Breast Cancer Bites. Kiss My Breast Good-bye.

Breast Cancer Bites. Kiss My Breast Good-bye. I find myself on the merging ramp to a mastectomy and wishing to yield, for just a moment, before this breast becomes a blurred memory in the traffic flow of life. She is the part I must release to protect the whole but she will not go without notice or appreciation for what she held space. There is a body of experience in this sweet breast of mine. She and her sister were late bloomers. No doubt, I got that premature training bra because my mother was tired of fielding questions that always started with a whiny “When???” As intimate partners go, both breasts have been first class beyond their champagne-glass classification. But she is the one that held space over my heart. For that I grieve her loss. I would love to kiss her for all that we’ve gone through together – but she is not that large nor I that agile. Sound strange?
Our bodies are living, breathing temples that hold space for a fusion of body, mind and spirit – from the most elemental level to the most sublimely sacred that life has to offer. And each part speaks to aspects of experience that leave imprints – clues – as to how we maneuver through and integrate events from the significant to the mundane.
From the time she first popped onto the scene, this sweet gal of mine protected my heart from, as well as expressed it to, inexperienced curiosity seekers and seasoned explorers until she found the one who gave her no need to shield and every reason to expand into a union of body, heart and spirit. She is visible, palpable evidence of an evolving woman’s journey into and through the greater portion of womanhood – edging into crone. Granted, she does not hold the life-sustaining importance of a lung or heart but she holds emotion-sustaining space for what works – and what doesn’t – in choices made to love and nurture self and others. Choices for expression, play, creativity, sensation, flirtation, exhibition, pro-creation, courage, pride, compassion – just pull out a dictionary and read on. You will find a piece of her on every page. She never nursed a child but experienced the loss of two miscarriages. She was with me through betrayal, reunion, divorce and death. She was present to those who honored and dishonored her, to those who gave love and withheld love. She registered the difference between body-to-body encounters and body-to-heart lovemaking. Eaten away by cancer, she is not looking particularly attractive by today’s standards but she is beautiful to me, for she kept vigil at the altar of my heart. And she is taking the hit for the cancer of disappointment, grief and good old-fashioned stress. Her final act of nurturing is one of surrender, as she and I hope to contain the damage with her removal. She will be replaced by a re-constructed stand-in, made to mimic her and topped off by a knotted piece of skin and tattooed nipple. (Somewhere, I hear Joni Mitchell singing, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot ... don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone?”) Trust me, though I joke, I do not feel flip about this loss – one that rides on the tails of an overlapping grief for Ray, who lost his battle with cancer in March. (See Life. Death. Breast Cancer.) Surely there is a ritual fitting for this part of my body that represents sexuality and sensuality – courtesan and Madonna alike? This part of me that society deems a symbol of my femininity, both object and recipient of pleasure and sensual sensation that now speaks more to the simple pleasures found in life. Right now, it’s hard to register how I will respond when this part of my body is no longer able to feel the hot water from the shower or the itchy sweat from yard work, the pressing purr of one of my kitties or the clutching ache of grief. So much in this world carries on without notice or appreciation – body parts included – until there is a failure or challenge in the system. After which, maybe, we wake up and realize how much we took for granted and strive to correct that with gratitude for what is left. (Kind of like people in our lives.) Is this post self-indulgent? Perhaps. But you know what? I don’t care. Because, by now, I hope you realize that I am also casting light on LIFE and how we race through it – with or without body parts. There are too many precious moments lost in the flip of a calendar. Too many fast good-byes, the depth of which don’t register until it’s too late. This is one good-bye that will not be lost in the blurred shadow of cancer. Indigenous cultures offer rites of passage marking significant transition points – and this gal of mine is going to get one. I don’t know what other women have done to mark the point of life-before and life-after cancer, but would love to hear any stories you are willing to share. And I mean that for any type of cancer or life altering dis-ease. For now, I will savor her, throw her this virtual party (as well as one at the local coffee shop) and kiss her a mindful good-bye. She resisted gravity’s pull pretty darn good. I will strive to do the same without her. For every bit of love that she now hands over to her sister and me – for every woman who lost or is losing this intimate partner, as well as any other – I kiss my breast and yours for what they held space. And, even if all your parts remain intact, take a moment to extend some gratitude with a little self-pampering, sweet ones. Sharing is caring. If you found something here that inspired, you may know someone else who will feel the same. XO  

Messy Love: Are You a Definer or a Refiner?

