Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why I won’t be eating turkey with you this year

When I was young and you said racist and sexist things, I cringed, but had no words, no experience and no one to defend except myself. And so, like everyone else in the family, in our family, I listened, I heard and inside I crawled far back into the recesses of my mind where it was safe to be different from you. 

As I grew up, I saw other families who could be safe with each other in all the ways they were different and I longed for that but believed it wasn’t meant for me. I read books and had experiences with stories, getting to know people who wouldn’t know me, keeping myself as safe as I could. 

I went off to college with your blessing and learned of patriarchal ways and found heros in Audre Lorde and Tillie Olsen, coming home for the holidays I was excited and wanted to share what I was learning, but there was no space. No words to bridge the worlds between us. I accepted your hugs and subtle rules that we don’t talk about anything meaningful, but mean things could be said. 

This year, I am hurting and I need to be in a safe place that isn’t inside my head. You see, I’ve realized inside my head was a refuge, not a comfort. Any there are people in the world who have space for diverse ideas and conversations and people, and these are now my people. There is no solace for me in turkey and vapid conversation. 

I hope you enjoy your turkey and mashed potatoes and gloating over your new president elect. I hope you all feel safe both inside your heads and around the table, where only certain things can be said. I don’t want to hear or condone mean things being said anymore and I’m too tired to enter into conversation with you; to try to tell you it’s not ok. You’ve never listened and the silence is deafening. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Start Again

Staying in stride is easy. Stopping and coming back, starting over again is hard. I’ve been thinking about how to come back to my writing, how to post another blog post, after it’s been so long. So many thoughts to write about, so many things have happened. I can just stay inside myself, where I’ve lived for so long. Where I’ve developed a relationship with myself, where I know the dialogue, or start again to share my world. Where the words need to be heard, not just said. 

For the last two years, I’ve grown my private practice to full-time, which means on any given week I am listening to anywhere between 28 and 38 people, couples or families. Listening deeply, and entering into conversation that facilitates awareness and healing. I love my work. It’s satisfying and mostly it comes easy for me. It’s also very different from being in my own little world, with my own little (or big) thoughts and putting them on paper. So to switch over feels really hard, like moving a boulder. And so most days, I tell myself, “It’s okay that you’re just a therapist now, it’s okay to not be writing for a while.” And yet as these days start adding up into weeks and months and years, I feel sad, and I miss my writer self. I’ve been reading more books and articles and feeling that sad jealous feeling that this person is a published writer (and I’m not). 

So, here’s my attempt to come back, and I’m going to tell you some of the things I’ve been doing, instead of writing. 

Years ago, in a class on art therapy, I made a collage of myself with a very large head and a small body. Once it appeared, as art seems to appear as we create it, I thought, “Yes, this is how it is. I’m all in my head, not in my body.” And very much like the Dorian Grey story, the opposite of this collage was actually becoming true. My body was becoming bigger and bigger. I’d never thought much about my body for most of my life. I was blessed with a rather proportionate body that worked really well, and I took it for granted. 

While in graduate school, and working (sitting on my ass for most of the time), I gained weight and I lost flexibility. I didn’t eat well, I skipped breakfasts and I ate trail mix for dinner while sitting in a classroom. This was after nearly a lifetime of doing a lot of moving around with my body, whether it was chasing children, riding bikes with them, doing yoga and circuit training and even aerobics at times. Working full-time, and being in school meant that I sat all day at work, I sat in the evenings in class, and then sat more when I started my private practice in the evenings after work. I sat writing papers. I barely knew how to bend over any more, seriously. When I dropped something on the floor, it took work, serious work, to pick it up. 

So, I decided to move my body again. I started walking, I started doing yoga. Doing yoga after not doing yoga for years was discouraging. I used to be pretty good at yoga, not great, but good. Now, after about a year and a half, I’m getting some flexibility and strength back. It was like no one was home in my body anymore, like all the stress in the world had somehow found my hips and shoulders and decided since they were empty to just settle in there. I had to remind myself that little by little I would become strong again, flexible again, and to not continue would be to accept my body becoming even more rigid and weak. Not an option. 

I’m eating better now. I’m eating actual food, not trail mix. I’m counting calories, not just to count calories but to see if I can get all my daily nutritional needs met by eating the right food. Some days I can, some days I can’t, but I know I’m getting more nutrition than ever before. I’m feeling better, feeling stronger and I’m heading off the five pounds a year I’d been gaining. All this calorie counting and food preparing takes time, and so when I think I have time to write, and instead I make breakfast and lunch and enter the food items into the computer; I no longer have time to write. I’m flying out the door to one of my two office locations. 

