Posts Tagged With: the healing power of stories

Day 996: What’s the story?

What’s the story?

What’s WHAT story?

One story at a time. On my way to work, yesterday, I saw this …

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… and I wondered,  “What’s the story?”

Whenever a story has parts unknown to us, we make up stories to understand, make meaning, and move on. When I saw those abandoned baby shoes lined up neatly outside of Boston’s Fenway Park, I thought

What’s the story I would make up about that? And what stories would other people make up about it?

For the rest of the day, I thought about stories.

What’s the story with that?

Well, since I’m

  • a psychotherapist,
  • an English major, and
  • somebody who loves to read and write

… stories are very important to me. No mystery, there.

What’s the story, with these other photos I took yesterday?

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What’s the story you might create, about any of those images?

What’s the story with today’s music?

What’s the story with “Aja” by Steely Dan?

I chose “Aja” today because

  1. I heard it on my walk home, when I was looking at some of the above images,
  2. I’ve never included it in a blog post before, and
  3. people tell lots of different stories about that song, including these (from this web page):

The song is pronounced “Asia,” and was inspired by the continent. Steely Dan have several songs with a Far East influence, since Donald Fagen believes it is a symbol of sensuality. He told Rolling Stone magazine that the title came from a high school friend whose brother was in the army and came back with a Korean wife named Aja, although he wasn’t sure how she spelled it.

I thought it very obvious that the song is about a fictional Bordello on the California coast, perhaps San Francisco area. That’s why you hear the police whistle. The part with Wayne Shorter’s is where the police raid the place.

Yet another subtle drug reference in their music: “Break out the hardware, let’s do it right.” Hardware is another name for the needle, spoon, flame used for shooting up, mainly heroin.

When they refer to the folks up on the hill how they don’t give a damn. It’s CAPITOL HILL….. duh?

Louis Armstrong called jazz “Chinese music”, you can guess along with me why (my guess – that jazz is not rational and western, it’s intuitive yet has its own definite yet different kind of logic). So this song is about playing jazz for people who often don’t get it or don’t care.

Since I live near San Francisco, I interpret “up on the hill” to be wealthy bored people on Nob Hill. Coincidentally, someone wrote that Kid Charlemagne” also had a reference to “up on the hill”, and that song was about Owsley Stanley, the guy who (among other things) synthesized acid for the acid tests in SF.

The story goes that Steve Gadd walked into the studio in NYC – put on the cans – and 8 minutes later – he was finished – one take ! Had the privilege of seeing him in Johannesburg with Joe Sample and Randy Crawford. AJA is the perfect number !

The lyrics of Aja paint a picture of a man, perhaps a heroin addict or drug dealer whose only salavation day after a day is running home to the arms of Aja…which lends credence to the lyric of “when all my dime dancing is through, I run to you”

While Donald Fagan wrote the song about a friend’s South Korean wife, named Aja, you cannot help but think that the courtship began as a man knowing where to get his ultimate fix.

The model on the cover of the album “Aja” is not Korean but Japanese. Her name is Sayoko Yamaguchi, whom Newsweek chose her one of the top six models in the world in 1977. She passed away on August 14, 2007.

i was named after this song, and i have great appreciation for its perfection and character, but my middle name is Victoria, and 8 out of ten people ask if that is a porno name…

What’s the story with that?  SO many stories, about just one song, from just one website. And, I’ve told stories to myself about that song, for years, that are different from each one of those stories above.

What’s the story you might create about “Aja”?   Please listen to it, if only to experience the story of its brilliance.

Finally, what’s the story with all the various stories in this post?

Here’s my story. I believe that

  1. being as much as possible in the present moment,
  2. being present with all your senses,
  3. letting go of fears about the future and regrets about the past, and
  4. telling the story of your life, in new and illuminating ways

… can help us all heal, learn, and grow.

Gotta go hear some more stories at work, dear readers.

Thanks to all the people, places, and stories that helped me create this storytelling post and thanks to you — of course! — for reading all the stories here, today.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism, Psychotherapy | Tags: , , , | 33 Comments

Day 402: News (good, bad, and indifferent)

Regular readers of this blog know this:  I had my yearly check-up with my cardiologist, Dr. Salem, plus an important test of my heart, scheduled for yesterday.

