Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Being Born

Geta Bratescu. Medea's Hypostases III. 1980, drawing with sewing machine on textile

 July 11 is my birthday, but it is not the day I was born.
The day I was born I blackened my feet on gold sculpted carpet, heavy with coal dust. My gift: Art News and Grumbacher pastels.
The day I was born I felt death in the room, its big energy came to sweep away Mamaw's breath
I was born again and again at those altar calls, but took my first breath when I laid eyes on the Goddess
I was born through my mother's anger and vitriol towards me, how we made each other cry and hurt, and then how we loved.
I was born through a lover's hands and lips, where feeling flowed pure, shimmering; the first time I really made love.
I was born when lying on my back on a clear Canadian night and believed I could touch those stars if I held my hand gracefully high enough.
I was born in front of white, empty things: piano keys, canvas, paper.
I was born the four times I pushed out my babies in my own power. And now, it takes five minutes of mothering to gather handfuls of being-born.
I was born under another white thing: the heady blindness that comes from grief, which is so full of light you cannot bear its heat.
I was born each time I lost everything. 
The day I was born was when I knew we loved each other.
I was born all those times you rejected me and I tasted my freedom and the unexpected liberation of the unwanted.
I was born all those times you hit me and called me names and pulled me into your contemptuous dark silences and I decided I would be kinder than that.
I was born when I lost you, when I knew you: uncovered, when I saw you: revealed, when you came to me: unhinged.
I was born today in rain and yoga class. I will be born tomorrow over dishes and a sewing machine. 
There is no such thing as a birthday, or reborn.
There is only being born. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

jointly speaking

Ah, the joys of joint custody. Our culture seems to smile happily and vapidly at the notion of 50/50 joint custody. In our minds, we are happy to see fathers finally participating in their children's lives. Mothers have overwhelmingly joined the workplace, so they have more freedom to do their jobs. It gives them more time to date and pursue other interests, right? It's a good thing.
I'd say this is the exception and not the rule, for the simple reason that "joint" custody is much of the time, anything but.
We need to separate out what joint custody is in practice and what it is in name. In practice, joint custody involves two people who are not out to demean or subjugate the other through family court, who prioritize support of the children, who do not wish to financially cripple the other, and who, for all intents and purposes, understand the larger picture of a child's life. They understand that while they may not get what they want all of the time, that their child's well-being and happiness are more important than their own wishes and desires. It isn't about the demands of one parent.  My first ex took my kids to eat at McDonald's occasionally. While I ran a relatively health-foody tight ship, he took the kids to McDonald's. Is that worth my time and energy? Hell no. I can grumble and complain and have my feelings about such things to others, but in the scheme of things, it means nothing. It was a happy moment for my kids.  I'm sure he was not happy with some of my parenting decisions either. His relationship with his grown children now is a good one. This, to me, is what joint parenting looks like: jointly meeting the children's needs without destroying and demeaning their other parent. Having the goal of giving your kids a good life, together, because that is your responsibility.
But I get the sense that many of the fathers who vehemently-as in initiating a court battle- fight for 50/50 and even sole custody have an ulterior motive: getting out of child support. 50/50 came out of the father's rights initiative, so it was an initiative very much aimed against mothers as a group.
Kids are expensive. 50/50 arrangements with no child support aren't even considering that the only expense you save on while your child is not there is food. And for the average child, we are talking one hundred dollars a month that 50/50 saves a single mother on meals. One hundred dollars. On the low end, it costs nearly eleven hundred dollars a month to raise a child. That includes housing, clothing, and food. That number is low, for divorced parents have to pay for their own housing. So, if a single mother has no help with housing, the only thing 50/50 saves her is one hundred dollars a month per child. Anyone who is a parent knows that that is a drop in the bucket and barely noticed.
It becomes an even more acrid medicine to burn the throat when one considers the ongoing pay gap.
It becomes too big to gulp down when one sees a man's rich family deliberately stand by when there is material need in their children's and grandchildren's lives; who even work to destabilize another parent out of spite, and who help hide money. There are parents who infantilize their grown children and enable their irresponsibility and dishonesty.
And it cannot sit on my stomach when that same man cries, "I'm poor, I'm poor! I can't, I can't!" and wears his fine shoes and takes plenty of vacation time and has a mattress full of hundreds. And he doesn't care that those hundreds were won on the backs of his own children.
It's facetious and deceptive because those are the fathers who do not actively participate in parenting responsibilities during marriage. They leave the majority of the heavy lifting and daily work and guidance of the children to the mother. These are the dads who are off playing basketball, having dinner with friends, shirking responsibilities of home, and walk in like they hung the moon. But once divorced, he makes up a story that changes history. "I changed ALL the diapers. I made ALL the meals. I did ALL the driving. She was NEVER around." They criticize the mother and make sure everyone knows her shortcomings, despite the fact that she had little help from him. Through the courts and this changing of history, he can use his male role status to gain more time with the children. This sudden change in parenting allows him to pay less or no child support, and is, of course, not representative of any relationship he developed with his children. It reflects not an investment in his children, not a desire to actually be a father. I'm sure there is some benefit to the children finally getting their father voluntarily, whereas before, his participation was spotty and inconsistent. I'm sure there is a part of these fathers that does actually care for a child, way, way, way outside of their selfishness and awareness. But that is not the ultimate motive. The ultimate motive is two-fold: to demonstrate superiority and show that he can perform "mother" even better than "Mother" can, effectively diminishing her role that HE established during the relationship, and then withhold financial support from her. He cannot appreciate the bigger picture of how he is actually withholding support from the children. It's a move meant to punish and demean the mother and it becomes yet another lie she is forced to live.
Because we are constantly asked to live with these lies. It's infuriating. We hold the truth, the antidote to fantasies we are asked to swallow like good children. We know the truth, and it is taken from us systematically and replaced with mythologies.
But we know, we KNOW, no matter how many times the words are used, that this is not joint custody. It is a continuation of an abuse dynamic set out during the marriage. It is merely a property arrangement. It is petty. Let's not sentimentalize it or sugar coat it by calling it "joint" custody where there is a parent hostile to the other. One person who is demeaning another cannot co-parent; they can only tolerate control. It then becomes a situation where one parent is put in a protective position against the other's aggression, and where she is protective, she is blamed. This is worse than just a "less than ideal" situation for the children. This has lowered the bar to the whole family having to sacrifice their needs and rearrange their lives due to the selfishness and incapacities of one parent.
So, there is, in the situation of court imposed "joint" custody, nothing "joint." A supposed "fair" arrangement ends up lopsided for the parent who didn't initiate a court war. Symmetrical is not the same as fair. It leaves her without money, without a help in raising children, and having to witness her children be mindlessly shuffled to a place where she is shut out. "Mother",at the wishes of the father, is mutually exclusive of "Father". So the children lose because they will never have a good example of collaboration on their behalf; and never be able to fully realize their own needs during their childhood.

"Psychological researchers who have expressed negative opinions about joint custody include, among others, Anna Freud and Judith Wallerstein. A major problem according to Wallerstein, is that the child lives life in a "no man's land." Having children routinely shift as a temporary resident between two households that have other permanent members who "really" live there full time presents a destructive outlook for a child, damaging of identity and self-esteem. It is ironic that the fathers' rightsters who complain about not wanting to be a "visitor" in their child's life, and therefore demand 50-50 joint custody, do not seem to recognize that their solution not only renders their child a continuous visitor shifting between two households, but also that the child then does not even have a home from which to return."

So where does this idea that a forced 50/50 arrangement is so great for the children come from? Where does the idea come from that it is in any way collaborative or healthy?

