17 December, 2010

DOCUMENTARY: Living After Rape

The Strangest dream last night moves towards a reality today!

I am no longer just hoping for participation because participation is happening.

We are no longer hoping to start the process of making the Documentary: Living After Rape.
WE ARE MAKING the Documentary: Living After Rape.

There isn’t a day that goes by, nor, in all honesty, a half-day, an hour, and unfortunately not
even just one minute that the incidents of violence in our world stops. I am acutely aware of
this with every breath I take. I am also acutely aware of how precious it is that I get to take
these breaths.

This awareness of possibility in each second that is lived is one of the possible by-products of
trauma. I’d never have wished my story on myself and I certainly wouldn’t wish it on anyone
else. However, given that the rapes have already happened, learning to harvest the skills that
evolve out of the adaptations is essential. And one of these has to do with knowing all the
way down to my toes that life can change in a fraction of a second. That the very lens through
which one perceives can shatter and, while re-constructible, it will never be -- that it was un-
shattered – ever again. Living with this knowledge is excruciating. Living with this knowledge
is exquisite. Because with this comes a passion to have each and every moment.

In my continued effort to actualize this film, and with the awe and respect I owe to everyone
who has responded, I have been busy creating a digital foundation:

Visit the Documentary Blog
Contact us Through E-mail
Visit our Facebook page:

As I work my way through responding individually to each person who has contacted me and
setting up times to meet and/or meet by ‘skype’, the best way to help assure the making of this
documentary is for anyone who feels comfortable to send the information through your own
digital tree of contacts. We need people to ‘follow’ the blog. We need people to ‘like’
the FB page.

To access the LivingAfterRape blog through my ‘Andreaspeak.blogspot.com’ site, go to the
right of the most recent entry. Look for ‘NOOKS’. Click on the documentary link.

13 April, 2010

IT'S OVER. (Megaesophagus)

Xerxes is dead,
And I authorized his murder.
I did.
Being human
I could have easily chosen something else.
We can do that if we want.
Say we want something.
And make it happen
with machines.
And contraptions.
Our species can decide things.
That are not things that can be decided.
I did not do this.
What I did do
is what I ‘can’t’ do.
And the sheer searing of it
is ripping through my body.
Xerxes is dead now.
It was me that decided
to break my own heart.
Rather than force this exquisite creature
to live in pain
and discomfort
and restraints
so I could have him here
where I want him
and pretend
it would be a good life for him.
I’ve slept every night
with his paw in my hand.
He gave me the gift
of traveling ancestral canine adventures
in my sleep.
His paws carried a trembling
when placed on my chest
and we roved around together.
We dreamed his dreams
because mine have already been tainted
by other humans.
But he shared.
With his whole heart.
And I rode along
on his joy.
He’s dead now.
I wish I’d had the courage
and the means
to send him on his journey
with my own hands.
Instead I said ‘Yes.’
to medical intervention
and stopped his growing.
I know that forcing his life
into my will of wanting
needing
wishing
yearning
would have been a wrong
that was bigger than this pain
which has brought me
to my knees.
It’s lower than that really.
Because imagining my life
without the padding of his feet
following me
protecting me
learning from me
teaching me
and more than anything
loving me,
seems impossible.

I wasn’t too much for him to love.
That is the miracle
I got to live
for one precious month.
March 12th 2010
to April 12th 2010
I lived the soaring joy
of being totally adored.
I blossomed in his care
and tutelage.
My gratitude for this
is as full
as this break
in my inside self.

10 March, 2010

BED-DROPPING (NEW PUPPY 10 MARCH 2010)

Bed-dropping has never been on the top of my list. Had I ever thought about it, I might have called myself a ‘bed-raiser’, in that climbing up to sleep has felt a magical sort of elevation. Sure the story of the ‘Princess and The Pea’ could have been a pseudo-misogynistic tale aimed at desensitizing young women so they’d doubt their perceptions and be more receptive to advances, but if it was, I didn’t know it. I loved the idea of sleeping ten mattresses high and still being tormented by the shift in scale from one tiny pea.  So for me, the higher the bed, the more princess-sensitive the woman.

Until now that is.  New-puppy arrives in five days.  And he is going to grow into a huge dog.  And I am terrified.  Also many other things.  But right this minute, fear of failure towers above all else.  We need to bond.  We need to fall in love, without a nine month pumping of umbilical feeding to lubricate the way.   He and I need to be like one-hand-reaches-one-hand-catches, without a need for excess communication.  We need to be like Harold and Maude.  Like up and down, in and out, reach and pull.  The two of us a pair.  Lone Ranger and Tonto.  Betty and her Boop.  Romper Room and the mirror that saw every kid with every name but mine.  Except in this case, the puppy needs to be trained so excellently that no matter what lens he peeps through - how he views the world - it will be me that sits front and center for him.

The dog bowls are in their bag, waiting in the basement. The puppy chews stored separately but nearby.  A new collar and leash, colors matching, wait with the dog-treat holder and its complementary clicker.  Yes, it’s true that I have some issues with organized religion in general and many of the practices in specific but in this case, I’m not taking any chances.  If my Jewish ancestors believed in waiting to open the baby gifts until after a birth, I’m happy to hide the puppy booty until after the landing.

He’s flying in from Utah.  I don’t even know his name or if he’ll keep his gender. But I do know that lots of connecting happens in the subterranean dreamtime of sleep.  So the changes to my specifically designed princess-and-the-pea-bed are all part of puppy-prep.  The bed frame now has a location of honor in the basement.  Since I have to duck my way past this four legged-stick–out-past-where-it’s safe obstruction to get to the washing machine, this change cannot be pretended away.  My mattress sits low, right on the floor of my room.  To accommodate this I deconstructed and reconstructed both my night table and the vessel that holds my doo-dads.  Scale matters to me.  And a descent from princess-high to floor-dweller has me feeling like a munchkin in the land of Oz.  It took nearly an entire day to set things right.  Now when New-puppy arrives he can either sleep safely in the bed with me or leash-attached to my wrist next to me on the floor.

Newborn babies wear diapers in our culture.  New puppies don’t necessarily like to lie on their backs on a changing table.  The wonderful smell of baby powder and A & D ointment will not be part of this journey.  I’ve come to terms with this. This is okay.  I don’t connect easily with people who psychologically lie on their backs with all (imaginary) four feet waving in the air while they whine about their condition.  Nothing against people who wear a victim-stance like a cloak against their humanity, it just isn’t my thing.  So the fact that I already cannot imagine New-puppy taking a life-stance like this could bode well for us.  It does mean though that I will be shlepping outside multiple times a night for the next month or so. 

The puppy manuals all caution against slipper-eating.  It seems to score very high on their checklist of bad behaviors.  And we all know that blaming-the-mother dominates our cultural mores of accountability.  I don’t want to flunk mothering and I love my slippers.  What am I to do?  If I sleep in them, New-puppy might nibble while I snore.  If I leave them at ready next to the bed, they might be part of the New-puppy poop I scoop in the morning.  And quite frankly, creeping out in the night, minus my slippers, sounds not only terrifying (he’s not a guard dog yet) but blatantly cold on my feet.  I’ve always tried to be a person that cultivates a conscious living.  Dwelling within an examined life is something I admire.  To go into denial before New-puppy even arrives seems to me a recipe for disaster.  Maybe this is why someone invented slipper-socks.  I suppose they can be slept in AND used for New-puppy night forays.  This just might be the answer.  Slippers that are not.  Socks that are more than.  And mothering that allows for combinations. 

Except.  Mothering is never guaranteed.  Let’s face it.  Some Dams don’t conceive. Smart mothering isn’t automatic.  Most mothers try.  A lot of mothers succeed in some arenas.  All mothers fail.  I am about to become a mother to New-puppy.  And damn it.  I’ve already made my first mistake.  My dear editor and muse just asked me a point blank, brilliant question.  “What,” she wondered “is the difference between slippers and slipper socks when considering New-puppy munchies?”  Hmmm.  This stumped me for a moment.  Then I felt relief wash over me.  Hovering at the brink of my first gaff of an error, I realize that in fact, there is no significant difference.  The required palate for either is similar.  The materials for construction are found within the same food groups.  Whatever smell they carry from my hopefully hygienic feet will be only as much as it is.  It’s just that somehow I thought that the ease of removal might catalyze a different chomping reflex.  Upon reflection though, I doubt it.  Oops.