Regular inhabitants of the United States know this:  The weather has been very challenging this year, and a snowstorm might have posed some challenges, yesterday, for my making this VIP — Very Important ‘Pointment.

Regular readers of this blog know this, also: I have limited time in the morning to write my daily post, which can be a challenge when I have lots to say.

And I do have lots to say, today.

So … how to organize this post, to promote clarity and good communication?

I’ve already indicated some organization — in the title. I also like to tell stories chronologically.

Let’s see how this goes, shall we?

Yesterday morning, after I finished my post, I decided to drive to work.  This was a risk, but a calculated one. With a lot of snow on my car, in the air, and on the roads, I chose a post-rush-hour departure time, to reduce the danger.

As I ventured out, I spoke to myself, like so:

Geesh, Ann!  Why are you (and other people) so afraid about snow?  I know snow causes accidents, but it’s beautiful! It’s light and fluffy, too. While you may have read how removing snow can cause heart attacks, you’re smart and experienced enough to figure out a way to get out of here that’s safe!

And once I felt safe enough, as usual, my sense of play kicked in.  And when I looked at my car and pondered ways to clean it off, I thought:

When you were a kid, you weren’t afraid of snow.  You enjoyed playing in it, and so did everybody else. So why not play with it now?  Don’t worry about looking like an adult, or “doing it the right way” as you’re cleaning off your car!  Just have fun with it!

And by:

  1. evoking good memories of my childhood and snow,
  2. imagining the fun I could have in the present,
  3. being in touch with my adult competencies and wisdom, and
  4. thinking about how I could share the results, at some point, with other people (including you, dear readers) ….

…. the result was: magic.

I know, dear readers, that I need to get to “the point” of this post: my afternoon cardiology appointment. But please bear with me, as I show you some photos of my morning.

I didn’t think to take a “before” photo of my car before I had fun clearing it off, so I will show you a photo of my downstairs neighbor Karen’s car:

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… so you can get some idea of how much snow there was.  Here’s my car after (what felt like) a short amount of music-filled fun, playing with the snow:

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Yay!

Then, to get safely to work (and continue to have fun), I just needed to remember:

  • I DO know how to drive in the snow (I HAVE had lots of practice)
  • I have a fine little car, for that purpose: it’s a 5-speed manual, and
  • I’ve had lots of practice with that, too.

So, I figured, if I’m very careful, pay attention, get in touch with my driving skill, AND remember this:

You have all the time you need.

(in other words: “Don’t rush, Ann!”) … driving to work should be fine.

And it was.

Here are some photos I took on the way to work.  (I only took photos while I was waiting at lights I knew were very long, so I wouldn’t have to rush, in any way):

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As you can see, there was very little traffic. When I got to work, and somebody asked how my commute went, I said, “It was one of the easiest commutes I’ve ever had.”  And because she had driven in earlier, she looked very surprised.

Okay!  Time to write about my afternoon cardiology appointment.

I was scheduled for:

  1. My yearly echocardiogram, which shows much important information, regarding the function of my very unusual heart.
  2. A yearly check-up, with my cardiologist, Dr. Salem (whom I wrote about recently, here).

Good News

Because of the snow storm, very few patients were there, so I got lots of extra time with everybody.

Starting out, I got extra time with a very helpful echocardiography technologist, whom I hadn’t met before, but who was kind and informative. As a matter of fact, for the first time since 1980 (when I first found out about my very unusual heart), I think I may really understand how my heart works!

My new understanding, after all these years, does not reflect poorly on my cardiologist or on me. No, not at all, since the way my heart works is VERY counterintuitive. My heart has two big “mistakes” which cancel each other out (as a result, the blue blood goes to the lungs and the red blood goes to the body, just as it does with your heart). However,  different parts of my heart are doing things that they are … just not designed to do.

Now, I don’t mean that the different parts of my heart are doing something VERY different. That is, my ventricles — which do all the important major pumping (which is THE job of the heart)  — are still pumping blood to all the right places. My heart ventricles are not trying to do something totally out of their wheelhouse1 — like write this post or drive a car.

However (and this should probably be in the category of “Bad News”), the ventricle that is designed to do the tough work (pumping blood to the body) is doing the easy work (pumping to the lungs) AND the ventricle that is designed to do the easy work (pumping blood to the lungs) is doing the difficult work (pumping to the body).

And therein lies the danger — the possible bad news.  My ventricles may fail, prematurely, because they are doing what they are NOT designed to do.

