Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Snow and Equanimity

Photo Credit

It snowed last night. It's only October, but often in October it snows here. It always seems too soon, as if Nature, indignant, is just trying to demonstrate her power to rearrange our lives. Yesterday it was summer and I was growing tomatoes. Now the still-green tomatoes hang on blackened vines, chilled and dying in the snow. Yesterday I wore shorts and today I wear winter tights and a sweater. The heat is on. The cat is in. I wonder where all the gloves have gotten to.

Nothing stays. It's not supposed to.

One day I am exultant. The next day I am quite sure that quite a ways back my life took a terrible wrong turn and that I am plodding in desperate misery over the road to absolutely nowhere. I am tired then I am caffeinated, awake. My kids are happy little boys and now they're teenagers and always furious with me. My youngest son could play the violin and now, at practice, he sounds like he is trying to kill a cat.

And this is all, according to my thoughts, supposed to be bad somehow, or troubling. But it isn't. The snow just lies on the ground, blanketing the world in slushy ice. It is indifferent to my attempts to deem it good or bad. It is cold and wet and white. It kills the garden and adds moisture to the thirsty reservoirs.

Teenagers press up against the sides of an imagined bouncy house, threatening to blow right through the side. They slam around, hitting little hopping children who scream righteously that they stop. They don't stop, can't stop. Their insides are made of lightning. They are huge, untenably intermediate creatures, gasping for air between the surface and the depths. They radiate anger, passion, lust, amusement—big feelings all covered with zits. It's like springs in a machine, this emotion: more energy than they will ever have again. Far more than I.

The snow just keeps on being snow then water then steam. And I keep on being sad and then happy and then at quiet peace. Until I freeze again.

Anger and passion and sadness and joy all sit next to one another and seep into the spongy soil.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Who's in Charge of the Kids Anyway?


Yesterday I was at coffee with a cluster of my good female friends. (I am purposely not calling them girlfriends because I am already old enough to wonder if I should dye my grey streak and too old to be posting selfies to Facebook and calling my female compatriots "girlfriends.") Anyway, we were all of us drinking lattes at my friend's kitchen island while someone was making a hair-removing concoction of lime juice and sugar and the rest of us were watching in fascination.

My friend's oldest son, who is seventeen, was wandering around the kitchen and talking, and all of us were torn between enjoying his company and wanting him to go away so that we could talk about the things that you can't say in front of teenage boys. As he moved back and forth through the kitchen, lighting briefly on counter tops before hopping off again, his mother questioned him about his homework, suggested what speech he should choose in the next Speech and Debate tournament, and told him to go and weigh himself and see if he had gained any weight, like his swim coach wants. He remained rather congenial throughout these suggestions despite not really doing anything she said. Somehow, all of us fell into talking  about internet security and the necrophiliac-bestiality porn that we are all afraid our boys may be watching on the ginormous cesspool called the internet. That, and all the countless hours some of them spend staring at screens instead of doing their homework. My friend with the seventeen year-old talked about a program called Safe Eyes and how it was installed on her kids' devices now, allowing her to limit their screen time and block unsafe sites. Safe Eyes, I thought. I should write that down. Her son asked her to unblock YouTube, and she told him no, but she could unblock it temporarily that afternoon. He didn't get obviously angry. He's a good kid. They're a good family. A supportive, interested mother and a son, almost a man, still letting her do her job.

"You're lucky he lets you do that," I teased her. "My teenager would leave home if I did half of that [meaning half the instructions, half the incursion on what he has learned, to my dismay, to think of as his own business]."

Another very good friend (who also has a teenager) responded to me, saying with alarm, "Let? Who's in charge?"

I chose not to respond at that moment, sensing the presence of a complex subject, but I have been thinking about her words ever since then, and I think her question is both very understandable and also a really good starting point for discussion.

