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Participant Information

Heather MacTavish


I set out to describe my multiple artistic expressions hours ago. I brought Mythiphista (the woodcarving) up to my bed, wanting to look at her, to feel her, to experience her power.

Caught up in the touch and the tone, I soon forgot about the task at hand, spending the late afternoon polishing, experiencing with my fingers, my eyes, my memories and my fantasies; forgetting to take my PD meds.

Mythiphista does not stand three and one-half feet tall, she strides - unconquered, powerful.

Two years ago, I found a bulky, soggy piece of disintegrating driftwood on the beach. Even in the rotted frame, I was reminded of my hero, a woman who marched in the San Francisco GLBT parade, naked from the waist up, not hiding the scars that were left after the removal of her breast. She was celebrating life, undefined by medical diagnoses and procedures.

When I began the carving process, I had to discover the depth of the rot, and how much wood was left to hold the frame. It took a year, watching pieces crumble, never knowing when I would have a "breakthrough."

The carving helped me go through my own process of loss, and discovery. Initially, when people asked: "What are you carving?" my rejoinder was "A toothpick!"

Since I was not vested in the outcome, I was able to fully experience the wood itself, letting the grain and texture guide my hands. After a few years, I got better at carving. I now tell people that I am making sawdust (and dopamine.)

Six years ago, Terry Garthwaite was the midwife at the birthing of my voice. In her book 'Joy of Sound' she writes about the event: "I remember enticing a long crescendo of sound that tumbled across the room. She emerged as though a newborn babe were announcing its arrival, a birthed spirit celebrating freedom."

With my new voice, came a new life, filled with meaning, myth and music, replacing my old life of business, bookkeeping and banking. I discovered Terry's Affirythms: affirming rhythms of compassion, strength, harmony and joy. They have been a staple in my personal and professional life ever since that time.

Barry Bortnick, PhD, describes my story~songs, as follows: "Songs and other kinds of music are often intertwined with storytelling activities (beyond the story told in the song itself.) The creative approaches used by Heather MacTavish and the New Rhythms Foundation, for example, incorporated stories with cues from classic popular songs presented by the facilitator."

The submission of the Mythiphista story~song CD is yet another adventure into creativity and music. Instead of writing a story from classic songs, Mythiphista, Musical Mythtress of Myths is woven from poems, songs and chants (predominantly Terry's, with a sprinkling of my own.) As I wrote the story, chose the songs, and narrated the myth, it evolved into an autobiographical work, inspired when Jean Houston recently declared: "I give my title, 'A Mythic Life' to you."

How do I explain Edith del Peschio, who has been my muse of experiences, attentions and examinations. I cannot explain, but I can show the effect. In 2001, I entered into a partnership with Edith who was eighty years old at the time.

'Chosen Graces' is a result of many hours of late-night debate and discourse. We were in our third year of a program called The Four Fold Way for Seniors, co-sponsored by cultural anthropologist, Angeles Arrien, PhD, and Maria B. Freitas Senior Community.

We spent five years exploring ancient and modern wisdom with facilitators Nancy Feehan and Jacquie Hoffman. The graces were originally designed for a ritual that Edith and I prepared for one of our members whose symptoms of Parkinson's disease required that she move to a long-term care facility.

The writing, printing, rolling and design were done by hand with love and attention. What began as a ritual of passage for a member of our group became a message for many.

SUMMARY: How do I explain the role that the PD diagnosis (currently) plays in my artwork and creativity? When I began woodcarving five years ago, I noticed that my hand steadied as I carved. When I get involved in the passion of writing a story~song, I need less medication.

When I write poetry, it is the time to delve and drift. All that is artistic is, for me, the counterbalance of PD symptoms. I am not simply alive with Parkinson's, I thrive with Parkinson's. As my body progressively loses motor function, my creative essence continues to unleash and release; and I am grateful.