the action going between you, and let the other characters come and go.

1989b

2) Learn to feed yourself before feeding your family.  This is like the airline adage, “Place the mask over your own nose and mouth before assisting other passengers.”  After her wedding, my mother immediately took up the challenge of feeding her new husband “in the manner to which he was accustomed”, meaning that she taught herself how to make recipes handed down from his nurse/nanny, Agnes.  Her time of early experimentation and solid study in the culinary arts led to her success as an accomplished gourmet later.  I had planned to have 5 years of marriage under my belt before attempting motherhood, but  I got pregnant 4 months after the wedding.  I was immediately nauseated by the smell of food before I’d even learned how to cook on my own.  I lost weight in the beginning of the pregnancy and rapidly after the baby was born.  Postpartum depression reduced me to 98 pounds while I was trying to breastfeed.  I was literally struggling for survival.  Bottom line: learn to cook and eat, even if it seems like the last thing you want to do. 

3) Prepare for delivery.  My mother is a model of responsibility in many ways, not the least of which is her health.  She educated herself about her body and her options in childbirth and made her decisions with my father, I’m sure, but not based on his participation.  He was not ready to be one of those Sensitive New Age Dads who goes to Lamaze or presides in the delivery room.  He stayed at home in 1957, 1959, 1960, 1962 and in 1973.  I’m sure he had other options by the last birth, but his choice was to let my mom “carry on”.  For her first four births, she had her labor induced.  Why?  Well, she was living on the Marblehead Neck and could be separated from the mainland by a storm at any time.  She prepared. 

4) Breasts have a clear purpose.  In America in the ’50s, scientists tried to impress society with  ‘modern’ and ‘better’ ways to live.  It was all about innovation and technology and product placement.  Sound familiar?  Mom wasn’t buying.  She was also not washing and sterilizing and mixing formula.  She had the correct equipment already on hand, thank you.  And she intended to use it.  And when she turned 50 and the doctors told her that her equipment was sprinkled with carcinoma in situ, she said, “Well, I’m not going to worry myself into a state while that progresses in any way.  I’m done using them.  Take them away.”  She’s 30 years cancer free.  A survivor, a pragmatist, an example of responsibility to me.

5) Cotton is best.  It’s natural, it breathes, and it doesn’t irritate your skin.  Use cotton diapers, cotton balls and cotton clothing.  No plastic diapers or synthetic wipes or flame-retardant coating.  Following Mom’s advice, I used a diaper service that delivered fresh, clean cotton diapers to my home every week when I was raising babies in California and Illinois in the late ’80s and early ’90s.  I was amazed to find 4 years ago that there are NO diaper services AT ALL in metropolitan Milwaukee any more.

6) There’s always room for one more, especially in your heart.  This is an attitude of abundance and inclusion that is very generous and non-anxious, which I like.  However, with 7 billion people flooding the global eco-system these days, it begs careful examination and consideration.  Make your decisions accordingly.  Mom gave me some “outside of the box” advice when baby number 4 came along while we were still living in 1050 square feet of house in Southern California.  Lacking another bedroom, another crib, or even another bassinet, The Domestic Engineer suggested we could always pull out the bottom dresser drawer and line it with blankets or use the bathtub. 

1985b

7) Don’t think you’re too old for one more, either.  My mother gave birth at 39 to her last child.  The gap between me and my brother is just 3 days short of 11 years.  Everyone was surprised, even Mom, but the pregnancy was never ‘an accident’, and she finally had a son.  You’re never too old for one more plot twist as well.  I became pregnant after my husband had had a vasectomy, when my youngest was 6.  It was certainly unexpected, but I was thrilled.  I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks, which was not entirely anticipated, either.  Stay light on your feet.

8) Never miss a teaching opportunity.  When my brother was borne home from the hospital, I was 11 years old and my sisters were 13, 14, and 16.  We were ripe to learn babysitting skills at least and mothering skills for the future.  It went over well with prospective employers to tell them that I had been helping care for an infant at home for a year before I started babysitting other children.   As my brother grew, I watched my mother’s parenting from a different perspective.  I noted how much time she took with him, reading to him, letting him explore, listening to his talk, getting involved in his schooling, etc.  I saw patience and willingness and diligence and, yes, worry.  Parenting is not easy; it is complicated, and it requires effort.  But it is rewarding on many levels. 

9) Even worst case scenarios are teaching opportunities.  My mother has survived the number one stress on the parenting list.  On any list.  The death of a child.  Alice was technically an adult at 20, but she was still my mother’s child.  She was driving from California to Ohio to begin her senior year at college.  Alice fell asleep at the wheel in Nebraska, going 80 mph on Interstate 80, rolled the car and was killed instantly.  I was her only passenger.  I saw my mother’s grief first hand, also her capability.  She flew out on several connecting flights to reach me the morning after the accident.  She comforted me in my confusion and shock and made all the legal and practical arrangements to get us back to California.  She navigated the complex waters of all of the ripples and storms caused in that one, tragic moment with grace, with authentic grief, and with compassion for everyone affected.  Somehow, she did all this without a therapist, too.  I think she’s always been good at knowing herself, at learning and communicating, and at being patient and allowing healing to arise.  That makes for good parenting, for your children and for your own inner child. 

