This is a two-semester collection of writing by students for whom I was either primary advisor or graduating project second reader. The one exception is a second-generation student - the student of a student.
My principle of selection as usual is simply that I like the writing; but, as often, I think something like a theme has emerged in this issue, beginning with pieces by Becci Goodall, Ian Paige, and Kri Shlafer from last semester - with Polly Raine's cover image also from last semester - and strongly sustained in this semester's pieces by Emilee Baum, Stacey Ginsberg, Melody Lark, Belle Jo Roff, and Anne Smith.
To know more about embodiment studies at Goddard, follow this link to our embodiment studies web worksite.
I go down to the well, the place where I drink, the place where I dip into cold, clear darkness. This story doesn't seem like it should be true. The beauty of fiction is that anything is possible, but anyone who has ever tried to live an authentic day will know reality is stranger than fiction.
This story is like that; it pretends to be fiction because it is easier to digest as fiction. For many years I viewed my memories of this story in the third person, as an impartial observer to the events. For as much as I've tried to move around it, through it, beneath it, above it, this story starts with him. I don't like it because it was such a frightening year, and it is still hard for me to talk about aloud. But it always starts with him, because he was the first. In some ways, he is the last, too the last conversation, the last letter, was never spoken or sent. Someday I will be ready; someday soon, I am starting to think.
The first time I met Joel was in a friend's garage, in the cooling changes of the autumn of my tenth grade year. I was fourteen, a very, very old fourteen. I was older than fourteen, but not as old as I thought I was.
My newfound friend, Ricky (he is Richard now) introduced us. Years later he told me that he felt responsible, that he should have somehow known that Joel would devour me. He felt helpless to stop it, and he was; I don't bear any ill will. You cannot be angry at the sun for setting; you can't blame the tide for changing.
Ricky wanted to save me, from what it is still hard to say. From my parents. From mainstream culture. From the life of an honors student who was in musical theatre and French Club. From the soggy, melancholy world of Michael Crawford. He saw in me my true potential for geekiness, and was determined not to let a good mind go wasted. He handed me a battered copy of Pearl Jam's Ten, a battered copy of a Dungeon Master's Guide, and a fresh starter pack of Magic cards. My education began.
Photographs of me from this time are comical I defined 'uncool'. I wore white socks and moccasins. I never cussed. My bedroom was a strange and colorful romp of purple bedspreads, green wallpaper that had cacti and coyotes, and ornate cream-colored Victorian-style furniture. I proudly displayed my Lego sets my favorite was the robber's tree house. Most of the time I wore dresses and skirts, but if I wore jeans or shorts or (gasp) jean shorts I tucked in my t-shirt. My favorite lotion was a sickly sweet black currant scent that I liked because it came in a pretty bottle and reminded me of The Secret Garden.
I sang. All the time, all kinds of music, harmony and solo. I was an alto / mezzo-soprano and the other kids in my music group would come over to my house for rehearsal. We would put blue food coloring in Mountain Dew and call it Romulan Ale. When I went to go see Phantom of the Opera and brought home a pristine white program with a red tassel, we passed it around with gentle hands to keep from putting fingerprints on the glossy, ink-press scented photographs. At Christmas, we would go caroling acapella in four-part harmony, singing Latin and French and German and Italian. I was, in a word, a dork.
Self conscious, I stepped out of my mom's white Cadillac. Ricky's house squatted desperately on a corner, clinging to its failing siding and overgrown grass. We walked to Josh's house, a few streets away. Everything was in a tight radius our elementary school, the middle school, the rec center. If you walked up to Street Road and through the K-Mart parking lot, you could get to 7-11.
Josh's house had a one-car garage with a single light bulb and all the beautiful clutter of lower-middle class America broken bicycles, a rusty push-mower, an old Radio-Flyer wagon filled with half empty paint cans and knotted pink jump ropes. The dusty, greasy, outside garage smell was mitigated by the cooling October air and the overwhelming boy-smell.
Josh had a mean face and brittle, wiry red hair. He was always insecure because he was shorter and slighter than all the other boys, and he liked to wear a flannel shirt that he had completely covered in duct tape. Ricky was huge in comparison a foot taller and easily a hundred pounds heavier. Ricky used his size and girth to keep people away, and Josh kept people away because he had no size or girth.
It was immediately apparent that Josh wanted to be leader and had wanted to be the leader his whole life. He was not the leader. His girlfriend, Jill, fearlessly led the equivalent gang of girls, not-too-affectionately referred to as the "Clones". The Clones fancied themselves vandals, and wore a lot of black nail polish and tight baby-doll t-shirts with the names of bands on them. They were never invited to the games of Magic and DND (they said they were too cool for it), but they resented that I was accepted in these boy-places. They hated me because I was not one of them, because I was both a boy and eventually owned by a boy.
Josh had no love for me, either, because he both hated and loved Joel. Joel was the leader. No one would have ever explicitly stated it, but it was known. Joel was the oldest, the craziest, the riskiest, the dirtiest.
I climbed over the tangles of memories and boxes of junk and sat down at the table. I pulled up my metal folding chair and sat down to play. This was totally new territory for me. I was like a forgotten napkin, wearing a knitted white long-sleeve sweater and a full length rose lace skirt. My clothes hung on me like church robes. Josh on my left, Richard on my right, all the cards and possibilities between us. They awkwardly explained the game, played a few open hands, and argued the merits of different deck compositions. I started to get the hang of it, and conversation became easier. And then Joel rode up on his bike, silently entered, and sat down at the table.
He was a dark scribble of a young man, every daughter's father's worst nightmare. Long brown hair hung in dirty, limp ropes around an angular, awkward and strangely pretty face. Bright blue eyes and dark purple shadows. Little girl's pink barrettes. Doc Martins and baggy jeans. He was a pale skeleton with a baggy flesh of flannel and mystery, all wrapped in a knitted cardigan sweater. He did not smell good. Long, articulated fingers with blunt, calloused fingertips, stained yellow with cigarettes. He had terrible acne. He wrote a lot and was very, very quiet.
He grinned across the table at me, a grin that would melt hearts and wilt flowers, and said "Nice dress." He fixed me with those blue eyes and I knew I was lost.
The first poem Joel ever wrote for me began thusly:
So I can't say I didn't have fair warning.
I will never be able to smell campfire in my clothing without thinking about that autumn. The days grew shorter and colder, and miles of pavement passed beneath our feet. We dug a giant fire pit in the woods out behind the middle school, adjacent to the neighborhood. It was big easily five or six feet deep, and four or five feet across, with benches and a rock fireplace in the center.
