Down the Rabbit Hole

Down the Rabbit Hole, collage, 2017 by Julianna Paradisi

Why is it 2018 feels more like “2017, The Sequel, and not an actual New Year?

While I have one or two friends who’ve had an immediate change of luck, many more of us are experiencing 2018 as a poorly constructed, run-on sentence (or rambling blog post) with little progress or clear goals for the future.

Progress requires a release of perceived limitations, and expectations. The process of releasing creates tension similar to a snake shedding its skin, or a butterfly breaking forth from its chrysalis. Things become too tight and uncomfortable before breakthrough occurs.

Nearing the end of January, the growing and stretching feels more intense than in previous years, and I find myself sympathizing with Alice for choosing to follow a rather strange rabbit down a hole, without thought of where it would lead, or how she would return. “Don’t over think it, just do it.”

Choosing to go down the rabbit hole is not a characteristic of most nurses. Nurses like clear goals, something to steer towards, whether it’s gaining a patient’s trust by managing her pain, meeting discharge goals, or simply relieving a fever.

Measurable goals work in nursing. They’re admirable, and create safety.

* * *

Safety. What is safe?

As an oncology nurse navigator, and a cancer survivor, my patients and I grapple with this question daily: How to balance cancer prevention (safety) with an enjoyable and fulfilling life?

If you believe the answer is easily found in NCCN guidelines, and AJCC recommendations, you are most likely not a cancer survivor. Being a cancer survivor is “going down the rabbit hole.”

* * *

Being an artist and writer demands a willingness to go down the rabbit hole; a comfort level with uncertainty.

The challenge of life is learning to live somewhere on the continuum between safety, and recklessness.

Hank Stamper, the burly central character in Ken Kesey’s epic novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, about Oregon’s logging industry, argues towards recklessness:

“Hank would have been hard put to supply a reason himself, though he knew it to be true that Lee’s presence at the Snag tonight was important to him…maybe because the kid needed to see first-hand what kind of world was going on around his head all the time without him ever seeing it, the real world with real hassles, not his fairy book world of his that him and his kind’d made up to scare theirselfs with.”

* * *

Progress begins by asking questions.

What is safe? What is reckless? Should a predictable outcome dictate the beginning of a new enterprise?

An explorer would answer, “No.”

Alice returned from Wonderland, having viewed strange, new perspectives, and with a bunch of great puns. I assume she counted it a good experience, because she went back for a second trip Through the Looking Glass.

Here’s to going down the rabbit hole, and leaving 2017 behind.

 

 

 

 

 

Plateaus, New Goals, & My First Failure of 2018

2017 was a challenging year for me in many ways, some good, some not so much, but it ended positively.

In October, I had opportunity to show ten new paintings where I work, part of an exhibition titled Healers, Artists, and Breast Cancer Survivors. A local TV news station covered it. Around the same time, I was interviewed for a local magazine, also about being an artist, oncology nurse navigator, and breast cancer survivor. I admit, I felt very good about both, because 2017 was a difficult time for pursuing my goals as an artist.

Part of the hospital exhibit was an artist talk. I spoke about how my arts career was launched when I completed cancer treatment, and was told I had a 32% chance of dying in 10 years from disease recurrence. Blah, blah, blah, I decided if I were to die in 10 years there were three things I wanted to do:

  • Become an artist
  • Fall deeply in love with, and be deeply loved by the same person
  • Give people reasons to say nice things about me when I die.

As I spoke these words to the audience, I realized I have achieved the first two of the three, and it’s too soon to know the outcome of the third. I need new life goals.

I spent the past weekend reflecting on what these new life goals should be. I did some deep soul work, and came up with new intentions. They include questions I’m hoping to have the answers to this time next year. I’m not going to write them here. They’re personal.