When I was myself a teenager, my parents (who, you have to understand, had only recently been hippies) tended to take the attitude that if they forbid me to do things, I was going to do them anyway, so what—really—was the point. This was not really untrue. However, not having the boundaries they might have given me to push against, I assumed both that I was not loved enough to protect and that the world was very unsafe. I felt like a person walking over a high and narrow bridge without guard rails on either side. It always seemed like I was in danger of falling, and I felt equally sure that nobody would catch me if I did. I looked for boys and best friends that might catch me and tested them all repeatedly by hovering over the edge. With my chronic drama, I used all of them up so that they could barely stand the effort of knowing me. And then I did whatever I did—to show them or to show my parents or to make someone come and rescue me.

What I learned from this, by the time I was eighteen and sober, is that no one can really stop you if you want to destroy yourself. Nobody's love for you, no matter how great, can substitute for your own sense of self-preservation. When I did finally return to safety, it was of my own volition. Many, many people loved me and helped me to do this, but they all made it clear that my decision to survive would be completely my own. I had always blamed my parents for what I thought was not loving me, and for being human and therefore imperfect, but in the end, the damage I had done to myself through alcohol, drugs, and anorexia was entirely my own responsibility. Both the mess and the cleaning up.

This was a good beginning, but I was twenty-five, with two children, when true sanity finally dawned on me. My oldest child was struggling in school and, due to an extremely unfortunate presentation of severe ADHD, was chronically in trouble for doing something awful to someone else. I tried my best. I was extremely young and extremely stupid and had assumed that if I provided what I thought were the right ingredients that my child would come out happy, successful, well-behaved, and nice. He would be like a cake that I had baked following a recipe. I had read countless parenting books. I knew the recipe, but the cake still kept coming out fucked-up. One day, it hit home to me what was so hard about parenting a kid like mine. It was that it was assumed that I was responsible not only for my parenting—for my own actions—but entirely for the actions that my child himself chose to take.

It was then that I realized what I had done to my own parents. I had held them responsible not simply for their own actions but for all of mine. I could only now begin to appreciate how painful that blame must have been. Stricken, I immediately called my mother and apologized. I can still feel now the horror that I felt at the moment when I realized what an asshole I had been to the people who loved me most, who had stood by me, always doing their best to help me in whatever way I could receive any help they gave. They had been afraid that if they laid down the law, they would lose me altogether—and they had been absolutely correct in having that fear. Instead, they had managed to maintain a relationship with me, and because they did, I had been able to stay with them and get well on my own, when I decided to.

Which brings me back to my friend's question. Who's in charge? The answer is actually obvious if you can look at the situation for what it is.

They are.

It seems to me that to think otherwise is to buy into a luxurious deception wherein you can go on thinking that your children are somehow within your control, that they are appendages of your own desires and intentions, and that, if you follow that sure-proof recipe, they will turn out as they "should." You can get away with the thinking this way when you happen to be parenting compliant children—children who, by temperament and circumstance, are not especially inclined to go to war with what you want. But when you are given a spirited child to parent, you quickly learn the folly of this kind of parenting.

Certainly, parents have enormous influence over their children. We make rules. We set examples. We encourage. We inspire. Good parenting is as important to children as good baking powder is to cake. Without it, nothing is going to rise. But here's the part most parents never grapple with—when you make rules, kids either choose to follow them or not. You can give consequences and you can give rewards, but if they don't want the reward as badly as they want to break the rule, or if getting the consequence is worth asserting their own will, they can and will break the rule anyway. Day after day, they comply with our smallest desires, with our endless instructions to get ready so that we're not late, with our requests that they eat vegetables, and our injunction that they go to school.

They do all of that of their own free will, and rarely do we appreciate that they Do. Not. Have. To. When we encourage or inspire, the child still has to be encouraged or inspired. They have to participate. They have to value their relationship with you enough that they are interested in what you say.

They get to choose—always.