There is plenty more research at the Liz Library that shows it is not:
""[Presumption of joint custody] legislation increased the number of motions to modify or enforce parenting time or child custody... the number did increase significantly (and almost doubled) following enactment of the statute. Most of these motions were to change custody or visitation, not to enforce parenting time... If the desire of the legislation was to make it easier for unhappy parents to enforce their visitation time, its purpose was clearly not met...
"Constitutionalizing child custody, or litigating in terms of individual parents' rights, is likely to harm children in many ways. They may end up living with a parent more interested in punishing the former spouse than in doing what the child needs. They may have less money with which to live, as a child support settlement for lower than the guideline amount pays off a parent claiming joint custody, or if a joint custody solution is ordered but not actualized, or if scarce resources are expended on pre or post-divorce litigation."

- Brinig, Margaret (2005). Does Parental Autonomy Require Equal Custody at Divorce? The University of Iowa College of Law, University of Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper Number 05-13 April, 2005

So "joint custody" in the most collaborative, conscious sense of the word is a joke. 50/50 being presumed is not always in the best interests of the child, and that is a smokescreen anyway for the interests of the one contentious  parent. It also increases income in the divorce industry. Money and greed are powerful motivators.
Divorce is always hard on a child. There are always issues that are going to need to be worked through. But a child should be able to heal that wound in the safest place with their primary parent, not be suddenly shuffled so a man can have rights. Those children sacrifice their rights to a supported time of healing, access to their mother, to stability in their lives. They will learn to suppress their intuition and that they are not heard. They will learn there are consequences if one parent doesn't get their way. They will see one parent being punished, obstructed, and demeaned. 
Joint custody does not fix those situations. It just makes it harder for everyone except the person who is litigating it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ethnography of Spirit

Ethnography, used loosely, is a "description of the habits and customs of a people." In this article, ethnography is described as a visitor  describing things from an insider's viewpoint: "The ethnographer goes beyond reporting events and details of experience. Specifically, he or she attempts to explain how these represent what we might call “webs of meaning” (Geertz again), the cultural constructions, in which we live.
Ethnographers generate understandings of culture through representation of what we call an emic perspective, or what might be described as the “‘insider’s point of view.” The emphasis in this representation is thus on allowing critical categories and meanings to emerge from the ethnographic encounter rather than imposing these from existing models."
On this Memorial Day, I think on those who have returned from wars with heaviness in my heart. I appreciate all that they went through as a sacrifice for our country. And although I do not have an insider's view, I know the warrior culture within our military is very much a strong, necessary force, and that it carries its own set of wounds within its community. 
But I know that for me, I never had to leave home to experience a war, a war on a family, a war on me as a human being, a war against my existence, a war on my psyche, a war marked by shame and a force against my becoming who I am. This war raged on for years, and stood as a contrast to the prevailing social mores around family. The customary picture of family is one of togetherness, support, unconditional regard, time spent together as a communal river, washing and moving and  waving and splashing over a bedrock of love. In my family, there was no solid bedrock, only the turbulence of harm caused, of abuse. There was a history of pain upon pain, and holding on together in atavistic impulses to revoke the destruction. 
Having my own "ethnographic encounter" with my family of origin requires the perspective of years. Only through living years out of the experience can I do the requisite remodeling to come to my past with curiosity. Any study of one's self, of becoming aware of why you have developed your struggles or lack thereof, begins in childhood. It begins before one's own childhood and it most certainly found in the childhoods of one's parents and grandparents. Then one can begin to create the meaning of these shared experiences, and mine them for their value in your life.
For me, coming firmly from Appalachia on all sides, I widen my spirit beyond the data of how my story and the stories of my family are strung together. To do complete justice to my personal ethnography, I must consider the customs of the environment in which I was raised, and the geography. Appalachia clings to me, a mountain in the background of my mental  pictures, a church with a gravel parking lot on a steep hillside, kudzu crowding the side of a mountain, a rebellious uprising of flowers among stultifying grey rocks. I express a lot about the abuse that has threaded my life, of the themes of personal mining and exploitation, but making meaning is about widening even further beyond that narrow theme of oppressor/oppressed. It is about taking that and setting it among the mountains, those mountains where natural beauty and coal-greed ugliness coexisted and no one even thought about it. Those mountains that at once embraced, gave, nourished, and terrified. "Mountain mama" was real. And she will live, despite the ravagings and cripplings at the hands of lesser men. 
The existing model of Appalachia, in my mind, is one of exploitation and colonization. The existing models of my family contains those of personal greed and lack of remorse, mirroring the plundering of the mountains and its people. For me, the new model involves how "place" never quite leaves you, how the qualities of Appalachia are embedded in turns of my phrases, how I view people, how I respond to life, how I set up my relationships. It recently occurred to me that this is absolutely where I am from. I had focused on where I had moved, the places I'd lived, not considering that the propensity to adapt to place is a strength of character prevalent in Appalachia. Trauma had taken away my sense of home. Yet Appalachia was in me, whatever that meant, and that is my home, my place to be "from". 
If you look at Appalachia, or my family, you will also see the make-do spiritedness set among the openness to being plundered. I swear, it is the giving nature of this land and its people that causes trouble. There are two kinds of people that exist in this world in varying degrees, but they come together in stark contrast in Appalachia. Those people are at heart those who give and those who take. Living so attuned to a mountain and its people gives you a sense of abundance, and that abundance is freely shared. Take away that abundance, and you cripple a people's natural pleasure in sharing and giving. You break them down just a little. 
Then the narrative of overcoming can emerge. This is the meaning, for me, to take the grace of these mountains, their ever-imposing benevolence, there unassuming generosity, and use that part of myself to face the takers and put them in context. The parts of me that were exploited, and mined, and broken, can be healed through this grace, through this understanding that I am more than a string of hurtful incidents. I am more than a taker's depersonalization. 

I am the strength of the mother mountain. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ten Ways Family Court is Basically "Handmaid's Tale"

"A Handmaid's Tale" is a dystopian tale of a "handmaid"- a woman basically designated to be a breeder. She is treated as property, has no real rights, and her only value to society is to make children for officials and their barren wives. After the excesses of the world created so much pollution and illness the birth rate fell drastically low, a re-forming of society occurred. In this society, the rights of women and children were reconfigured while being told they were the ones in charge, and the patriarchy was solidified through strict, subversive control of women's status and roles. The society was structured around the lower masculine values of competition, dominance, punishment by death, demanding compliance, and people as property. This was strictly enforced through a pseudo-religious brainwashing regime, and strict control of what was said and done. Handmaids are basically slaves. They are forced to be raped once monthly in order to try for a child in a bizarre ritual that involves the wives of the men who are trying to impregnate them.
In reading this book, I noticed  there are parallels between today's family court and the dystopian society in Handmaid's Tale.

1. A disdain for science
In "Handmaid's Tale", science is deliberately shunned in favor of cultish rituals and unapologetic stereotypes. In family court, the brutal and often surreal actions around parental alienation mirror this disdain for science. Despite having a body of scientific knowledge of cluster B personalities, the dynamics of domestic violence and coercive control tactics including financial abuse, and decades of research regarding attachment, family courts reject all that science and instead operate from an understanding of junk science like "parental alienation syndrome" and worn-out stereotypes of women in general-that women are crazy, gold-digging, vengeful creatures out to get poor innocent men.
Parental alienation is especially dangerous since it flies in the face of research and since manipulating the children is a tactic abusers use, and the use of "parental alienation syndrome" gives the court an excuse to believe the projection of an abuser. In any other area of life, when someone does something wrong or abusive, we encourage calling it out. But in family court, truth-telling is seen as disparaging the other parent instead of protecting the children. Hence, sexually abused children end up in the custody of their abusers nearly 70% of the time. The courts in those cases become accessories to abuse.
Parental alienation is more aptly labeled "domestic abuse by proxy". It is not the same as a parent protecting a child from an abusive parent. Accusing a protective parent of "parental alienation" is indicative of an abusive mindset and possibly a personality disorder. Again, we have the research and psychological science in place to back this up. We just don't have the courts listening to research and solid science.

