Tag: friendship

Remember Rhonda Patzia?

Some of you may remember the words penned by my friend Rhonda about her life with multiple sclerosis and life in hospice that I shared on my blog a few years ago. I met Rhonda in graduate school where she routinely shed her crutches and the clutches of multiple sclerosis when she picked up her camera. It was a sight to behold watching her climb picnic tables to get better shots.

For her thesis, this former professional photographer named Rhonda asked women to allow her to take nude portraits of them. Though I cheered her on and even recruited for her, I admit to feeling a wee little bit left out that she didn’t ask me . . . but then, on the last night of her last residency, she flopped down in one of those hideous metal folding chairs and asked, “So, are you going to pose for me?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” I told her.

We met the next morning in the meditation house, one of the two locations she chose for my portrait, and she casually mentioned that she was also going to take some shots of me sitting on some moss in the woods because she had more than 36 exposures to spend and I was her last model. As I stripped completely naked in front of those beautiful walls with their layers and layers of peeling paint, I chattered with nervous excitement. When i neatly folded the last article of clothing, Rhonda looked at me and said, “I was only going to photograph you from the waist up.”

The portraits became a part of her thesis and went on to become a traveling exhibit that moved the country around with and without her accompanying workshop. Rumor has it that they are being compiled into a book. I’ll keep you posted.

Rhonda also asked me to read the Vagina Monologue she wrote as part of her thesis, and I tell you what: I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun or been so honored. That woman is just full of surprises.

Rhonda’s courage, her determination to live even while dying, her deep dedication to writing the unblinking, undiluted truth about her life with multiple sclerosis and her life in hospice has been a constant source of inspiration. I love her.

I’ve just received notice that Rhonda is in the final days of her earthly life, and I thought maybe you’d like to take a few minutes to send her on her way by reading her story then leaving her a note in her journal over at Caring Bridge. Her family is reading all notes left in her journal to her as she transitions. Whether your read her writings or not, thank you for giving her a fine send-off with your thoughts and wishes, and thank you Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg for letting us know.

some things never change, others will by golly

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As they left the church, the preacher shook their hands and surprised them by announcing his decision to join them at their house for lunch. Said he’d change clothes and be right over. The mother hadn’t prepared enough food for an extra hungry mouth, and of course there was no time to increase the quantities, so when the preacher arrived, threw back his shoulders, patted his paunch, and announced how very hungry he was, the three girls did the only thing they knew to do. They passed the platter of fried chicken to him, and when he asked “Aren’t you having some?” as he heaped three pieces on his own plate, they said “We don’t eat chicken on Sunday.” And when they passed the peas without taking any for themselves, they said “We don’t eat peas on Sunday.” And there was enough for him to have three refills of sweet tea because – you guessed it – they professed to not drinking tea on Sunday.

These were my great aunts, and my heart cries a little bit every time I think about this true story, and whether it’s slaving over a hot stove then heaping the food onto the plates of men waiting at the table with napkins tied around their necks or insisting that men ride in the front seat of the car they bought and paid for, or any number of other things that my tired brain can’t think of right now, I realize how many women have taught me well when it comes to handing over my power.

Why beat a dead horse, you might ask. This is old news. Can’t we move on?

Where’s the line between good manners and handing over your power, anyway? How can you tell the difference between the two?

Then comes my personal favorite, always asked with eyes closed to the point of slits: Are you trying to make all these women be like you instead of allowing them to be themselves?

Good questions that I ask myself (frequently) along with a side of these:

Where did this come from, this handing over of our female power? Was it after World War II when the women stepped aside from the jobs they did so well to let the resume working? Was when the men returned after the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States when woman after woman not only increased the income from the farms but found new crops and markets for those new crops?

More than anything (except for world peace, of course) I want to move past this, but obviously it’s something that remains stuck in my craw. For the record, no, I absolutely am not trying to change women who defer to men. That’s their choice to do or stop doing as they see fit. I recognize the deep and constant conditioning and imprinting on me, and I know that I’m an adult woman, perfectly capable of making my own decisions, cognitively aware of what’s going on. But regardless of years gone under my bridge, regardless of what my brain knows, I still feel the imprinting, and I feel it strongly . . . usually in the form of guilt for refusing to give my food to any man who is rude enough and pompous enough to expect me to; shame that I can’t be as nice and as generous as the women who preceded me in this family; and concern that I embarrass them with my repeated outbursts about handing over our power in ways large and small.

Two days ago, Angela Kelsey wrote about provenance – such a lovely word referring to the chain of ownership of a work of art. She notes her own provenance (because let’s face it: life is art) and closes with her hope that the final entry of her provenance will be herself. Her own name. Her post is the spark that got me pondering this . . . again . . . but this time by stitching the two plates of peas, I stayed with this agitation long enough to realize that at the heart of my continued agitation is the aforementioned guilt and shame and embarrassment. I, too, want to add my name to my life’s provenance, and I want to do it resolutely without a trace of doubt or sticky residue. Now I know what to work on, that I’m certain that I’m really not continuing to flog a dead horse, I’ll set about plucking out the guilt, embarrassment, and shame – and I will do it, too, then I’ll complete my provenance by adding my own name: Wholly Jeanne.

And frame it. The whole damn thing.

friendships, day 13

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mother’s friendship roll is long and full. she has friends from work, friends from starbucks, friends from church, friends she grew up with. mother is always socializing with this friend or that friend. sending cards. going to lunch. making quick check-in phone calls.

me? well, i always said that my children made me the best friends – and in many ways they still do. historically, my friends were mothers of my children’s friends. now my friendship roll is populated with women i’ve met through my involvement with the theatre company my daughter started 5 years ago. many of the people i graduated from high school with are still in the area, and i count them as friends. my friends from graduate school, both classmates and faculty, are scattered around the world. and then there are the women i’ve met online – mostly through blogs and twitter.

(my mother must occasionally worry about how many people will be at my funeral, because that is an important testament, you know.)

in my experience, the evolution of an online friendship – at least on twitter – goes like this: exchange follows on twitter > exchange tweets and retweets > comment on each other’s blog > swap private emails > exchange phone numbers > connect via phone or skype > meet in person.

many of my friends live in different time zones, so when we do lunch, it’s a virtual lunch.

and it’s not always at lunchtime for at least one of us.

but they’re still friendships. we’re women who share the same interests; ask the same questions of ourselves and others; laugh together; cry together; help each other realize our desires and dreams; and just generally see and consequently bring out the best in each other. it’s amazing how close i feel to so many of these women i’ve never laid eyes on. how much i cherish them, am stimulated by their creativity, enriched by their intelligence, shored by our conversations.

one of these women is celebrating a birthday today: angela kelsey (@angelakelsey). angela is an avid, intrepid seeker who is (thank goodness) willing to share her questions and occasional answers. her open mind and equally open heart inspire me, tickle me, challenge me, encourage me. though her interests are varied, the common thread is a desire to be the very best woman she can be. please click on her name to visit her blog or find her on twitter or, if all else fails, leave a comment here to join me in wishing her happy, happy.

when angela and i first met in person, the ways our friendships differ from our mothers’ friendships really surfaced. when angela told her mother that i was meeting her in columbia, south carolina, her mother expressed concern that i might turn out to be an axe murderer or something. we laughed as she told me the story, but i couldn’t help thinking how understandable that is from our mothers’ perspectives.

well anyway, whether your friends live in the same town or are neighbors in the etherhood, go invest some time into evolving a friendship, will ya? the return on investment is astounding, humbling, life changing.