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Status update

September 18, 2014

My mother-in-law’s health worsens.

Conflicting ideas about what’s happening.

More visits likely.



Feasting on poetry:

Have read 39 anthologies.

Have read 83 collections.

Have not enjoyed most of it.


Seeking out concrete poetry.

Children’s books.

Or histories of the movement,

Presumed moribund.


Improving at noticing what is me.

And what is other people.

Many of my issues all along have been structural.

Not personal to me.


Data tracked: health: broadly useful.

Feature, not a bug.

Realized I need to organize, sort, evaluate data.

Can’t improvise without data.


Set goal to write 30 poems in September.

Edit & revise any/all in October.

Wrote 5 on day I had a migraine.

Monthly total 16 (so far).


Wondering about Nanowrimo this year.


687 photos in latest batch.

Kept 475.

Excellent spiders, webs.

Also insects, flowers, clouds, trees.


Didn’t win a Genius Grant again this year.

But I ‘ve already won a lottery of sorts:

I get to be me every day.


August 23, 2014

The last month or so, I’ve mainly been preoccupied with 3 things: (1) tectonic shifts in my coping skills (due to bodywork psychotherapy); (2) the health of my mother-in-law, who has been in and out of the hospital several times for mysterious reasons; and (3) trying to figure out what I’m ready to write about.

All year, I’d been planning to apply to Hedgebrook this year (for 2015). I didn’t expect the curveball of needing 2 references — 1 professional, 1 personal; and an artist statement. Beyond that, though, my overall project continues to shapeshift. I reluctantly realized . . . I need more conceptualizing time.

And after that decision, I’ve made a lot of progress. The scope of the project . . . turns out to be kind of enormous. So some of my efforts will need to go into figuring out which parts are small enough to be worked on during a residency. Odd, but satisfying.


Part of a dream I had two nights ago involved names. I was attending a social event. Someone behind me hailed me by OldName. I felt the warmth of being recognized before I realized they’d used OldName. I turned around to see who it was, and saw a woman about my age (accompanied by a younger woman, maybe her daughter) whom I couldn’t place, nor could I figure out where I might know her (or them) from. I debated how much to say, but settled on, “I’ve changed my name. My first name. I’m Mea now.” The woman blustered, on and on, about how she didn’t know, and “kids these days” blah blah blah. Even in the dream, I was struck by how defensive she was over an issue where I thought it was clear that I knew that she wouldn’t have known, therefore I was not blaming her for not knowing.

Yesterday, thinking about this part of the dream, I explored why I name things or people at all. That’s what I thought I would be writing about today. But instead, I’m caught by the woman’s defensiveness, and the idea of blame for knowing, or not.

In general, I’m definitely surprised that I’m still dreaming about meeting people, and having to tell them I’ve changed my name. Maybe these sorts of dreams also happened circa 1992, when I changed my surname to Fiadhiglas (but if it did, I don’t remember). Also, did it keep happening, for well over a year? Unlikely. There’s got to be something significant here that I’m not figuring out.

My immediate thought is my brother. When presented with the choice of . . . (1) entering into an adult relationship with me, signified by calling me NewName; or (2) persisting in calling me BabyName, over my express wishes, and therefore forfeiting any chance to be in a relationship with me at all . . . he chose Door #2.

Wait a minute. This is related to my position in my family of origin, isn’t it? (At least, apparently, in my brother’s mind.) No one else was (consistently) calling me BabyName, but . . . I’ve never gotten the impression, from any of them, that they actually realize that I’m an adult. I’m no longer the 16-year old girl they remember, the 13-year-old, the 18-year-old, the 21-year-old.

I’m actually 48 years old.

But I rarely think about my brother. This can’t be about him. If it was about my parents, the dream would’ve had a very different tone. And probably a different cast of characters.

I hate to say it (because I love talking about names, and naming), but I don’t think this dream was actually about names, and naming, so much as it was about . . . what they signify.


Because of my mother-in-law’s alarming health issues, when Spouse visited his parents a few weeks ago, I accompanied him. Uncharacteristically, I had a really good visit. Amazing, in fact. Now that I think about it, my father-in-law . . . related to me as a fellow adult. I was able to make contributions that were helpful, that were valuable, . . . that no one else thought of . . . and I was appreciated for doing so.

With my family of origin, I don’t recall that ever happening.

[Well, with Gramma, but she and I had a good & solid relationship. Because of that, I don’t consider her part of my family of origin, in the context I’m usually writing about them.]


With people I’m related to, I usually feel like (they see me as) a zoo animal, or a circus performer (but not in a good way). Like I exist only to entertain them.

So when I stop being entertaining — like, say, by demanding to be called my RealName — engaging with me isn’t fun anymore. It’s work.

The effort required for healthy adult relationships springs from respecting them and yourself as being worthy of your time, energy, and other resources.

Healthy adult relationships also . . . evolve. Because people evolve. Don’t they? I certainly have. I would hardly recognize the ‘me’ I was in 2008, before we moved to Maryland, let alone a ‘me’ from 10 years ago, or any further back. For that matter, the ‘me’ of just 2 short years ago [before I ran across AROHO on Twitter] was a less accomplished writer and poet, and was not engaging with the world at nearly the same level.

