My gift is my song…

It’s 16 years out, and the first two weeks of August are still a giant emotional roller coaster. Mom and Dad’s Anniversary. Papa Visco’s birthday. Mom’s birthday. Dad’s birthday. Dad’s death and then mom’s 2 weeks later. It’s always a wild ride – of reflection, growth, happiness, tears, anger, and sadness. Below is the joint eulogy I did for my mom and dad back in late August 2002.

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From Moulin Rouge:
MY GIFT IS MY SONG…AND THIS ONE’S FOR YOU.

 If you could choose the perfect life, would you choose the life you have?

My parents never had the perfect life.  They never had all that they wanted, never did all that they dreamed.  Never really sought their deepest desires.

But they lived in their own unique ways, bickering through the bustling of a morning was just one of their ways of saying “I love you.”  But there was also plenty of laughter, mixed tapes/cds, lots of movies, countless concerts, crazy collections and trips together to Maine.

My parents did not choose the perfect life – but they did make their choices – a life filled with the love of music, the celebration of words, busting with color.  It was a life filled with comfort, with art.

And they were alive and in love in ways I am only beginning to understand.

My parents were certainly opinionated, and, sometimes, not so quiet about it.  I will always treasure the image of my father at a Sinead O’Connor concert fighting for her right not to have the national anthem played…followed by the image of Sinead thanking the man who defended her from up on the stage — she had been in the crowd wearing a wig and hat!

They never had the perfect life — suffering with diabetes, with high blood pressure, with weight.  They never had the perfect life – sometimes tempers flared and words became weapons.  But they lived and they loved.

They loved their concerts, getting out to a good restaurant, goofing with the local DJs.  I count it as a testament to them that there are DJs from Champ, KOOL, WIZN and the Point here.  They were suppliers of trivia for contests, morning jokes, and moral support to all of these people.  It takes a rare bird to appreciate all of these.

They loved singing.  Rides in the car were more like an audition for a local stage show or American Idol.  Someone was always belting it out – whether it was doo-wop, folk, or AC/DC.  There was always a song to express whatever feeling was going on.  It was a passion we all shared – the Visco family sing-a-long.

They loved the comforts of dining – over Frutti di Mare at Loretta’s, a Latte from the Expresso Drive Thru, tea from the Duchess Tea Room, prime rib on Friday’s from JP’s.  It didn’t have to be as grand as all that though – it could have been and joke and a smile over a sundae at Friendly’s.

They never lived the perfect life, but they lived a life of rarity.  They chose to find and see laughter in the small things, the quirky, the odd, sometimes the just plain strange.  I will always hold dear the obit for a man that mom carried for years about the man walking through the world saying “Jello” to everyone he met.  I hope she’s met him up there in heaven and that he knows how much joy he brought to our life.  I hope that she has found Freddie Mercury and had one helluva a party!  I hope she found Dad in that 57 Olds and that they are tooling around together singing.

They chose a life of giving, of supporting – supporting me through college, supporting the Flynn, the Baird Center, the Lincoln Library, Saratoga Performing Arts Center and countless other people, friends and groups.

They lived an inner life that many did not get to see or know – but every person in t

his room knows of what I speak – there was a frustrating, loving, gentle, maddening quality about them.  They were who they were – and either you accepted that or you didn’t.  All of you did.  And for that I am grateful.  I see the color, the richness, the diversity, the passion, the connections that they so treasured here together in one room.

The Visco family sing-alongs in the car may be over.  But the song remains…

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#ybbastrong, canes and me…

#ybbastrong, canes and me…

They say that the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. Indeed, for many it does. But for some, that single step is too painful to take on their own – whether physically or spiritually. And for others, that step is no longer, or never was, physically possible.

Since I was young I have battled with ankle and fallen | no arch issues in my feet. Somedays, the orthotics work wonders, others I still feel like I’m walking on shards of broken glass and that my ankle will roll under at any moment. This past year, I have fought it more so than I have in the past. Part of that was becoming overactive after not being active – taking class 2-3 times in a week, working with my trainer, Lloyd, just doing more. It was a welcome distraction from the chaos that was my life. But in doing so, I injured it more than I have ever before, requiring a walking boot for many weeks, and physical therapy. It took a long time to heal. It may never be permanently strong and stable.

