At The Fault Line, Bravery, Memoir, Read, Support, writing

At The Fault Line

Today, Friday June 8, I am reading one of my recent essays at a ticketed event in Seattle. Eleven writers in my memoir group have crafted, honed and polished their words with grace and guts for the last few months. Writing a personal trauma story is a naked enough feeling. To read it in public takes exposure to a whole new level.

Last year, after my diagnosis and series of surgeries, three years of writing a manuscript went up in smoke. The questions came fast and hard, especially at night: do I bury my mother’s story, interweave mine, move on from past to present or take the story present to past? Do I even have the skills to do any or all of this? Do I want to?

When I finally wrote down the words which became my essay, “We Don’t Know Everything,” I felt there had been a nuclear explosion in my head; the collision of my story, my mother’s story, cancer information and understanding illness, all locking together in believable — and unbelievable — ways. All the pieces will be sharing, for lack of a better word, the radioactive fissure — the cracking of the fault lines —  that comes from speaking out on trauma. Eleven times over.

This is the second year of this event At The Fault Line. I hope we do this forever. The experience of professional coaching — by our mentor Tara Hardy —  speaking our words aloud into a microphone, into the atmosphere, into the ears of friends and strangers, validates our writing. And our existence. And our purpose.

Last year we sold tickets at the door. This year we have been sold out for almost two weeks. I am watching the seedling of a mighty tree of storytelling grow and grow and grow.

The stories will crack open hearts, from the mundane to the profound, from folding laundry to holding an Alzheimer patient. I am so proud of all of us.

Buddha

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care giving, May

May Day.

This morning I looped through town on my bike to pick up coffee and some air. The pup has an ulcerated paw and we have been cooped up together for weeks. Today, May 1 brings warmth and magnolia blossoms and a hint of green in the twiggy privet hedges. I stashed my helmet in my basket for a few blocks and let the sea air and bird song ruffle my ears. Everything is on hold until she heals — travel, reading events and the nest. But this is an old, familiar feeling, that kick of adrenaline, the unraveling of time and claustrophobia. Caregiving at it’s finest.

I have a lifetime resume of taking care of others: family, parents, grandparents, friends, strangers. As I write my manuscript about the years my mother was ill, when I was just out of college, the pages started to reveal something I had never been able to put into words before —  that my mother’s illness was my first internship and I tackled it head on. While my peers were buried in offices, medical school or graduate school, my four year immersion was in cancer, hospital rooms, treatment facilities. My mother’s death and dying was an experience that essentially drove the blueprint for the rest of my life. I discovered at twenty-one that I was really, really good at forgoing myself for the needs of others.

Mayday, Mayday. Person at risk.

Last year, at fifty-eight, I needed others to do this for me. I was under the sheets not sitting on the edge of the bed for the first time, ever. Enter the learning curve, the invaluable — if late —  lesson of letting others help me. It was uncomfortable and it was amazing.

How do we balance taking care of ourselves and taking care of others in need? We have to do both on a daily basis. The balance is essential for your health, and in turn, let’s us take better care of others. This is tricky, take it from me. Turns out taking care of myself is not selfish. Then I am in better shape to help you.

I didn’t put the bike away. Later I will go ’round the point one more time before sunset, her injured paw bandaged and the collar on snugly so she doesn’t chew the dressing. When Olive heals, I will go back to my work, time in Seattle, my essentials. A little for me, a little for her.

Go smell the grass and listen to the cardinals. Spring, and renewal, is in the air.

Version 2

Marblehead Harbor, early morning mist.

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#metoo, keeping silent, Me, Too, Social Media, Support, Women

Me + You

Me, Too.

Two little words. Every one of these posts, raining down on Facebook and Twitter from my women friends, colleagues and family feels like the moment the ice bucket challenge water hit the top of my head. The goosebumps just keep rising and won’t go away.

Just like when I was groped, at fifteen, in a movie theater. Just like when the pant-less man jumped out at me on Anderson Street. Just like when the passenger standing over me on the train parted his raincoat (seriously, how cliché) and showed me his penis. Just like the lewd emails I received from a male writer after a conference. Just like the tainted martini. I felt sick. I fell silent.

Do I look like an idiot? No, I look like a woman. And what did I do? Moved seats, crossed the road, sat still and hoped it would go away, deleted the emails, tried to forget. Never told my daughters. In other words, acted like a woman taught to keep her mouth shut, not stir up trouble, smile and pretend.

Those of you that know me might just have snorted. But that reaction has been ingrained. Period. In every instance, through my entire fifty-nine years, my response has been I am powerless against this man. Nothing I do will change what happened. Not worth making a fuss.

