Thursday, June 28, 2012

Red Sky

Sun Rise Tottenville Beach - photo by Jim Quinn

“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that's all that's happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness--life's painful aspect--softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody's eyes because you feel you haven't got anything to lose--you're just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We'd be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn't have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”  Pema ChödrönStart Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

Today, the sky is blood red.
It takes me down again. 
The known, the unknown
It takes me down again.
See how it glistens, clings to the horizon
aims steadily, forward, onward
But not for me
for me it flickers fast and then its gone
It stings, it smothers
It wallows, it bites
It takes me down again.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Silver Guy

When I meet people who read me, I am often asked about THE SILVER GUY. One of the first things I tell them is that he is as shiny on the inside as he is on the outside. This SILVER GUY deliberately radiates joy and love on a daily basis, not just when he's at Burning Man.

I first met THE SILVER GUY in 2007. All I knew about him was that his name was Jesse and that he lived in Portland. Jesse was in constant motion. He had a rock star aura without the ego. By the end of the week, I was convinced I wasn't cool enough for Jesse. The best I could hope for was that he tolerated me.

What most people don't realize about Burning Man, is that it is intensely therapeutic. Imagine taking the BIGGEST party on the planet and mixing it with soul drudging, psychoanalysis. That first year as camp mates, we were both working on our inner demons, and that work took us in different directions. All that changed the following year.

From that year on, I felt a deep connection to Jesse. It didn't matter if I didn't see him, or hear from him, his essence stayed with me. This is exactly the way I feel about my son - just because he isn't here, doesn't mean he's gone.

What I crave most out of my time here, is people connections - true, genuine, heart connections. I'll show you mine and you show me yours. That is the ONE common denominator all of my camp mates share. That is the main reason I go to Burning Man. 

Because there is a need to know, todays post is an interview with Jesse Fowler - an in-depth look into this wildly charismatic SILVER GUY.

An interview with Jesse Fowler

So Jesse, why do you paint yourself silver? 

The first time I painted myself silver, it was mostly for sunblock. The reaction was so good, that I kept doing it. It felt right the first time, and I was very glad that people enjoyed it. Now it is a tradition in an otherwise very nontraditional life. Every day that black Rock city has existed for the past 7 years, I have been completely silver. I do it for the way people see me, shiny, and out loud. The latest way that I explain it, and sum it up is this "I paint myself silver to reflect the love that I get from those around." The attention that I get, and the status that has been given to me, puts me in a place that allows me to spread the principles of our fair city to newcomers, and through world wide media.

What kind of paint is that anyway?

The paint is mineral based, and is Aluminum powder. I know that it is bad for me, but is worth it. I get people each year warning me about it. Actually, I don't use Aluminum based antiperspirant, because of its effects, and I can feel the effects of the Aluminum paint when I sweat a lot. However, I am an athlete, and take good care of my body otherwise.

How long have you been going to Burning Man?

This year will be my 8th year, I think; maybe 9th. I purposely let it be a montage in my memory. I prefer to not separate the experiences into linear blocks.

What is your profession and do you like what you do?

My profession currently is selling high end vintage clothing online, and freelance acrobatic performance. I have great respect for quality, especially functional goods.Along with being silver, I like to evoke feeling with the way I look in the default world. People get a good feeling when they see others dressed well, and, like being silver, it opens conversations that lead to otherwise hard to reach places.
As an acrobat, I love using my body as extremely as I can, while staying healthy. It was given to me to use, and I explore that every day!

 (Jesse, spun fire while walking on these stilts at the base of the Man on burn night)

When you're not at Burning Man what do you do for fun?

When I'm not [home], I stay entertained by exploring my immediate world, which is full of different people. Along with seeing what this body can do, I really like seeing what this mind can do, by comparing it to other people's experiences.

(NO, that pole is not inserted or attached)

Why do you go to Burning Man?

