I used to get really depressed around the holidays. My family is dead or estranged, and as the cultural scream that “family is everything” reaches its annual deafening pitch, I have often found myself feeling defective. I spent years in therapy trying to evaporate that self-image, and I have made enormous progress. So now, at the age of 62, I can honestly say I have what I’ve always wanted—a mostly peaceful contemplative life as a single woman. But still, around the holidays, that gets challenged by media and social media's lauding of the idealized family. So I wondered, what is true statistically? Do most Americans have great families where they love and support each other? Is “happy” the American family norm and am I some kind of an outlier? Read More
Notes from a Crusty Seeker
“We dance round in a ring and suppose / But the Secret sits in the middle and knows,” wrote Robert Frost in his poem “The Secret Sits.”
“Let me tell that one again,” spoke actor Gordon Clapp in his mesmerizing performance of A. M. Dolan’s play Robert Frost: This Verse Business, and he told it again. I’m glad, because I needed an instant replay to really hear it. And I needed to see Gordon as Frost a second time; I’d seen the play once before as a workshop. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing and hearing it several more times, because like a great teacher or a great story or a great voice, the “stuff” of this play and performance is simply too rich to absorb in one sitting.
Two years ago I wrote my little book Conversations with Mom: An Aging Baby Boomer, in Need of an Elder, Writes to Her Dead Mother. When you’re young, you imagine that when you get older—or old—you will no longer need elders, mentors, and teachers. Our culture tells you that old people are supposed to be those characters and, as such, nurture the young’uns. Unfortunately, this is not my experience; in my experience, as youthful hubris diminishes, you need elders more than ever. And even though I wrote my little book and gave myself an imagined elder, I still need wise, old rascally men and patient, compassionate, funny women to nurture me as I sometimes float like a lost blob through this thing called life. Read More
I could not wait to get my hands on a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, and I’ve not been disappointed.
David and Goliath is a book of both hope and experiential instruction for everybody who has ever felt like an outsider. Like Gladwell’s other work, it attempts to shatter assumptions and therefore expectations about who will succeed and why. However, taken in a context that includes some of the revelations of Outliers, this new book expands rather than shatters our notions. Because my primary interest is people rather than assumptions about class sizes and more amounts of anything being better than less (there’s plenty of that in this book), I’d like to focus on the outsider people aspect of the book:
Through copious footnotes Gladwell takes pains to clarify that his misfit and underdog success stories are not always the rule: lots of illiterate people with dead parents and lousy childhoods end up in jail rather than lawyering or doctoring.
Outliers illuminated the fact that when highly intelligent children who have been given guidance and nurturing are compared in adulthood to those who were not guided and nurtured, the non-nurtured adults are akin to a different “species.” Where the nurtured children become thriving successful adults, the equally intelligent non-nurtured ones can barely navigate life and live on the edges of society. (And I use “non-nurtured” to include people who were not only neglected but who were hurt and invalidated.) Read More
What Eat Pray Love did for educated women with unhappy love lives who plunge into spiritual abysses, journalist Katie Hafner’s memoir Mother Daughter Me does for rootless educated women with abysmal, possibly alcoholic, mothers. As adults, these women—these daughters of abysmal mothers—can be sandwiched between being mothers themselves and repairing the damage wrought by formerly nightmarish mothers whom they now want to care for.
In a riveting therapy session in a chapter called “Dam Break,” after Katie’s mother tells the therapist a simplistic version of how she lost custody of her children, Katie finally bursts:
When we were first taken away from her . . . it was a full two years before she officially lost custody . . . How could she have allowed precious years with her children to slip straight through her memory bank? . . . Resting my gaze on my lap, I start to tell the entire story . . . The entire time I’m talking, I am thinking that I don’t want my words to hurt her, that I want to protect my mother, to let her know it wasn’t her fault. At the same time, there’s no stopping me, because another part of me wants her to hear every word of this. To make her understand.
When Katie finishes her corrected version of the story, she looks at her mother.
Her face is a terrible crumple, her mouth forming the small breathless “O” people sometimes wear when hit with bad news.
“Katie,” she says. “I am so sorry.”
And with that she is telling me something else: She doesn’t remember.
If a musician composes music that he never sells, because he prefers “not to sell his baskets,” but instead he becomes an insurance salesman, resulting in nobody in his lifetime ever hearing his brilliance, can he still feel fulfilled and successful?
If actors perform a brilliant play about the essence of life, if they give their all, if the production is incontestably a work of great art, but only ten people come to see it, is it still worth doing?
If lungs breathe, if bodies throb, if a heart breaks, and there are only ten witnesses, does it even matter?