{{lengthy distraction of time on LinkedIn, Twitter}}

I’ve just refreshed my memory on what my LinkedIn profile looks like, especially compared to other people (that I know from Twitter) whom I looked up. In this past week, I’ve also been thinking a lot about things like:

  • why do people join writing groups?
  • if I go on another writing retreat, how would my experience likely be different than 2013?; how would I like it to be different?
  • How do I want to represent myself to new people I meet?
  • I’ve just realized I’ve been working on my sprawling-yet-densely-interconnected Life Project all this time, even when I thought I wasn’t. How can I pull together aspects that don’t seem on the surface like they go together? How can I fill in gaps I now perceive? What am I really trying to accomplish here?
  • How would I write about all of this in an Artist Statement?

The LinkedIn profile is relevant because . . . mine doesn’t look like anyone else’s. Even other writers, poets, visual artists.

Years of my life have been preoccupied with “am I impressing anyone yet?” Not even necessarily because I wanted to impress people as a goal, but because I’d somehow gotten the idea that if I could impress people, then they (might) . . . treat me like I matter. Like I deserve respect.

However, as far as I could tell, the rare people who were impressed by me for some reason tended to get very defensive. Like the woman in my dream. It’s like the sheer fact that I had done something notable . . . pushed these people off their accustomed perch. It took something away from them, somehow.

But now that I’m honestly, truly, utterly unconcerned with how I’m coming across to anyone, no one else is defensive towards me. Was I projecting then? Hmmm, maybe I was.


I thought I kept procrastinating on Life Project because I couldn’t figure out how to start it. But in the last two days, I realized I’ve actually been working on it for years now. It’s just that it has lots of small fiddly bits, and they don’t fit together in any obvious way. But all of them have been necessary developments for my more global understanding.

I’ve been re-fashioning my Self as much as I’ve been writing / poetry-ing / photographing / making friends / travelling / balancing / folding / fabricating / sketching / dancing / weaving / (re)arranging, etc., etc.


That’s a cool insight, but what does it have to do with [my ongoing dreams about] telling people my name has changed?

Oooooh, wait. When I was a kid, I read about First Nations peoples’ practices of a person’s name changing after significant life events. That idea really resonated for me. And, I now realize, I actually . . . kind of adopted it (albeit unconsciously). When I list as many names as I can think of that I have ever called myself, including names/signatures for artwork, there are 18 distinct ones, and many encompass multiple variations.

From the very beginning of my life as NewFirstName NewMiddleName DesignedSurname (summer 2013), I have been conscious that that configuration of names is, itself, a poem. And definitely one of my best ones.

I’ve even wanted to mention that in a writer bio, but have refrained (so far).

Other people don’t do the types of things I do. So it’s difficult to mention the things I do in conversation, unless I were trying to call attention to myself as an alien being. Which, let’s face it, quickly becomes apparent to most people without special efforts on my part.

My blogs give me a way to explore ideas, experiences, and practices I can’t figure out how to talk about with other human beings. Part of the problem is that . . . I’m not accustomed to anyone (besides Spouse, and him only sometimes) being interested in anything that’s personally significant/meaningful to me. So I have no precedent/template to follow with new people. When I improvise on the spot, it often seems to go well in the moment, but later I realize they started looking at me oddly, and oh, maybe that’s why efforts to (re)connect later never went anywhere.


Back to my dream. Do I have to trade the comfort of being recognized as myself by other people for the discomfort inherent in constantly evolving away from what other people wish I was? If I don’t stay still, like they have, they feel rejected by me (?). It’s homophily again, isn’t it? Other people take for granted associating with people who are similar to them. That’s a rarefied luxury I’ve never actually experienced. So I’m either “recognized” for qualities I probably no longer possess [OldName], or I’m overlooked as uninteresting.

I guess I can live with that. Because now that I’m embodying the inner and outer life I always yearned towards, other people’s opinions about me seem a lot less relevant.

Maybe someday I’ll find people who like me for being me. In the meantime, I’ve got (fascinating) Life Project to work on.


July 20, 2014

I’m in the midst of Iteration 3 of getting rid of stuff, and I expect at least another 4 Iterations before I finish. As of yesterday, I had disposed of (at least) 517 items. I only count the ones that can be easily named and/or I might wonder about what happened to them later. Before I began this project — while I knew that I felt oppressed by way too much stuff — I had no idea just how much stuff I owned. Approximately 3/4 of which … I haven’t been using; don’t want to use; will never use.

Getting rid of everything that isn’t useful (by a generous interpretation of ‘useful’) . . . seems cold and utilitarian, not qualities I aspire to. However, I think it’s also pragmatic, which I do aspire to.

I’m a conceptual artist, so almost any item can be either a material or tool. But if I’m surrounded by a whirlpool of materials and tools, there’s far too many to discern which ones I actually want to associate with. By gleaning the ones I’m excited to work with, surely I can create better art.

I couldn’t figure out how to make a go of my editing business, but I edit out extraneous ideas All Day Long. It’s kind of exhausting.

I also feel the undertow of ideas and characters that want and need me to write about them. So far I haven’t been able to . . . reach them. I think because they’re so many layers of detritus between us. Nothing even bubbles up. I need that to change. I need to write what needs to be written.

I need to create what needs me to create it.


I have frequently purged many items, most often books, as I close chapters in my life. But before the last few weeks, it had never even occurred to me to . . . evaluate everything I own. Not just to decide if I want to keep it (although I’m doing that too), but . . . consider what I want my life to be, kind of from scratch. Stop kludging crap together from 1001 different periods of my life and different projects (most of which failed).

