Guest Post, Mary Sojourner: What a Hard Fall Taught Me About Boots on the Ground Community

Mary Sojourner headshot photoSolstice light silvers and goes gray. The air is heavy with the scent of a desert river. My friend and I carry some of her partner’s ashes down a rocky slope to the Verde River in Central Arizona – more accurately, we brace and skitter our way to what we hope is the shoreline. We want to give part of him back to the river he loved so much.

A soft rain begins to fall.  What might have been shoreline is muck. There is no way to get to the water. “No good,” she says. “Let’s go back up to the bridge in Camp Verde.” We start up the sandstone we’ve just descended. It’s now nearly dark. I’d thought this would be an easy crossing to the river and hadn’t brought my hiking poles. My friend grabs my arm. I step up on a shallow ledge and feel my foot sliding in mud. My friend holds my arm tight, but it’s no help. There is nowhere to regain balance. I crash down on my left knee. I manage to turn on my back. The pain is a nauseating jolt. The world has become a movie.

Two hours later, a kindly Emergency doc with worried eyes says, “I’d hoped it was just a bad bruise. I’m sorry. It’s broken in three places. We’ll have to keep you here and you’ll need surgery.”

“But it doesn’t hurt unless I move it,” I say. “I don’t want surgery.” I don’t tell him that I’m terrified of general anesthesia. I’d had it twice when I was a kid and the memory of the cold, dark, pain-filled galaxy I’d found myself in has never left me.

“You don’t really have a choice,” he says. “If you want to walk again…”

I write here two weeks later. There are metal staples closing the eight inch incision in my leg, and two metal pins and a cable in my knee. I’ll be on a walker for at least four more weeks. No driving. I live alone. There is no room for error. If I drop something, I have to use a mechanical reaching tool. If I hobble from one room to another and forget something, I suspect the neighbors can hear me cursing out Fate and Whatever Dolt Runs the Universe. And – I have learned what it means to be a real friend in a real community.

I grew up in a little farming town on the shores of Lake Ontario. We had a party-line phone with a live operator. Almost all neighbor/human contact was face to face. I escaped a sometimes terrifying home by exploring the hills and creeks around the town – and hiding out in the tiny local library.

Forty years later, I moved to another little town – in Northern Arizona to write and fight for the earth. My best friend lived across the street. I hung out with hard-core enviros – think Earth First!, river runners, climbers, social activists, artists, writers and scruffy freaks. We all took care of each other through break-ups, deaths, injuries and arrests. There were 11,000 students at the local university. There was no internet. There were no smart phones. There were only land-lines and the Freak Telegraph. And there was my journal and me being faithful to the words I serve.

Then the Southwest became the place to be: to find yourself, to be wannabes, to open charming little coffee shop after charming little coffee shop, to invest, invest, invest and cover the desert and forest with acres of red-roofed houses and trophy mansions. Flagstaff’s population has grown by 189%. There are 25,000 students at the university. Every six minutes a trendy hipster restaurant opens. My friends and I avoid what was once a genuine Southwestern downtown with old-time diners (not cute replicas), bars with boards across their windows, trading posts and local bookstores. Even though the coffee at Macy’s Café is still killer, it’s just not worth the drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic or the fight to the death for a parking place. More and more, most of us connect by text, email and social media.

As soon as word got out about the fall and the surgery, friends showed up at the hospital. Roxane took my mud/blood- filthy clothes and washed them. Larry brought a stuffed animal raccoon to keep watch. Christina sat with me and told me what I could expect in the weeks of recovery to come. She’d had knee surgeries and her empathy and practical advice carried me through more than a few rough hours. She drove me home in a white-out snowstorm and stayed the night to guide me with the basics of the walker and the dangers of moving spontaneously.