These are some of the questions playing ping pong in my cranium this morning after yesterday’s remarkable experience watching playwright Jessica Dickey’s remarkable 75-minute masterpiece Charles Ives Take Me Home. Oh, how I want to insert a comma after Ives, but I’ll respect her work. How could I not? This tour de force about a father and daughter, about music and basketball, about life and death and everything in between demands respect. Read More
I just know there are connections here. If I write about this week’s activity—or Quiet—perhaps they’ll come.
You see, I can’t stop being quiet. Maybe it’s the fact that I am contemplating Susan Cain’s magnificent exploration of my private experience in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. After a thorough analysis of the introvert’s talents and essential nature, which includes the ability to act like an extrovert sometimes, she explains the necessity for “restorative niches” following events of vibrant social behavior. I think I’m in such a niche now. Usually I consider my niches of doing nothing while lying on the couch in complete silence a private matter. But Cain says it’s not only normal, it’s healthy! It’s a physiological need of people who happen to process stimulation via big-time amygdala (brain) activity, which apparently is different from the way extroverts process the same stimulation. So don’t call me! I’m in a restorative niche. In fact I might stay in this niche indefinitely because I’ve been talking so extrovertly about Quiet. Read More
I wish you:
A Merry Xmas,
Good tidings and cheering,
But in end-year time of
Assessment and clearing—
In case you are one
Stuck on goals and achievement,
I wish you no fretting,
No tallies, but easement—
Of accomplishment worries,
Or legacy concerns.
I wish you this moment,
Where only life burns,
I wish you this moment,
To let go your grip,
And to feel the joy of
Of our shared time blip.
This morning, boomercafe.com published an excerpt on the subject of worrying about legacy from my book, Conversations with Mom: An Aging Baby Boomer, in Need of an Elder, Writes to her Dead Mother. It’s what I still need to learn, and I share it with you, in case you too worry about achieving and accomplishment. Enjoy the excerpt
There are no accidents. I first met Pamela Wible, M.D., more than four years ago at a publicity conference. I was there as managing editor of a magazine and she was on a long line of people speed-pitching stories to the tick-tock of a stopwatch. The main things I remember were that we greeted each other like old friends, her face felt like full sun on a perfect summer’s day, and I begged the woman with the stopwatch to give her more time because I knew what I was hearing was important. I wanted to know more about how she’d started a compassionate, patient-centered medical practice in Eugene, Oregon, and how other doctors could do the same thing, and how patients could feel cared for at a fair price. Although I can't remember exactly what Pamela told me, I do remember being absolutely certain that she was a revolutionary and I wanted to support her revolution in any way I could.
Jump cut to the present. I am no longer employed. I work as a freelance book editor. I have lousy catastrophic insurance, and I have just completed an odyssey that began with a month-long nightmare at a radiology center that treated me like a member of a herd and, with no information or face-to-face contact or returned phone call from a doctor, tried to steer me down a chute where some person—I know not who—would stick a needle into my left breast for unexplained reasons. I've never been a herd person, so I refused, dug in my heels, and in my best former legal secretary voice, wrote a letter protesting, among other things, their refusal to send me my medical report . . . resulting in the instant return of my records right before Hurricane Sandy hit. Read More
After years of paying insurance premiums for a high deductible ($2,000) plan that covered nothing but minimum preventive care appointments (meaning almost no lab tests) at a cost of around $500+ per month, I opted out of “Oxford’s good insurance” and bought a catastrophic plan from EmblemHealth that is available to self-employed people in New York City: $231 a month. And although I’m gambling that I will remain healthy and never have to shell out the $10,000 deductible, I figured Emblem is as good as my “good insurance” because it, too, pays for minimal preventive visits (even fewer lab tests).
Unfortunately, five months into my plan I did require a “sick visit.” It was May 3, 2012. There is a walk-in medical clinic nearby whose website says that a basic office visit is $150—even if you have no insurance. If you need X-rays or blood work or anything on top of just being seen by a doc, that will cost more, but unequivocally the basic charge is $150. Not only that, but they said they took insurance so at least my pay-out would go towards my $10,000 deductible. Yippee! Read More
Some writers grapple with being blocked; they spend hours paralyzed, gnashing their teeth, and downing large quantities of coffee, hoping to catalyze words with caffeine. Other writers can’t focus, can’t find the topic that maintains their interest, and they do everything possible to procrastinate putting fingers to keyboard. I don’t have either of those problems. I’ve made my living as a writer and editor for more than a decade. I love to write! And although I have periods of paralysis, I prefer to call them “pauses.” I trust that something is germinating and I believe it is my job to wait for it. My problem is much more pragmatic: selling my writing. Selling often involves talking, and talking about my work scares the bejesus out of me. Read More
Even though I’ve researched and sampled almost every trauma therapy there is, even though I’ve published stories about some of the amazing new healing modalities, even though I’ve experienced occasional instant releases from fear through EMDR and EFT (see more on these on my Art of Collapsing blog from 2009 and the attached article, Radical Change Through Radical Disruption), I was skeptical that the Thundershirt™ would calm my dog Maya’s terror at thunder, vacuum cleaner, and rain-on-the-roof noises.