Last week I found myself telling P how our move to Maryland 6 years ago was super stressful, so much so that, on the day the movers were unloading the truck, I was huddled in a dark empty closet, desperately trying to block out all sensory stimulation. Which meant that only Spouse was available to direct where the boxes and furniture were disposed. And all sorts of things that didn’t belong to me, that I didn’t care about at all, ended up in my studio . . . as kind of a catch all area for everything no one knew what to do with. I said organizing my studio effectively never really recovered from that. It took me weeks to physically recover from the move; it took me months, maybe a year, maybe more, to unpack all the boxes and figure out where the stuff should go.

The really interesting insight I had, last week, was that my self has been treated exactly the same way: as a catchall, a vessel, for memories and emotions and other things that no one else wanted. No wonder I’ve had such a hard time figuring out who I want to be, when the parts that are truly me are vastly outnumbered by all the parts that aren’t.

Seeing as how my studio and my self seem not just metaphorically linked, but perhaps metaphysically as well, I’ve been considering what to get rid of from an entirely different perspective. Because I’m not just discarding stuff this time. I’m reconceptualizing what is possible for me, and my studio, from the bottom up.

What do I actually want? What excites me and delights me? What can I not wait to work on?

Let’s optimize that. Let’s promote growth from those core interests. And let’s invite serendipity to work its magic from the center of my higher self.


I’m rediscovering how useful it can be to assess all sorts of items and ideas before deciding if they fit my new worldview. There are so many things I can think flexibly about, I can imagine making use of. I’ve been doing that — imagining all sorts of possibilities.

And then saying no to 90% of them. Saying No is my new favorite pastime. Just because something could work doesn’t obligate me in any way. Coming from generations of hoarders, this is a very strange and unsettling idea.

More than once, I’ve found an item (usually furniture) that could radically reorganize everything, often in novel and satisfying ways. I’ve imagined those ways as best I can. I’ve integrated them into my larger concept.

And then I’ve decided . . . I don’t completely love them, so I’m going to pass, for now. This exercise is stretching my comfort zone. I like it.

I’ve reorganized my books, or sections of them, a couple different ways. None of them necessarily feel permanent, but shaking things up is good anyway.

I’ve pretty much gotten rid of almost every single garment (except my wedding dress) that I don’t love. There’s now a lot of empty space. But what remains . . . pleases my eyes, and my heart.

I’ll turn 48 soon. 1990, that godawful year of 12 major traumas (including a nervous breakdown) was . . . half my life ago. If Current Me could’ve visited 1990 Me in a dream, there’s so much she would’ve found fantastical. Married? For 21 years?? Living in Maryland? After living (for years) in Indiana and New York? A writer for 5 years? Photography is one of your major art forms, to the tune of ~30,000 photos in the last few years? Have been to Australia 2x, New Zealand once? Writing poetry again?? You’ll escape the Foofino tractor beam, in spectacular fashion, but years on. You’ll not only graduate college (with honors! With no debt!), but attend graduate school? On a University Fellowship?? You’ll change all your names, eventually. You won’t be a Pagan forever, but you will be one for 25 years. You will become an environmental scientist! And yet, it won’t turn out to be anywhere near as cool as being your own person 10 years after that. (Despite no job, a tiny social support network, and being at loose ends a lot.) You’ll love working with ceramics, but find your calling with fibers. And then noodle around with balance, space, and sculptural forms that should be poems, but you can’t figure out how. You will try out identities you’ve never heard of; some will stick, some won’t. You’ll be enriched by all of them. You’ll return to New Mexico — only you, for you and your art — and it will be amazing. You’ll finally travel by yourself, for yourself, and the whole world will open up.


None of this implies that I should hold onto anything from 1990, before 1990, after 1990, that doesn’t fit my life in 2014. Life at 24 is much different than life at 48. And it should be.

Who can I be . . . now? What has become possible that I couldn’t even have imagined before? Which wilderness can I wander off into?

Who are we and where are we going, Merriwether Lewis?

And thus I simultaneously embrace (parts of) my past, while striding through my present, and anticipating a future containing marvels.

Inside, meet outside

July 4, 2014

Periodically, Spouse and I go through our stuff, looking for things to get rid of. This year, we’ve been digging deeper than usual. Today we unearthed a box that contains 2 sets of sheets we haven’t seen since we left Indiana more than 6 years ago.

Last week, I brought home from our storage unit an old tool box of mine containing all my implements for shaping clay. Unpacked everything today, realizing I probably haven’t used any of them since 2003. There are a lot more than I remembered I had! (In a good way)

I got rid of the plastic tool box, but will be keeping — and using — the tools . . . for something.

Have also been surprised to realize that . . . (with rare exceptions) I don’t buy art anymore.

I don’t think of buying art anymore, and I don’t miss buying it, or owning it.

I still love art. Of course I do — I’m an artist!

But that’s the thing: nowadays, I make art.

All those years I was buying art, I must’ve been doing it because I was blocked, and not creating my own.

Now that I’m creating my own, other people’s art (with rare exceptions) . . . pleases me less than it used to. I want to be surrounded by my own stuff.

Natural artifacts are always welcome in my studio: feathers, seeds, flowers, leaves, rocks, driftwood, etc., but I’m also working at limiting the time they spend with me. After an interval, I return them to natural areas where nonhumans can recycle the biomass. I’m also much more careful about what I pick up these days. I more often just take a photograph, not the thing itself.

~ ~ ~ This is related to that dream I had 2 weeks ago, isn’t it? My creative spaces, inner and outer, are filled with things other people made or designed or prefer to interact with. Not what I prefer.