But these two words, posted again and again by women I love and admire, makes my heart skitter. We are confessing, yes; Me. But together we are building powerful, irreversible awareness with the second word; Too. 

I suspect every finger hesitated, every woman wondered, “should I do this publicly?” The answer is yes.

Because if you are nervous about going public consider something: each generation reaches higher standing on the shoulders and accomplishments of the women before them. But how staggering that women of ALL ages are posting these two words Me, Too and #metoo.  This is power. This is momentum. This is all of us, together.

Solidarity breaks things. Silence. Ignorance. Powerlessness. Domination. Wrong.

Wow and Wow. I admire each and everyone of you.

We are women. Not,

Blog10.17.17

 

 

 

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Feminism, Women, writing

Kick Butt.

I remember the day my grandmother taught me how to curtsey. She was somehow in charge of me on bridge day and I was dressed to be shown off, squeezed into an uncomfortable wool jumper, the white blouse underneath bunching up around my middle. I knew I fell short on many levels, but determined, she gave me a quick how-to before her guests arrived. Holding my plump hands in hers she positioned me in front of her and demonstrated: slide one foot behind the other, dip my knees together, look her in the eye.

I remember feeling a little sick to my stomach. At home I ran barefoot in the wheat fields. Why am I learning this I wondered. The year was 1965 and I had personally witnessed my mother throwing away her bra. “You can do EVERYTHING I couldn’t” my mother told me as she dropped it in the bin with a flourish. But I also knew, like my grandmother’s even, back-slanted handwriting, that today’s lesson held the key to being a lady, a term my mother scorned but the little fat girl secretly worshipped. I stood by the front door with my grandmother that day and executed a perfect curtsey to each guest. They cooed in admiration. This felt just fine.

So began my conflicted relationship with being a woman that frankly has not abated fifty-two years later. Does it ever abate with any woman my age? I write my essays on being white, middle aged and full of words. I question retiring from life when the kids leave for theirs. My essays and blog posts are sprinkled on the internet weekly and after publication I am full of heavy dread each time I turn on my laptop. Who will be offended? Can I live what I say and say what I mean?

But then we have the elections of 2016 and I face that I have been coasting along, letting other women do the heavy lifting. How to hone feminism and fifty and language to shape the next generation now keeps me awake at night.

“Look what we did for you!” was my mother’s favorite line when she pushed me to college, graduate school, begged me to get a PHD. This year I assure my oldest daughter as she plans her wedding, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want,” and I know my mother would be proud. Then I order my daughter monogrammed stationary. Because, honestly, I am still doing a little curtsey with a pen in my hand, bridging the worlds that raised me.

If I want my daughter to keep the path for equality and feminism open despite the elections of 2016, for her to be the next female president (why not?) or know her, I need to trample the have to’s and remind myself and other women daily that women can do anything. So here goes another blog, and some more words, and the choice of honesty.

You will still be a lady if you kick butt. Even more of one now in 2016. And you need to.

Thanks for cutting the path, Mom. Stomping on it right now for you and all of us.

lilacs1964

Gathering lilacs at Moose Hill. Alexandra Dane, 1965

 

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Changes

Details.

I am fresh off summer. Too tan and crunching sand in my closet. Today I aired sweaters and gazed with dismay at the soles of my feet. Waistbands are not my friend yet.

I brought some tokens home from summer holiday, tucked into pockets and the bottom of my duffle bag. Something to remind me of the light on the water, the lull of the crickets, the soul-warming smoothness of a summer day.

Rocks.

I was choosy. They had to be smooth. Just the right round. Just the right shade of grey. Warm when I picked them up. They had to fit in the palm of my hand with fingers closed or my palm open to the sky.

I often forget to look down and under my feet, I am so busy getting places. I talked sternly with myself on the last beach walk: slow down, take time, notice the details, remember this day, you don’t know when you will return.

Yesterday, I piled them on the edge of my writing desk, feeling a little guilty, a little bit like a thief. Little bits of mica I hadn’t noticed winked at me. I saw they weren’t just grey at all — veins of pink and white ran through and around them. I have already stacked them two different ways while thinking out a word. I worry the roundest one in my hand while I reread paragraphs.

I believe they will carry me through the darkening days of fall, just as they steadied me on the uneven shore. beachstone

Just five arbitrary stones lifted off the sand. I caught endless flak when everyone realized why my bags were so heavy. But there is a good chance that I will return them next summer, a gesture of good faith to that little beach. And say thank you.

I swear they still feel warm when I cup them in my hand.

 

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