2. Financial rights of women are taken away
In "Handmaid's Tale", the women had their bank accounts suddenly frozen and handed over to the men. In divorce from an abusive man, this is very common, but even more, a woman can be repeatedly taken to court at great expense. With the advent of 50/50 parenting plans being the preferred situation in the courts, child support is becoming a thing of the past. This makes it easier for men who want to get out of child support to work the system and financially cripple a woman while he benefits. Spend a day at the child support office watching men in expensive shoes and expensive cars whine how poor they are and can't get a job. They are believed and even supported in their lies. The blatant concentration of resources with men with no regard to how it affects children, and no repercussions for men who disobey child support orders is chillingly one-sided and echoes a "Handmaid's Tale." Not to mention back child support is not even taken seriously, especially for richer men. Then women are still responsible for the guidance of the children, for taking one's self away financially is creating slavery and refusing to be a father.

3. Women have no voice
In  "Handmaid's Tale", women are barely allowed to speak to each other freely, much less complain about the system, have a say in what goes on, or have their own voiced desires and pain. They were severely traumatized by having their children and husbands torn from them, then told not to speak about it. In fact, the whole book could be called "Offred's Trauma Journal" as we watch her deal with the extreme and horrid situation she finds herself in and the insidious, routine silencing of women.
In family court, the same kinds of horrid strictures exist. Women who have experienced any kind of emotional, physical, or verbal abuse are cautioned not to speak of it in court lest they be seen as degrading their ex husband. Yet, when they don't speak up, they are blamed for not speaking up and colluding with their own abuse. There is no obedience to a system that will blame you no matter where you turn. The truth isn't even an issue because no one cares about truth in family court. They care about winning.

4. Children are leverage
"Offred" had her daughter cruelly taken from her. Children were a commodity in "Handmaid's Tale" and were to be given only to those of high status. There is such a trend in family court to give a child to an abuser it's frightening. See the above. A woman is blamed for speaking up about abuse, and blamed for not speaking up about abuse. She often goes into a courtroom that has already decided it is stacked against her. Add to that the fact that GALs, therapists, and caseworkers are rarely knowledgeable about the dynamics of power and abuse, and have no clue what a cluster B personality looks like or that it is abusive. This is a set up to punish the children by blaming them or having them end up with their abuser. But the real reason given is that the mother spoke up and that is not allowed in family court. If she does not obey the unwritten precept that one must always speak well of a child's parent, even when they are abusive, then she is blamed for causing difficulty.
Unfortunately, this results in death of children in some cases. Don't believe me?
See this video, and this one.

5. Mothering is debased and tightly controlled.
The culture in Handmaid's Tale is an extreme example of patriarchy. The blame for the failure of the society to procreate is placed on the woman and they are divided into two groups: women who can bear children, and women who cannot. Birth mothers are easily replaced by foster mothers, who also have no choice in the matter. In family court, the whole structure of court embodies traditional lower masculine values of competition, acquisition of property (which includes children), aggression, dominance, control, and power-over. 50/50 parenting is a way of treating children as property and often father replaces mother during that time since he most likely wasn't available to begin within the marriage.
Even men who embody traditional feminine caretaking traits do poorly in court. It is as if holding up the value of "mother" is rejected. And feminine values such as collaboration, cooperation, and mutuality are indeed looked down on, and can't even be expressed within the current structure of family court. Couples who can embody those values, or, as research suggests, men who can embody those values, don't even end up in family court. (see Gottman's research on accepting influence) The family court structure favors the wishes of men and male archetypes.

6. Gaslighting is practically a religion.
The person who can gaslight the court the most is the "winner". In Handmaid's Tale, the gaslighting occurs when the women are told they wanted a society run by females and they have it, when in fact, it is run by the men. In family court, gaslighting is accepted as truth as a man can capitalize on the biases against women and stereotypes of women as emotional, punitive liars. This then gives the man a free pass to continue his control and abuse, and look good while doing bad. He knows that the judge doesn't know, and worse, doesn't care, that he's treated a woman like shit for years. Women are told that 50/50 parenting is fair to them, even though they protest that it isn't fair to children to grow up with an unsafe, abusive, or personality disordered parent.

7. The ultimate goal is to be in service to "the man"
Obedience to extreme oppression is vital in Handmaid's Tale. If you do not obey the rules, no matter how stupid and extreme the rules are, you are at risk of punishment by death.
In family court, a double standard prevails based on the biases, often anti-woman, of the judge. A woman's perspective is rarely valued and is presumed to be anti-man from the outset. Family court was created by men, out of a system that was created by men. Women used to have no rights to their children or spousal or child support. Women and children were the property of men and their humanity was not even an issue. Any strides made in changing child support and spousal support laws are now experiencing a regression. Family courts are a mess these days as they are set up much like the "good old days"; the days before women could vote, the days where children were property and automatically given to the man. Nowadays, evidence of abuse is often ignored to fulfill the goal of denying a woman's reality and holding traditional male values.

8. Cronyism prevails.
In the book, there is a "secret" place called Jezebel's where husbands take their surrogates, their property, out on a "date". The surrogates can drink, smoke, and have "real" sex with their owners, all things that are forbidden in their carefully controlled lives. It is assumed the men do not snitch on each other, and it is also assumed this is a symptom of  a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" paradigm. In family court, judges can hand down decisions that are so biased and one-sided you know this backscratching happens. Even Donald Trump, the poster child for cronyism, demanded that the "swamp" be drained. The system isn't perfect and cronyism and corruption happens all over the nation in our court systems. But when it affects children, it should be a crime.
The father's rights movement has changed many laws in family court. Often, the men involved in father's rights are abusers themselves and simply acting out of narcissistic injury. I recognize that some men can be berated for upholding feminine values and are as much protective parents as women are, and some women can also uphold hyper masculine values and those are rewarded in family court. But the overall paradigm that is being obeyed is that of extreme patriarchy.

9. Children are property
In "Handmaid's Tale", children were merely coveted property. In family court, children also have no rights of their own. Their voice is not considered and the underlying principle is often "father knows best" when applying "best interests of the child" standards. Their primary attachments are often modified and severed through harmful parenting arrangements, and forced bonding through sudden change of attachment arrangements are traumatizing to children. Parenting arrangements suggested by men often reflect not the kind of parent they are, but a desire to get out of paying child support.

10. Patriarchy is the model of society
In "Handmaid's Tale", the most extreme manifestation of patriarchy is depicted. In family court, many of the same values are in place and the rights of women and children are marginalized and a woman's value is denied in favor of male values. As Bell Hooks writes, "Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence." Family court is one such form of psychological terrorism and violence, built by men to serve the interests of men.

Many women have been through the unreasonable, abusive nightmare of family court and readily recognize it as an extreme manifestation of patriarchy. If unreasonable constructs like parental alienation, giving custody to known abusers, ignoring the harmful impact of personality disorders, actively creating poverty in women, and perpetuating the "abusive husband/good dad" myth, then it is absolutely the kind of dystopian dysfunction that mirrors "The Handmaid's Tale." The book feels surreal. But disturbing elements of this horrid, surreal dystopia are found right here in our country, right now, in family court.