It’s not just the placement of objects in my studio that creates problems. It’s which objects are in there at all.

Whenever I get to this point, I keep wanting to say, “I need a space planner!” But… I looked into local space planners a few months ago. They’re very interested in selling “organizational systems”, and storage units, and stuff like that. That’s a gravel-level problem, not the boulder I’ve been tiptoeing around.

My whole life is imprinted with other people’s preferences.

I’ve been (made into) a palimpsest.


Saying Fuck right now (like I normally would) is getting really old. It doesn’t make me feel any better. Nor does it help me figure out what to do.

I think I need to get rid of A LOT MORE stuff than I’d been planning to. All the art by other people that doesn’t thrill me when I look at it? Going away. The computer desk filled up with the desktop that I never use anymore, and the boxes from software I bought 10 years ago? Floppy disks? Going away. Anything that isn’t what I want me and my life to be . . . is GOING AWAY, as soon as I can arrange it.

excavating layers

July 4, 2014

I found a woman somatic psychotherapist within a 3-hour drive, in a different direction than either the DC suburbs or Frederick — Annapolis. My drive to her office is exactly as far as to the Writers Center in Bethesda, but there’s no DC Beltway involved, and parking is plentiful (amongst shade trees, in spots).

The physical exercises that she’s been having me do don’t involve me working at relaxing. Instead, I notice places in my body where I feel tension, constriction, or pain. I breathe into them.

I don’t try to make the pain go away. I don’t ignore it. I don’t worry about it.

I just notice it. And breathe.

Sometimes it relaxes “on its own”. It’s very odd.

There are also exercises where I visualize unusual paths the air I’m taking in might be traversing within my body. As I do that, parts of my body often shake. Sometimes my whole body. Per Peter Levine, I know that’s part of releasing tension, so I just . . . let it go.


Toward the end of our last session, I was telling her about an incident from my childhood. She interjected to point out that I was sighing a lot; did I know I was doing that? Some part of my brain had noticed my voice had gone higher, and I was breathing faster, but not quite hyperventilating. Yet.

She said I clearly hadn’t worked through this thing.

I told her that . . . all my previous therapy was dealing with what I called “acute” traumas. Not necessarily things that just happened, but things were horribly interfering with my daily life right then. I spent all my time getting stuff like that sorted.

We never got around to . . . the “smaller” traumas. And there are a lot. Peter Levine writes about medical types of trauma — injuries; children being immobilized to receive anesthesia for surgery; that sort of thing. I didn’t have surgery as a kid, but when I was 7, I did have a fall off my bike that tore a ligament in my wrist, so that I had to wear a brace on my arm for weeks. I couldn’t remember if I was given pain relievers, or if the doctors recommended against that, but the upshot was that I was in agonizing pain for weeks. (Pain meds usually/often don’t work on me.) The therapist said I might have felt better if my mother had comforted me. I laughed. No, she didn’t. She did get annoyed at my crying. I remember being yelled at. I remember disconsolately hanging around the (outside) basement stairwell, unable to think of anywhere to go or anything to do. Just moping.

When I was about 11, I picked up a stick that was part of a wasp nest. They came boiling out, and I was stung multiple times before I even realized what was happening. My sister was with me; she figured it out sooner, so she only got stung a few times. She also ran faster for home. When we got there, screaming and crying, my mother was very annoyed. She and my father had been wallpapering the bathroom, and it wasn’t going well. She screamed at us (instead of him). Told us how selfish and inconsiderate we were for “bothering” her, when she was clearly Very Busy. She put us in the bathtub, with, I think, Epsom salts, and that was supposed to keep us sorted. In the tub, we were able to take stock: my sister had been stung 3 or 4 times. I had been stung 26 times. I was deathly afraid of all bees, wasps, and hornets for years afterward because I worried I had developed an allergy to stings. People in my family of origin thought my fear was amusing.

Then there’s the dentist. I have lots and lots of bad experiences with dentists. I don’t think I have the spoons to go through those today.

{I just remembered something much earlier in my life than dentist appointments. I’ll have to mention that to my therapist.}


The more I recall of specific instances all throughout my life, the more I’m kind of amazed that I’m still walking and talking and reasonably sane. That I can still function at all. Instead of feeling like a defective failure because of all that I have not accomplished, just still being alive seems practically a miracle.


I don’t ever want to talk to my parents again.

Even if they apologized to me. Which they wouldn’t. I’m sure they don’t think they did anything that merits apology. Well, as far as I could determine, they seem to have a policy of never apologizing for anything, no matter how egregious. They are always right; the other person is always wrong. That’s just how the world works.

Never ever ever.


Something’s been bothering me about Thing X, but I can’t figure out where the problem is. Or, there are lots of gravel size problems, but nothing boulder sized. I generally only act upon boulder sized problems. Does a bunch of gravel add up to being a boulder? By volume, it might.

I suddenly have an image of myself at that basement stairwell at age 7, just moping. I notice that my chest feels tight, and my vision is narrowing, in a way it wasn’t, earlier.

Thing X isn’t working.

Pretty words are nice to hear, but meaningful actions are much better. There’s been some of the former — just enough to get me on the hook — and a positive dearth of the latter ever since.

Oh, fuck.

When Hope and Being Sensible go to war inside me, Hope generally wins. Despite everything. Because wouldn’t it be grand if someone I was related to actually cared about me? Isn’t that what I’ve always wanted?

Hope is not my friend here.

Cue the shame spiral: I’ve been duped again.