Mom (photo credit: DKK)

Mom (photo credit: DKK)

10) Trust yourself.  A happy family isn’t beyond you.  Just remember, you have to allow your idea of “happy” to be fluid.  My mother came to the dinner table one night before my sister was killed, and recounted a visit with some door-to-door evangelists.  She had told them proudly that we already had a “happy Christian family”.  Many things changed beginning that night and afterward that challenged that idea, many more than I can go into here.  Nevertheless, my mother remains happy with her family.  That is her, again, taking responsibility.  She is not a complainer.  She is not dogmatic about attachments and expectations.  She allows herself to create, co-create and re-create happiness as life unfolds.  Her progeny goes beyond the children she has produced to a host of other projects.  Parenting is about life-giving and life-nurturing, a worthy work for a lifetime.  I think my mom is doing a great job….still.  

The family

photo credit: Steve

 

 

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Inside My Head: Fear

I noticed it right away.  My heart beat faster and my thoughts proliferated out of control.  Every twinge of muscle, of intestine, of nervous skin was magnified.  I wanted to run, to turn back the clock, to un-make this reaction.  I struggled to assert my Rational brain.  “Emotional reactions are not the Truth.  They are a human phenomenon, but they are not Right or Wrong.”  How do I act, what are my choices, given this rising tide of Fear?  I immediately decide on Function.  I later decide on Communication.  I notice that when I begin to dismantle the wall of Function, I feel very vulnerable.  My nose prickles, my eyes moisten.  I entrust myself  to a Listener.  I dare myself to be Honest. 

fearFear is at the dinner table, and we let it talk.  It is mostly about The Unknown.  What will happen?  What will my options be?  Will it hurt?  I am uncomfortable.  I squirm.  I weep.  I want to flee, but I stay put.  I keep talking.  Memories of pain join the conversation.  I don’t want to return to that place.  I realize that I can’t return to that place.  Each place is different.  Life moves forward; we flow with it.  Now that my emotions and thoughts are freed from repression, I feel movement in myself.  It is comforting.  I am unstuck, calmer.  And exhausted.  How much energy it takes to be afraid!  I will sleep, and use my energy differently tomorrow.

© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Photography 101: Glass

Glass. 

Half full, half empty.  Worn and washed up on the beach. 

“Land Ho!”  “Pass me the glass! No, not that one, the telescope!” 

Through a glass, darkly.  Nose to the pane.  The ceiling.  Don’t throw stones.

Cool and transparent, insulating, sparkly…glass is all around.  I look through it all day long, even when I’m outside and have for years.  I remember leaving the optometrist’s showroom with my first pair of glasses on.  I looked up to the foothills and saw leaves on the trees up there.  Suddenly, there was depth and contrast in the distance.  It was a miracle.  The first time I looked through a microscope was a miracle, too.  I imagine indigenous people finding obsidian and cutting their fingers on it, rejoicing.  What stuff! 

I feel my life getting dull.  I’ve been working hard at the book-selling business, rather repetitively.  I need to wake up to the scintillating delight of life.  This is a perfect visual reminder!

My Personal Titanic

From manic to panic

to sinking, slowly,

letting go, breathing with the flow,

the end of woe,

the bliss of weightlessness,

the natural company of fish.

It’s been kind of a crazy week inside my head. Steve admitted to being a little scared of me.  It started out on a real high – Valentine’s Day.  I was full of positive energy, on my biological upswing, energetic and eager to communicate my passions, my dreams, my optimism.  I went face-to-face with Steve’s downswing and asserted my intent not to be the killjoy in his life or the cause for his anxieties. “Go ahead, follow your bliss and don’t worry about explaining it to me!  I’d rather come home to a mess in the living room and you deep into an exciting project than be greeted by restrained order and depression.”  I went face-to-face with a family issue the next day, emotionally charged and endlessly repercussive, feeling open to multiple possibilities and honestly vulnerable. My karma was kickin’, I thought.  My vibes were sure to cause some awesome progress in the near future. 

The next day was a Federal holiday, but I was at work at the museum and anticipating starting lessons with a new student directly after my shift.  Families with kids home from school opted not to venture out, however, because of a huge snowstorm in the forecast.  The staff was dismissed at 2pm because the place was so empty.  I drove 2 co-workers home in a complete white-out and was barely able to maneuver my car into the driveway through ankle-deep snow.  I decided to cancel my lesson, hoping my new client wouldn’t mind.  She never called me back.  I began to doubt my decisions. 