Messy Love Definer or Refiner Here’s an idea to play around with. The next time someone or something upsets you, ask yourself, “Does this define me or refine me?” Why? Because your answer determines how you move through the experience and the baggage you carry afterward. Let’s see what Webster has to say about these two words.
Define: to determine the limits or nature of; describe exactly.
Hmmm. “Determine the limits” seems pretty limiting. And “describe exactly” is a crazy-making quest. I don’t know about you but my life – and upsets – defy any exacting description. This defining business is feeling a bit tense.
Refine: to free or become free of impurities. To make or become more polished.
To “become free” and “more polished.” All right. I’m exhaling here. This feels like something I can grab hold of when grappling with an upset. How a Defining Moment Becomes a Refining Moment. Stop. Ask the question. “Does this define me or refine me?” Make a conscious decision. Then proceed in the direction of your answer. When my ex husband left to explore a relationship with another woman – back in the days of Bernadette’s Pages – you could say his act defined our marriage (failed), himself as a man (untrustworthy), and me as a wife (not good enough). Failed. Untrustworthy. Not Good Enough. Now there’s a tidy package that determined “the limits or nature of” what happened between us. Had I accepted this view as my definer I would have gotten stuck, acting out patterns of betrayal, anger, resentment, bitterness, guilt, shame, remorse, confusion, mistrust, defensiveness … and I guarantee you that Bernadette would not be sharing in this blog. But this Bernadette? She asked the question. Again and again and again. As many times as it took for her to drop the definers, pick up the refiners and proceed in the direction of her happily-ever-after. Death-Sentence Definers. Hiding in the past, present and future are relationships and circumstances that beg to define you. If you’re having trouble getting beyond an upsetting someone or something you might be trapped in a definer zone. That’s where the person or situation defines you in a way that you are not comfortable with – many times under radar. A definer like this, with no follow-up refiner, can feel like a death sentence.
I saw Ted at Starbucks with Susan. (My ex must be right; I’m boring.) Samantha got the promotion. (My father was right; I’ll never amount to anything.) They didn't call me back for that second interview. (I am too old.)
Are You Really Upset For The Reason You Think? This world offers lots of legitimate reasons for upset, though illegitimate definers are more common culprits than you think. (Maybe Ted and Susan were planning a surprise party for our voyeur – but skewed definers are a topic for another day.) Whether caused by the real world or the one in your head, it’s key to note there is a difference between the upset of pain and the upset of suffering. Suffering is a choice. A mental attitude based on fear and often supported by a definer.   Messy Love: Are You a Definer or a Refiner?It hurt when my ex left. Real bad. I was in pain. But it was my definers that made me suffer. Not his leaving. Once I got them to surface, I saw the classroom and an opportunity to cut through the crap – all the excuses that kept recycling the past into the present relationship. Surprisingly, defusing my definers opened the door to a refining process that allowed us to reconcile and make it another eighteen years. Defusing my definers also allowed me to recognize that divorce, for reasons that extended beyond our control or recovery, was ultimately in our best interest if we were to continue to grow. (Now there's a heavy duty definer-refiner playground.) If You Get Nothing Else From This Blog Post, Get This! A reason to pause the next time something or someone gets under your skin and ask yourself,
  • Does this define me or refine me?
  • Does this define me in a way that I don’t like?
  • Do I have to accept this definer?
  • Can I use this to refine me? (Make me a better person, artist, dog lover … free me from negative relationships, jobs, speeding tickets … Get the idea?)
Trapped in a Definer Zone? Ask. Decide. Proceed.
  • Does losing this marriage/relationship define or refine you?
  • Does losing this job define or refine you?
  • Does your childhood define or refine you?
  • Does your health condition define or refine you?
  • Does an addiction define or refine you?
  • Do your children define or refine you?
Here’s to replacing those definers with refiners that lead you to living your best life yet! As always, I welcome your comments. (They won’t define me but I might use them to refine me.) And, if you like this post then LIKE it and SHARE it. It won't define you if you don't but it might refine someone if you do. XO

Recipe for Romance Anyway

Musings from the Messy Room: Woo God. Romance the World. Be Flirty. (Take flight) Be Dirty. (Play in the dirt.) Be Loved. (From Heaven to Earth.) Here's a meSSy thought. What if you flirted with God? What if, instead of giving God your woe-is-me-where-is-he/she, you gave God a woo-is-You-love-me-through.
"There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." Rumi "There are infinite ways for God to caress and kiss our soul." Me
Romance your life. Be YOU in love ... anyway! Then it might be easier to recognize the lover who knows how to use romance for love's sake. (And not manipulate for favors.) Embrace your sensuality ... anyway. Romance the world ... anyway. BE your sexy, delicious self ... anyway. Make those divine in-love discoveries ... anyway. Woo God and unleash the love of the universe in your own backyard ... anyway. Don't wait for Mister or Miss Right to give you permission to be the YOU that you are when inspired by love, BeLoved meSSie. Grab that mixing bowl called life and add a dash of flirty, a pinch of dirty, and season with love to taste. Now, pardon me while I throw a BiG meSSy SmOOchMwah your way and wish you a Happy Valentine's Day EVERY day ... anyway. PS: You don't have to be single to use this recipe for romance. But then I think you knew that ... anyway. If you like this post, then please LIKE and SHARE because together we grow a better world! And be sure to SUBSCRIBE for more Messy Room muse inspirations to come!

