Layers of Endings

The falls at Beacon. April, 2016

The falls at Beacon. April, 2016

In my life, very few shifting events—those decisive moments when life goes from This to That—unfold in a solo way, happening all by itself. I seem to get disruptions in big, broad swaths, multiple aspects of my dailyness undone at once.

Here I am, in a sea of change again.

As an avowed adrenalin addict and maker of change, I’m always quite struck how disorienting it is when multiple meaningful shifts are foisted upon me by external forces simultaneously. (This makes me smile a little bit, because maybe my personality is more balanced than I’ve assumed. I suppose in the end I am a pretty measured, if passionate, kind of pot stirrer.)

For me right now, these are quiet days. I feel the pressure of things I’ve lost behind my eyes, but I’m trying to sit quietly within myself and merely do the orderly tasks of reaching out to colleagues and friends, slowly putting myself back in the mix, letting everyone know I am once again looking for work.

Last week, I set foot in the Hearst Tower for the first time since the day I resigned from Redbook when my parents fell ill. I realized when I was in the Tower that it had been almost six years exactly, just a few days past the date I resigned.

So funny how life seems to have these logical portions of time. This happened, now it’s time for That. This cycle is done, now move onto the next. I feel that painfully right now.

In these months at home working on my book I rediscovered so much about what it is I had lost in my childhood. But while here, I also found something else that ignited me and made me feel whole.

As I say goodbye to one stage and enter another, I pause for a moment of silence.

Becoming: the work of it is never done, in ways both poignant and brutal.  And it seems I will forever be Filling In The Blanks.

 

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The In Betweens

So I finished my first draft of a book outline — and not surprisingly, it’s not quite good yet. No, truly. That’s my agent talking, not just me. And it’s been enough weeks since I finished it, that I can see its rawness more clearly.

Turns out, writing about one’s whole life, writing about mental illness, writing about love and family and identity is hard stuff. I feel almost guilty that Falling Apart In One Piece was so easy to write.

So I’m going to step away and let the outline marinate and settle in my mind. And so I am once again looking for work, in a media world that is vastly unsettled and still changing very fast. I’m grateful for all my time in social media and digital media and working with native advertising, as it makes me fluent in the driving forces of change — but my love for the great story, the beautiful photograph, the perfectly conceived strategy to create a successful magazine is still the bedrock.

I don’t know if that work is out there for me anymore! A very humbling thought.

So I’m back to trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up. And here are some ideas: a poet, still (though I expect I’ll do that when I’m old and grey, because: money); a business, marketing and social content consultant for small, independent startups (already doing some of that); founder of a lush, provocative Hudson Valley art and literary magazine; a therapist; a life coach, though I just loathe that term….

So once again I am in the In Between, that space that is neither here nor there. My last six years has been all about that drift, and it is not at all what I expected midlife to be. But I’m grateful for my past successes, which gave me such a steady foundation and afforded me this time to try to get the book out that Must Be Written. (As my agent said: “There’s no way you’re not writing this book. Blessedly, she also said, “But these kinds of projects take time.”)

I’m a dandelion seed, blowing around on the winds of change, waiting to come up with and birth my next great idea.

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Heavy Meta

IMG_1545

Let me just recite the quote from the photo above, here in the body of the post:

My wound existed before me. I was born to embody it.”
—Joë Bousquet

I am not sure I have ever come across words before that I so wholly and completely identify with. There are a huge number of great words that have been written and uttered that speak to me, but this—

It was like an avalanche crashing from a mountain, with giant snow boulders and waves of powder pounding down, immense and powerful—that somehow came to a stop just in front of my feet. And then crystalline silence and sparkle.

Yes.

Each of us does what we must with the pain in our lives. And as well there is much mystery, beauty and terror to be witnessed in how those we love choose to process their own private agonies.

For whatever reasons, this has been my particular destiny. I carefully watched, internalized, categorized and intellectualized my mother’s methods of coping with her life’s disappointments and her mental illness. Which has made me a forever observer. And now, of myself above all.