I’m trying not to feel like I’m turning my back on my writer self, I’m telling myself I will get back there. I will start again, just like with the yoga. Life is stops and starts sometimes. Life is beginning all over again sometimes, when we’re like, “What the hell? I have to start again?” And life is like, “Yes, start again.” 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Blatnik Bridge

I took my fears with me on vacation. In June, I rented a lovely cottage on the shores of Lake Superior, in Bayfield, Wisconsin; only to find it was on the cliffs. I have a fear of heights. I had two of my grandchildren with me, the younger two. Even when my own children were young, if they got too close to any railings that overlooked anything, my heart would choke, and my knees go weak. I had this feeling on and off while we stayed there. I worried that I’d rented a place that was ‘dangerous’. We were all fine, there were fences around the property, with beautiful overlooks. Never mind that there was a huge drop and cliffs and rocks below. 

Before we even arrived in Bayfield; I had a panic attack going over the Blatnik Bridge in Duluth, this bridge takes you from Duluth towards Superior, on the way to Bayfield. I was driving and I just kept going even though I wanted to just stop the car. Once over the bridge, we realized we were going the wrong way, and guess what? To get to where we needed to go, we had to go back over the bridge. Right, I can do this. Both being lost and having to cross the bridge were difficult for me. My daughter turned on her navigation on her phone, and then realized, oh--we have to go back over the bridge again. She offered to drive but we were on the freeway system in Duluth, without any easy exits to switch seats. 

I drove over the bridge again. Three times all together. Why does my body do this to me? Why do some people get a thrill at things that totally turn me into jelly? I was angry too, and wanted to problem solve. There should be a warning, or a lane that goes 20 miles per hour for those of us who not only don’t want to be up that high, in the wind, but also going so fast. Don’t the people who build these bridges and set the speed limits on them understand that some of us have fears, phobias? It seemed insensitive. My heart still tightens thinking about it. I white knuckled it and talked myself through it. 

Taking all this in stride, I did kayak Lake Superior. The whole family went. This was excitement I could handle. We had two amazing guides and when the water was too rough by the cliffs we turned back. The views were stunning and keeping the kayaks going in the right direction was a fun challenge. I’d been doing yoga for over a year now, trying to build my strength to kayak, and so this was a huge personal success, even though my daughter Megan (in the back of the two seater kayak) did most of the heavy paddling work.

All in all, the vacation was wonderful and too short. I did not pull over on the bridge; that seemed even more scary that to just keep going. I want to trust my body, know that it can do amazing things, even if it tells me it was not created for such heights. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Meloncholy Baby

I’ve been reading Patti Smith’s M Train. Erin gave it to me for Christmas. I’d read passages of it and the writing was so beautiful I put it on my Christmas list. It is a gift, and yet in reading it, it takes me into a place of words that twist and beguile in a way that I feel lost in my own past, the way the author gets lost in her past. And it makes me worry about aging, about getting old. The way even thinking about Patti Smith when she was young makes me feel, somehow musty, dusty. I become afraid, and I have to tell myself, to just shake it off, move on, life is good, vibrant. 

What does young mean anyway? For me it was unfettered, before children, before being accountable for someone’s life. When I traveled, as Smith recounts traveling. When I was in Paris, London, Rome, even Berlin, before the wall came down. A busload of college students traveling through Europe. Before I got married, making a note of the places I’d return to: Hydra, Prague, Saas-Almagell in Switzerland. I have memories of walking the beach on the French Riviera, dark narrow streets in Venice. On our honeymoon we went to Paris, London, and Stratford on Avon, but once the babies started coming, I was home, and Steve traveled the world not with me, but with Prince. 

I’m accustomed to women writers, hip mamas, whose lives are about mothering. I’m surprised that Smith doesn’t talk much about her children, she wishes she could see them as they were when they were little again. I’ve thought of this, of how my babies would run to me, how they were bursting with newness about everything, and now they are adults, so different, and yet, the same. I envy her this detachment, at least in her writing. I measure it masculine against feminine, how cool ‘girls’ were the ones more like the boys, detached. I also worry that this is what happens in aging, that the important times, the immersion in the mess of parenting or relationship, is what really counts, and nothing else counts, now. 

Like a shadow life. I’m afraid of a shadow life. I was pulled back into the past just yesterday by Kathleen. Trying to make sense of her own beliefs about herself, about life. Remembering the horrible therapist I took her to when she was so little, who encouraged I punish her. I colluded against my beautiful daughter, I did not understand what I know now. And all I can say, is I’m sorry. I’d wish I’d known better, I wish I could go back and hold your beautiful child self and offer understanding for all of it. Winnicott* says that a child needs to believe that their emotions will not annihilate their mother. I did not let you believe that. I believed that your emotions were too potent, too powerful, and I didn’t know what to do with them, or with you when you were overcome with your own beautiful feelings. 

