Author, Speaker, Advocate, and Entrepreneur

Author, Speaker, Advocate, and Entrepreneur
Valerie Anne Burns


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Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Need for Breath and Breeze

Breeze Bliss

     I don't know about you, but I have to remind myself to take deep breaths since I gasp for breath in these stressful times. While 'trying' to heal from a long all-consuming breast cancer path, I have to deal with Trump only adding to my anxiety and PTSD. It's not in my nature to stand by and simply watch the disgrace, and battle for the soul of this country - I sign petitions, call my representatives, while observing all I believe in continue to spiral into the abyss. So that I don't end up in a psych ward, sit paralyzed on my sofa for eternity, I must find ways to counteract the mayhem going on in the outer and inner world.
     When I feel a nice breeze rush through my hair and brush against my face, I'm transported. A cool breeze wakes me up, and a warm breeze ignites sensual senses. A quick swirl of wind moves me to close my eyes and take it in. Autumn temperature, especially when a wind picks up and delivers rain emboldens me to feel refreshed. Let's say I yearn for that rain in what remains to be a parched Santa Barbara. I've been coming to a sudden stop during power walks to notice bold late afternoon color in the sky. We have to seek those moments of beauty to deal with what challenges us.
     It's been far too long since this mermaid has been in her beloved tropics. Swimming, sailing, and snorkeling in that pristine turquoise water would be particularly healing. It might even erase Trump's ugly orange face from my mind and provide (however briefly) a reprieve from daily abominations coming from his creepy racist mouth; ah, what a relief that would be. It would also assist healing of scars I wear outside and the internal scars that hold on like clinging barbs. I'd like to swim deep in clear warm water amongst sea creatures living life as they're created to be - I am more than weary of human creatures in the White House and elsewhere acting opposite of living life in divine creation. I need to balance my restless and tattered soul in lapping waves.
     It's time to feel a strong, balmy breeze all around me while the sun sinks into the blue. It never fails to give me the sense that all will be well. When I was a teenager living on Key Biscayne, out at night on my bike, or meeting friends at a deck bar right on the sand as waves softly rolled toward us, I'd drift into a calm state. After dark, the T-shirt, shorts, and flip flops worn during the day transitioned into night. Even if it became cool enough for a sweater, those breezes blew in a tropical manner. And the scent of clean salt water, along with tropical blossom filled the night air as the moon rose over a darker shimmering blue.
     The temperate breeze and sea is a part of me, running through cell and bone. When I visit the tropics after moving to California decades ago, the stirring sensation is reignited in me. I no longer favor the hot humid summer days I can barely withstand, but the comfortable balmy air is lovely forever. I especially recall the beauty of being in the Bahamas, and sitting at the bar during sunset for the daily tropical cocktail. The bar held a cross-breeze that was perfectly positioned for patrons to be embraced by the velvety winds. I closed my eyes, willing myself to freeze frame this intoxicating feeling.
     A similar moment to hold in my recall senses, was during a stay in Honolulu Hawaii. On one of my trips there, I flew in the early morning hours, and due to the time difference, was sitting with my friend by noon on the patio at the Halekulani. Jet lagged and exhausted, I was revived in an instant. The Hawaiian trade winds carried me through lunch to the beach below where I dove in gorgeous water, still warmed by the sultry breeze on my skin. At night, blowing through the sheer curtains, that same breeze lulled me to sleep.
     Until I find myself in the tropics again, I'll be aware of Santa Barbara's autumn breeze and take deep breaths to clear my mind and visualize what brings peace. The winter brings rain that washes away dust and provides water for a thirsty earth. The days become a breathtaking crystal clear. Crisp, clean air energizes the spirit, and we all need our spirits continually reignited.
     When you experience moments that blissfully transport you and ignite all your senses, close your eyes and take it in, telling yourself, "I will remember this." When I've gone through the toughest struggles, I pause, gently shut my eyes and envision a euphoric experience. It's been especially helpful to everything from simple daily challenge to the times I would lay on a gurney frightened before surgery, or the continued challenge of getting a needle into my tired veins. Even now, when I go in for a monthly IV to boost my immune system, the nurses are aware that I check-out to envision a blissful memory that calms my nerves. My eyes are closed and I think of swimming in perfect turquoise water as a warm breeze encircles me. What exhilarating memory do you possess that would have the ability to carry you to a tranquil and beautiful space?

