Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Craft Therapy: Paper Cutting and Metamorphosis

As I said before, I need to get back to myself. I need to feel like I am creating things even though I am unable to create life. I would say I am certainly needing some kind of metamorphosis. As I face my 37th birthday this Saturday, I need to rejuvenate and reinvent. I've been cocooning myself since my ectopic to self-preserve, but it's lonely in here. When I was in Pingyao, we met a master paper cutter who's the Edward Scissor Hands of my dreams. If only I could cut paper like this and create these magical forms! Wen Tao learned paper cutting at the age of 7 and studied decorating design. She now designs and creates paper-cut works and keeps this art alive. She made these amazing butterflies for me for free and I think the video says it all. 

I chose to actually buy from her a beautiful paper cut work with a pattern of peonies and pomegranates. A pomegranate is suppose to symbolize fertility because of its many seeds. I found that there is so much hope and wishful thinking embedded into all these symbols in China. Good fortune, health, long life, and fertility seem to come up in so many images. A lot of it comes from the way Chinese language is structured. For instance, the word "carp" in Chinese is similar sounding to the word "profit" so it therefore becomes a symbol of good fortune. English really lacks that kind of relationship. The word "luck" can sound like fuck, stuck, muck, suck, yuck, which is pretty accurate to my own special relationship to luck, but certainly doesn't resonate its true intended meaning.

So since being home, the culture of signs, symbols, and superstitions have made me look around for signals of change. Most of my life remains the same as when I left for China so it's been hard to not feel stagnant. Even my two single girl friends who've been struggling to find someone for years are both suddenly happily dating people right now. It's like I am waiting for something, anything, to change in my life for the better instead of for the worse and I'm feeling left out in that department.

In the solitude of my infertility cocoon, I've been trying to understand how to better myself in ways that have nothing to do with my uterus. I've taken up violin again. I'm digging out an old book proposal I never actually sent out to publishers. I'm emailing old friends to reconnect. I'm looking at job listings. Summer is pretty much here and it's strange to have no IVF to plan since I've been going at this non-stop. I realize my entire life structure has been so reliant on IVF that I'm not sure what to do with myself. So I am trying hard to find a sense of change and progress besides menstruation, drug doses, ultrasounds, and egg retrievals so that maybe, just maybe, my "inner butterfly" can be set a flight.

Besides looking for a better a career direction, I've made a pledge to start "Craft Therapy" to hopefully satisfy this need for progress. This means I will be getting back into all my crafting - knitting, embroidery, sewing, silk-screening, and yes I'll even try some paper cutting. I think there is a very deep-seeded therapeutic benefit from making things with your hands and having that object have function, beauty, or symbolism. I think it has a lot to do with setting a goal and making it happen - something that baby making has failed to live up to and causes nothing but utter frustration. I think having projects that I can actually finish will give me, on a smaller scale, that emotional satisfaction that infertility seems to be draining from me. I welcome you all to join in!

Assignment #1: (For myself and any other infertile crafters out there) Create a craft project that either expresses something about this infertility journey or creates a symbol of hope (Remember Little Miss Positive? She misses all of you and hopes to reemerge soon).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Back to Art, Back to Myself

Since being back in Beijing this past week, my schedule has slowed down from non-stop tourist travel to a more lazy wandering mode. When I first arrived, I was nostalgic for the older Beijing I had experienced 10 years ago. I didn't want to see or feel any Western influences. But after two weeks in China, I admit I've come to miss some basic conveniences, like language. I would like to take a taxi, order food, and find my way without a major struggle. Barely knowing any Chinese besides "hi" and "thank you" leaves you quite limited in the smooth flow of life. So without a guide to help me out, I've been reduced to silly hand motions and being at the mercy of taxi drivers who could take me anywhere. I did in fact eat at KFC. I even bought a hot tea at Starbucks. I'd also like to at this point always use a Western toilet. What can I say, I've broken out of my need for historic Beijing and have welcomed getting to know the more modern Beijing.

In this friendship with the newer Beijing, my most enjoyable discovery was the contemporary art scene. In the north-east part of the city there lies the entrance to the 798 Art District. You would think passing it that is was just another compound in the outskirts of Beijing, but inside you'll find the biggest collection of galleries and studios in China. Contemporary art in Beijing has really been blossoming and it was exciting to see what has been brewing with local artists.