On any given afternoon, Ricky would steal cologne from his dad for an accelerant, and we would walk to 7-11 and buy hotdogs and marshmallows. Ricky gave me an old army jacket to wear, and over time it just became mine, a symbol of the war I waged. We would meet Josh, Joel, sometimes Mark, and sometimes Tom from the Catholic school. We would build a fire. Sometimes the Clones would come, but they were more interested in vandalizing the field hockey goals at the middle school than sitting around listening to Joel play "Doll Parts" on his guitar. Not sing, just play bar chords. I understand now how unimpressive this is.
Despite the struggle, I have magical memories from this time. It was that moment before you become a grown-up, when there's still tremendous wonder and a sense of limitlessness. We would talk for hours, a mixed conversation about non-existent realms and growing responsibility.
It was really cold, some nights, and it started to get dark much earlier. One wind-splintering night five of us huddled around the fire, marshmallow-less. It was too damn cold to walk all the way to 7-11. We never had any alcohol or pot only Joel smoked cigarettes, although Josh would sometimes smoke them so he could look tough. It seems so innocent to me now, almost absurdly so. A Norman Rockwell painting, except it would depict cultural artifacts from the '90s grunge scene and misspent youth.
I sat between Joel and Ricky. Next to Joel sat Josh, and between Josh and Ricky sat Mark. We sat close around the fire, keeping careful physical and emotional distances between us. Joel and I were still new then, still navigating my tolerance levels, how much I could take. He would not stand next to me or be any closer than he absolutely had to at that time; he had told me that he did not trust himself to be that close to me. To do so would be to risk him being overcome and doing something for which he couldn't be responsible. I was dumbfounded and hooked, line and sinker. Sink her. One of his favorite lines for me: She was pushed when she fell down.
Ricky poked the fire with a stick, pushing the coals around. He wouldn't make much eye contact when he was in a group, despite his intensity in one-on-one conversations. He poked and stirred and asked all of us, "What do you guys think we'll do when we graduate from high school?"
"Go to college," Mark said, right away. Mark was like me he traversed boundaries. He was in Madrigals with me, and he had grown up with Ricky and Josh, but was a year ahead of all of us. When we were in Montreal for one of our concert tours, he and I took out a paddle boat and spent an hour talking passionately about Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Ah, youth.
"That's fuckin' crazy," Josh said. "Two more years of this shit and I am done. Why the fuck would you want to go back to school?"
"I might try and go to Spain and live with my mom's family," Ricky said. His mom was on the school board.
"Well, we know you're going to college, Emilee. Miss Honor's Society," Josh sneered at me. He really had no love for me, from day one. I smiled a close-lipped smile and cast my eyes downward. I did that more and more as time went on.
"What about you, Joel?" Ricky asked. We all turned to look at Joel, to gauge his response; everyone always did when he spoke.
"I'm going to kill myself," he said in his nonchalant, characteristically off-handed way. He was always saying things like this, dropping bombs, dropping words like brick houses in the middle of conversations. No one was every really sure if he was seriously disturbed or just obnoxious. Silence followed.
"Fuck you, Joel." This was Mark, quiet as the grave. His face was ashen as he looked into the fire.
Josh gave his nervous little twitter, the laugh he laughed when he was going to side with Joel. "Nice, Mark, tell the guy that wants to kill himself to fuck off."
"If you're going to do it, why wait until after graduation? Why don't you just fucking do it now, and save us your bullshit?" The red was rising from the ashes in Mark's face, high on his cheekbones. "I can help you. I'm sure I could think of a few things I could do to help you out."
Joel looked him in the face, impassive, and said slowly, "Fuck you too, Mark." They held each other's gaze for a moment, and Mark stood up.
"You are so fucking unreal, Joel. How many years have we been friends, man? And you could say that shit to me. How, Joel?" His whole posture was a picture of disgust. He shook his head, and scrambled up out of the pit.
Josh looked at Joel, and looked at Mark walking away. "Shit," he hissed, and went after Mark into the darkness. I could hear Mark now, trying to choke down his sobs as he staggered through the woods back to the middle school.
Ricky looked at me, wide eyed, and I looked at him. Joel sat with his arms around his knees and wouldn't look at any of us.
"Joel, I have to ask you if you're serious. Are you going to kill yourself?" the boy that would become the man Richard asked.
"Someday," Joel said. "Probably my 18th birthday."
We all ran the mental calculations, and Ricky sighed. "We'd better be getting back," he directed at me. We left Joel at the fire, to find or not find his own way back home. It was then that I learned that Mark's father had killed himself because he had been diagnosed with cancer. Only after the autopsy did they learn that the cancer was treatable.
This is how it was for all of us; carefully negotiating the truths we were growing for ourselves and the truths we had been served as law in this bewildering world. It was characterized by a sense of immortality and imminent, unstoppable change. We would somehow live forever and we were also dying right before our own eyes.
After the worst of Joel was over, my rediscovered friends said that watching him and me learn each other was like watching a horrible accident about to happen. Something that you could see coming, and were absolutely powerless to stop. A beautifully framed, excruciatingly slow, breathtakingly visceral film of a fatal accident, and I was the star. I knew he would hurt me, I knew that he would break me. I knew he would show me things that I could never un-see, no matter what else I learned later. I knew that I would never be the same, and I went anyway. Because of all of those things, I went anyway.
I could not have possibly explained what I had chosen then, the nature of this path that I have walked since before I was born. It appeared as pure lunacy, profound idiocy to the people around me. I went anyway because I felt the shaping of myself through him I believed if I loved him hard enough and well enough, it would overcome whatever darkness he lived in. If I could shine brightly enough, I could burn away the darkness for us both. In some ways this can be true, but I didn't know what I didn't know about this kind of work. I invited the vampire in, I knew what he wanted. I opened my window; I parted my curtains for him.
He methodically isolated me from everyone else in my life. He systematically alienated and angered all the people close to me, and he would punish me in unspoken ways for violations. We met every morning before school, and eventually everyone else learned to just stay away from us when we were together. We met between every class, between lunches. I gave him my lunch every day. He knew I wouldn't eat it, because if I didn't give it to him he wouldn't eat. I couldn't let him go hungry, not for something as selfish as eating my own lunch.
Every night after my mom kissed me goodnight, I would call him, and we would keep the line open until between four and five a.m. Even if he fell asleep, I kept the line open, because if he woke and I wasn't there he was upset. He would listen to music sometimes, and play it for me over the phone. He would get angry if I couldn't identify the songs and the bands and the singers, because that meant I wasn't paying attention to him. I used various techniques to disable all of the lights on the telephones throughout the house, so that no one would see the open line. I kept straight As in all my classes and slept very little.
We both kept journals, we were both writers, and the driving content of almost all of our writing was each other. Every day or two, we would trade journals and read the other's writing, and eventually we would write directly in each other's books. Not even my thoughts were private he monitored my emotions and perceptions via my writing and what he wrote to me, and if he found I had done some writing outside of this venue, he was outraged.
