It Hurts

 

[Ed note: TL;DR, but I just had to articulate for myself what I’ve been feeling.]

As someone on a Buddhist path, I am friends with suffering. By being able to reorient myself to know—to truly, deeply know—that every life is filled with moments of breathtaking loss, I have been able to get up off my knees at least three times in my life with my spirit bruised, but intact.

I often call myself an optimist, but my optimism is not one of puffy rainbow stickers and glittery white unicorns.

My optimism is soft, dark velvet, equal parts resignation and meditation, chastisement and comfort. I wrap myself up in it when overwhelmed with the ache of living, and remember that life was meant to be good. As it was also meant to be hard. They are two of the great “IS”es of life, and once I came to understand that moving between these two truths is the only promise we get in this mortal existence, I was freer than I’d ever been before.

I say all this merely to establish that I have never expected life to make me safe. That I have spent the better part of the last six years trying to accept the painful uncertainty of letting go of certainty. That I spend most of my days inhabiting some of my vulnerability, to learn to hate it less, to merge it with my highest self, in order not to be misled by fear and its seductive accomplice, anger.

And yet. And yet…

What I saw on stage in the second Presidential debate sent me into a personal panic. As a journalist and an advocate, I am a fervent follower of politics, because I have deep interest in policy. I am usually able to separate the predictably overblown rhetoric (from both sides) to be able to hear what interests me most: where are we going? How honest are we getting about what has destroyed the basic American contract for living? How ready are we to really talk about people’s despair and what brought us here? (For example, wages having been disconnected from productivity increases since 1972; our country’s utter inability to metabolize the hard realities behind women’s entering the workforce that have nothing to do with gender or tradition; and of course the hungry beast of capitalism, pulling us all into its thrall, for better and worse and worse.)

But that debate undid me. First I was raging. Then I was weeping. And finally I had to turn off the television and curl myself up into a ball on my hotel-room bed (my son and I were on our food tour road-trip) and sob for a few minutes and then lie there frozen, until I felt I could breathe again. My son walked up to me and put a hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry mom.” I was embarrassed and tried to explain away my reaction. But I didn’t quite have the comprehension or words to do it.

I don’t take the word “trigger” lightly, as I think now it is potentially overused, unfortunately dimming the powerful impact the word was meant to project, of what it is to be sent back into a place of trauma in your brain. But clearly something deep and dark in me had been triggered by the tenor of the debate. Donald Trump’s lunacy, misogyny and ignorance I had expected. So what had emerged that scared me so deeply?

I can’t survive if reality doesn’t matter. 

Accepting reality—or, to say it differently, accepting that the hard that shows up in my life is not something that is being done to me—is what has always saved me. Very young I learned to lay a blunt, cold eye on the uncolored facts of any painful situation in order to survive the hardest things. To remind myself of the accidents of fate, of the weakness of humans, of the reality that we all stumble and fail. And here’s this man onstage, making up his own rules, his own reality, and bringing a huge chunk of our population with him, with such abhorrent swagger and certainty.

I felt threatened. I felt at risk… I felt as if the world would open and swallow me whole.

This is what I call “The Original Fear.” This feeling is apparently what it feels like to be a child in a loving, intellectual but emotionally volatile home. Not that I know that, because I didn’t have those feelings when there was so much at risk. Instead I was surveying the situation and explaining away my parents’ failures and pain, living in my intellectual mind, not my emotional one. I was placing them firmly in their individual realities, of a man who had married a difficult woman and didn’t know how to help her and felt cheated by her anger; of a woman who had been damaged by family and history (feminism happening just a few years too late to change her life), and who was emotionally broken in a way my father was simply not ever going to be able to process or understand. Of two people who loved each other, but yet were not able to provide for the other what each of them needed most. Through understanding the roots of their own pain, I was able to intellectually manage carrying my own.

They didn’t mean to hurt me.

Most people don’t mean to hurt us. It’s a truism that we always hurt those we love the most. Because who else would we hurt? Who else would know us enough to inflict the deepest wounds? But we do the best we can.

We bow our heads. We pray to our gods. We forgive. We accept our fallibility and the fallibility of others. We see the world from a thousand-foot-view and see how really small we are in it. I’ve written before about how being small is my safe place, in a world where no promises of safety can be made, and I’m not talking about the geopolitical kind of safety.

But Trump flies in the face of all that. He embraces his ignorance like a sword. He doesn’t give a fuck who he takes down, as long as he thinks he still has a chance to stay on some defensible “top,” with an army of sycophants below him.

