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.