Now I know that I’m destined to scuff up the path at three o’clock in the morning with only heel callus between my bones and raw earth.  My first conceptual flub has already happened. This might not be the disaster it appears.  This could be the precedent that allows me the latitude to let my fallibility show.  In humans, we see such an obvious unwillingness to increase our ability to tolerate discomfort.  So perhaps I can reframe my snafu as a good thing.  In our species, intimacy grows through a marriage of love AND disappointment.  Yet most parents try so hard to hide (deny) any propensity for bloopers.  Teenagers grappling with their legitimate rage when they discover that what their parents presented as absolute truth is often false, are seen as difficult.  Prone to argument.  Malingering.  Crazy.  Given that I’ve inadvertently set a stage that will require New-puppy to grow an ability to accept an accidental muddle (because when does mistake number one ever escape being followed by an erroneous number two?) it could be that New-puppy has a chance to be well adjusted.  Phew.

07 March, 2010

POINT OF ORIGIN

It's not that often that a major left turn in a life-story starts with a stolen, antique, cast iron, three hundred and fifty pound, claw-foot tub.  Theoretically anyway, the statistic could hover below the 1 percent possibility point.  And yet, the theft of this tub (not just any old bathing receptacle but a genuine art object, labored on (by me) for a full three weeks) has catalyzed just this.

When the bathtub disappeared it left a gaping hole.  Not just the obvious one where its presence marred the grass that didn't grow well underneath.  And not even the one where the empty-vessel-feel it engendered could (if the world was believed to be multi-dimensional) energetically carry away the ugly-s and invite in the lovely-s.  No, this robbery facilitated a hole of gargantuan proportions.  An opening so quickly filled with fear that it barely seemed an aperture at all.  So, not-withstanding the fact that I've been told all my life that "... ninety nine point nine percent of all people don't think like you... don't feel things like you... don't see things like you... and are perfectly happy not to", and that therefore, I naturally (it's almost organic I think, if it comes special delivery from your own mom) have a slight propensity to self-negate, self-invalidate, self-deprecate  (because with such a tiny percent possibility of ever finding my tribe I'd have to destroy any self esteem on my own) and self-doubt, this breach created by my missing tub and so quickly filled with fear made me suspicious.  Somehow the vacancy's just too peculiar.

Granted, it's not inconceivable to me that a three hundred and fifty pound tub could fly up and out of my yard.  I certainly hear weirder stories every day on the news.  You must have heard about the military officer at Fort Hood. That poor man who had such vicious Post Traumatic Stress, apparently from honorably doing the wrong thing for so long that he had a flashback and killed thirteen people.  That story is clearly more odd than the hole in my heart due to the orifice created by my absent bathtub.  I mean it's so obvious to a random on-looker.  Anyone who's been responsible for teaching people that wrong is right, that killing is 'not' in certain contexts, and that although the pretext under which you thought you were working was mostly lies, you will not be helped or assisted when you get home, must feel pretty bad inside.  And this is all before that poor Army man didn't receive what we so readily know is required in terms of PTSD treatment. 

So, although in moments of clarity I am well aware that my tub will not arrive back in its precious spot, wing-laden or not, I still periodically check the cloud cover.  The fear though, that's seeped in like a long lost tributary, simply doing what water does best: flowing the path of least resistance, even if it's less desirable (not unlike a lot of human behavior if you think about it), is a part of the left turn in my particular life story.

You see without dissociation, I would be one groveling, shaking, shattered, blubbering piece of fear.  It couldn't be otherwise, given the three violent rapes in my life and the pervasive denial in the prevalent environment in which I've dwelled.  Unless of course I was to take drugs, which evokes a whole separate set of issues.  (And incidentally is something I adamantly refuse to do because of my belief that if I become a reflection of the denial, by disappearing my pain, it will hurt - not help - the world.)  If I were not dissociative, this rapid onset of fear would not surprise me.  But it does.

Now that three black male thieves, un-apprehended (and unlikely to be) by the police, have disappeared my tub, and in so doing, have helped me break through my dissociative barriers so that the SHEER ENORMITY of my fear is suddenly visible, I know that I need to take some sort of action.  Before the theft, the regular old come-a-little-go-a-lot fear I'm accustomed to was easily remedied by making art, writing an essay or doing something connecting with my kids.  It's always been important to me to be a proper contributing member of our species, so creating something wonderful out of something other than that was an accessible diversion.  But since I now know that I carry this monumental sized fear, I know that I need to do something so that my personal bathtub-of-psyche has a greater repertoire.  I mean who'd want to get to the end of their life (unless they were the ninety nine point nine percent of all people my mother's assured me are real) and reflect back to see a self that simply wasted this precious gift of living in a body with activities limited to door locking, door checking and door guarding? 

This seems to me one of those rare life questions with an obvious answer: No one.

So I need to feel safe or risk failing at this business of living as a person.  Please don't misunderstand me here.  I am in no way willing to propagate a belief in a feeling of utter safety.  I use the word 'safe' strictly in a context of relativity.

The idea that people can buy locks that are sound enough, alarms that are loud enough, and/or building materials that are solid enough to create safety, is ludicrous to me.  However, the understanding that the feeling of safety is possible in any context, through our magnificently human ability to choose our life-stance, is pertinent here. 

If I feel safe, then I am safe, all the way until I'm in a moment when I'm not safe.  Until (and if) such time then, feeling is paramount. 

I'll put it to you, dear reader.  Can you imagine stealing my bathtub, antique or not, in the middle of the day, if you had to cross a great big beautifully trained guard dog that loves me, in order to do so?  I cannot.

Can you guess the left turn I am about to take?

The new puppy arrives at 9:18 PM, one week from today.  I am alternately terrified, excited, panic stricken, happy, overwhelmed, confident, hopeful and bathtub-full-brimming-over with yearning.


21 February, 2010

RAINBOW GONE

There’s a particular sound that Sorel Boots make when they’re being walked in by bare feet. It’s not like they know my socks are missing or even that I’ve just cut the irritating tag off the back of my pajama pants in honor of my birthday. It’s good to take time for the special things and since today is my day, instead of rushing at my normal first-thing-in-the-morning, top speed, migrating-bird-flying-for-home pace to get outside and make the rounds picking up yesterday’s dog poop before it freezes so deep I won’t find it until my sneakers hit it at the next thaw, I picked up my pink scissors and snipped. I’m glad of this because that tiny poke right at the top of my coccyx bone startled me every time I bent over. I have to admit though that after this time luxury, I didn’t take the additional extra seconds to find my special striped wool socks before I thrust my feet down inside my boots.

With a little reflection - which I have time to do because yesterday’s poo is frozen solid and I’m trying to figure out whether kicking it out of the ice will make my boots stink later – I realize it might have been a good idea to put on those socks. I bought them for myself as an early birthday gift a number of years ago, when I was visiting in California and wool socks had the biggest markdown because the only people who’d wear them in ninety degree weather are the ‘Woolies’. These people (I hope self- identified because I don’t want to be a bigot, not even by accident) apparently wear Birkenstock shoes with heavy socks all year round. I’m not that much of a hippie anymore so I mostly gravitate to the sale bin because I really need the markdowns. At the bottom, underneath the skimpy, multi-colored bras and no-cheek undies were the wool striped socks I didn’t put on today. At the time I was glad the basket was back in the corner and hopefully not visible in either the round surveillance mirror above me or the three-way next to the hundred and ten dollar ripped jeans hung so the real sizes for real women were crammed in the back. None of the sales girls came rushing so I assumed my eyes brimming over wasn’t apparent to anyone but me. It's just that the stripes and the wool carried such a rush of love and loss and more love.