The structure of my abuse goes on, and I could enumerate the various rules and responsibilities that I adopted to contort myself to his worldview. We had entire vocabularies, entire sets of symbolic language and metaphors to describe our relationship to each other and the relationship between us and 'them'. Them, who were my family and friends, the world that I understood before we met.
I still have all these journals, everything he ever wrote for me and some of the gifts he gave me. It is an astounding body of work, complete with photographs, hand-crafted totems and objects of worship, and a letter soaked in blood.
Looking at that year of my life, I see now that I had been tasked with learning the seductive aspect of madness. Maybe I saved him from something big, something horrible; it is beyond the capacity of my imagination to suppose why it all happened. We 'dated' for ten months, though some of the worst came during the three months between when I broke it off and when I moved to Ohio. It took moving to another state to really free me from him.
I had friends and student escorts with me most of the time during those last couple of months, and he and I only spoke a few times. He attacked me in the hallway when I was alone at my locker, swung his book bag full of books into the small of my back. I knew he needed his books for class I picked myself up off the floor, I picked his bag up off the floor, and tried to follow him so that I could give it back. I collapsed in the stairwell and a few friends found me there, and as I described what happened, I realized I was way, way down.
That kind of madness is what happens when these tools are used for all of the wrong reasons. I had to learn the price, the gravity of what can happen when these tools are misused. That madness came so slow, so quietly. It can be so soft and accommodating. It lets you hold it, until you can't let go. Then, it holds you.
Memories of this year are amorphous and colorful, blurry boundaries and worm-hole event sequences. I remember a general flow of documented events based on my academic and extra-curricular schedule, but I couldn't really tell you how Joel unfolded in my life. When it comes to what I learned from him, in many ways the order is not important, because the lesson was wholly cumulative. The whole is a gestalt, bits and pieces of body memory and mind memory:
I feel the brick of the middle school hard and scratchy against my back. He is watching me, not bothering to hide his wolf's eyes.
Headlights shine in my eyes, making them flash like a cat's eyes. Fast cars on Street Road, my unbound hair whipping around my head. Ricky's army jacket is warm but not warm enough, and I have matches and a pink rock in my pocket. I am pressing the rock between my fingers of my left hand, wearing my calloused fingertips to shreds.
I could hardly breathe. He sat with his legs and arms crossed, in the computer room off my parent's bedroom. His face was still red with the cold; he had ridden his bike to my house without calling or giving warning. My modest skirt and sweater were far too warm for the intensity of him, for the terrified kiss I had given him. I had only known him a few months, and I asked him if it made me easy that I would kiss him like that. He grinned that icy grin at me and said, "We'll find out."
Going to see Pulp Fiction on Jen's birthday, sitting rows away and behind the rest of my friends. His fingers down my pants during the scene when Bruce Willis is screaming about the fucking kangaroo. Jen asked me about the fucking kangaroo later and I couldn't tell her a thing about it. She was horrified, and rightly so.
In the bathroom of his parent's house and I am helplessly naked. The floor was cold. I remember honey dripping from my stomach onto his guitar, and him saying, "Don't worry, sleepy kitten. It has a nice finish on it. I can rub it in, just like I can with you."
In the kitchen of his parents' house, clothed. The floor was warm, and we lay prone, staring up at the telephone cord, tripping our balls off. I rolled over and looked into his mouth, his tongue spiraling away forever, a warm moist cave stairwell with dental stalactites and stalagmites. His mom came home from her job as a nurse, took one look at us, and said "You better go upstairs and lay down together. Joel, you know your father wouldn't like you two lying on the kitchen floor."
He went through every drawer in my room, looked at every piece of writing, every drawing, every sock and piece of underwear. He took a pair of my panties and a pink dress from my costume collection. He would wear them later.
We went with his mom to New Jersey to collect tokens from the house she grew up in. Her mother had died. She let us sleep in the same bed together, and I wrote about how peaceful and childlike his face was while he was sleeping. She gave me a bubblegum pink sweater that had shiny pearl buttons on it that had belonged to her dead mother. I wore it to Wildwood, the boardwalk with all the retro motels with crazy names, like the Ebb Tide Inn. All the carnivalesque attractions, the red velvet Chinese slippers that he bought for me to wear in the fun house, taking pictures of each other on the Ferris wheel, the way he shoved my teddy bear off the bed we shared in the same hotel room with his parents.
We were supposed to have a chemical summer. We were going to do lots of acid together. He gave me three hits of brown blotter and I took off as we sat under the tree in the park. I lost eight hours of my waking life, eight hours that he still has, as terrifying as they might be. I only remember snatches, short moments of being present. I remember going on at length about fucking he told me later that it was like I had stumbled across the word fuck and fell in love with it. I remember looking at him and our journals and saying, "Are you getting any of this down? This is good shit. Write the goddamn words down, that's why we brought the goddamn notebooks" and going off again. I remember that my body had forgotten what it felt like to need to urinate, and it took me a half an hour just to understand that was why I felt so anxious. I re-taught myself how to pee in the woods without getting my skirt wet. I remember walking away from him, telling him I was fine, I just needed a couple of minutes. I looked up into the clear, beautiful sky, marveling at the raw sensation I experienced in my throat, miraculously screaming at the top of my lungs. I don't remember what I saw, but later he described that I had somehow found a corner in all that open space and curled up in it, screaming and screaming. I remember a hallucination of an ambulance that had come to save me, but before they could load me on the cart the lower half of my body sank into the dirt and the top half of me was held by him.
Later that afternoon we were in his small, dirty room. He wanted to give oral sex to me that was how he thought of it. He was giving me oral sex. I didn't want it, but it was never in my best interest to say no, so I let him pull up my skirt and pull down my underwear. He hesitated as he looked at me and said, "Well, you've seen better days," and then put the dirt between his teeth. Later, at home, I found I had dirt and sticks in my underwear. I don't recall how they got there.
I called him, as I always did. He was jealous of my ability to let go, my ability to go insane, the uncharted territory he had seen that day. "You always have to do it better, it just comes so naturally to you," he said. "I'm going to show you what that feels like, to have to listen to that kind of being unhinged." Six hours he meditated on the value of the kill-me-pills, pills that he had stolen from his mom so that he could kill himself. I never really knew if he was serious at one point he joked that they were just Advil but I stayed with him the whole damn time. I read him poetry, I read to him from my favorite books, I played songs with him, I professed my love; I walked that road with him. We hung up the phone at five a.m. and I had to be at the Unitarian church to watch the nursery at seven. My face was sunburned, and I had scrubbed myself raw in the shower. I almost almost called Mr. Shipley, my third-grade teacher turned-mentor-turned-suspected-pedophile-friend. I didn't, and that was the right choice.