But, we just don’t know.

More good news:

I also got lots of extra time with Dr. Salem AND (unexpectedly) with my other cardiologist, Dr. Mark Estes, whom I’ve written about previously, too — here (credited) and here (uncredited).

Now, why am I SO SPECIAL, that I have TWO cardiologists?  Well, I AM special.  Deal with it.2

Anyway, where was I?

Oh, yes.  Good news.

Actually, I don’t know how to place a lot of the news I heard yesterday into the buckets of Good and Bad.

I’ll just tell you the news, as I understand it, right now:

  • The two indicators of my heart function MIGHT BE showing a troubling trend.
  • For now, my heart is stable.
  • My cardiologists are not psychic, but they are definitely on top of all the possibilities — that I may or I may not need valve replacement surgery.3
  • Valve replacement surgery had never been discussed as a distinct possibility, before yesterday.
  • My doctors want to switch from seeing me once a year to …. once every three months.  That’s new, also.

As usual, I am trying to interpret “the clues” to figure out how safe I am.

And it’s very confusing, people!

But here’s some good news I’m sure about:

  • My doctors will do anything they can, to keep me alive as long as possible.  After yesterday’s appointment, I “got” that, in an entirely new way.
  • If I do need a valve replacement, they will be doing their best to grab the best window of opportunity, to ensure the best possible results.
  • I asked Dr. Salem, at the very end of our appointment, if he expected to be celebrating my 70th birthday with me. He had read the post I recently wrote, which explains that question. And he said ….

Yes.

So there it is, in one word: The good (enough) news I needed to hear.

Now, I need to wrap up this post.

I notice I haven’t included  a section for  “Bad News” or  for “Indifferent” in this post  (as I had originally planned).

I think the bad news, from my appointment yesterday, is scattered among the good news. And that’s just going to have to be good enough, for this post.

Also, I want to say this: the “bad news” is probably not as bad as I might fear. What is the bad news that I fear?

That I will die prematurely, and not get to see my child flourish in the world.

But that’s a fear that I probably share with a lot of other people, in one way or another, no matter what kind of heart they have.

And I have great people on my team.  Which is VERY good news.

So what else is missing from this post?  This part of my blog post title:

Indifferent.

Here’s what I want to say about “Indifferent” right now.

While I may sometimes assume indifference from my doctors, due to old indifference I experienced from doctors and nurses when I was a child in the hospital in the 1960’s, that is NOT the case, in the present.

As a matter of fact, my current treatment team is the OPPOSITE of indifferent.

Hmmmm. So what IS the opposite of indifferent?

Different?

Ooops!  Gotta run. There’s a lecture on Narrative Therapy today, one of my favorite ways of working with patient, clients, or whatever-you-want-to-call those amazing people I get to work with.

But you know what?  Among the many lessons I (re-)learned yesterday is this: I don’t have to rush.

In other words …

You have all the time you need.

Thanks to Dr. Salem, Dr. Estes,  Diane (who did my echocardiogram), people who are different and/or indifferent,  and to you — of course! — for visiting today.


1 To use an expression I’ve been hearing WAY too much of, lately. Why, oh why, are so many people in the media suddenly using the expression “In (or out) of somebody’s wheelhouse”?  What the hell 2 IS a wheelhouse, anyway?  Is it a house made of wheels?  A place to store wheels?  That phrase is totally counter-intuitive to me, people.  I get confused. (Although, I do know what that expression means.)

2 I’m a tad cranky, to tell you the truth, right now. Why?  Hunger (as usual) and, honestly, it’s tough to make sense of all the information I got yesterday. I guess I’ll grab some more food and take a breath.

3  The heart valves are switched on me, also, so one of them leaks quite a bit, presenting all sorts of potential dangers.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Day 397: Everybody loves you

I am going to start this post with a quote from my boyfriend, Michael.  Actually, I am going to start this post by retiring Michael’s title of “boyfriend,” in honor of my feisty friend Sarah, who used to work with me and who gave me a hard time every time I used that term.

What are you two,  fifteen years old?

Sarah would say.  And since I am about to turn sixty-one years young1 tomorrow, maybe it’s time to heed Sarah’s advice, and stop using the term “boyfriend.”