Once, a long time ago, when I was clambering around on roofs in Vermont in my Sorel boots  (which are the only boots that really keep you warm enough to be the only woman on the job because everyone is waiting for you to be a whiner and you can keep all complaining at bay if your toes aren’t frozen) I had a role that I treasured. I was the one to straddle the peak of the roof. We needed to get ropes and ladders up and over there safely because the drop was forty feet off the back end and the snow was too deep not to swallow you if you fell. The Solar Energy collectors had to go up that week or we would have been violating our contract. I was so afraid of authority figures that working to keep agreements was way more important to me than even my toes.  That day I was wearing a pair of striped wool socks over my skin and inside my Sorel boots just like the ones in the sale bin in California. My now-ex (but at the time unbelievably-head-over-heels-in-love-not-yet-) husband had given those socks to me not only as a birthday present but as the very-first present ever from him. This is significant because he had a thing about spending money. In fact, he had such a thing about it that when I wanted to get him an FM radio receiver for his birthday I got a whole bunch of friends to sign the card so he wouldn’t be mad I’d saved up the money quarter-by-quarter, ever since he’d given me my socks. By the following October I had enough. With all the signatures on the card though, no one (unless they were some sort of psychological Einstein) could have told who paid how much. So his birthday was a wonderful success. He wasn’t mad at me because I gave him the gift and he had the radio he really wanted. My socks were a different story. They could have even been on sale back then because stripes weren’t so popular yet but I didn’t care. I slept with them every night because the wool smelled so good to me and the fact of them felt so good to me. I also wore them every day on the job. They’re probably why I’ve had such good fortune. I used to be known as one of the first women in Solar energy and I either wore or brought those socks with me to every conference when I was asked to speak. Eventually they had big heel holes so I retired them to a place of honor in my bedside table drawer with my goat-feet nippers and a few other treasures. These socks though, the ones in California, after I dripped memory-salt-tears on a few of the other sale items, came home with me. Unfortunately, today they’re in my drawer because after taking the time to cut the tag on my pajama pants, I was in such a hurry to get to poo-pick-up outside that I didn’t put them on.

I’ve turned fifty-five today and it’s gorgeous out. Bare feet in boots or not. All this musing has taken quite a bit of time and if I’m going to squeeze all the special things into my one special day I have to hurry. So, head down, plastic bag in hand, me and my boots make our way up the path. I really feel that in order to fully enjoy my day I have to make sure that no one accidentally tracks dog poop into my house because I didn’t pick it up. It’s right about midway up the yard that it hits me. Someone stole my Rainbow Flag! (I need to be scrupulous here and tell you that I actually discovered this yesterday but it rattled me so much since I had to go to work that I forgot. I rediscovered it today. It’s kind of like Peter Pan discovering his first lie. He felt the punch over and over as if he’d never felt it before. So here I am again, only today it’s my birthday, and I’m working so hard to finish my chores so I can start enjoying it.) Someone stole my Rainbow Flag! Right off the fence where I carefully wired it so it would never blow off, even if the wind hit gale proportions. I love (loved) that flag. I’d wanted one for years, but  they’re not easy to find -- I guess the world is filled with people like me who want to celebrate inclusion. Even when I was a little girl I loved rainbows. Dorothy went over one and found her way home. The symbol uses all my precious colors and when humans look at it, we all know we’re of one tribe. My Rainbow Flag is (was) especially important to me since I’m proud of all the Gay people I love. Not because I care one iota who, where, when or how they choose to be sexual but because knowing how to love in this world seems to me an enormous achievement. Whenever I look (looked) at the flag I hung, I get (got) filled with a sense of wonder and gladness about being a person. Being able to love matters. And for me, seeing my flag helps (helped) me remember this.

But my Rainbow Flag is gone. I know it didn’t blow away. I’ve checked every detail. The wires have gone missing too. Whoever stole it left me just one tiny corner so at least I don’t have to worry that I’m accidentally turning a natural disaster into a crime. My Rainbow Flag was carefully removed and then ripped at the last bit where the wiring was too perfect to undo quickly. It’s a relief to know that I’m not being a bad person by making assumptions. My Rainbow Flag has been stolen.

It’s a shame really. There’s a lovely link of connective tissue between the Sorel Boots, the striped socks I’m not wearing, and the Rainbow Flag I’m not seeing. It’s a love link -- family and memory and gladness all woven around with grief and missing. Kind of like the Rainbow mix of colors. Not everyone resonates with every color. But the mix. Who could not feel awe when the rain turns to sun and the wet ground starts to steam and the clouds open just enough to birth a rainbow? My children are like that. This exquisite mix of all things. We all are I guess. It’s hard to imagine, though, for the person who stole my flag. They couldn’t possibly know that I think of my son whenever I look at that flag. They couldn’t possibly know that through my son I think of my now-ex-husband. They couldn’t possibly know that if my youngest daughter was the one I thought of with the flag, it wouldn’t link me to the same people and that I think (thought) of this with wonder and love whenever I look (looked) at the lovely color blend in my flag.

It really stinks to lament on a birthday. So instead, I’m going to say thank you to the mean person who stole my Rainbow Flag. You don’t go into a Church and steal the cross.  You don’t go into a Temple and steal the star. You don’t go on someone’s lawn and steal the American flag. You don’t steal someone’s mailbox. And you don’t walk in my gate and steal my Rainbow flag. But. Since you did, I want to say Thank you.  ‘Thank you,’ because you made me feel so sad that I turned the grief into a golden egg and laid an idea I’m really excited about.

Where my Rainbow Flag hangs (hung), I’m going to put an enormous canvas. I’m going to declare myself every possible thing there is to be. And I’m going to use the words that matter so much to make this idea a reality. I’m hoping to make this so other people can write words here too. We can start out with a ‘Thank you,’ and from there move into all the words for all the things that all of us can be. This way, if we’re all everything, we can stop hating some people for being some one thing and others for being some one other thing else. So right this minute, on the morning of my fifty-fifth birthday, when I see again that someone stole my Rainbow Flag and I didn’t wear my striped socks because I was in such a hurry to celebrate, I’m going to start my project:

Now that you’ve stolen my Rainbow Flag, I’ve decided that from now on, I will be no one thing. (Not that anyone else is ever anyway.) So… I’m Gay. I’m Bi-sexual. I’m Trans-gendered. I’m Heterosexual. I’m non-sexual. I’m super-sexual. I’m partially sexual. I’m all of these. I’m none of these. I’m every ethnic difference ever thought of. I’m Jewish. I’m Muslim. I’m Catholic. I’m Protestant. I’m every religion that ever was. I’m no religion. I’m long-haired. I’m short-haired. I’m every physical difference. I’m no physical difference. I’m every possibility. And I’m no possibility. If you want to join me, please put your words here with mine. Thank you again.

Phew. Now that I’ve joined everyone and no one, I’ll wish myself ‘Happy Birthday’ and get ready for the party. My children are coming over and I need to get out of my pajamas and put on some socks.

19 February, 2010

'WHY?' MUST BE THE WRONG QUESTION

The dead bird still has all its feathers. Its tiny claws are frozen in the same almost leap- with-joy posture that the Heidi goats hold as they wheel around mid-jump.  Heidi (in the imaginary movie of myself as her that runs almost all the time in my head) holds cheese in her outstretched hands and the goats come for it on the run. They jostle and poke their heads right into her/my armpit. The tiny dead bird sits on my palm, its bead eyes open.  They see nothing.  My eyes are open too.  I see everything within reach.  And I wonder.  The bird is here.  The bird is not here.  The goats are here with me always.  And not.

I dig up the shoebox.  It’s buried near the biggest root of a tree I hope is familiar to the dead bird who’s gone.  The toilet paper I wrapped around the corpse still feels new.  But the feathers and bones inside it now could almost have appeared like some odd fairy trade.  Bird taken by the dancing nymphets.  Little pile of matter left for me and my box.  And, the gift of the wrong question that will dominate my life for nearly fifty years.

We can never know why one thing dies and the next doesn’t.  Why some of us are hurters, some of us are hurt and some of us seem to hang around the fringes of both.  And we can never know I guess, why one person’s trying is so crystal clear to them and so clearly missing-in-action to us.  Nor can we ever know why our trying, Herculean perhaps from our perspective, can be received as an utter lack of caring.

One of the reasons I love words is this somehow-beautiful-to-me in its futility fantasy that if we can meet another human with a truly known and shared wellspring of vernacular, it will span all distances of perspective.  The bridge I imagine could change the world.  In the meantime though it’s the trying that counts.