I go to Burning Man, because it feels like the home that I was born without. They say that you can never go home, but I do, for very brief times, each year. I was robbed of a childhood, and I obviously can't have one now, with loving, nurturing parents, and no cares. Burning Man is the closest thing that I would have ever imagined, all of the years of asking myself how I can replace that. It is full of loving 
nurturing people, and I am care free when I am there.

(French maids and the Butler, head out to dust the playa)

Do you think Burning Man is going to SUCK this year? (this is one of those weird, burning man statements we make every year - declaring that it will suck, as if SUCK translates into all things magnificent). 

Burning man is going to suck better than ever before! There will be assholes, and saints. There will be pain, and ecstasy. I could find plenty of things to be constantly unhappy with, but am pretty sure I will find, and attract beauty. This year is special, as it should be. There will be uncertainty, again. There will be drive, and strife again. There will be magic, and any cool kid will tell you that magic sucks.

(Jesse receives a violation for having silver skin)

And finally, what would you like people to know about you?

I would like people to know that I am a burning man. I have seen the depths of misery. I have endured physical, and emotion pain that no one should ever know. I have thought to myself more times than I could possibly remember that this moment may truly be my last. I never knew the love of a Mother, or father and many times thought I couldn't live without it. Yet, I am happy now. I still consider my life, with all of it's suffering, an unfathomable gift. Sometimes, I wouldn't change a minute, because it put me exactly where I am now. I know the great peaks from the depths of the valleys. I know the warmth, because of bitter cold. I know the strength of my stem, from the struggle of my roots, to the triumph of my flower.

(a rare, non-silver moment. Jesse, sportin' his merkin)

 For FABULOUS vintage clothing, check out FABGAB on Etsy.
"Men's and women's vintage clothing, vintage dresses, vintage suits, vintage hats and shoes - deco, rockabilly and more - feed your passion for vintage style! "

(with shop owner, Julie)

xo, MOnkeyME

Here is a quick little video about the love and silliness that unfolds...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me

Friday was my birthday. I'm not good at birthdays. Getting older doesn't bothers me. It's more about expectations and leftover childhood resentments. And, it feels like pressure. Pressure to be joyous, to feel loved, and to be entertained.

As a child, I only remember one birthday party. I was turning twelve (?). It was a sleepover birthday party and my mother made me a fabulous butterfly birthday cake.

For my thirteenth birthday my father bought me a baby blue princess phone. The following day my mother cut the cord after I was caught shoplifting at a local department store. I was grounded and spent the weekend smoking lemon cigarettes out my bedroom window.

That bust put a fear in me so deep that, till this day, I can't sample a grape in a grocery store, and I often think merchants are thinking I'm thinking of steeling something. Which I swear to you, I am NOT!

I don't like the birthday spotlight. I know you don't believe me, but I don't. Because when its on, I have to perform. I'm not good at remembering my lines or acting buoyant or gracious. I'm more of a spontaneous kind of monkey.

And, I suck at receiving gifts. It doesn't matter if I like it or not. I'd rather NOT get a gift but then, when I don't get any gifts, I am disappointed.

My favorite gift, hands down, was a personalized, green tackle box with "SHANNON E. KENNEDY" inscribed on a small brass plate - perfectly centered on the lid. It was a gift from my boyfriend, now husband, during our first year of dating. We both enjoyed fishing. That box told me we'd be spending more time together. After all, you wouldn't give a women a tackle box and expect her to fish alone, right?

My second favorite gift came the following year. It was also from my boyfriend, now husband. It was a basket of fruit. Nothing says I love you like a basket of fruit, right? Who gives someone they HOPE loves them a basket of fruit for their birthday?

When I asked my boyfriend, now husband, why fruit, he said he thought I liked fruit. Years later he confessed that he was out of ideas. Many, many years later he confessed that he felt pressure to get the perfect gift and choked.

The reason the tackle box and the fruit are my two favorite gifts is because they turned into stories that I have told over and over again. And today, I am writing about them.

