Artist – As Mother – As Artist

MOTHER/ARTIST DICHOTOMY: Are we first artists, or women destined to be become mothers by the biological yearning of our DNA? Growing up, I was told that a woman could not be both.

I was ARTIST FIRST.

I found my craft in suburban New Jersey in the 60’s and 70s. My mother mothered the cocktail party approach: children as show pieces for their guests — to be seen but not heard.

Women in their cocktail dresses, high heels and bouffant hair, and men in their suburban bread winner wear, professed about their wealth and stature, while the children looked on.

Mom’s purpose to marry off her four daughters (which she had in five years) set her on a course to make sure each little girl had the right skills for the corporate husband: right dress, right speech, right traditions and right sexuality. Wearing my first black dress at 12 began the process of rejecting all of that. I professed to never be like my mother. I proclaimed myself as an artist – not corporate.

As a result, I became the black sheep – literally – black dress, black eye make-up, and a lioness mane of black curls, stark against my three sister’s coiffed corporate republican mod daywear.

By the time I got to high school, I was an official outcast. My people and me cut school to listen to Parker, Mingus, Miles, or banged Thelonious percussions, spending days rambling in Beat-speak, or sneaking out for Zappa’s midnight show in the pits of Passaic N.J. — all of it — challenging my corporate mother’s mothering, who eventually declared I was unfit to show her friends.

Said my first fuck you in those years → a go-to phrase ever since.

Thinking my life in crisis, Moms sent me to “finishing” school. The John Robert Powers School of Modeling attracted rich kids who dreamed to walk the runways, or desperate mothers to give their ‘challenging’ daughters a leg up in corporate lifestyle. A 1950’s approach, instructors taught how to walk across a room with grace (yes, in a straight line, one leg over and in front of the other with a book on your head). They instructed how to apply make-up for different soirées, and most importantly, how to be interesting at a cocktail party with limited knowledge of current events.

Music became the portal out of that reality – the first craft.

My straitjacket upbringing gave way to non-stop improvisations, endlessly playing the piano, with the occasional respite reciting lines from Ovid’s Metamorphosis to whoever would listen.

By the end of my high school daze, I intuitively understood the following:

“Artists must learn a tradition to challenge it. [They] are products of their times and context. Like natural talent, the vision is innate. Yet the way that vision comes to fruition depends upon the artist’s time and place, the surrounding artistic tradition, training and life experience.”

After my junior year, I talked my way into a New York City College, and moved to 58th and 6th Avenue. Desperately, I sought my people on the bankrupt streets of 1976.

Although just 17, Mom agreed to pay the bill because it was college.

NY’s Gritty streets of ‘76, had rats, piss, more poor than rich, and opportunity shadowed by crime around each corner. I searched for collaborators at Max’s Kansas City, at the Circle Theater of Greenwich Village, in Harlem doing performance art, or at school creating dances for actors and then a chorus bit in Lysistrata.

I lasted about 6 months, and then transferred to Bennington College.

Moms glowed with pride her “kooky” daughter was legit. She believed saying to her friends “She’s attending Bennington College, cousin to the Seven Sister Colleges,” garnered a special type of adoration in her Woman’s Club. My acceptance gave her “pseudo” ivy league cred. She paid the bill.

In the hills of Bennington/Vermont, along the corridors of simple structures, my people gathered. We journeyed together, talking, partying, performing, partying, creating, partying, and discoursed existential philosophy with the likes of Camille Paglia.

Time flew by. The feelings of a limitless invincible future opened to our practiced crafts, and we boldly created “things.” After our liquid graduation, I sobered quickly.

I was pregnant. My world as artist – and mother – collided.

To be or not to be?

I always believed artists needed solitude and suffering to create. We existed in and out of relationships, wielding weapons to shield our vulnerability at becoming responsible or failing at surviving emotions. The “Hemingway Effect,” where alcohol, and all things created like it, drove my creative process.

My practice of craft, sitting meditations, became a trance like state, often enhanced by the debauchery, yet in some moments of clarity true enlightenment. For the musician, the actor, or the visual artist, the process of constructing a “thing” rests upon losing oneself deep into that creation: an unconscious process. The artist intuitively strokes the canvas, or hits the keys, or speaks from a place deep within, bringing the story alive. My music flowed out of my heart – through my veins – directly onto the keys. No deliberate thought in-between. If I cried, smiled or frowned, the sound, the words or the image in my imagination became absorbed fully in storytelling through my fingers.

Sandy Meisner referred to true talent as having a creative eye that could not be taught.  The it. “It.” The artist who has “It.” Being in the presence of “it” lifts us.

My mistaken perceptions believed, in some divine moment, I had an “it,” and Bennington’s breeding ground nurtured that “it” inside me. Graduating into Meisner’s study further intoxicated me to think something “it” lived inside and needed to come out.  How could I give all that up for a child?

I was too afraid to walk through the fire.