As with so many roads in Beijing, workers are constantly ripping up and re-bricking or re-paving. It sort of marks the entire character of China these days of doing away with the old (for better or for worse) and paving a new way. So in this space, built in the 1950's by the East Germans originally as a top-secret weapons factory, there are piles of dirt, rocks, and gravel creating an obstacle course maze leading no longer to military factories but to thriving art galleries.

But the dirt in your shoes is well worth it to see the exciting exhibitions of paintings, sculpture and photography. The gallery spaces themselves were also interesting to see as you discover large scale galleries similar to New York's Chelsea scene, but also little pockets of tiny galleries. Here's some highlights from my gallery crawling:

The streets proved just as interesting with sculpture and graffiti scattered throughout:

So it's been really nice to get back to art and to get back into feeling I want to be creative. Ever since my ectopic and all that ensued, I've been pretty stunted in terms of my infertility art. When I started this blog I had felt such a need to express things visually, but I think the sadness of IVF#3 just stagnated any need for creativity. As I close out my trip to China and I now face returning home, I hope seeing this artistic energy in China rejuvenates that part of me. I've been feeling like one of these Beijing roads that's been chipped away to its dirt origins to be filled in layer by layer to pave a new road. I've been stripped down to the bare minimum of who I am after so much loss, disappointment, and sadness. I know when I return that I will have no choice but to begin re-piecing myself back together.

P.S. Though the earthquake in China today was in Chengdu, tremors were felt here in Beijing. Luckily no damage here, but at lunch when it hit, my husband and his friend said they suddenly felt dizzy and then we all saw the chandeliers swing. They thought it was the beer they were drinking and I was so clued out I didn't even realize what was happening. 

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Aunt's Day

I'm back in Beijing these days, but despite being miles away from home I am still quite aware of Mother's Day. I would much rather not be still in the child's role of sending out good wishes to my own mother and mother-in-law. I certainly at this point in my fertility journey would like to celebrate this day as a mom. But since I can't, I thought I should try to recognize the closest role I play to motherhood, which would be aunthood. Shouldn't there be a day of recognition to thank all the aunts out there who adopt some nurturing roles like good old Aunt Bee from the Andy Griffith Show and all the other aunts who step in sometimes to offer love?

Even though it can be hard to spend time with family when I am childless, I truly believe that I will be a warm memory for all my nieces and nephews someday who will look back on my love with fondness. Thankfully my siblings are done procreating so I don't have to feel the pain of new babies while I have all these fertility problems. I have eleven nieces and nephews between my family and my husband's family. So you could say I am a pro when it comes to being an aunt. Each one is a fun little kid who becomes my pal and feels at ease with me because I am not a parent. I am not a fellow child to them either. I am like some unicorn to them where I fall into some mythical category of neither child nor adult. If you ask my 8 year old niece how old she thinks I am, she'll answer "Thirteen!!" And sometimes that's how I feel when I visit family since I am the only one not a mom.

But I have to admit that my nieces and nephews think I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread. They jump into my arms and their pudgy little hands clasp my neck and I feel connected. I feel unconditional love. I feel like they can't get enough of me. Up until now, the best part of being an aunt was having that bond but never having to take responsibility for them. As soon as they cried or whined or freaked out I could safely say, "Go to your mom." Now I am in a position of wanting that maternal responsibility after years of being relieved I didn't have it.

There is the enduring stereotype of having a crazy single or childless aunt. For me, I have one of these off the beaten track aunts and I am also pretty sure I've become that kind of aunt too. My father's older sister was the renegade that broke all social taboos for her generation of women as well as her culture. She got married twice and divorced twice. She had her share of wild days as a young woman who broke a lot of rules. She was that same unicorn to me as a child. She was the aunt that I could watch movies with all night long. She was a pal and not a parent. Growing up I always knew that she was unable to have her own children but it never occurred to me until now what that meant.

Now at the age of 74 she's a single divorcée who is hip, fashionable, and looks about 40 years old. I've never once in my whole life asked her about how she felt not having her own children. It was never relevant until now. No doubt the pain she felt came out in all sorts of emotional ways as a young woman and we talked frankly about how hard it was in the late 50's and early 60's when she had intense pressure from in-laws, no medical help, and zero support from her friends. She told me how lucky I am to have other options like IVF and that she didn't have any choices. As much as I complain about IVF, I do have to admit that at least I have this option. I keep thinking how cool it would be if my aunt could be my surrogate and experience carrying a child - if only she was not in her 70s. We'd surely be profiled on Oprah.