This year, I wanted to keep my birthday simple and do what makes me happy. For me, that meant writing and running. Running is not a good idea at this stage of my recovering so I was content to walk 3 miles. And yes, blogging does count as writing (at least it does to me).

This blogging and walking strategy was due to take place first thing Friday morning, but I got a call from a client and I needed to leave the house quickly, without a shower.

I spent the next 4 1/2 hours semi-stressed, in the sun, trying to make someone happy. I was miserable.

I arrived home exhausted. All I wanted to do was take a nap.

I discovered an orange bicycle perched in my kitchen - a gift from my then boyfriend, now husband.

It's lovely, but I'm afraid to ride it. The streets near our house are narrow and besides, I don't want to be one of those women who wears bike shorts and a helmut. My ass is too big and my head is too small.

After a much needed shower, Miss Pegged, Mark and I had lunch on the deck. It was a beautiful day. And then, I took a nap.

I woke in time for (my grandson) Jackson's 6:00 pm performance in Shakespeare's, Taming of the Shrew. He played a servant to Baptista, as well as Grumio, Petruchio's servant. He was magnificent.

Afterwards, we had dinner at Jackson's favorite restaurant - a Japanese hibachi restaurants where they bang pots and pans together while singing Hall pee Bird day! And then there is cake, and a candle that you must blow out. And then they tell you to smile while they take a family photo.

I didn't smile. I (sort of) wanted to smile but I was convinced I had a piece of broccoli stuck between my teeth.

A retake was requested. This time, after confirmation that there was no broccoli, I smiled.

Whats interesting about the first picture is that, although you can't see it in this picture of the picture (did that make sense?), in the original, you can clearly see an ORB above my head. No, its not that light, on the top, towards the right. That is a reflection from the light on the wall.

The orb is absent in the second photo. To me, the orb is my father's spirit. It is my first birthday without him and I miss him and of course he wouldn't miss it. Not the food part anyway. He always loved to eat. That's how I knew he wanted to die. He stopped eating.

After dinner I came home and talked to Ricki. Like me, Ricki was disfigured by DICDOC, the head plastic surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Together we strategized and vented and most importantly, bonded. Finding Ricki validates the injustice that DICDOC did to me. To us. What a wonderful birthday gift that was.

As soon as the clock struck 12:01, I felt a deep sense of relief. My birthday was over.

The rest of the weekend was spent doing not all about ME, things. But of course, it was still about me.

I visited Amy at the flower shop and bought more flowers for the deck.

Robin, my favorite monkey gurl, came to visit. She brought wine glasses that she painted with her boobs.

Jackson stayed the weekend. Boris joined us for dinner on the deck and then I painted everyones toenails. It was dark on the deck. I was drinking. It was silly, simple, fun.

The next day, I bought myself a birthday present. My very own, two ring, inflatable pool.

It matches my bike.

There is so much in my life to be grateful for. Today, I'd like to thank YOU for continuing to encouraging my joy of writing. Thank you for recognizing the goodness in me and for making me feel comfortable enough to express myself, honestly. And mostly, thank you for loving me.

xo, MonkeyME

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why PINK isn't Pretty

Pinkwasher: (pink’-wah-sher) noun. A company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.

From the beginning, way before I knew I had cancer, or knew anything about cancer, I didn't like that ribbon. I didn't understand why, but it just didn't feel right. It wasn't just the ribbon, it was the walks, the pins, the bracelets, and all the breast cancer awareness propaganda.

I didn't get the same negative vibe from the AIDS awareness or the AFSP movement, but that PINK ribbon, well, THAT made my green monkey hairs stand up.

Two months before my bad mammogram, my husband and I were at a New Orleans Saints game on Breast Cancer Awareness Day. We were packed into a stadium that is typically overflowing with a  creative expression of colorful costumes. This is a big reason why Saints games are so much fun. But this time, the overflow of PINK was nauseating. 

