Healing Hurts

“You’re a tight ass!” Sarah shrieked with a laugh as she dug her elbow into the middle of my fanny.

Lying face down on a massageknee table, the face port paper crinkled in my ears though I could hear Sarah quite clearly.  The first of my physical therapy sessions had begun.  It was akin to torture.  Therapy sounds happy and pleasant.  Add the “physical” into it and it quickly became a series of muscle manipulations that well, hurt.  Sarah, the physical therapist, tried to allay my concerns, telling me that many clients with extraordinarily tight muscles had come before me.  “You’ve had this injury for a year and a half.  Your muscles have completely tightened around the injury to stop the pain.  It’s not that unusual,” she said.

Unusual or not, it hurt.  Plus, I hated being one of many.

“Every week, I’d like to see you and work these muscles out,” she said.  “It’s something you really cannot do yourself because you are so tight.”   Did she really have to mention that “tight” stuff again?

That said, she consulted my file and gave me several instruction sheets with exercises to do everyday.

It was like I was three years old all over, learning to walk again as I had when I burned my leg.

“It’s going to take some time, bear with it.”

I’d hear this before many, many years ago.

It was like coming full circle.

I glanced at the file she held in her hand.

“Could you do me a favor and update my name.  It’s no longer hyphenated.   Just Gallagher, “I paused.

“Actually, it’s always been Gallagher.  I never changed it.”

Sarah laughed.  “You’ve been a client since 2004,” she said as she peeled off the hyphenated name.

“2004?  That’s when my now-ex began stealing from me,” I said quietly, as much under my breath as I could.  It was hard to even admit.  “Or at least when I think he began stealing from me.”  I had to breathe now.  Deeply.

This healing thing was a little more complicated than I anticipated.  It was as much emotional as it was physical.

That’s when I remembered the conversation I had with my mentor, Mr. B.

“Annie,” he said in his gruff voice, as he picked me up at 5:45 am for a trip to Detroit.  “I think your blog has played out this burned leg thing.

“You should really start writing about what’s going on with you now.  There’s anger, there’s challenge….there’s good stuff,” he said, letting the “f’s” in stuff linger for emphasis.  Mr. B. knew.  Duplicity as we say in the trade is good stuff.  It’s interesting and creates a good story line.

“Let me think about that, Mr. B.  Let me think about that.”

“Just remember Annie, fire isn’t always the flames.  It it’s the emotions too.”

This was a whole different ball of wax.  Something that needed some thinking work.

Presenting with Heart

Presenting on Presenting in Los Angeles.  Fall 2012

Presenting on Presenting in Los Angeles. Fall 2012

In this modern world of ours, we purportedly Google each other.   Today I learned that my 12-year old daughter Googled me.

It was Gigi’s first day of summer vacation and I promised to spend the day with her.  But I had a voice audition due at noon, so while she slept in, I crept over to my recording studio, Studio X, and voiced the audition.  It wasn’t until we were driving to pick her brother up from basketball practice in the evenig that she mentioned it to me.

“Mom, you are good presenter.”

“I am?  What do you mean?”

“I saw your presentation.  It was good.  I liked it.”

“What presentation? What did you see?”

“This morning.  When you were out, I decided to Google you and your presentation is on YouTube.”

“What presentation is on YouTube?  You Googled me?  What were you doing this morning?”

“I was waiting for you so I went on your computer and Googled you.  Your presentation on presentations, on communication.  It’s on YouTube.  You know, where you say that good presentations aren’t here (she points to her head) but here (she points to her heart).  I watched the whole thing.  It’s about 15 minutes.”

Good Lord.  I knew what she was talking about.  My presentation is on YouTube?  Good Lord.

Clicking away, I found it.  Indeed she was right.  It’s posted on YouTube.

Writing this blog, writing my story these last several years made that presentation uniquely important to me because it was the first time I shared information about my burn in a public presentation to a business group.  When I received the invitation to speak at the Los Angeles Legal Marketing program last Fall, it came with a stipulation — my submission on Extremely Effective Communications was accepted but would need to be re-packaged in a “Ted Talks” format, meaning it had to be 20 minutes or less in length.  My original submission?  90 minutes.  Essentially, the format required me to completely re-jigger the presentation, re-creating it as something wholly new and different.

