On Falling, Part III: Triumph Narratives and Feeling my Feelings

I am resurrecting this long-dormant blog to write about my ongoing process of healing after falling off a 30-40′ cliff in June 2015.  I’m still sorting through trauma, pain, frustration, and gratitude to be alive. I think these kinds of experiences change you; at least, I think it changed me, somehow. This is part of a series – check out Part I and Part II, and keep an eye out for more posts over the next few months.

Recently, when people have asked me how I broke my leg, I have been telling them, “well, uh, actually, I fell off a cliff,” and then I’ll chuckle awkwardly (and inappropriately) not because it’s funny, but because I don’t want to think or talk about how horrible it was. Maybe I’ll crack a joke: “after having my jaw wired shut for six weeks, I have a whole new appreciation for solid food! Ha!” or, “with all this titanium, now I’ll always set off TSA metal detectors! Ha!” If I tell you the story like it was no big deal, then maybe it won’t be a big deal, right? Maybe if I spend enough time acting brave, then I’ll actually feel brave.

Triumph narratives have been bothering me. I feel a certain pressure to be “courageous” and to “beat the odds” or whatever, especially because I already survived something that could have easily killed me. It seems like the only culturally-correct way to be injured or infirm is to be a “warrior” about it–there’s no room in our lexicon for vulnerability, frustration, and the banal pains of healing.

Continue reading “On Falling, Part III: Triumph Narratives and Feeling my Feelings”

On Falling, Part I: Is This Real?

I am resurrecting this long-dormant blog (active 2010-2012, and not since – maybe don’t read the archives?) because I need to write about what happened to me this summer.  The TL;DR version is that I fell off a cliff on June 21 and miraculously survived, but there’s obviously much more to it than that. I’m still sorting through trauma, pain, frustration, and gratitude to be alive. I think these kinds of experiences change you; at least, I think this experience changed me, somehow.

Over the course of the next few weeks (months?), I plan to write a series of posts about my experience. I have been thinking about writing this since early July, but I’m doing it now. My friend Stevie inspired me to do it with her own beautiful, vulnerable discussions of embodiment, medicine, and trauma.

This first post is just the who-what-when-where of my accident. Be warned – there are some gory details ahead.

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Cooper Canyon Falls

My plan for the summer was to travel for three weeks and spend the rest of the time studying for my PhD comprehensive exams in August, working on my dissertation proposal, and picking wild berries in the Pennsylvania forest. After ten days in Denver visiting my mom and brother, I flew to Los Angeles to visit my boyfriend KC. He lives about 80 miles north of LA and works at a federal research lab in the Mojave.

I arrived in LA on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday morning KC and I went out for a short hike in the Angeles National Forest. We chose a 3-mile trail that went from the Buckhorn Campground to Cooper Canyon Falls. We turned off the main trail too early and ended up at the top of the waterfall instead of the base, on a steep rock face a few yards above the edge.

My mom has had a terrible fear of heights for as long as I can remember. Our family vacations were punctuated by her insistence that my brother and I not get closer than ten feet from the edge of anything. In the past several years she has improved significantly through a combination of various therapies and what I assume to be sheer force of will, but she still steers clear of all edges and dropoffs. I somehow managed to avoid developing the same phobias, and was proud of my bravery, but perhaps I should have been more careful.

Continue reading “On Falling, Part I: Is This Real?”

1946-2011

Please note my dad's Conversation Face. He had that same awesome expression during basically every conversation.
Dad and Grandma, 2007.

This is difficult to write about. The past few weeks have been foggy and sad and generally kind of awful. My dad died of complications from a bone-marrow transplant seven days short of the one-year anniversary of the procedure (earlier this month), and I miss him a lot.

My dad was the biggest badass the world has ever seen. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, and between then and now he got his black belt in Tae Kwon Do, became an expert skier, completed a few 100+ mile bike rides, taught me how to explore, and was generally an awesome person. To him, any obstacle was purely a matter of perspective, and there was nothing that couldn’t be solved by perseverance.

Dad, I love you forever. I know that a stupid blog post is not going to help anything, but I just wanna talk about you, tell the world.

Awe.

As DFW said, sometimes a piece of writing will pierce you right through the heart. This is such writing for me at this moment:

And all the names of the tribes, the nomads of faith who walked in the monotone of the desert and saw brightness and faith and colour. The way a stone or found metal box or bone can become loved and turn eternal in a prayer. Such glory of this country she enters now and becomes part of. We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography– to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.

-Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient, 261

Timely, I think.