05 March 2014 07:30 AM
I’m holding off on raiding the chocolate cupcake stash in the freezer, feeling sleepy and slow and stupid, wondering at what point the switch was flipped and I decided that the frequent visits of a stranger were but idle curiosities, periodic drive-bys, a ritual de lo habitual. I once thought they held meaning, were emotional raids on someone else’s history, but now they seem like harmless interest, like someone following a soap opera or the sad high jinks of a minor, dissipated celebrity.
I know this person is out there. I know we’ve never met. And I know we are connected using the sticky syllogism of youth: if I had slept with him and he had slept with you, then hadn’t I in some way slept with you, too? We share an intimacy, a knowledge.
I used to be more intrigued by this commonality, as though it meant something beyond basic, wordless familiarity, the same kind of casual information that comes through a kiss from a stranger. There’s intimacy and there’s intimacy. This was no great love, no deep transmission of soul knowledge. This visitor and I are one feel removed from a grope against the wall in a firetrap bar I haven’t frequented since college.
I originally wrote “lighthearted” grope, but there was nothing light or of the heart about it. It was corrupt and ugly and within his heavy-handed grasp was a hatred of me and what I stood for, though now I wonder if this was a projection of my own issues with myself, my shaky sense of intrinsic goodness. I sincerely hope my wandering stranger has bypassed such contempt, but I am not sure anyone can with that gaze upon them. The contempt will just take longer to hatch. My advice is to cultivate patience and cautious observation, plan for the day the thick shell cracks.
Really – what do I know? Why do I care? The truth is, I don’t know and I don’t care much. But I am curious. And sometimes I like to acknowledge the truth, give a shout out. I know you are out there. I know we have never met. But the sticky syllogism connects us.
I don’t expect this to make much sense to most of you. But it was a fun and quick -- if not a little cranky -- write.
Image Some rights reserved by anselm23.
02 March 2014 12:35 PM Categories: Food
I made pancakes this morning, thick, fluffy things tender with blueberries. We ate them at the table, in our pajamas, the New York Times spread out before us, pretending it was the pre-wifi ‘90s or early aughts, except the boy was now a part of the scene, reading the library book propped next to his plate. The third weekend in a row of a hot, home-cooked breakfast, the paper, a sense of leisure on a winter Sunday morning – it had the feeling of a tradition in the making.
When the boy was smaller, I used to make pancakes every weekend, a recipe that called for rolled oats, yogurt, and whole wheat pastry flour. The cakes, about the size of a sand dollar, were tangy and rich, but eventually everyone tired of them and I tired of it all, of making food and playing house, of the scut work that belonged to she who wielded the vacuum and brandished the dust rag. I took about a five year hiatus from the tyranny of Sunday breakfast. On weekends, we ate in our usual disjointed morning fashion – me early and on my own, the boy and his father together while his father read aloud and I walked the dog.
One of the therapeutic interventions I use at my placement is a deck of cards called Bright Spots: Thoughts & Feelings. Each card has an illustration and a fill in the blank statement (e.g., My dad is . . . ; I wish my family would . . . ). One statement is about family traditions. As the counselor, I play, too, and this card always stumps me. Traditions? Well, the boy gets to open one present on Christmas Eve and then there’s, um, maybe that’s all, or maybe I’m missing something. Once again, what happens in the room with a client shows up the ambiguities and gaps, the subtle removals, in my own life.
I’ve written here before about the Sunday breakfasts I had growing up, the fried eggs, scrapple, and toast, the New York Times, the reading out loud of the magazine’s ridiculous real estate ads. At the conclusion of the meal, we would tap on our plates with our knives and call the cats so they could lick up what was left of the yolk and the crumbs of scrapple. The casual feel of those weekend breakfasts was entirely different from the oppressive atmosphere of dinner. Conversation was not required, so I did not necessarily notice the silence that my mother’s boyfriend broke only once I left the table. There was no alcohol, so gratuitous cruelty was less likely. The day was fresh and so were we, with none of the little hurts that would build up over the course of the day.
When I gave up making pancakes, I gave up on a positive connection to my past and present family. I gave up on a tradition and its re-creation. It took me a long time to get to a place where I could reintroduce the Sunday ritual and acknowledge the depth of my ties to what came before and what was right in front of me.
We have family traditions and rituals: opening the Christmas Eve present, eating dinner together every night, watching a movie on Saturday evening. And we eat pancakes every Sunday, though you never know – waffles could enter the picture at any time.
Title of the post taken from the Velvet Underground’s song, Sunday Morning.
Image of pancakes and syrup by me.
