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Cuikolpex

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.

Asking myself the hardest question

May 5, 2014

I have unconsciously navigated myself into an unfamiliar frame of mind. It’s a very good thing that I’m out of my comfort zone because maybe, for the first time, I can break the primal pattern that went wrong in infancy.

And yet. . . breaking primal patterns never goes smoothly. I don’t mind fits and starts, since many of my creative processes are inherently iterative, but. . . I’m scared of where this might go.

I’m scared of where I am already.

+++

When situations become terribly uncomfortable, in the back of my mind I know I have a nuclear option available. I tell myself it’s unthinkable, but obviously it isn’t.

I tell myself I don’t want to do it. I tell myself it’s a last resort. Only if I’m pushed to the wall.

But . . . I’ve now realized, stepping off this cliff feels oddly safe. In a bad way.

+++

What if the scariest option imaginable is not fleeing the scene of recent disasters? Not burning the place to the ground, while running ahead of the flames?

What if . . . standing my ground, and truly and deeply being a bricoleur [using materials that are easily at hand] . . . is one challenge I have always dodged?

After all, if I’m still crossing a bridge I myself have torched (but no one else knows the identity of the arsonist), no one can blame me for doing whatever I must to survive.

Complicating my thinking process today, sometimes in the past, I really did need to leave, to save myself.

But today, right now, I feel/think my greatest challenge may be to hold firm. While yet continuing to evolve. To stake my claim, as, essentially, a person who is complete, is whole, is worthy. And therefore — for the first time — I don’t need to run away from my self/selves.

I don’t need to torch my own life because it’s me living it, so obviously it’s horribly flawed. Obviously I am inherently unlikable.

After all, I’ve written about my vulnerabilities enough that my neighbors know who I really am. That’s dangerous. That’s (potentially) fatal.

But maybe not this time.

Maybe I don’t need to evolve away from all those personas inside.

Maybe being a girl is allowed. Maybe being a boy is allowed. Maybe being no gender is allowed.

Maybe being 6 years old, and a baby, and 10 years old, and 21, and 47, and everywhere in between is allowed.

Maybe being someone who wanted to be so many things that I couldn’t figure out how to make happen . . . doesn’t mean that I’m a failure, a monster, an alien being.

Maybe the pernicious idea of “having potential” that I’m somehow not using correctly . . . is part of how I’ve been terrorizing myself.

  • Who am I to write about Chesapeake Bay?
  • Who am I to translate poetry?
  • Who am I to write poetry?
  • Who am I to write essays about anything at all?
  • Who am I to think anything useful can be gleaned from my life?
  • Who am I to try to be happy?
  • Who am I to dream big dreams, even still, after failing at so many earlier dreams?

Who am I?

I don’t know.

Maybe all my previous lives had to dissolve, as they have, so that I would be forced to confront that fundamental question, without the shield of thinking I know the answer.

Who am I?

Visual poetry delves deeply

April 29, 2014

I think it’s a good thing that I didn’t become a poet even a minute sooner than I did, in late 2011. If I’d been writing poetry and thinking of myself as a poet all my life, I would be so familiar with everything I thought was possible within the medium. . . that I wouldn’t know where to look for wiggle room. I would never be able to get back to anything like “beginner’s mind”.

This weekend, I woke up with an image in my mind of someone’s name, with strings of words in various lengths hanging down from each letter. I got out my poetry notebook and drew various ideas about how that might work. That led me to combining the names of several people in something like a free-form crossword. That got me thinking about names: these particular names are one of my aunts, and two of her daughters; they have three different last names, because they’ve each been married at least once. If I add in their maiden names, though, they each have one full name in common. (Technically, they each have 2 full names, but that’s a story for another day.) If I add in my grandmother (my aunt’s mother), things get really interesting.

My grandmother was born in America, but to immigrant parents, so the names she was given at birth were in Lithuanian. (If I’m remembering my family history correctly) When she turned 15, she borrowed her older sister’s name and identification to take a job, to help out her family. She held that one job her whole working life — 50 years — and it was a long time before she told people she knew from that job that her real first name wasn’t Helen.

In her social life, as a young woman, she adopted an American first name, and went by that for the rest of her life. That name, Jane, appears in some form in the next three generations of our family:

  • My grandmother named her firstborn child (my aunt) Jane (although my aunt goes by her middle name);
  • my aunt gave her firstborn daughter the middle name, Jane;
  • my brother named his firstborn child (my niece) a variation of Jane.

So in a crossword rendering of my grandmother, how many of her names do I include? How do I configure them? And then how do they intersect with the names of my aunt, and my cousins?