ARTIST AS MOTHER (REJECTED):

The aftermath of my decision to not be a mother became part of a suffering artist narrative lasting five years. My delusions believed at the expense of the child the artist would prevail.  It only led to darker places, like a needle in the haystack. Shuttering veins flatlined, but resuscitated in the end.

As I cleaned up, the unexpected happened. I became pregnant, again, but decided this time, the right time. Every person I asked — I mean everyone — said “You’re making a mistake.” Ignoring them, I became the artist as mother. I played my last gig at CBGB’s 7 months pregnant.

ARTIST AS MOTHER (Acceptance):

Poohkie was born the first day of spring with Baby Daddy right there beside me. Artists Bringing Up Baby!

The Dad, a messy artist, always worried about being kool and in the right place. The Mom, transformed by an OCD lens, cleaned and moved everything in its right place – order — all business — form and function — serious craftwork, nothing street.

I wanted my little girl to always make right decisions, and never make my mistakes. To make sure that happened, I went straight khakis, loafers, and nine to five teaching, ensuring all the resources (money) for success were in place.

Art as I knew it took a backseat — she was more important, and besides, the world didn’t want a mother artist on the road. Who would take care of baby?

Her Dad claimed I sold to the other side, and he was right. I became my Mother, classical straitjacket, while the Dad remained punk artist throughout his life.

Despite our divorce, Poohkie became the coolest cat – the girl other girls hated, but the boys loved and could trust. Never boring — always thinking in creative strokes. Life was art.

She had the eye at an early age. The “it” – the creative imagination. She is an “it” girl.

After her Dad died, so much fell apart. I had to be both business and artist for her, yet the artist was out of practice. Her graduation to adulthood left me longing for a long lost past. My life felt adrift. No longer care-taking the baby artist an obsession to create some “thing” creeped in. Turning 50 will do that.

The artist as mother as artist: my third leg.

Motherhood took me back to my mother’s mothering, and then I came all the way forward in a new way. I found empathy for my mother’s creative suffering, her mother’s stifling, and her grandmother’s stifling of her mother. My daughter does not fall far from this tree. We are linked by a creative DNA. She just happens to have double creative DNA from both parents. So here I am, returning to the stage  – different – seasoned – ready to hopefully make some kind of “it” happen by starting a company with my daughter as partner.

Yet my greatest artistic endeavor remains the parenting of my children; working toward accepting each different child as their unique self; passing on basic tools; and guiding them in finding their unique ‘creative’ voice in whatever they do. This gift steadfastly remains the most cherished.

The artist doesn’t stop with a change in how they ride. We take on new activities that reinforce our intuitive process. On this journey, I came to believe the following —

 

A Moment of Clarity

fingerprint

The room, the last office along the beige corridor, cornered to the right. Its windows, showered light that enveloped the walls. She sat in front of the windows facing me, while I faced the windows. The desk bore no personality, or ownership. Just semi-empty drawers occasioned by pencils, napkins, and salt and pepper pouches from a lunch long past.

I couldn’t feel my body. Still in dismay from their lies to get me there, my stoic body stared with wide eyes open. She asked questions, and I replied with calculated quips that at first strategized the best right answer to get me out of there, but then gave in. Leaving was not an option.

My mind raced with what had just happened.

Cringing from the betrayal, I craved satisfaction that would not come for quite some time. I needed sedation by the doctor’s remedy to numb the uncomfortable pain of transitioning. Sitting there, motionless, I wondered how my life came to this instance of reckoning: the end of a long road of running. It took endless seconds to realize this confrontation, between nurse and patient, marked an opportunity.

My addiction started long before the first drug.

Memories go as far back as when my little sister was born. Dad, taking charge of his three little girls, seemed overwhelmed, yet elated with welcoming his fourth. Each small hand holding the other sister’s hand waved to the hospital window above us. A shadow of our mother waved back, and we all felt special.

Having a little sister meant I had someone smaller than me to play with. I quickly learned that the specialness of being the “baby” passed to her. Now, relegated to the third out or four, I represented the child in-between: no longer the one cuddled and cooed over, or given full attention. All that hubbub came to its end, and a different self awareness awoke, unfolding to a darker, saddened worldview.

Little sister and I were a twosome pod in a family that grouped into twos. With six, this kind of compartmentalization seemed natural and effortless. As besties who looked to each other for companionship and compassions, I loved the idea of loving her and being loved by her. We pretended all the time: to be wealthy, talented, scholarly, and fashion forward.  But dreams don’t often manifest in real-world self actualization. Although a twosome, I always believed myself alone: distant and outside the group.

My daily growing up stared into the abyss of my parent’s 1960’s TV. No books. No conversations at dinner. Little time for connecting. My inner dialogue tethered to the TV sound track, which brainwashed my imagination.  Overtime, when I took to exploring deeper meanings from within, and mindful thought found spoken words, these meanderings met criticisms, or ridicules, from older sisters and their friends, who mocked and beat down any lingering confidence.