Being in a boot made me actually have to slow down and take care of me and put my health first. Even though, paradoxically, that meant not working out as much as I had started to. It meant admitting that there was a problem, that there was something needing strengthening, accepting help when offered.

As I look at my journey in taekwondo, it has been a journey moving forwards and backwards, starting and stopping, stepping to the side and jumping into the center of the ring. It has been long, involved a complete restart, and never run in a straight line. While I know that the standard weapon of choice wumbrella5ithin United TKD is the Bo staff, I am set to learn the cane once now that I am a blue belt. For a variety of reasons, starting with the realization that none of us gets younger with the passage of time, I feel that the cane would be an apt choice for me.

As we grow older, whether through age or injury, there is a likelihood that at some point in time, we will all need to use a cane. In my own instance, because of the weakness in both ankles, marked by the tendency to completely roll under one ankle, it’s more than just a likelihood. It is a probability. Yes, continued weight loss will aid in the repair and recovery, but it’s also quite possible that given the length of injury and repetitive nature of it, that it will never be fully healed. A cane, more traditionally, is a device for support in cases like this. As a mobility device, a cane cannot be legally taken from you, even on airplanes. Sure there are restrictions – you can’t carry on a cane sword, nor can it be made of metal in many instances. It is a weapon that hides in plain sight, and most do not view it as such.

Additionally – as I approach the rank I previously held, I find myself wanting more of a previous weapon back in my life. The pen. Then pen, being mightier than the sword, is tool that I am quite at home with. I know I’ve spoken at times about writing. It’s part of who I am and what I do. I’m gearing back up. I’m finally feeling that I will make it to a black belt (maybe not in the next 2 years…but will make it there.) One of the things I want to do is get writing and researching again. I’ve spent a long time building up my library of books on TKD, on martial arts in general, martial arts teaching, hapkido, etc. It’s getting to be quite sizable. I want to feed this side of me again as well. I know full well this is not the focus of training for everyone in the martial arts. But I think that having this focus will help keep me going as I get stuck in the quagmire of injury.

As I think of learning cane and cane defense, I think back to the Zumba classes I led for  breast cancer survivors, people with mobility issues, and seniors etc. They were so joyous, gritty, and appreciative. I would one day love to do something again with a focus of both fun and safety when I make it to black belt. Not to run a school, not to train students. But to offer both the joy of movement and self-protection. As much as I gave them, they gave to me. The day the lady who relied on a cane for everything told me that she was going to climb Mount Philo and felt she could do it in part because of class – it gave my heart wings. I couldn’t then, and likely couldn’t now, climb Mount Philo. But she did it. I think that the gifts I’ve been granted in TKD both in training and the people who have become my chosen family deserve to be reflected back to others.

I’ve broken 4 boards, rappelled down a 9 story building, volunteered at summer camp for 5 years now, made it out of my house when feeling complete depression, panic and borderline suicidal – in large part because of what I have found at YBBA. Unconditional support, love, and respect. My heart, my soul, and a sense of self. And if that doesn’t help you to rise above, damn it, nothing will. #ybbastrong

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Call Me By My Name(s)

Last fall I worked on an invocation to call me back to strength and wholeness for those times I didn’t feel either. I decided to use the names I’ve acquired along the way.

  • I got to choose my middle name for my 16th birthday… KaeLeigh
  • When I was confirmed in the Catholic Church in college, I chose a Native American saint – Kateri Tekakwitha.
  • When I joined The pagan community, I chose Sulis.

Here is my invocation of self.

I call upon you StaciAnne.
You, child of the universe. First among names. I call upon you StaciAnne, curious, wonder-filled. I call upon your family, your lineage, your wisdom, your insatiable thirst for knowledge. I call upon your innate need for survival, your defenses, your ability to grow and change.

I call upon you KaeLeigh.
Vibrant teenager, friend, broken-hearted child. I call upon your musicality, your stories, your colorful personas. I call upon your loneliness and your intimacies, your deep abiding friendships in the face of dysfunctional relationships, your ability to retain hope while devastated and broken. I call to you from deep with in the shadows of the cave where the spiders wander aimlessly.

I call upon you Kateri Tekakwitha.
Scarred. Alone with no family. I call upon your connection to earth, to your fierce independence to follow the faith of your choosing, not of your family. I call upon your dedication to the turtle and the tree upon her back.