He told me love was a crutch and a pair of wings. He made an altar to us out of his bedside table. The crutch and the pair of wings were the centerpiece, and he kept pieces of me inside. My pink dress that he liked to wear. All of his writing. My colored pencils. Cigarettes. Clippings of my pubic hair.
4th of July, close to midnight; I stood alone at the fire pit in my torn green dress with the vines all through it and fed the fire to keep it going. He had left me there alone with nothing but the fire, angry because I hadn't brought the right things for our over-the-fire-pit dinner. He was driving his mom's minivan by this time, and I didn't know if he'd be coming back, or if I had to walk home. If I left, and he came back, it was unthinkable. If I stayed, and he didn't come back, it was unthinkable. I fed the fire and talked to myself, focused on the task at hand. I knew it would get worse before it would get better. I knew if I kept the fire going, I would be okay. I knew I had started the beginning of the end.
Joel wouldn't really fuck me. We had all kinds of oral sex, but perhaps one of his greatest gifts to me was that he wouldn't 'have sex' with me that is, he wouldn't put himself in me. Except for once, because he wanted to see what it felt like. He didn't feel it was authentic or 'real' if we had a condom between our bodies. He also hated children, so he wouldn't have me in that way. In retrospect, this is a tremendous blessing, but at the time I felt like somehow I wasn't good enough.
This was Joel's power over me. His weapon and his caress. The softest, most constricting, most painful of chains. He knew I wanted to be good enough, he knew I wanted to please, and he used it to keep me low. He undermined me at every opportunity, and by the end he would even get angry at me for admitting I liked myself. To him, it meant that I loved myself more than I loved him.
Even as I write this, so frank and sad on its face, it is hard to understand how I allowed myself to go to that place. I find myself wanting to say that I was young and dumb, that I didn't know any better. That it wasn't at all mine; that I don't have to take any responsibility for the things that happened. Sometimes I feel sad and angry at my parents, my mom especially. To this day, I wonder how in the world my mother never saw any of it. It is easier to wonder how she never saw anything than to admit that she saw and still did nothing.
It must have been spring when I was in The Sound of Music. I played Liesl, the sixteen-going-on-seventeen. Rolf was played by a blond-haired, blue-eyed senior named Shawn. This was a big role for me it looked like next year I would be the favorite for the lead. Shawn and I had to kiss at the end of our scene, a brush of lips that hardly constitutes high-school smooch, let alone a passionate embrace. Joel came to see me on opening night I saw him in the audience. After the show, I slipped away from friends and family waiting for me backstage with flowers and praise. I found him in the dissipated audience, and he stood there, grinning at me. Blood dripping down his chin, grinning and grinning.
I approached him slowly, still wearing my lederhosen from the last scene in the show. As I saw him, slicked with blood, I felt first confusion and then recognition. I knew what had happened, somehow.
After my scene with Rolf, he had gone to the boys' bathroom in the theatre building. With a razor blade, he had cut his lips, a dozen tiny cuts that bled in comic rivulets between his teeth and down his boy's chin. Soaked into his dirty tee-shirt collar, the cardigan sweater that smelled like him. Ink for the letter he wrote me, that message of betrayal and shame, on a high school bathroom paper towel. He told me that my lips were dirty, my mouth was polluted, my kiss could never again be for him because I had allowed the mouth of a stranger to touch me.
This letter he gave to me, with a bright yellow plastic sunflower. "Congratulations on your spectacular performance," he said. "You are Emilee for Everybody," he said. "You must be so fucking proud."
On the driveway, screaming in low voices. The reality of what I was saying had struck him, and he knew I wasn't going to play anymore. He moved from anger and persecution to begging, and I had to leave. I ran to the front door, passed through, slamming it shut and locking it so he couldn't follow me. I crumpled. Crooked knees and awkward broken angles laying at the foot of the door, sobby hitchings for clear glass shards of air.
My Dad came out from the living room and looked into the foyer. He still had his suit on, but was carrying a Jack Daniels and his tie was loosened. "Emilee and Joel just broke up" my Mom astutely observed. She looked down on me, sitting on the floor. "Why are you crying?" she said. "It's about time, we were wondering when you would get rid of him."
"Huh," my Dad said, and walked his drink back into the living room.
My Dad was taking a new job, and it was decided that all would be better in Ohio. We left in January, the day of the blizzard, in 1996 - the worst blizzard we'd had in years. My family drove through the storm and landed in Loveland, Ohio. I was all kinds of new pain in that place.
The morning we left, the morning of the blizzard, he was there. Four a.m., and we were packing into our cars. He parked at the end of the street in his mom's van. It was already snowing, and he stood there. He stood, a solitary reminder, in the middle of the street. He watched me climb into the car, snow sticking to his hair and his cardigan sweater. He stood in the middle of the street with his hand over his heart and didn't say a word. His hand over his heart, where he had carved a heart into his chest with a razor blade and used salt and lemon juice to raise the scar. He watched me go.
A few days later he called my new house in Ohio, and I was on the phone with Jen. I told him "I'm talking to my grandparents, I'll call you back". I never called him back. The last I heard, he was still following me, keeping track of my new addresses and e-mail names. The last message I received directly from him was in my first year of college. He said, "You never called me back. I'm still waiting." I was afraid for days. Shaking, sleepless, eatless days of fear. It isn't that bad anymore, but I still have nightmares sometimes.
I've worked with those experiences over the years, I've written many unsent letters. I have forgiven him, and more importantly I have forgiven myself for what happened, for the indescribable madness that we indulged and fed in each other. I have recovered and reclaimed my writing, my music, other elements of myself that he took from me. That I gave away.
In the end, this is a story about learning how to love, and love is felt and expressed with a body. Bit by bit, in my subsequent relationships, I re-learned how to tolerate myself and my physical form. Sex became just a thing to do, something expected, like giving presents on Valentine's Day. I knew how to fake an orgasm, a perfected skill that I employed to avoid ever having to be present during sex. My lack of libido was a very easily hidden handicap.
Now, I can hear my body whispering in ways that it has never had the opportunity to before. Don't be afraid, it says. Look at all you've learned, this amazing road you've walked. Don't be ashamed, this is part of you too. This is workable, this too is a tool, a part of your path.
I see the girl I was then, and her body, speech, and mind were in the right place. Her heart was in the right place. I hold her, I smooth her hair, I love her. That is all she ever really wanted, anyway. To know that she's doing okay. To know that she's good enough, that she doesn't have to worry so much.
freezeframe Davey in Dad's knee-high cowboy boots. Five, six. His body is cocked over the top of a gun in the effort of scoping out a target. His face doesn't show. Just the bent arms and straining back of a boy. Too wobbly to shoot moving things. He's supposed to hit the bull's eye hay bale target. The barrel sags downward as if he's shooting himself in the foot. He's trying to fill big shoes. Make a loud bang. Wanting to be like Dad. Superman. He's tripping over the leather toes.
