writing to survive
. . . only the retelling counts

While still above ground

I used to post about the boy more frequently, but it turns out he’s a pretty private person. So I talk around him. Blog posts become more general, the images more disguised. Facebook shares are limited to the occasional photograph. There are more pictures of kittens than the kid on my accounts these days -- pets have no right to privacy, after all.

This means the specifics of our conversations are often off the record, which is a shame because those talks can be wonderful, and I know the days of openness are fleeting. Adolescence will someday blanket our attempts at interaction with silence, the conversational flow dammed by hormones and the development of independence. But maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe It will help that we listen to him, that we’re not authoritarian but authoritative in our parenting style. We don’t dismiss, we discuss (when appropriate). Knowing we are not making decisions out of the blue and that we take his thoughts and feelings into consideration, the boy tends to not only listen to us, but to talk. Mostly.

Our household is not a dictatorship. There’s a lot of negotiation in this space.

We’re not all loosey-goosey, however. Although we are flexible and definitely not punitive in the face of undesirable behavior, there are consequences if something doesn’t happen in the way it should. We have limits. But just as I believe everyone deserves a voice, I don’t believe in shaming or hurting someone as a way of encouraging positive or discouraging negative behavior. I never want the boy to think
he is bad. Really, I don’t like to think in terms of “good” and “bad” in general (with some big exceptions). Kids (and adults) do things for reasons, even if those reasons are questionable or indirect -- why not find out what is going on inside before cracking down?

In my family growing up, “discussion” consisted of screaming and mutual nastiness. No argument was ever settled and the punishment, meted out by someone who was stressed and unsupported, often did not fit the crime. I am grateful to be breaking that pattern. It helps that my husband and I are in a different place in life than my mother was. It helps that the boy is mellow and not prone to acting out. It helps to have enough money. It helps to not be depressed or totally isolated.

Circumstances, luck, and having enough time to think and heal from the past can give freedom from it. And even in those days of no-holds-barred fighting and impossible sanctions, my mother and I talked. Maybe the boy won’t go underground, or if he does, he will return to the surface eventually. All I can do is hope, enjoy what we have now, and resist the urge to write too many posts about him. After all, it’s his life, too.

Image: The boy in his Halloween disguise.

desperately seeking rachel

Found on a bulletin board outside a Berkeley tot lot. Part of me wants to gently poke fun at it -- the wide net kyle casts, his freeform, punctuation-lite approach to writing, the fine line he travels between romantic and creepy, depending on your viewpoint. Another part of me feels for the guy. kyle is clearly desperate to track down rachel. Then I wonder if something serious is going on -- why is it “very important” that he find her?

Berkeleyans -- be on the lookout.

Tangled up in words

I have occupied vast acres of silence this week, huge, rolling tracts of quiet that I felt compelled to fill, bringing in clusters of workers to pour foundations and frame in the houses that rest upon them, digging trenches for pipes, planting thin nursery trees in dusty, fill-dirt laden front yards.

Excuse me for my metaphor, but sometimes phrases tell more truth than facts. Directness is overrated. After several days living in punctuated silence, long lulls spent with one cat or another on my lap, staring into space, thinking and writing and discarding even the polished work, I don’t want to tell you how it is.

But here’s how it
was: I went with the family on an outing. I finished a take-home test. I cooked salmon with a chile glaze and threw together an apple tart for dessert. I co-facilitated a faux process group. I watched the 1980 movie Ordinary People with my family therapy class. I talked with my stressed-out grant-writing/presentation group research methods class teammates. I wrote about the holding space created by therapists for their clients. I waxed philosophical on privacy and the sordid things we can sometimes find when we overturn rocks on the internet, the creepies and crawlies I wish I had never found and the ones comforting in their creepiness, making me grateful to no longer be under the spell of the Svengalis of the past.

I got tangled up in words.

Type, type, type. Delete. Delete. Delete. And in the process of writing this, I almost deleted “huge” in that first line, bothered by its allusion to
Monty Python’s euphemism for large breasts and decided to keep in “Svengali” despite what I just learned about the antisemitic underpinnings of the character. I want to get everything right. I don’t want to offend or tip off or misrepresent. And I am tired of the dominant paradigms about women and those who are discriminated against in one way or another and seeing how language makes a difference, which ties me up in linguistic knots, just like that take-home test with its operationalized variables and sampling methods.

This post is the middle path, the only one I can take at the moment, perhaps obtuse, but less labored over than anything else that’s come out of my mouth or fingers this week. So I end yet another post with a sentence starting with “so” and listen to the Bob Dylan song it brought up, my mind an amalgam of allusions, bouncing from one referential thought to the next.

Image is “Tangled up in Sheltowee,” a painting by John Lackey.

Where's the quick fix?

I go to therapy every other week now. It’s an insurance (or in this case, a no longer covered by insurance) thing. Sometimes life intervenes and a month passes between appointments. Over the lackadaisical summer, with its vacations and breaks, the appointments became episodic catch-up sessions. Between those and my general stability, I considered stopping therapy altogether. As long as I didn’t trip on the loose ends -- and I am a good little dodger -- my life felt functional.

Then school started. The loose ends became more frayed, my ability to dodge them hampered. Graduate counseling programs often force you to deal with your own shit, even if you’ve been dealing with that shit for a very long time. Things come up. Anxiety forms and grows. Most weeks I don’t get out of my family therapy class without swallowing down the tinny taste of suppressed sadness or using a wadded-up tissue to dab away tears at least once. This is hours after my group counseling class, where we spend half our time in an actual process group, anxiety occupying a place in the circle, often dogging me (and others) in anticipation the day before.

Groups bring up stuff. Being asked about one’s family of origin does, too. What do you do when it won’t fit back into the box you packed it up in?

In my case, I carry that overflowing box with me for a couple of days, wandering around in an enervated haze. I feel the reverberations of my mine-laden Monday, attempt to integrate new knowledge, try like hell to accept the messy process of change and recognize what counts for healing. Not that it’s really so conscious. It’s mainly an amorphous, irritating, funky feeling, where it seems like I have no reason for being so slow and preoccupied. And then I remember: I’m carrying this (*^$# box around. How can I repack it so that it never pops open again?

So everything is on the surface right now, accessible with a memory, with an in-class exercise, with a question that inadvertently hits a sore point. I so want a quick fix. Somatic psychotherapy. EMDR. A visit with an intuitive. I want to tape that box shut and store it away. I want to feel everything and then be done with it, have my body reunite with my mind in a shotgun wedding, till death do they part. Failing that, I want to grieve what I can never get back and move forward from there, knowing that my feelings are legitimate, signs of life, lines of connection to myself and other people.

It’s all a process, with long lulls and sudden lumbering lurches forward. I’m strong enough. I’ve got the stamina to handle it. But I wish it were easier.

Image from Intentional Workplace.
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