Please see my next post on this family court topic:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Loss of Tooth

They say for every child you lose a tooth.
Today is a day I wholeheartedly believe in coincidences, the kind where your mind latches on to a theme and that theme pops up to affirm and teach you. I lost a tooth. Not by accident, it was a scheduled loss, a necessary loss, a pre-emptive loss, a prophylactic loss. It will not be replaced, as befits my current class in life.
On this same day of tooth loss, my aunt posted a video of Big Rock, VA. In this video, Home Creek, the place where my grandparents lived, is shown. I was flooded with grief and memories. I spent so many summers there, catching crawdads with my cousins, making "suicides": where you'd take all the flavors in the pop machine and mix them, occasionally taking rides in coal trucks because we thought that was the bee's knees. As was going to the Piggly Wiggly with my Mamaw. My Papaw let me drive a Datsun when I was 13 and I almost drove it into the river until someone came running out of the house to show me where the brakes were. That's where he kept bees, where my grandmother grew peonies, where I was loved and held and cried so hard to leave.
2:30-3:12 shows the area where my grandparents' house was. 

In my youth I had no clue then that there were coal companies or that Appalachia was basically a colonized area. There were coal trucks and people who worked in the mines, people who were good-hearted and who stopped at my Mamaw's hamburger stand to hang out and talk and read The Virginia Mountaineer. I had no clue I was Appalachian, even, or what that meant. Of course, it made sense in my coincidental mind that losing a tooth would be coupled with seeing a video of my ancestral home, the mountains I loved. There is such a strong connection to teeth and class, and I immediately feared judgment, felt the weight of my own personal-coal-company's oppression since I could  not afford a more suitable treatment, and the sting of yet another loss.Why didn't someone tell me I was from Appalachia? That Buchanan County boasts the highest rate of people on disability in the nation, and for good reason? That "being Appalachian" is what I've been trying to simultaneously embrace and run from my whole life?
My grandparent's house doesn't even stand there any more. After they died, it was in gross disrepair and could not be salvaged. It needed to be let go, to be cleansed. It was time. My mother's marriage was a personal colonization and the wisdom of the broken system said the way to fix a personal colonization, the way to fix an abusive man is to exile her. It was an exile for her, but a cleansing for him...all the "hims" involved. Just another mountain top razed.
Loss. Not just loss of a part of me, a tooth part of me. A loss of ideas of myself as strong.  I am fragile, breakable, a part of me injured beyond reasonable hope of repair. Dead and gone to me.
But losing this tooth and connecting to my born class in life made me feel an even deeper loss: loss of dignity. Dignity that is so easily usurped by those who don't care. Dignity that richer people don't mind taking from poorer people. Dignity is fragile, class is immutable. That my dignity could be so threatened by a cracked and broken molar just indicated a life of trying to find dignity and hold on to it, of trying to leave Appalachia.
 The truth is, I don't want to "leave" Appalachia. I want to leave the stigma of being a commodity: to men, to culture, to others. I want to leave situations of oppression. I want to leave the feeling of being "pillaged and plundered", exploited, used up. I want to leave the feeling of being someone who deserves less than others. I want to leave the orbit of abusers and get to the good stuff: the beauty of the mountains, the incredible goodness of the people, the kind, giving nature of the souls there, and the make-do resourcefulness that helped them, and me, survive. I want with all my heart to identify with the mountain. I have loved those mountains my entire life, exile or not.
Pillaged and plundered. When I read this incredible article, I latched on to that phrase. My tooth was mined, taken from me, indicative of a poor diet when growing up. My dignity has been mined from me, indicative of a propensity for choosing the wrong men, pillaged and plundered.
For every personal colonization you lose a tooth. For every oppressor's judgment you lose a tooth. For every bout of poverty you lose a tooth. For every verbal or physical manipulation you lose a tooth.
For every reminder of being from coal country, you lose your dignity. For every trip to family court, you lose a piece of your humanity.
 Alice Miller in her book, "The Body Never Lies" speaks of the importance of having an "enlightened witness" to trauma. The stories of colonized peoples are the stories of trauma and traumatization, stories of the dance between those who traumatize and those who are wounded. I will just sit with that for awhile. I believe one of the gifts of consciously healing trauma, of becoming aware of why you were abused and where you came from to get there is to become an "enlightened witness". You understand better than anyone what went down. "Enlightened" in the sense of complete compassion.
Compassion does not exist in abusers, oppressors, those who colonize, those who harass others for fun. So we need more people who DO really hear and affirm that it is wrong and hurtful and inhumane to oppress another human being. We need more people who understand and seek to empower those impoverished and exploited by rich corporations. Unfortunately, that is the way it works. Compassionate others are the ones who end up cleaning up oppressor's messes.
And that is the path, to take up acting with dignity and value as a human being.
A friend of mine, on hearing my latest "tale from the colony", that part of my life where I'm just a miner in a mine and the coal company charges me exorbitant prices at the company store and takes, takes, takes, exasperated, asked me, "why? Why did you choose this?". Why, indeed, would anyone willingly be pillaged and plundered? To learn, I told her. I didn't know any better. Now I do. It's made me deeper and more aware. Tormentors are teachers. In their cruelty, they teach us how NOT to be. They teach us congruence through their manipulative hypocrisies. They teach us to stand up for truth through their gaslighting and lies. They teach us to tolerate no less than love, through their hatred.
Cause, Lord, if you can forgive a coal company, even a "relational coal company", you can do ANYTHING.

Monday, May 15, 2017


Love them or hate them, they are still a marvel and a beauty of nature. Marvel with me, please:

all photographs copyright. Please ask for permission before using so they can be credited.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Coat of Many Narratives