Which is why the quote above appeals to me so much. Yes, I have had some pain in my life (as have we all). Yes, I have had some extreme circumstances in my life (as have most of us). But what I choose to do with the pain and wisdom and yes, the anger and despair, is give it a new shape in my head, make it a story about the incredibly complex challenges we face as human beings.

So I don’t write just about my wound. I write about the wound: The wound that is the burden of consciousness, and always wondering aloud to ourselves, “Am I doing okay at this life thing?”

The answer to that question is: probably. But does that feel like the answer? Almost never.

A writer’s work is to keep showing us the way. Which way doesn’t so matter so much. Just that it be a path and lead to a small room where we can collect together and murmur, “Yes, yes, why yes, it does feel just like that sometimes, now doesn’t it?”

Yes. Yes, it does.

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Help Me Help Myself and Maybe Help You, Too

Hi there! I am once again in a mental position where I am trying to renovate my physical habits (and some mental ones, too), with the ever-necessary goal of getting to a good place of self care. Writing this book is going to be very hard on my mind, so I need to be very good to my body. And I’m out of practice. Quite out of practice. ::sheepish grin::

SO, I am using the Internets and Friends to get back on track. See below, which I also posted on Facebook. Hope to see some of you there!!

Sooooooooo….. any of you out there have a complicated, come-and-go relationship with your own self-care, like I do? Show of hands, please? Ah, yes, you are my brethren. (Sisthren?)

I’ve decided it’s time to take a stab and renovating my habits once again, and have joined HealthMonth.com, a site I like and enjoy for the way it makes a community game and support group of reaching personal baby-step goals. Like daily little teeny things, that you get to choose, be it not having white bread or making sure you meditate. Because I need help and support and some friendly faces around, I HAVE SPONSORED FIVE SPOTS IN MY HEALTHMONTH TEAM FOR FEBRUARY.

So. The first five of you who join my team — called, fittingly I think, The Forever Optimists — will be able to join and partake in all the features for free. Here’s The Forever Optimists’ mission: “The goal is to cheer ourselves on to better self-care — and to remember that every day is a new chance to get it right. Or right-ish.”

So, join me! And if you miss out on a spot, it’s only $5 a month, or you can join with limited features for free!!

Here’s the fancy code to use for the free Optimists membership!!  http://www.healthmonth.com/teams/join/2882/mubYUsP5YB

 

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Stuck In The Middle

Me and my mom, Christmas, early '80s.

Me and mom, Christmas, 1981.

So at last I am making real progress on the book. But it’s been an interesting struggle, and not one for the faint of heart.

When I wrote Falling Apart In One Piece, I was constantly asked “Was it cathartic to write?” My answer always was: No, it was cathartic to live. And that was true, an experience of sorting and learning and letting go, which I captured in the book. But it was all done for me by the time I sat down to write it.

This book that I am working on is about my complex, boundary-less relationship with my mother, the mighty Sharon Lee Wiley Morrison. It’s a book I probably started writing in my head when I was nine or ten years old. And a book I will never stop living.

Throwing myself back in time to the incredibly intense, heartbreaking stuff I went through with my family is… humbling, to say the least. I am nowhere near catharsis yet. The letters my mother and I wrote each other take my breath away and make me ache for my 16-, 19-, 23-year-old self, being so big and strong to try to carry her. I am feeling years of sadness I never gave myself permission to feel when I was living those moments. I had to be solid and together enough to carry us both. But looking back as an adult and a mother of a child…. It’s like being on a carousel: I see glimpses of things that look familiar, but it’s all whizzing by in disorienting flashes of color and time. I emerge from the reading dizzy and a little lost. What year is it now? Am I in high school? College? Am I depressed? Sad? Failing at life? Oh, no. I’m here. I’m fine. I’m in my home. My adult home. My haven, the safe place I finally made for myself only after my parents died and I could finally stop running at full speed to save her — or, later, forgive myself for not saving her. For deciding instead to save myself.