My local neighbors, Jim and Dawn, showed up the next day and continued to show up every day. They emptied cat litter, fed the four cats, lay down plywood in front of my desk so I could easily roll my desk chair. When intestinal flu struck on my third day home, they got me through all that involved. Roxane helped me wash my hair. Diane and Bob drove a Trader Joe’s run and filled my cupboards and freezer. Margaret called from Reno and offered to come down to help. Vickie and Kit brought a case of cat food; Kelly, Rajean, my radio producer Gillian, William, Karla and Ann all called and said the magic words: “What do you need?” They didn’t put me in their prayers. They didn’t send some vague amorphous healing energy. They asked, “What do you need?” and they showed up – In three-dimensional, all five senses physical reality.

A few days ago I found myself feeling happier and safer than I have in a long time. I was hauling myself up from my desk chair, telling the walker to stay steady and getting ready to hobble to the kitchen. I sat back down and looked out the living-room window to the snow lying thick on the Ponderosa branches. The late afternoon shadows had gone long and blue. A soft winter sun cast shadows on the trailer next door. For an instant, I imagined that I was back in the wallboard and scrap lumber cabin I had lived in when I first moved to Flagstaff. There would have been only a land-line phone, a few neighbors in the shacks around me and my clan scattered through the little mountain town. I would have felt that I was in the heart of a community – and I understand that the hardest fall I’d ever taken had landed me back in that heart.

I turned to the computer and wrote a message to my friends and neighbors:  I write in my journal – not about morning light soft on fresh snow or cat prints threading across the yard or deep spiritual insights gained from it taking five minutes to hobble from my room to the kitchen because of a broken kneecap. I write about impatience; forcing myself to stop thinking I’m being punished for something; living with (to put it delicately) stomach troubles when I can’t move fast enough. I write about using a commode, wearing adult diapers, feeling steadily embarrassed by all of it. I write about how grateful I am that I am not using. And I write about the physicality of physical community, physical love.

A kneecap is physical. Fractures are physical. Stomach flu is physical. These days in my life are not hypothetical or etheric or possibly even transformative. I don’t need thoughts sent to my knee or good wishes sent to my bowels. I need precisely what I’m being given: tender, ungrudging care given by tender, ungrudging friends. I won’t name them because every one of them would say, “I’m just doing what friends can do for each other.” I can tell you that they have helped me give Spokescat Ruti, the Red his twice-daily pills (without which, he would die); they have washed my clothes, stayed overnight with me and listened each time I’m sure a fatal development has occurred. They have made me laugh and are teaching me how to re-enter a community I thought I had lost. But more than anything, they steadfastly remind me that I’m not as alone as I too often tell myself.

Guest Blog Post, Pam Uschuk: WHEN A POET CROSSES THE LINE

Pamela UschukWhen first I sit down alone in the morning with coffee, before I fully emerge from an often intricate subway of dreams, I write in my journal. This is one of my most fertile times of the day for me.  This is when poems shape themselves.  I am not articulate yet in any intellectual sense.   I am writing from some dim reckoning place, as the German poet Rilke said, “striking the dark air for music.”  When I decided to write the narrative of my journey through ovarian cancer, the drastic chemotherapy I underwent for five months and my struggle to overcome the overwhelming side-effects I suffered, it was late January, 2013, mid-afternoon and I was crumpled over my IPad.  I was still writing out of the dark but from a very different place.  I wrote from my body, from my intuition, and finally from my mind to create order out of the chaos of trauma.  This is what came out:

This desert January afternoon is pillowed with summery clouds that reshape sky as I sit on the patio.  My once-flat abdomen is painfully bloated, the same as it has been since before my operation for ovarian cancer in early August, nearly six months ago.  I have just finished the full course of my chemotherapy.  Pain carves its name inside me, a calligraphy writing itself the length of my body, burning up through my legs, stabbing my side, nettling my feet and hands, twisting my intestines.  What does a body at rest feel like with no pain?