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The next day, I bundled up boxes of books for shipping and headed out the door for work, running a little late in order to get the last package included.  Sitting in the driver’s seat, I noticed there was still snow crusted on the windshield wipers.  I pulled the door handle to pop out and clear them off, but nothing happened.  I thought perhaps the door was frozen.  I pushed with my shoulder.  Nothing. “I’m trapped!” I phoned Steve in the house.  He told me that he had a similar difficulty the night before when he returned from shoveling at his mom’s house. “Just roll down the window and open the door from the outside,” he suggested.  The window is frozen.  I finally squeeze my way out the passenger door into a snow pile and meet Steve in the driveway.  “When? Why? What do I do?” I’m late to work, and I don’t know if my window will thaw in time to let me collect a ticket and enter the parking garage without parking the car and climbing out the other side.  What if the gate closes on me?  And I REALLY have to pee!  I arrive at work late, flustered and cramped.  I wonder why Steve didn’t mention this door issue to help me prepare.  Is this a small fire?  Why am I feeling angry and unsettled?  We talk at dinner, and I tell him my plan to slow down, breathe and concentrate on my bliss the next day. 

My shift starts slowly, sun streaming through the windows, small family groups perusing the museum.  Suddenly, the school groups arrive.  I will be calm and proactive.  I will greet them all and give them information and safety rules and smile.  But they’re arriving one on top of another, and not listening to me!  I whirl around and lunge at a girl going head first down the ladder and drive my knee into the boards of the ship.  Ouch!  Can’t think about that now, I’m still talking to this other group…and I realize I’m talking so fast that I can’t breathe.  My chest is constricting.  Asthma? Heart attack? No, you’re still talking.  Stop talking and take a breath, you fool! 

I am panicked.  I am going way too fast.  Where is my Willy Wonka detachment? “Stop, don’t, come back…”  I am addicted to my thoughts (as Eckhardt Tolle would say), to my ego, to my responsibility, and it’s causing me to suffer.  I need to let go and get grounded once more.  My knee throbs.  I can’t walk.  I must slow down now.  I have no other option. 

I had my first lesson with another new voice student last night.  It went very well.  I rang the wrong doorbell initially; I don’t think it hurt my client’s first impression too much.  Steve and I had planned to go to Madison to take a class at the arboretum this morning, but with a “wintry mix” of snow, sleet, and rain on the roads, we decided to stay home.  Initially, this was one more disappointment in my Manic to Panic downfall, but it dawned on me that I could choose to look at it as an opportunity.  An opportunity to really slow down.  To sink.  Like the Titanic. 

It’s a very real, natural environment down here.  Nothing is “good”, “bad”, “successful” or “progressive” among the fish.  It simply is.  Things happen.  Fish eat fish, waves come and go, and any drama is simply in my head.  I meditate on plankton, sucking in and gushing out, enriched by the flow, going along.  I’m staying here for a while.  I’ll let you know when (and if) I surface.

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Media and Mania

My laptop perches on my warmly-wrapped lap. Sunshine covers the foot of the bed. Outside my window, sparrows twitter in the snow-dusted branches. Steve and I tap our separate keyboards, sending muffled punctuations from our two upstairs rooms into the tranquil space of our “treehouse” among the maples. It’s Monday morning, and we’re back at work, like so many others in this nation and unlike them at the same time.

 Last night, in a nod toward the culture around us, we watched half of the Super Bowl – not on a TV because we don’t own one. Oddly enough, we were able to view it on this screen. It’s been a while since I looked through that window. I recognized a lot of faces from my past encounters with the media, decades aged. (Mary Lou Retton, is that you? Kevins – Bacon and Costner, still recognizable, but changed.) The atmosphere seemed a lot more frenetic, more violent, and more stressful.

 Stress. It occurs quite naturally, of course, in physics, biology and chemistry as resistance and instability. Gravity and PMS are phenomena with which I’m quite familiar. They don’t surprise me much anymore, nor do my reactions to them. But stress occurs unnaturally in lifestyles as well, as Distress or Eustress. Philip Seymour Hoffman, found dead at 46 with a needle in his arm. Manufacturing stress, manufacturing responses – does this give us an edge? If we are “hardwired for struggle” (as Brene Brown says), can we maximize that adaptation and produce a super response? Will that response be healthy or unhealthy? Eustress, according to Wikipedia, “refers to a positive response one has to a stressor, which can depend on one’s current feelings of control, desirability, location, and timing of the stressor.” If it feels “good” to react with anger, aggression or violence to a stressor, is this healthy? If it feels “good” to respond to a stressor by self-medicating, numbing or repressing, is this healthy? If it feels “good” to elevate our molehills into mountains and complain about the weather, our weight and how busy we are, is this healthy? Are we doing ourselves a favor by pouring more stress into our system and developing collateral pathways that will make us more resilient? Or are we taxing our capacity to the point of rupture?

 My husband died from coronary artery disease, brought on by undiagnosed diabetes. Stress did help him develop a collateral artery system in his heart that made it possible for him to survive a heart attack at age 31, but he only lived 16 more years. Beware, America. Look closely at your stress levels. Make your choices wisely.

 That is all.

© 2014 essay by Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved.