Two More Videos

So…. I’ve been playing in digital storytelling all day. Someone gave me a blue stuffed elephant. She’s fanciful, and squishy, and soft and lovey. She reminds me that all of us need to engage the child-spirits inside of us. So, here’s two more. It’s been fun. In the morning, though, it’s back to writing-job-applying-article-editing-reading-book-proposal-prepping-course-planning. So, an old-school stop motion made in stopmo from the night before the lumpectomy, and a Videoscribe animation from today, the day after the lumpectomy….



worry dolls and making things

When I was a little girl, some well-traveled family friends brought me back a headband from Guatemala that was covered in tiny worry dolls wearing long jewel toned skirts and pig-tail braids. Sometimes I wore the headband, but I knew too, that the minuscule dolls were supposed to live under my pillow, and each night I was supposed to whisper worries to them for safe-keeping.

Fast-forward two decades, and I found myself at the Callanish retreat, sitting around a table listing cancer-worries. On a sheet of nice, thick, art paper- the kind that feels smooth and strong beneath your palm- I let the cursive writing flow with worries, beginning each sentence in purple and highlighting the worry with red, using, of course, those special colored fine-tipped felt pens I take everywhere. I wrote in structures, form, creating angles where the worry felt sharp, writing long lines across the sheet and criss-crossing where the worry felt like it intersected with a previous listed worry, making structures, squares, shapes out of words. All these worries of course, architectural as they were, needed a home, a home outside my body, somewhere to be safely tucked away and hidden and held tightly.

And so we made worry dolls. A basket of yarn balls was passed around, and we formed our dolls out of rough, cream-colored fabric and pipe cleaners. My hot pink gittery and zebra stripe pipe cleaners weave throughout my little doll’s arms and legs, making sure she can stand and leap and swing and sit on her knees. The rainbow ball of yarn brought her to life, tightly wound around her little body and colors seeping into one another seemlessly. I added a magenta skirt and lace belt and green worry pocket, and sized her up. Her hair grew quickly, long strands of yellow and red and orange and sparkly yarn and wool and ribbon, strands that would flutter out behind her when she flew through fairyland, hair that she could sit on in the forest in case she forget her sitting pillow. Her hands and feet were born of glass beads and hot glue, and her face remains blank, creamy cloth that invites others who encounter her to imagine, to write her face happy or delighted, terrified, scared, sad, wise, curious, hopeful, thoughtful, pensive. For certainly she is all those things, and I didn’t want to force her into being any one feeling-facial expression!

And so she took off. She became magical, as I wove her together in my hands, she came to life as I sewed a pocket onto her dress for holding worries. I knew she was a forest nymph, one who played in the morning dew drops and who was friends with all those little forest fairies. A little bit of stuffing popped out of her leg, and the white scar in her otherwise rainbow-leg was just proof she was real, real like me, a tiny body with all kinds of things to do in the world and a not-totally perfect leg.

And so I finished that little worry pocket, and I started to cut the worries from the giant art paper, and I decided the little creature’s name was Ada Mi Worry Doll, like hada in Spanish, which means fairy. And of course since I love technology and she had pipe-cleaners in her arms and I had a whole afternoon to do with as I wished, I made a stop motion animation of Ada Mi Worry Doll, and together we played on the swings and in the creek and atop the mountain, and it was SO FUN. The last few years, I do all the facilitating and not a lot of the making, and making this little doll and stop motion reconnected me to the absolutely sparkly joy of creating something and animating and storytelling in ways that are unconstrained and silly and pure. And also, there’s something therapeutic and centering in storytelling, in capturing an imaginary narrative on video, in telling a story in a format that is rough, uneven, wonky, gritty. And stop-motion is all of that, especially when it involves rainbow dolls, cancer worries, and shady river-forest.

So be kind when you watch this silly little stop motion, which I began to make a oboe-sound-track to, but did not finish. You’ll see how the sound is there and not, matches and does not, is empty and too much. I actually decided to leave it that way, because life is kind of like that. Sometimes there’s sound, and sometimes when we least expect it the volume is shut off. Sometimes the key matches, sometimes there’s dissonance, sometimes it sounds weird. Life is weird, and cancer is the weirdest part of life. So here’s the video:

It seems silly, making a worry doll and a stop-motion. But we adults need more silly. And besides, it’s not silly. It’s serious business, making and crafting and imagining and processing. The worry dolls hold a space for worry, for concern, for not-knowing– and when we can give our worries over to our little worry dolls, we make room for hopefulness (not pink ribbon hope, but gritty, grounded hope) and for playfulness, for gentle curiosity and surprising encounters. I think the wisest of us all know what children know- that making things, painting pictures, dreaming up stories, molding materials is a way to reflect our experience to the world, to give voice where words fail, to engage our playfulness in spite of the most challenging of circumstances.

What do you do with your worries? Do you hold them in your belly, shreds of fear scribbled on scrap paper and blocking the light? Do you release them in tears, and run scared like I did from my fear of death? Do you whisper them to worry dolls that live under your feather pillow?

I am grateful to have this little Ada Mi Worry Doll, with her pocket for worries. I love fantasies and magical stories, and I imagine she takes all those worries and flies around with them, until she ends up in her fairy house* in the woods (did you see it in the video? It’s made of sticks), and there she dumps all the worries, and she covers them with moss and pine needles, and she sleeps on top of them. Her little worry-doll fairy house is in the kingdom of the worry dolls, and I imagine she lives in the same tree as some of the other worry-dolls from other people on the retreat. I can see their worry dolls in my mind, each perfect reflections of the makers’ spirit, and I imagine which ones live upstairs from me, and which ones burrow underneath the trees’ roots where it is cold and damp, and which ones live down the pine needle lane. I imagine them flying with all our worries, and shaking them out each night, so we can charge forward, move on, live without them while knowing the worries are all cared for. Ah, the fantasies.