The winter of our exile, 1978, we nestled in to a split-level apartment, in northwest Ohio, far from coal and Virginia farms and bars and in-home beauty shops. The kitchen was on the top level and was the place of the back door, the upper means of escape. Escape was important, as we'd learned. Vital. Necessary.
That year, the snow closed in over that door in an eight foot drift. We wore our pajamas and watched cartoons. We had our faces turned toward the TV but our ears tuned to the snap of the Valium bottle, the quiet sobs of our mother. We had only one escape route; the front door. Reduced circumstances.
The judge had exiled us. He gave my mom a gun permit and told her to move far away, so she did. All of us, all being my brother, my mother, and myself, wore the typical cool, blank faces of the shell-shocked. I was in fourth grade, and I remember absolutely nothing about school that year.
After such a pain, such a wound, so much conflicting inside, healing has to come. It just does. A wound cannot be escaped; it must be prodded, explored, questioned, assessed. It must be expressed in hobbling, a stultifying lilt in your voice, a hesitation towards Life.  You must sometimes leave your body and gaze on its hurt state in order to handle it. Wounds take time to close. "Letting go" cannot be conflated with repression. No steps skipped. Slowly, slowly, you drag your wounded self back to life.
I watched my mom do that. Looking back, I see her as a wrangler, roping and wrestling yearling calves, deftly steering a quick pony. Her arm is raised over her head, a rope circling. She is on a mission to overcome, because one cannot face the sadness of abuse without getting PISSED OFF.
And overcome she did. What preceded the judge exiling us was my mom following my dad to catch him cheating. The story goes, she then sold the cattle and bought a 1978 red Grand Prix with a white leather interior. Roping calves. She lost a ton of weight and looked like a babe in this black leather coat with a fur collar she'd bought. Skillfully riding her horse.
That coat became a symbol of my mother's liberation and strength for me. It showed she could pick up her grief-stricken, sore-hearted self and get back to wrestling and wrangling despite those wounds.
The coat itself became an object of fascinating lore for me. I had this vision of my mom, a discarded and abused woman, refusing to act like she was just wiped off a man's shoe. She went on to work at General Motors as a foreman (fore woman?). That's a far cry from her life as a hairdresser. But she managed men in her factory job just fine. She found her strength.
She later told me a suitor from her foreman days bought her the coat. I was deflated, because I was certain she'd told me it came with the car, so to speak, and was part of her post-divorce 'coming out party.' Or she had to buy it when we moved to Ohio. The coat is sassy, rebellious, super fitted, shiny, durable. It screams, "I have been THROUGH divorce hell and now I'm back and feeling my own power." It told me my mom didn't take shit off of anybody, and she was a real catch. The coat had achieved epic status in my mind, more than a coat, it was a cloak of freedom.
That coat was the exit, the sign of leaving reduced circumstances. No matter what doors closed to her, my strong, beautiful mother found a way.
I think about the circumstances we are born into. My mom was born in Appalachia, and so was I. There is so much to be gleaned from those the area is structured to meet the insatiable needs of corporate libertarianism. How one of the strengths of the people has historically been their ability to adapt to reduced circumstances, in some grow their gardens and trade with their neighbors. Yet I'm convinced the structure of neoliberalism has a trickle-down effect to personal relationships. If all your men are being exploited, then by default, some will come home and set up that same exploitative structure in their homes. Entitlement is a yeasty, insidious presence that is unconsciously absorbed and wielded by some. The stress of being exploited and this enforced class and poverty disintegrates relationships and communities, or, it can be a unifying force, a motivation for "buck against" and overcome. My mother and I grew up in this structure of relationships, this creation of oppressor/oppressed, of user/used. Everything trickles down...the sins of the fathers...the tears of the mothers.
Somehow, despite a person formerly known as an intimate trying to drag you down, despite all the lingering messages of class and stereotypes sticking to you like a "kick me" sign on your back, despite the structure into which you are born and learn to adapt to, somehow, there arises in some a desire to make it better. There arises a strength to take the worst circumstances and make good out of them. This strength is what my mother modeled for me. I know, like me, she had times where she didn't think she could make it, where she didn't think she could cope, where she was overwhelmed by all the burdens of the past and present. I learned that poverty can dog your steps and nip your heels for a long time and not many people will care, especially not the people who should, like your children's parent or family. Appalachia gets recreated as one marries an adherent of personal neoliberalism, of exploitation of the poor, of making the rich man richer, of having you take up their slack.
This is what I admire about my mother-this alchemy of spirit, this drive to rise above reduced circumstances. We have been through the wringer with each other as we have tried to reconcile our own feelings and grief cycles with each other. My mother has always modeled reconciliation and has very much desired a relationship with me, despite the hurts we've given each other. There won't be a day that goes by that I don't think about my mother, how I hear my voice turning just like hers, when I see my face looking so much like her. My mother is in me, and I am in her.
When I wear that coat, I wear its stories. I wear the overcoming of the terrors of abuse, the symbolism of leaving poverty, the unblocked exit door, the power of wounds and the gifts of exile, and the ever-present hope in good things to come. My mother gave that to me, and I am forever grateful for her gift.
Happy mother's day to all the strong, beautiful women I know, especially to my own sweet mother, who to this day has the most generous heart, is still incredibly funny and sassy, and who is dearly loved by her family.


Friday, May 12, 2017

I will wait

I will wait until we know each other better
to hope that things will change

 not knowing is a season, like a winter
a cold covering over the eyes, shielding from
words and winds and walls
a blindness of heart, an impediment of hoping
 that maybe, just maybe

if you knew the fields I'd plowed
if you let me show you
then you would fling open your doors and
with green blushing your hands, you'd
glisten like a newborn daffodil

I will wait to touch your soil
your rich, black earth
I would dig into with bare-handed vigor
searching for warmth, hoping for rain

when we know each other better
I will put my ear to your earth
softly, tentatively
as if listening for horses' hooves, for a rumbling train warning
for the coming storm, the well-armed warriors
I always hear the wars coming
For I have bedded drought

but if I am to be courageous
I will open my ears and heart to hear more
To feel the steady beating flow of groundswells
water moving far below the surface
like a frozen stream, a cracking of icebergs
Here sings the wild-tuned timbre of love

I will wait until we know each other better

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

To the man who made me a mother

My first daughter came when I was 23, my second when I was 26. I was clueless in most things life, and had not even touched the depth of my trauma or wounds. But I sincerely tried to make a marriage work, and through a series of circumstances, we ended up divorced. It was a painful divorce, and we cried together many times, and got irate together many times. I suppose most divorces are like that, and ours made both of us do the growing up we couldn't do together. The stories of our parting belong to him and me alone.
However, my ex remained a pillar of devotion to his children. He didn't seek to punish me through our children or the courts, and it allowed us both to be flexible and make sure we were both able to raise our children as best we could. We made a schedule together, taking into account each person's wishes and wants. He paid child support like clockwork, and I did not use that as a way to take advantage of him. We still got mad and there were still times neither one of us got what we wanted, but I can honestly say my ex really loved his girls and would do anything for them. He often paid for things above and beyond what was expected.
When we divorced, he "stole" my wedding rings. I searched frantically high and low and he lied to me, saying he didn't know where I'd put them because I was always losing things anyway. For three years he lied. Then one day, I received my wedding rings from him along with a note containing a beautifully written apology, not just for the rings, but for the hurt. I apologized too and kept that note for years. I understood why he kept them. Under all that anger was a whole heap of hurting and hoping. Today I realize how very precious it is to have such a moment of healing, and how distant that all seems today.
I can still talk to him as a friend, and a few years ago, when I was going through divorce number 2, he called me to make sure I was ok. He actually called me to make sure I was ok and hear me when I cried/vented.
When I had more children with another man, he became "Davey Dave" and was kind and welcoming to those children, like an uncle.
I never thought he disrespected me as a mother, even when I did things to screw up. We both did things to screw up because we are both human beings. But neither of us tried to destroy the other. Sure, we got mad and hateful but that never completely stuck. We were able to let go and forgive.
I write this out of gratitude. And to all the women out there I've spoken with who complain about an ex not paying child support, deceiving, lying about his income, making everything a fight, dismissing your role as mother, having no clue how not supporting your children is, well, unsupportive of your children. I want you to have a picture of how it can be, to give hope that there are men who understand the importance of mothering and who carry those wonderful male traits of support and encouragement. There are men who will not dare disempower a fellow parent. At the time, I didn't know how lucky I was to have someone who supported me as a person and most importantly as a mother, who was steady in support instead of vitriol. Having had things go the opposite way, I appreciate it now, and as Mother's Day approaches, I want to give a shout out to the man who made me a mother.
So thank you, Dave, for all that you did for our family and for us. I am deeply grateful for the depth of your caring and will always love you. As a result, it is a joy to see how close our girls are to you and how you still delight in supporting them in their lives.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Longing for Ghosts

Something has cursed me, has dogged my steps, has driven me mad. This thing is a blight on my psyche, a wound with jagged edges that refuses to heal. Oh it can heal but it refuses to. It is so ingrained in culture yet I see no evidence for its continued existence. It's nostalgia for a golden calf, my golden calf, the image of my devotion and obsession, the deepest pain of my heart where I succumb to the allure of something that doesn't exist for me or my children. Nostalgia for the non-existent, the overly dead, the fake.
This golden calf can be found here:

This image, a longing I've written about before, still tugs me, as in, I sob over it. Even though I never saw the sustained physical manifestation  of this image, I was recently talking to a friend about how I used to cry when I'd see an intact family. It still carries a pang when I see others in an intact family...not that I am immune to the struggles and complications of life with a partner and children thrown in, but that the longing of my heart to both be, and have someone be, a place where I do not have to doubt I am loved is strong.
It feels like a terrible burden at times. After my second divorce, I had no overwhelming urge to bring a partner into my life. My children and I had/still have a lot to sift through. My life is so full I don't even know if I have room for a partner at this time.There has never seemed to be the right combination of personality and circumstance. Most days, it doesn't even cross my mind.
At one point, my life looked like this:

I cannot stomach the woman I once was, the woman who sacrificed a lot of her own needs and her children's needs to feed the grandiosity of a  man. Now, I am thrilled to not do that and I enjoy my children a lot more and can be more present to them without the complications a relationship can bring. That being said, I'm pretty sure I'd be happy to welcome a man who can be an asset instead of a liability, someone who could add to our lives instead of dragging us down. 
But it is a point of grieving for me. I loved the role of wife and mother. I loved having someone come home to me, or me come home to them. I love family as a general institution, the idea of supportive fathers, and the concept of loving husband. I know others have them. Because of my life experiences, I will always associate family with "broken". My children will associate family with broken, too, and we still talk about their unique longings for a whole family.
I don't know if we talk about these things as much as we should. I don't know if these pictures of nuclear families are part of cultural or biological programming, or if they simply represent a harmony, a wholeness that me and my children lack.  I don't know if these pictures are confronted as often as they should be for what they are. They aren't lies, per se, but they do carry longing and grief...longing for people who model mutual respect, wholeness, and the sanctity of love. This nuclear family concept has surely been crumbling for a long time, and it has many enemies that actively work to make it difficult. Not impossible, but harder than before. And that takes for granted that the woman is respected, which we know was not true in the 50's. Domestic violence in that rigid of an image was just swept under the rug. For that reason, I'm angry about the image and think it's stupid, the same way I get mad at people who wear the t-shirt or display the bumper stickers but in their doing are opposite of the image they project. I have come to despise images without substance, even my own.
We don't always get what we want, and while my head says "we make our own family", my heart longs for the security of trust in that kind of love and grieves for what might have been. Image or not, for me it is the opposite of brokenness and pain. Happy faces surely knowing they are loved.
It's odd to have a nostalgia for something you don't have, have never really had, have never been able to give to your children due to poor choosing.
I give them what I give them- a woman who would move heaven and earth for them. That is what family does...unselfishly. I would not be the kind of parent or grandparent who is rich because I'd be busy giving it to my kids for their needs. No man, in or out of the picture, will move that from them. Because I am their mother...their family.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Rest in peace

In the hollow of my breath, there walks people of my younger hearts...all the hearts I drove into the ideals, bickering, love, tumult, and softness of that newer part of life.
They are sanctuaries of tenderness.
I lost a person of my younger heart this week, a true friend, a talented, loving and wise man. I let his words and music stand alone:

"We are spirits, blown across the wind. We are darkness, we are sun.
We are driven, homeward to return. We are yearning to become."
(this is me singing. It was a privilege to work with you, my friend. Thank you.)

I know this passage is about remembering a lover who is presumed to be still alive, but the overarching sentiment is lovely in saying that you miss something you no longer miss a person, be that friend or coworker or fleeting acquaintance...this longing remains."Secret astonishment" indeed.

"I sip my coffee. I look at the mountain, which is still doing its tricks, as you look at a still-beautiful face belonging to a person who was once your lover in another country years ago: with fond nostalgia, and recognition, but no real feelings save a secret astonishment that you are now strangers. Thanks. For the memories. It is ironic that the one thing that all religions recognize as separating us from our creator--our very self-consciousness--is also the one thing that divides us from our fellow creatures. It was a bitter birthday present from evolution, cutting us off at both ends."

-- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Monday, April 17, 2017

Where's Eustace?

I read an article by Michel Odent discussing "stress deprivation" in pre-labor cesarean birth. Labor starts a cascade of hormones and body responses that help prepare the baby for life in the outside world. He mentions how the word "stress" has negative connotations and the impulse of our culture is to avoid stress. One of my favorite TED talks addresses this belief here. The article goes into detail about the implications for mother and child in denying the process of labor for whatever reason. Even if the reason is lifesaving, there are certain long-term consequences to doing it this way.

It is the same in emotional health. Skipping parts of the healing process has long-term ramifications.
Someone does not go from business school to head of company with no takes time to learn how to apply book knowledge to real life situations. You can't take a block of clay and stick your finished piece in the kiln without conditioning the clay first. You can't go from throwing ingredients in a bowl to eating a "cake" can't have ingredients and call it a cake without sifting flour, creaming eggs and sugar, adding all necessary ingredients, and finally baking. There is a process, and it takes time. Not your time. Its own time.
This is what happens when we cut off our anger: it doesn't go away. Just as a cake doesn't hold together until it's baked, anger doesn't hold together unless it is healed. Instead, it comes out sideways and in all the wrong places. It makes you lash out at people who are helpers or friends. it makes you misplace it on to people who don't deserve your anger. It might even make you become abusive and choose someone to bear the blame for all of your anger .
Birth is an apt metaphor for this, for when anger is cut out of you instead of squeezed out of you in a truthfully expressive way, there are repercussions to your mental health. You brood, you suffer, you feel confused or antsy or stuck. Stuffing any feelings, but especially anger, will literally make you sick. Stuffing it into passive aggression is even worse.
I got tired of stuffing. Having a "coming out" party with a devotion to grief meant I also had to have a healthy devotion to anger, at least for awhile.  Having anger when you have every right and reason to be angry is a holy, blessed thing. Let me be straight. Having anger does not give you the power to change a darned thing about another person, except to hurt back if you so choose, and it will still end poorly. Anger is your burden alone, but it gives you excellent information about yourself. It gives you clarity. It protects you, especially if you have been taught to numb out and not stand up and speak when things are very wrong. It is healthy to be good and pissed, especially if you have someone in your life whose goal is to limit your options, press you down, and unfairly punish you. It is healthy, and like giving birth, it is finite. Anger is an energy most of us didn't learn how to handle. When we find situations where passive aggression is mistaken for mental health and where we aren't allowed to be angry, we suffer. Our anger gives us clarity and strength and the energy to make things right.
If one has been in an oppressive situation, your anger has never been uncovered or welcomed. To accept and express anger is vital, otherwise it is as if a limb has been cut off your body and you will be emotionally crippled your whole life. The transformation happens when anger leads to truth which leads to grace. It's a long process. I say to  anyone who knows me, any angry part of me is just a part, just a stop on my path. I was stifled for so long and anger is like lighting a fire of Self. We all have to learn some time to light this fire of truth to get to grace.
Not being angry causes not just your suffering, but the suffering of others. Not speaking up when you should is an act of cowardice. Sometimes, awakening anger can keep hurtful people far away from us in our hearts. Hurtful people won't acknowledge or honor your anger, because they can't handle anything that isn't superficial. Abusers and narcissists value image over substance. Their thinly disguised anger defends their image but not their humanity. It's fake. They might have the same perception of themselves as victim, but it is not because their human needs were threatened, it is because their image was threatened. That, too, means it is fake. In the name of that false image, they create a victim to blame, judge, criticize, and heap all of their angst on. That isn't the same as truthfully saying to someone, "your behavior has caused damage." In fact, it's the opposite because it is based on a lie.
 To get to love and grace, these protections must be put aside. Imagine being loved not for your "fakeness" and "performance" but for your messy humanity. Often, the person pointing out your hurtfulness is giving you a gift: the possibility of being loved for being real.
Eustace, a character in CS Lewis's "Voyage of the Dawntreader", had greed in his heart. When he tried to selfishly hoard and keep a treasure when he had the option to share it, he himself was turned into a dragon- a scary, threatening dragon . This passage from the story illustrates beautifully the transformation of an errant heart:

"The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don't know if he said any words out loud or not.

I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bath.

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

The the lion said - but I don't know if it spoke - 'You will have to let me undress you.' I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know - if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt - and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was was smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. You'd think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they've no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian's, but I was so glad to see them.

After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me - (with his paws?) - Well, I don't exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes - the same I've got on now, as a matter of fact. and then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream."

Do you see? Eustace had to claw his way out of his dragon skin. Then he had to go through layers and layers until he was finally exposed for who he was- a boy. 