A wise man in Alcoholics Anonymous once told me, "You can do anything you want—as long as you are willing to accept the consequences of your actions." Later, my friend Amy gave me the keys to the kingdom, saying "I think your problems parenting come down to this essential problem of belief. You think you should be in control of him and not that you are two human beings trying your best to work out your relationship."

Realizing that she was right may have saved me from committing child abuse (or some other horrible result of my constant stress in the face of not getting what I wanted).

These are now the truths I choose to parent from: The choices are theirs. The consequences are theirs. Just as my choices and consequences are mine. I make as many rules as any other parent. I follow my kids around, entreating them to complete their homework. I threaten cell phone confiscation. I follow up. I praise. I hug. I rub backs. I apologize. I lay down the law. I build and nurture our relationship. But I never forget that my children's choices belong to them. That, in fact, they don't have to do a thing I say. I can restrict their internet and, if they want to, they can watch porn over at the house of a friend whose mother does not. I can pack them healthy lunches, and they can toss them and spend all their allowance on Fun'yuns and Arizona iced tea. I can spend sixteen years raising them to value themselves, to work hard and try and make a difference, and they can still choose to ditch class, smoke pot, or bully other kids, if that's what they've set their hearts upon.

Parents who have never dealt with real behavior problems in their children are like wealthy people who have never known what it is to walk around with holes in their shoes until next paycheck, who have never had to choose between groceries and electricity, who have never had to stay home praying with a fevered child, terrified and wondering what the emergency room might cost. Studies now show that we all make the same mistake about our good fortune: We think we deserve it. We think we have earned it. And we think—all of us—that those that don't have what we have simply have not done as well as we.

I think it all the time. My kids know how to think critically because I engage them in interesting conversations. My kids know how to work because I expect them to do so at home. My kids are smart because I picked good books, because we don't have cable, because we value education in our home. I have done a damn good job, I think.

That kid with the meth problem? Bad parenting. How the Hell are they letting him do that? The bossy tyrant in my sons' play group? Naturally, he's a bully. Just look at how cute his mom thinks his antics are. That woman getting the divorce? Bad picker. Why would you choose to marry a man like that?

As long as I can continue thinking I have what I deserve—bright, drug-free, compliant kids, a supportive husband, a vegetable box filled with organic food—I am protected. I don't really have to worry about teenage addicts, about painful divorce proceedings, about how I might feed a family on what I could buy with SNAP. Even if I feel compassion, I still don't have to feel fear.

But it's a lie. I don't have what I deserve. I have what I am blessed with. I have kids who, every day, choose to let me parent them, kids who do the dishes when I ask them, kids who listen to what I say and text me, over and over this letter:

"K."  [Yes, Mom, I'll do what you say.]

Except when they don't. And whenever they don't, I am presented with the conundrum at the heart of all human interactions: that I very badly want what I cannot make another do.

It is at these moments that I find I can use force, I can direct anger like a fire hose in hopes that I scare them into doing as I say, I can cajole, I can entreat, I can cry. I can make new rules. I can enforce existing rules. I can be authoritative but not authoritarian. Not permissive. Empathetic, but strong. And how will they respond? I am suddenly aware that my relationship with that child that is almost a man hangs by one tiny, frayed thread of remaining belief that I am the parent and he is the child, that I am really the authority figure governing his life. We have to agree to this reality—both of us—or we lose each other. We damage ourselves.

And, again, he agrees to believe that I am the parent, that my rules govern his behavior, that he still needs me and I can be of some use to him. He does not have to believe this, but he does—as much as an act of love for me as because it is easier to think it true. The fraying thread of his childhood thread gets smaller every time, but he still believes this. He still looks at me and answers "K."

At that moment, I am blessed by his choice—as I am blessed that my husband doesn't leave me, as I am blessed that, despite the economy, I still have vegetables in my frig to eat. I may be blessed, but one thing I am not is in charge of anyone's choices. I am again granted permission based on the shared illusion we call parenthood.

