writing to survive
. . . only the retelling counts

Trivial matters

Oh, lonely, lovely internet! How you distract me with your news of the world and your quizzes and your trending news stories. You teach me that Ted Cruz has cited an “ancient philosopher’s wisdom” to criticize immigration reform, make me wonder at the Polish town that has banned Winnie-the-Pooh from a playground because of the bear’s “dubious sexuality.” Entire families, strangers to me, have perished in the car wrecks you document, and the allegations you pass along against Cosby stack like cords of wood to ply us through the scandalous winter. (Internet, I am with you: that man has met his doom, albeit decades too late.)

I am rapt as you wrap me with trivia and tragedy. But piffling facts do not sustain. I have taken up yoga to soothe myself, drink red wine in the evening, pretend to have a nose for the grape as I twist myself in two, chest facing one way, knees another, glass balanced on my ass as though I were a pale, clothed version of the Kardashian who broke you last week. One day I will be so flexible I will sip from that glass. But for now, it trembles as my thighs shake. Internet, I need that straw.

You give the illusion of connection, to others, to the news, to the world that flows outside my window. I used to wish you had been around for me when I was young and held hope, glassy and thick, in my nail-bitten fingers. Do not pity me because I no longer possess such a thing. Celebrate the death of the lie, the escape from the opiate. Hope was the thing that made my heart flutter. What I needed was a steady, solid beat.

There is an emptiness. I have attained to it, accepted the ambiguity of the cavernous space within. I hover over the ground --
chaturanga. I push up with my arms, torso bent back -- up dog. I send my buttocks to the ceiling -- down dog. I let the breath fill me with peace and feel my strength increasing as my thighs turn to rock.

And later, I drink a glass of cabernet with the one I love who loves me back.

Yes, internet, that would be my husband. You’re far too fickle for anyone to rely on. But I know you’ll be there in the morning, fresh facts waiting to fill the void.

Image from here.

No place for sissies

I spent a lot of time on this post yesterday. It had nice turns of phrase, sentences that made me proud, images that were hard to shake, and an underlying indirect smugness that I just couldn’t stomach. So here I am, back at the keyboard, hoping to salvage my thoughts and keep the best of it.

In the extended
wts family, there are two elderly relatives, one just this side of 90, the other a faltering step past it. The older relative has just had to vacate her home of over 40 years, while the younger one is still holding on strong. But neither of them has a real plan for what happens as they become more physically infirm which, by one’s late 80s, with many more years possibly ahead, is more a matter of when than if.

For a variety of reasons, this topic is difficult to raise. The end result is that two people who value their autonomy may lose (or have lost) it and have very little say on the next step, while the burden for making those decisions falls on people who have been given no instructions and get the strong feeling that such a discussion would be extremely unwelcome. As someone who has not yet written a will or an advance directive, I understand the avoidance of the grim facts, though they feel more theoretical than immediate at this stage in my life. The current situations and how they might play out, however, are maddening.

What do you do when the body starts to wear out and the mind is not the steel trap it used to be? Do you plan for this eventuality before it becomes actuality? Or do you wait for the cookie to crumble, for the argument to unravel, for the fraying fabric to threaten the integrity of the entire garment?

I have some years to go yet (I hope!), but I vote for planning. And, ideally, facing not only the difficult questions of what happens next, but the difficult emotions, too, which is too much to ask of anyone who isn’t ready to go there. But as I have watched these relatives experience the slow falling away of physical capabilities, I have seen up close what happens when a still sharp mind handles the indignities of old age through avoidance. Unaccustomed to vulnerability, the person who kept their emotions in a lockbox in a boarded-up room in a closed-off wing experienced emotional bleed-through. The membrane between the said and not-said, between the way they thought they felt and the way they really felt, became porous, and the unresolved past, the dodged emotions and calloused grudges, leaked out in unpredictable ways. That person dealt with the spillover by directing it at an innocent party. It wasn’t pretty.

I am hopeful that examining the story of my life, letting those emotions and grudges out voluntarily, living openly with ambiguities and trespasses past and present, will head off that sort of ugliness. That’s easy for me to say, of course. After all, I am only halfway to 90 and already comfortable with my emotions and well-trod storyline.

I don’t want to be a prisoner of the incidentals of the past, chained to my history. I do want control over my fate for as long as possible. And yet the long-overdue first step of making a will and an advance directive, with its reminders of what is inevitable, scares the crap out of me.

Maybe this stuff isn’t so easy.

Title from the Bette Davis quote “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” Image from the same link.

In the first version of this, I kept calling it an “advanced directive.” Clearly I have some brain block here (and will be working on that and a will very soon).