I started 2018 with a bang. I spent time with some of my closest family, which  was a goal for 2018 (there’s a difference between yearly goals and life intentions). Afterwards, I went to my barre class, and the instructor talked about breaking plateaus. That resonated for me. I’ve reached a plateau in my life goals. 2018 will be the year to break through.

I came home from that class ready to write a post for this blog about how to know if you’re stuck in your life goals, and methods to get unstuck. I was on fire.

The too long knitted sleeve photo by Jparadisirn 2018

I forgot to mention, I began knitting a sweater last week. I’m a pretty good knitter, but the pattern I chose, though it builds on skills I’ve gained by making smaller projects, is the most complex pattern I’ve worked. It’s knit from the bottom up, beginning with the sleeves, which are joined to the body of the sweater before making the yoke. I’ve been working on the first sleeve for several days. It’s over a foot long.

That’s when I noticed it’s too long to accommodate the rest of the rows needed to make the remaining necessary stitch increases. I re-read the pattern. I had misunderstood the increase rows sequence. Now I have to rip out all of the knitting I’ve done, and start over. Arrgh!

I felt defeated, the wind let out of my sails. It’s the first day of 2018, and already I’ve made a mistake!

Then it came to me: That’s how plateaus are broken. You try something new, and you’re not good at it yet, so you make a mistake, maybe more than one. You have to start over, and keep trying until you get it right. That’s how you get unstuck. That’s how progress is made.

I haven’t ripped out the stitches yet. I decided to write this post first. I feel better because I did. I feel motivated to rip out all those hours of knitting, and start over.

2018 is going to be a transformative year.

 

A Meditation on 15 Minutes

The problem with committing to writing or drawing something for 15 minutes every day isn’t finding the time to do it. The problem is convincing yourself that 15 minutes is worth the effort in the first place, which is funny if you think about it. I mean, if you were starting an exercise program for the first time, 15 minutes would feel like an impossible amount of time to run in place or around a track. 15 minutes of laps in a pool would be a goal of achievement to an out of shape swimmer. Hell, meditating quietly for 15 minutes is hard to do for the initiate. But for an artist or writer, 15 minutes of creating something feels barely worth the effort. For most artists and writers, (notice I did not say bloggers, a genre of creatives who often boast about how fast they can whip together a post) it takes 15 minutes of staring into space or working out a puzzle just to limber our minds enough to type a thoughtful sentence or paint a meaningful stroke on canvas. Once it’s in place, we are known to again stare into space, read, or work a puzzle for another length of time before inspiration strikes and the next sentence or gestural stroke is generated. 15 minutes? Why bother?

ink drawing by Julianna Paradisis 2015

ink drawing by Julianna Paradisis 2015

Here’s what I’ve discovered in a few days about committing to writing or drawing for 15 minutes everyday: during my waking hours, whether home or at work, I now find I am thinking about what I plan to create when I get home and set the kitchen timer for 15 minutes. This post in fact, began vaguely in my head sometime after lunch today while I was at work. By the time I came home and ate dinner, I couldn’t wait to get to my computer and start writing. How did this happen?

Actually, I already know the answer. It’s because what you focus on expands (Wayne Dyer). It’s very New-Agey to talk about intention, and mindfulness, but intention and mindfulness are euphemisms for “Pay attention!” as in when you were a little kid and your mom or dad yanked you by the arm out of the way of something or someone, and hissed, “Pay attention!” Or maybe you weren’t spanked as a kid, and instead your teacher dropped a book on your desk in front of you because you were daydreaming and not following along with the rest of your class, and then said loudly, “Pay attention!” until someone complained about that teacher, and now when someone doesn’t pay attention someone else makes a new rule and everybody has expend for the kid who wasn’t paying attention whether or not they were.

Self-discipline, the foundation of personal progress, is like that. If you pay attention, you can accomplish almost anything, and that’s why no one should think 15 minutes everyday isn’t enough time to change a behavior. It is. Give it a try.

 

I Wish I’d Said It

You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.

Shirley Chisholm