Here is a strong-willed, intelligent, complex human and he has given me the honor of continuing to let me be his mom. If he wasn't as much like me as he is—strong-willed, feisty, single-minded—I wouldn't have to know that I'm not really in charge. I wouldn't have to deal with the fact that I want very badly something which I cannot make another person do. I could go on believing I am the only parent he has—that there are no teachers, no peers, no media, no unexpected disasters, and no authority within the young man himself.

To believe all this would be easier, but it isn't true.

And so I remain profoundly grateful to have strong-willed children. I am a better human for not thinking I am in charge of what I'm not in charge of, that I am the master of what I am merely the servant of. I cannot fall asleep to the truth because they won't let me. I am a humbler and more compassionate human being for every single time they have looked at me and, instead of saying "K"—have told me "No."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fainting Goats

Ever since I first heard about them, I have wanted to have a goat that would pass out. It seems to me it would provide hours of entertainment, and you also would get the milk. However, rather than receiving a fainting goat, I have become one—and in the worst setting possible.

In my small town of 12,000 souls, we have one grocery store. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that everyone is there at once. If you have exchanged terse words with someone at the MVD, they are in the freezer aisle. If you have taught a child at the local elementary school, that child is in line with his mother at the pharmacy window while you go to buy spermicidal lubricant. If you bump your cart into someone, the person in question is a respected member of your church. And so on.

The most public part of this store is the part with the check-out aisles. It faces the door and the pharmacy, and 90% of the people you know are always lined up and checking out. It would be easy to do without Facebook, because you can always just go and buy applesauce.

Yesterday, I went to the store after church. I hadn't eaten for several hours, but I wasn't hungry. I had a bunch of unpleasant paperwork to fill out at home and I just wanted to get my shopping done and get back to get it over with. I had accidentally left my cell phone on my desk before going to church and I knew my husband, after leaving his church meeting, was going to arrive home and wonder where I was. The store was busy, but everything pretty much went fine. In the produce section, I waved at two women I knew from the school I had worked at and visited with a fellow soccer mom. In the frozen section, I ran into a friend who also homeschools, and we talked for a bit about the possibility of a homeschool field trip to a pumpkin patch. My cart was extremely full, and I was thinking that after I shopped, there wouldn't be any money left in my account, but reasoned that I was planning on baking bread and so that this fact balanced out my financial irresponsibility with the assurance that I was the right kind of person—which is the kind of person who bakes bread for her kids. Whole wheat.

I got to the check-out line and had placed everything on the belt except some toilet paper in the bottom of my cart. In leaning down to pick it up, somehow I jammed the cart into the end of the aisle and whacked my knee, in that tender spot just below the cap. It hurt. It wasn't terrible, just the kind of pain that accompanies a smack of the funny bone, not the sort that accompanies burning alive or giving birth. However, I immediately felt light-headed. Lights, like glowing asterisks, punctuated the air. I could hear only as well as if I was underwater, which is to say that there were sounds, but that they seemed distant and muffled, as if ushering from another world. Most concerning, I felt like my body wanted to fall down. Fine, I thought, if I can just get through check-out, I will go out and sit in my car until I'm OK again to drive. I can do this. I have persevered through worse. And indeed I did. Staying upright demanded quite a bit of energy, but I seemed to be doing OK. I replied to the polite checker—yes, I was fine today and how was she—and swiped my card, wavering only slightly and feeling more than a little disoriented. So far, so good. I even remembered to withdraw allowance in cash for my three kids. The problem apparently came when the checker asked me if I had a Fresh Values card. I did have one and had already placed my keys with the green fob onto the little check-writing dais in front of me. But no sound came out of my mouth. In fact, I only know that she asked this because she reported it later to the paramedics when they came.