28 February 2014 09:35 AM Categories: The struggle redefined
Even as the deluge hits, as rain inundates the San Francisco Bay Area, I can say – I feel better! Maybe it’s an anomaly, a short-lived mood change, but I am going to go with it for as long as it lasts. The layer between me and the world has thinned, the thick velvet curtain has been swept away, the door has been opened and a fresh burst of wind has blown through.
Yes, I am using the passive voice. But why – did I not sand away at this layer myself, tug on the curtain’s rope, turn the knob of that door? Honestly, I do not experience these moods as active states. They wash over me, I am immersed, the shipwrecked soul who clings to a waterlogged, splintered plank and is sometimes tossed ashore by fickle waves. But it’s only once I’m on land that I realize how precarious my position was, floating out on an expanse of the unconscious, lashed by whitecaps, pulled by tides. And then a rogue wave pulls me from the sand and I forget what it is like to be dry all over again.
The metaphorical curtain between a person and the world, the sudden open door with its blast of wind, depression as immersion in a sea that represents the oblivion of self and joy: overused metaphors, all of them, though they exist for a reason. However, just as my mother always emphasized the active voice as well as the Oxford comma in her critiques of my writing (from elementary school onward!), she would now push me for ownership and fresh metaphor, a move away from cliché.
Have you ever seen heat, those distorted waves emanating from sizzling asphalt on a day of relentless sun? When I am depressed, my vision is no longer solid. The world melts in front of me. I can’t quite get back to the reality of it. The distortion is reality. But the feeling isn’t one of heat. It’s one of being defective, of being absolutely, incontrovertibly wrong as a human being. And depression is more ice than fire. It can feel like I am trapped under the surface of a pond in winter. The water is mud-clogged, thick, and cold. I cannot feel my body. I experience the world through a layer of ice, must interpret the intent and meaning of the indistinct shapes that shamble through my field of vision. Depression affects how I see the world, how I experience it. It is a color wash of grey over a fully tinted existence, an obfuscating lens that interferes with my ability to see myself and others.
But enough of depression metaphors. Although my external world is gray and wet today – with an occasional hint of blue sky revealed through thin cloud cover – my inner world is returning to its jeweled hues, its flawless sapphires, fiery garnets, and unearthly amethysts, its warm golds. I will soak up the color and hope I can remember what beauty lies within me the next time the light dims, the world goes gray, and I am enveloped in darkness.
Final metaphor edited from the original -- tip of the keyboard to the lovely Grace.
Image Some rights reserved by M.Markus.
26 February 2014 05:30 PM Categories: The struggle redefined
I just spent an hour transcribing less than five minutes of a session I audio-recorded yesterday, with fifteen more minutes of transcription to go. This semester, there’s no more of those mock sessions to be typed down and pulled apart – now it’s the real deal with actual clients. And I do not feel like I’ve gotten any better at the real deal. So I take my self-excoriating in small doses, five transcribed minutes at a time, and also hope that I get another signed consent form tomorrow which gives me permission to record a different client. Why put all my grades in one lousy, awkward basket?
Honestly, it’s helpful to record and transcribe sessions. It’s the best way to learn, to slow things down and get a second listen. Some sessions are better than others. Besides, we only have to record two this semester. Perhaps by the next one, I will have a treasure trove of amazing stuff – my greatest counseling hits! OK, that’s doubtful. But I might be able to be a part of something beautiful -- it’s happened before! -- if I can allow my true self to be present during these sessions.
I have an emotional roadblock that I let prevent me from moving forward. It’s an ancient and once-useful coping mechanism I’ve had the hardest time kicking, if I’ve even tried to kick it. If this coping mechanism had a slogan, a tag line, it would be Keep quiet and don’t show yourself. Good advice for those of us who got ripped apart on a regular basis, who learned early that quiet was better and stayed that way until we forgot we could speak.
Speaking is dangerous. What we say reveals our faults, our small uglinesses. It can get us in trouble. I’ve rediscovered part of my voice as a writer, where I can edit, revise, and delete, can take my time with the words. However, I need to find that voice in person, to be myself in the room with a client, to be spontaneous and free. I want to be authentic. Sometimes my voice is there, ringing true. But mainly it gets caught up in the protective tangle of my fears.
I’ve been pondering this for the past week or so and there’s no need to belabor it here. I’m at a strange point in self-awareness where I think I understand what is in my way. The next step is to take action, even though it feels like I’ve been taking action for the last two years. I’ve been putting myself out there -- kinda sorta -- and still there is this deep reluctance on my part to fully exist in the presence of others. But I’ll figure it out. I have to.
Image Some rights reserved by Thijs Hooiveld.