Feel them all, let their beautiful messages about life and love and everything in the world inform you more than MSN, more than Facebook, more than Tolle or Smith or anyone else. I have not been the perfect mother, I have placed some things as more valuable than others and sought after these. But Nature Boy spoke the truth; The greatest thing you'll ever learn, Is just to love and be loved in return. I’ll finish M Train, it’s a beautiful read, but then I need to move on out of this melancholia that began in the fall. Return to bright colors, scents of spring, the past few months too dark. 

*With the care that it receives from its mother each infant is able to have a personal existence, and so begins to build up what might be called a continuity of being. On the basis of this continuity of being the inherited potential gradually develops into an individual infant. If maternal care is not good enough then the infant does not really come into existence, since there is no continuity of being; instead the personality becomes built on the basis of reactions to environmental impingement.(Winnicott, 1960)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Hail Mary Pass

Our first teachings are our real religion-- they are what guide us on our way. Jesus loves me this I know but what love feels like I’ve come to feel as fear, as judgment, as not good enough, ever. Would you die for your fellow man? So I make myself small. We are all dressed up complete with lacy veil upon my head, as my mom’s head is covered, too. We are women and not allowed to be in the church with our heads uncovered. My dad’s head is uncovered, his words unfiltered as we drive to and from mass. He is swearing, and I am scared and wonder how his mind throws so much anger about. The car is full of anger, and again, I am full of fear. If I can’t sit still in church my mom will give me a dirty look. I want to cry, again, to overflow with the things that I have no words for. 

Just last night, when my sister spoke back, he struck her and I lay in my bed, in the room I shared with my sister, too scared to intervene. In my head I want to run down the stairs and scream at him to stop it, but I don’t. I stay small quiet. Pretending to be asleep has come to be part of my survival repertoire. Would you die for your sister? Would you be able to spare her life? I would not pass the test, I may not get into heaven, anyway. But still I try to be good, be quiet, not have any needs that might exasperate anyone.  

Who is in charge here? My mom feels confident that my dad will never strike her, and he doesn’t, yet us children are at his mercy, and at times, at her mercy, too. She yells and hits and threatens, too; but sometimes hums and talks about better times. She talks with her sister on the phone, maybe she’ll come for a visit and the yelling and hitting will subside. Hail Mary full of grace, where are you really, when I need you? You are holding baby Jesus in a way I’ve longed to be held, cradled, safe. 

Look at the pictures of the Holy Family, Joseph, teaching Jesus at his carpenter’s bench, so peaceful, so loving, before Jesus goes off to his gruesome death. I go down the basement to my dad’s workbench and get out my paints. I feel safe down here, connected to dad stuff, work stuff, important stuff, my dad shows me how to clean my brushes with turpentine. My mom hangs my still life of rose in a vase on the wall on the staircase landing. I am a good girl; smart and talented. 

I want to be like Jesus and travel around, making friends, making statements, being controversial, but I don’t want to die a horrible death. I want to be happy. By the time I am only 11 years old, my oldest sister has become pregnant and married to her boyfriend. She used to tell me that our parents should get divorced, this just confused me too. The fighting starts to end. It is only me and my younger brothers in the house. My dad isn’t angry enough to hit us anymore. The older siblings tell us how lucky we are. My dad still scares me, my mom still confuses me. I try harder to be smarter, better, a good girl, waiting for Mary’s embrace, approval from my lord Jesus, a smile from Joseph. 

Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
To whom God's love
commits me here,
Ever this day,
be at my side,
To light and guard,
Rule and guide.

I am never alone. God, and his angels, see every, every, little thing I do. I need to be guided, because I on my own know no good thing. Every day there is something that confuses me. Dodging slings and arrows. I secretly start to disbelieve or believe that perhaps I am crazy. Just a little bit crazy. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year

"They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold. I deem them mad because they think my days have a price."   Kahlil Gibran

Since I’ve been on the other side of 50, I have this feeling that I’ll never quite have time to do all the things in life that I’d like to do. If at 20, I had no clue of all the things that were possible, I now see possibilities everywhere, and know that I mostly just have to choose. I used to see so many obstacles; gender, class, money, location. I now know that those things are entirely constructed and therefore, can be deconstructed, and moved through or around. That I did not know at 20. 

So, how do I structure my days, “spend” my time? I am learning the opposite of what I believed to be true about money and the arts. It is that not only can you make money in the arts, you can make money doing what you like to do, and create more time to do what you love to do. It is actually less risky than I’d come to believe, in that you learn to trust yourself and the universe to support you, rather than a hierarchical institution. As I write these words, I almost can sense the pushback, there must still be some vestiges inside of me, of the belief that we can’t actually have what we want. Like it is wrong of me to even tell myself and others that. But I know we can, because I continue to get more and more of what I want in life all the time. Now, it's just choosing how I want to spend my time. 