It made me think.  A lot.

I know when I got burned, I learned how to “compartmentalized” like an expert.  How to put things that hurt into a file folder in my head and make them go away.  How I could download them at will, if and when I wanted to.  How life made me understand that living in your head all the time wasn’t really living at all.  How the best way to live was with your heart, and that when you did that, even the bad hurts weren’t so bad.  How the best way to connect with people in business (or life) was when you were doing so with heart, with passion, with yourself sort of out there.

I worked on that Los Angeles presentation for a long time because I wanted to incorporate what I’d learned about great communication and being an effective presenter.  I worked on that presentation for a long time because it had to be 20 minutes or less, which was no small feat.  I worked on that presentation for a long time because I wanted to share a little bit of my experience, a little bit of my heart.  I had never done that before.

In the months since that presentation, I haven’t thought much about it.  But today, my daughter Googled me.

Here it is if you would like to see it.  LMA Presentation — Extremely Essential Skills.

The Fire of an MBA

Jim Gallagher graduates with honors with an MBA from Marquette.  Pictured here with the Dean of the Graduate School of Management

Jim Gallagher graduates with honors with an MBA from Marquette. Pictured here with the Dean of the Graduate School of Management

Founded in 1871 as a steel-making center, Birmingham exploded almost overnight, quickly growing into Alabama’s largest city and earning the nickname “The Magic City.”   When I got the call that my brother was injured in a serious motorcycle accident there, mostly  I saw the medical center not the burgeoning culture.  Jim is a motorcycle aficionado with  more bikes than I imagined — Harley, Ducati and who knows what other brands — who did track days and raced at speeds that made me nervous.   That he wiped out on the Birmingham track didn’t completely surprise me but scared me.  At the emergency room, they cut his leathers off to tend to his broken elbow, ankle and assorted other injuries.  It must have been an ugly scene because his wife called me that day to tell me she needed my help.  It was a Monday night and I was watching a Packer-Bear game.  I booked my ticked to Alabama at half-time.

When I reached the medical center in Birmingham, Jim was hooked up to a variety of tubes, his elbow and ankle immobilized.  He was angry I was there, which didn’t make it easier.  “I didn’t ask for you to come,” he hissed.  “Go away.”  Within a couple of days of my arrival, his boss called and fired him.

I talked to the doctors and nurses about his situation.  As a diabetic, Jim was experiencing swelling that prevented some of the surgeries he needed.  They advised me that the best course of action was to get him back to his home in Milwaukee and conduct the surgeries there.  Medical transport to Milwaukee was crazy expensive.  So I did what any sister would do.  I called my other brother Michael.  “Get down here.  I need you,” I  begged.  Mike and I rented a mini-van and retrofitted it to carry our patient home.  The drive was about 18 hours and we traded time at the wheel to drive straight-through.

Injured.  Unemployed.  In a precarious marriage.  Jim’s life had been unceremoniously stripped from him.

And then, little by little I stood by him as he reclaimed it.  He applied for his dream job at Harley Davidson.  He got it.  He bade his bad marriage goodbye and I served as counsel to him and his divorce attorney.  He recovered from his injuries, slowly.  I went to his house and helped him clean it out.  He applied to Marquette University‘s Graduate School of Business for an MBA, accepted on academic probation.  He went to school on nights and weekends, while working a full-time job and traveling the world for work.

When he asked me to help him write a speech as the prospective graduation speaker, I did.  “Graduating from Marquette was my dream as a boy but it took my becoming a man to realize it,” he wrote.  He made it to the top three finalists.  Another guy was selected as the graduation speaker but when I heard him, I knew Jim’s speech was better.    But of course I was biased.

He wrote:

“I was not a good student growing up.  You might  have called me complacent because I didn’t apply myself academically.  There were number of other challenges in my life – being diagnosed with diabetes in my late teens, addressing my father’s long and debilitating illness and ultimately his death when I was in my 20s, followed by my mother’s untimely death, and the challenge of handling my strong drive for success but not knowing how to execute it. You might say I had my hands full.  But it was the critical time when I realized how much I needed guiding principles in my life.  I just couldn’t find them then. You see, when I graduated with my undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee more than 20 years ago, I thought that was enough for me.  Of course it wasn’t and I began to understand that the quest for knowledge lives hand-in-hand with the desire for excellence.  We are all given gifts, but sometimes we can’t see them clearly even when we need them most and so we explore different paths  until we finally understand what these gifts are and how we can use them to our advantage.”