I don’t do pity. My mother was an iron fist in a velvet glove and taught me to be formidable, strong, never to buckle in the face of a challenge. So to suddenly ache for the little-girl me and all she had to be completely undoes the critical promise I made to myself: the idea that I was handling it. I was coping with it. I was going to overcome it and not let my father’s rage and my mother’s depression and hopelessness undo me. I was not going to let my parents’ mutual dependence on me as a go-between in their marriage make me weak and hurt. I was big enough, smart enough, wise enough to exist for their needs and problems, and help them out, and simultaneously forgive them.

I thought I was brave. I never knew I was also kind of tragic. That’s what I see in my brave-faced notes to myself and my mother. That’s what’s hidden between the lines of my occasionally high-risk behavior (wrecking my parents’ car before I had a license, having a boozy party at my next-door-neighbor’s house thinking my parents wouldn’t notice and more and more) and bottomless need to seek out other people’s pain. I fed on pain, annealed myself to it, to teach myself I could handle it, all of it, and make it not hurt.

I didn’t exactly know that that was my story.

And I also don’t think I fully realized that writing my mother’s story meant that I would also be telling my story. My whole entire story. Everything about how I became me.

The theme of the book I am writing is about the malleability of identity—how we make ourselves up, sometimes anew every day; and the immutability of family—all that we can’t escape, no matter how much we try to bury or overcome it.

I thought that was my mother’s story, she who was airbrushing away her coal-holler past and instead building a beautiful sandcastle in the air of for herself, where she was Southern royalty, and had lived out all her dreams (sometimes through her daughter)—instead of being held back by the darkness of her childhood and the failures of fate, family and feminism to save her.

But turns out, it’s my story, too. How I made myself up in the chaos of my home, fed by the bottomless love of my mother but made querulous by her pain. And as much as I promised myself I would leave my family behind and not be wounded by them—because to be wounded by them would mean acknowledging that they hurt me—here I am, having to acknowledge it. To myself. The rest of the world probably already knew this. But 47 years of almost constant thinking and sorting about my childhood and my mother’s grief and pain and how that all added up to me…. I am only now able to see that yes, I made it, as I promised myself—but I am not unscathed.

Nor should I be.

The sweet and heavy immutability of family… it lies within us all, whispering a story into our ears and hearts—and not caring if it’s different from the story we told ourselves to survive.

 

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Healed, I Yearn for Her

My mother is dead. She has been gone for five and half years, not that I’m counting.

Well, okay, sometimes I count.

But grief is forever new. When it shows up, it’s as fresh and fertile as a garden in spring thaw: you step into it and immediately are sunk into a depth you didn’t even know was there.

It hurts less. But the ache is the same.

I’m working on my book. Not as fast as I need to be, and not with as much dedication as the task requires. Apparently, I’m working on myself, too. Still. Forever. Always.

But working on my book means I am spending days sitting in my breathtakingly beautiful conservatory — a room she would have loved beyond measure, charmed to the hilt that I would end up in a house with such an indulgence. She was quite inclined toward the fancy. (And so well might I be, yes, it’s true.) And as I am drafting out the timeline of our extraordinary relationship, I keep thinking to myself, “Oh, was that in 1979? Or later?” And the person I want to ask about all that … is gone. She disappears and is dead at least a dozen times a day now, because she is so alive in my head now that I am getting deeper into the book.

I have so many things I want to ask her, still. How do I get my asparagus fern to perk up? Misting it isn’t helping. How many times would you boil the orange peels for our candied holiday treat? Mine were still bitter this year even after three rounds. When did she enter menopause? When did she start dying her hair red instead of black? Who ultimately was the most important influence her life? Her father? Her therapist? Her lover? My dad?

What did she really think of her life in the end?

Did you think you were a failure, Mama?

I always thought she was a hero. A survivor of so many layers of regret.

I never called her Mama until she was dying. She was Mom, always. But in the days that I was fully taking care of her, the tenderness in intoning the two syllables of “mama” felt more right. And it comforted me after she was gone. Sometimes I would feel a memory of her so strongly I would take in a sharp breath, and then whisper “Mama.”