I call upon you Sulis.
 The seer of things. Not the visionary, but the visioner. I call upon you Sulis, whose name means “eye.” I call upon you who see the deeper, more universal connections. I call upon you Sulis, fiery one, the sunlight in the water. Healer.

I call upon you Grove.
Like a bunch of trees. I call upon you, ideas and creations rustling in the wind, laden  with the fruits of your labor. I call upon you to stand together with others in majesty, in strength, in pride.

I call upon you self. In all my parts – at once brazen and timid, communicator and mute, strong in the broken places, made beautiful by scars. You, beloved self, are deserving of love, patience, and persistence. You are worthy of truth. You are worthy of desire. You are changing and transforming again, and I am here for you.

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Artist’s Way Affirmations

I am a storycatcher.

I must start with my own stories and dreams before I can understand others’ stories.  My safety mechanisms have brought me to this point.  It is time for me to celebrate the person, creator, and healer within. There is inherent value in my story.  Even if it is finding and walking my own lost path. Sometimes the journey is the goal.  Create.  Breathe. Expand outward.  Connect.

Exploring all parts of who I am and who I was will allow me to best create who I want to be.    I am learning to love the woman I am becoming.  I am surrounded by people who love me for who I am – not what I do.  These are people I respect and love for who they are, not what they do.  Let that connection fill me and inform me.

I’ve been hurt and overcome extraordinary things.  Talking about them may hurt some temporarily, but will be freeing to me.  My life story is one worth sharing.  Personally and through words and images.  My work and art are a reflection of who I am, not who I am.  Liking my work does not make you a friend, and liking me does not mean you have to love my art. Through my story, movement, imagery and words, I am capable of connecting, inspiring, and helping create hope.

I am a resilient, strong woman.

This afternoon I’m headed off to a celebration for a friend who earned his 4th Dan yesterday, and is now Master Duval.

Yesterday, there was a promotion ceremony where 6 people achieved master’s level. 4 were recognized for 6th or 7th Dan. 1attained their 8th Dan. Master Yordan and his father were bother there. Master Dunlavey promoted his wife to 4th, and for a brief time, there were two Master D’s. briefly. That is until Grand Master Dion announced that it was now to be Grand Master Dunlavey, and that he was being awarded his 8th Dan.

I look at the people there I connect with most (whether testing or supporter), and I find the one thing that most inspires me is their graciousness and genuineness. Sure, they have pride in what they have done. Pride. Not ego and persona.

Hearing the people there talk about their martial arts journey and family, I thought about my own start. Master Stephen Barrett and Master Twing – Both teaching me about the history, the philosophy, the art, not just the sport.

One day, this time, I know I will make it to black belt. I’m on a different journey than I was then.

I will never be the best technician. The best in sparring. The best in jump spinning reverse 540 reflex kicks. But what I can be, what I can work on every single day, is being the best, most passionate, most genuine me that I can be.

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(Just Like) Starting Over

It’s like we both are falling in love again
It’ll be just like starting over, starting over…
John Lennon

This spring I returned to taekwon-do after a long time away from the dojang. Years older, pounds heavier, spirit broken, and in some ways wiser, I started my martial arts journey again.

More than a decade earlier, I trained at another school. Training had changed my life – I worked out, wrote essays, took photos, worked on what was to become the black belt manual for the school. It was a space that brought me face to face with a body that I fought with constantly, and, simultaneously,a space that offered me sanctuary from my daily world of fear, pain, and depression. The clearly stated and understood expectations, as well as the rituals offered me a place to leave the world I knew for just a short time to challenge myself and feel strong. It allowed me to challenge myself in a way I’d never known before. I left having just earned my red stripe.

In the years between, my father had died. My mother died two weeks later. My remaining grandparents died with in the next 8 months. I had to find the strength to move on, to figure out who i was now that they were no longer alive. I fell in love. I got married. I’d found a new passion – Zumba®. I started teaching a specialized Zumba class for people living with chronic pain and seniors. But all of that had started to fade, and I found myself in a place where I was giving up on things that nourished me and giving up on myself.

I stopped teaching my classes. I stopped going to Zumba. I threw myself at work and found joy in some parts of the job, but not as many as I had previously. I no longer danced, and I no longer felt a spring in my step. I started pulling inward. By January, I was in the middle of some really rocky spots with Geoff. In February, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Something had to change.

