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I’ve been thinking to myself, thinking that I’m not ready for real life to start up again. Apparently my lizard brain thinks that the last two weeks of December are not real life. Dunno what’s up with that. It’s not like I have this starry-eyed notion of Christmas; most times I don’t even like it. I just don’t see the sense in wrapping something I’d rather just hand over with an “I love you.” I also don’t see the sense in waiting all year to give my husband things he’ll love. (He’s the same way. he brings me something cool a couple of times a week.) It could also be that recently Christmas has just been plain difficult and has lost its flavor for me. (right?)
Whatever the case, I’m glad it’s behind me but I’m dreading the upcoming weeks.
I am involved in several activities by design several months ago when I foresaw my state of mind. I’m not happy about that right now. It means I have to participate. Grand jury, Kiwanis, school, writing, quilting. No, I do have to. Of course I may choose not to, but integrity and responsibility require otherwise, which I knew would be the only things that would propel me forward. So I’m thankful that I know myself, but I’m a little short on truly appreciating it right now.
Here’s what I know, why I scheduled these things for myself back then: It’s when you least want to do something that you need it the most.
Case in point: I got hit by the don’t-cares on Wednesday. I’d gotten free tickets to the Book to Screen event at the Palm Springs festival for Tuesday and Wednesday. I was excited to go for a week, and I’d relished the movies on Tuesday–and now in retrospect I see that I avoided conversing with anyone beyond polite howdies. (Seriously. I skirted rooms and stayed close to the walls and avoided eye contact. )
Wednesday promised to be interesting, since authors and screenwriters would be talking about their work. My favorite stuff.
But Wednesday morning I lollygagged and waffled and I was struck by the sudden fear that I would get in a wreck to or from Palm Springs. I finally decided to GO around 11am, surprising my husband, who’d been certain I’d stay, given my ambivalence.
The series began in the morning; I got to Palm Springs at 1:30pm, in time for the fourth talk.
I went for two reasons: integrity/responsibility, and David Ulin. If you’re given $200 tickets, you use them. And David Ulin was moderating a talk on the film, Genius. I didn’t know if I’d get to talk to him, but I really just wanted to hear what he had to say at the symposium. (David was one of my main profs in my MFA program, and it’s his voice I hear when I write or edit.)
I told my husband that I believed I’d get something unexpected out of just showing up, and I did. The talk itself was brilliant and insightful. But beforehand, David stopped to talk with me for about ten minutes, and because of it my faith in myself reawakened. The fact that he took that time to connect underscored his words: What I have to say matters, and my writing resonates–our writing resonates–even when we don’t know it’s connecting with anyone.
I thought about this all day afterward. Why do our stories move others? I’ve been focusing on story more and more in my classes because I believe they move people beyond the superficial recognition of another human being to actual connection with who they are. That toddler in the back of the ambulance in Aleppo moved people in a way that event reportage could not.
What does it mean when something resonates?
I think it’s like your body is an echo chamber that reverberates when it hears a story that has the same emotional weight that the one you’re living has. It doesn’t matter if the stories are exactly the same. Tonally they’re the same. My mother-grief and fear about my missing son is the same as any parent’s grief and fear.
It always takes me aback when people respond to my ordeal with, “What I’m going through is nothing like what you’re going through. Yours is so much worse.”
No, it’s not.
There’s no measuring stick. If it’s ripping you apart it’s your own private hell. There’s no measuring one hell against another. The keen is the same.
That reminds me of a part in 13 Hours when one of the men paraphrases from the Joseph Campbell book he’s reading: “We carry heaven and hell inside us….”
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that we hold eternity in our hearts. So why not heaven and hell?
I found this interesting article about Shakespeare when I sought the exact *reference for Campbell’s quote:
In his greatest works, he strikes a chord with the essence of the human existence. Shakespeare causes us to turn our eyes in to our hearts and see there the greatness of man, and the horror that man can inflict upon the world and upon himself.