Craving a connection to hope, which I couldn’t imagine for myself, I believed that anything better existed beyond my reach at home. My sole purpose in finding a means to the end only led me down darker alleys with g-o-d centered smack as the elixir to open imagined doorways at dead ends.

I wandered off, looking for like minded fiends, yet craved fixing the damaged spirit. Some days happened without issue, but one day, I stayed away longer than usual. The return home only convinced me to leave for good. Moving to New York City, in the fall of 1976, marked the beginning of a ten year run. The beige room with the chair facing the windows marked the end of the marathon.

The nurse locked the doors behind me. She put the key in her drawer. She expected me to learn to live a new way of thinking. Although given this moment and many others to confess, leaving was not an option until I believed in a life without regret.

Reflection on Downtime

Photo on 7-20-14 at 1.09 PMNot sure how the times pan out as we roll along this republican joy ride; however I am sure of my feelings of depression, which sit in the very back row of my room, veiling forward over each conscious notion of hope.

To get thru the bleak flash that sneaks in during the day, I focus on putting one foot in front of the other, and not worrying in that very moment what is beyond where my feet stand.

The pall that hovers affects the way I interpret my life’s daily reflection. Today, questioning writing dirty tricks. Wondering why I ended up standing in this limbo spot; contemplating whether there is another spot I should be in: or should the conversation be something else which I cannot see or have been excluded from.

Am I a casualty of clearing the swamp of UN-notables? Should I be content with my mediocrity, and see my creative as just another self-indulgent grandiose hobby? The fear of fear plays tenacious tricks that never seem to let the thinking remain in any place of contentment. Stay on the move, traveling forward  thru the delusion to safe ground, is consciously to conscious.

I have to re-affirm that the next mountain is right around the corner, bordered by the sea of opportunity. I enjoyed sailing on the masthead with my spade flag, and want to continue the ride across unexplored oceans and byways.

Upon giving name to this angst, I realize my guttural voice – that which the stars aligned from inception – always there – was preserved by my years of neglect and brewing, and re-imagined and re-born by recovery from the debauchery. I try not to be afraid of myself, or worry about acceptance. But I worry anyway. In the end, my intellectualism understands that me is me; you are you; and they are the others. Yet only one sits in the chair and types.

Dear DA

Truth

The battle long ago, some twenty-six years in the making, came to an abrupt end when the door slammed behind me. Into the padded room, I stirred with my worst self. Delusional of clarity, being, and thinking, I laid curled in a ball on the floor with frightened conflicted tears wildly rage-full; while at the same time filled with a strange sense of relief.

In my memory’s glimpse, that moment represented all of my youthful self annihilation coming head to head with any glimmer of potential for a future. Straitjacketed by my bottomless self-centeredness, anesthetics removed, the chemical hangover lived larger than that other self understood. The long road laid before me. Choices.

The nurse came in and took me to another room with sunlight. She smoothed my crying spirit of angst and disbelief at being in this place. At this crossroad, self-centered blindness continued to shield my ability to see a future of any real possibilities beyond this captivity. My thoughts possessed only strategies to change the course on my appointed condition. However, as time slipped by, forced into seeing what I created, acceptance became the key to my freedom.

There was never a loss of a god. The edge of streets and late night harbors shadowed the very being of me and my spirituality. I didn’t know who I had become, and could not see any possibilities to change that broken girl. My life reeled inside my head like a cinema feature out of synch. Yet a presence always surrounded me. Something intangible. Like an invisible cloak protecting me from the demon, until one day, that safety disappeared. The end game was in sight, and that finale became the only possible end available to me.

Looking back at growing up without an intellectual voice to mentor me, subjected to Reagan suburban expectations, dis-ease motivated my search for something darker. I pushed to the edge of moving in faster beats, and shadowy tonal scales of percussive rhythms, and moved to New York City in quest of kindred spirits. Our street theater soundtracked by an alternative mix of 70’s back room tunes fed our revolutionary spirit against the tyranny-of-the-corporate-majority destruction of alternative arts. We launched MTV images of anxiety, dressed in dark uniforms, and danced in skank clubs that reeked of alcohol and dry goods. Life seemed fearless as we masked the apprehension and delusion.

My geographic to San Francisco tightly nailed the coffin shut. It was only a matter of time, and the resolve, set in stone, tempered a careful stride as I tried to get money from the ATM. The memory of standing that last balmy day of January as the sun set, scrambling for $20, etched the reckoning. This withdrawal led to the last crystal memory of a journey doomed toward oblivion. By Sunday, I followed the money trail back to New York, thinking I had it all under control. Nothing was as it should be, and in my room, back on The Crossway, the mirror lied, and I thought no one could tell. By Wednesday, the door slammed, and the future was born.