What's past is prologue

I keep everything, paper and virtual. Well, almost everything. I have redacted chunks of the electronic record, erased the telling detritus of times I would prefer to forget, divested myself of the bits and bytes that could serve as reminders. And, yes, long ago, lovesick and angry, I destroyed the (paltry) paper trail of a painful college relationship. I have no regrets for these acts of self-preserving vandalism -- the past sometimes deserved to be gagged, its voice stolen through will and time.

Yesterday, in the process of cleaning up my email, I came across evidence of two bleak eras, days of confusion and blindness, that I really should have trashed years ago. I read them while sunk into a soft chair in the university library, my feet up on a faux-leather ottoman, a sunny, green expanse of campus beyond the wall-to-wall window in front of me, suddenly pulled back into the sticky emotional trap of the past. But maybe I never really left.

There are times when feelings go underground, when we don’t want to confront what is in front of us, when it feels easier to ignore than approach. This is the world of the emotional dodge and parry. The unsaid becomes a lead weight. The air gets thick with implication and memory. And those who don’t discuss the unresolved past and silent present tend to recreate it in secret ways, in stolen deed or hidden thought, in a life crafted of avoidance and worry. It will out eventually, in ways over which you have little control. What happened can’t be changed. But it can be confronted and apprehended in the way it affects your present.

In my experiential group at school, we are supposed to operate in the here and now, to talk about our feelings about what is happening within the group as it happens, to give feedback on our experiences of others in the group. It’s a good way to live one’s life, too, to be aware of where you are in the moment, to touch the tendrils of history that wrap that around your wrists and ankles and make themselves known as you struggle to speak, to feel what it is like to be bound by the past without pulling it into the present, to communicate those feelings instead of grasping them close.

I could say that what I feel right now is not strictly about the shared cruel foolishness of some years back, but about how those events affect my feelings, behaviors and actions as I type. So this is what I feel: Mourning. Guilt. Sadness. Empathy. Forgiveness. Fear. And relief.

Image from here.

Speaking her mind

As the daughter of an adoptee, I read the recent New York Times Motherlode blog about the pain that can result from being adopted with great interest. Adoptee Laura Barcella’s personal narrative criticizes the practice of adoption in its current and not-so-distant past incarnations, providing links to research that has found adoptees have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and addiction. She also mentions that adoptees have a suicide rate that is four times higher than the general population’s, which is most likely a reference to this study of adopted teens in Minnesota. Barcella is not broadly criticizing those who adopt, even mentioning the possibility of adopting a child herself. She is talking about the pain that is inherent to her and others’ experiences as adoptees, a part of the Flip the Script on adoption campaign.

The author advocates for more open adoptions and a rethink of how we handle the practice in general. When she writes about her struggles, her narrative voice is tinged with pain and grief. When she speaks for other adoptees who feel similarly, she gives it to us straight: Here’s the thing: Many adoptees don’t feel at home — ever, anywhere. The statistics are sobering, her observations profound. For those who feel like Barcella, living as an adoptee can be a deeply painful, potentially conflicting experience. It is meaningful, heavy, and huge.

Apart from this emotional baggage, so personal and impossible to unpack here, many adoptees live with the unknown, particularly people who came from closed adoptions or from outside the U.S.. Imagine having to contend with the possibility of never knowing your medical history, full heritage, who you resemble, or the names of your parents. For people who have grown up steeped in the reality of where and who they came from, it can be tough to picture what it is truly like to occupy a blank genetic slate. I have a taste of it, one section of my background blackened out here and there. There are gaps, lacunae, open windows in rooms with riffled-through drawers. Outside of a name or two and some dates, my mother’s entire family history is as blank as the skies were over Berkeley yesterday morning, vast and clouded over.

Barcella’s representation of her experience as an adoptee ignited the ire of Motherlode readers. People can’t seem to give her the space to tell a less than cheery tale. They get defensive. They mention exceptions. Commenters are particularly angry about the author apparently taking on “victimhood” status.
You think you had it bad? . . . when I was a kid, I wished I was adopted . . . maybe your depression was inherited from your biological parents and has nothing to do with being adopted . . . what’s the big deal? And, of course, what is the alternative to the way things are now?, a difficult, perhaps impossible question to answer.

The article and its miasmic haze of comments brought another salient, universal question to mind: why is it so hard for us to listen to each other?

This song is what was playing on my internal soundtrack as I finished this post. Somehow it seemed appropriate for something I wrote in (quiet) honor and protection of my mother, a baby boom adoptee from the era of The Girls Who Went Away.

Image from
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