There we were.  At Jim’s MBA graduation on Sunday.  Tears flowed down my face.  I felt like I was watching a miracle.  I was watching a miracle.  I saw a man’s transformation and I was part of it.

Our Aunt Mary — my deceased mother’s only sister — hosted a private lunch following graduation.  Jim had written of her in his speech, “Over the years, I learned to have faith in myself.  More importantly, I realized that to truly succeed,  I needed to embrace the faith others had in me.  My fellow alum Aunt Mary provided this foundation for me and I feel partially responsible for her recent knee replacement procedure – Aunt Mary – I know  you have worn out your rosary beads and bruised your knees praying for me through St. Jude.  Thank you for your unwavering belief in me, and your love and guidance.  Through your example, you have been one of many people who taught me the meaning of faith, service and leadership.  Not just once but over many years of always believing in me.  You embody the excellence of Marquette every day.  At 85 years old, I know that is no small feat.

It was a good day.  I write about fire and how it shapes our lives.  I had just watched the fire develop in my own brother.  It was a good day.  It is there for all of us.

From Stove to Studio

“That’s so interesting.  How did you get into acting?” is the usual comment and question I’m asked when people find out that I do voice over, tv commercials and the occasional film.  There is a long answer and a short answer.  Most people receive the short answer — I fell into it.

The long answer is the reason I write Anne on Fire.  It answers the question:  How does burning your leg on a stove at 2 years old lead one to the acting world?

From the research and interviews I’ve conducted, I learned that when my mother found me on the stove, sealed to it by the sole of my shoe and burning, I was in shock, unable to say a word or call out for help.  As time went on, my wounds healed and I was a normal kid in every respect.  Except that no one ever talked about the accident.  Without that context, I was left alone to create my own meaning for the event.

Everything might have gone on just fine, had my mother not asked me to make her two promises on her deathbed.  “Don’t fight with your sisters,” she implored, a request that seemed incredibly difficult to me as the youngest of three girls.  I reluctantly agreed.  “Use your talents.  Promise me,” she asked, as we pressed on the morphine drip that eased her pain in those final days.  That request seemed the easier of the two, especially since I’d always fancied myself as the creative one of her five children.

She passed.  Time passed.

Now and then, I would have the distinct impression that she was whispering to me from beyond.  Mostly I shrugged these moments off.  Raised as a traditional Catholic, I certainly believed in the after-life.  But the teachings were that we humans got just one shot at life, then pass on to our eternal future, where by all accounts, we  wait in joyful hope of the coming of the rest of our loved ones to the pearly gates.  There was no talk of secret messages passed along to those of us left behind.  Eternal life meant we each went along in our separate domains.  But what if she was trying to tell me something?

It was Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, old as the country itself where my cousin got married.  He asked me to do a reading at the wedding and I’d read it over many times in preparation.  Since elementary school, I had a long history of being asked to read in church and it always exhilarated me.

I climbed up to the church’s pulpit and pressed the reading flat with my hand.  And then it happened.  I looked up and somehow, some way, time was frozen.  The people in the pews were frozen.  Everything was silent and un-moving.  I didn’t talk.  I couldn’t talk.  I felt as if I’d been in this place before.   A soft whisper in my ear and I heard her, “Use your talents.  You are not doing what I asked.”

Fumbling now and with shaky hands, I looked up to see the people moving, waiting for me to begin.  I did.  I read each word slowly and carefully, feeling a powerful surge as I ended the piece.

As I stepped back down to my seat, my legs wobbled and I noticed I was sweating.  I looked around for acknowledgement but the ceremony just continued on.  Something had happened and I needed to find out what it was.

I didn’t know it then but the acting career I never thought about before was about to begin.

NEXT:  Part 2

Commercial Break

The whole topic of finding your voice sometimes needs some comic relief, a commercial break if you will.

Here is a short film intended to provide just that:  The Unity Ball Bathroom Fund-A-Cause.

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Or, feel free to take a look at the Hearing Voices Comedy series.  In this clip, “the lawyers” are trying to find their voices.