This present memory-tunnel post reminds where I came from, however not as something stoically held on to. This recall of the ‘flatlining of my life’ expects that I find gratitude in each day for another opportunity to practice flexibility, open-mindedness and generosity of spirit. The ball and chain of youthful resentment, anger and fear stopped me from being whole. So the memory of this embryonic critical moment reinforces the point-of-view that a future can exist where my talents may live to their fullest potential only if I get out of my own way.

So.
We show up for the road less traveled.
We remain on the path.
We seek to recover despite the surrounding chaos and pain of accepting truth.

a state of being whole and undivided.

Integrity

I don’t profess to being the most solid individual in the world, but I strive to have some sense of integrity about my dealings with colleagues. However, patience spreads thin when I see blatant injustices for the sake of power positioning. My whole temporal being becomes unhinged, and clear sight quickly impairs. Rash behaviors take hold, and no sooner than the feeling of fear hitting at the very core of my being emerges, I have blurted out something controversial. The gasp from my colleagues in the room stifles any clear sensibility on my part.

In an instant, I feverishly begin to tread water, attempting to control what clearly reveals a wrong on my part. Fast, the loss of control overcomes me. I earnestly attempt to right the wrong, but humans have little patience: they see what they want to see. Each word or phrase that attempts to set the wrong right creates further uncomfortable moments, while at the same time providing food for destruction from those who would love to tear me down.

The intrigue of people to view crashes has always amazed me. I often get sucked into rubbernecking at accidents. It’s as if witnessing the destruction somehow absolves me from destructive defects. The goal of any participant in our dog-eat-dog competitive world depends on finding the flaws in “competitors,” which would provide opportunities of “growth. Players, ingrained to cast slings and arrows against the misfortunate, slither throughout the work environment. Compassion would be considered a sign of weakness – a player loosing ground. So to expect empathy in any given work situation would be delusional. Public high schools, transformed by the corporate impulse, are not exempt from this callousness.

After being exposed to office intrigue about who rattled whose cage, my instinct to leave this job loomed large. My life passed before me, and the idea that the rest of my work days would be subject to petty power struggles in public school buildings became depressing. Principles over personalities seems a hopeless, far away concept, since over the past seven years Principals have abused workplace ethics to feel a sense of power in their powerless position of imposing a uniform pedagogy over a variety of disciplines.

A wise woman once told me that the course of experience will lead one to see ‘how it works, and how it doesn’t work.’ Living then becomes the choosing of which path I decide to stroll down. Such a viewpoint requires that I remain teachable at any given turn, and open-minded to a new way of living as the years change the world I built around me. All that I know, and all that I assumed would be, become questionable as I begin another cycle of deciding what I want to become when I grow up.

My aged world begins the third stage of a great ride  – assuming that Saturn’s return designates each stage – I get to choose the kind of person I would like to become, not only by example, but for personal sanity. Reinvention, which can begin at any point, requires a powerful intuitive imagination that connects to a steadfast commitment of a rational idea (this rationality remains the tricky part of negotiating between the dichotomy of a concerted philosophical discourse and intoxicating small talk).

The passionate belief of “anything is possible if you imagine it” commits to the genuine idea that I still possess the opportunity to reinvent and create my life anew. Many detractors of change reject my thinking in their attempt to protect safe cultural norms and deny their own stagnation. As an architect of reinvention, I must consistently refresh my faithfulness to teachability. To innovate means to set in motion and organize the day-to-day necessities of creating a “something” with disciplined patience and practice. Faith breeds change, and safeguards the construction process. The daily, and equally disciplined, practice of conscious contact insures the reverence to the gift of being not only in the process of change, but in the moment of being in and of itself. Humility helps me to keep me at bay the fearful force of those persons, afraid of losing ground, who set out to tear such innovation down.

One’s truth questioning voice must remain steadfast in the things constructed. True intentions, subject to truth tests and exposed to the light of day, lead to a state of perfection. Yet these acts of expression must also be measured by a level of fair-mindedness, compassion and empathy. As a result, integrity develops as a continuing process of becoming. A life of dignity then remains my choice to stay in the process of change.

In an Instant

In an instant the world you know can change. So many writings discuss events where the world of the protagonist changes through one dramatic event. The before life, shows a world of independent thinking, freedom, choice and hope. The event – symbolic or not – rocks the foundation of that world. The after-life represents all the fears one may have worked hard to avoid. The challenge then becomes the process of acceptance. My mother’s car accident changed her life, while accentuating the assets and liabilities already in play in my life.

Mom totaled her car.  She came around a bend going faster than expected and caught air. In flight, the car spun around and came down in a wooded area off the road hitting trees in the back of the car and all along the left side. The front left part of the engine was smashed in, as well a the back-side.

.Mom

For most young persons, this type of accident would be a coming of age story where the young hero walks away without a scratch. Youth heals, and the tale would perhaps be the campfire storytelling of a vivid lead up to the climatic clash with a ferocious tree! For Mom, this accident represented a life changed – where the world she knew would no longer exist.