This is what anger does eventually...exposes the bare flesh, exposes our feelings of being trapped; our sense of powerlessness, our humility, our sense of righteous indignation at exploitation of any kind, and finally, our ability to be transformed. And we can find there that we are, in all of our humanity, deeply accepted and loved. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

If you are local to Louisville, I am honored to be reading a piece of my creative nonfiction at Louisville's SWAN Day celebration.
SWAN is an acronym for "Support Women Artists Now."
I find it funny and also delightful that I get to read my writing when I have had such trouble embracing myself as a writer and my fingers are in all kinds of art and music pies. Maybe being insecure about writing makes me a writer?
Here are details for the event:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


As a music educator, and mostly as a parent, I believe it is my duty to influence my children's musical tastes. Or at least expose them to good music. When the pre-teen and finally teen years hit, with a six-year-gap between my younger children, this poses some unique challenges. I want to embrace what my children are listening to, and give them room to explore on their own while gently exposing them to other things.
But man, a mom can only hear "JuJu On That Beat" so many times. After I'd reached my threshold of tolerance for that particular song, I declared a War of the Generations: Dance Music Edition.
First order of business: Madonna. First, my daughter sat on the couch. I won't publish the pictures here but suffice it to say the looks she gave were scornful. Then they were more scornful. Then her whole face was downright contemptuous.
That meant I should play another Madonna song. Don't worry, there was a smile beneath the contempt and she even humored a round of "how contemptuous CAN you make your face?" That turned out to be funny.
You see, she is in the throes of becoming her own person. Mom isn't cool any more. Hugs are in short supply and we now share a full complement of moods. I have to be creative in finding ways to connect with her without intruding on her individuation.
But by Madonna song number three and trying to dance to it, REALLY dance, the ol' pre-teen college try, she threw her body on the floor in a "Holiday" sized tantrum. Her face down, arms splayed out like a cross -how apropos-, she wailed hysterically, "NOOOOOOOOOOO."


My poor child. I had to redeem this situation. I know, the Moon Walk.
We watched the moon walk, we tried the moon walk, we listened to Billie Jean and danced to Beat It. My inner mom was giving a thumbs up. Way to go. Good job.
Dreams of other songs, comforting songs from the 80's, filled my head. A respite from JuJu On That Beat, however temporary it might be. I didn't care. This was great. We were connecting over 80's songs.
Then, something happened. Google. She wanted to learn more about Michael Jackson. So everything was ok until we got to bleaching and burns and melting face. Then she had exactly two nightmares about Michael Jackson's face and I had to write this evening off as a parenting fail. A year or so passed with nary a mention of -shhhh- MJ.
So, imagine my surprise when tonight, we all ended up dancing in the kitchen to Michael Jackson, prompted by my daughter. There was even a little break dancing. What fun.
The point of all of this is that even when you think they aren't, your children are listening. They are hearing you. If they have made that turn towards freedom, they need you even more, way more, than they will ever let on. I'm convinced you have to let them think they don't need you, and quietly love them over those contrived distances. If they still think Mom is cool, then eat that up, every moment of it.
Actually, just eat all of it up. It's way too short.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Missing the point

I rely a lot on friends to keep me abreast of things that are happening in the world of politics. My time is thinly stretched these days, so this morning I listened with interest to a story my friend was telling me. He said as he was driving through Indiana, a radio announcer was going off about the issue of raising minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour. This announcer was denigrating the kinds of jobs people who work at minimum wage hold, and complaining that raising their income won't improve the quality of their work. I could not help but think that there are many, many people who think like this radio announcer, that they are entitled to have lower-earning people in their poor place to serve them, have no obligation to examine their own entitlement while they benefit from oppression and keeping others poor.
Yet I  understand the thinking of those who are entitled. Entitlement completely underscores abuse. In this case, a man believes that only his opinion is what counts, and he should benefit from the toils of people who he deems less than him, basically using human beings so he can feel better about himself. So the selfish show of entitlement comes when that man believes that these people OWE him that. And when he does not get what he is owed, he turns himself into a victim. Somehow minimum wage workers threaten him because his hamburger might be of lesser quality.
Another man I heard of was in dire straits because he might have to downsize his house by half: from a value of half a million to a value of a quarter of a million.
To most of us, this is obvious. It's the spoiled brats of the world and whiny grown-up babies who mess it up for everyone else. Even though they have more than they need, they must affirm their perception of themselves as God by controlling the lives of others through taking from them or subjugating them, or both. The lord giveth and mostly taketh. That radio man, in looking only at how empowering a downtrodden group inconveniences him, is acting like a prick and missing the point. Putting people in a position where they are basically asked to be slaves to those richer than they are is oppression at its finest, fueled by fiery entitlement. His conviction is that he is owed certain things by people he deems lesser than him. When he does not get that, he feels oppressed and therefore, victimized. However, the people he is oppressing with his heinous attitude have real worries: food, shelter, clothing, basic human needs. To him, he is being victimized when he is disagreed with and his superiority is not acknowledged and acted upon. To those he oppresses, their victimization is real in that their basic needs are being threatened.
This man flippantly said they should get two jobs if they need to. Men who use the courts to financially cripple their exes are the worst. I am certain those kinds of  men would never take two minimum wage jobs, even though any monkey off the street can spout off opinions on the airwaves or make sacrifices to their vacation schedules to accommodate their children's needs and see the value of being a supportive co-parent instead of an obstructive and destructive one.
Supporting the poverty of another is enslaving them. Abusers deliberately enslave an other. They feel threatened not when their basic needs are actually threatened, but when their ego and convictions about their entitlement are threatened. So they focus on their false victimization-you victimized them by disagreeing with them or having your own thoughts- and cannot see the damage they do in reality. Their grasp on reality is tenuous at best. That is why politicians can get away with so much oppression-they twist things around to garner sympathy. People really believe their "hamburger will be devalued" if they support another.
When the real victims then stand up for themselves, they are punished.
Fear of punishment should not stop people whose human value and quality of life are threatened by entitled bullies. Oppression marks everything that is evil and shameful and hateful in this world, and working to change it takes great courage and insight.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


it used to be I minded being born
on to undressed walls
only when I was in white love
in womb-warmed darkness
comforted by the pleasures of illusion
the rich blindness of soft soil, where one
can grow straight down
to the cusp of moisture
held simple on lips
no skin untouched

in deep, a long stretch of
sea legs would carry wind to
bluster and billow out the dreams
seed pods lying on top of dew
or floating in the sun
they blister and heal

it used to be a river
which had my entire devotion
was hung on a clothesline
where it dried and cracked

I heard you say I was strong
when you broke me

am I? is broken strong
or moved like other rivers;
seeded like other births?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

hands know

How much do hands know any more?

It used to be I’d watch my grandfather turn over a stack of twenties in his fingers at the betting window. I’d watch my grandmother’s fingers gracefully twirl a swift cigarette from out of the package. All eyes turned toward the track or the television in some corner, they’d forget their handling and fondling to go shout a number. Horses begin at one part of the oval, end at another, first number at the finish line is noted.

A pack of horses densifies and then stretches in a line.

Lines on lines, rows on rows, forming and re-forming.

Another cigarette is rolled from the pack, is lit, and bobs on my grandmother’s lips when she talks.

It rolls like the whorls in a baby’s hair. Like the whorls in an enthusiastically running tide.

Like seashells, snails, Klimt paintings.

Trees of life.

Horses hurling towards the finish line.

Like the Fates, twisting the threads of life between their gnarled crone fingers, between their spindly joints, making whorls of tangled torments from smooth lines.

Horses leave the gate frantically,

My grandmother’s fingers are grey, and her skin is smooth like thin paper. Her irises are tiny black lights. She is ash all around, head always wrapped in a fog of smoke. A cigarette is always dangling, resting, smoking and throwing up thin ivy-like shoots into the air before they disappear. Cigarette smoke, if I look closely, is only foggy when it is forcefully expelled from a mouth, chaos. Most of the time it forms thin lines in the air, curves gracefully in visible lines. These lines throw dirt on walls, in conversations. They become violent if provoked by a philandering, gambling husband, forming and re-forming, light up, breathe in unseen, breathe out chaos, stub out, repeat.