Visual Storytelling: She Pitched Her Tie and Put on Pearls

Mixed Media Art, She Pitched Her Tie and Put on Pearls by Bernadette Rose Smith
A string of pearls with the affirming message, “Today is the day to find courage within,” lightly dance around the tail of a man’s tie like the wave of the Chinese symbol for yin and yang. The oyster with its soft, sensitive body, not unlike a woman’s, creates a pearl when challenged by the irritation and discomfort of a grain of sand or grit. Wisdom that comes from life experience is hard won in the same way pearls are created. “Pearls of wisdom” dance around a woman’s throat from where she gives voice to hard won opalescent experiences of sacred passion, desire, being, creativity and so much more.
  What happens when a woman wears a tie or puts on pearls? As women – single, married, divorced – how do we maintain balance with bringing home the bacon and frying it? My desire with Ties and Pearls was to create a piece that spoke to the invisible partnering of the male and female in each of us, and how that manifests in our relationships in a visually appealing way. The archetypal power struggle that happens when masculine and feminine energies within us are out of balance (Jung referred to it as the anima and animus) is the inspiration for this art that mused its way into my studio with this passage from that book I am tearing up.  
I see where my husband became my life, rather than came to be in my life. Somehow I deluded myself into thinking that I was strong enough not to lose myself in him. That I would know if I crossed the line. How did I get so far over it? How? I spent too many years carrying on like a man. My own distorted spin on the women’s liberation bra burning era I grew up in.... As a woman, safety in a man’s world required liberation from myself. What a paradox! The inner male I took on for strength was the one leading me astray. The very behavior I despised in a man who could not honor, recognize, or value a woman was the very behavior I supported when my male side shadowed my female side...When I let “him” lead, I am chasing my shadow, going nowhere fast. Did I lose myself in what I felt driven to, or find myself? I don’t regret for a minute letting the woman in me take the lead ... I don’t regret the time I’ve taken to get to know her, to learn to trust her. She has the map to my psyche. The wisdom and strength I need to hold true to my soul’s calling. And through all of this she is showing me how to give of myself without giving up myself. Better for my inner male to provide the fuel and momentum under her direction and inspiration. That way they both arrive at a place they actually want to be. A much healthier arrangement!” Excerpt from Bernadette’s Pages: An Intimate Crossroad
  This was a big classroom for me. My need to find balance and create a safe space for expression as a woman wearing pearls found its way into many journal entries through the course of that 9-month period of separation-on-the-brink-of-divorce ... and beyond. While musing over this art, my desire was to create a light visual for a heavy topic. From a distance, I wanted this to be simple and graphic. (Yang/Masculine) Up close, I wanted the layers to reveal themselves slowly, to entice the viewer into more intimate discoveries. (Yin/Feminine) In the struggle to find a balance, puzzle-pieced together text creates a man’s stark white dress shirt squared off against the inviting curve of a woman’s red bra. Background, created by text collage, represents the boundless body of a woman and the content of her experience. She Pitched Her Tie and Put on Pearls by Bernadette Rose Smith So many rich layers of metaphors spoke to me while playing with this. Here are just a few, captured with images and captions to springboard you into entertaining your own thoughts about this subject. Mixed Media Art, She Pitched Her Tie and Put on Pearls by Bernadette Rose Smith, Close Up of Pearls   The straight angular tie is cast off and almost phallic. (Something I didn’t notice until later.) It is the only piece of the art where text was not the substrate used to make its form. Gold thread and striped text whisper to challenges in breaking free of choking restraints A string of pearls, with their affirming message, lightly dance around tail of a man’s tie. Balanced, at last, like the wave of the Chinese symbol for yin and yang. Mixed Media Art, She Pitched Her Tie and Put on Pearls by Bernadette Rose Smith, Tie and Dancing Pearls Chinese characters for peace and joy (alternate corners) provide a foundation for moving forward when the male and female at last dance in harmony. Every woman has her story in relationship to ties and pearls. (Gentlemen, I invite you to consider your side of the fence with this because you have a relationship with ties and pearls as well.) I would love to hear about them! Are they working? Not working? In for revisions? And, if you are a creative-type, how do feel you about using your chosen craft as a way to see an aspect of yourself or life differently – or perhaps more lightly?  