Time seemed to be punctuated by periods of strange blankness, like pages missing from a book. The next thing I knew, I was being settled into a chair (right there is the check-out lane) and given orange juice that wasn't mine. A woman who I know vaguely as a substitute teacher was talking to me and a lot of people, one after the other, were saying, "Are you OK, Ma'am?" "I'm fine," I assured them, while wavering more alarmingly and then starting to retch. A plastic shopping bag was handed to me and I retched into that. Nothing came up, but breathing into the bag seemed to make me feel better, so I did that for awhile. Then, some men that I think must have been policeman suggested that I be moved over to the little in-store Wells Fargo area just across from the check-out line. They asked to see my ID, wanted to know if I knew what today was, and if I was diabetic, and then they let me know that they had called the fire department.

It was then that I realized that from now on I needed to find a way to shop at the very-expensive health food store on the edge of town, because I was never going to be willing to darken the door of Smith's again.

The thing is I have been at Smith's with intolerable migraines. I have been at Smith's with fibro flares so bad that I felt like I wanted to collapse in tears on the floor of the paper goods aisle. But, up until now, I have never made any scene that has caused anyone to notice my having a problem. And, today—which was a day that I had felt basically fine during—I was finally and irrevocably making a spectacle of myself.

Then the paramedics came. All twenty of them. And they talked to me for a while before insisting that I get on *A STRETCHER* and go out to their ambulance. This was not what I was hoping would happen. The nice substitute teacher lady had called my husband on her cell phone and I indicated that I would really like to just have him come and get me and that everything would be fine. I had no desire to the local emergency room and have them tell me that I still had fibromyalgia and also a fainting goat gene. One paramedic looked with interest at my cuticles and asked if the injuries therein were due to anxiety or a medical condition. "Bad habit," I told her. "So you pull the skin off your cuticles?" she asked. "Yes," I told her. Everyone nodded and looked at one another. They took my blood pressure, which is always low—this time being no exception—and my blood sugar and said I should go to the ER. "No thank you," I demurred.

After signing a refusal of service against medical advice, I ended up leaving with my husband, who installed me at home in a bed and then went back to dealing with the groceries and the laundry, without expressing overmuch concern about this new wrinkle on the ongoing saga of his wife's physical frailty. This, he thought, was the most helpful thing possible. And perhaps it was. However, after all of the attention and concern from the good-looking firefighters, I couldn't help but feel that this was not exactly the reaction I was looking for: "Oh, it's just my wife. It's one thing after another with her." I began to wish I had gone to the hospital where people actually cared about me. *

At any rate, I used to joke that it would be intolerably embarrassing to actually buy condoms in the pharmacy window at Smith's and that this was most likely the cause of the multiple teenage pregnancies in our town. Now I know that doing this would not be nearly as embarrassing as being hauled like a sack of dirty laundry from the most visible section of the local Smith's. And so I would now say to any teenager who is worried about publicly purchasing contraceptives that they should rest assured—at least the fire department would not be called.

Lest you worry, I have diagnosed myself with a vasovagal reaction and determined that the thing to do would be to avoid clocking any tender nerve centers, at least while in public, in order to avoid future embarrassment. From now on, I will simply remember to wear knee pads and a bag on my head before going to shop at Smith's.

And everything will be fine.

*This is not me making fun of my husband. This is me making fun of myself.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Twelve Years Later

Twelve years later, I can still remember my horror on the morning that I heard. Horror both at what had happened and at what would happen next, which already loomed like an oncoming storm in the sky of the day's pain. I held my baby in my arms and listened as Amy Goodman, from Ground Zero, played the terrified voices of people on the street. I held Devin closer and kissed his hair and wondered what the world would be like now.

Glennon of Momastery had this to say this morning. It says everything I might hope to say and more, so I will save my words and recommend it to you.

