out of the woods

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Harbinger Bird

Natashia Deón is light. She has a tiny frame, but her laugh has serious heft. You feel it in your chest and want to laugh with her. She is aesthetically stunning; I could look at her face all day long and not get tired of it. But it is her soul that captivates and awes. She does not look at you, or through you, but into you. And she likes what she finds. She likes you, and she wants your story. And by golly, you give it to her.

Her novel, Grace, is the story of a runaway slave girl whose first words to the reader are, “I am dead” (1). This catapults the reader into a riveting story of mothers and daughters, a story that breaks your heart but gives you this: “What’s done is done. Ain’t no justice. Only grace” (186).  Buy it at Powell’s Books, or the independent bookseller of your choice.


grace cover

I had dinner with Natashia recently, and it struck me then that I did most of the talking. About my stuff. I remember thinking, wow, Stace, ask her something about her life. And I think I did, but it came back to me.

I am self-conscious about this, a little, but I forgive myself this time. I’m weighing it as a whole: she’d just spent an hour talking about herself, and about her book, before a large group of students at SDSU-IV. This is exhausting. One needs a break.  And my story is interesting, anyway.

I want to say I feel wry, but it’s more that I’m awry, and I should talk more about my stuff. But I’m caught in an in-between. Some might call it a rock and a hard place, but that denotes an inability to move between two hard objects.

My in-betweenness is ethereal; I move between two difficult choices regularly. Don’t talk about the emptiness of having a missing son and thus spare people from feeling helpless, or talk about it and empathize with their helplessness even while I am bereft of true connection. You can’t connect with people who simply feel helpless or sorry for you. They are there and you are here and that in-between space is impermeable. Unless someone knows how to get there.

Natashia sat with me in that space. I think she got there by talking about my writing. She was sad for my experience, but she was determined that I see that I must share it because the stories will light the paths of others. I told her that Babes in the Wood was a harbinger of loss in my family, and she said, “No, Stacy. You are the harbinger here. I see a beautiful bird with many feathers with strands of jewels hanging from it, and that is you.”

Now I am obsessed with bringing this harbinger bird to canvas and to writing pad, and I’ve done some research on kiwis, ostriches, and other flightless birds. Note: Natashia said nothing of flightless birds. She may be imagining a peacock. lol

I’m dismayed by the idea of comparing myself to a fat, flightless bird, although it is funny. Wry again.

I’m also dismayed that the term “flightless bird” is derogatory.

Look at this revolting definition from the urban dictionary:
“A passionless woman who, though superficially attractive and financially independent, is romantically unfulfilled due to emotional underdevelopment.”

However, through further research I uncovered the Inaccessible Island rail. Smallest flightless bird in the world and it lives on Inaccessible Island. What an amazing name.

And the Elephant Bird of Madagascar, now extinct.  A terrifying flightless bird. Also large.

And the cassowary which, according to one writer, has “a face perpetually frozen in an expression resembling that of a frat bro who just challenged you to a bar fight” (Gonzalez). Take me on, bro.

I like the idea of flying. ‘Flightless’ has heretofore seemed powerless to me, but now I think, no. Not powerless.

Consider another connotation of flight: Avoidance. Escape. Retreat. Evasion. Never mind that they’re all nouns derived from active, lively verbs and not one of those verbs is related to the soaring verb to fly.

Oh, how I have flown. But this kind of flight isn’t freeing. It’s not even really flying. Fleeing is not flying.

This kind of flight traps you in a loop. You run from what scares you but you can’t get far enough away to feel safe. There is no safe just like there is no justice. But life is as safe as we make it for ourselves. We have control over what we feel and how we perceive the world.  We create our experiences even as life thrusts uncontrollable events in our paths. Maybe Harbinger Bird has broken feathers earned in the fray and in the flight. Still beautiful, I say.

Stop and square off, says Harbinger Bird. (I hear this in the voice of Randall, who narrated the Honey Badger video.)

Harbinger Bird. I can dig it.
p.s. Natashia, I’m writing. Thank you.


Note: This flyer is posted after the speaking date.

grace flyer

Out of the Woods intro

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