|Read Me by Alice Popkorn - flickr|
Another unintended hiatus. 12 days this time. *Sigh*
The last one was grief-driven following two severe losses--the Rainbow Bridge crossing of my furbaby Merlin and the realization that it was unlikely a move back to the Rogue Valley Oregon to join my husband would take place before the fruit season began in August and his hours increased towards full time and thus would not happen before the holiday season was over.
Merlin got sick while I was still reeling over the May 11 anniversary of my last visit with Ed. When we finished packing up our house and Ed prepared to move back in with his parents while I returned with my sister to my mom's in Longview WA. An unwanted separation required to make me eligible for healthcare after his company took it away from us. [see early entries under Lifequake label for details: January-February 2013]
This 12 day hiatus was driven by a team of black horses named Guilt and Remorse whipped mercilessly by Shame. The triggering incident happened on the same day as the exhilarating coast trip that I posted about on the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 10th. The day I found Happy after running full tilt on the beach and splashing through the surf. It happened as the sun was setting while we were in the car traveling home on Saturday the 6th.
I seemed to be successfully putting it right through Wednesday the 10, when prepping my last ROW80 check-in, Toes in the Water. But that was an illusion created by avoiding thinking about the incident until I started prepping for the next check-in on Thursday the 11th for my Saturday night ROW80 post (a version of this one) in which I intended to share aspects of that incident directly relevant to ROW80 Goals. Revisiting the memory was like popping a nasty boil which foiled my attempts to write about it coherently.
The incident began benignly when my sister, Jamie, asked about my progress regarding my goals. I shared a few of my most recent triumphs, setbacks and insights, including the story I shared in Room to Run (ROW80 Check-in) that same weekend. In which I retold from memory an object lesson on time-management presented by a motivational speaker--the one about filling a bowl with big rocks followed by small rocks followed by gravel followed by sand...The point being that in order to fit in the big (most important or most time intensive) tasks they have to go on the schedule first.
At the end, my sister Carri, who was driving, chimed in with her concept of what constituted the big rocks--God and relationships topping her list. Jamie added self-care, understandable in light of her chronic autoimmune illness. Then Jamie turned to me and asked what my big rocks were.
I don't know whether it was because God, relationship and self-care had already been mentioned and seemed anyway to go without saying or it was because my mind was already on prepping my ROW80 for that night's post and thus my focus was on writing and the fact that for me writing had to be one of the big rocks. At any rate I listed writing first and went on to share the insight that I shared in that night's ROW80--that I needed to return to the early bird schedule and this time it really was for me and not primarily to please anyone else. Something that both my sisters had been after me about.
I also mentioned crochet because it was so closely tied in with the storydreaming for me and to my mind represented one of the only ways I had to gift others with something worth exponentially more than the small amount of cash I could afford to spend and because all the gifts I'd begun and never finished in the last two years were a weight of shame on my conscience. Though I mentioned only the tie-in with storydreaming.
As my enthusiastic relation of all of this began to wind down, Jamie asked if she could repeat back to me what she was hearing and I agreed. Within a dozen words though the balloon of my Happy, inflated by the romp in sand and surf, popped. For what Jamie had heard me say was that my hobbies topped my list above relationship and God and self-care. At that point my brain shut off my ears and I interrupted with a passionate "No! Stop!" with intent to make clear that classifying 'writing' as a hobby was completely misreading me.
Adding to my distress was the decades old nature of this misreading of me by my family and friends going back to my early teens and my assumption that Jamie was different. She was not a blood sibling nor had we been children together. She was the baby sister of a friend a few years younger than myself. I'd known her from age 6 when I was in my early 20s, and babysat her a few times. At age 13 she was orphaned and became a ward of my parents and my family had rallied around her soon accepting her as one of us. She spent a lot of time at my house throughout her teens and by the time she entered her twenties when we could relate as adult to adult she had become my friend and confidant and we called each other sister-friend.
Jamie didn't stop at my interruption, so neither did I. "Writing is NOT a hobby!" I shouted, focused only on the thought that her 'repeating back what she had heard me saying' was so egregiously wrong in its first phrase that nothing correct could be built on its foundation. Not only wrong but the use of the word hobby constituted a judgement, a prejudice against that which I identified as ME.