You could argue that, on some level, I knew breast cancer was around the corner. Or that, by nature, I don't like to be told what to do, wear, or promote. I think that (being a highly intuitive monkey) I knew that something about the PINK was not in sync.

Foremost in my mind is why. Why is being a women the main risk for developing breast cancer? And why, after all these pink ribbon efforts, is breast cancer on the rise?

What we do know is that the cancer industry consists of agencies, organizations and corporations that fail to protect our health, promote corporate agendas, and divert attention away from finding a cure.

Currently most clinical trials are funded by grants from pharmaceutical companies which, at the very least, poses a conflict of interest or a spinning of science. 

Companies that have sold pink ribbon products have also been linked to increased risk of breast cancer. In 2011, Komen commissioned a perfume called "Promise Me" that contained chemicals that are regulated as toxic and have demonstrated negative health effects.

PINK RIBBON INC is a documentary that explores corporate involvement in breast cancer activism and questions the Komen organization, among others, for placing a higher priority on politics and marketing than on medicine. It is currently in a limited release and will be available on Netflix. 

I am one of the women who, as the documentary states, is appalled by the effort to make breast cancer pretty.

Mastectomy's are not pretty. Reconstruction, chemotherapy and radiation is not pretty. Side effects of drug therapy is not pretty.

As all of you know, I LIVE OUT LOUD. I am not ashamed to share my flaws, my strengths, my joys or my sorrows. If I let it out it doesn't stick inside me. If I express it, it doesn't torment me. If I give it light, it doesn't overshadow me.

And sometimes, it helps someone. Sometimes, someone connects with it. And when someone connects with it, they feel less alone. For all of you that are living with breast cancer, YOU are not alone. I am here with you. I am struggling with you.

I recently took part in a survey where I was asked about my cancer. I was questioned about the care I received from my doctors, hospital and staff, and I was also asked about the emotional scars of my cancer.

Does having cancer restrict you from living an active, normal life? 
Do you worry about dying? 
Do you feel embarrassed by the loss of your breasts? 
Do you feel less of a women?
Do you feel less attractive, less sexual, less desirable?
Do you deliberately coverup, conceal, or hide your chest? 

My answer...

 No, No, No, No, No, NO!


Because I write about it. Because I talk about it. Because I blog and Facebook about it. Because I post pictures of my progress - from the eve of my mastectomy to my latest fill. And I will continue to post pictures and stories until I feel that I am healed.

(that bottom, red area means I'm in pain)

After a recent saline fill of 120cc's my right mound is currently at "more than a handful." Because of my tissue expander debacle, left breast has some catching up to do. If you see me, you'll notice I'm rockin' the right mound so please try not to focus on my left.

I recently told a neighbor that they'll know when I'm done with my surgeries because I'll walk topless to the mailbox.

And I assure you that I will.

Bottom line is, I along with many women, feel proud of what we've done to treat our cancer. Our scars are a reflection of our courage. 

XO, MonKEYme

Before you buy PINK ask...

1. How much money from this purchase go to support breast cancer programs and is there a cap?

2. What organization will get the money? What will they do with the funds, and how do these programs turn the tide of the breast cancer epidemic?

3. Does this purchase put you or someone you love at risk for exposure to toxins linked to breast cancer?

4. What is the company doing to ensure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Down by the River

There is much I haven't shared with you over the past few weeks. Some of it makes me sound bitchy or wimpy. Some of it is silly. All of it is important to me.

Did you know there is a rare orchid that resembles a monkey? It is called Orchis Simia and it grows in the forests of Ecuador. It is known for its pungent odor, which some say is similar to that of feces.

(Thank you Sam Bailey for the share!)

I had another surgery last week. It was an unscheduled surgery. My left tissue expander sprung a leak and needed to be removed immediately. I was pretty calm about it. One of the surgical nurses recognized me from my April 24th surgery and said, "I remember you, you begged us all not to let another Kennedy die." And then she laughed. They all laughed. I thought I was going to save that line for my final, expander to implant surgery. Damn, I'm running out of material.