I understand that pain of Trump supporters inherently, because my position in media gave me the incredible chance to serve something besides the New York-Los Angeles luxury machine. I saw when I was at Redbook, way back in 2004, that families could not make ends meet, even with two solid jobs, high-level careers even. The wage earners were already on their knees. And no, it wasn’t because people had fallen in love with owning things: it’s because education, and healthcare, and childcare had ballooned in cost, suddenly gobbling up well more than fifty percent of American’s incomes, while their salaries and wages were stagnant. I see how our culture makes that America invisible, and unintentionally implies it’s their fault for being backward and of a different era. And I’ve seen how well-meaning Democrats (and even Obama himself) unintentionally condescend, instead of speaking of those who struggle from a lateral perspective, even when you disagree with them.

That those Americans needed a hero I do not deny. But that Trump would dare to intimate he could be the one when all he does with his power and visibility is turn adoration onto himself and whip up people into a sense of having been wronged by people who did nothing to bring them where they are. (And no, the Democrats aren’t always right, my god, no; it was ALL politicians who failed average Americans.) That he feeds his sense of power by stoking dark, dark forces that can tear at our national empathy, our national sense of all being in the struggle and experiment of 21st century capitalism together. That he would dare to intimate that if he doesn’t win the system is somehow stealing the race from him.

That he would not follow basic, humane rules of how he organizes his self…. it terrifies me. And I’m really terrified by how easy it is to take all the free-floating sense of disenfranchisement large populations are feeling and turn it into something that is a lie, a total lie. 

Anger is not power. Anger is an emotion. And then we have to move through it, let the smoke clear, and look around with blank and inquisitive eyes. We have to assume that the wrongs done against us were not in ill will; we have to know that good intentions lie scattered on the ground just as much as ill intentions do. But that the good intentions are what move us ahead.

I don’t want America to get stuck. In the same way that I was deathly afraid of getting stuck in the agony of my parents’ failure to make an emotionally safe home for me.

I want America to survive its agony. But to do that, we have to deeply connect to Americans’ pain, and see that they are not completely wrong, not completely insane. Their sense of loss is very real, and the LOSS is very real as well.

What I saw in Trump the night of that debate was terrifying. Because he is urging people to live in their weakest selves, for his own reward. He may in some place believe he can help them, though I’m really not sure that he gets anywhere past “There are thousands of people here. Proof that I am powerful. I am powerful.”  He’s done nothing useful with his power to date, and I think it’s safe to assume that little will change that pattern.

I truly believe our job as humans is to listen hard to whom we’re meant to become and to do all the hard work it takes to get there, to be our best self, our most authentic self. Because when we really know ourselves, we can admit what scares us, we can admit we want things other than what we have (which is very different than constantly reupping the What Do I Want list, surely capitalism’s greatest curse), we can acknowledge we’ve made mistakes. And we can begin again, with an open and trusting heart. And shine that open heart as a beacon to others.

Donald Trump doesn’t live in that world. In his view, every single person in this country exists to aggrandize him—which is an absolutely sick and twisted way to abuse people (as he has already abused so many). That he simultaneously stokes existing fears, and then creates ever more new ones is a guaranteed way to bring humanity to its breaking point.

But I really do believe that’s not where people want to go. Because I have to believe that.

Because if our desire to be seen and known and loved has less power in our world than the false reward of anger masquerading as strength, then I’m going to have to fold my cards, pack up my desk, throw in the towel, curl up into the ball I was on that hotel room bed and wait for the End Times to come.

But I don’t believe they will.

And I hope we can learn as a country—and I lay this at the feet of the politicians and the media, both—to really get honest about the somewhat unsexy reasons we are in such dire straits. We know why wages have dropped precipitously since the ’70s—it’s just that the answer is unsexy and doesn’t offer up a target at which to direct our dissatisfaction. The problems our country has created for itself as we tried to address issues individually cannot be solved in an isolated way. We simply have to get past the sweet fantasy of blame—and adopt a position of shared struggle. Shared dreams.

To be human is to fail—and to from that failure create magnificence is even more spectacularly human.

That’s what I’m hoping and praying and voting for.

I don’t ever want to feel the terror of the very complicated and yet very simple truths of reality being erased ever again.

 

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Yes, This

A friend and reader of this blog—Ronna Detrick, a woman whose work is deepening women’s connections to their inner spiritual compass (yes, please!)—sent me this poem yesterday in response to my post.

And I love it so much. Because it does say exactly what my post was saying, although with far fewer words and much more grace and elegance. And there is room for both, of course. There is room for anything and everything we need in this life.