I emailed the instructor at a school where I had watched classes where two daughters of a friend were training, and I found that piece of me slowly calling again. I returned to training this spring, hoping to recover what I had once experienced in the dojang. But, I’d forgotten my patterns. And more than that, I had forgotten who I was along the way. He and the other instructors met me where I was. We talked about my return to taekwon-do.

In a tear-filled moment, I decided to cut my previously earned taekwon-do belts prior to training again. The rank was no longer mine; the belts were no longer ‘alive.’ I honored all that I had done to earn those, was grateful to the instructor who I had trained with, and let them go. That world was foreign, forgotten and no longer mine. I entered the new dojang a white belt, having retained some technical knowledge, but needing to rebuild my stamina, my knowledge, my muscles, my spirit. I returned, white belt wrapped firmly around the waist, ready to start again.

I could no longer do jumping jacks without killing my knees. Patterns were a thing of the past. Training required faith – believing in myself when I didn’t feel like I deserved anything, let alone the effort to bring me back into the training spirit. I was nervous, broken and determined.

It’s been a little over 7 months now – and I am glad I took that jump. It’s hard. I still struggle with my weight and my stamina on a daily basis. I probably will for years to come. But I am rediscovering my voice and my worth. Finding pride (not ego) and safety enough to challenge myself. Some days advanced techniques are easy and fluid, and some days the simplest wrist lock baffles me. But there is joy in my heart as I train, as I take photographs for fellow students.

Taekwon-do, as one of the many tools, has helped pull me through an otherwise terribly dark time in my life for a second time.

My training is personal, and not at all about the color of the belt holding my uniform together.

This is the story so far……

This is the story so far……

Without dreams of hope and pride a man will die
Though his flesh still moves his heart sleeps in the grave
Without land man never dreams cause he’s not free
All men need a place to live with dignity.
Give me love and understanding, I will thrive.

I start with this lyric from Chuck Mangione’s the Children of Sanchez as it is a song I first heard when I was about 8 or 9 years old.  Thirty five years later, it is one of the 400 or so songs on my iPhone that is there because of how it affects me.

My spiritual path is both complex and strikingly simple.  My religious beliefs fall outside the major religions. But, at my core, I am a deeply spiritual person and find my life guided by a strong belief in a god and goddess far greater than I am. As such, I find my life influenced by Jesus as it is also influenced by Buddha, Rumi and Seth Godin. At the core of my being are six key traits – skill, spark, savvy, story, strength and spirit.

I was raised in a Dutch Reformed Christian Church until I was 11, when we moved to Vermont and joined the First Congregational Church in Essex.  Before we moved to Vermont, my mother worked for a Jewish Community Center in New York, so I attended Jewish day camp every summer.  While I was in high school, I had my father take me from Essex to Barnet every day over the course of three days so that I could attend the funeral services for Rinpoche Chogyam Trungpa.  In college, I was a member of both Campus Crusade for Christ and the Catholic Newman Club.  Wherever I have been active, it has always been the story and the song that drew me there.

My faith and my spirit are not attached to a particular church or religion, but to a deep calling to respect others, respect myself, and to give as I have been given to.  It has not been a journey without struggles.  Depression.  The unexpected death of my father.  The equally unexpected death of my mother two weeks later.  Without faith and hope and belief in greater good, I would not be here today to write these words.

Today, what moves me is inspiration and hope.  Through the eyes of the women I have taught Zumba® Fitness classes to struggling with breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, but still there and smiling.  Seeing something larger than me, larger than each person making larger goals attainable.  Taking part in martial arts classes where there is a physical aspect for sure, but a spiritual, philosophical and ritual underpinning that feed and nourish me.  Sharing the photos that I take as a way to reflect the joy, spirit, hope and love that I see and feel in the world.

I do not attend a church or a synagogue.  I have no single spiritual guru or guide.  What I do have is a deep commitment to living a conscious life, to giving to others to the best of my ability, to sharing in truth and authentic connections.  To reflect the spirit that so inspires me – in movement, in song, in words, and in images.

I know this world has beaten you to the bone.
You wanna strike out at the world for dragging you down.
But listen to what I am saying –
The first thing you should know is that you’re not alone.
Somebody’s holding you.
Somebody’s holding your hand;
Somebody’s holding your heart.
(Suzanne Sterling, The River)

My belief is that the world has a place for each of us and all that we have to give. To work on myself – with all my joys, passions and sorrows – and share all that I have to offer is all that I can do each day, and hope that in that Spirit shines through.