Mom will no longer drive. Mom will no longer be able to live in the house she has lived in for almost 50 years. Mom will no longer be able to act on her intellectual impulse. She will only feel constant pain. The arthritis will only increase, and Mom will never be able to pick up anything heavier than her purse. In essence, her ability to care for herself, by herself, cannot be.  Dependency overtakes and overwhelms.

My sister called about two hours after the accident had occurred, when the doctors were running the tests. I then quickly tied loose ends together, and got into hospital mode. I had practice with this type of emergency because Mom, hospitalized last year during the Sandy Hurricane, broke her pelvis. After securing care for Max, my son, I made a sandwich, at the suggestion of a friend, to make sure I ate gluten-free before becoming wrapped into the hospital’s drama. On my way, I stopped for gas. I got there approximately two hours after the phone call, and felt a pang of guilt that it wasn’t fast enough.

Mom went to the same hospital, and so the steps to her room triggered memories of fear. Yet when I approached her room, the feelings swelled inside me in a new way, as if approaching a passage way into another dimension. Whereas the previous stay, tamed by the lack of severity, this stay would signal the beginning of an end. I walked into the room where she laid, swollen and drugged, and almost fainted.

I looked for water to calm my nerves and to find my breadth. My thoughts were racing and no single one penetrated a phrase that signaled what I was feeling. I tried to find my balance as I quickly searched for a cup of water at the nurses station. My nephew followed me from the urging of his “nurse” wife. He asked if I was alright. This familiar fainting feeling resembled the morning I almost passed out of the subway from a vasovagel response from iron depletion. My nutrients escaped from my brain. I was about to hit the floor when the water touched my lips, and I was somehow brought back to face my fear of death.

Mom cracked jokes in-between saying how stupid she felt. She vacillated between highs and lows like riding a roller coaster. Her thoughts, like slippery hands trying to hang onto a greased pole, were in one moment coherent and in the next mumblings. Her slurred speech clearly showed that she was not truly present to the events unfolding.

So as the evening turned to night, and night to early morning, I slipped away while she slept. Driving the 40 minute journey back to the city, my emotional exhaustion really could not grasp the changes. Intellectually, I understood, but emotionally I refused to feel.

The doctor scheduled Mom’s surgery on the third day in the hospital. The swelling throughout her injuries needed to subside. The shattered upper left arm beneath her broken collar-bone needed plates and pins. No one seemed concerned about her arthritis ridden back and leg pains which plagued her over the last six months, which ‘miraculously’ disappeared with the multitude of percosets she ate every 3 hours.  Like a shadow thought that sits in the back of the brain never showing itself but shrouding all thoughts, I knew the worst pain was yet to come.

I never spoke about these feelings in the presence of my mother. When I tried to broach the subject with my sister, she, in her own way to survive her feelings, pushed back to keep this in the present. In meetings with friends I shared my concern, but little in the way of feedback played out. There was no more than a nod or “sorry to hear about your mother” response. My private feelings sat heavy, wearing me out as each day passed.

The surgery went well, and during the doctor’s follow-up meeting the next morning, she cracked jokes to a very patient doctor, while I tried to deflect her humor to the seriousness of the meeting. Mom’s coping mechanism against heavy feelings plays out with making funny faces and cracking jokes. She’s perfected this skill of deflection. Feelings are not her forte, and she always believed that people would naturally work through them. But this  life and death situation depends on a healthy attitude about life, and to bring forward, at one’s base of thinking, acceptance. Mom’s challenge would yet unfold. Her new life would take away freedoms she had not yet fully processed.

About a week after the surgery Mom transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. My oldest sister, Mom’s medical proxy, daily tended to Mom’s medical and spiritual needs. I was able to visit around my work schedule at least one day during the week and on weekends. Daily, my sister and I would phone convo to go over strategy plans to bring Mom to a more positive view of recovery. Sis had a tough road, and she handled each day with grace and ease. The tasks were all to familiar since Sis had walked her significant other through the process of dying two years before.

When I could make my way to the hospital around my work schedule, I kept company with Mom. We watched old movies that we had each seen a hundred times, and gossiped about the actors. In fact, whoever showed up was basically watching old movies with Mom. But when She and I watched movies, it was like it had always been since I was a child – passing time as a way of finding a common ground.

My sister and I scheduled family to make sure that each evening there was always someone visiting. Our intent to help Mom feel positive about her healing process worked as long as a live body kept her company. During the downtimes, she became despondent. Each morning into afternoon, Mom vacillated between acceptance and fear. My sister got the brunt of this up and down, and would call to fill me in. We were both afraid that she would in an instant, give up.

Lying on her back, day after day, with now only the occasional painkiller, the arthritis slowly reappeared. Her physical therapist provided the exercises to heal the arm, yet no doctor could cure that merging dull pain that had previously gone through a series of epidurals prior to the accident. Dull gave way to sharp episodes, which eventually become a single stream of unending discomfort.

