Creativity and dreams are available to everyone capable of thought. But living with chronic illness, as I do, restricts life in innumerable ways. I must be mindful of a multitude of health issues in order to maintain the delicate physical equilibrium that allows me to have a semblance of the life I want. This balance includes work, play, socializing, and maintaining my home. As I wrote in my book, Living Well With Chronic Illness, I choose to view every day as an adventure. Without this purposeful mindset, getting out of bed in the morning would be overwhelming given my numerous, complex medical needs.
Although my health dictates many of my daily activities, it doesn't control my imagination or creativity. I recently watched a PBS special on Josephine Baker, the famed 20th century cabaret performer. Although she'd starred on Broadway in the 1920s in the original production of Shuffle Along, the act that launched her to international fame was her "Banana Dance" at the 1926 Folies Bergère, in which she wore little clothing except for a short skirt of fake bananas. In retrospect this seems an odd act to transform someone into a global star. Can you imagine a 1920s grandmother trying to grasp the concept?
"What did you say, Dear? She was wearing what?"
Everyone has a personal Banana Dance available to them. I spent the last year of college building a half dozen life-size puppets in my living room just because I wanted to. This was a wonderful experience for me, although my parents were confused by the project and only marginally supportive of it. However, when they saw the finished puppets, they were effusively enthused.
For over a decade, my college's course catalog featured a photo of me with two of my puppets. A board member at the thirtieth anniversary dinner for the school informed me that the photo was one of the reasons he chose to attend the college. For much of my senior year, I felt ill with an unidentified ailment. (I wasn't diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome until years later.) But I swayed to my own banana dance, with my life-size puppets as my partners. That year I learned lessons about being an artist that enhanced and informed my entire my adult life.
I started working on my book, Living Well with Chronic Illness, when I was so sick I applied for permanent partial disability at work. In retrospect, the book was a crazy project to begin in view of how health problems circumscribed so much of my life. But I didn't think about the impossibility of the task. I first slowly outlined the manuscript. A couple of years later and with improved health, I began writing the first draft. People often inquire how long it took me to get the book written and published. I tell them 17 years. I didn't work on it consistently because I couldn't. Often I was too sick, and other times I chose to use my limited energy elsewhere. But I never abandoned the project due to illness.
I understand how it feels to be so sick it's hard to brush your teeth. But I also know that no matter how sick I feel, I'm still capable of imagination and aspiration. So to all my sick peers, I encourage you -- dream of your own Banana Dance. Nurture your wildest dreams, and use whatever good health you enjoy to pursue them.