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Finding Your Voice…the Hard Way

A man and a woman performing a modern dance.

A man and a woman performing a modern dance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I don’t feel you are committing to what you are doing,” the casting agent said to me at today’s audition.  “Mess it up more.  Make it more real.  Stop caring about it so much.”  Casting direction came at me all at once and flustered me.

Of all the different things I’ve done in life, acting is one of the most challenging.  Making something real isn’t just playing a part; it’s becoming part of it.  In so many things we do in life, we can “phone it in,” or “fake it ’til we make it.”  We play a part, whether it’s in the business world or somewhere else.  We become conditioned to follow someone or some institution’s many rules.  Do this.  Do that.  Follow what the sign says.  Fit in.  Understand the culture.  To go along, get along.

Rarely are we asked to “mess it up” and express our authentic self.  In fact, most of the time, we find ways to hide what’s real about our selves.  Some days I wonder about this.

So there I was.  As the casting director worked me over, I began to sweat.  “You’re doing it as if you were looking for my approval,” she said.  She was right.  At this point, I was looking for her approval.  “Don’t do that.  Just have fun and see what comes up.  If you go too over the top, I’ll pull you back.  And don’t worry.  We have lots of time.”

In the majority of acting and voice over jobs I do, there is specific but usually gentle direction.  Yes, I’ve even been ‘accused’, criticized if you will, for having ‘too pretty’ of a voice.  Now, once you get booked on a job, the client has every incentive to get you to do what envisioned and they certainly know that they catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  Plus, you are already booked and on the job, and part of the reality is that clients don’t want to squander their investment.   If you are moving the wrong way, they will tell you.  If they want you to have more of a ‘smile’ in your read, you’ll hear it.  If they want five extra takes even when they loved the first one, you’ll do them.

But today, I was face to face with a casting professional who seemed to read my mind and know my every insecurity.  “Do you do a lot of voice over?” she asked before I could complete the first take.  I nodded.  “I can tell.  Your voice is too perfect for this.  Make it more real.  Loosen up.”

Another take and finally I saw the casting assistant raise his arms in victory.  I must have done something good but I had no idea what I had done.  “I’m sweating,” I replied when she asked how that last take felt.  “Good,” she said.  “It means you finally showed up to the audition.”

As I left the office and walked out in to the bright sunshine, I was disoriented.  Not sure where I was and so I walked, unsure whether to laugh or cry.  I’d just eaten an audition and hadn’t felt this dejected in a while.  In a way it was no big deal.  Every actor knows that you have to eat a lot of auditions along the way.

But it made me think.  Why was it so hard to find my voice today? 

I wondered.  And wondered some more.  I thought about my voiceover friend Lynne and her thyroid cancer surgery.  What would it be like to physically lose your voice when you use it for some source of income?

In many senses, my blog and my exploration to understand my childhood burn accident is all about finding my voice.  I think a great deal about the story I learned on the day of the accident.  My mother was ironing in the basement when I slipped upstairs to grab a treat from the cabinet above the stove.  Call it intuition or just mothering, but my mom noticed I was missing and went to look for me.  When she found me stuck to the stove and burning, I was silent, unable or unwilling to call out for help.  I had lost my voice.

All these many years later, I am taking the time to find it.  It’s no coincidence that I wandered my way into acting, voiceover and writing.  When one door closes, a window opens.  The older I get, the more I think about those windows.

Back to that audition.  As much as I detested the moment, I am grateful to that casting agent for pushing me.  Just imagine if we were all reminded every day to work harder to find our true voice.  It’s certainly not easy but it is good.

A Fresh Look at Illness and Death

Micrograph showing that the papillae in papill...

Micrograph showing that the papillae in papillary thyroid carcinoma are composed of cuboidal cells. H&E stain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Considering how pervasive illness and death is in our lifetimes, it still usually comes as surprise when you hear about it.

When I learned my voiceover compatriot Lynne had thyroid cancer, I gasped aloud.  When her note explained she had thyroid surgery, my eyes bulged in shock.  Now writing in her blog, Prognosis Positive, even Lynne explained that some 27 million Americans have some sort of thyroid issue.  When you think of 27 million people having a thyroid issue, it stands to reason that a someone you know would likely have a thyroid problem, even thyroid cancer.  But logical theory always seems to shock when the practical reality becomes a living, breathing person you know who has an icky disease.  The news was especially tender to me since I am one of those 27 million people with a thyroid condition (hypothyroidism) as are two of my siblings (hyperthyroidism).

