Monday, October 29, 2012

To Live Side by Side

     Oh dear. I would apologize and repent for my prolonged blog-silence if I could guarantee it would not happen again. Alas, I can make no such promise and only do my best to retrieve the metaphorical ball, which has been dropped innumerable times before. I can assure you that I have been gainfully employed by other significant undertakings, such as applying to and beginning grad school. At the moment, I am nestled in shoebox-size Cambridge apartment, waiting for Hurricane Sandy to go along her merry way. Hasn't anyone delivered the news of her demotion to tropical storm? Our current state of lock-down on the East Coast has afforded me the opportunity for great productivity... and consequentially, great procrastination. Appropriately, this post is a bit of both.
     As most of you know, I am in a Master's program for Expressive Therapies (technically, Expressive Therapies: Dance/Movement Therapy with a Specialization in Mental Health Counseling, but that is quite a mouthful). Though I wish sincerely I could offer you a clear, concise explanation, I am still piecing that together for myself day by day. In lieu of a neatly packaged definition, I invite you to take this journey with me, as I explore the nature of people, particularly how we move and are moved.
     The following excerpt is from a journal entry for my Theories & Practices of Dance/Movement Therapy class. For those who do not know, Norma Canner (whose article I discuss in this section) was a gifted dance/movement therapist and a founder of the Expressive Therapies program at Lesley University in 1974. She died in February of this year and I was able to attend the Norma Canner remembrance night at Lesley this fall.
     The theme that seems to be bubbling into my consciousness most this week is the tension between fragmentation and wholeness. As human beings, we experience fragmentation and disconnection on many levels, I believe: from those around us (both loved ones and unknown neighbors), amongst different (sometimes conflicting) expressions or "versions" of ourselves, and the various activities of our lives (e.g. work, play, worship, school). In many cases, the prospect of integrating all these aspects can be challenging, at best, and potentially destructive or traumatic, at worst. However undesirable its effects, dissociation sometimes serves as the brain's only option to protect itself from irreparable harm. For all of the DSM-IV Dissociative Disorders, etiology is nearly always linked to a chronic or acute stressor, particularly clinically traumatic events such as sexual abuse. In extreme cases, dissociation becomes the least of two evils. However, persistent dissociative behavior can become a maladaptive and dangerous coping mechanism.
     The reading this week, particularly Norma Canner's article, deals with fragmentation and the threats to wholeness. At first glance these issues might not seem as extreme as Dissociative Identity Disorder, where an individual cognitively creates discrete alters, but they are pervasive and often go unnamed and unnoticed. Canner speaks about two significant disconnects that we experience, especially in an industrialized, post-modern society. First, Canner states, "We are unable to live side by side with the rivers, the sea, the air, the forest, and the animals. We are destroying these life-giving resources of the earth" (p. 126). Indeed we are disconnected from much of what sustains us -- the trees and plants that fill our lungs; the plants and animals that feed us; the water that quenches our thirst, but also sustains everything, which in turn sustains us. In this age of technical advancement, we have become so detached from everything but our own immediate needs and desires. In fact, we are encouraged to be so because we think our "worth is judged by [our] possessions and achievements" (p. 126). I believe this detachment, materialism, and individualism affects us both as individuals and as a community, becoming part of what Mary Atkins (as quoted by Canner) called the "cultural unconscious."
     The second form of disconnection Canner points out is this: "We are unable to live side by side with each other. We long for a sense of community, but lack the tools to create it" (p. 126). The danger (well, one of them) of living in the United States, where independence is esteemed not only as a right but also as a virtue, is that we downplay and even reject the importance of community. Obviously a certain degree of autonomy is crucial to human development and survival, but to presume that we, as individuals or as nations, can exist as isolated, discrete bodies is not only sad but also unfounded and slightly delusional. Thus, the challenge for all of us, but especially dance/movement therapists, is to find productive, healing ways to integrate the fragments of our selves and our world. I do not agree with Canner that we don't possess the tools to create community. They are within us already, waiting to be realized.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

veggie delight

 Slowly but surely I am teaching myself to cook... mostly with vegetables because they are forgiving and if somehow you do something truly atrocious, balsamic vinegar can fix it. During a recent baking experience, my sister explained to me that the order in which you add things actually does matter... news to me! Thankfully, I've found that most other cooking seems to allow more room for spontaneity, creativity and, well, mistakes. For Christmas, I gave my mom a voucher for a "vegetable feast" because I'm on a mission to cram as many antioxidants, vitamins, and generally healthful things into our bodies as possible. Tonight, as the fulfillment of my Christmas promise and in celebration of my mama's birthday, I made ratatouille -- a dish I honestly didn't know existed until Remy whipped it up in the delightful 2007 Disney/Pixar animated film.