Sometimes I think the concept of God was invented by humans so when we’re on our knees, fist to the sky – roaring 'Why me?' – we won’t be embarrassed if someone asks who we’re talking to.  The abyss of that un-answered moment, the lone clapper missing a limb, the worm brought too late to the bird, the conversation with someone who’s gone but we don’t know it.  They all lead to the showstopper of questions, the end-all be-all of missing motivation, the long pause that can precipitate  a lifetime of partiality.

Main Entry:  fractional  adjective
                         partial
  Synonyms:  apportioned, compartmental, compartmented, constituent, dismembered, divided, fragmentary, frationary, incomplete, parceled, part, piecemeal, sectional, segmented

Main Entry:  fragmentary  adjective
                          broken, incomplete
  Synonyms:   bitty, disconnected, discrete, disjointed, fractional, incoherent,  part, partial, piecemeal, scattered, scrappy, sketchy, unsystematic

I have a lot of  ‘WHY’s inside me.  But I absolutely know that the ‘why’s’ I seek will never take me where I want to go. 

We have to flip the frame on the entire operation.  Let’s assume that for whatever reason our species is not endowed to understand all the reasons for all the realities we question with a resounding 'Why?' -- never mind live with the necessitated actions if we did.  I think other explorations are much more respectful of our world in this evolutionary moment.  We can ask ‘What is true?’ and we can then work on accepting the reality of these truths.  From there it’s a hop, skip and a jump to ‘What respectful question can we ask next?’

Eventually (sorry to make this seem so simple)  we move from ‘What is true?’ to ‘What action do we need to take?’ out of our knowing of what is true.  On then to, ‘How do we put these things into compassionate action?’

From there we just roll into the precious moments of living. 

18 February, 2010

JUST A DAY

Like when Alexander had his '… no good, horrible, very bad day …', when my children were young, a stubbed toe, a metal toy shovel that accidentally on purpose made a real hole in a plaster wall, or a dead worm named ‘Sami’ like the fifteen others in the toilet-paper-ed, grass-filled leftover container, all constituted enough emergency to stop, sit and regroup.  There might have been crying and holding or crying and fighting or crying and laughing or crying and reading about Alexander, but any which way, there was release, relief and a fresh start somehow.

This day, today, seems different. First of all it’s me that’s in the muck of a mired down, un-moored, disoriented, unglued, lost and wet on a visually sunny kind of very bad day. Second of all that particular uckiness that glows phosphorescently (so it’s completely noticeable by everyone) when someone is wallowing in the abyss of self-pity, has me oozing about like the slugs I used to pick up to feed our pet Turtle.  I should add that this was before I accidentally froze him to death in the cast iron tub I put out in the back yard one winter after I got too stressed trying to contain the Fruit-fly colony breeding over the compost I’d put in with him when I was trying to demonstrate perpetual motion. I’d had this idea that we’d put the tub in the living room to mix up what I perceived to be a societally imposed sense of rightful placing of objects. Since we had a usable shower still in the bathroom, I filled the tub with dirt. The weeds I didn’t want in the garden (and didn’t want to kill because surely modeling disrespect for the earth isn’t good parenting practice) were put in the tub to grow as something perhaps misplaced, displaced, but still potentially beautiful and certainly useful. The compost from the kitchen fed the worms I bought in a brown paper bag that also went into the tub. These worms fed Mr. Turtle and my family had a living science experiment. Except the mess of it all got to me so I displaced the whole kit and kaboodle to the yard (where much of it came from anyway). The tub could have housed a tacky Virgin Mary but we loved Mr. Turtle and who’s to say? He could have been immaculate. A guy I tried to date around that time was pretty impressed by my refusal to gasp at the ooze of the slugs and there was no question that the way Mr. Turtle opened his mouth to eat was amazing because, unlike humans (which of course I didn’t miss the opportunity to point out to anyone who’d listen), his jaws worked like hinges and raised the entire top of his face when he welcomed his dinner.

So I’m oozing today. Multiple involvement of orifices. Tears. Excess sweat in disenfranchised places. It all started when I woke up in the post-menopausal hormone swamp. It isn’t even so much about the moisture (puddles sometimes if I’m being honest). It’s the brain fog that goes with the territory.  And an incessant round of thinking that if my fingers weren’t also out of whack, I could maybe catch in a series of rapidly escalating, non-redundant scales of profound thoughts. Unfortunately, even my typing seems slanted.  I do marvel though that despite having PTSD for over 30 years, this surprises me every time it hits.

I’ll be fifty-five years old this Sunday. It’s a nice number I never thought I’d live to see. I’m not having an issue with the getting older piece, at least not right this minute, but I am pretty resentful that it means having to get my license renewed. In principle this shouldn’t be so bad. You just go, sit in a chair until they call your number, try to pretend you’re not royally pissed off at the unbelievable incompetence all around you, pay the money, take the thing and leave. But that’s not how this particular day’s script went. I was so disoriented that although I’ve driven to the Registry in Roslindale, MA on numerous occasions, I got lost on my way to the local DMV. It might have been fun years ago, hanging out with several stoned friends, to have no idea where we were and then … wonder of wonders … surprise!! We’d be right where we wanted to end up. Back then it seemed like some cosmic rightness in the world. Today, feeling lost going less than three miles from my house has me questioning my right to foot space on the planet.

Given that I arrived exactly four minutes after the place opened, I thought everything might turn out okay. Until I walked around the corner and after mentally discounting the possibility that Obama was visiting (I did see Michelle’s face on some screen yesterday), that there’d been a random fantastical alien space-ship sighting, that a hero had been in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment and saved a grandmother fainting when she learned she’d won the lottery and could finally buy a house for her daughter who’s a single mom of three, realized that this huge line wending its way towards Roslindale Center was, at the front end, waiting to get into the registry. I didn’t cry while I clenched my coat, sipped my tea from my pink travel mug and tried to ignore the eavesdropping I couldn’t help. The thing that really stunk about all the waiting, aside from the permanent five year grimace on my new license, is that I had several hours worth of minutes in which to think.

I tried to distract myself with my knitting. The problem is I’m a very bad knitter. Just learning really. And it frustrates me terribly because I’ve known how to do it at other times in my life. So I sat, elbow to elbow with two people I don’t know, casting and recasting the stitches and thinking about how excited I’ve been by my recent writing. I was thinking I’d finally found a way to talk about some of the things that I think constitute our cultural ‘Elephant’ in our societal living room. Writing about denial is a way out and through. Talking about trauma helps traumatized people back into the arena. Writing about rape allows for a healing for everyone.

But the same things are true that have always been true. Most people don’t want to. Don’t want to talk about these things. Don’t want to read about these things. Don’t want to think about these things. And at least today, how I’m thinking is that most people don’t want anything to do with anyone who, just by being, impels them to look at these things that are so not pretty to see.  And as I sat, unraveling knots that wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t so fucking dissociative that learned skills sometimes disappear and then reappear in maddening random ways, I was thinking that of course people don’t want to talk about rape. Who would? Unless they were wearing the mantle imposed on them by random events that most people want to scapegoat away into some arena that makes dealing with them unnecessary? But what else is there to do? So many people are carrying loss. All of us if we’re honest. From years of experience I know that mucking in the muck is the way to not carry it. And yet, I’m sure it gets boring. And old. And evokes helplessness. And don’t we wish someone else would be the one to bear witness? We’re too busy.

So, on occasion, I fall in to feeling sad for the me that is me. I probably looked like a Rheumy oldster sitting on that green chair. My eyes kept tearing. I wanted to think of something funny. Truly I did. And I was afraid the clerk, if I lived long enough to get to him, was going to wish me Happy Birthday and that instead of smiling with grace, the cracks of my teeth would open and a whimper would escape. Luckily, he didn’t even see me enough to smile, never mind realize that I wouldn’t have been there if I wasn’t aging so fast. So at least that one worry was wasted.  But even the thought that if only I’d been a tiny more addled I might have forgotten to put on my shoes – and then the fact that I quick checked to make sure my boots were boots and not slippers – didn’t make me smile.

So I thought about that wonderful ‘Alexander and his bad day’ book I used to read to my kids and wished for a mother to normalize it all away for me.  Except knowing me - today anyway - that would probably make me sad too.