Where the hospital provided a safe haven to heal, Mom yearned for self-sufficiency. Her wishful thinking laid out a picture that she could return to her house, and live her life. Yet  we knew the truth; that the world she had come to accept, would be no more. She was officially dependent.

The process for each of her daughters has been to realign each’s commitment to my mother in her last years. It would need showing up; sitting patiently watching her move uncomfortably through the pain; watching movies, cooking meals, running errands or just biding some time between conversations that avoided acknowledgment of such care. Sacrificing our selfish interests would hopefully give relief to her fear that she would be alone.

Mom’s pride always starts the conversation when we ask how she’s doing. It gets in the way of asking for help. If we show up, help is there. Yet a decorum is needed to dance around her exhortations of “I can take care of myself!”

We exclaim, “No, really Mom, I had no plans for the weekend, and I thought just to come out to spend time with you.” Estelle demands, “You can come as long as you aren’t taking care of me – I’m fine!”

So although a ruse progresses, I willingly do all that I can to experience all that there is. By giving my time, I give my gift of love. But returning home with such frequency does have some on the job hazards. Each time I enter her house (my childhood home) memories come in and out.  Downstairs I relive my Ken and Barbie days, watching TV, and growing up in my imagination. As I go into the darker closets, growing pains bring memories of shame and frustration. Although prone to obsess and regret, I busy myself, and play a recovery tape that tells me to accept myself for just as i am in that moment; not who I was worlds past. Just for today, I am present for this closure.

Undiagnosed

So after searching the net for memoirs of persons with celiac disease, I found only a few articles, and one book, by sufferers that were half my age. Wondering where the women who diagnosed late in life were, I rationalized they had busy lives managing kids, or working long hours managing a career than to spend time writing.

The articles I did come across were light and focused on informing people about the disease – one book focused on the humor of new eating patterns. No one seemed to express the suffering that misdiagnosis can have on a person’s development.

My resentments against doctors reach all the way back to high school. The signs of a problem showed during adolescence, but since no one saw the cause as something other than give them iron for the anemia, they stopped there and did not link all the afflictions as a single whole –  the doctor’s looked no further when confronted with disparities.

The brain is a delicate muscle. Imagine a brain that doesn’t get enough water – a brain without the nutrients of food – the stress of growing up with a brain that makes thoughts come out sideways. Welcome to my world of a life of physical problems that could never be diagnosed. Auto-immune diseases have genetic dispositions. That means children, mis-diagnosed and growing up adjusting to the dis ease of their bodies trying to cope, never develop to their fullest potential.

I used to blame my parents for my fate in life. Now I blame the doctors.

When I was young, the feelings of being outside of the family circle certainly was part of my life process. Being third birth order of four girls in five years reinforced the feelings of inadequacies. My self-image – the physical comparisons to my early Barbie dolls, and the efforts of my mother to have perfect beautiful girls, which was not normal – clearly indicated that my distended stomach and anemia were greater problems that wasn’t my thyroid.

Doctors told my mother and father my condition was normal – just feed her more spinach! As the symptoms took more voracious turns, the variety of doctors defaulted to genetics – or an anomaly that would pass. They were right about the genetics, but the diseases only multiplied and did not desist. I had undiagnosed celiac disease, and by the time I hit high school, the mental and physical damages were done. Losing my hair should have been a clear indicator.

The doctors escaped culpability by reasoning their diagnoses were right. Eventually, this discomfort had to be quelled, and self medication seemed the logical course of action. I often wonder how many have followed this same course.

The Patio Argument

Growing up in suburban New Jersey in the sixties and early seventies, my sisters and I looked up to Mom for an answer to everything. She was a power greater that inculcated the manners and mores of middle class society to me and my three sisters. A vibrant woman – she squired the socialite scene of Smoke Rise, and made a cutting figure on the dance floor. However, our “patio argument,” in the fall of my thirteenth year, changed my rose-colored Mom view; I challenged her like an equal to my adolescent self.

Throughout my youth, I clearly felt loved by my father. Born two days after his 32nd birthday, our connection, although never really intimate, thrived on an intuitive understanding of each other’s mentality. We were destined to be connected, and our minds saw the world in similar ways. Although later we would create a bi-polar relationship because of our divergent political views, during my childhood his love never wavered. Dad saw in me a ‘special something’ that set me apart from my sisters. His belief in my assets despite my liabilities highlighted my mother’s shallow understanding of my potential.

During my ‘adolescence,’ Mom always seemed burdened by me. As I neared that age where girls are supposed to act like ‘young ladies,” my overweight, awkward presence frustrated her well-groomed coiffed world. Any attempts to seek attention through a budding intellectualism fell on deaf ears. She saw my logical schemas as odd commentary – strange world views to her devout patriarchal maternalism colored by her late night movie mentality. Each time I asserted my true self, Mom glared with skeptical eyes that expressed a silent dig, “That’s not the way girl’s should act!” Blind, or dismissive, to my yearning for attention, Mom’s love and acceptance became near impossible to get.