Some people call me a miracle while others shake their heads, lower their eyes, whisper, horrible.  Some laugh, give me a high five, congratulate me. I cant believe you beat it!  I don’t think cancer is an enemy that anyone beats.  How can I claim to be healed? Healing doesn’t happen in one scimitar slash, one flash of lightning or revving of hands to heat. Like building a house, real healing is a process, a tao, a way sometimes so imperceptible you must hold a breath feather over its mouth to tell if it is still alive.  It seldom can be accomplished by one person. It takes an orchestra of healers, a symphony composing itself and performing in multiple keys.

Early on, I realized that I needed to write in a fusion of genres to find my way through the morass.  I needed to find out what healing is.   Over the many months of my illness, I had written in my journals, poem fragments, poems, and prose, but they wouldn’t hold the scope of my narrative.   My book started with a fusion of my narrative and my poetry, but I knew that wasn’t enough.  This book was not just my book, it involved a lot of people.  Just as I had called upon the help of various healers during my illness, this book had to be written in various genres.

So, I began to cross the line.  I have always been interested in story.  Many of my poems are long narrative poems, often giving voice to people who have no public voice in this world.   Thus came my decision to interview all the healers who had helped me along the way.  It seemed uncanny how many and how various were these healers who presented themselves to me during those long and tenuous months I struggled to survive.  It seemed important that I tell their stories, too.  Most important of all, I know that I must get this right in every way in order to help others who suffer from cancer, a disease that is wild-fire epidemic in this country.

Nearly a year into my project, my book, THE BOOK OF HEALERS HEALING, has grown organically in form and texture and voice.  It contains journal entries, Face Book entries, poems, lyric prose, my personal narrative, stories of others who’ve been diagnosed with cancer as well as interviews with healers from my surgeon and oncologists at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix to a Mexican currandera to a psychiatrist to an indigenous medicine woman to energy movers to an nurse practioner/acupuncturist to psychics and reiki practitioners.  I have written the end twice, and twice the end has morphed into another story.   This is the most difficult book I’ve ever written.  It is also the most important.  From it, I’ve learned what I learned from cancer itself, a simple lesson I keep forgetting in my life, that it is the journey that enlivens us, that ignites our creative passion.  It is not the destination. I made an outline that the book outgrew, and now the book is as holistic as my treatment.  I don’t know what I’m doing with this book, and that is one of its biggest strengths.   If the text is willing, I will finish the first draft by the new year.  I’ll then send it out to stand on its many legs and sing in its many voices to the world.

Meet the Interns: Scott Sivinski, Development Coordinator

Scott Sivinski is a Senior at Arizona State University majoring in Literature, Writing and Film.

Superstition Review: What do you do for SR?

Scott Sivinski: I am formatting the work we have to be sent out to Amazon to use on Kindle.

SR: How did you hear about or get involved with Superstition Review?

SS: I heard about the Review in an email, probably from the English department.

SR: Who is your dream contributor to the journal? Talk about him/her.

SS: David Sedaris who is one of my favorite authors and memoirists would be a great contributor. He has stories for everything.

SR: What job, other than your own, would you like to try out in the journal?

SS: I would like to be involved with the nonfiction group, probably as editor.

SR: What are you most excited for in the upcoming issue?

SS: I just can’t wait to read all of the submissions and just see the issue in its entirety since it is something I helped produce.

SR: What was the first book you remember falling in love with and what made it so special?

SS: Weekend by Christopher Pike was the first book I remember loving. It was a mystery and involved people just a little older than me and it really kick-started my reading habit. I still mostly read mysteries or thrillers along with the occasional memoir.

SR: What are you currently reading?

SS: I am currently reading the new memoir by Kathy Griffin who I find to be hilarious.

SR: What are some of your favorite websites to waste time on or distract you from homework?

SS: I like Entertainment Weekly’s website because it covers all aspects of entertainment including music, film and book reviews. I also like a site called dlisted because it makes fun of our cultures obsession with celebrities and his blogs are always hilarious.

SR: Do you write? Tell us about a project you’re working on.

SS: I do write on my own and keep a journal, but right now all I am writing is papers for other classes. I have six classes and five of them are English courses so I’m doing a lot of drafts and stuff right now and working on my applied project for graduation.