#5 from the series “Tear Up that Book and Make Art.” Prints available in the Messy Room Art Gallery or Click Here for my Etsy Shop

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Forgive it Forward: Grievance Trafficking

Forgive it Forward Grievance Trafficker Gathering grievances is tedious and soul consuming. Past, present or future. AND have you noticed how short-lived their collective pleasure is? No matter how many you manage to gather they NEVER make you feel better for very long. There is no magic number that brings a sustainable relief. AND if you are grievance gathering to get off a guilt hook (like in a relationship) ... well, that never ends well because it never ends. The other 'guilty' party will always accept the challenge to top your grievance with one of theirs. Think about it. AND if you join the trafficker realm (this is when you invite other friends or institutions to join you) you are pretty much assured your (and their) future will look like what you are trying to erase, correct or escape because you just multiplied the lens you are ALL looking through. Here's the thing. We've ALL done it at one time or another. So, what if we get out of the grievance trafficking business and start living. REALLY living a life without grievances. Just think of all the free time and energy we will have for what REALLY feels good!

Heart Bypass: Living and Loving on the Highway

Heart Bypass: Living and Loving on the Highway If you live in Atlanta, you know I-285. Those traveling the north/south or east/west interstates call it the bypass but really it’s a loop that circles the heart of the city. Locals refer to I-285 as The Perimeter. When asking directions around here, one usually starts with “Are you inside or outside the perimeter?” For insiders, driving too far outside the perimeter is akin to an “out of state” road trip. For outsiders, driving too far inside the perimeter requires a course in street life savvy, the kind that keeps you from turning down the wrong street in a Walking Dead episode. “NOoooo... don’t go THERE! Zombies ahead!” (Hey, it’s not my fault. A friend got me hooked.) These days, life outside the perimeter mimics conveniences of city life. And for some who choose to settle outside, it’s “close enough” to live on a perimeter that bypasses hardcore city commitments with softcore city-like amenities. Time was, a reasonably clear inside/outside demarcation could be made but now the inner feels a lot like the outer while navigating this Nascar-esque bypass. In the speedway blur, you think you are in the city proper. Looks like it. Feels like it. Sounds like it. Smells like it. But not it. Now, lets switch gears. (Hey, I’m working a metaphor here.) Think about the heart. Your heart. Where it resides. And who resides in it. Like Atlanta, your heart is the city. The closer to the center the stronger the pulse as blood pumps (emotions, passions, dreams, fears) through the arteries and side streets with all the pedestrian conveniences. Culture. People. Parks. Coffee shops. Nightlife. But also challenges like traffic jams, convention re-routes, and one way do not enter streets. Get the picture? This is you. You living and loving in the heart of your city. Enter new relationship. (Or awaken in an old one.) Maybe you meet this person on the loop and do the bypass-dating thing for a while. After all, it’s close and has enough of the amenities you need to make the trip worth it. Both hearts are protected while enjoying this exploration of the almost-city. You like the neighborhood, so you rev up your motor a bit and turn into the beyond casual dating zone. Day and night traffic blurs the perimeter lines as you drive deeper into their city – while they remain on the loopy bypass. Do you notice that they are riding the perimeter or choosing the bypass? If you do notice, do you:
a. Give them time. b. Hand them a map or upgrade their GPS. c. Decide close enough is enough. d. Figure you can work with it and/or change them. e. Acquiesce to this one being better than the last one. f. Evacuate. g. All of the above. h. None of the above.

What do you do if you find you are the only one in the city, the only one in your heart?

Or are you? Cities have a lot of vacant buildings – urban flight and all that. Did you fall through the cracks of a heart broken by past city dwellers or squatters? Did you take flight and not notice? Are you waiting for someone else to give you permission to move back into the city? Reclaim your heart? Did you get caught on the good enough is close enough loop and is that how they got away with looping the bypass? (Add “for so long” if you are in an old relationship.) Lots of questions, I know. But finding the answers offers a pedestrian view that allows you to occupy – not bypass – your own heart while deciding if you will continue the drive into theirs. If you don’t embrace your city life, with all its traffic jams and conventioneers looking for a good time, who will? And if you are not present to your own heart chances are you’ll dismiss theirs – or miss the exit/entrance ramps that will get you where you really want to go and ultimately reside. I know this because I am well traveled – loops and all. No judgments here, folks. Just some street savvy and a patched up heart in a city with as many streets called Forgiveness as Atlanta has called Peachtree.

Pssst: This heart bypass metaphor can be applied to other relationships you have ... like why a job is or is not working for you or where your creativity is or is not hanging out. There are no limits where the heart is concerned!

So, tell me what routes you've been taking these days!

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