He makes us realize that, like his characters, we have a choice in what kind of person we shall be and that heaven and hell are not foreign concepts in our existence, but they are the consequences of our actions and how we live our lives. Heaven and hell are inside us, and are manifested in us as conscience and virtues. . . .
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. . . .”
The thousand natural shocks . . . .
The grief is part of the journey. The heartache. The silence.
Children are born to break our hearts. I’m sure I ripped my mother’s to shreds. Never meaning to, but still.
Because of this I understand and forgive and hope. I still fear so much that Jake is dead; every day I wonder, so much so that a callous has developed on the question.
On the way home from the symposium, traffic was at a standstill on the I-10 EB freeway in Indio because a young woman had fallen from the Jackson overpass. I’d Googled it while sitting there, and at the time I thought she had jumped. (I’ve since driven under the bridge again and can see how someone could fall off.) When I thought she’d jumped, I wondered if the victim had had anyone stop for her when she was alive. And then I thought, with fierce gratitude, that just that day, David had stopped for me. That act will resonate in me for a long time to come.
Here’s what’s resonating in me right now, and it ain’t cheesy. I love the first question. I’ve been saying it a lot lately.
*Campbell’s quote comes from The Power of Myth.
You can find more info on Bill Moyers’ website: http://billmoyers.com/series/joseph-campbell-and-the-power-of-myth-1988/
The last few weeks have been exceptionally difficult. Does it have to do with the holidays? I can’t tell. If I could just ferret out why I keep finding myself on the edge, I think I could control it better. You know, not tip into the abyss.
I hate having this continual ache because now it seems normal.
I found myself searching ditch banks on my way home from work a couple of days ago. On the way to work each day I see the Calexico cemetery along the way, and it normally doesn’t elicit an emotional reaction, but that day I remembered searching the cemeteries for his body throughout May, thinking maybe his body had not been discovered. Before class. Ugh. Mondays are just difficult. I got it together and was fine till I drove home, and there my brain was, on the ditch banks.
I don’t know what the trigger is. What’s the switch? If I could find it I could duct tape it off, right?
My son is still missing. No one I know has heard from him, and his Facebook account shows no signs of life that I’m aware of.
There’s this tension between dread of knowing the truth and grief at not knowing. Occasionally I find the sweet spot of peace in knowing that this is part of life, suffering is, and that I am not alone, and that I can do meaningful things in the meantime. I give away books, I quilt, I teach, I write.
And other times I forget.
Today I realized afresh how fleeting life is, and how thankful I am to have today, to have irons in the fire, to have things to look forward to. If you’re in my life, I’m thankful for you, too.
The last week has been particularly difficult. I’m thrilled and relieved to be back in school. But…I have to drive past Denny’s every day that I teach. That Denny’s where I last saw my son months ago.
I had a delayed reaction to that on Monday. I got past the Denny’s without going into the abyss, but when I got to class, my brain short-circuited and I forgot my password to Blackboard.
I forgot my password.
I don’t think I’ve ever done that in the time I’ve been teaching.
My husband graciously rescued me, but I lost at least an hour of class time, and I never did recover my scattered brain cells.
On Tuesday, my reaction was in real time and I had to delay going on to campus till I could compose myself. My brain was stuck on him being somewhere out there, in the midwest, maybe, wandering around, not okay, but surviving somehow. Wandering. I’m stuck on the wandering.
Thursday was better, probably because I’d already been to Kiwanis and my brain was busy. (See? Busy-ness works.)
Today, on Postsecret.com, I saw this:
My son kept giving things away, and he kept assuring me, you know, that he just didn’t need them. I asked many times. Begged him to go to behavioral health. Get help. Talk to someone. Anyone. He’d agree that he needed help, but was convinced he’d never find his way out.
I know his body hasn’t been found, but this fear is lodged deep inside me. It’s always there.
Staying busy helps me remember that there is more to life than this bright red scream in my head.
I have grading to do, books to give away, meetings to lead, walks to take, Pokemon to catch, kittens to cuddle, books to write.
Someone asked me where Day 1 was of the Blog of Missing. I started with Day 20, which is kind of a let-down, right? Where’s the beginning? There should be a Day 1. A way to find the genesis of the heartache.