She is forever my Mama now. And I am still taking care of her. Missing her, dreaming about her, and hoping and praying that I will do her justice—her mightiness and her weakness nearly equal in size—as I go deeper into the work of trying to tell our tale.

I love you, Mama. And I wish you weren’t gone. Still. Forever. Always.

 

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What Is Within My Silence?

The view from here. November 12, 2015

The view from here. November 12, 2015

I have always lived in chaos. It’s what I was born to, first of all: a dramatic and dynamic mother, a total whirlwind of personality, charm and presence whose mind was a turbulent sea, able to pull her underwater at any moment; and an impatient and rageful father, with an exacting sense of order that he was never, ever going to have satisfied within the bounds of our boisterous family of five.

Chaos has its thrills, for sure. (That would explain how my father fell in love with my mother, not knowing what he was in for.) I can enumerate those thrills with a fervent enough passion to convince even the most risk-averse person in the world that they should maybe toss everything aside and join the circus. I mean, I am myself a three-ring circus: more enthusiasms and ideas and foment than should probably be allowed to exist in a single body. Of course, along with that comes the darkness, but pish-posh. Small price to pay for the peaks.

But I am making a very strange and uncomfortable transition right now. I am learning who I am underneath the adrenalin addict.

It’s terrifying.

The quiet inside me is a much more dangerous villain than the dozens and dozens of storms I have stared down and raged through in my life.

But an interesting thing happened when I got fired from my last job: I realized I was Done.

Done with heroics. Done with impossible tasks and teaching everyone around me how to survive the war zone. Done with the incredible labor of being a triage nurse. Done with proving myself to myself and staring down a wall of doubt and fear again and again and again. Done with seeking out just one more goddamn big, hot mess and putting myself in the middle to solve it.

Done, as I put it to my therapist, “pushing the rock up the hill.”

So it’s been about two months since I stopped working. I had a trip to Morocco, the recovery from the bug I brought home from Morocco, a terrifying experience with my dog becoming totally immobile from the onset of a joint disease and a few other things in the mix. So in some ways I actually feel like it’s only the last two weeks that I have been mentally present in the experience of being…. quiet.

I have been able to do absolutely mundane house tasks. (Ask my son how much I keep talking about the thrill of my spotless windows. I’ve done only 12 out of about — no exaggeration — about 58, but still, I’m preening and prancing about it.) I have organized my office. I have crawled back into bed and napped when I felt like it. I have taken long walks with my dog. I have taken even longer walks by myself.

And I now cook every single meal my son eats, preparing his weeknight dinners for the very first time in his life, ever. (He’s 12. My career is — was — 26.)

So these things I’ve listed above are good.

Less good is what else lies beneath.

Anxiety. Doubt. A lurking miasma of failure. (Always the failure.) And a gripping fear.

That I am wrong. That I am lost. That I am destroying everything I ever could rely on to carry me. That I am slothful, lazy, disgusting.

Because the only thing that carried me through many, many years of my life was working until I was blind to everything else but work. And living out and reliving the chaos of my childhood home in extremely intense jobs where I righted the ship, made the plan forward, put out fires, nurtured my team, wiped tears, held hands—and continued to feed my sense of being superhuman.

Above human. Above pain. Above the darkness.

But no. All that was still within me, waiting until the time I was healed enough to let it flow forth from my brain and into my being. And then integrate it all, absorb it into myself so that it’s just one more part of my story—instead of a sealed trunk of darkness that leaks its poison into mind when I am alone. And quiet.

I’ve learned so much in the twenty years I’ve been in therapy. I consider my therapy assisted growing. I’ll never stop. I don’t think of therapy as something people do when they’re broken. I think of therapy as something people undertake when we want to see how big we really are, to free ourselves from the fears and safety tactics we grow up with as children that keep us small when we become adults.

And so here I am. In my own quiet. In the home I led myself to after I lost all the things that had given my life shape in 2010. This magical place that feeds me in a deeply meaningful way every. single. day.