In the heat of that moment I had an epiphany and unlike myself did not withdraw to ruminate in silence on it but began expressing it, still talking over the top of Jamie. "Writing is my spiritual practice, how I relate to the Divine as I define it. Writing is my psychotherapy, how I relate to myself and discover who I am and what I stand for and what I want. Writing is where I work on my marriage and other relationships between face-to-face encounters. Writing is how I process all new information and experience. Writing is how I learn and how I share what I know. And anyone who really wants to know me needs only to read me!"
I did not get it all said nor as well said as the above before our exchange of 60 seconds or less had devolved with Jamie taking offence and raising her voice above what I could without loosing mine to accuse me of attacking her. And then my passion withered into weeping as it always did because of my childhood training that made all strong emotion other than tears anathema--the essence of disrespect. And I had just raised my voice to a shout with my mother sitting in the seat in front of me. An act that would have earned me the full force of her shaming tone between the ages of two and twenty if not the rare slap.
Jamie asked for a timeout. My parting shot as I turned to stare through blurring tears out the window was a mumbled, "I was happy. Why can't I just be happy? Why do I always get punished for being happy?" I doubt anyone heard me as I barely heard myself over the hum of the tires. But that set the tone for the next hour as I wept silently in the way Mom had taught me at age 7, holding my breath as all the muscles of my face exerted as for a scream or wail but keeping my jaws clenched against letting any sound out or displaying the 'ugly cry face'.
As I wept I flagellated myself over my shameful display, over abusing Jamie, and disrespecting my mother and all in all making a fool of myself. Intermittent bouts of self-pity had me bemoanig the impossibility of complying with the expectations of all those who cared about me, claimed to want more 'relationship' with me yet seemed unable to relate to what I saw as the essence of me. Not only did they equate my writing with leisure activities that should be relegated to the dregs of the day after all duties, obligations and commitments to others and self had been fulfilled, few showed any voluntary interest in reading my writings.
Jamie was the only one who had read nearly every story and partial story, every poem and essay and nearly every blog post and I'd shared my frustrations with this struggle with my family many times which made it so bewildering to hear her use the word hobby--the very attitude I'd been subjected to by my family since writing became an integral part of my life around age 9. Because of this I strongly suspected she'd been participating in one of those "What are we going to do about Joy?" conversations I'd overheard many times before I left home and then heard about via one or more of the participants over the years since.
I couldn't know it was true but it felt true enough in the moment to feel like a betrayal. And to make me feel isolated and unsafe and motivate me to crawl back into my shell.
The gist of these conversations [between my parents, between them and one of my siblings, between Mom on the phone with her mother, one of her sisters, my step-grandmother, or her closest friend] were that my style of relating to others that was shy on steroids, my inability to shift my attention from one thing to another, my plethora of phobias, my violent startle reactions earning the unwary approaching me from behind an elbow in the gut or a glass of liquid in their face, my emotional volatility between elation and despair, my awkward, graceless klutziness in both word and deed, my reluctance to make eye-contact, my serial obsessions, my hoarding of weird stuff, my perfectionism that preferred a fail over turning in unfinished assignments, my aversion to change and most bewildering of all my twisted inside-out sense of priority were all as alien to them as if I'd been transplanted from another galaxy. I was apparently the proverbial Changeling.
Since that night I've struggled with the fallout--the messed up ears and sinuses from the vigorous silent weeping, the shame and guilt and remorse, the second guessing of self, the withdrawal from social interaction, the endless self-punishment. Among the latter was a choking off of the writing urge.
As always the less I wrote the deeper my mood fell and the less I wanted anything to do with myself or anybody else. The less I wrote the more confused I got, the harder it became to find meaning in the daily drift, to find motivation to engage in any activity, to feel alive.
This is what writing means to me and even I can sense how alien that seems. But without it it is I, myself, who feels alien to me.
[Jamie, I know you'll be reading this eventually and I want to thank you for giving your permission to share publicly a story that is not mine alone. I wish to apologize again for my abysmal behavior that night and invite you to respond in comments or otherwise with any clarification or insight you might have had since that evening or after reading this. I love you my sister-friend.]