14 February, 2010

GREEN DOESN'T ALWAYS STAY GREEN

Malchick (singing Canary with a Russian name) isn’t green anymore.  It’s sad, really. When he came home with me, the brilliance of his green feathers were second only to the fact that his tiny throat could bulge while his beak stayed immobile, and my entire cottage would flood with song.  Not just any song.  Malchick sings a series of notes that cascade the wood beams, roam up to the cobwebs visible only when sun hits the dust, roll, then plunge down past the slate blackboard carefully removed from its original job in a high school in Dorchester, and float cadence-by-beat and back to his solidly yellow body clutched on his perch.  But Malchick is a ‘Green’ Canary. That’s what the woman told me when I paid her and she tipped her head in mild regret.  Apparently he was her favorite.  He was green when I got him.  He’s not green anymore.  And this despite all evidence of my trying: a special bulb for a special bird-light in  a special big cage with special food, sun as much as possible and always fresh water. 

The environment into which one is received after trauma (loss) is the imperative (determinative) factor impacting  (one could say precipitating) the intensity, longevity and treat-ability of subsequent adaptations. Mitigation after the fact is certainly possible, though impacted profoundly by the validation received from the primary surrounding milieu.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an adaptation to trauma - an attempt by an agile mind to make order out of chaos.

Because we are a survival-driven, gregarious species, when we face our death (whether through physical actions that could precipitate an end to our physical lives, or through psychological ‘actions’ that could precipitate the same) we take whatever steps necessary to optimize both a physicality of living and a possibility for connection.  To survive the truth of a psychological death (secondary here for our purposes because it occurs after the original trauma) imparted by a loved one through lack of validation of the reality of our circumstance (regardless of said loved-one’s intention), often a splitting (mental, spiritual, physical, psychobiological) occurs.  Through this splitting, we continue to engage while simultaneously portioning off the aspect of self that’s been negated.

Thus: DENIAL BEGETS DENIAL BEGETS DENIAL.

Human beings do not come out of the womb wanting to wound.  

It turns out that my Malchick isn’t the only super-adapter in the house.  There’s me.  My color changes aren’t so obvious. They’ve been rooted for many years. But I think they still count.  When the truth of what we are now is discounted, it actually changes the weaving of the threads that color our reality.

Last night my son told me about the Guppies.  And the Finches.  This led me to some fascinating research.  If you dear reader, want to read it for yourself, and are moved to extrapolate in your own unique direction, I’d love to hear some of your thoughts.  There are many source sites but this one made for easy reading. Apparently the article my son read made an additional case for the fact that out of a shift in the intensity of predator presence, the guppies changed color.  More color in less fear.

For Finches, there is a readily identifiable alteration in physical characteristics, visibly apparent in only one generation.  Apparently the size, efficacy and color of the beaks change as weather and therefore dominant plant growth shifts.  Again, there are many source sites but I found this one most accessible.

We cannot forget the Chameleon. “(family Chamaeleonidae) They are a distinctive and highly specialized clade of Lizard. They are distinguished by their parrot-like zygodactylous feet, … their swaying gait, … and the ability of some to change color.” (Emphasis mine. Thank you Wilkipedia) This tiny (sometimes) Lizard is able to visually shift in response to color changes in its surroundings and/or perceived predator presence.

So what is this obsession with adaptation? How does it impact our understanding of PTSD, families, parenting, relationship, and ultimately forging an ‘AFTER’ when the ‘before’ has been first traumatic and second steeped in exclusionary denial?

I’m giggling here, still in my slippers past noon on a sunny day, because the compelling possibility of parsing this out in an accessible manner is as seductive to me as I imagine nectar is to Malchick.  The thing that gets me is that our country allocates billions of dollars in research grants to scientists.  These people (let’s face it, largely male) get to observe and document to their hearts content.  I run a minds-eye-movie where an identifiable, scientifically viable shift is observed in a study population, and everyone gets a day off.  Food and liquor flows. ‘High-fives’ abound.  The point here being that the ability of animals and plants to adapt to a shift or reduction in their survival needs is applauded.

As an artist who works both with new and ‘found’ materials, one of my greatest pleasures is watching how the very materiality of a palate changes with time and touch.  In fact, there is a major movement afoot in the art world.  ‘Green’ art is currently being featured as the wave of the future.  The implication being that to reuse, re-contextualize, re-visualize materials in a new way catalyzes a viewer to see an artist’s observations of the world (as manifested in the work they spawn) in a more accessible manner.

‘Covers’ of music previously recorded and now woven with new interpretation bring songs a new level of audience.  Movies remade with different actors and directors often are viewed with a different perception of story.  Recipes find new life under the tutelage of changing cooks.

And yet creating work without crediting the predecessors, no matter how obscure, is considered quite gauche in many circles. And – just as critical – neither I nor any trauma survivor I know, wants to live through obscurity until death and then get reworked to something more understandable.

What is this denial, so rampant in our culture, that prevents us from offering  acknowledgment and validation to trauma survivors (like we do for adaptive, non-human species)? I have to add here that this is true most particularly in the context of rape.  Both the rape-es and the rape-ers are virtually erased from the common vernacular of our world.  This could be an issue of ‘naming’.  It’s an undeniable challenge to find words to adequately discuss the complexities of that which is denied.

Surely we are one step removed when it comes to animals, plants and objects. We can look and notice their adaptations and shifts (and sometimes get wealthy from doing both) because, aside from the possible fear of anthropomorphic labeling, they are so apparently ‘NOT US’.  [God forbid we acknowledge our investment in a patriarchic-ally supported hierarchical worldview and admit there may be more to other species than we can ‘prove’.]  Other than this, what else could possibly be the problem?  To deny the reality of the adaptations necessitated by the PTSD must serve some purpose, or it wouldn’t permeate our culture. Would it?  Come on.  This is people I’m talking about.

So here’s what I currently think.  It has to do with my as-yet-unpublished book. One of the chapters is titled: ‘The Boogieman Under The Bed’.  As long as we can label what someone else has done, what someone else had done-to (them), how someone else adapted to either or both, as ‘OTHER THAN US’ (other than we would do, be, think, feel and certainly speak) then we are safe.  Because it’s them not us.  Couldn’t possibly be us.  And therefore will never be us.  So ‘we’ don’t have to worry.  When we pull out the boogieman, and the only thing left under the bed is old dust and the possibility of a lost treasure, buried deep by the always-too-short vacuum cleaner cord, ‘THEM’ IS US.  Most people are too selfish and afraid of their own discomfort to recognize an ‘us’ in all of the ‘them-s’.

The mental adaptations of the traumatized are fucking brilliant. PTSD allows people to tolerate what most others are unwilling to contemplate. It allows a multiplicity of mental tracks to run simultaneously in the recesses of one human mind. It allows the eyes to cry while the rest of the body offers comfort to another.

The mental adaptations of the traumatized are also debilitating. PTSD allows for a challenge of living unparalleled in the non-institutionalized. When untreated, it can catalyze tremendous violence. When un-acknowledged, it will trigger and re-trigger until the core of shame we allocate to the floor under our bed becomes the predominant felt-sense of a person.

To be both survival-driven and gregarious is as much a conundrum as to be both mortal and conscious. Yet this is what we all are. Given these realities, to believe that humans are supposed to be happy and comfortable would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Moments of brilliance? Yes. Moments of joy? Yes. But all of the time? No.  We have to be willing to be uncomfortable, to walk in each others’ shoes, even if the steps are not palatable. To harness the courage necessary to take these actions IS A CHOICE.

When my PTSD is running rampant through my nervous system, at this stage generally only set off by the triggering brought on by a loved one’s blatant disregard of the realities I live with every day, my dog Pushkin knows and responds in a fraction of a second. He is not afraid. When I’m what I call ‘fallen in’, and my blood pressure drops (among many rather disgusting manifestations), my children see, know and respond. They are not afraid.

When our children are in reaction to the adaptations that have allowed us to survive, we can prevent a second generational subversion of experience and thus a next level (our children’s emerging PTSD).  Their experience has to be validated so that they can develop the tools to cope without having to resort to their own severe dissociation.  Labeling our own aberrance for what it is allows our children to know and validate the truth of their perceptions. Therefore, they grow, knowing it isn’t about them in these moments.