“Pressure has been used to successfully reduce anxiety for many years for both animals and humans,” says the package copy. But $43 for a little grey cotton (55 percent), polyester (35 percent), and spandex (10 percent) garment with velcro-attached straps? Despite the fact that I was near-comatose from an all-nighter of futilely trying to wrap myself around Maya as she shook uncontrollably from the noise of rain hitting solid surfaces, I was reluctant to spend so much money. “You can bring it back within 30 days,” said the store clerk. “It works for almost everybody. Just make sure it’s snug.” Read More
Animal Teachings: Enhancing Our Lives Through the Wisdom of Animals by Dawn Brunke with illustrations by the amazing Ola Liola is one of the most versatile works of art I’ve ever laid my hands on, paged through, or smelled. Does that sound odd? If so, I’m glad. It emphasizes why this elegant 160-page paperback needs to exist as just that—a real book, not a digital something.
In marketing circles, it’s common knowledge that the most important thing about any book is its reader benefits. The benefits of Animal Teachings scream.
First and foremost it is a work of art—a reminder of what is possible when a writer, an artist, a designer, and a publisher decide it is important to do the very finest work they are capable of. Read More
1. Did you know that your heart has arms and legs? It does. The heart that we see in medical shows when a surgeon is saving somebody’s life is only part of the organ. The entire heart has long tendrils like tree branches that go down each arm and each leg. Imagine how amazing it would be if you could walk down the street looking at everybody through special X-ray–vision glasses that singled out the heart!
2. Super models are freaks of nature because, according to poet/anatomist/teacher/author/ethicist/renaissance man Gil Hedley, “our bodies are not symmetrical. Not even close.” They’re full of surprises and anomalies—like the most perfectly formed little ovary that looked like a miniature brain … in an 83-year-old woman who had donated her body so that people like us could learn something and maybe wake up a little.
3. It’s a well-known fact that New York pigeons smoke—you see them poking around sidewalks filled with butts, so who else could have dropped them? And lest you judge them harshly for stinking up the environment, just take another look—really look: See that pigeon taking off for the sky, tail feathers down, beak up, effortlessly defying our human body limitations and looking like a grey angel. I know this to be true because Gil Hedley showed slides of pigeons, both pre-smoking and frozen in flight, in his recent New York City intensive (which seemed to be over in about five minutes—blink, it’s eight hours later—really) at the Cantor Film Center, where about 120 of us packed into a tiny theater and were riveted, laughing, and grateful for what was really an indescribable experience of learning who we are through a mosaic of lecture, stories, slides, little movies, art, poetry, and Gil, Gil, Gil—who, in the course of a day, managed to gently and reverentially shatter all inhibitions, shame, judgments, and biases we humans walked in with. Read More
Not long ago, I blogged about anatomist/theologian Gil Hedley’s deeply moving new book of free verse,
Coming Into Form. Well, there's more:
Reconceiving My Body: Take Two, from the Heart is Gil's earlier book, a 147-page paperback — part memoir and religious philosophy debate and a lot of the most out-of-the-box brilliant thinking you’ve ever read about who and what and how we are what we are. There are so many reasons to read this book that it’s hard to know where to begin. But my personal most important reason is fun. It is very fun! Funny, engaging, interesting.
Now the more serious reason: This book may cause you to install a new inner teacher that starts out as Gil’s voice, but quickly becomes your own. I find myself hearing that voice in my head many times during the day —
• When I suddenly start stewing about political matters, I hear Gil/Me talking about the “perpetrator-victim” cycle: When you get into an anger riff, you are casting yourself as a superior victim. You are superior in your rightness, and somebody more powerful (otherwise why would you be angry?) is wrong. Just realizing what I’m doing seems to diffuse my completely counterproductive mind spasms.
• When I start berating my body for being what it is, or loathing some of the sensations of aging, or despairing about my genetic history, I hear Gil: “How you conceive of something has everything to do with how you behave with respect to that something.” If I’m conceiving of my body or my ancestral flaws as a burden, I’m probably not going to respect and be kind to my sometimes sticky joints or be grateful that modern medicine offers solutions that I cannot find by the natural means everybody assures me I should pursue.
• When I start feeling like I’m not enough, when I’m not doing “it” right, I think of Gil’s tumultuous experiences and mistakes, and if he is so clearly wonderful, then maybe I’m okay too. Read More