There is no there there.

I thought I’d outgrown this. That I’d worked through enough of my stuff that I didn’t have to walk down this path, yet again.

I can’t remember which trauma researcher it was that said (something like) — “the abandonment you fear (and keep trying to prevent) already happened”.

Not just generally. Yes my mother emotionally abandoned me over and over. But this person . . . emotionally abandoned me at least twice, one time of which endangered my life. We don’t talk about it. I wouldn’t know how to bring it up, even if I wanted to. What would be the point?

This is gonna be really shitty, isn’t it? No wonder I wasn’t paying any attention to gravel . . . that’s laced with radioactive uranium.

It’s a boulder, camouflaged. Fuck.

This person has been telling me, not just with their actions but also with precious words, what my place in the family is. It has not improved.

No one cares what I think or feel. Or do or say. No one is ever curious about me. But everyone is full of advice . . . that in no way resembles anything I could use. I think that is not an accident. After all, if I could use their advice effectively, I might manage to scramble out of the pit. And then one of them would have to take my place. Nobody wants that.

I don’t even want that. I want what I’ve wanted all along . . . there to be no pit. But of course that’s crazy talk. If we don’t have an oubliette, with a pathetic prisoner trapped inside, who else can we feel superior to?

Who else keeps chasing after us? Who else seeks us out? Who else craves our approval?

I’m freezing cold. I have goosebumps. But my gut feels hot. And I’m sweating in that stinky way.


Is this the Sunk Costs Fallacy? (That I’m usually so good about not falling into . . . as long as my family of origin is in no way implicated.)

I’ve invested years of my life in these (mostly failed) relationships with people (I don’t even like or respect). Every once in a while . . . someone throws me a crumb. And I think/feel, “that means there’s an entire cake somewhere! Maybe this time I’ll be invited to have a whole slice!”

Misplaced Hope gets me imagining a delicious cake, but I bet the crumbs are from something else entirely; something I probably wouldn’t even want to eat.


The more I investigate my past, and certainly the more I write about it, . . . the better it’s going to be for me if I don’t feel still joined up with my relatives. Still obligated to “be fair” to them, in a way no one ever felt obligated to do for me.

It’s vindicating when you’ve found someone you trust, and you start telling them truthful stories about your actual lived experience, and they gasp, their eyes widen. Sometimes they say, “that’s child abuse!” Wearily I can respond, “I know”, and continue on. It’s vindicating, but it’s not comforting.

I haven’t wanted to let go. I haven’t been able to let go.

It’s time to let go.

It’s time to drop my defenses, and confront the truth. My body knows. My body has always known.

gingerly approaching my inner life

June 21, 2014

I have a specific health issue that’s been causing me distress for almost 2 years. In February, I read about a new-ish type of physical therapy that deals with these kinds of problems. I got in to see my primary care doctor in April; I saw the specialist she referred me to, in May; I began physical therapy in early June.

I’ve concurrently been looking for psychotherapists that incorporate bodywork into their practice. I was hoping I would find someone, a woman, that I would have rapport with, and whom I would not have to drive 3+ hours roundtrip to see. The one person I found near Baltimore is actually in downtown Baltimore City. Even if I were more comfortable with the city itself (and I’m not), the public parking situation stresses me out. Everyone else is much farther away. I contacted 2 people near the DC Beltway (a roundtrip 100+ mile drive); neither of them worked out. There’s a third location that does all sorts of bodywork-stuff, also near the DC Beltway, but it’s in a town where I’ve had 2 horrible experiences with public parking, so I haven’t tried them. I think I remember seeing 1 or 2 people in Frederick (65 miles 1-way). I think there’s also someone near Ellicott City (40 miles 1-way).

Physical therapy has been going well. I asked my therapist if she could refer me to a psychotherapist who uses bodywork. She said she would ask around, but that I was doing so well, I might not need it!

I knew even then she was wrong. When I first started having the problem 2 years ago, I thought it was just a physical issue. But once I started seeing doctors about it, it quickly became clear that there is some underlying implicit memory/unconscious/bodymind problem. Going to physical therapy is helpful — I’m learning cool stuff; the person I’m seeing is very kind — but it’s working with a symptom, not the actual problem.

Which actually became horribly clear with this week’s homework assignment. I was just supposed to repeat the exercise I had done in the session: lie on a bed, listen to relaxing music, and relax all of my muscle groups in turn. During the session, I had enjoyed doing that. (Although I wasn’t particularly successful at relaxing all my muscles. My personal “steady state” for muscles is clenched, which of course, contributes to the annoying symptoms I’ve been dealing with.)

Anyway, I had had no problem with my homework exercises the first week — diaphragmatic breathing. So I did not anticipate any problems this week.

But every time I thought about lying down on my bed, and relaxing my muscles, I started to have a panic attack. So I didn’t do it.

Yesterday, Friday, I was thinking miserably about the conversation I’m going to have to have Monday — that I didn’t do any of the homework, because I couldn’t. I felt ashamed of myself. I felt her (expected) disappointment. I felt like a bad person, who is deliberately not doing something that’s designed to help me. Even though I know I’m not deliberately refusing to do it. My bodymind is terrified of something, and because of that, I can’t do it.

I can’t figure out how I felt safer in the physical therapy session than I would feel in my own bed, but I’m hyperventilating right now just thinking about it. There’s a real problem here.