How magnificent a discovery is this?  Epigenetics. As I understand it, what I’ve labeled ‘vicarious, multigenerational PTSD’ for the past 24 years in my practice treating primarily trauma survivors and their families, is at last proven by scientists to be valid, verifiable and true. In a nutshell, trauma actually changes the way the brain works so that a layering occurs on certain genetic carriers. Thus, the adaptive nature of the whole morass passes down through the generations FOREVER. It seems to have been firmly established as truth when the trauma originates in childhood. For more extensive reading, please go here.

For members of our species who live a so-called ‘relatively safe passage through childhood’ before they are traumatized, I will postulate that the epigenetic impact on these individuals is similarly significant. Certainly the incident (s) itself, its lengthiness, awfulness and fear-of-ones-own-death quotient are all important.  However I have found that the most potentially detrimental factor has to do with the level of denial encountered and the level of validation received. When a person’s perception of reality is disavowed and disallowed, they face a psychological death scenario that triggers the fight/flight survival mechanism in the adrenals housed inside their body.  My supposition is that this cycle spurs an epigenetic layering as potentially damaging as when originating in childhood. This is particularly evident in adult children of both Holocaust and Rape survivors.

Hiding the realities, not speaking the stories, not seeing the adaptations, perpetuates a cycle that is massively destructive. Because, as I say: denial begets denial begets denial.

08 February, 2010

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

J.M. Fields was a discount department store chain based in Salem, MA, owned by Food Fair, Inc. Most J.M. Fields stores were built adjacent to Food Fair's grocery stores and the two were in fact connected, making J.M. Fields the first true "supercenter" of its time. Customers could walk from the department store directly into the grocery store without having to go outside. (Thank you Wikipedia)

Finnerty’s Country Squire Restaurant was open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch and dinner. It was a ‘…well respected restaurant in the area with outstanding Prime Rib. …’ The interior was set up like a country inn with a fireplace in the main room.

While not my very first jobs, which included selling flower seeds door to door, babysitting and washing pots and pans in the local nursing home kitchen, J.M. Fields and Finnerty’s were the two jobs slated to be my key to freedom. My plan, after graduating from high school in three years, was to make one thousand dollars (which would mean I was rich) and set off to live ‘real’ life. I intended to work as many jobs as possible, for the shortest time possible, take the money and run. My longing to leave suburban Boston, my parents and their friends (all of whom seemed so terribly unhappy to me) and start my real life drove me so powerfully that I barely struggled with the biological pre-disposition to over-sleep that side-lined many of my friends. At that time, I was on fire with a desire to ‘finally start my life’.

In a way, those two jobs gave me what I hoped for. And more.

It was at J.M. Fields, working the floor as a bathing suit picker-upper, that I first saw overweight white women behaving in ways that made me wish I was a goat and not a person at all. I didn’t stop to wonder why I personally felt embarrassed at their obnoxious entitlement. I just knew that picking up the mess-strewn floor made me wish I wasn’t of their same species.

As the first just-over-eighteen year old female hired to work at Finnerty’s (Massachusetts had recently lowered the drinking age) I was hard pressed to find connection with the career-matrons who taught me the ropes. Tip distribution varied widely and I noticed from day one that hip-swinging and coy smiles put money in my apron that catalyzed severe glaring from my trainers.

The third job I worked was so non-memorable that I have to admit I can no longer remember what it was. From these three jobs though, I did take two important things. The money counts as one. Although I wasn’t ‘rich’ like I thought (Ahh the cruelty of a rude awakening. Sitting at our family kitchen table I’d begged my father to teach me about money. He’d refused by telling me there was nothing I needed to know. I erroneously believed him.) I did succeed in making the money I believed I needed. Because – like all beliefs – thinking something is so doesn’t make it real, by the time I was hitch-hiking across the country, I had thirty seven dollars and fifty cents. and a conch shell from St. Kitts, which I believed to be very valuable.

The other life lesson I took from my three jobs has turned out to be much more significant. I often found myself simply pausing to stare in wonder at my customers. This was not the most popular employee behavior but it eventually gave me the information I sought. Watching a woman’s exaggerated frustration when she stepped over a pile of bathing suits she’d just watched me watch her dump on the floor, I realized that if I wasn’t careful, I’d end up disliking her a lot. I was under strict, boss-enforced instructions not to voice these perceptions so I didn’t speak them. And in fact, it wasn’t the not speaking that troubled me. What did disturb me deeply was seeing that I was capable of actively disliking people.

Whatever cherished notion my parents may hold about our past, I saw their unhappiness as hate. In response to this, as a small child, I promised myself, vowed actually, that no matter what happened to me in my life, I would never become a hater.

And there I was, nearly hating a sweating woman with candy streaked kids, and I hadn’t even left home yet.

At Finnerty’s the waitresses needed to help each other. The trays were heavy. If a waitress was carrying a full load, she needed to make a graceful landing on the bussing tray quickly or she was liable to either drop a six-person ceramic dish dinner (each with two sides in separate breakable bowls) or bust her gut. The same night I got my first twenty dollar tip, after a married male diner waved away the assigned waitress and loudly asked for me, I came out of the kitchen with an overflowing tray. Three waitresses stood like gargoyles guarding a holy vessel. Arms crossed, they lined up in perfect unison, making access to the bussing station impossible. If I’d not been in pain, I’d have smiled at the choreographed symmetry of their motions. They were perfectly positioned to refuse my tray. In the moment it took for my eyes to make tears, I marveled at their incredible, non-verbal communication skills. I think I even thought a sad ‘if only’. Maybe they could teach my parents what I’d so obviously failed to impart about communication, despite my best efforts and hopes. As it was though, I balanced that sucker of a tray on one palm because my other hand and arm were fully occupied holding my shoulder blade. Years before, my brother had accidentally dislocated my shoulder trying to pull me out of the highchair when I was a baby. Periodically, with stress or strain, it would pop out in an excruciating burning not unlike a massive sting from angry, disturbed bees. My back was ripping at about the same moment my polite “Please get out of my way so I can put my tray down.” was receiving its antique-like stone response. I dumped the tray, jammed my shoulder back in with two hands, noticed the women's faces when the busboy rushed over to help me and two others raced to the debris with appropriate mops and buckets, and, after finishing out the night, quit my job.

So here I was again, not forty eight hours after my first brush with professionally located hate, feeling intense dislike for these mean women.

Fortunately, both of these events happened when I had just barely achieved my financial goals. And fortunately again, they both forced me to learn something that has stayed with me always: Hating is a choice.

Because I do not choose to live as a hater, I have to be careful about what I do and who I do it with. I do not want to hate the world. I do not want to hate people. I mean, let’s face it, I was a committed hippie. I wanted (and still passionately want) to love everyone. Even the man who taught a group of us to meditate, and who revered Meher Baba and his words, believed in love. I believed him until he tried to force me to have sex with him outside the room while everyone else breathed ‘Ohm.’. He said it was important to follow teacher instructions.

I could go on and on but I think you see my point. I choose to live not as a hater. I choose to orchestrate my life so I can love it. I choose to work so I can come from a place of service and love. I choose to write and make my art as an honest observer, which in my world is a deep sort of self love and loving gift. I choose honest, loving parenting. I choose to engage with my family of origin in as honest and loving a manner as I can imagine. And I choose not to be an idiot. I did not sleep with the teacher. I did leave the group. I did not attempt vengeance on the waitresses. I did quit the job. I did not grab the pudgy hand of the mother who littered bathing suits like a retarded three year old. I did pick up after her, and then, I did quit that job. I have loved and tried and yearned and begged and pleaded and communicated with my family of origin. I have also concluded that each of us gets to choose. We choose how we’ll be. We in fact, while knowing there are many things out of our control that we do not get to choose – like the three violent rapes I obviously did not wake up one day and choose ‘just because’ –choose our life stance. Certain things and events are what I’d label ‘not-chosen’ things. All the rest of it, and how we make relationship to those things, are choices.

In case I’ve inadvertently offended anyone, here is the definition of retard:

        retard - decelerate: lose velocity; move more slowly

Do these things make me an ‘Unconditional Love’ flunkee?

I think not.

What I do think though, is that love, unconditional love and choice are all constructs that merit a lot of exploration. I’ve been racking my inside self for years about all of this and I can honestly say that I do not feel we have yet created language that is fully capable of both the open ended-ness and the complexity to put names to these things easily. Sometimes a body of artwork touches it. Perhaps a glimpse in a reflective puddle that catches an image that holds intense beauty and dissonance simultaneously comes close. Sometimes a story written with just enough hidden authority that it dictates the cadence and tone for the reader, without being controlling, almost hits it. For me though, I experience the narrow band latitude of our words as an enormous challenge. Never-the-less, this challenge is one I want to engage with.