Keep on swimming through life,

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


     We all have our stories to tell. I've been interested in stories since I was a young child. I wanted to be in the home of others to see what their family storybook looked like. When my mother passed, and I was a mere toddler, I was disconnected. My childhood home was an emotional barren wasteland. Dad escaped and hid behind newspapers and novels in his own need for a world of stories, distracting him from inner demons. It's understandable because reading creates an inner world of resonance and beauty.
     Of all mediums where story is told, film provides me my most cherished escape. My favorite films are the black and white classics fulfilling the idealistic romantic in me. I'm drawn to stories where the underdog gets through unimaginable circumstances to succeed in their hopes and dreams. I worked my way into the movie business, albeit by the seat of my pants and through the back door, to be a part of the greatest vehicle for imagination and communication. But my idealistic nature began to wither as I discovered that raw and beautiful stories were often torn apart, and cast out through a chain of executives and writers beyond the original one. Greed over story would prove to be reigning priority in a thirst for homogenized blockbusters.
     Time continued its speedy march and Hollywood is in the rear-view mirror. I have my own stories to tell, which includes breast cancer and how I owe credit to moments of humor and exquisite beauty to assist in my survival. It's clear that continuing to write my book through all the long surgery recoveries provided a crucial outlet. Writing, and any form of creative expression, is the ultimate cathartic path. The audience knows when a story is honest, and is the very reason people seek story. We want to hear something that rings true in our own lives, and long to be moved and inspired.
     When I was selected to be part of a 'speaking stories' event, I was one-of-the-five who hadn't performed professionally. We had access to a couple sessions with a wonderful acting coach, and I realized what an amateur I was. I picked up the technique fairly quick, but emotionally chocked in rehearsal once my bio was spoken over a music choice. I couldn't live with myself if bailed so I showed up. Although my heart raced and I feared I would fall flat, I didn't. After two paragraphs in the 10-minutes I read in front of sixty people, something came through me and it was as if I'd been doing it my whole life. Sharing my truth spiced with harmless sarcasm was meaningful, and I feel I'm creating something positive on the other side of a brutal journey. From the reaction I received, it was gratifying to know I achieved what I had hoped. Many had their own relatable experience with cancer either personally, or through family and friends so my words resonated and brought comfort. Human beings have been telling stories since ancient times for good reason.    

Keep on swimming through life,

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Morning Ritual

     It is ritual that grounds me; chasing away despair, stress, obsessive thoughts and concerns from the sphere of my heart and mind. Several years ago, realizing I can't have coffee on an empty stomach, I made a large mug of organic green/black tea combo first thing in the morning. Espresso comes later. It's been an official ritual ever since. I add raw, organic honey and a splash of organic cream and soy milk. I hold the hot mug with both hands and sit outside to observe the integral workings and birdsong orchestra of nature. When I close my eyes and fill my lungs with fresh air, I become open to the variety of birdsong and the busyness of nature. There is a world of activity that has nothing to do with me or my life, but a perfectly designed world extending from me doing its part to keep the planet spinning. I watch and listen carefully. I'm humbled by the truth of what a miracle is.
     Every aspect of nature has a job to provide the nurturing we depend on. A ritual in nature feeds the soul, and starts the day on a good footing. Even during those times of the most excruciating recoveries with drains hanging out of me, knowing the nurse would show up mid-morning, I'd carry on. I'd carefully sit on the balcony chair, drains tucked away in the waistband of my Juicy pants, sip my delicious tea and behold the world around me. It deepened my trust that all would be well, especially when I experienced a magical friendship with hummingbirds. Trust grew from simply sitting with them, focusing on their beauty, eye contact and talking to them. Eventually, I extended my hand with the organic nectar and a visit from colorful hummies ensued. I could feel the hum of their fast wings resonate through my whole body. I opened to a healing vibration and connected to a divine creation. They are exemplary teachers of grace, survival, resilience, and trust.