After I worried about talking to my physical therapist, this whole area of my body clenched up (what feels like) 10x as much as normal, and stayed that way all day, and all last night. That exacerbated the physical symptom to a distressing degree. But I can’t unclench. I’ve been trying, the whole time, and I can’t.

My body hurts. I’m scared. And I can’t relax.

Something traumatic is clearly trapped inside of me. I want it to come out, and be processed, so I can LET GO OF IT. But I’m afraid to try to do that, by myself. I need a professional, who knows what to expect, and who can help me survive this the second time.


I woke up twice this morning, both times with nightmares. (Both times, I noticed my body is still clenched to the point of pain.)

Dream 1

I’m (surprised to find myself) at Ghost Ranch for the 2015 AROHO Retreat. All the other women are milling around, that first day, when an announcement is made that one fellowship is still open, but the deadline for applying is in two hours. It’s for a woman who is “unlike other women”. I don’t feel like I need the fellowship — I did have money set aside for a trip to New Mexico, even though I wasn’t planning to attend the 2015 Retreat — but I think to myself, “I’m certainly ‘unlike other women’; maybe I should apply anyway. Even though I probably won’t get it”. [[As usual in these sorts of dreams]] I have a series of misadventures, that use up almost all of the allotted time. I’m finally sitting at my laptop, prepared to write, when I have exactly 10 minutes left. I think about asking for an extension, but I know no one will grant me an exception. So I just don’t write anything.

There is an interlude where I’m somewhere else: it’s like lawn seating at a concert, and there are people everywhere. I’m sitting with my laptop, and an older guy asks me whether it has some technical capability. We determine that it does. I say I think I’m a generation younger than he is, at the same time that he is saying he’s a Baby Boomer, but he doesn’t think I am. [[Which is correct; I’m Gen X.]] He and his much younger wife say they are from Washington. I naturally assume we are “neighbors” back home [Washington DC], but then they mention apples, and it turns out they’re from Washington state.

Then I’m back at AROHO. There are long tables set up for people to sit. I look around for women of color to sit with. I find a spot. I sit down, plug in my laptop, and feel ready for whatever’s coming. Suddenly, my friend LB shows up at the sidelines. She asks me to come sit with her. I unplug my laptop, stand up, and prepare to thread my way out. Just then, Mary Johnson announces at the microphone, “Mea, it’s 7:00, time to begin the program. Sit down, so we can get started.” Everyone is staring at me; I’m mortified. I sit back down, befuddled.

I realize the outlet for my laptop has been moved, so that I can’t reach it. I desperately want to plug it back in, so the battery doesn’t run out, but I can’t reach it. I’m jumpy with distress, embarrassment, frustration.

LB calls out to me, “we’ll catch up at dinner!” She probably intends to be reassuring, but I feel nothing but dread. She wasn’t supposed to be here. I didn’t want her to be here. Am I now going to be stuck with spending time with her all week?!? That will ruin everything!

< I wake up, distraught >

Dream 2

I’m living with my parents again, in their house (which is not one of the real houses they have owned), and sharing a room with my sister. I am my current age, 47-almost-48, and she is hers, 45. The room is tall and narrow. It has vertically striped wallpaper in tan, red, white, and maybe black. There is white crown molding. The style of the room is very severe — I don’t find it welcoming or comfortable at all.

My sister is painting something, and my parents are helping her. There are dropcloths and ladders and painting supplies everywhere, so that I don’t feel like there’s any room for me, even though I technically live there. I want them to leave, but of course they won’t.

I start crying, and yelling shocking things at my parents. One of them is, “why don’t you just hit me with a baseball bat?” I run out of the room. They and my sister pay no attention, continue doing what they were doing.

I wander through the house disconsolately, looking for congenial company. In this dream, my brother D is my friend and sometime ally, so I’m hoping to find him. Instead, I find my youngest brother N, whom I don’t know well at all. He says D is out for the day. I lie down on the trundle bed that is inexplicably in the hallway. N sits down on it, too, then lies next to me, but facing towards a television, which he is watching. I start telling N all these things, beginning with, “I think I’m having a breakdown”. Later I use the term “psychotic break”. I tell him I need to go somewhere, live somewhere else. [[I vaguely remember that I used to live with Spouse.]] I tell N it’s demeaning to be 47 and still live with my parents, subject to their rules, especially since they don’t value or like me.

I sort of notice that N is apparently absorbed in the TV show, but I can’t stop talking. I tell him I want to call some other relative, ask if I can live with them, but what would I say? And why would they care?

Later, N is driving me around. I’m telling him of my frustration that the room I share with our sister was supposedly going to be decorated in a way we both liked, even though we don’t agree on anything. And instead, it’s decorated to her taste, with nothing of my taste.

I start talking about the room in the basement (of my parents’ actual house), that was built for me, in 1983; N later lived in it. I told him the whole story about the decoration of that room. My original color palette was green walls, with peach and coral accents.

He asks what color coral is. I don’t know how to explain a color to a guy, but I settle on, “it’s a shade of pink. But closer to hot pink [in intensity, I mean, not undertones] than bubblegum pink.” I briefly wonder if he even knows what bubblegum pink is.

I go back to my story. Our mother vetoed the green I picked, said it would be “too dark”. So I picked a light spring green, which would’ve been so pretty. She vetoed that too. She decided the room would be peach.

I tell N, “even hearing the word ‘peach’ (referring to the color not the fruit) makes me want to vomit. All these years later, I still hate the color peach”.

I’m crying as I say, “I have money to pay for a plane ticket to get me somewhere else. But who would take me in? I can’t work. My savings won’t last very long. I’m useless!”