I do not think that everything exists on the same plane. There I’ve said it. I’ve written something that immediately starts the qualifiers running in my head. All explanations and parenthesis aside, I do think that there are contradictory and simultaneously true elements that take their abode both inside us – as humans – and in the world that we both know and don’t. Out of this, I’ll state that something may be true on one plane, and absolutely not be useful, applicable or accessibly true on another. If we accept this basic precept, figuring out how to live seems a lot more do-able.

On some plane, we are capable of loving always and completely. No matter what. I can walk anywhere and be blown away by the immensity of beauty I experience in every spec of every single thing. I can breathe out and imagine my breath as a love mist dancing with the world. I can also, at that exact moment, be terribly troubled because although I find abhorrent the tendency to take a small experience and extract it to a gross generalization, given the fact that I am a trauma survivor, I am often frightened of someone, simply by the size of their shadow. So, do I unconditionally love that human? At that moment? It seems not. At least not on this plane where I believe the aspiration away from prejudice to be essential. And yet. Were I not afraid, were I to start up a conversation with this individual, it would only be with the wisdom of hindsight that one could decide if I were an unconditional lover, ‘asking for it’ or just generally na├»ve and lucky.

I’ve thrown out all of these methods for judging. They simply have no value (other than recrimination that protects the pronounce-r from having to feel compassion) and they’re based on what I call ‘faulty thinking’. I hope that on some plane, which is so clearly not this plane - where we eat, shit, laugh and make war - my awe and curiosity about all things counts as unconditional love. I believe this to be true. But here, where my feet are - which was so aptly taught to me by a pink sneaker-ed girl many years ago when in frustration I asked her: “Where are you?” and she looked at me in surprise and almost pity as she said: “I’m right here. Aren’t you?” – is where I live as a human being in this body. And it is here, where I am questioning what we call love on this plane, never mind unconditional love on a larger scale.

I’ve never been able to conjure up the feelings people say I’m supposed to feel. I’ve honestly never wanted to cut the balls off the three different men who raped me. I’ve truly never wanted to hurt my mother for her denial nor my father for his episodic emotional viciousness towards me. I’ve not hated the women who slept with my (now ex) husband nor do I hate the woman who chose to forge long-term relationship with him when he was married to me and we had two children. I don’t hate my (now ex) best friend who left me when my marriage ended and I don’t hate the people who’ve benefited from my silence. I don’t hate people I don’t know and I can’t seem even to hate the man who stole my intended inheritance. I’ve tried to feel these things. But that’s just not what comes. Hating these people is what I’ve been taught I’m supposed to feel. I don’t. What does come though, is an utter bewilderment. A feeling alone and isolated because I do not hate in this way. When you think about it, this is kooky.

Just because I don’t hate these particular people doesn’t mean I never will. Nor does it mean I don’t have huge other feelings. I certainly don’t love the men who raped me and on this plane, where right this minute the hand-sewn leg-bottom of my awesome overalls just barely touches the top of my shoes (right here where my feet are), I have no intention of trying to do so.

I guess it gets really sticky when we mix actions and intentions. When I’ve been snarky with my daughter and I say I didn’t mean to and I truly didn’t mean to, she believes me. And vice versa. But if one of the men who raped me said he didn’t mean to, I’d be doubled over laughing in a super mean derisive way. I know my mother has not meant to hurt me. And I know she chose something that became the core of my wounding. So she both knew and didn’t know. The difference floating around in here has to do with what I call: ‘ Naming. Claiming. Validating. Apologizing if necessary. And engaging in a reciprocal, respectful, gropingly honest interchange.

On this plane, I vowed not to be a hater. And I vowed to tell the truth. I hope I succeed. I might fail. Sometimes the speaking of these truths is so painful. It’s hard for me to put these concepts into words. It’s hard for me to risk vilification and/or hurt reflections coming back at me. And some of what I have to say is probably pretty painful for some people to hear.

In my world, it is ‘unconditionally loving’ to communicate, question and choose, and it is selfish and/or enabling not to.

30 January, 2010

AND and FINDING GRACE

        With the profound and moving responses to my recent blog post: ‘Difficult Questions Are Not Always Cryptic’, it seems a good time to edit, rework and add this to the soup.
AND and FINDING GRACE
        The first time I consciously decided to walk away from ‘grace’ was in 1977, a couple seconds after Best-Friend-Annie told me I had none. Over the years since then, I’ve tried to convince myself that she threw those words at me because she had sex with my boyfriend. It’s not true though. I cannot actually remember what particularly ungainly best-friend maneuver I failed, but I know in that instance, she was sincerely—albeit woundingly—trying to contribute. Knowing I had no grace might have helped me, if I was graceful enough to acknowledge I wanted some. I wasn’t.

        As I edit and cut my way back through this piece, five years after its inception, there are a few inserts necessary to keep it as honest now as it was then. So: It wasn’t until I realized I was actually going to be in my fifties that I began this particular grace-wrestling.

        Since then however - often to my dismay - I find myself grappling with grace. Let me assure you I’ve never before been one to recognize a calling of this sort. I squirm when people play catch with the spirituality words. Destiny and acceptance have shared the taboo in my psyche. Perhaps the fact that I’ve survived three violent rapes in my life has made bedmates of odd ideas. Whatever the origin, usually when people blithely mention acceptance and religious brushes with grace, I’ve found myself visualizing victimization.

        So why tackle grace at all? It certainly isn’t my favorite subject. I can’t lay claim to expertise. And it’s clearly not at all a state I feel I have attained. But somehow it seems as if my whole world requires it. It’s touchy to write about something that previously held residence in my most cherished set of things I don’t believe in.

        But I have this theory. It evolved out of an earlier philosophical stance I held on to for dear life. I used to think that I was different. Alien. Outside. ‘Other’ than regular people. Therefore if I felt concerns, thought particulars, perceived matters that other people didn’t overtly react to, I could still make sense of things. It wasn’t that the other people were blind—as it appeared to me—but just that I was not like them. This way, if something terrible happened, others lack of reaction, in contrast to my extreme response, could reside intact within my philosophy. It was great. As long as I saw myself as separate and unlike most humans, no one had to be crazy in order for things to make sense.

        I was wrong though. We’re not so different. I am not a visitor from an alien planet. I’m not a weirdo who reacts bizarrely to hurtful encounters. It’s just that I’ve always seen people’s pain as a ‘something’ that requires help. Here’s the kicker. Everyone else does too. It’s just that somehow talking about it and writing about it seems to necessitate a form of action that many people seem unwilling to live by.

        I’ve had to let go of my philosophy of otherness. Thus my current knowing: All humans are markedly similar. Therefore, if I feel something, other people probably do too. What we choose to do about this seems to be up for grabs. The antithetic behavioral choices are indisputable, but the origin of these disparities is not because of some innate individual deviation.

        Pit stop here: I have to admit that I had such a good time stringing the above sentence together that for a few blissful moments I just let the cadence and symmetry carry me along. The sentence makes sense and states exactly what I intended. But just in case it’s too twisty, obtuse or otherwise alienating in some obnoxious way, I’m moved to translate: It’s obvious that different people make different choices. The point is that these choices are sometimes shitty, mean, and self-serving. It doesn’t work to try to explain this away by believing the stinkpot is organically stinky and therefore can’t help the stink. Nor does it fly to blame the boogieman under the bed. The reality is, we’re all humans. And if everyone would just try hard, our lives would work better.

        Accepting the fact that I’m a human like everyone else (which I now unequivocally know that I am) calls me to practice the fine art of grace. Otherwise, how can I bear our dishonesty? How can I live with the fact that asking for help often elicits rejection? And truly, without practicing grace, how can I survive? Knowing that when we feel how bad we feel—when we hurt someone we love—it’s so excruciating that most people would rather pretend it away than accept accountability and apologize?

