Keeping Dreams Alive Charity Gala 2017

“Making dream catchers is fun!” is what I thought about this year’s charity gala for South Suburban Family Shelter’s Keeping Dreams Alive charity gala for 2017. At first, I wasn’t planning on going, but my schedule opened up.

I will admit the prospect of making dream catchers became another appeal of going this year! This was my first time making a dream catcher. Oh sure, there are books that detail how to make dream catchers, but we allowed ourselves to have a “creativity workshop” so to speak, before the event to let our imaginations soar!

We had yarn, ribbons, gold hoops, satin flowers and doilies all around us, in addition to banana bread, pizza and great company to further fuel our imagination. I made the Purple Heart dream catcher. It was not easy. I wanted for the yarn to be all over the dream catcher in a web like pattern with the only hollow part being the heart. Well, that didn’t work out.

As a matter of fact, it kept not working out for three whole hours! I had the choice to either give up or come up with a new, improved and simplified design. What can I say? I love making things, so I came up with a new design: Place yarn on the heart only. Then use purple ribbon on the bottom. No one but me knows how much I had to use the glue gun and two sided tape, like one layer after the other, to make that yarn stick to the heart and the entire hoop to hold together and not fall apart. There now! Problem solved! Actor Samuel J. Jackson said, “Sometimes we suffer for our craft.”

Don’t I know it. . .

The people who had an easier time had the crochet dollies to tie onto the gold hoops. They were done with those dream catchers in thirty minutes. They were smart. Now why didn’t I think of that?

Anyway, it was a fun time as usual. I volunteered for the event. The tables looked lovely with their dream catchers. There was a dream wall with requests of needed items for the shelter. The wall had clouds and stars. There were written descriptions of our “Wall of Dreams” on each table.

Within the current political climate and our resources dwindling, our dream came true to continue to keep going, even for a night.

Gena Chiodo Fundraising Event

I had no idea of what to expect on Saturday February 27th for the Gena Chiodo fundraising event. And normally, when I have an extensive work run, I usually go to work, come straight home and go to bed. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it, but I did.

I was still wearing my nursing scrubs and uniform. People actually walked up to me and said, “Thank you for all you do.” I will admit I’ve never had that happen before and it was very nice.

Gena Chiodo was a 44 year old hair dresser. Her family had moved to Florida. She stayed behind in Illinois. She and her friends were a very close knit community. She met and lived with a man named Donald Clark. After they became involved, she became more increasingly isolated. Eventually, her friends were unable to reach her for nearly two weeks during October 2011. The police were notified. Her body was found in the woods in Indiana. One of Donald Clark’s friends agreed to wear a wire to help the police. Donald Clark confessed to the murder. He is now in Cook County Jail.

I met Gena Chiodo’s friends through my volunteer work at South Suburban Family Shelter. I was touched by their tireless commitment to raise awareness and funding for domestic violence, so I tried to make the time.

There were large posters with pictures of Gena Chiodo when she was alive near the entrance. Local businesses put together raffle baskets for auction. A photo booth was set up and the proceeds went to South Suburban Family Shelter. Both women and men wore purple t shirts that said “Stop Domestic Violence.” Those same t shirts were sold for charity.

The food was made with homemade love and delicious: fried chicken, pasta with marinara sauce, green beans, rolls, salad, chocolate chip cookies, brownies and cup cakes.

Some people were teary, which is to be expected, but for the most part, it was a very festive atmosphere. There was a 60’s cover band named The Relics playing “Hey Baby, Won’t You Be My Girl” by Bruce Channel. I adore 1960’s music. That song was one of my very favorite songs from that era.

There were women walking around in princess crowns and brightly colored feathered boas. It seemed like the message was, “It only matters what you think of yourself. Never mind people who may not recognize your brilliance. Know your own worth.”

I agree.

 

 

Chiodo event 2016Gena Chiodo Event 2

Life is Larger

Within my new job, I am working with a lot of people who are at the end of their lives. Many of them are only 15 to 20 years ahead of me in their age. Many are coupled with children and grandchildren. Machines breathe for them because they cannot breathe on their own. Machines feed them because they cannot eat on their own. Much of the time, they have a lot of pain and tend to be anxiety ridden because of their fears of the unknown.

 

It can be overwhelming to watch this type of thing day in and day out. I’ve allowed the situation to teach me about the importance of coming out of my comfort zone and what is truly important. People with backgrounds of trauma build walls around themselves to keep the outside world out. It is understandable given what previous situation they came out of. But working with this population makes me return to my own life thinking that my comfort zone may not be the thing I should always defer to after all.

