My Son’s Beautiful Mind

My sweet, sweet kid pretending he's not sweet.

My sweet, sweet kid pretending he’s not sweet.

So my son is dancing and singing around the house because he just got home from his last day of school, bringing home straight As for the second marking period in a row.

What an incredible road it has been with him, learning how his AD/HD (ummm, he is definitely *Hyperactive*D) would impact his life and his learning. After a very, very bad year in 2nd grade in Park Slope’s supposedly vaunted P.S. 321 (don’t even ask; just know I was thisclose to suing the school and definitely would have won), he and I have been on a long journey together toward figuring out what would work for him. When we first found out his issues—shortly after both my parents had died, he went into a huge crisis at school that eventually led to a diagnosis—I was crushed. Not crushed because he wasn’t “perfect,” but because I  had to come to terms with the fact that I would not and could not control my son’s future years before most parents have to. I would have liked to have grown into that idea, but instead it was foisted in me at a particularly heartbreaking time in my life.

But we have been helped and supported by so many fantastic, patient, kind teachers, who did the time-consuming work of really getting to know my son’s outgoing, loving personality, so that they could best draw him into good behavior habits and attention skills. We have been helped by patient and attentive doctors, who never made me feel like they saw Zack as Just Another Kid With ADHD. They were always focused on his special gifts that they believed would pull him through (his unusual empathy, his sometimes shocking ability to articulate what he was feeling: “Mom, it’s like there are fishes swimming around in my brain.” “Sometimes it feels like if I don’t move, I will die.” And the hardest one: “Mom, why is life so hard? And I don’t mean hard like I need a Band-Aid, but the kind of hurt where I want to cry and cry.” He was all of SIX years old when he said that.) We have been helped and supported by a string of absolutely fantastic too-good-to-be-true babysitters (Jami Z. the star among them) who withstood agonizing hours of pulling Zack through extremely basic homework exercises he should have been crushing.

ADHD is something you truly can’t understand until you are living with it. I thought — even as a journalist who had overseen and published stories on ADHD frequently — it meant a “jumpy” attention span, a distractable child. What it actually was in my son’s case is that his mind would Totally. Shut. Down. when he was overwhelmed, anxious, overstimulated, adrenalized, tired, hungry. In other words, almost all the time.

I asked him during one night of homework as he struggled: Zack! You know this!!! What is 7+3? Nothing. C’mon, Zack, 1+1! Nothing. Honey? C’mon Zack. Okay, what is 1+0? “I don’t know Mommy.” And I looked into his eyes and see that the gates are closed. Nothing is going in or out. Was terrifying.

And now: Straight As. “A pleasure to have in class.” “A great example for other students.” “Impressive work.” “Exhibits creativity.” He earned this. He worked so hard for it. We had years of painful trial and error, with behavior modification and physical manipulations and constant reminders to not do that, don’t do that, please stop that. Stop. Touching. People. Stop. Talking. Stop. Putting. Everything. In. Your. Mouth. Stop. Walking. Around. STOP STOP STOP.

At the same time, I allowed myself to be in an open and honest conversation with Zack about what all the testing was about. “We’re trying to learn how your brain learns best, honey. You just learn differently than most kids.” Things actually go so bad in second grade, I told him to give up on being good or his schoolwork or anything other than survival. “Just get through this year, honey. I promise I’ll find somewhere they understand you better.” And I did. And we got a lawyer and got an excellent IEP (Independent Education Plan). And he got better teachers. And his father and I changed some things about our co-parenting schedule that suited him more.  And we went on medicine (I say “we” because I was more traumatized by this than he was).And he grew up a little. And then we moved to a smaller town, and a smaller school, and a quieter pace, where he could more naturally be the attention-seeking, social kid he is, without being overwhelmed all the time. And then more study habits and more organizational habits and still more study and organizational habits.

But you know what got us across the finish line this year? Focalin. Yep, medicine. We were on it for the first two years of his diagnosis when he was in utter crisis (that was when my family was losing everything; it was impossible to untangle what events were causing which outcomes). And then we went off it to see how far he could grow without it, once he was settled into our new, calmer, happier, quieter, smaller, so much better for him and for me life in Garrison.

And grow he did. Until he’d grown as far as he could. And was still “distracted in class,” “needs to pay attention in class,” “easily distracted.” Notes from not just one of his teachers. But Every. Single. One. Even the gym teacher. And the art teacher. And the lunchroom monitor.

And so Zack’s pediatrician said: “You’re playing ice hockey in sneakers and all your friends have ice skates. Don’t you want a pair of ice skates?”

So he thought about it, and I let him think about it. One week later, meds. Two weeks later, straight As on his midterms. Just like that. An overnight miracle—that took six years to create.