        The outgrowth of my current theory is fairly straightforward as long as I am able to tolerate the fact that it negates my previously cherished notion of my own ‘otherness’. Here it is then: I have to practice grace in order to participate as a member of our gregarious species. We all do. And we need grace in our culture, perhaps as never before.
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        My big brother sneaks into my room almost every night. He sits with his arms wrapped around his knees. His cheek never gets poked by the plastic seam on my purple flowered chair because he keeps his head up. Even if he’s crying. Which he does a lot but since I love him, I never tell anyone so he doesn’t get teased. I’m so glad he shares his secrets with me. He’s my big sad brother. I know he’s my best friend. I know this because he lets me see his tears.
***
        I’ve been married almost twelve years when Hurricane Andrew (1992, I’m 37 years old) hits Martha’s Vineyard. My big brother and his family are here visiting from California. His children, my children and my two baby goats are all playing in the laundry room off the kitchen. I get to have all the kids in the house because it’s dangerous to be outside. There’s a howling in the space between the screen door and the wood. The clothesline looks treacherous and empty. It’s dark at two in the afternoon and my marriage is ending. I’m trying not to mentally chant the: “end of life as we know it” line in my head. I pretend to myself that it could be funny to use my tears instead of salt in the potatoes. The swollen places around my eyes undermine my efforts to provide a lovely time for my company. The wind sounds sharp like crazy women in the back ward at McLean Hospital. My big brother can’t control the storm but I imagine him saving me. “I’m afraid my marriage is over.” I wail, and I’m sobbing. My best-friend-big-brother David yells at me “How could you?” before his full volume hits. “You’re ruining my vacation.”

        The wind evaporates my wet face and when the tree fell on his car, the final ending of my marriage kept pace with the Woods Hole Towing Company.

***
        A full half way through my fiftieth year and my brother’s twenty fifth wedding anniversary is tomorrow. My youngest daughter has just had surgery with unusual complications. This is the first weekend day in over a month that is unscheduled so I am anticipating a much needed sleep-in. My phone rings at 5:45 AM. When I hear my brother’s voice I am disoriented. The years and dates and even life-stories slip around in time. His voice is clear. It’s my big-brother-best-friend and I’m so lucky he talks to me. I can smell my purple flowered chair and almost touch my childhood ballerina wallpaper. “I’ve got to talk to you.” my brother tells me. Here in my bed, my body tries to figure out the three hour time difference and how it can possibly be him. (But my heart …) “I need your help.” he whispers. “My marriage is in trouble.”

        We’re on the phone for almost two hours. I try to ask gentle, evocative questions. Drawing on my professional time as a couple’s therapist—without using alienating psycho-babble—while I’m half asleep and needing to urinate, is a challenge. I want to do it though. It still feels like an honor that he’d choose me.

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        The internal head taunting holds off until Tuesday, three days after my brother’s call. If there could be a script for each of my perspectives, it’d have to be a multi-act play with a revolving cast: “You’re such an idiot. Remember how he treated you?” “God I hope he’s okay. I wonder how it went.” “I’ve always known he misses me too. It’s so great to have heard him.” “But he screamed at me.” “I don’t want to moan out loud.” “I never meant to ruin anyone’s vacation, I just wanted him to help me.” “I’m glad he asked me for help.” “I wonder if I was helpful. I hope so.”

        The amazing thing is that all the perspectives are true. Simultaneous, contradictory perceptions. All connected by a precious little word called ‘AND’.

        Sometimes I think that my body is the bridge that links the emotions of the past to the emotions of the present. Without the ‘AND’ word I’m afraid I’d split in two.

        Holding all the dichotomies inside my head isn’t all that painful. It’s not until I really start to dissect that I realize there’s something important hidden around my big brother story. It’s a something that has to do with grace. The content could be any life story where what we receive and what we give are out of whack.

        Right here I run into a quagmire of thoughts that would take a book to elucidate. So. In short form, let me start with the thought that currency in the context of relationship makes me want to vomit. And. Currency is an essential aspect to relationship.

cur-ren-cy n. pl. currencies
        1. Transmission from person to person as a medium of exchange
                
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

        The choice to include this definition was a big one for me. Of course there is a number 2 and 3, as well as the etymology. What I found fascinating was that until 1699, when John Locke extended the meaning to include “…circulation of money …” the word currency implied more of a flowing between. Somewhat like a river moves. Or maybe, as I thought, in the arena of how energy flows between humans when they engage in the heartfelt trying required to live.       

And consider this quote from: ‘Mutant Message Down Under’ by Marlo Morgan
        “That brought up their definition of a gift. According to the tribe, a gift is only a gift when you give someone what the person wants. It is not a gift if you give them what you want them to have. A gift has no attachment. It is given unconditionally. The persons receiving it have the right to do anything with the gift: use it, destroy it, give it away, whatever. It is theirs without condition, and the giver expects nothing in return. If it doesn’t fit that criteria, it is not a gift. It should be classified as something else.”
        So if we’re thinking about the exchange that occurred between my brother and I, did I give my brother a gift? Or did I enable? And further, since I believe I enabled by omission, do I want to consciously choose to contribute to a denial that has been passed down in my family, certainly through my immediate family of origin but perhaps for generations?

        What I’ve come to see is that I did not give my brother a gift. If I use the ‘Mutant’ definition (which I love) than there was no gifting going on at all. Nor was I acting in grace, as I’ve been taught to understand grace. It’s odd in a way. I did ‘turn the other cheek’, and I did ‘unto my brother as I’d wish him to do unto me’. Except. I wouldn’t. Want this. I don’t think it is grace to rob a loved one of the truth. And the truth is he hurt me terribly in the past. He never acknowledged it. Nor did he apologize. He did ask me to wake up and be a loving listener (which of course I want to be) without ever asking me if it was okay or even how I was doing. Unquestionably, I love my brother. Out of this love, I chose to give and ‘forget’. Except the forgetting didn’t hold. I do not believe it graceful. What I think is that in those moments I was too selfish to risk my own discomfort by speaking the truth in its complexity. I, in fact, robbed him of the opportunity to be a part of a loving reciprocity with me. I do not think this sort of robbery graceful. As I said, I cannot pretend to be a grace expert.

        We’re taught that if we live with grace, good things will follow. My truth is that when I am my most graceful, often others really dislike the truths that come with the territory. And many times, they dislike me in the process.

        When someone hurts us, grace requires us to address it. To speak the reality of the wound. True grace then exacts the ‘hurter’ (whether deliberate or not) to acknowledge what has happened. Further, grace extols an apology.

        Whenever we take a human interaction out of a continuous contextual time-line, it can appear lopsided. It is also true that when we experience a particular human interaction, in the moment, we are out of a continuous contextual time-line. We are in a moment with the other person. It takes grace as I now understand it, to both hold the history and be in the moment.
       
        And here again is the amazing little ‘AND’ word.

        Somehow we need the ‘AND’ in order to practice grace. The ‘AND’ allows us to disclose the truth. Without it, communication gets pinched and squeezed-in, unilateral, one dimensional, boring, and it’s a lie. Telling the truth, in all it’s messy, contradictory, beautiful complexity, is a graceful thing to do. Non-disclosed truths (lies), are the opposite. Lying promotes violence. What’s missing, omitted, pretended away, made unimportant or rendered invisible, still simmers below the surface or on the far side of a blink. This underbelly has an unfortunate propensity. It interferes, interrupts, causes a schism, becomes a separation. The omission blows up, erupts and is often violently destructive. Truth with an ‘AND’ could potentially be a graceful promoter of peace.

        But how do we practice grace if one of the requirements is truth-telling and truth-telling is deemed so socially unattractive? And perhaps more complicated, what if what I was taught about grace, what I’ve tried to live (since the teachings and trying-s have often involved a socially enfranchised – polite – kind of lying) isn’t graceful at all? What if the gift I gave my brother, by supporting him through his marital woes, when he utterly slammed me through mine, was in fact, the opposite of grace. What if giving a gift, before a wound is acknowledged, is morally wrong? And damn it. What if grace, living in grace, moving with grace, dying gracefully, all require a trying – a truth-telling – that shows our fallibility, our fumbling efforts, perhaps involves losing precious people we love to our depths? Because what if grace is only sometimes beautiful (the way we in our culture, understand beauty to be) and more often messy, ugly and downright unattractive? And finally, what if living with grace means being generous enough to let our loved ones reap what they sow, even if it breaks our hearts?