There is a red mutt beside him; a willow billowing. It must be summer. He's sweating. So little. So five. Holding a rifle.
brothersong Daddy shoot. Daddy this is heavy. Dad? Owww.
manword I remember wanting to shoot - making crooked sticks into pistols. Holding up the bloodied head of a deer behind Uncle Gary's blue pick-up. We all wanted to kneel in the dirt. Grab the antlers and heave the head up to smile for the camera. I shot my first buck when I was twelve. I felt like Dad started to see me then. He was so proud of the way I gutted the deer. Ripped and pulled at the entrails. I remember he made fun of my cousin Mike because he got cold and tired. He walked home before noon. I wanted to go back with him. Home. Hot chocolate. My toy soldiers. Spot dog. But I stayed and shot the four point deer. I still have the skull and horns in a box somewhere. Every Thanksgiving I go home to hunt with Dad. It's the thing we have in common.
sissyhead I'm holding the gun. They didn't take MY picture but I'm still holding the gun the gun the gun. Is in my hand. My hand is the gun. The trigger is cold curved. It fits my fingers. My arm is shaking. Davey is right the guy is heavy. Dad says, "Hurry up before Mom comes out". I aim. Look through the little V-groove to the red eye round of the paper. I'm sitting on my butt. The gun threw me back and i'm crying. That scared me. I want to do it again. Davey is crying with his hands over his ears. I am seven. He is five.
womanmemry This was the only way to gain worth in my world - be more like a man. Be a boy. It was the only thing that separated me from him. He had the power. I had nothing. I became a crack shot. It hurt like hell. Sometimes the pistols would crack and my wrist would jump or the twenty-aught-six would jar my shoulder so badly that my head would ache into the night. I learned not to flinch. I became good at "what not to do". Sometimes you had to ignore the pain in order to hit the spot. The teeny hole in the center of all. We got bows and arrows at Christmas. BB guns. Pocket knives. We figured out how to piss in the woods. Call turkey. Creep out at 4 am. Competitive animal killing. When I was fourteen I began to think about sticking the guns in my mouth.
freezeframe A picture of Dad and a snow fuzzed someone. In his Santa Claus sleigh. Twilight. Belgian horse. Tiny. Head down sloughing forward. Pancake hooves. Sloped down muzzle. Boney and soft at the same time. A white mountain. He holds the reins. There isn't enough snow for smooth sledding. No sign here of the frozen mud clods or the way we almost tipped over. But we are, he is, determined to have an Old Fashioned Christmas. Is he smiling?
Face behind rump. Slouched. Was that it? The one moment Dad was truly happy? It is too dark to tell.
womanmemry He loved that sleigh, in fact, he traded his Civil War era muzzle loader for the broken-apart wood and runners. He was crazy for books about brother fighting brother. Said it was Biblical and normal. A Cain and Abel type thing. But really, he wasn't a full-time fighter. He was gentle between rages, an introspective vicious creature.
Once I wrote a series of poems about Dad's snaky moods. How he'd rise up from slumber - strike at a neck - tumble back into his basket. Lid down. I thought it would help. Writing things out. Getting pissed off at his rages. But after several poems I noticed that these were about my rages. I am like my father. Slightly more educated and I don't hit my kids or believe in his religion. Same mentality, different dressings. Otherwise both hasty, unreasonable, erratic, reclusive, anti-social, shy, and unbalanced. I'm sure there's a diagnosis in some book to describe the way we are.
realityintrudes Mom just called. She said he's flipped his lid. She hangs up on me twice. Sobbing. He's walking around with a shotgun looking for his dog, Roscoe. On the third ring she tells me he's sitting in a chair rocking himself back and forth.
"He's crying," she says.
He's crying? I don't believe.
This is not my father.
Is this my father?
Dad is a devout Christian Baptist. He listens to Rush Limbaugh and doesn't cry. The man doesn't cry.
What do I do? He says we should commit him. I say I'm coming to take the guns, the dog, my baby brother. I say there will be medication tomorrow. I will come and be sure he gets some drugs.
I need momentary sanity until I can figure this shit out. Which is what I've been doing lately, fixing my parents. They are so cracked and mauled and I'm fresh out of glue. It occurs to me that they've become my children. When did this happen? I don't remember agreeing to anything like this.
Voices on phones on Sundays. Nothing more. That is what I want. I want peace.
I thought I would write them out of my system. Sit my ass down at the computer. Leach this shit onto the page. And there they'd be all booked up to read or not. Instead it's as if I've written them into my reality. As I write they start to come apart at the seams. I can literally see the threads holding their eyeballs in place. I think of paper dolls trying to walk into a tornado. Arms and legs ripping off at the joints.
And just as I'm really getting into things, Dad starts to lose his mind. We've always had this kind of psychic connection. I think it has something to do with his mother. My Memmie. It's as if she won't let him off the hook. Like maybe she whispered these words from this page from my screen into his head.
Look at what you've done. What you did.
What does a daughter do with a father gone mad?
I've been writing about him. He's under everything I create, and yet I never touch on what I cannot admit. He's sick. The cancer was never the real problem. No. I see now that his head is the problem. The rages were outlets - the thing that saved us from the bullet. And now there are no targets at the breakfast table. There is just Dad, Mom, and the gun. There is a round spot inked on his forehead. It is the exact place where things got fucked up. The brain cell that got erased by some preacher man.
I see him in my mirror. His eyes. My eyes. Her eyes.
Everything is merging at this moment in time. My writing. Her spirit. His insanity.
And yet I'm fascinated with this process of stirring things up. It takes balls of steel, tubes of titanium. Dare I?
I'm the oldest and now it comes to me to figure out how to heal this mess of nerves and crooked body.
He renounced his god today; eighty miles over the phone line, from his lips to my ear. He said, "I renounce all I've ever believed in. I don't want to fight."
That split me wide open. This is a man I don't recognize. This is not my father! Is this my father? I realize that it's now or never.
I said "It isn't supposed to be a fight, maybe that's the problem. Dad spirituality cannot be a fight. It is a peace - a soothing place of quiet inside."
He quivers. The phone cord shakes in my hand. I feel wobbly. I don't recognize his voice.
He says, "Sorry. I am so sorry for all I've done". He's broken, sobbing. My lungs freeze.
Is this my retribution? Does this fix things?
There is no way to photograph this family moment. No way to capture the green blackness I taste behind my eyeballs. Tables have turned. I am parenting my father. He's too young to lose it. I can't admit to what needs to be said here. What I will not say to my brothers when they call.