Thank you, Ronna.

 

Driving home, somewhere near Cortlandt, summer 2016.

Driving home, summer 2016.

A Prayer, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Refuse to fall down.

If you cannot refuse to fall down,

refuse to stay down,

lift your heart toward heaven,

and like a hungry beggar,

ask that it be filled, 

and it will be filled.

You may be pushed down.

You may be kept from rising.

But no one can keep you from lifting your heart

toward heaven—

only you.

It is in the midst of misery

that so much becomes clear.

The one who says nothing good

came of this,

is not yet listening.

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And More and More and Then Still More

Reflection, August 2016.

Reflection, August 2016.

Last week I referred to a landslide, a great forcing up of new perspective, but I wrote about only a piece of it.

It’s too much to look at at once, a view too big for the eyes and mind to see. And this act of learning to see myself—with no filters, with honesty, with compassion—has taken decades. How on earth to capture it in a single post? In a month of posts?

And, perhaps more pointedly: Why bother at all?

I excavate my self-excavation in the hope it will support others who have lingering doubts about their worth, their path, who have shame about their flaws and faults and weaknesses. Because I’ve been on this road of forgiving myself for being human so much longer than most.

That process started for me when I was 9 years old. I remember so clearly the first time I failed my mother, the first time she was crying with a pain I didn’t understand. I laid in bed next to her, telling her empty stories of the fourth-grade filmstrip I’d seen that day—native women cooking insects in banana leaves over a fire, babies at their breast—in an attempt to fill the dark and terrifying void I felt expanding between us with something concrete. My mother, whom I needed so desperately, disappearing from me with every tear that rolled down her face.

The logical response to that was, of course, never to have emotional need for anyone ever again.

::insert thumbs-up emojii::

I spent the first half of this year finally attacking the book I’ve wanted to write about my mother almost since that moment. I knew she was a good story. I knew it would be a book that could help people. I knew that I wanted to make her the heroine, and show her for all her brilliance and dynamism and power, as well as tell the story of her pain.

And, apparently, looking at my relationship with my mother as a story was a mode of brilliant self-protection. And so, a journalist and writer was born.

It’s no surprise I knew I wanted to be a magazine editor since fifth grade, magazines being these beautiful, ever-renewing promises to become the person you are holding in your mind’s eye, your best idea of yourself. I instantly recognized those shiny parcels of paper as being vehicles for identity and self-creation—even though I certainly didn’t have those words for it yet.

I wanted to grow up and be untouchable, successful, beautiful. And I wanted my mother to wake up every single day of my childhood and young adult life and see that she could begin again. That her life was amazing, even with its many heartaches. That her children were in some small way meaningful rewards for her sacrifices. That her worth wasn’t attached solely to her broken dreams, gone forever.

I wanted to hand her a shiny idea of who she really was to me, and have her open it up and say “Yes.”

Hindsight being the miracle worker that it is, I therefore should not have been surprised that the book I wanted to write about my mother all these years was not going to be at all possible to write.

Because the book I had been writing since I was nine was a fairytale.  I had been mentally crafting the story in which everything turns out all right and that her struggles and absences didn’t wound me. A story in which I come across as a heroine and a teacher, able to be bigger than my mother’s pain, able to precociously forgive her every time she hurt me or I was invisible to her, able to process her complex adult loss and grief as a child, and be a minor miracle myself.

A book in which she was the amazing ball of energy, creativity and ideas she was. A book in which our intense love for each other (and our completely unhealthy fusion, her “engulfment” of me) was unusual and acceptable, honorable even; not the fraught psychologic territory it is. In working on the book this winter, I stumbled across the term “engulfment” in an article about being raised by a parent with borderline personality disorder. I cried for two days afterward, completely undone by having to let go of my determined daughter’s perspective, and finally let in that every. single. thing. I have struggled with (and continue to struggle with) as kid and an adult has threads that tie back to being her daughter.

That’s not the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to talk about my bravery and big heart and achievements and how my successes were simply a reflection of her amazing self. She was an incredible mind and personality. I wanted to tell the truth and forgive her and celebrate her all at the same time.

And I can still do that, yes. But not at all the way I had mentally scripted as the only possible way to survive all that pain. Pain I by and large didn’t feel.