Within the past week, I have noticed a few events in popular media that may have drew my attention: An article written in the New York Times about relationships and Viola Davis’ Emmy speech. Please get this right: I can appreciate loneliness just as much as I have compassion for trauma and the aftermath. Also please understand that I am happy for Viola Davis, her win and for pointing out the opportunity disparities that exist within Hollywood (Or anywhere else for that matter):

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/fashion/modern-love-quirkyalone-is-still-alone.html?_r=1

 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2015/sep/21/viola-davis-speech-2015-emmys-video

 

However, my current work assignment has also given me a very different perspective on loneliness, trauma and the fact that favor isn’t sometimes fair. One day, everyone, regardless of health status, background, relationship status, race, creed, color, religion and/or sexual orientation will have to do a life review and ask themselves if they have lived fully or if they have wasted precious time, energy, money on people, places and things that they cannot control.

 

My current work assignment has made me take better care of myself with eating the proper foods, drinking water, getting adequate rest and exercise. Otherwise, I am no good to myself or my patients. I have returned to my creative pursuits with more rigor than usual. It is especially important to the things that I set out to do because after all, I honestly do not know what kind of time I have. None of us can answer that question for ourselves really.

 

Life is larger than trauma. Life is larger than a relationship status (or lack thereof). Life is larger than secret societies that may or may not accept you. Don’t let any person, place or thing get in the way of enjoying your life. Never let anyone steal you joy. You always have yourself, your art and your spirituality to turn to. Come out of your comfort zone and do what you set out to do in this life while you can.

Sometimes You Have to Have A Moment to Fall Apart

Self care is important with a background of trauma. But having a quick moment to fall apart is especially important at times, too. And when I say a moment, I mean a quick one. It can’t become a habit and you have to remember how to put yourself back together again.

In addition to job stress, I was triggered by a song that I used to hear in my childhood that unfortunately my cousin who molested me liked. And then it came: flashback, body memories. Caca that I thought I had successfully put away with therapy and counseling. I thought wrong. I was at a family get together that I had been begged to attend, promptly left five minutes after my arrival. It wasn’t the deejay’s fault because the song is actually a good song. Old school R&B. But I had to get away. It was my day off from work. I did not want to spend it remembering trauma.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is no joke. I had been meditating regularly, spending my Whole Paycheck in Whole Foods (because I grew up on textiles and organic food thanks to my grandparents and great grandparents), but after this event, I spent my afternoon and evening crying, sleeping, eating barbeque and chocolate cake and drinking ginger ale soda. I must say, it was delicious.

Then, some friends I haven’t talked to in a long time called out of nowhere and I talked to them about my job, my plans to move out of state so I am not triggered by people, places and situations from my childhood trauma in Chicago, and how this writing project hasn’t come together they way I would like. It was as if they could sense my distress, prompting them to call. “But Paula, we are spiritual people. We can handle anything,” I was told by a well meaning friend. It was nice to be reminded.

Earlier in the week, I saw an article in O Magazine about what to do when life is unfair written by Martha Beck. She suggested telling people the truth about what is going on. So, I took the time to tell my family my PTSD triggers because they didn’t know because I never told them. My family was utterly horrified and apologetic, but it wasn’t like there was much they could do.

Tomorrow, I am trying to recommit myself to healthy things I can control, like praying and meditating, planning to getting to next year’s One Hope gala that takes place at Navy Pier for child abuse, hand sewing and getting back on my exercise schedule. I had a list of things that made me happy specifically created for times like this, but I have to remember to read it and actually do one item.

So I focused one item I knew I could master: Nature. I went outside not wearing shoes and looked up at the stars in the summer sky. There are creations in the world that are beautiful. Life simply was always not a series of unfortunate events. I finally felt better. Sometimes falling apart is good, just as long as you remember how to put yourself back together again.

25 Ways to Your Own Kind of Happy

There has been a lot written about the effects of trauma and loss, but not enough about how to put your life back together again afterwards. Believe it or not, it is possible to find joy again. While I have had my set of challenges, I am not an expert. Still, I wanted to share the following if it helps.