And there should be words for every day of the missingness. We’ve got all the feels every day, and by we, I mean everyone who misses Jake. A post a day keeps the insanity at bay (except there ain’t no sanity clause….)
I don’t know exactly when Day 1 is. I know the first day he left.
I know the last day someone thought they saw him.
I know the first day, approximately, that I started worrying about him before he disappeared.
I know the first day he stopped talking to me three years ago.
I know the day he started talking to me again. And the day he said he forgave me and that he had been mad for dumb things.
I know the day I dropped him off at Denny’s.
I know the last day he called his dead friend’s phone.
I know many significant days.
Which one is the first?
Today marks 118 days since I knew he was safe, had shelter, and he was talking to me. Now I have hope that he is not dead. I don’t know about shelter, I don’t know his mindset, and I don’t know that he’s safe, but it’s comforting to feel mostly sure that he’s not dead.
This summer two people approached me to ask if I’d been checking Jake’s Facebook. When I said no, they told me that their messages to him in Facebook had been read by someone. I myself have seen that twice. I dismissed it because I believed (and still do) that Jake had sold his laptop. I figured someone had access to his Facebook messages.
I have reason to believe he is at least alive and has access to his Facebook account because I used to be able to see his friends list, and now cannot. A person with access to his account would be indifferent regarding privacy, I think.
You know as much as I do.
I can extrapolate a lot from this info, but I’ve learned I’m usually wrong about stuff when I do that. Too many assumptions.
This. It’s where my head’s at.
I’ve found a website that offers help to those who have been reported missing:
THE MISSING BLOG: HELPING YOU SEND A MESSAGE HOME
Here’s what the page says:
You might not be ready, want or be able to return home at this time, but still want family or loved ones to know you’re okay. You could be scared of how they might react or be worried about a difficult situation you left behind.
It can be very hard to make that first contact or find the words you want to say to someone, for a range of personal and individual reasons. That is why we have developed our Message Home service.
Remember, we won’t disclose your location if you don’t want us to.
Simply talk to us and provide us with information that will help prove your identity to the person we are passing the message on to, such as your date of birth or any memorable information. We will then get in touch with your family and ask if they’re willing to receive a message from you.
After, they will also be given the opportunity to pass a message back to you and we will check with you first to make sure you are willing to receive the message.
We will never pass on abusive, harmful , threatening or upsetting messages between family members or messages regarding legal or financial matters.
Want to talk? We are free, confidential and available 24/7.
Call or text 116 000
You can text us even if you have no credit left on your mobile phone.
Here is more general information for someone who is missing: http://www.missingpeople.org.uk/how-we-can-help/missing-adults.html
If you are reading this, know that there’s help available, and it’s okay if you don’t want to pass on a message. I love you.
101 days. No word. I still don’t know where my son is or if he is okay. I am thankful for people who ask about Jake. Please don’t stop.
I’ve been dragging my feet about posting because it means I have to unbolt the hatch to the compartment where overwhelm lives. Overwhelm is a troll and he gives me the willies.
Today I did a DNA swab, something else I’ve been dragging my feet about because of what it means. It means I’m traveling a landscape littered with dry bones, scoured by dusty winds that leave your eyes scraped and gritty. This desolate country is no place for mothers.
Today the troll is my shadow.
We walk on because we must.
I pray that Jake is, too.
Sometimes I only have a scent. Ivory Soap. Pine sap. Old Spice. It’s faint, like an afterimage, as Atwood writes in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Other times, I catch a memory when I noodle about something peripheral, like the weather of my childhood.
And other times, I am knocked into a pit by something that happens, like my son telling me he will not be seeing me again. As of this writing, I am 18 hours and 40 minutes from that revelation, and all I can think is, ‘if I’d known it was the last time I’d see him, I’d’ve lingered over dinner. I’d’ve drawn out the conversation, which would have been easy because our conversations have always been interesting. I’d’ve found some way not to be the mother who drives him crazy.’ Okay, nix that last one. I actually don’t know how to do that.