I’m so proud of you, Zack. You are an amazing kid with a big heart and a big mind. I’m so happy it’s all coming together for you. Because in the end, all that has ever mattered is you having—and loving—your own idea of who you are. You chose the ice skates, after you and I (and the teachers and the babysitters and the doctors) had done all for you that we could.

And now you know mastery. Now you understand the satisfaction of a job well done. And now you can connect effort to results, such a simple, simple thing that has evaded you for years. I can only imagine how frustrating that must be.

And know you how great your mind really is. May you use it for brave and wonderful things for this world.

Even though I know this summer you’re only going to use it for video games. Just like most other kids.

How fucking good it feels to be able to say that: Just like most other kids. And completely who he is for himself. 

I love you, Z. 

Posted in Uncategorized, Zack | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

When We See the Invisible


I’m busy busy busy with a new consulting job, that I like very much. Smart people. Great products. And an excellent social impact, as well, we hope. (More on that anon, I promise. We launch soon.)

So flitting about my house today, I noticed this:

http://rmyersart.com/

“Kings of Nothing,” Ryan Myers

A dragonfly (actually, it’s probably a damselfly looking at its size, but I digress).

I then posted this to Instagram and Facebook:

Some of you know I have a lifelong thing with dragonflies: they were something my mother and I shared, artistically (jewelry, paintings, poems) and then later in my life they started following me everywhere. To the degree that others mentioned it to me, saying “Do you see …?” Yes, I see. It usually means Pay Attention, This Is Important. It sometimes is just a love letter for (or from?) my Mama. I remember two months after she died, in completely the wrong season for dragonflies, I found myself in a field with hundreds and hundreds of them, flying their geometric patterns. My friend who was with me was like, Oh my god, what’s happening? But I knew it was for me. So look what I found today. A dragonfly, its wings and life stilled, somehow lodged behind a portrait of my son, after we celebrated his 13th birthday this weekend. My father died six years ago last week; my mother died six years ago in 18 days. Hi, mom. Hi, dad. Zack is doing great and he carries much within him you would recognize from me, which is, of course, from you. I miss you. I love you. I’m still flying between two worlds as the dragonfly does (creature of air and water), looking for my answers. And now I can actually say I believe I will get there. #instastory#dragonfly #dragonflies #animaltalisman#theworldisimpossiblybeautiful 

 

And I have to say, I am really struck by the responses. I’m so happy other people walk through the world feeling like there are small messages being sent to them all the time. I call them “Postcards from the Universe.” If you’ve read my book, you know that during my breakup with my husband that water played a ridiculously outsized role in drumming messages into me: Pay Attention Now. This Is What Matters. Don’t Be Distracted By Anger. Listen To What You Must Learn. Life Is Not Against You (and neither is your husband, even though he is leaving you).

But they have always been with me. My mother was rather a numinous creature, so it is not surprising that she would have gifted me with the ability to drift between worlds, whether literal worlds here in our daily lives (which is why I’m a good journalist: I belong to everyone and no one), or metaphoric worlds, which allows me, among other things, to dwell in the space where I consider the gifts and burdens of consciousness.

It’s so easy to get distracted by life’s neverending list of Things We Must Do and not spend time drifting in our consciousness, feeling the incredible experience of being human, of being mortal yet possessing something deep and alive and immortal within us.

When I saw the dragonfly I remembered — in the middle of my busy day — that my parents were but a whisper on this planet, though their voices resonate still; that my own life is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, though I know I’ve done my best to live in and create love everywhere I go; that everything is ineffably impermanent, in ways that both create tremendous relief (we can and do survive unspeakable pain, over and over and over) as well as a poignant, perpetual regret for all we will not know, will not have, will never understand.

This is the even bigger thing the dragonfly means to me. Chance is chance. Events come in and out of our lives. It’s up to us to decide what matters, and what messages we want to take from these events.

I decided long ago that I live in a magical world, and that I would never be shy to talk about the unsolvable mysteries and the sometimes cruel fate and pain that travel along with us.

I dwell in poetry, in stops and starts, and in those moments everything feels impossibly right.

And then I sit down at my computer and get back to work.

Seize your wonder and hold onto it like a life raft. Because it is one.

Posted in faith, gratitude, mother | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

This Is My Church

I just realized today something that should have been obvious to me years ago: this blog is my church.

I come here when I am wounded and wondering, when I feel the ache of being human in a way I need to let go of. I come here to witness myself in my own pain.

It’s kind of ironic that this is true, given the ink that gets spilled about our “edited lives” that are shared on Facebook, the picture-perfect moments we capture on Instagram. But given my general tendencies to tell the truth and my desire to stare life directly in the face, I suppose it makes sense that I want to air only the ouchy stuff. For when I am in the deep is when I most need to remember I have company, always; that I am merely, and majestically, being human. (And thank you, dear friends and company, for being here when I need to be witnessed most.)