  1. Never forget your Higher Power (or at least the power of meditation).
  2. Commit to a healthy lifestyle. Don’t make a bad situation worse by engaging in unhealthy habits.
  3. Know your limits. Put down boundaries. Say no if you know you can’t do something.
  4. Join a support group of people who have the same issue you are having.
  5. AND/OR join a group of people who have likeminded interests.
  6. I know people who were going through a hard time that benefitted by reading The Diamond Cutter by Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally. Read any other self help books that are applicable to what you are going through.
  7. Pick up a new hobby. Working with the hands is an exercise in mindfulness and builds confidence.
  8. Discover the benefits of simple pleasures. Only you know what is best for you.
  9. Walk outside.
  10. Simplify. Declutter.
  11. Attend more cultural events like plays and concerts.
  12. Get a pet. They lower blood pressure and increase joy.
  13. Journal. The release of negative emotions on paper is powerful.
  14. Try dressing up a little more. There is no need to be a slave to fashion, but wearing something different from what you would normally reach for breaks monotony.
  15. Express your gratitude for people, places and things in your life that you love. Write it down. Read Make Miracles in Forty Days by Melodie Beattie which explains this further.
  16. Volunteer. Helping others can be wonderful.
  17. Obtain appropriate and effective therapy. Keep looking until you find the therapist and therapy that is most effective for you.
  18. Give yourself a new experience. You know trauma and loss, but do you know a new experience? Give yourself that.
  19. Do an inventory of positive memory associations from your life and see if you can build your current life around them. Read Crossing the Boundary by Melba Wilson which explains this further.
  20. Transform your limiting beliefs about the situation you have experienced. Read Loving What Is by Byron Katie which explains this further.
  21. Be patient. This isn’t easy, but if you are consistent, it can be done.
  22. Stop comparing yourself to others.
  23. Set small goals and attain them.
  24. Remember to breathe more often, especially when you feel panic.
  25. Never harshly judge yourself and/or a transition period. This too shall pass.

My Self Marriage Ceremony

“It is better to be by yourself than to be poorly accompanied.” –Judge Maria Lopez of The People’s Court

 

I married myself on Friday, July 4th, 2014, my 43rd birthday. It had been a long time coming. I married myself with one goal in mind: To expand upon and rethink, reconfigure, reevaluate, reinvent the concept of love and commitment. The first time I heard about the concept was reading the book, Succulent Wild Women by SARK. I loved the concept of it: Commit to yourself before committing to someone else. I first read about this concept when I was married, but it didn’t make complete sense to me until after I had gotten divorced.

I did an internet search about self marriage to obtain more information. I read article where the concept of self marriage is “narcissistic.” Again, I think the people who are writing these things have not had my life’s experiences. I personally found that as a direct result of my past experiences, self marriage was an act of radical self love, self care and self acceptance.

Within time, I had found I had achieved a state of pure unmitigated joy, but believe me when I tell you I wish I had known about the concept of self marriage sooner. No matter how challenging the past had been for me, I always knew that happiness was out there. I had to be patient and just keep looking until I found it. Instead of looking at what happened before, I have become more focused on the love I had in my life now: supportive family, friends, my artistry and a job that fulfills me.

This act of self marriage gave way to letting go of people, places and things that did not honor the very best of who I was. This was already happening, so it not an overnight process. But it is interesting to note the changes that took place after my self marriage ceremony: I left a job I held for five years and fell into the job I had been wanting for years. I participated in not one, but two art instillations within a year because part of my commitment to myself also included a reclaiming of my artistic life. Self marriage was one of the many building blocks of extreme self care I’d acquired within time. Eventually, though, what I realized was that my happiness, sadness, success or failure wasn’t dependent on any other human being. It meant that I could live the life I always wanted.

I am able to see other people who are married with children and I am sincerely happy for them and tell them so, but I am also happy for myself as well. My vows were actually the poem “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelo. I made a vision board the night of Thursday, July 3, 2014 and placed a small part of the poem on the board. I also chose pictures and sayings, like High Spirits, your special day your special way, Your story from this point forward will be legendary, The Life You Want.”

Although I was married, I never had a marriage ceremony in my life. So having one when I married myself was especially important for me. Not to be materialistic, but people seem to want to know everything I did on this day, from choosing a dress, a ring and anything else, so here it is.

It took time to find a dress on discount. It was a white halter dress with gold swirls on sale and I loved walking away with a deal. I also found white shoes on discount.

The ring was an aquamarine stone with a gold setting, again on discount. The bouquet and cake were from Whole Foods. When I told the women there what I was doing, they had never heard of the ceremony such as a self marriage, but they were greatly interested and actually more than kind when making suggestions to make the day special for me. I went with a berry cake with white frosting and red letters. They showed me pictures of their wedding bouquets, as well as had me tell them what kinds of flowers I liked. I let them know I loved sunflowers. “You have to love yourself and know who you are and what it is you want first,” the saleswoman told me behind the counter when she saw my cake and flowers.