< I wake up >

The only 2 things N said, during my whole diatribe, were “D is out all day”, and “what color is coral?”


I’ve just realized I’m back down to normal levels of clenching. But my back really hurts.

I actually have dreams about not only living with my parents again, as an adult, and being really annoyed about it, but I have dreams that are specifically about the decoration of my room. Even when I’m (supposedly) given free rein to do whatever I want, there are always complications that prevent that.

My studio in the apartment we live in now is not really decorated. I’ve had all sorts of ideas over the years about things to hang on the walls, or from the ceiling, but somehow it seems impossibly hard to make any of them happen. Nothing hangs on the walls, or from the ceiling. The walls remain white (which I hate).

When we had a house, 19 years ago, I had a studio there too. I called it “my green room” because it had green carpet, which I imagined was grass and clover. I planned to paint the walls my own way, but Spouse told me he thought I should do a mural. I had 1,000,001 ideas for a mural, but worried they would all turn out horribly, so I never did anything.


I don’t feel like I truly inhabit my own body. I’m just a temporary resident, so I don’t have any authority. My body is like an apartment. Versions of me, as far as I know, are the only people who have ever lived in it . . . but somehow none of us “belong”. Wait, what?

How can that be right? Although it would explain a lot.

I don’t feel like my body is my own space. So I can’t decorate the inside [whatever that might possibly mean]. But what I can do is keep people out. And hey, I had vaginismus from 1985­–1993 (after I was raped in 1985). I’m pretty sure some of that clenching never stopped. But I’m also fairly certain that I was clenching other body parts (my back, my legs) long before 1985. What precipitated those things? For that matter, I have TMD [jaw stuff], but I don’t know when or how it started.

Right now, I’m clenching the muscles below and around my collar bones. And my shoulders.

My interiors remain metaphorical white walls, blank, but I have lots of doors, and they all apparently have deadbolt locks.

What the fuck is going on?

difficult blessings

May 30, 2014

This past week, I’ve been lost in a haze of agonizing pain. When it’s acute, I can think of nothing else. Pain is all.

When the pain passes, I don’t resume being “my normal self”; I’m stuck in a haze of fear that the pain will return. Wondering why this is happening to me. Feeling like a failure as a person — what have I ever done in my life that makes this ongoing battle to survive worth continuing to fight? Why should I squander resources on trying to keep living? I’m a waste of oxygen. I’m worthless and stupid.

Why bother trying to do anything?

And then I choke on shame because someone who (regularly) loses the will to live over such minor things* obviously doesn’t deserve anything at all.

*Minor things follow:

I haven’t been able to dance in over 2 years because I can’t spare the energy. All of my life, if I had to pick one verb that defined me, it would be dance. That activity that I can now only watch others do. I watch music videos with people dancing joyously over and over and over. I cry.

Despite my most pleasurable morning ritual having become drinking coffee with milk and honey — worth getting out of bed for, all on its own — I’ve recently stopped drinking coffee, in case doing so was exacerbating my health problems.

So I wake up without coffee to look forward to. I lie in bed, noticing what hurts today. I’m already exhausted, and I haven’t even done anything yet. And this may be the best I feel all day.

I’ve stopped eating chocolate, and all refined sugar, hoping that would help me feel better / get healthier. In their stead, I’ve been eating a lot of fruit (which I also enjoy). But an apple I ate on Saturday might have contributed to my flare-up on Sunday. Spouse was out of town for the holiday weekend, and I spent Sunday–most of Tuesday feeling at death’s door.

Throughout all my trials and tribulations, across my whole life, I’ve protected and rejoiced in my mental capacities (i.e., being smart), which, quite honestly, I thought were the only things about me that had any value to other people. As a teenager, I was never tempted to ingest illegal drugs, because I feared they would kill brain cells. I didn’t drink until I was . . . well, mired in trauma at age 18. I binged for a year or two, as a (poor) way of coping. But I stopped even social drinking in 1991. If I’m not smart, I don’t recognize myself.

And guess what? When pain this past week receded, my brain remains/ed foggy. At rest, instead of hearing internal chatter on four or five levels, I hear just one or two, and they are muted. My top level is . . . silent. When I think, it’s in slow motion, painfully slow. I can’t tell if what I’m thinking has any value, even to me.

If I eat more often, supposedly I’ll have more energy. But I also risk getting sick again. So I’ve been minimizing eating. Spouse suggested I keep a log, to show the GI specialist I’ll be seeing next week. So now I’m literally tracking everything that goes into my body, and comes out. I feel like I’m 87 years old, not 47.

The one new social bright spot — a weekly call with KL — has been postponed indefinitely. She’s got great news, and I’m so happy for her, but I miss talking to someone (who isn’t Spouse). I didn’t fully realize how much I missed talking with someone I shared long history with whom I wasn’t afraid of until we started talking. She can actually tell me things I would have no other way of knowing; I’ve been able to ask her things I’ve been wondering about for 30 years or so. And she’s not a creepy asshole! (Sounds like faint praise, but if you knew my family, that distinction would make a lot more sense.)

Doctor visits to various specialists over the last four years have been inconclusive. I can feel myself fading, and yet no one knows what’s wrong with me. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on, and tried all sorts of things myself, but none of them have restored me to anything like the level of health and energy I took for granted in 2010. No one knows why.

I can feel amazing poems inside of me, far beyond my current level of skills. I want to start trying to write them. But I don’t have the emotional energy to spare — I have to use it to get out of bed, to face yet another pointless day filled with pain and shame.