Monday I spent in bed, in and out of bouts of anxiety and tears. What am I doing? I’m never going to be okay. Not working is not possible! You need money! You need a job! You suck! You are washed up! You are hiding!

But today I am overcome with lightness. Sitting in my conservatory (oh, how I love to call it conservatory, the word’s five syllables expressing the luxury and pleasure of such a room), listening to the fall rain, listing all the things in my life that make me feel full, loved, right. 

I am learning to live in my quiet. It’s a process that is many years in the works and probably has a while to go. But I know when I land there, in the center of my self, in that quiet place, that from it I will draw incredible beauty and bring it forth into the world—in the loudest, most dramatic way possible.

Because that is simply who I am.

I accept my seemingly nonsensical juxtapositions. Have you come to terms with your own? Tell me about them. I’m fascinated by our complexities. For that is what tells our stories.

 

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It’s Just Me

Aaaaaah, my blog. My little home space. My big white box that connects me to about three dozen people who know me so well. The intimate audience of people whose questions about life are similar to mine.

Hello.

I am back. Back at home. Back at my blog. Back at writing. Suffice to say I didn’t expect to be here again so soon, but all is well. There is no story to tell.

And so I am edging out on the tightrope I have been avoiding.

Many of my friends are confident — in a way I simply cannot be, me who is made of primarily confidence, especially in the face of uncertainty (see also, every post on this blog, my book, my everything) — that life is certain I should be writing.

Be a writer.

Be the light.

Be the questions.

I will try, my dear friends who honor me with your confidence and love. I will try. It begins today.

I always knew I would write about her. That much is clear. Now, whether that idea was my mother’s or mine, I still can’t say. Like many things between us, the boundaries of what was hers and mine—memories, personality traits, burdens—are hopelessly confused. Even now, after she’s long gone and a few of the facts about our fiction have risen to the surface.

She called me her “one and only,” and by that she meant daughter, mostly. Those words were both benediction and warning. That she had two sons mattered, too, and a husband as well—but not when she and I were in our fantasy world together, which was most of the time.

By most people’s account, my mother and I had the ideal mother-daughter relationship: close, confiding, we looked alike and we acted alike, creating commanding interactions wherever we went, gathering up people’s attentions like flowers tossed on the stage.

It was a romance we shared, my mother and me. Hopelessly in love with one another, freakishly intertwined. She was my best friend and her own worst enemy, and I spent my childhood trying to convince her she was worthy, to keep her alive, to make her see that she mattered so much, and not just to me.

Because I was never going to be enough to save her. But I tried. Oh, how I tried.

I took on the role of being her greatest fan, which only meant that later I would become her biggest disappointment. Truth is, I didn’t travel too far, moving from one pole to the other. She did instead, moving ever imperceptibly backward, until none of us in this world could reach her at all.

Not even me. Her precious, beloved daughter, her second chance, her everything….

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Such Sweetness, This Life

Oh, how things are crazy right now. I’m in the deepest hell of the launch, when everything is upside-down and nothing is moving fast enough and we don’t have systems and processes and I haven’t hired all my hires and my boss is wondering if I know what I’m doing and I’m not sleeping through the night and I have to just keep saying to myself over and over and over: “You’re in it for the long game. You’re in it for the long game.”

Just keep going. Just keep going. Just keep going.

This, apparently, is my life skill. To just keep going. To be the ox with the world strapped on her back, completely oblivious to what it is costing her to keep going. All I see is the goal, the vision, the reward.

I’m doing pretty well, have created different coping devices than wine and crackers to get through the stress. I still need more and better habits, but I don’t feel the self-loathing loading onto me as I have in launches past. I think: “I’m doing the best I can.” “It won’t be like this forever.” “You have to take care of yourself. You’re older now.”

And so I go to bed early, make plans with different people I am casually dating on the nights I take for myself after working late, bring real food into work on Mondays to supply a week’s worth of healthy lunches. And it helps. All these things help. I’m not drowning.

But it’s hard. Twenty hours of commuting a week is hard. Not having any time to go running is hard. Missing my meditation practice (oh the irony) is hard.