I’ve been asking myself, then what do I want to do the most going forward? There have been a few projects on my mind. 1) Getting my memoir, Mother Love, polished and published. I wrote this around 10 years ago, in response to people asking how it was that Kathleen was able to be such a young mom, and still go on to get a graduate degree; and also as an encouragement (manifesto?) that young parenthood is not really that different than parenthood at any other age.  2) Creating and teaching courses for other therapists for continuing education, and/or creating courses for people in general. 3) Finishing the Etsy site I started nearly 2 years ago and build a website to sell my handcrafted jewelry. 

Instead of focusing on one of these things, I just keep kicking about all three of them in my head, and end up not doing any of them. I haven’t even really been writing much this past year. I didn’t realize that being a full-time therapist is actually very time and energy consuming, and even though I love it, I also have other things I want to do, too. So, if I own my time, and if I can do what I want, how do I choose? Well, somehow, crafting my memoir has become my priority. I have gotten enough feedback from people to know that I need to start the rewrites, and I’ve started to think more about it, and soon, soon, I will just open up the pages and start the process of editing and visioning the whole project. As I write this even, I find it a bit daunting.

The daunting part is quieting the voices that tell me it's too late, that I'm too old, that ask how much do I think I can have in life. That tell me a quiet life is ok, that I don't need to imagine book tours and speaking about being supportive of our kids, no matter what. It's a trip I started on years ago, and I've had a chance to rest a bit. It's now time to get back on that road, and just see where it takes me. I want a chance to say, in my own voice, that when we love each other, imperfectly, of course, it still makes a difference. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

You Can't Always Get

What you want, what’s that about? Seriously, what is what we want about? I’m been thinking about this lately. Thinking about what I want and how do I get what I want, and how important is this. I think it is important, and I’m not quite sure why, but it has something to do with efficacy. Efficacy literally means; the ability to produce a desired or intended result. If we don’t know what we want, how to we produce a life we desire, a life that is meaningful, intentional? 

Yet how many of us were told as we were growing up that we could indeed, have what we wanted? I know I wasn’t. I don’t even know if it was something that was possible. I rarely, if ever got what I wanted, and the one time I remember getting what I wanted, I was ridiculed over it. What I was taught, indoctrinated into really, was the idea of sacrifice. That this was the meaning of life. 

The Red Plaid Dress

When I was about 7 or maybe 8, I took the bus downtown with my mom to shop at Dayton’s department store. This was a big deal, shopping with mom was a treat, as one of eight kids, we rarely got one on one time with her. Dressing well was really important to my mom. When she was out of high school, she worked at both Donaldson's and Dayton's department stores, and knew what better dresses were. She told me often of the beautiful dresses she and her sister would buy when they were young. This was the 60's and looking well-dressed was probably the most important thing in her world. This was what the hippies soon rebelled against, and we may never again see the well-heeled world that I, as a youngster grew up in. 

I don’t remember the occasion, or much else about it, but I do remember trying on dresses; and then my mom asking what dress I wanted. I wanted the red plaid dress. My mom didn’t think it suited me, but I remember really wanting that dress, and so my mom broke down and bought it for me. On the bus ride home, my mother was upset that she’d let me have my way, and she let me know that she thought it was a bad choice. I’d chosen the wrong dress. 

I don’t remember the actual event as much as I remember my mom telling this story about it, many times over. She was upset that she’d bought the dress for me; and then I never wanted to wear the dress, since it was associated with such bad feelings. And then, me not wanting to wear the dress, prompted the story that my mom would even tell to strangers on the bus. It seemed like that year, every time we went somewhere together, my mother would tell this story. The story about how I made such a bad choice, and how my mother bought this dress for me and then I never wore it. She would tell this story in front of me, and I would feel the pain and embarrassment, over and over again with each telling. 

So, now that my children are mostly grown, and I don’t have to devote almost all my energy to taking care of them, and I’ve worked toward a career that suits and supports me, what do I want? I feel a little trepidation even asking myself that, as if to want in and of itself is not cool. “Who me, no, I’m fine, I don’t want anything.” Cool as a cucumber in my not wanting anything. Yet this story haunts me lately, I think it has something to tell me. 

I don’t have the answers yet, on how this wanting is an important part of being human, but it’s on my mind. And I think if we let ourselves want what we want, we can be powerful in our lives. Which is yet another whole piece of the puzzle-- another emotion that we mostly don’t want children to feel: powerful. I'm relearning to let myself want what I want, to know what I want, and to feel powerful enough to believe I can have it, and then get it. We'll see where this goes.