This patio argument became a defining moment where our two worlds came face to face for the first and last time. Mom had been cleaning with Clorox, and was in her usual Capri pants and white t-shirt. Her firmly held hands-on-hips framed her petite figure, while her short dark brown hair matched the deep black pools of her struggling eyes. Mom extorted that my loose “other side of the trax” friends were not what she expected of me, and she didn’t like the direction my life was going. She yelled every which way to rein me in. For each assertion she made, I retorted with some logical reasoning that rapidly broke down her illogical arguments about propriety.

I always wanted my mother’s mindfulness, and hoped that any conflicts we encountered would, by the laws of nature, lead to a more meaningful mother-daughter intimacy. My 13-year-old perspective thought our battling interplay was the natural order of things. I imagined, within this argument, she would stop in awe of my sophist talents, instantly embracing my mind and spirit. But seeing me for me, and spending quality time doing things for me, was not her way. There were too many children; to many responsibilities; and too many cocktail parties to see straight. So the only means of keeping order to her world was through discipline – everyone falling into line – wearing the right dress, speaking when spoken to and never challenging social norms or authority. I became the one who never matched her expectations.

I turned my mother’s judgements inward, and they came back to the surface with angry assaults on her intelligence. For all that she did not see in me, I did not see the values in her. We raged, cried fearful tears, and slew insults. Our clash of titans argument clearly showed we were in different worlds that would never find a common ground. Her failed attempts to silence my voice eventually stopped when Dad intervened.

He took my arm and led me into the kitchen. Dad patiently listened to my frantic tirades that tore my mother’s integrity and intelligence to bits. Every now and then he would nod. It seemed he had no words to quell me – he only wanted to know what happened. Eventually I claimed the death knell statement, “How could you stay married to her?” My Dad said nothing and looked down. His silence became vindication of my right views.

The next day, we all moved through our separate worlds keeping a careful distance from each other. Over time, as winter turned to spring, my path moved further away from my parent’s frivolous, materialist world, and closer to edgier pursuits. Having already taken the leap of intoxicating nights, I readied toward a world that could not talk back, criticize or rein me in. Yearning for a more creative, intellectual, and comfortable place, the first ‘maryjane’ sent me on my way.

On Mutual Dependency

“To open yourself up to need, longing, dependency, and reliance on others means opening yourself to the truth that none of us can do this on our own. We really do need each other, just as we need parents and teachers. We need all those people in our lives who make us feel so uncertain. Our practice is not about finally getting to a place where we are going to escape all that but about creating a container that allows us to be more and more human, to feel more and more.”
– Barry Magid

So grateful to have a “container” by which I can exist in – because that means I am still breathing. However, what kind of world am I creating for myself. My upbringing was all about outer appearances, and the success of my life was measured not on the relations between people, but rather the external products of home, family and work. For my upbringing, creating a “shangra la container” was external not internal. My mother was obsessed with the material. My father worked seven days a week to make this material world possible. Their children, me and my three sisters, measured our success based on our material/social gains. For me, I dropped out rather early in this endeavor, but never really shook the idea of the material world. I struggled in so many ways.

The materialism inherent in building a home and hearth where I feel a sense of solitude and safety has always been precarious. Smoke Rise in the 1960’s and 1970’s existed as the ultimate community built upon corporate materialist ideals – gated mansions, three car garages, acreage, private social facilities for tennis, swimming and horseback riding, cocktail parties every night, community country club like celebrations, and a censored association where only the “right” people could build. This exclusive homesteading provided CEO’s of the 1970’s a refuge from the outside world to protect their values and ideals, and perpetuate the great “have’s” mentality. Overtime, the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’ became glaringly all to clear.

My parents, although never overtly saying so, consistently referred to “others” and their problems as those without solid moral values – something unamerican. Dad would infer those “people” (the socially other side of the tracks people, urban racial communities, unions or ungrateful immigrants) either took from the system, or were not grateful of the opportunities our American government and businesses offered. For my parents, the “others” were always the problem.

Although I never engaged in direct conversation with Mom and Dad about these problems while growing up, I sat, saw, and listened to their commentary, and then assessed my take on social conditions based on my ground up perspective. Conversations sat behind me, while I watched TV in our family Den during the Walter Cronkite news, or the Huntley Brinkley Hour. All to well, this child understood their slurs, as judgmental fears trying to figure out the causes of riots and social unrest splayed across the screen. My parent’s solutions to the social decay always blamed those “have nots” and glorified their opinions with Neo-conservative rants from their large black leather chairs they occupied nightly, while the children sat obediently on the floor in front of them looking innocently up to the screen. Although my sisters quickly became disinterested in the news and moved to either their bedrooms or the piano, I always remained there. While watching the TV images, and examining each move and attempt by reporters to seek objectivity, my parent’s commentary between each other carried on to help narrate the program.