And then I heard about the death of cousin Marv.  Marvin was 75 and still his death was sudden and to many of the us relatives, unexpected.  Seventy-five is a respectable and (by today’s standards) a somewhat young age to push up daisies.  Just as the news of Lynne’s thyroid cancer shocked me, so did the news of Marv’s death.

At Marv’s wake in Wisconsin, relatives and friends packed the funeral home, with an hour or more wait in line to pay respects.  Amid illness and death, everyone looked vital and healthy.  Chatter of relatives and friends filled the room, catching up, checking in, learning what was new and interesting in everyone’s lives.

“How is your book coming along?” cousin Joanne asked me when we found time to have a chat.  A little like molasses, it slowly moved forward. Of all my relatives, Joanne is among the most interesting.  Single at 50, she adopted her first daughter.  At 60, she adopted her second.  As she career as a nursing professor waned, she hung out her shingle as a solo practitioner in healing touch.  “Have you looked at the chakras affected by your accident?” she inquired.

Leave it to Joanne, in her late 70s, to remind me to look at the metaphysical issues behind illness and death.  There is always a voice to illness and even death, if you care to look deep enough.  I took her suggestion to heart and took a look at the chakras, once again.  When someone reminds you to look again, maybe it’s a voice you should hear again.

Thyroid is a 5th chakra issue.  The leg relates to the 1st, or root, chakra.  This from www.chakrahealing.com:

Fifth Chakra/Throat
Resting at the back of your throat, the throat chakra is more than just the words you speak. It is the mouthpiece by which you communicate your truths. Energy from the fifth chakra is rightly associated with a pure blue color – representing the ‘true blue’ essence of your soul. When you express your thoughts, beliefs, and opinions to others, you are sharing this essence through your energy. Appropriately, the Sanskrit word for this chakra center is vishuddha, meaning “pure place.”  All forms of human expression – including body language, spoken words, writing, dance, music, or art – profess certain truths inherent to our existence.  As we find ourselves progressing through life, we must learn to effectively communicate our ideas without bringing harm to others; simultaneously we need to be able to obtain what we want using our own words. It can be difficult to achieve a balance between speaking up and being quiet.

A person with a closed Throat Chakra might feel as though they ‘don’t speak the language’ – that is, they aren’t able to use their words to share their thoughts with others. This inhibition might stem from fear; past experiences of ridicule or embarrassment can cause some to choose to remain quiet. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people who experience fifth chakra imbalances talk incessantly, where their fear lies in hearing silence. People that resort to lying to hide their true intentions, or to avoid hurting others also deny the energy of their Throat Chakra. Fifth chakra deficiencies can also contribute to physical ailments including bronchitis, ear infections, hearing problems, laryngitis, mouth ulcers, and tonsillitis.

1st Chakra/Root Chakra

The Root Chakra  is a flowing spring of energy which connects us to the earth and to each other. As the first of the human body’s seven energy centers it is the source of the low-frequency waves that drive our most basic survival needs, including our primal urges. In ancient Sanskrit, this place is referred to as muladhara, the foundation. It is the scarlet red Root Chakra energy emanating from the base of the spine that accounts for not only our connection to the physical aspects of our being, but also our sense of comfort, security, and belonging within the world. Beginning at birth, we are faced with situations that challenge our very existence. In these instances it is energy from the Root Chakra that feeds into the adrenal gland above the kidneys and activates our instinctual “fight-or-flight” response.

Given this role in our well-being, it is not surprising that a blocked Root Chakra center can result in difficulties meeting or moving beyond essential needs. Recurring financial struggles, weight and food issues, deep-rooted family problems, and an inability to create long-term happiness or stability are all manifestations of a deficient Root Chakra center. Blockages can also be observable as variety of physical ailments, including chronic fatigue syndrome, Epstein Barr virus, colitis, Crohn’s disease, or cancer.

So, I must ask:  Have you ever lost your voice or felt you weren’t grounded?

If we keep looking at the cause of “dis-ease” maybe then we won’t be so surprised by it.