     As chilly mornings unfold, I'll sit outside bundled up. When the much needed gift of rain comes, I'll sit beneath an overhang on the deck and listen. Or on a very chilly, but sunny day, I take my tea outside and sit in a spot where the sun hits my back, and the cool breeze washes over my face. It helps me to wake up and move into the day no matter what lies ahead. Even if the positive residue of my morning ritual doesn't last, I know that tomorrow I'll be visiting it again - I'll breathe in the morning air and observe the exquisite miracles of nature connecting me to what is unmasked in its sacred truth.

Keep on swimming through life,

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Another Planet

(excerpt from book below)

     Recently, a woman I've known in the community for many years told me that her breast cancer had gone to the bone. I felt a flood of compassion flow to her. My thought also ran to the fact that my mother dealt with the same diagnosis. That was many decades ago, and I'm certain little was done for patients in that era. There was no support for my mother, and shame was a common side effect in the mid-fifties. I extended my sincere wishes for this woman's health, and told her to call me anytime. Her expression revealed a strain, and in that very moment, she mentioned how overwhelmed she is. Although she's surrounded by family and friends, it's still an isolating journey. My friends, who offered their help, had to become people I relied on as if blood family. With that said, I did what I had to do when no one was available. Driving with drains and a foggy brain takes skill. But I did it, and even then, wore my lip gloss!
     Presently, when inquiries are made about getting back on track with life and business, I search my mind for the right words to say. Unless you've gone though this type of medical journey, it's understandably difficult to grasp what the world is like. Because we are all natural survivors, a cocoon of auto-pilot takes over. It's necessary in order to face and navigate the rough currents. No matter what age, personality, or status in life, this is the way it is. 
     What happens when you're on the other side is that the human emotions of fear, sadness, trauma, and even anger catches up to you. Admittedly, this is what I've experienced after three and a half years of my own breast cancer path. Once past the seventh and final surgery, I'm back on this planet, but far from fully recovered. When I sense expectations from others, I explain it like this: "It's like I've lived on another planet in an all-consuming ordeal, and now I'm meant to just jump back into the flow of life." I add that I'm in the process of resurrecting my life on all levels. There were times when I handled the intense pain and grueling days with aplomb, and other days, not so much. But I made valiant effort to stay the course wearing natural powder and gloss on routine auto-pilot. We truly never know by seeing someone's outside appearance what magnitude of challenge they may be dealing with on the inside.

     Below is an excerpt from one of the essays in my book titled, "The Seventh-An End and a Beginning":

     Other than my respite and wondrous month-long journey from it all, when I claimed my acceptance and scholarship to the Prague Summer Writing Program, I remained on auto-pilot. It was a blessing to get me through endless doctor appointments, painful procedures, surgeries, and long vulnerable recoveries. I would drive to all the necessary appointments without recalling how I got there. But I’d get to my destination, often remembering to put on lip gloss before walking out the door in robotic fashion. At home, you’d find me sunk deep into my long sofa. The hummingbirds brought comfort while singing, chirping and wrestling for dominance of the feeder outside the glass door. Since they had become family and beautifully connected to me; my feeder refill and hand-feeding them in the morning while drinking tea, and again when the sun fell low on the ocean was my starring respite. I’d become attached and reliant on our routine and familiarity. Now I realize that this glorious routine gave me something of importance to focus on; providing a distraction from the dark high waves wanting to envelop me. Giving to the hummingbirds when blooms disappeared into the parched and drought barren earth, gave me purpose and pause. I needed this gift to ensure strength; especially since family didn’t exist and friends were often far away.

Keep on swimming through life,