(He is not suicidal.) (And he doesn’t read my blog.)
There’s more to it. There always is. But that is not what this post is about. This post is about how present events harken back to old wounds.
I often identify old hurts by rooting around in the new ones (when I have the clarity to do so.) Today, in this fresh hell, I can identify the pain of many old things, but I will name only two:
1) giving my son up for adoption almost three decades ago, and
2) my mother washing her hands of me when I was 11, and again when I was 19.
So my next question for myself is, which pain am I feeling?
Here’s the thing: I have seen enough of life to understand its cycles. The grownup in me knows that nothing stays the same. So the enormous pain I feel is not just about my son walking away.
So what does this mean? How does the current issue illuminate the past hurt?
I see that by linking them I am telling myself the old story of abandonment, and that’s a story I’m done with. Being abandoned means I have no power. I’m not an abandoned waif, I’m a grownup, and I will not be undone by grief. I do leave my arms open for him should he return. But I also accept that it could be years, even decades, before that happens, if at all. My mother was dead ten years before I understood some things in our relationship, things about her.
I’m writing this because I am devastated and I have to work through this or go crazy. I have to be back at work on Monday and I can’t be dissolving every time something reminds me of my son. I have to see some meaning.
Still working on that.
What I do know is that I can model the grace I now recognize for myself. I can be thankful that he has new-found faith and that he is seeking his own right path. And I can trust that everything will be okay. Mostly. Still working on that, too.
“According to Jungian Jolande Jacobi, in psychic inner reality the archetypal Shadow is a symbol for an aspect of the self (1959). When we cannot find a way to work with our shadow through our dreams or in other ways, it becomes a symptom in our outer world. ” From http://www.eupsychia.com/perspectives/defs/shadow.html
In the compilation of shadow essays called Meeting the Shadow, M. Scott Peck writes,
“If evil people cannot be defined by the illegality of their deeds or the magnitude of their sins, then how are we to define them? The answer is by the consistency of their sins. While usually subtle, their destructiveness is remarkably consistent….
A predominant characteristic, however, of the behavior of those I call evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at anyone who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection….
Scapegoating works through a mechanism psychiatrists call projection…. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad….
Strangely enough, [they] are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil. The problem is that they misplace the locus of the evil…” (178-79). (see here for more info on the book)
I think that when we cannot accept a certain aspect of our selves, we are then on hyper-alert for that aspect in others. This is why politicians and other public figures should shut up. I’ve lost count of how many prominent figures have loudly decried sexual misconduct and then have been found guilty of that same “sin.”
We are loudest about what we hate in ourselves.
And the only way to combat this effectively is to accept those parts in our selves which cause us to be ashamed.
But we can’t if we don’t have a safe space to be vulnerable.
So not only is the accusing person hiding secret shame, he is in an environment which fosters such deceptiveness.
Where is grace?
Why is grace so difficult to give?
I’m noodling on grace because my mother was unable to receive it.
And because of that, she couldn’t give it.
I wonder if that is true across the board. If you haven’t ever received unconditional acceptance of who you are, right to your marrow, can you give that to anyone? If so, how?
I am also still formulating what my definition of grace is.
I experience it on a daily basis from my husband. I make mistakes. I get psycho/neurotic/depressed–and there he is, accepting that I am in a particular space, but I am still the beautiful girl he adores. This means, usually, that he walks with me through that valley all the way through to the other side.
Humility. That’s the key to grace.
And you can’t be truly humble if you don’t accept all parts of yourself, and you can’t accept them if you can’t see them, blinded by pride as you are.
This week I’m reflecting on all the ways I experience grace, and I’m looking for it in Mama’s life, too.