Dad had a breakdown.
I will say something like "losing it flipping his lid cracking up" and we will laugh as if this happens all the time. I will not say insane because we aren't ready to hear that word. I wish for a medicine that will fix my dad. It won't. His heart is broken. He is looking back. For the first time in his life he sees how things were for us. How we love him just the same. As children do. No matter what. He just didn't know how to be less than manic. Not possible.
"Go to the doctor", I say. "Promise. Dad? Promise you will go."
"Will it keep me from having a heart attack", he asks, like a child with a fever.
"Ok then, I will." He understands medicine.
Mom is nearly comatose. She can't complete a sentence. He is the love of her life. Slipping away. Last week they planned out the garden. Cabbages, strawberries, carrots, and spring onions.
This week he flat out said "commit me", which is when she called too hysterical to explain or articulate the fact that he was in the rocking chair, holding a shotgun. Rocking his baby boy self.
And I am here. Putting this on my C drive. I will email it to myself and probably someone else; anyone who's not too close.
I'm thinking of my addictions. Manic ups and downs. Lying in bed for days. Staying home for weeks. Needing a drink right now or a shotgun. But writing instead, because that is what I do.
This will save me someday. I tell myself white lies. Knowing I am just like my father.
Wondering if it is hereditary. Assuming yes.
realityday2 The thing that sticks in my head is this. He said, "Becci listen to me. I'm done fighting. I won't fight you anymore. You win. You are right. I'm done."
And that's the thing that kept me in the bed this morning and feels like a boulder in my gut. I never wanted to fight. Whatever gave him that idea? That it was me wanting to fight him.
Of course I did. Fight him. A necessary evil as they say. Self-preservation. More like flailing or trying to swim though mud. But what I really wanted was for him to hold me. Wrap his arms tight. Rock me safe and tender. Let me be a child. A thing of beauty.
So here. The question point. Is he blaming me or is he truly sorry? Later he says he's done all he can. We may go to hell despite his efforts. That's a different kind of sorry isn't it? I don't know what to think. I don't want to think.
Hard to tell. Dad is a finger-pointing type man. Gays. Blacks. Hispanics. Women. Democrats. Muslims. Catholics. Jews. The world is everyone's fault but his.
Then I married into a Jewish family. Dave married a South African. Jen had a baby with a Pakistani. And Dad was forced to look at the humanity of what he'd chosen to blame.
He softened as he held Erin and then Patrick. It's not so easy hating a baby. It has been 15 years since the children have been born. He's changed for the better. He hugs me. I held his hand when he nearly died. He admits to loving me.
But now this emptiness at the center. Who is he if not those things? And I see the hate turning inward. Wanting to die. Praying for the cancer to take him.
I run ten miles. I run until my legs are lumps of wood. As my feet pound the dirt I send smoke signals: Dad, don't do this. You've come so far. Got to that place inside where you have to feel the real pain of living. There is no one to blame. This is life Dad. Breathe it, live it. Learn to love. Others. Stop making exceptions. Make it the rule of your life. Dad. Please. Do this one thing. This is the hard part-looking in the mirror.
freezeframe Not dad yet. Standing behind the blue Chevy pickup white and tan camper. A turtle truck. Red barn full of stallions. Majestic oak tree. Windy dirt lane forking right and left. Green pastures on either side. He has bushy hair like a steel wool brillo pad. Springy and rippy at the same time. That eye smile. That remnant of laughter. Retro blue v-necked sweater. A Beatle wanna-be. One leg forward hip cocked. Straight into the pregnant honeymoon. Do the right thing.
womanmemry I wonder what you were thinking then, in style for the last time.
I bet you were thinking Niagara Falls was a far cry from Halifax, PA. A place you'd never been but heard of. You dreamed of the man in the barrel as he flung over and lived to tell the story. I wonder if you were thinking it'd be magical. That the water spray would dust you with money. That your muscles would break the fall.
No. I bet you didn't think about wands. I see in the eyes.
Back then you could go without sleep for days. Working two jobs to buy your first home and that blue Plymouth Barracuda.
Magnificent Niagara, you generated your own electricity.
Mom isn't in the picture. She's holding the camera. Off to the side. Three months pregnant.
The falls can crush. The weight of water breaking through your hips and down. And crushing. And you can't breathe. And you curse the shining imp who loved you into this place.
Live from New York! Ed Sullivan. Sock hops. Grooving in the back of a pickup truck. Music jittering a new thing inside. It moves in a flutter. Separates you in two.
Woland speaks to Matthew the Levite:
My Russian professor is a trickster. He spoke to us about 'Mother Russia' and the Russian soul like it was homemade butter. He didn't tell us about the bones. We were so young and naïve, studying in the middle of Minnesota farmland. I was from Bessemer, Michigan, for God's sake. What did I know about soul? I knew shadows because I grew into them, but I didn't understand that they might transform into dusha. The way he pushed the word out of his mouth made it sound exotic, incomprehensible, and wonderfully foreign. Although he was popular and had a great reputation, few students were crazy or committed enough to study with him and delve deep. Only the bravest of the brave kept at it. We couldn't digest his words at the time. We were babies, and he was handing us a cigar. We thought about it while drinking beer at the local bar. We talked about it as we smoked. We could only blow it from our mouths theoretically and watch it circle in the air and disappear as quickly as it had appeared. The only way to know, he said, would be to go to Russia and find it. Or, he said, it will eventually find you.
"But what is the soul?" I wanted desperately to understand this Russian mantra, dusha, dusha, dusha. Why do they make it seem like such a big deal? I specifically asked "Why is it 'Russian' soul?" He laughed. The poets pointed to it in riddles and laments, and showed me how it had been killed by the father state. They tried resurrecting it by playing a lyre to the eternal motherland. They made fun of it and they seemed hopeless about it, because it lived between black and white and death and life. Sometimes they wrote suicide poems in their own blood to get the point across. It seemed dangerous, erotic, mysterious, exotic and inaccessible. I wanted to know it experientially, like the adolescent girl who wanted to have sex because she wasn't supposed to.
In between my various male conquests, college dorm games and bad habits it blinked. But it was elusive. It was a golden onion-shaped dome. It was an exhalation of breath. It was a national treasure. It was poetic. It was deep. It was unique to Russia. But don't we all have soul? What do they know about it that we don't? My dad's memory breathed me towards it. Dusha. And it disappeared, like a mirage.
The dusha found me before I recognized her, and I continued to drink to take her in because the Russians showed me that vodka or spirit, was an entry point. No wonder Russia is a country of alcoholics. Dusha will turn you into a mystic, madman or fool. I drank vodka to soften dusha's rough, honest edges. I would drown otherwise. I wanted to save her. I wanted to kill her. I wanted to understand her. I was experiencing myself become a woman. Soul impregnated me with pomegranate seeds of maturity. It was a different kind of birth because it had to do with death. And I was terrified.