I was able to find an appropriate crown at Party City. They have an amazing medieval section! I found a gold plated crown with fake jewels. I also talked with people close to me about my ceremony. One of my family members said, “I can see it. Frankly people need to do this preferably in the ninth grade. Get clear on who you are, what you want and what your expectations are in a relationship.”

My writer friend was invaluable on the day of the ceremony. She took pictures and did my makeup. Personally, I felt she’d done a better job that the makeup artists at M.A.C. She played jazz love songs in the background like “At Last” by Etta James and “Nightingale” by Nora Jones. After she was finished with my makeup, I felt beautiful. I am the primordial caregiver. This is my profession, but another aspect of self marriage for me is learning what is healthy dependence and learning how to receive.

She said, “Actually, I think people need to do this after they are finished with college. Like if you are going to have a bridal registry, then have one. When you get your own place, you need toasters, cookware, Tupperware and bed comforters when you move out of those college dormitories or out of your parent’s house. These are things people need on their own, like well before marriage.”

But the only problem with waiting until after college is you might meet the person you think you should marry in college. That is what happened to me. Later, I progressed to the idea of not being actualized in a relationship, but being actualized by yourself. What a concept! But no one tells you exactly how that happens. They didn’t have that in a textbook. Sometimes doing things the way other people have presented it to you is the way to go until you have taken the time to know how to do things that are best for you. It might be challenging along the way, but still, settling shouldn’t be an option.

Choosing a locale was a challenge. My writing group has a lot of interesting outings. One of them was Medieval Times. I knew when I first saw the place, I wanted to be there for my self marriage ceremony. Medieval Times was a place that I felt was conducive to the creative imagination. I have always loved anything and everything medieval. I wanted the ceremony to be playful. I had a picture with the king when I walked in. He told me, “You look smashing!” I said, “Thank you!” The food was phenomenal along with the jousting. We had the yellow knight, who unfortunately lost the tournament.

Afterwards, children walked up to me to ask, “Are you a fairy princess?” I smiled and said, “No.” Then they asked, “Were you in the play?” I smiled and said no. It is difficult to describe the concept of self marriage to children. I felt like Carrie Bradshaw’s character in Sex and the City who tried to explain to the little girl she was reading Cinderella to that these are fairy tales, but you know what? Everyone has to come to their own conclusions.

So, instead I said, “It’s my birthday.” And it really was my birthday. That they understood. They looked at each other excitedly and said, “Yay! Oh happy birthday!” Description solved! I was knighted at the end of the night. I took a picture with one of the knights.

Again, it is not that I am against relationships, but I am against unhealthy ones. I feel there are decent men out there. I also enjoy sewing for other people and their weddings. But I also feel that if you have a healthy relationship with yourself, actually being in relationship doesn’t matter as much. I have also noticed that life can and will respond to how you feel about your circumstance. If you walk out as if there is lack in the world, the world would respond in kind, but if you walk out as if there is abundance, the world would respond abundantly. If I felt terrible about being single, I would be met with people who affirmed my belief. Because I embraced this fact, instead, I found the opposite.

A lot of people have asked me how I felt after the ceremony. Actually, I felt great, deeply appreciating my own self reliance. This is who I am. This is the person I was meant to be. It feel good not looking at a person, a place or a thing to validate my worth as a human being.  I listened to Pharrell’s CD on my way home, watching the fireworks in the air, enjoying the celebration of my independence.

Self Marriage 1

Chelsea’s Shawl Yarn for Chelsea’s Law

A lot of people asked me over the years, “How do art and activism come together?”
Let me explain.
Chelsea King was a San Diego high school student who was murdered by a convicted sex offender named John Albert Gardner in 2010:
http://chelseaslight.org/programs/chelseas-law/

Chelsea’s Light Foundation was established by the family to create laws to protect children. Dream in Color, a yarn manufacturer, created skeins of yarn to make shawls (or whatever you want really). A portion of the proceeds from the yarn sales go to Chelsea’s Light Foundation:
http://www.dreamincoloryarn.com/2013/09/11/chelseas-shawl/

Further, Chelsea King’s brother was 13 years old when his sister was murdered. He created a documentary about his experience stating that creating a documentary was actually better than therapy. I also heard that same sentiment expressed by Mariel Hemingway about her own family challenges and how she became an advocate:

This is how art, albeit making documentaries or textile arts, and activism come together. I buy my Chelsea’s Shawl yarn at Gentler Times Knit Shop in Naperville, Illinois, just a block away from where I meet my writing group. 100% super wash merino is one of the better textures for me to work with. Needless to say, my next bohemian strippy scarf will be made using Chelsea’s Shawl Yarn.

Chelsea's Shawl Yarn 1Chelsea's Shawl Yarn 2