I wrote a little about Shenpa in 2012, but I didn’t have a lot to say because, while I recognized it, I didn’t really understand it. I’m not sure I do now, but I’m going to write about it anyway. I’ll share the same quotes:
Shenpa is what Pema Chodron calls the hook. We each have different hooks but we all get hooked by attachment to outcomes, expectations, or regrets. It is emotionally painful and we suffer. Whatever the hook is, I have to let it go. I must remember that 100 years from now when I am dead and gone, it truly won’t matter. It won’t be important because all my actions will be in the past. Just as they are now while I am living, from moment to moment. Why hold on to the negativity? What matters now is being kind, forgiving and loving towards myself and others. ~ Loran Hills ♥
I was just telling myself this yesterday: next year, it will not matter, these hurt feelings. I will be over them because my perspective will have changed. So why not fast-forward through the struggle and forgive NOW? Trust that my perspective will eventually have more understanding, that even if I don’t have it now, it will come, and I will not have caused more damage with resentment and hurt? Why hold on to it? Why am I attached to the hurt?
I don’t know why I’m attached to hurt feelings. I’m less so now than ever, but still. I recognize that staying in that space is a choice, and all I have to do to get out of it is to ask myself how much I want to be happy.
Here is an everyday example of shenpa. Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens— that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place— that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you—they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child— and, shenpa: almost co-arising.
Trying to root out shenpa is like trying to force a paradigm shift. You know you’re in a box, but you can’t find a seam to force your hand through.
It’s an irresistible itch. You get that your partner didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, and you get that in the grand scheme of things it’s insignificant, but those hurt feelings…they’re more comfortable than happiness and peace because they’re familiar. You know what to expect, and the hurt fits the paradigm of abandonment and neglect and disillusionment.
Never mind that it’s been YEARS since you were abandoned.
I think shenpa is like the old rusted bike that got leaned against a sapling and was left there for the tree to grow around.
The only way to dislodge that bike is with an axe and chainsaw, and then you destroy the tree.
In dislodging that hooking point, it’s necessary that some part of ourselves is destroyed, but it’s only the part that doesn’t serve for the good.
I became aware of the tightening during my various attempts to quit smoking. I was trying to figure out why I smoked, and I discovered that I did it to shut my mouth. Better to inhale poison than to say what I thought. I was afraid that if I quit smoking, I would offend everyone around me when I said what I thought.
I quit smoking over a year ago, and I’ve offended people and I frequently wish I was more skilled in diplomacy, but I’ve also learned that not speaking is my choice,not something I have to force myself to do.
I’ve given myself the same permission to speak that I gave my children.
You know how in movies when a mother is hiding from the enemy and she has her child tucked tightly against her, and her hand is on his mouth to keep him from crying out? I think that when Mama silenced me when I was little, in some ways it was for my protection. This is how we do things in this family. We do not say what we think because it endangers us because the adults react. The tightening is both taught and embedded in us at an early age.
I will have to come back to this again.
I’m very interested in your thoughts about this shenpa….
When I was little, my mother read fairy tales to me. She never read stories about fainting princesses who languished until a handsome prince rescued them. She read Little Red Riding Hood to me, and Hansel and Gretel, and Babes in the Wood. When I learned to read, I read them every night before bed. In a way, these fairy tales and others were harbingers of what lay ahead for me, although I didn’t consciously connect any of the stories to my life, not even later, when life events mirrored parts of the stories. I had zero sense of impending doom. In retrospect, though, it seems it was all spelled out to me in the stories, and later, in the books that I loved.
Of all the stories, Babes in the Wood is the one that has resonated most strongly in me. It is a story of abandonment with no rescue, which reminds me of something my mother wrote me when I was in foster care and I had just learned that the father I’d never known existed lived in Oregon: Stay away from Twinkies so you don’t end up fluffy, and remember: no Prince will ride in to save the day. Not even your daddy.
I wonder if messages about my family’s history were unconsciously transmitted via folktales. The children in Babes in the Wood were left to die in the forest. Five of the six children of my generation on my mother’s side were put into foster care by their mothers. I’m not sure why my little brother made the cut, and I’m not sure he fared better than the rest of us, after all.