What a strange rite of passage.
I watched a little girl smile to her father on a bench nearby. It was the first smile I witnessed in Moscow.
There is another secret. It is dark and disturbing. I'd rather not tell you. I'd rather hold this secret to my grave. I like to think that it is connected to the black hole mystery that surrounds my father and his people. Since they are all gone, I'll never know the truth, even though I feel it was their blood pulsing through my veins causing me to change my direction in school. It would have been more innocent to follow my initial dreams of being a musician or a writer. But no, I had to delve into the mystery of the dusha. I was too curious. It was Pandora's box and I wanted to open it even though a part of me knew it might unleash terror and destruction.
When I was in seventh grade I started reading horror books. I liked the death and destruction. I liked being afraid of the dark because it made sense. The dark was scary. Evil spirits existed because they terrified me and forced me into praying to God. My fears were bigger than me and connected me to ancient beliefs grown of centuries of hierarchy, fear, and manipulation. I grew up with an innate sense of fear that something in the world and in me was wrong.
I had been shamed enough growing up to believe that the devil was more natural inside of me than Mary or Jesus. It made the devil easier to believe in. All the dark characters in fairytales made sense. Yet on another level I knew that in the end, the hero or heroine wins and light and love prevail. I also felt that if God is split, then so am I. So how do I weave the two aspects together into one numinous and ordinary reality?
Dad was obviously a fallen man. Everyone in my family knew it, and it was so bad they could never talk about it. I was his daughter, so that must have given me a double whammy: fallen woman and fallen daughter. And he was Jewish, so I was extra bad. I was attracted to bad things. Being Jewish was probably the worst thing in the world in the eyes of my Lutheran pious Nonna. I was made to have bad things happen to me. Dad passed on a lot of shame. I deserved to be bad. Mom refused to talk about his stories, but occasionally they leaked out. They were turned into legends. He was a trickster hero in my eyes.
When I first met Woland I recognized him. I figured I deserved to be pursued by him. When Woland asked me to join him in the underworld, I of course said yes. I was afraid, and yet I was intrigued too. I wanted to know first hand if it was all hellfire and shame. On some level, I think I secretly knew it wasn't about worshipping Satan or being a fallen bride. I knew it didn't have to do with witches and evil and all the things people in my town tried to scare me into believing.
I wonder if when Persephone was abducted by Hades she fought, or if she too was intrigued. What does the king of darkness want with a young maiden? Maybe Persephone secretly wanted to be with Hades, to make sense of where she had already been. Maybe she had lost some pieces and needed to go into the black hole to dig them up and remember who she was. Maybe in the eyes of Hades, she was becoming human. What secrets might she turn up in the deep furrows of the earth? What bones and treasures will she eventually wield? What will she have to sacrifice? Will she forever be destined to spend her winters at his mercy? Or might she willingly return? What does he wish to teach her? The question is, what is she open to learning?
I'm ashamed to tell you this secret and I'm not sure why, except I feel there is too much judgment about darkness and shadows in my hometown. But here it sits: I want to know the darkness of the dusha. I want to make love to it. I want to breathe it in and feel it. I want to experience its textures. I want to feel the fear of the unknown wasteland of what it means to be human and walk through it. I want chaos to fuck me again and again so that I can give birth to a star in the middle of all that darkness.
I mentioned earlier that when I was a little girl one of my favorite stories was Bluebeard. I think I liked that story best because it was honest. What young wife wouldn't want to open the one door that she was forbidden to open? And such a tiny, tiny key surely there is a secret treasure to discover. How do we know it isn't like the secret garden? Maybe the black flowers that bloom at night have secrets to reveal in a scent that comes and goes with the wind. How horrifying when she finally discovers a room filled with blood and bones and decapitated bodies of women. And now that she has opened the door, the key won't stop spilling blood on her. The secret will be out for all to see.
Don't you wonder about the ones who go against what they are supposed to do, simply out of curiosity? Don't you wonder if they will win in the end and come back wiser for having seen?
I said yes to Woland. I don't even know why except that it made sense. And after I said yes, I kicked and screamed and bucked because there was no turning back. I wanted to see and I didn't want to see. I wanted to know and I didn't. It is like when you cover your eyes during a terrible scene in a horror film, but you peek through your fingers anyway. But no matter, once you say yes, it's a done deal.
Dad pushed me to him. "You want to understand your old man? Well, maybe you'll go further than me. Either way, you are your father's daughter. See what you turn up, but don't go asking me for help. You already hold the key, what are you waiting for? Maybe you'll discover something about me behind the closed doors." And then he whispered a tiny secret, "Look for a small fiery lantern burning inside a skull. Don't ask too many questions. Take it, and go."
Do you think I'm bad for wanting to understand God by exploring the dark?
Do you think it is strange to want to know through opposites? To go against
what everyone else is saying and walk backwards on the other side of reason?
If you want to read between the lines of my story you will understand what
I've been too afraid to say. I chose my life. I chose my difficult lessons.
I chose to know through pain and suffering. I'm learning empathy and awareness,
okay? I'm not saying I'll stay in the pain forever, but when I've learned
what I came to learn, I'm sure one day I'll walk outside with my fiery lantern
by my side. And my star, wherever the hell it is, will be brighter for it.
Why does a twelve-year-old girl need amor? Not the parental kind of amor, but, you know, that other kind. Well, I started looking for that other kind since I was a little girl. Although I'm only thirteen, I can tell you a lot about that other kind of amor. I've gone looking for it. I follow it. I know how to find it. It sometimes just comes looking for me. I don't know why, I just have needed it.
People make fun of me because I have always had un novio. It's just that their idea of novio is very different than mine. It's not a game to me. A lot of the girls in my class have no idea what it means to be someone's novia. They have one novio one day and then a different one the next. They want to see how they can get the boys to do things for them, follow them around like puppy dogs. I guess it's some sort of power thing. And the boys just want to show the other boys how pretty their novia is. One big game played many different ways. But for me, it has always been de verdad y necesario. I can see boys clearly and I think they can see me. We like each other, truly. We like being with each other. I relax, he relaxes, and it's good. I don't try to be anything or anyone I'm not, I'm just me. It's easy.
I don't like my parents, maybe because they don't like themselves. I think this is why I have been looking for amor for such a long time. Amor doesn't exist in my house. It doesn't even exist in me while I'm in my house. I become a different person in my house. I don't like myself in my house.
I don't like this word, amor. My parents call each other this, amor, but I don't think they mean it. There is no amor in their voice when they say it. It's just a word that they are used to.