I also want to tell you about a book. It is called Acts of Faith and it is written by a man named Eboo Patel, an American Muslim from India and a leader in the youth interfaith movement. This book has transformed my understanding of what is going on in the Muslim world, especially for the kinds of men that end up committing terrible acts. It has expanded my empathy and my commitment that we all need to learn to know one another and live together and that the best place to start is with our youth. I cannot say enough about it. It is one of the most important books I've read in my life. I sincerely hope you'll consider checking it out. It's not an apology for anything. It's a rallying cry for us to create a world of cooperation and pluralism.

On this anniversary, my hope is for all of us to be at peace, all over the world, safe from violence and misunderstanding. I pray that we all find freedom and that we can learn to live together in this fragile world. And I hope and pray especially for the Syrian refugees who are right now, in the millions, living in uncertainty as the world decides their fate.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013



I have the sweetest readers. I really do. After my last post, you have left me long, personal comments. You have offered encouragement and some good advice. You have even sent me personal emails and started dialogues with me. I really can't express how lucky I am. And because you have been so supportive, I want to tell you a little more.

First off, I am OK. I am actually better than I've ever been. I let myself get lost, and I am so glad that I did. I don't think we ever learn anything without first losing ourselves, and so I let myself get lost a lot. Sometimes it feels frightening, but it's not the kind of thing anyone should worry about. I'm just like you, only louder and squirrelier in my fright.

Why, though, do I say I get lost? What is the point of that?

Fundamentally, we all seem to experience a dissatisfaction with the way things are, the way life is. We sense that we are being deprived of the real purpose for our existence, that just behind the thick miasma of everyday thoughts and happenings is something always present that we just can't touch. I am talking about what I was told in AA is "a God-shaped hole."  I will take a risk and say that I think we all have this sense, even buried under positive affirmations or accomplishments or survival strategies we've learned. And I don't think that what we are yearning for is found in religion for everyone. We could call it a God-shaped hole because there isn't any word big enough to fit in there for lots of us but God. God is the biggest word for what I mean, but it isn't the only one. For others, it is Transformation. It is Purpose. It is Peace. We can feel it close, but it's through a veil. It's an aroma lingering on the edge of our senses that we just can't name. We are crying out for meaning and connection to the ultimate truth of life.

Like most people, I have filled up this hole, most of the time, with more of Self. Not like most people, sometimes that expression of desperate hole-filling has been destructive in obvious, palpable ways. But it's destructive for all of us. I am not alone in that. We fill the hole with internet activity. We fill it with gossip. We fill it with chocolate. We fill it by expressing our thoughts and waiting, desperate, for someone to respond with a love large enough to assuage the pain of our missing piece. And we get relief from these things—from exercise, from service, from friendship. There is not one thing wrong with any of what we do.

It just doesn't fill the hole permanently. It covers it with bandages that fall off again and again. We simply cannot make it go away because the hole is part of us. It is as necessary as nostrils. It is as ordinary as lungs. We need it because otherwise we never seek to become larger than we are.

I spend a lot of time, especially in my writing life, talking about and paying attention to the existence of this hole. Because once you see it for what it is, once you glimpse that you are forever left open for something you can rarely reach, there isn't really anything else to talk about. (Not that I don't spend most of my days on exactly that Nothing!) The hole is painful, but it is the only true thing you've ever touched.

When I was seven, I came home one day and told my mother that I was from another planet and that I'd come here to save mankind. I had passed through a magic waterfall and here I was, I said. This was an expression of my dissatisfaction with the state of ordinariness and noise that I found myself living in. With one sweeping declaration, I became for myself larger than I had before. My head brushed Heaven and my feet, like roots, grew into the asphalt and concrete, connecting with the earth beneath me, entwined with every other living thing ever to put down roots.