So talking with her has given me a whole new perspective. She's always been a part of my life. She's been to every Christmas and Thanksgiving at our house. She's bought me a birthday present since the day I was born up until now. She's always been there and been enormously loving. I think about how she might have resented my mother or been jealous of her at times for having us. I think about how she deals with being single and childless at her age now. My appreciation of her love has changed tremendously by my own struggle with infertility. I've come to understand the meaning of an aunt's love, especially the kind from an aunt who has no children. Some might see this as a sad story. Indeed, it has aspects of sadness, just like my story does, but there is nothing sad about what she gave to me and my sister and brother. I know she had no other options to try for her own genetic child and a lot of her love was given to us instead. I have been blessed with living decades later at a time when medicine has advanced so tremendously. I haven't given up hope that I will make that transition from aunthood to motherhood someday, somehow. I know for sure that aunthood has been my greatest training.

P.S. I've been able to get access to my blog to read your comments. Thanks so much for reading while I am away!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Living in a mountain painting

You've all probably seen them - those Chinese ink paintings showing the jagged mountains so distinctive to China. Well, those are all showing the mountains of Guilin where many artists long ago were once exiled and discovered the intense beauty of this landscape. So we headed down South to Guilin to live a couple days in a Chinese ink painting.

I came to Guilin on my last trip to China and decided to bring hubby for a second time because it's a place like no other. As I've already mentioned about Beijing, Guilin is another example of a Chinese city that has grown immensely. Ten years ago I landed at a tiny military airport in the middle of the night and felt like I had arrived in North Korea. We had no idea where we had landed as there were no city lights in the distance and no one at the airport who spoke English. In 1997 my friend and I had naively left Hong Kong with no guidebook and no knowledge of the Chinese language. But to our delight, we were literally dropped into the beauty of Guilin totally unprepared. However, this time around, there is a new airport that matches the caliber of most smaller city airports and I again was stunned by how much time has passed. The city is highly developed with new cars, new neon signs, new business, and definitely a thriving tourist industry.

We did the standard Li river cruise which despite my annoyance that there are so many more boats now to handle so many more tourists, the mountains were just as I had left them 10 years ago. You snake down the river seeing all sorts of mountain landscapes and unload at the smaller city of Yangshuo. Just 8 hours from Vietnam, the climate is more wet and humid and so the mist hovering between mountains just added to the stunning views.

But my favorite part this visit was our fantastic bike ride through farms and rice paddies winding through these amazing mountains. I was so proud of myself that I managed to bike through the busy streets of Guilin and not get run over by a truck or hit by the zillion of other cyclists on their way somewhere. When we reached the more subdued country road I just relaxed and soaked in the surroundings. There is nothing like biking leisurely through a landscape that you only see in National Geographic or on television. It was breathtaking. I felt free.

Everyone should live in a painting once in a while.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I'll take one over none

China's one child policy has been around since 1979 to address social and environmental problems in the country and is still in place today. When walking around Pingyao I asked my guide what this poster was about and she explained that it listed those who received rewards from the government for not having a second child. These were specifically for people who had the opportunity to have another and chose not to. Most of the time this means women who had a daughter first and are then allowed to try for a son. Often times the policy is more relaxed in the country side. But for most other people there is no choice.

Of course from the perspective of an infertile, this situation seems so counter to what we are focused on in our lives. The idea of being rewarded for not having a second child is so far beyond my thinking as all I am is obsessed with a chance to have one child. We are paying truck loads of money to have a chance at just one, pretty please, baby. Can you imagine being financially rewarded for being infertile instead of paying out our eyeballs to get pregnant? I also tried to imagine being on the opposite side of the fence where my restriction was to not have more children. I am sure this is what secondary infertility feels like but just on different terms. But I can safely say at this point in my life that if I can manage to have just one child that is all I need. I can't possibly expect having more than one at this point in my life unless some miracle happens and I am blessed with more.

Another guide we had in Beijing was all for the one child policy as he felt that population control was still vital to the welfare of the people. He felt life was already so competitive for good jobs and resources that if the population exploded it would be very destructive. However, he did say that there are fewer women than men in China and that gap is growing. He is so eager to get married and have a family and finding it very hard to land a girlfriend. If only this was the problem in New York City. I know too many amazing single New York women who can't find someone who wants a real relationship or marriage and have to fight the ratio favoring men. But here in Beijing, he was on the hunt for a bride in hopes, as many others here, to find a partner in the lucky 8 year of 2008. Apparently many Chinese rush to get married on 8/8/08 or have a child this year because of the belief in the luckiness of the number 8. It's too bad I'm doing neither of those things this year.