But today, a friend I’ve known since what seems like the beginning of time posts this on Facebook, after he asked what I was up to right now:

I am so proud of you, and all of the beauty you have brought to life through your work.

What? Did someone really just say that to me? And mean it?

Wow. Someone did. (Thank you, Steven. You have always been the biggest heart in the room since we were all 8 years old.)

And I’m going to take it at face value and be so fucking grateful that this is how some people see the madness I put myself (and my family) through. With my work, I want to reach us all, all of us (including and especially me), and say:

You are just fine. You are. Listen closely to the small voice in your head, the one you sometimes ignore. That voice is the one that tells you the truth about who you are. Listen. Listen, closely. And know that that is your intuition leading you to where you are supposed to be.

It’s hard right now, where I am. But I’m hoping it’s where I’m supposed to be.

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The Changes: A New Starting Over

I’ve been swallowed up. I am in the beast and the beast is me.

Change is all around me, once again and as always. But this time it all feels different. I am not digging out, not anymore. I am moving forward.

It appears I have filled in the blanks, the blanks that were torn open in my life in 2010, and that kept tearing open for the next few years. Those blanks have been filled, painstakingly, slowly, carefully, with great intent and attention on my part—only to be met with more blanks. We know this is how life works, and yet it is a humbling—and galvanizing—realization all the same.

These are some of the answers that go inside the original blanks from when I started this blog:

I am now and have always been fine.

I do really intimately know the person I am and the person I aim to become.

I am both an individual ego, searching for instant pleasures and solutions, as well as a larger being, engaged in the act of coming to terms with consciousness. This is okay. This feels good. I know most people don’t reside here, but it is where I feel the most capacious and the most safe.

Loss is a brutal kind of beauty. I still pause and feel my mind reel a bit when I gaze backwards at the terrible storms that turned my life completely inside out for two years, but I am more whole, more clear and more loving toward myself than I have ever been, and perhaps more than I ever even dreamed possible. The loss did that. I know it did.

And so I am clearing the deck. I have incorporated the wounds and the terror and the fury.  I am still imperfect and imprecise and purely human: fallible, egotistical at times, easily seduced by my own ideas of how things should go.

But I am clear, and whole, and ready to rocket through this next round of changes and transformations, to take them on and become ever more who I am, to find new boundaries to flirt with, new fears to push past, and work to stay ever-connected to the naked me I brought to this blog, when I had been stripped of everything I thought I ever knew about myself.

In the next few weeks, I will announce my new job. (A huge and deep thank you to BlogHer for being a place where I could grow and heal, be both public and hidden, and learn the ways in which I was still full of my own bullshit.) I have started dating again. I am starting another internal journey, based around falling into my trust of myself. I am once again doing the work of reconnecting to my body, which is always the last piece of me becoming whole and healed. Someday I’ll understand where, exactly, it is I am hiding when I disappear from myself in that way… but not today, or next week. I don’t need all the answers.

There is always time to keep becoming.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Oddly this post feels like some kind of end, and I guess in some ways I am defining an endpoint. So I am going to take a moment to get down on my knees, with my head bowed, and my palms directed up at the sky to thank Every.Single.One.Of.You. who read this blog, who commented on it, who emailed me to check in on me, who shared your own stories of confusion and loss and fear, who shared my links and wrote about my posts in your own posts. Being able to be so weak out loud was an experiment for me, a crucial passage in leaving behind the coping devices I built for myself as a little girl (which are much detailed in this blog). You loved me while I ached, and sometimes you loved me because I ached. Which blew my mind. And allowed me to keep being brave and open, to dare myself not to make up stories, to challenge myself to stare down every single thing that terrified me in an effort to hear the whisper of my intuition, the voice inside me who knows—and has always known—who I really am.

A deep namaste to all of you. I will forever be buoyed by the way it is we humans really, truly, do want to lift others up.

And from that easy, familiar desire, we learn how to fall in love with the harder work of lifting ourselves up as well.

Posted in flux, gratitude, starting over, Uncategorized | 11 Comments