Eventually, I grew out of this. I realized that I am not an alien, that there is nowhere to ascend to, that I had accidentally made myself a God. And yet, what was that experience but a child's expression of the essential truth I've been chasing ever since? We are born from the bliss of ignorance. We pass through the waters of our mother, living suspended, aquatic, for a time. We are pressed into a sort of reality, crushed by the pressure of being born. And then we arrive strange, like aliens, to be greeted by the loving hands of Earth. As we grow, we develop a language that we can use to understand the world. We learn that we are "me" and our mother is not. When I first spoke, I called both of us "Baby," my mother and me. Our relationship was "Baby," acknowledging the sweet understanding that the two of us were joined. Later, I learned who Tara was. And that is where I, like everyone else, began the necessary business of both losing and finding my way.

I was, in fact, a creature from elsewhere sent to save humankind. We all are. We are all Bodhisattvas, our mouths filled up with dry crumbs of separation, our tongues thirsting for the time when we will be joined. Our work is to love everyone, to save everyone. We cannot seem to do it alone or in our lifetimes. That is why there are so many of us. We, all of us, are born to care for one another. We have merely forgotten who we are.

When you begin to realize this, the knowledge doesn't come in a flash of peace and divine understanding. It is neither relaxing nor is it soft. It hits you like a hard wave of salt water, leaving slap marks on your face. It hurts. And you can never again forget that you touched the truth of it. Sometimes, days seem empty. The Self you have constructed seems vapid, claustrophobic. The methods you use, without forethought, to survive life are exposed as the scrambling of sea lice on the sand. It is no longer good enough to just exist. It's not good enough to be happy or wealthy or successful or funny or smart. You will spend the rest of your life trying to deal with the poverty of words that you have to express the wholeness you have seen.

That is why I write here. And that is why I have to stop sometimes. When my writing fills up with Self, I need to pause and again let myself be knocked back off my feet. I am not a religious zealot. I am an ordinary, skeptical, scientifically-minded liberal who can't wrap my head around what most people mean by God. And, at the same time—as my parents blessed me to be—I am Tara. Not ordinary Tara Adams, with pimples and frizzy hair. I am Tara, Mother of Compassion, she who hears the cries of the world.*

We all are. We are made to be. It is the purpose of that hole.

If all of that makes me sound crazy, please accept this version instead: I am doing fine. I am allowing myself to notice the human condition, especially as expressed in my own narrow self. I consider this both sacred and necessary and it is what I think my life is for. Nothing I've said is intended to be taken literally. Nothing of import should be taken literally, or you will always miss the truth.

Again, I love you all. Thank you for your compassion and your encouragement. I will write something light and funny again, when it feels like that is what I have to say. Thanks for sticking with me through all of it.

* Tara is the Tibetan Buddhist Bodhisattva, an incarnation of Avalokitesvara. She is correlated with Kwan Yin in the Chinese Buddhsit tradition.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Smell of Rot and Orange Rinds

Hello there. It's been a while.

I only intended to be off of my blog and Facebook for 40 days, and that 40 days ended over a week ago. When the time came for me to come back and tell you all something about my time off, I found I didn't really have anything to say. I wrote blog posts and discarded them because they were trying to hard to prove something. So I waited some more, becoming increasingly concerned that inspiration had not struck.

Inspiration still has not found me, so I guess I'll go ahead and just give it a go.

I don't have any deep thoughts for you. Time out of the internet social network was the same as time in it, except quieter. I honestly expected that I would have some kind of spiritual epiphany, as if I had gone up into a cave for a month and waited for God to speak. That didn't happen. Sure, I had several useful thought-processes and made what I think of as some discoveries, but I remain very much as I was.

More so, in fact. I find that fact a little embarrassing.

Right now—as I am writing—something in this house has gone terribly bad. I can smell it every time I inhale through my nose. It is, judging by the odor, either some very rotten milk or a dead cat. I have searched for the source of the smell in vain for several days and I can't find it, so instead of looking, I am boiling orange peels and cinnamon on my stove.

And this sort of sums up everything.

The things about myself that I don't like just keep on stinking up the place. I am insecure, self-involved, and prone to fits of anger and depression. Still. I wonder, all the time, if I am hiding this well enough, underneath the smell of cinnamon, and if it smells as bad to you as it does to me. I have frequent moments of peace and I think I have found The Answer, but, once the water boils away, the smell still lingers on the air.