But I’m feeling the pain now. And oh, my god, it is drowning me, sometimes galumphing up behind me and throwing me down on the ground with no external trigger. And then I am lost, sometimes for an hour, sometimes for a day, wondering how it is that I think I deserve to exist—a mind-blowing agony with no root in reality. The onset of this deep pain is giving me an intellectual perspective into all the times I felt utterly blank in my life when I was threatened. This is the pain I was blocking. And any and every time I had to face the feeling of not being enough to love, of not being smart enough to keep pain from knocking on my door, of foolishly allowing myself to need anything, from anybody, the gates of disassociation would come slamming down, without any conscious input from me. The part of me that hurt would just be: gone. And into my rational mind I would go. Where I could be bigger, stronger, more rational, and simply need less from everyone around me.

This is why when, over the years and years of loss and disruption my life has had (really, quite a lot, though please, by most measures no horrific tragedy) and people pay me a compliment by telling me how incredibly “strong” I am, I want to disappear.

Strong wasn’t my choice. Strong was my survival.

I had no idea I was so lonely for so much of my life. But I know now, in those moments of historical emotional recall.

I understand that a lot of people can’t understand twenty years of therapy. I know a lot of people ascribe to the “leave well enough alone and leave it behind you” theory of adaption. I know that so much I write here is probably just absolute nonsense to many.

But I was born with a questioning spirit, deeply curious, and then add to that I was the daughter of two brilliant, creative and interesting people who had deep-seated internal flaws that kept them from being able to get they love they needed from each other. Even though there was a real connection there, that kept them together, despite their abiding unhappiness. (They tried to break up, and discovered that the life they’d built was bigger than their individual grief. But I’m still not sure I would wish that equation on anyone. It was a very hard dynamic to grow up in, and left me pretty hopeless about relationships, making the wrong choices, not knowing how to do the complicated and beautiful dance of supplication that the best relationships have. I was taught that to win is what matters above all, to be the most right, to sacrifice everything for that empty prize.)

I am the highly tuned empath I am because of those flaws and failures of theirs. And I treasure that aspect of my personality. And blame is a pointless and empty posture: We all do the best we can, and that’s all we can do.

 

But, to my mind, it’s even more honorable if we try to really know ourselves and constantly be in a mode of neutralizing our emotional triggers. To be connected to others in a way that allows for their flaws (“I see your pain”), but that guides them toward self-actualization (“You are not just your pain; I see you, all of you, the need, the ache, the dreams, the wants”). To see people not merely as agents in our life, with a role to play for our happiness, but as their own sovereign nation, with goals that may or may not coincide with mine.

I’ve written before here how this blog is my church, and the more and more I write here, the more I understand why.

My faith—in humanity–lies in all our abilities to be resilient and forgiving, to be detached enough from our own needy desires that we can approach and love and understand other people as very much in their own independent struggle. It lies in the idea that each of us really does want to do and be the best we can, but it’s so easy to get lost. My faith is about being open to pain, even as it lances us, because there are lessons inside it that bring us closer to whatever base truth there is to be had about conscious existence: We are all meant to be exactly who we are. There is no better or other or should have.

And our single most important moral responsibility is to come to know and accept our flaws and weaknesses, and to come to know and accept our friends’ and loved ones’ weaknesses, and then overcome them by being even more open.

To walk forward into the world and say “I will,” “I can,” “I love,” and to not allow ourselves to self-delude, to blame, to shrink away. To let our souls be big and daring and do the work they are meant to do.

And all of that is the beautiful, and yes, ironic, gift my mother taught me. Through forgiving her all the days of my life, she taught me to separate from myself just enough to see others more clearly. She didn’t meant to hurt me. And I didn’t mean to wrap myself up in a fairy tale about what it was really like to be her daughter, the huge emotional battle of seeing myself as separate from her, to forgive myself for failing her, to forgive myself for hating her, leaving her.

She did the best she could. And died angry and confused and withdrawn.

I’m doing the best I can. And I will die at peace with all I have uncovered about who I am and what I have learned about the deep beauty of forgiveness and knowing that I control nothing in this world.

I still don’t like that truth, but that’s what faith is, after all: giving over to the powers that are bigger than you, and tending your own beautiful patch of garden and making it as rich and productive as you can, for the greater good, the good that is bigger than you.

In the end, we can only be exactly who we are.

May each of us be brave enough to submit to this simple truth. And may each of us find our peace within it.

I know I’m trying. My mother never found her peace; her damage may have simply been too big to allow her to work through it.

As for me, the question of whether I’ll be able to forgive myself and finally merge my weak and broken with my strong and loving into a single identity remains open. But I’ve been getting closer for 20-plus years. When you consider the lifespan of the universe, 20 years doesn’t seem like much.