Every once in a while I would turn to see their angered faces at the shape of the world they strove to isolate themselves from in their “ivory towered” village. Growing up within this dynamic eventually wore at my sense of identity. The chaotic early 1970’s only brought more insecurity, thus more volatility and blame. Looking for the scape goat preoccupied my parents, and made me feel for the underdog more. I saw myself as the underdog, the social miscreant – that which was not loved by society but scorned by it. Why I was the only child who did not adopt my parents mindset I do not know. I often asked, “why am I so different? Why me?” My first answer, and the one that stuck until the end run, blamed them and judged their intelligence – they were not evolved enough to understand the mutual relationships between groups. By judging the very essence between intelligence and place, I put them in a box on a shelf, and began to remove myself from their rooms, quickly becoming the odd child out, often missing from the dinner table. After years of watching and listening to those conversations, my assessment of our mutual dependency between parent and child, turned to a desperate individualism on my part. Eventually, I saw myself as the “have not,” and the world I was living within, that place of property and prestige, could no longer serve my sentimentality. So I ran away, first emotionally, then physically.

Running into the arms of substances that could not talk back, I sought to a new form of mutual dependency, the other side of midnight different from the world I was running from. Substances, the quest to find them, and the world they lived within, became my new dependency – my higher power. Each time these substances visited, they were like family loving me – my heart’s euphoria as a distorted perception of love. My substances loved me and needed me as much as I needed them, and they became the world away from the world I longed to forget. The people who provided the substances became the parents to my needy child. Together, we were the “have nots,” the forgotten, the blight society created from its unreachable materialism. We all marched as one.

Youth has resilience as long as the young can stay alive, and my tolerance for pain was great. I survived the near death experiences in a world that sought to steal my breadth. Eventually my idealism, my pink cloud, gave way to living on the daily edges of death. As other’s witnessed my decay, they were forced to look within themselves and ask, “How did this happen in our family?” This question plagued my materialist father, and in his desperation to find an answer, he took desperate measures to do whatever was necessary to save his child.

In an instant, the doors locked behind me. This clinical institution, which required insurances or hard cash to get a bed, provided a haven for me to face who I had become. My parent’s love, beyond the material, allowed me to surrender in a weakened moment. The padded rooms did not change my fears or potential capabilities, rather they provided a means to come to a decision about what I could become – the ideal me. In the moments when the doors locked behind me, I had a choice. Although the material world had to save the material child because that is it’s purpose, the child must choose their place within that world – to either go on to the bitter end – jails, institutions and death – or to find a new way to live. Mutual dependency became a necessity – of quest of finding a place to create a container that would allow me to be more and more human, to feel more and more a part of something good.

Interview

My interview with Dusty Miller, the principal of the Museum school in 2007, was one of those moments where I saw myself – assessed my thoughts, decisions and desires – as we weaved in and out of resume and conversation. I had recently resigned from a post at Harrison high school – a difficult post that challenged not only my principles of teaching, but my desire to work with more academically motivated students. This school was not a good fit for teachers who want to teach because they wanted teachers who allow students and parents to rule their classrooms.
So Dusty asked me what I would like to have the kids walk away with from my course. In this one question a monologue unfolded. In an intuitive instant, the principle values of my second life’s (second career) work had to be summed up, and then gracefully spit out. So starting with the pat good intentions, I began to dexterously paint a picture of a classroom of lessons that would help young people not feel so mis-directed in a chaotic world – to feel they can find a right path – a safe place to express their viewpoint while building self esteem through their process of learning those needed skills for success (reading and writing!!). Dusty nodded politely, which encouraged me to continue ‘I hoped to build a place where students walk away with a sense of their lives in a real world context of war, depressions and famine, as well as the joys when wrongs in history are made right.’ Then in the blink of an eye, the honest thought/desire of what I want from my students flashed across my brain screen and illuminated => Obedience, discipline, curiosity, fearlessness, passion, and an interest in the story history give us.
For me, the events we cover in my courses, are made personal. Nothing is arbitrary. Each study becomes a window into the human condition. For example today we were examining the Black Plague and I just finished a lesson on the economic impacts. While I was writing the characteristics of the post-plague economy, I was overcome by the similarities to the Great Depression and the 2008 economic crisis – history providing a means to understanding the moment – how I see my world. If my students can feel that connection, and then apply it to their own lives, they walk away from the class changed. Examining the past is the key to having a psychic change, and for me, the key to finding my right path.
As I work though feelings of marginalization in my day to day consciousness, the classroom provides a forum where my consciousness can find meaning. Underneath this idealism, I want my students to be able to think logically through their passions, and to write effectively.
This blog/project, like a school paper, is hopefully telling the story, through these short clippings of prose. All the divergent events of my life coming to this moment in time. There are beginning points to different eras of being, and major turning points. As I experience the moment in any given day, I hope to somehow be able to frame that in an engaging written expression. The key element will be truth, but hoping that it clearly beats a rhythym – lyric pulse – like an actor’s story painting a scene. My biggest fear is overtly idealist dramatics and mediocrity.