It takes patience to untangle chaos, to hold one’s breath while the fingers work beneath.

It takes intention to choose which horse to bet on during any given race, the names blur and run together after a few drinks. Another cigarette, another bourbon, heavy breath and empty pockets. Plastic cups empty and gather at a tiny table. Racing forms with frantic pencil circles and calculations. She always said she only held the smoke in her mouth and did not inhale it and would not take it in all the way. He smacked his “Form” on his hand in an excited “come on”.

Jockeys goad with their whips.

Like sweeping the floor.

Like fists curled deliberately, clutching a retaliation for dear life.

Poking anthills, firing up ants, rigid, thick stick arguments.

The floors are dirty and covered with stepped-on losing tickets. Loser’s confetti pieces, folded and torn, then scattered and tamped down. Tiny cigarettes in a pack. Pinch, pull out, light, drag, stub out. My grandmother mutes herself with cigarettes, with calculated circles of resignation. The horses are in the gate, dancing on their haunches, taut and ready. Participatory repression, spring and release.

Watch the cigarettes leave the pack. So many were smoked.

People stand in long lines waiting for their turn to bet. These lines are slow and ponderous. Sticky hands reach into pockets to pull out money, count and count again, which number should you pick. Agonizing confusion over the inability to predict something with certainty, yet with all the information written on the Racing Form one has a hunch. A hunch, a clue, an illusion, you like the name, the horse looks good, the jock looks good, just pick. Roll one more cig from the pack. Dirt circles shoes and money, leaves residue like the angst of drunkards.

Wring out a winner, twist the numbers in your head.

Horse races were always accompanied by other rituals: drinking too much, followed by my drunken grandfather losing his money. The ritual retelling by my grandmother of how my grandfather gave his money to whores, fell out of drunken windows, her floors at home left dirty, her mouth circled with smoke, his head in an unremorseful fog. She was yearly sheared of her dignity and place, a domestic. These rituals were circular, relational whorls, tidepooling and receding, one smoke after another.

His mouth was always ready with a smooth line and in his hands a wad of twenties. The years gathered on his bobbing lies, growing fatter and fatter on his lower lip, slow creeping ivy-tendrils of thin smoke. My grandfather kept lying words on thin threads, just in case he’d have to tie something together, make something other than a mess or pretend he could do something better than twist out a crying woman.

Sometimes, something has substance on its own. A winning horse, the ticket with the correct number, the drunken losses that are felt and ignored. A jockey who is carefully measured in stature and lightness. A number that is a wild card win. An obsequious smoke. Other things must be plied together to create substance, to stick together, to later tangle. Horses whirling tightly together, circling. Smiles on drunk faces. Folding and stacking losing tickets in halves as you tear each half, smaller and smaller, snuffed out. A man, and women. These, too, are ritually discarded with the cigarette stubs.

Spun cigarettes, horse races, grandparents, circling, crying.

Ritual twisting.

Losing tickets.

Hands know.

Monday, March 6, 2017

I confess

I have a secret I've kept from all but a few close friends. It is one of those habits of comfort that as an adult, I've deliberately secreted away. It is a pleasure from a time in my life when I was a completely different person, full of passion and fire, full of conviction and evangelism, a somewhat embarrassing person. No, really. Any time you know what someone else should be doing you are embarrassing yourself. When I embraced fundamental Christianity, I listened to only Christian music because all other music was "devil music". I even went to a workshop at my youth group where someone played a Queen song backwards on a turntable and if you strained to hear, the chorus sounded like, "it's fun to smoke marijuana." We ooohed and ahhhheed over how crafty the devil is in leaving these bad influential messages in the popular music everyone was listening to. On first dates, I don't really disclose that information, again, embarrassing, and say instead I have "large gaps in my cultural knowledge." But I loved contemporary Christian music, and my secret is, that although my spirituality has shifted, I still listen to it.
Going back to that time where I was so naive and had so much love I needed to put somewhere, when singing my heart out to "Jesus music" brought me feelings I didn't know I could have, when church brought me connection to something bigger than myself, is just comforting.
I was saved at several Petra and other Christian rock concerts. In the black-and-white thinking of a teenager, I thought salvation was an either/or proposition: either you were saved because you toed the line and were good enough, or you weren't. I hadn't learned about grace and so I'd have an unsavory thought or do something sinful and back I'd be at the altar call.  Maybe I took it as shame and putting on a garment of shame felt familiar. There were other ways the church put on shame, and my waking up to how truly radical Jesus was, and what a social justice warrior he was in the narrative of his life, not to mention that I experienced in a bad way the Pharisee nature of many Christians, left me seeking other ways to experience holiness and divine connection.
But I loved the music. I loved, and still love, the feeling of worship and devotion. I remember one artist was fire-was controversy- was passionate honesty: Amy Grant. I remember what a stir she caused by inching to the mainstream, by working with Peter Cetera, and then breaking through with her hit "Baby Baby."That was huge for a Christian artist. She also sang songs about the joy of family, had scandalous names to her songs like "Lead Me On", and wrote about struggling with temptation to cheat on her husband. Wow. Christians didn't talk about those things, much less sing about them. People freaked out and judged her relentlessly. I loved her.

What I drew from singing and listening to that music was an honesty I hadn't found in the letter of the law. It was the spirit of the law, the psalmist's cries, as the deer pants for the water; sincere longing and passion. It was the utter vulnerability that comes from recognition of your humanity in contrast to the Divine. And oh, having been bathed in shame my whole life, I was attracted to Christianity, but eventually realized for me, the truth of God is the opposite of shame. Perhaps shame is what brings us to spirit, which is why I love it when people expose their dark underbellies. I have spent so much time in dark underbellies of abuse and have seen the worst of humanity:  in Christians, in organizations, in myself, in beloveds. But often the people who are the most hurtful are the ones who appear the most righteous and perfect. It's so boring and bland to be righteous and perfect and above reproach. How positively wearisome and banal . Give me some reality...tell me how you hurt or avoided responsibility or lied or stole or messed up or had to unburden your pride and apologize. Tell me what you know of your darkness, where you have stumbled, where you have humbled yourself before others and God. Let's get real together. Because, yikes-how we wound each other, constantly. How we hurt, ignore hurt, abandon, reject, criticize, and blame each other. How some even enjoy this wielding of powerful swords over others, even swords of religion and especially shame. Yet-please show me a person who has found grace without coming face to face with those shadows and darkness. Show me the person who hasn't fully emerged from beneath a dark underbelly without lifting their arms in praise to anything and everything that is LIFE, screaming "I am FREE!!!"  Show me the person who has walked in darkness and strife, in numb pain and isolation, who doesn't come all the way out of that knowing grace IN THEIR BONES. They have to because then they have known how shame hurts.
I love that one can touch darkness and it leads you to grace. It helps me accept my own faults and the mistakes of my humanity, and be as unburdened by perfectionism as I possibly can. I can always fix a mistake, but I can't fix it if I don't own it.
Part of me doesn't want to admit that oppressors have any use in this life except to cause suffering, that ideally we will all be walking in the light of grace and restoration and love when everyone's enlightened and the divine feminine has come to a place of equality with the divine masculine and then who cares, there is just the DIVINE. But if the whole purpose of being abused, being scapegoated, being made into an enemy is to find grace, then all that suffering will not have been wasted. And how odd to find grace through people who are not full of grace yet claim righteousness. That's just the way it works.
Also, there is Amy Grant.
So, I will just keep closet listening to my Jesus music. And Queen, too, because there never really was any devil music.
Lead Me On.