But in the meantime, I’ve fallen in love with that universe and also fallen in love with humanity’s many weaknesses. And I believe that will, in time, allow the most wounded parts of my consciousness to fully love myself, as well.

Posted in mother, relationship, self | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

When the Tiniest Shift is a Landslide

Snowbird, CO, July 2015.

Snowbird, CO, July 2015.

Oh the tectonic plates of the self, how they move. Months, then years, of the tiniest little shifts, certainly almost imperceptible. And then: whooooosh! A great surging up, the creation of a mountain range, from which an entirely new, yet familiar, perspective is birthed.

How else to describe this amazing project of being human? Of being a seeker? Of trying to get inside myself so I can get OUT of myself, and live fully in the world, alive and open to anything that comes my way.

I spent this weekend in retreat with the great meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg. This is only one piece of an unfolding accordion of Stacy self-knowledge that has been suddenly pouring on me from above, inside and around me. Suddenly—that is, after 20 years of focused inquiry and 20 years of slowly unbuilding the story of me that I so carefully and painstakingly built one brick at a time for the 17 years before that. Suddenly, after ten years of having pieces of the foundation of my life pulled away from me and having to begin again. Begin again. Again.

As we all do. As we all will. And will, again.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Easy to do with so much foment fizzing inside me.

Begin again.

These are the two magic words that meditation gives me, the reminder that there is no here, no there; no failure, no perfect—just a long, endless stretch of trying and trying some more.

I sit quietly with my eyes closed and breathe in, breathe out. Then realize I’m off and drifting, away from my breath, or away from the phrases projecting lovingkindness, back into the noise and bustle that we call modern life.

At first, I startle a bit, and cuss myself. “Oh shit, started making a list. Gotta stop my brain. Have to quiet down. Calm down. Okay, breath. Focus on the breath.”

But after a few minutes, of bringing my attention back to my breath, it’s a calmer, kinder transition. “What should I cook for dinner tonight? Did I get out the chicken? Oh, whoops. Breathe in, breathe out.

And it’s just wondrous and amazing how deeply meaningful and profound that subtle shift is.

It does change how the world looks and feels.

I entered the retreat wanting to take better care of myself, longing to get grounded, as I feel I am still spinning in space six years after my life changed completely. I also wanted to retreat to remind myself that I may never feel “safe” again, that I may never feel I am on a clear path, that that world might be gone forever.

And yes, yes, yes, I did leave the retreat feeling more compassionate for myself and all the tremendous changes I have been metabolizing, and not just the external ones: career, location, family. But the bigger changes, the internal ones: changing my goals, creating new dreams, trying to listen really deeply to my own intuition, forgiving myself for my weaknesses—which is probably the hardest thing to do. I still can’t believe I “got it wrong,” that the path I constructed out of the burning temple of my mother’s grief, wasn’t “right,” didn’t “work.” There’s a very pissed-off 17-year-old inside me who doesn’t want to hear that. Because, of course, I did make it. But not the way I had imagined.

All my old ideas of myself are gone. I need to say that again: ALL OF MY OLD IDEAS OF ME ARE GONE. And yet the me that I am remains. I am still curious, loquacious, dynamic, intense, creative, wildly compassionate, searching, hurting, intellectual, discerning, impulsive, daring, headstrong, generous, impatient, foolhardy, goofy AF, gullible, loving and loving and loving.

And a weekend of lovingkindness meditation with Sharon Salzberg was oh, so right. To remind me of me. The accident of timing and happenstance that brought me there was a minor miracle.

But this—these miracles, these agonies—is what life is made of.

We work hard. We do our best. We try to listen to our inner voices. We fail. We hurt those we love most. We try harder. We bargain and beg. We worry. We have a brief moment of clarity where we can be gentle with ourselves and can see clearly that nothing—nothing!—behind us or ahead of us can bring us to our knees. We dare to imagine the good surprises that might be waiting for us, instead of dwelling in the damage done by the bad surprises.

And we begin again.

Could there be anything more powerful and beautiful than that?

This is the gift of our lives. And I’m excited to say I am just beginning work on a new project that is so very much about that. And this weekend really clarified that this new path I am trying to build right now is starting to feel like home. That I am starting to recognize myself again. That I am finding a new way to trust all those traits I name above, even though I have been wrong about so many things in trying to understand my life.

I’ll get there. I know I will. Because I will always let wonder win over fear.

Inhale. Exhale. And begin again.

 

Posted in flux, starting over, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

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 , , | 12 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 | 9 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