Ever since this ordeal started, deep in my bones I’ve felt that my physical symptoms — while increasingly dire — mask an underlying problem. Just dealing with the symptoms isn’t going to solve what’s actually wrong.

But what is actually wrong?

The shame spiral kicks in again: I’m worthless and stupid. I don’t deserve anything good. I’m a monster.

Last night I was finally reading a book from the library that I’ve had out for 6 weeks (renewed twice), but I hadn’t read before because I was afraid of what it might reveal to me — In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness, by Peter A. Levine.

He writes:

“the younger, the more developmentally immature or insecurely attached the victim is, the more likely that [they] will respond to stress, threat and danger with paralysis rather than active struggle. People who lack solid early attachment bonding to a primary caregiver, and therefore lack a foundation of safety, are much more vulnerable to being victimized and traumatized and are more likely to develop the entrenched symptoms of shame, dissociation, and depression. […] Shame also feeds into the common misperception of traumatized individuals that they are, somehow, the cause of (or, at least, deserving of) their own misfortune. Another (powerfully corrosive) factor comes into play in the formation of shame . . . inflicted by the people who are supposed to protect and love the child. Children who were molested by family and friends, of course, bear this additional confused and chaotic burden. Shame becomes deeply embedded as a pervasive sense of ‘badness’ permeating every part of their lives. Similar erosion of a core sense of dignity is also found in adults who have been tortured, on whom pain, disorientation, terror and other violations have been deliberately inflicted.” (p. 60)

I don’t even remember how far back it goes, but when my mother was having a bad day, or a bad week, or a bad month, I was the person she screamed at, telling me I was worthless and stupid, and nobody liked me. She said she wished she’d had goldfish instead of children, because when you’re angry with goldfish, you can just flush them down the toilet!

When I was 18, I was molested by a family member. That person told me I was worthless and stupid, and ugly, and nobody liked me. They said everyone who was nice to me (a very small number of people) felt sorry for me, because I was such a pitiful loser. They said everyone was laughing at me behind my back.

I didn’t tell my parents what happened for 5 years, and I only did then because I was having a nervous breakdown, and I thought/hoped they might help me survive it. My mother took that person’s side against me, because, she said, I must be lying, but even if I wasn’t, he was a good person and so he would never do something like that; but I was a bad person. So even if it happened, I deserved it. She told me she loved him more than me. And then her actions for the next 15 years proved that’s how she really thinks. (At that point, I cut off contact with her.)


Emotional pain has been my constant companion since at least 1973. Wave after wave of physical pain has consumed my thoughts since 2009, when, during yoga, my teacher bullied me into reinjuring my right shoulder. I should’ve protested, I should have stood up for myself, but I didn’t know how. But even before that, months before, I had a job where my boss regularly bullied me into doing things beyond my physical capabilities. I hurt my shoulder there too. And my back. My neck. I was afraid of her. I was afraid saying “No” to abuse would somehow destroy the world. Instead, by giving in, I began destroying myself.


I have felt ashamed that I am highly motivated by pain — to make pain stop. But now I think my pain has kept me alive. I’ve been drowning in shame and self-loathing for over 40 years. Pain keeps me afloat. Pain, and remembering joy. If the pain ends, when the pain ends, joy becomes possible again. Can I hold on that long? Can I keep treading water? Yes.

I want to dance again. I want to write amazing poetry. I want to live, not just survive.


Before that horrible job with the god-awful freight elevator, before yoga with M, I wasn’t writing. I couldn’t figure out how to start. I didn’t know what I wanted to say. I feared nothing I would say would be interesting to anyone. I didn’t even aspire to poetry (after being traumatized over my first poem in 1980).

As shitty as the last five years have been, their particular rhythm of ebb and flow have pushed me to write blog posts, that I think could become essays (with some polishing). I write poems now, including visual poems. I think about sculptural and spatial and tactile poems, wondering how I might bring them to life. I have much deeper connections to the world, through pragmatic philosophy, through praxis, through walking my neighborhood late at night. I’ve been back to New Mexico! I’ve been exploring my gender identity, and have even “come out” to people (despite it never going well). I finished naming myself, a process that began (legally) in 1992. Now I can see myself in the landscape; I can run across myself in prose. I’ve applied to renew my passport, dreaming of big trips in my future.

I was on unemployment for a year. I applied for a bunch of jobs, most of which I didn’t even get interviews for. I began a small business, which failed. I started writing a book, that I didn’t want to write, so I withdrew from it. (I think I burned bridges, and I’m okay with that.) I’ve volunteered, for environmental, and arts, organizations, enabling me to work on cool projects. But none were very good fits for what I (only dimly perceive that I) want, so I stopped doing all of them.

Now that I’m postmenopausal, things about the way my body used to function are no longer true. I’ve had to navigate new realities.

I tend to default to feeling that I am 1 million years behind everyone else. And it’s true that other people have careers, children, publications, have made a name for themselves. But when I went to the writers’ retreat last year (as an essentially unpublished writer), I found I was way ahead of women 10 & 20 years older in spiritual awareness/practice. In hands-on knowledge of living with chronic depression without taking medication for it. In living a creative life, despite having no support network, no community.

I’ve learned I’m the strongest person I know. And the most stubborn. I persist, dreaming of joy, delight, exuberance — one day I’ll embody all three again.

And pain kept me in the game long enough to rediscover how very much I value living.


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