But how else should I refer to Michael?  Here are some possibilities:

Partner

Old man

Main squeeze

Significant other

None of those sound great to me, for various reasons. I’m not sure why “boyfriend” has always seemed like the best choice, so far. Perhaps, the terms we hear when we are young are difficult to shake.

A logical replacement for “boyfriend” would be …. “manfriend.” But nobody says that. If I did use that term, that would be too distracting.  That would derail people from any story I wanted to tell about Michael.

Like now.

One more thing, before I get back on track. I supposed I could just refer to Michael by name, with no identifying title.  That always seems self-centered and unhelpful, though. Why should I expect anybody to remember the name of my boyfriend/partner/old man/main squeeze/significant other/manfriend … without a helpful hint? Or remember my name, for that matter?

Maybe people should remember, though!  Maybe we’re important enough to be remembered, without any identifying information, dammit!

Anyway, let me start this post over.

This post is about a phrase that Michael says to me, quite often. It’s kind of a joke, a running gag, between us.

Picture this, if you will. I come home from work, walk up the stairs, and enter through the back door, into the kitchen.  I am often pretty tired, and I immediately sit down at the same table where I write this blog.

Let me set the scene, with a photo of that table:

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That’s not a great photo, actually, to give you an accurate picture, since there are other distracting elements in that shot. I’ll check my photo stash and see if I can do a better job …

…. Nope.  Can’t find a better photo, right now.

I suppose I could take a new photo of the table, but the light isn’t correct (it’s the wrong time of day). Also, I’d have to find my friggin’ phone to take it.

Maybe, just maybe, setting the scene accurately isn’t quite as important as I sometimes think. In any case, back to the story.

So, after I return home from work, I sit down at the table where I write this blog. Michael is usually in the kitchen, making dinner. If not, he comes into the kitchen. He greets me:

How was your day, babe?

or words to that effect.   I then tell him what’s foremost on my mind from my day at work (of course, leaving out any details as dictated by confidentiality). When I’m finished talking, Michael will usually respond, with our running gag, like so:

Everybody loves you, Ann.

And I smile. Or laugh. It never gets old.

Why?

Well, even though Michael has said this many, many times, there’s always some element of surprise.

I am rarely — if ever — feeling universally lovable, as I’m telling my work-a-day stories.   I’m sharing what has lingered from the day and — as I’ve often written about here — the negative sticks. So, my stories are often tinged with regret, worry, concern, or at least a wish to learn from mistakes I’ve made.

So Michael’s response, no matter how often I’ve heard it, surprises me, on some level. And, as many Humor Experts 2 have opined:  When we laugh, it’s an expression of the unexpected.

Sometimes, when I return home after work, I’m feeling great —  very much in touch with pride in my work and with my gratitude for doing work I value and enjoy.  In those cases, when Michael says

Everybody loves, you, Ann

my laugh expresses joy (or celebration, which I wrote about recently).

And, no matter how I’m feeling after work, I can always appreciate the absurd in Michael’s response. No matter how worthy and lovable we are, no matter how much I may yearn for Michael’s statement to be true … not everybody is going to love us.  It’s impossible.

And that’s okay.  We can still survive, thrive, and keep on going.

Okay! I’ve got to end this post, because I’ve got an appointment with Mia 3, very soon.

Thanks to Sarah, Michael, Mia, my old4 student Chris Delyani (whose book is in the photo above), everybody I love, people who love me, and everybody who has ever loved or been loved by anybody.  And, more thanks to you, for visiting and reading today.


  1. I hear Mel Brooks‘s voice in my head as I say this, thanks to his 2000 Year Old Man albums. Thanks, Mel!

  2. Despite any expectations on your part, there are no helpful details about humor experts in this footnote.  (This gag never gets old for me, either.)

  3. Mia is the woman who cuts my hair.  Just as I have trouble finding a good title for Michael, I never know what to call Mia, either. My hairdresser?  No, that’s my mother’s term.  My stylist?  Too pretentious and not accurate, since I don’t experience myself as being “styled” in any way.  Also, I feel uncomfortable using the possessive term “my” about people in my life.  Feel free to make suggestions about what I might call Mia (or Michael, too, I suppose).

  4. I never know what word to use in this situation, either, since “old” has such negative connotations. Chris isn’t old; I just met him a long time ago, when I was teaching a class at Boston University. Feel free to make suggestions about what word to use here, also.

Categories: humor, inspiration, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 64 Comments

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