P.S. I am able to post on my blog but not see my blog. The great firewall of China seems to not like me. So thanks for all your comments and sorry I can't read them until I get home. But so glad you are able to join me on my travels.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

To All My Fellow Infertiles

My fellow infertile friends, step into this hall and say a prayer. This is a very special delivery to all you struggling with infertility. As much as I wanted to get my mind off this plight, a day in Pingyao was pregnant with thoughts of children. After our wonderful rest at the ranch, we headed out to Central China to a small historic town called Pingyao. We visited the Shuanglin Temple, which has a history of over 1500 years and famous for its painted clay figurines. Little did I know that it housed, yes, the GODDESS OF FERTILITY.

It says on this tablet:

"This hall was built in the reign of Ming Emperor Zhengde (1506-1521) and is where women came to pray for children..."

So you bet I prayed. I prayed hard. Our guide kindly explained how lots of children were a blessing (thanks, I didn't know that). She then pointed out the clay figurines around the goddess observing that one man holding four children had a very happy smile while the woman standing next to him with one child was angry. I could not help but laugh inside and think, "Where is the clay statue of the infertile woman who is enraged, crazed, bitter, and beyond unhappy?" Needless to say, the timing of our visit to the goddess of fertility was apropos.

So I hope this gives all of you a chance to speak with the goddess directly and not have to travel to China to pay a visit. She's got a lot of work to do among all of us and hope she pays attention.

I can't say enough good things about Pingyao. It's an ancient city that will knock your socks off. The oldest part of the town is walled off by a huge fortification and is like a time machine bringing you to an ancient world. The streets are full of merchants and the buildings date back thousands of years. For whatever reason, it seems to be off the radar for most American tourists. The only tourists that visit are mainly French and German. We were lucky enough to have a friend from Beijing who suggested going here. So I pass along that same suggestion to any of you out there who might find their way to China. It's a really unique and beautiful place.

We settled upon a great restaurant to eat for lunch. I felt like I was in a Wong Kar Wai movie (if you haven't seen his films, go rent some) with the kind of light shining in and the red lanterns. By the way, the food was fabulous in Pingyao. Famous for all sorts of noodles we gobbled up as much as we could. They also use a lot of fragrant hot peppers and chili oil you sometimes taste in Sichuan cooking. We inhaled our lunch savoring each dish. I tend to love a place more if I love their food.

Then our guide ordered this wonderful hot soup with pear and sour berries native to China. I've never tasted anything like it. As I slurped up spoonfuls our guide told us that pregnant women eat this soup all the time. They like the sour taste. She explained, "It's thought that if you like a sour taste you will have a boy and if you like a spicy taste you will have a girl." Of course I like both tastes, which I then inquired what that means, and she responded, "Twins." I know I am not pregnant, but I took all of this to be a good sign.

So as I close out this post, I leave you with another goddess that seems to be quite popular in this area. It's the Goddess of Mercy. Through all of my troubles and all of my losses, I've desperately needed some mercy. I hope it's coming my way and your way.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Off to the Ranch

So close your eyes and imagine a Manchurian hunting lodge nestled beside the Great Wall of China. Think about wild horses and barking dogs and the smell of smoky Mongolian BBQ. Think about still waters and stone walkways and pagoda lanterns lighting your pathway. That's where we stopped next after staying a night in downtown Beijing.

I spoke too soon. Internet service became really spotting after leaving central Beijing so my posts are a little behind. So to catch you up on my travels, we decided to go about an hour north of downtown Beijing and stay at this fantastic ranch in Yanxi Township, Huairou District. Naturally staying at this ranch brought little desire to get online. It felt like I was miles north in Mongolia, but this place is still technically in Beijing. The city of Beijing is huge, it just never ends.

The whole idea behind this place is to take ruins from buildings torn down and integrate them into this hotel. Above is our own little lodge we stayed in for two days.

So we loved the idea that this place preserve relics and pieces of buildings that have been torn down over the years. There are actual parts of the Great Wall dating to the first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi that are in this former hunting lodge horse stable and animal sighting pavilion. This is where we ate all our meals.

As you can see, it was a beautiful retreat from the crazy crowds on the more touristy parts of the Great Wall. Though our toilet broke and the bed was rock hard, and I couldn't bare to hear more new age Mongolian horse music while eating my meals, you can't beat staying at a place like this and feeling so far away from New York City.

And, certainly nothing can describe climbing the Great Wall and seeing this amazing structure. I didn't once think about my "Great Uterine Wall" when looking out across this vast wonder. That's progress.