Though originally a French recipe, ratatouille is anything but ostentatious or stuck-up. Although the process is about 1.5 hours long, this vegetarian meal can last for days and is well worth the time and energy. You should start by simmering the tomato base with some garlic and basil, while chopping the assortment of veggies as haphazardly as you desire. In my stewy version I included eggplant, zucchini, onions, and bell peppers. In order to showcase their unique flavors, it is advisable to cook each vegetable separately and then add them to the simmering tomato mixture for the final few minutes. And then we spread the deliciousness over a bed of jasmine rice.

In one of the many entertaining scenes in Ratatouille, Linguini remarks, "Ratatouille doesn't sound delicious. It sounds like 'rat' and 'patootie.' Rat-patootie, which does not sound delicious." However unappetizing its name might be, your tastebuds will not be misled -- try it and believe! I don't know if I would have passed Anton Ego's test, but I think my family enjoyed it... am I right or am I right?

As I lie in bed, the scent of a successful Sunday and scrumptious meal hits me... yes, fresh garlic on my fingertips.

Monday, January 30, 2012

when words fail us

Working at a residential placement for teenage girls with serious emotional and behavioral disorders, I am challenged every day by frustration, anger, fear, and disappointment. Unexpectedly, it is not my own, but theirs: the frustration after she studied and still failed a test; the anger when her mom announced she is moving to another state; the fear that she will never have a real home again; the disappointment from finding out her court date has been pushed back. I have seen girls so desperate to release their escalating emotions that they break windows, slap each other, and even cut themselves. As a student of psychology, I understand that destructive behaviors like these are genuine yet inappropriate attempts to regulate emotions or “big feelings,” as a former supervisor calls them.

Despite this psychological explanation, I am still amazed by the extent to which relational and personal experiences can be felt in an intensely physical way. After returning from a difficult home visit, one of our residents dissolved into a violent breakdown, during which she confirmed my developing theory that emotional experiences are deeply connected to physical reactions. While clutching her stomach tightly, she shouted to anyone who would listen, “I have this anger inside of me, here.” Minutes later, she swung a broom at the office window. Oftentimes we discourage such physical reactions and suggest that others use their words to communicate. However, there are moments when words fail us and we can no longer articulate with language what is happening or how we feel. Acknowledging the limits of verbal communication, we must ask this question: How can we express ourselves without speaking? And from there, let your creativity take over...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

keep breathing

Last night as I drove home from my Pilates class, I joined thousands of other Southern Californians in watching a truly gorgeous sunset. I have been lucky enough to see grand forests full of moss-covered trees, rocky crags along the ridges of towering volcanoes, and blindingly white sandy beaches that arc into an eternity of clear blue... but the sight of nectarine and rose-colored streaks across the sky on this random Tuesday in January took my breath away.

There are times when we feel so overwhelmed and lost that nothing can calm us, bring us back to life. We flail in this violent sea, barely treading fast enough to come up for air.

And then when we least expect it, the battle stops. Perhaps momentarily, but that is all it takes. To remember who we are and where -- to keep going.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Picture from Northern Ireland You Never Thought You'd See



Our group met and knew William "Plum" Smith and Jackie McDonald. Also, I walked by that mural on the Falls at least every day, going to the gym!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Closer to Home

I cannot believe I've been home for nearly two weeks. The landscape of Belfast's city centre had become more familiar than the Los Angeles skyline, but I sighed contentfully at the sight of the palm tree-lined grid of streets and the jam-packed freeway lanes. I had already indulged in a McDonald's cone at the Newark airport (they must use a different formula in the UK!) and now all that was left to be desired was my bed. Of course I was excited to see my mom and let her kiss me alot, but after that all you really want after a 24-hour travel day is a warm shower and BED. Wish granted at approximately 9pm PT!

And then I woke up at 2pm...Belfast time. It took a few days to adjust, but you'll be relieved to know I am not waking up with the sun anymore.

Over the past several days, I've tried to explain many things to family and friends, including DukeEngage, Northern Ireland, the Troubles, my role at Lisburn PSP. All of these have come to mean so much to me that sometimes I can't find the right words to represent them wholely. However, one of the most challenging questions came from my incredibly perceptive and intelligent grandfather, who asked, "In what way were you, as American students, able to contribute where you were working?" This is certainly a question with which I wrestled throughout the program. Sometimes I was concerned that I was gaining more from the experience than I was giving in return. What I learned is that for many people, it is natural to identify needs that can be filled, but it is more challenging to step back, soak up the environment, listen to people, and learn by following. Following?! Yes, a long-lost art among overachieving, motivated college students, but it seems to me a skill for true service that is equally important to leading.

Leadership + followership = service.