I am shedding and shedding and shedding right now. I hate that six years after my life went truly upside-down that I still have to look back to that as a reference point, that I still find places I am holding on to what’s gone. In changing over my closet from winter to summer, I have come across dozens of pieces of clothing I’m still holding onto from 2010—clothes that are probably, what?, six sizes smaller than I am, as 2008-2010 was a brief moment in my life I was thin. I don’t lament the thin, not at all (it was fun, though). I lament the sense of security, safety and success I was living in then. Those things are gone. For good, most probably. And yet I love three of those dresses in particular, and still can’t make myself part with them, even though right now I’m knee-deep in half-filled garbage bags of stuff that Has To Go. Because I love love LOVE the woman I was when I was wearing them. Fearless. Happy. Open to everything. An untouchable kind of confident.

I was larger than life then in a way that made me feel… larger than life.

And now I’m just Stacy-sized: whatever the size of the dress, the size of the personality (undeniably big) and the human (undeniably small) who resides within in me remains the same. I’ve gone from being a big girl with big dreams (and a lot of hidden pain) to being a life-size, war-worn woman who is tender, confident (still that), optimistic, open, and wounded.

But as I go through my closet, it’s not just those dresses I am holding onto. I’m still holding on to the end of that particular career. The end of feeling like I was on a ladder for which there was only one direction ahead: ever upward. The painful reminder that there simply is no moment in life where you acquire the necessary goods—husband, children, career, financial security, happiness—and arrive at the Safe Place I so fervently hoped existed when I was a young girl, a teenager, in my parents’ home, promising myself a calm, stable, well-made future.

I keep thinking I have finished with that fantasy, but no. I bump into it again and again, so deeply ingrained was fervent promise to myself. But it’s time to get rid of all that. The navy-blue interview dress for a corporate job I will probably never again have. The collection of handbags and evening bags, for the kinds of events I will probably not ever go to again. The dozens and dozens and dozens of shoes I keep because they are objects of beauty, but that are ridiculous in my life and in my closets now. And sure, I have room for them (great benefit of being single is I get to take allllllll the storage for myself)—but now I am seeing that it’s time to let go, of as much as I can, in as many ways as I can.

It’s gone. That life is gone. And I moved myself into a new one, with great intent and care. And I love it. Being up here in the green and the woods feeds me, keeps me connected to the parts of me I trust the most—and keeps me disconnected from the shiny objects that pull me toward wanting status, that beastly outside validation that tells me I am good and smart and… worthy.

These many months of not working were a blessing and also a curse: I had to live solely in my mind and come to terms with what is in there when I am not building a shiny new rocket ship for some company or another.

But something amazing and wonderful happened to me, too, in this insular, brooding year: I finally was able to fully inhabit all sides of myself at the same time in a way I’m not sure I have ever done before. And that happened in no small way because of an amazing, soulful man who came into my life. In his company, I always feel a hundred-percent me, all of me, the whole me, all the nonsensical juxtapositions and the weird clash of being hyperconfident and wildly insecure suddenly making sense (or at least not not making sense), and that big, beating heart of mine I am always carrying around in my hands, seen and treated so tenderly.

But I have to let go of that, too, for reasons I won’t share. But mostly because it’s the right thing to do. True love waits. If you love something set it free. If I can’t stand on my own, then I can’t stand with him and vice versa. Choose your cliché or aphorism.

So now I feel as delicate as a butterfly with wings that were brushed too harshly by a tree branch, damaging the fine structure that allows flight, life.

I’m always letting go. Always trying to find the quiet inside where I can know and believe (those being two different things) that I am worthy of love. And now what I need to know is that the love that walked into my life and made me feel like…. just me — big/small me, brilliant/goofy me, confident/wounded me, loving/hurting me — is mine to keep forever, in really meaningful ways.

But it’s oh so hard to stand on your own sometimes. And I get tired of how many times in my life I have had to do it.

And so I come to church, to this sacred space, where I can say aloud “I’m hurting,” an act of prayer that reminds me that pain is not forever, even if the ache it leaves in its wake is.

And I come to church also because it’s through my pain in life I’ve learned to connect with many things that are bigger than me—grace, belief, selflessness, acceptance. Those very grand humilities are what have always pulled me through.

I’m on my knees, friends, looking for the glory. And I know it will come. It always does.

Posted in faith, grief, loss, love | Tagged | 8 Comments

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.

 

Posted in loss, starting over | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in flux, starting over | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized, writing | 7 Comments

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.

 

Posted in mother, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , | 25 Comments

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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