I am stuck with it. And I think it might be fear.

Writing a memoir is very unsettling. Or, at least it was for me. I don't regret having done it, but it hasn't been easy to do. Taking the intimate truth of my humanity and putting it down for others to read takes something like courage, and I am not sure yet if it's a courage that I want. I'm not sure yet if I am ready to be criticized—not just for how I write but for who I am. I am not sure I am ready to read internet reviews that make me feel like all the cinnamon and citrus in the world cannot hide the odor of my truth.

This fear is not unreasonable. The internet can be a bit cruel, don't you think?

In my book, I wrote a chapter about middle school. (Remember middle school?) It is called "Forsaken," and it is about feeling that no place in the world was safe, that everything about me—even my trying to be different and better—was fuel for others to torment me. It is about losing my faith in a world that loved and wanted me. Perhaps it's about losing God. When I was twelve and thirteen, there really was nowhere safe for me to turn to. There was no real respite from the pain. It lingered on me, festering, until I learned how to treat myself with alcohol and drugs and then later with the 12 steps.

This is relevant, because I find that the social media world often feels a great deal like middle school to me.

In dealing with this, I have focused entirely on the notion of courage, on boldness, on shameless truth-telling. I believe in all those things. I truly believe that there is nothing in that memoir I need be ashamed of and that it contains a great many things  to which others will relate. So, I have plunged forward, over what felt like a quietly mounting hysteria, and prepared to give it to the world. I have thought about selling it, about revising it, about making it the best version of me that it can be. I have buckled down and striven to do my best.

It occurs for me only now that this may not be very healthy.

I find that the person who wrote that memoir needs a safe place she can turn. Before she opens herself up to the universe, inviting anyone—no matter their intention—to take a look, she deserves for her feelings to be known. There needs to be a spirituality that can hold her, a circle of friendship that can sustain her, and a real choice to go forward.

She needs permission to turn back.

I find it's easier to empathize with my own needs when I think of myself as a daughter, someone whom I love unconditionally and whose feelings, no matter how large, remain important to me. And if I had a daughter and she was scared and vulnerable and hoping for courage she wasn't sure she had, I'd give her permission. I'd give her space.

So, I am doing that.

I am waiting and I am learning whether I can be with myself, whether I can see all of I have written, and all I think, as the story that is and not as the one true case about life. I am not going to send it out into the world until I can sit with myself in silence and be comfortable with what I find. I think I owe that to myself.

So, thanks for being patient with me. Right now, my work as a writer requires more mediation and less courage, more quiet, and less of my own commentary.

I need to divest myself of my fear-based desire for acceptance and popularity.

I wonder if any of you can relate. I wonder if anyone else is learning to have self-compassion and sit still. If you are, and you are willing to share about it, I'd love to hear from you.

I have other things I want to share with you, but, for now, I will just say: I missed you. Drop by and say hello.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Signing Off for Now

This morning, one of my favorite bloggers posted that she is signing off the internet for 40 days. One of my best friends has been offline for the whole summer. I am choosing to take both of these things as a sign. The internet is wonderful because it is a lot like the library of Alexandria. It is also a lot like the covers of tabloids in the checkout aisle. For me, as a writer, it is driving me nuts right now. There are 100,000 internet tasks I'm told I simply MUST do every day in order to be a writer and they all devolve into clicking on shiny links. I have a chapter I need to finish and I am going to disable my Facebook for a while. I'll leave my email up. Too many seemingly important things happen over email. But I want to have some time to breathe and get away from the idea that there is all this to do and I have to write THIS way and, incidentally, the way I am doing it is all wrong. I will see you all once I feel more sure again of why I really write and what I want from doing that.

I'm signing off for a bit. See you on the other side of the silence.
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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License