Mama’s nonchalance–hell, her outright silence– about the story’s ending baffled me for many years. Now I think that it was like a bad smell you get used to after you’re exposed to it for a while. It was her own reality, after all: her parents put her and her two older sisters in an orphanage when they hit adolescence. Other families sent their children to boarding school, or to summer camp. Ours sent the kids into the wilderness. (Fortunately for the parents of both generations, none of us followed the path of Oedipus.)
Yeah, I did therapy. Started with group therapy–safety in numbers. Grew brave after a year–and by that point, desperate–and started seeing a therapist by myself. The prevailing sentiment then was that people who went through therapy came out psycho. My Nana, for example, was very worried for my mental health because I was hashing up things that were better left buried. I should mention here that it was her son who molested me.
When I entered therapy, I was aware only on a superficial level that my perspective was shaped by my childhood. It seems obvious now, like how we marvel that the Columbine parents and teachers didn’t see the massacre coming. I didn’t know, for example, why I was indiscriminate in my sexual relationships before I got married. Conversely, I didn’t know why I felt guilty when I didn’t want to have sex with my husband. I didn’t know why I felt so ugly, even though people told me I had beautiful children who looked just like me. And I thought there was something wrong with me that I felt so crazy around my family.
My take on the new person who emerged: Yup. She was psycho. She went in psycho, and came out a new and improved psycho. She was missing some of her cogs for functioning in her family machine. She forgot her role. The cliche is scapegoat; I reject that. I like black sheep, and not for the obvious reason. Farmers put one black sheep in their flocks for every 100 white sheep. That way they only have to count the black ones to know how many sheep they’ve got. I think the black sheep is the one who carries the story of the flock. A friend told me once that families will often send one of their own out (by way of shunning) in unconscious hope that that one will bring back the elixir and heal the family.
I don’t know if I care enough to bring back an elixir. This may change with time. Or not.
The best I can do now is carry the tale.
to be continued
Telling a story from one’s childhood is not the same as excavating it. One may think that simply writing out a vignette from one’s childhood addresses issues plainly, but it ain’t so.
Here’s the thing:
First you have to write out the memory exactly as it has been playing in your head for the past umpteen years.
Then you have to go back and fill in the sensory details: Was Mama’s apron black? Or red? Janey insists it was black, but you know it was red. Mental note: dig up old pictures, if possible.
Was music on the stereo? What color were the curtains?
Was the TV on? Were there toys on the floor?
How many people were in the room?
Dinner on the stove?
(Even if you’re in your bedroom, you can smell dinner, right?)
You’ve got to make sure you’ve got the dialogue right. You have to write that down to the best of your recollection before you can feel around the edges of the words for sharpness, or hidden meanings. And you can’t just go groping around smashing the dirt this way and that. You have to tread gingerly. And you have to use the right tools:
That flat shovel can lift an unbelievably thin layer of soil. The round point one is the tester–you know something’s down there, so you cut into the soil with it. (If you click on the picture it’ll take to to a right proper archaeology site :))
The flat shovel is what you use to lift each layer of the memory.
First layer: remember where you are in the memory. Where are you physically, where are you relative to the story, where are you in time?
Second layer: who else is there?
Third: What happened?
Fourth: What was said, and who said what?
Then you start digging with the other shovel and see what you over-turn.
There are some memories I’ve had to sneak up on, just like I would a wispy dream. I tell my brain that my fingers are just fiddling around on the keyboard, and I ignore any possible typos at this point because I’m typing like Stevie Wonder–my eyes are closed, and I’m leaning a little to the left because maybe that’s the way the car was going, and I’m swaying because I know Daddy’s got Johnny Cash on the radio and I’m trying to remember that empty lot on the corner that I liked to play in because I liked the texture of the greasy dirt on the bottoms of my feet.
After you write the bare-boned scene, ask yourself why it is so important. What holds the meaning for you? Why does it hurt to remember it? Or why does it make your heart burst with joy? Maybe you’re standing on the front seat of your daddy’s old white Pontiac, your small hand tucked into the collar of his shirt, and your face is snugged up under his chin where you can smell Old Spice and tobacco, and the memory holds both deep delight and terror, because you’re next to your favorite person, and you know he’s driving drunk…..