So I hope that you make things. That you imagine stories that link you to other people and experiences and worlds. That you pull out your glue and that you let your mind wander to soft yarns and cool clay and stop-motion animation. Let’s all keep creating.

*Fairy houses. It’s a thing I learned from Tajar. Tajar is a mythical camp creature, part tiger, part badger, part jaguar. Tajar loves to play tricks on people, and Tajar is insanely silly and very mischevious and so very kind. Tajar is full of love. Tajar is everyone and anyone and no one all at once, and Tajar lives at every summer camp and touches the lives of all the summer campers everywhere. So, fairy houses. Tajar told me once, when I became a camp director, that there were indeed fairies living in the woods. I didn’t believe Tajar, but Tajar promised that if I began to build tiny little fairy houses, the fairies would come. Fairy houses can be a little bit of moss and three sticks leaned against a tree, or they can be elaborate and multi-storied. Fairy houses must only be made of natural materials, and often the wind can blow them over. But if you build them, you will see the fairies, Tajar told me. So I started, and I never stopped, because Tajar was right, as Tajar always is. If you want to see the fairies, you must build fairy houses everywhere. What a magical way to bring light and sparkle into our everyday lives. Have you ever seen a fairy? If not, it’s probably time to build a fairy house.

Some videos

I’ve made lots since I had cancer, but not published any on the blog, or elsewhere, for the most part. Here are two: one from this week, one from November, just after I was diagnosed.

learning to do cancer from fb

So by now, you’ve probably seen this whole pre-mastectomy dance party video and the equally awesome responses by this woman’s friends/family/colleagues who made videos dancing themselves for her recovery. It’s kind of everywhere on Facebook. It’s kind of awesome.

I kind of don’t know what to think. On the one hand, OMG, this is SO COOL and HOW do I get my medical team to be such rock-stars like she did?!?!? And also, would MY friends make silly videos like that, too? I mean not would they exactly do what these folks did, but if I asked them to do something, would they? Am I even cool enough to think of something that amazing? Am I cool enough to party out with breast cancer instead of freaking out?

And what does it mean that this is getting passed around? She- and everyone who participated- are incredible, playful, creative, brave. But those of us posting this to our FB feed and emailing it and participating in its viral life… why? Are we so obsessed with hearing happy stories of awesome about cancer and women with cancer that we need to frantically share this so everyone knows, this is how to be with cancer? That actually, if you just try hard enough, you can think of something awesome and do it, and everyone else will follow suit, and it will be awesome and obviously, you will beat cancer? I mean, I love this so much. And I love that she did this. I just think the hyper-circulation and viral life of this pre-mastectomy video is a little unnerving. I think it’s so unnerving because the quantity of times it has shown itself on my Facebook feed seems to scream right at me, THIS IS HOW TO DO CANCER.

I’m trying to figure out how to do cancer. This woman-doctor shows us one way, a way that everyone will clap for and love and share and make viral. I know particular kinds of stories are intelligible, and others are not. Oh gawd, I’m about to go all Ranciere and the distribution of the sensible on breast cancer. I’ll spare you. But really, why this story? Why this white doctor woman with great dance moves and a big pre- mastectomy smile? She’s great. But why’d we pick her to make viral? To be the example, to spread hope, to be non-threatening and totally lovable, to beat something by dancing?

On the other hand, there’s another how to do cancer text widely passed around on FB right now. This one is much sadder. A young woman with a beer sits on a porch with her lover. They drink. And then, it seems, she gets diagnosed with breast cancer. What follows are a series of images he took of her, resting, shaving her head, pushing the morphine button, visiting with friends. And then she is gone. Her bed empty, and the rain falling on the windshield of the car. This one is heart wrenching. I know, too, this one is shared because I don’t want to be her. No one does. No one wants me to be her, either.

I still don’t know the stage of my cancer. I’m clinging instead, to the fact that its estrogen +, which means it can be treated for a long time by blocking estrogen production. But the really sobering thing, is that though I can cling to the idea of that estrogen drug, I could actually be the second woman. The woman who’s husband chronicled her illness, and her eventual death. We could all be that woman.

This one doesn’t speak to me like the mastectomy dance. The mastectomy dance shows me how to be. This one warns me of what I could be. It is a deep, dark warning. It is the warning that assures the other 5,999 people in my age group that I’ve taken the bullet for all 6,000 of us, and so they can look. They can look in horror, and then look away, look towards the dancing video. Because that is what we want, even though we never know if that is what we have.

And then of course, there’s the formidable dissertation supervisor who, a researcher working at the intersection of queer/cancer/mobility/media never fails to post something that’s neither of these narratives. It’s an interview with Lochlann Jain, who was diagnosed with cancer at 36. She writes now, researches about cancer. She discusses the confounds, the complexities, the paradoxes, the slippages. Sure, Lochlann Jain is an academic. She speaks a language that sounds good to me. It sounds familiar. It feels thoughtful and right. She even talks about feeling like people think she is aggressive for not covering her bald head. It’s a medium I understand, thoughtful, critical words woven into a larger argument that speaks both to me, as another young woman diagnosed with breast cancer, and also, it’s both personal and theoretical and critical. I want to learn how to do cancer like her, not like the other two. But it’s not viral. Too bad for that!