+++

As I was playing with all of these sketches, I . . . felt myself . . . connected to my family of origin in a way I rarely feel.

And all of those W’s got me thinking.

W was never part of any of my names officially. Unofficially, I went through a period as a teenager and young adult where I adopted my mother’s maiden name as a second middle name. Oddly enough, there’s a very official document-record reflecting that: the name and signature on the passport I got in 1988.

I don’t remember my mindset in 1988, but that was the year that my mother and I, just the two of us, went on a trip to the former Yugoslavia. Maybe I added the name to my passport so I would feel more related to the part of her that wasn’t just my mother, that was a person in her own right.

= + *

Anyway, by the time I changed my surname in 1992, I was no longer using my mother’s maiden name as part of my name.

The next time a ‘w’ became part of a name I went by was in 2012, when I adopted “Pqw” as an online handle. I picked those precise letters because they were the only 3 letters that had never been contained in any name I’d created for myself. And in 2012, when I realized I was no longer a Pagan, no longer a scientist, no longer an environmentalist, or a pacifist — when I even started calling myself post-feminist — I needed a new name that was far away from any of my old names as I could get.

I needed a name that was all possibility, all open road.

* = %

When I changed my names last year, I preserved that openness. My official longer first name organically grew out of an unofficial shorter first name; I still go by either, depending on the context.

Both of my first names, and my surname, are so singular that in no way would I need a middle name to set me apart. And yet. . . I wanted a middle name. But I wanted possibility too.

My middle name is . . . W, just the letter.

It represents every word I love that begins with W (and there are a lot!), and every word that contains a W (even more).

It also calls to mind the untrammeled freedom of being Pqw.

And, somewhat to my surprise, it deeply connects me with 3 branches of my family of origin on my mother’s side, because 3 branches have surnames that begin with W.

= % +

I’m working on a visual poem about favorite words and phrases containing w’s.

+++

I began trying out ideas for a more traditional acrostic poem (not names, crisscrossed) — each line beginning with a letter, so that all of the first letters spell something out. Then I thought of a double acrostic — not just the first letters of each line, but also the last letters, together spell something out.

But then, what topic to write about? My bricolage poetry kit got me started. As I combined and recombined various lines, I realized music was a motif that held some promise. I Googled for some details, revised, rewrote.

Something took shape that makes a certain kind of . . . sense. That, now that I think about it, might actually contain synesthesia (not just write about it), even though I personally do not have any type of musical synesthesia.

It’s not a perfect double acrostic, but as a first effort, I’m very pleased.

And I learned stuff by writing it! I already knew some African music was polyphonic (because I read a book about it a few years ago), but I didn’t know there were Eastern European folk singing traditions that are also polyphonic.

+++

Three visual poems in one day should be enough for anyone, but I’m also working on a fourth one.

The musical motif, along with illuminating and uncomfortable insights that arose during a walk, combined in my mind such that I pondered, “what did I learn from living in OKC in 1985?” The resulting thoughts quickly became visual (although I haven’t yet found an ideal way to draw them). There’s a lot of music!

Not just music I encountered, or music I was introduced to, but the kinds of music I sought out for myself once I returned to Illinois. It’s very possible my musical tastes would’ve stayed really bland and boring if I’d never lived in OKC.

Not only that, but being repeatedly traumatized (as dreadful as that was), shocked me awake. I stopped waiting for things to happen to me, so I could complain about how unfair they were, without ever once realizing I had the power to change that.

I grew up.

It was messy, it was awkward, it was painful. It was often humiliating. It was all kinds of horrible. But it had to happen sooner or later.

And it set the stage for duende, a major theme in my life.

+ * ~

On that weekend walk, I imagined how my life might have unfolded if my aunt and uncle had still lived in New Mexico when I went to live with them. (I will definitely need to write about that in some detail, but later.) I discovered some very useful things about myself with that exercise. It seems pretty clear to me that I probably would’ve been a lot happier. That I never would’ve returned to Illinois.

And that I never would’ve become a poet. Or a writer.

So can I honestly wish that that had happened to me instead? No.

But I can mourn the possibilities that did not happen. I can yearn for them. I dream about them.

I can practically taste how delicious untold futures might have been. I can imagine them, create the worlds they would have needed so they could have occurred. I can write about them.

That’s duende.

If I’d had an uncomplicatedly happy life, I couldn’t be the kind of poet that I am, nor the creative writer that I am.

And I’m not sure that I could have synesthesia either.

+++

Places inside me are hollowed out with grief, with loss. With sacrifice. But from within those agonies, I can write. That’s duende.

I wouldn’t be me without duende.

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