After you recover from being awestruck by my profound equation for service, I will tell you something else I learned. From working with the people at Lisburn PSP and the community centre, I saw firsthand that people sustain energy for a project or cause in which they are truly invested. Today, the "trend" seems to be international service, which I am not trying to discourage by any means. But we also need to remember that our greatest value often lies in what we know. We have the most significant working knowledge about the communities where we've spent the most time and the people with whom we have formed relationships. It's interesting that my international DukeEngage experience taught me the importance of looking closer to home for ways to transform my skills and knowledge into action.

My sincere endeavor now is to keep my eyes and ears open. There's a lot of world outside of Duke University and it not's separate from us. We are part of the world. Just tonight, NBC aired a Dateline special with Ann Curry, entitled "America Now - Friends & Neighbors," which focused on a town in southeastern Ohio and the severe poverty that has been intensified by the recession of the past few years. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38382773/ns/dateline_nbc-america_now) There are few adults who are lucky enough to obtain a mininum-wage job because company after company has gone under. Fourteen people living in 4 rooms, children sleeping on the floor, parents going hungry for days to feed their kids, local food banks nearly closing due to funding withdrawal -- all of this within a few miles of people who singlehandedly could afford to support several of these families with money they wouldn't feel missing from their bank accounts. This is America. And the uppercrust which has no personal experience with this kind of poverty is the smallest minority in the world.

So, whoever you are and wherever you are, keep thinking, listening, and (when appropriate) acting.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Week 8: The Final Days

Before you say it, I know it's been longer than a week since my last post! My absence is due to our busy schedule during our last couple of weeks in Belfast lest you think I was running out of things to say / write about. Now the difficulty will be pouring out everything out of this full noggin...

I am finally at the point where I knew the bus schedules and ice cream selection at various corner stores by heart and even count out 76 pence in change (the exact amount of a Twister) without getting flustered by all the coins. And now we're leaving. I would be lying if I said (typed?) that I didn't miss home - because I do. But Belfast has become yet another pseudo-home, complete with favorite places and new friends. My list of pseudo-homes is growing slowly: Boston/Somerville, Durham, and Belfast. And now we're just supposed to pick up and leave?? Yes, I guess that's the deal I signed up for with this DukeEngage program. In fact, I think I had to sign something saying that if I don't leave the country at the end of 8 weeks, they will use force to get me home.

Thus, our goodbyes began. First, Mike and I had to say goodbye to Sharon and Adie-- our wonderful supervisors for the summer and managers of Lisburn Prisoners Support Project. We all worked together in the cozy Credit Union office and the close quarters fostered close working relationships. Thankfully, we got to see Sharon and Adie one last time over the weekend because Adie invited us to join his family for their community's bonfire in celebration of the Twelfth. The "Twelfth" is the Protestant celebration on the 12th of July that originally was designed to celebrate King William of Orange's victory over King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Three hundred and twenty years later, I highly doubt that people (especially younger generations) are still celebrating this triumph. Now it is a deeply-rooted tradition that starts with the burning of massive bonfires on the Eleventh night and ends with a day-long parade of Orangemen and bands through Belfast (and other cities in Northern Ireland). The "marching season" is fairly tense because TONS of flags are flown, including some paramilitary emblems (although the number has decreased signifcantly in recent years) and because the marches pass through many neighborhoods, including some Catholic ones. The route of a lawful march has to be approved the Parades Commission, who try to accomodate the Orangemen's (Protestant) desired route while respecting the Catholic communities opposition to the parades going through their neighbourhoods. Sounds like civilized compromise, but both sides become embittered through this push-and-shove process. A recurring theme in Northern Ireland's history is one group feeling (rightly or wrongly) as though giving something to the others lessens what they have -- i.e. if you get more rights, ours will be limited. An interesting position to consider...

Yes, it's tradition -- but sometimes that's not a good enough reason to keep doing something. I'm sure you can think of some examples without any prompts from me. All I know is that while I was appreciative of the warmth coming from the huge backyard fire, it was eerie to see the tricolor flag (of Ireland; representative of the nationalist community) burning on top. No matter what way you spin it, that's not friendly or peaceful. This is a very complicated (and dare I say heated) issue, so feel free to respond and/or ask questions.

Another goodbye we had to say was to Farset and the wonderful staff, including the manager Ruth -- who cooked me my first (and only) heart-clogging Ulster Fry. Trying the combo of fried egg, sausage, bacon, soda bread, potato bread, and beans was on my to-do list. Phew! So glad I've got that checked off now.


Finally, we are going to have to say goodbye to each other and our shared summer in Belfast. Hold up! Let's not get ahead of ourselves -- our flight doesn't leave for another 30 hours. There's still time...