This time, as they strapped me onto the operating table I remarked, "I thought this room of pain was red?" (a reference to 50 Shades of Grey). Everyone but the (male) anesthesiologist laughed.

My doctor, whom I still love, informed me that in 35 years of practice, she'd never seen it happen. There was a small leak towards the bottom of my expander, directly over my heart. She jokingly asked if anyone I knew might have a voodoo doll intended for me. Nervously, I laughed.

When I got home I quickly emailed Jesse and Julie - the keepers of Mike, my giant voodude doll. I made Mike for Burning Man last year.  We were going to burn him along with the Man but he was so much fun dragging around that he survived and Jesse and Julie offered to take him home with them to Portland.

(thats a merkin he's wearing incase you were wondering)

The full story of Mike is an important one. If you'd like to read it, its called WHATS RIGHT WITH ME.

My deck is in full bloom. I am micromanaging the flowers and spying on the birds. Last week a crowd of children gathered for a birthday party. They hired a magician who, along with a bag of tricks, had a joke or two to tell. I heard one as I was walking by with Miss Lucy. It went like this...

Bobby's mother had three children. One's name was April. The others name was June. What was the third childs name?

No one guessed correctly. Not even me. Later, during drinks on the deck with my husband and Jay (aka Boris), I retold the joke. Jay got it immediately.

You know, don't you? You're all so clever that you, just like Jay, got it right away.

The other childs name is Bobby.

I found an injured chipmunk in our driveway, brought him inside and named him Chippy. I took care of him for almost a week before he died. I cried harder then a sane women should when Chippy died. I held him in my hands and he looked up at me with his sweet little brown eyes. He took two deep gasps of air and then he was gone. We had a private service for him. He is buried beneath a glorious Japanese maple tree.

Our cat-dog, Miss Phoebe, has learned a new trick. She waits until Centro's, the restaurant across the river, has a full dinner crowd on its outdoor deck and then she climbs our roof and waits for someone to spot her.  She'll cross the top of the roof line - back and forth, back and forth - crouch down, ears back, meowing "HELP ME, HELP ME" louder then you'd think a house cat could. It's an academy award winning performance, I'll give her that. Most animal loving patrons will stop eating and peer in worry. When she thinks she's got everyones attention, she's tip-toe her way back down to safety. Twice she's received a standing ovation. She has no front claws, so it's NOT a wise choice on her part but she insists on living on the edge.

For the past 10 years, I have been actively working on releasing the guilt of my sons death but clearly, there is still more work to be done. Part of the problem is that I don't want to let it go. I'm not sure why.  On the anniversary of his death I went to a local art supply store to purchase fabric dye. My plan is to dye my fathers t-shirts in a multitude of colors.V-neck, white fruit of the loom t-shirts were his favorite.  I have over 25 of them, each of them are priceless to me.

While I was there I ran into Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I have not seen them since my son's death. They owned a liquor store near our old apartment in Cos Cob, Connecticut. Their son George worked with them at the store. George and Kerry were the same age and they both went to Greenwich High School. George disappeared on July 5, 2005, while on his honeymoon in the Mediterranean on a cruise ship.

I don't know if the Smith's recognized me. I don't know if they know that I too lost a son. I wanted so badly to embrace them, cry with them, but there was something about the injured look in their eyes that told me to walk away. Still, it was a sad yet comforting reminder that I am not the only parent forever mourning their son.

It is almost my birthday. I miss my father. I love my deck. Polo starts this weekend. I love Polo. Jackson (grandson) is playing baseball. Mary (Jackson's mom) broke her foot. I want a puppy.

This morning, we spotted a blue whale floating down the river. A sign to me that it's going to be a glorious day.

XO, MonKEYme

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.    Martha Graham

A beautiful reminder from my dear friend Em at 35 Jupiter Drive.

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


Photo by Joan Harrison