What do you call this that I am trying to paint a picture of? Is there a word? If there is, I haven't found it. It's not a word. Yo no estoy colgada de nadie. I am not hung on someone. I am with him. Yes, I am with him, and he is with me. We are with each other, together.
We see something special in the other, and treat each other special. I feel special in his eyes and this simple feeling makes my days so much brighter. Waking up in the morning and getting dressed has more meaning. There is somebody out there who cares about me.
Andrew and I talk all the time, about everything and anything. He told me the other day about how he started masturbating. He tells me how he doesn't trust his mom. He talks to me about his dad dying, and how he only occasionally misses having him around. He tells me everything. There are no limits on what we talk about. He trusts me more than anyone else. He shows me parts of himself that only I get to see, and I like that. Not everyone should see all of our parts, some are just for really special people to see. I want to be with him forever. I feel good talking to him, holding his hand, or just thinking about him and missing him. I know he thinks about me too. It's like there's an invisible thread that connects us from him all the way to me. Distance doesn't matter, the thread is limitless.
People, and grown-ups especially, think we're so cute together. But I think they secretly see something in us they wished they had for themselves, something they had forgotten about and we reminded them. I don't see people talking to their husbands or wives the way we talk. Andrew es mi novio y mi mejor amigo. He is my favorite person in the whole wide world. I would pick him out of everyone. My mom would rather spend the day with her girlfriends than be alone with my dad. She runs out of the house every chance she gets. I know we're not married or anything, but the only way that I could ever be married is if it were to my best friend. Why didn't my mom then just marry Dedie instead of my dad? She and Dedie can really talk, for hours. They see each other almost every day, and really come alive when the other one is around. That's what I want my marriage to be like. Andrew and I would have a great marriage. We already like each other more than we like anyone else. We would spend every day together if we could. I would stay home just so I could be around him.
I know that noviazgos (more than noviazgos, it's this kind of knowing someone and letting them know you and discovering new things about yourself you didn't even know about) hold the magic of life. I've noticed that I've stopped going into the forest as much because I can now discover the secret parts of the forest with Andrew. We show each other parts of the forest that the other had never seen. It's so much better going into the forest with someone else. And we had been visiting the same forest for years and had never seen each other there. Now the forest has changed, it's not the same. Isn't it supposed to change?
I feel protected by Andrew, not in an hombre kind of way. It is who he is, who he is to me, the strongest protector. No matter what happens, I know he is there. That's the biggest thing ever. I don't like going to school, actually lo odio, but I feel better that he is there. I don't know, it's just a stupid thing, but it's how it feels.
Esto que siento es lo mejor, es lo mas profundo de la vida, y no me quiero olvidar nunca de esto. Yo se lo que es amor. Yo se como querer y como dejar querer. Yo lo siento.
On the other hand, women are influenced by the man's anima projections.They say "Daddy" in a certain charming way and he falls for the trick; thus they learn to use the man's anima by adapting to it. Women who behave this way we call "anima women." Such women simply play the role intimated to them by the man in whom they are at the moment interested. They are conscious of themselves only as mirrors of the man's reaction. Their lover will tell them they are wonderful, but if there is no man around, they feel as if they were nobody. It is only the man's reaction to them which makes them aware of their feminine feelings. (3)
Oh yes this is the handless maiden woman before her hands are cut off. This is how I was raised and where I found meaning and definition, definitely in how men responded to me.
The woman must detach from this external definition as responded to by men and as demanded by the patriarchal structure. This structure sets up the woman to be on the bottom of the pyramidal power structure and as a servant, as thusly defined by the man at the top. This definition of woman serves best the patriarchy, that she represents inferiority and surface pleasure, thereby the system survives better with little threat and the woman lives in the lie of little confidence to better serve the false masters of fate.
In matriarchal structure, such as South India, women have natural confidence in their own womanhood. They know their importance and that they are different from men in a special way, and that this does not imply any inferiority. Therefore they can assert their human existence and being in a natural way. (4)
Is matriarchy better? Is the rule of the mother another hierarchy? Maybe this structure is closer to the ground and less rigidly slanted to a single point at the top.
Fairy tales, because they are also mostly unsophisticated products of the storyteller's unconscious do the same, they help to keep our conscious attitude in a healthy balance, and have therefore a healing function. (10)
The mythological tales in which hero or heroine behave in a specific way express an unconscious attempt to produce an ideally functioning, model ego complex. The hero represents the ideal ego complex in accordance with the requirements of the psyche. (22)
The Handless Maiden tale is a tale for the unconscious as well as for conscious awareness. This tale works on us deeper and further than our cognizant intellectual wonderings and explorings can interpret. We have to give space for our unconscious to do work and then welcome the oftentimes uncomfortable upbringings that it reveals. We also have to allow the room for our unconscious to be taught from the history of women and from the past learnings that are passed down, now I see, so brilliantly in the capsule of a fairy tale or a myth.
How is this done? Receptivity. I was told once that the perfect choreography of energy includes these workings: to give with the emotions, to hold with the body, to receive with the mind, to determine with spirit, and to catalyze with sexual life force. In this case then, the handless maiden must learn to use her natural receptivity as a mind energy movement and allow the spirit (as is seen in the story) to do the determining. The bridge between the unconscious and the conscious then is the spirit, is creation and artful living. Allowing the flow in and out of the unconscious is necessary a plug or block will provide for a tension that will twist energies to fall back upon themselves and create resistance to a healthy life current.
Many fairy tales start with the motif of a king, or a merchant, who crosses the sea in his ship or goes through a wood and gets stopped by an evil spirit, or perhaps a black dog, or even the devil himself, who will let him go if he will give the devil whatever he meets first on his return home. The kind agrees, thinking it will probably be his dog, but a child, born in his absence, runs towards him and he realizes that he has sold his child to the devil. Generally this child turns out to be a hero or heroine who has the task of freeing him or herself from the devil by the performance of heroic deeds. (36)
Freeing herself from the devil and the system behind which it hides. This is why I choose this tale, because of my own devilish possession and attempts to escape. I now find that this is not uncommon and I am not alone and freaky because of my happenings in childhood, my dealings with the devil as evolved in my growings and all the crazy happenings which have then occurred as a result of this possession.
If we take it from the feminine standpoint, one could say that this represents the case of a woman who through a negative constellation of her father complex has fallen into the greatest danger. What would it mean if the father sells his own daughter to the devil, because he is at the end of his resources? (88)
It would mean that his daughter is seen as a resource as well, as a last ditch resource to save his soul. This reminds me of the belief that I ran across in Jamaica, that if a man who had AIDS then had sex with a young virgin girl that he would be healed. This is using a corrupt power to taint an external feminine source of innocence so as to get the male out of a situation that is really of his own makings or outcomes however tragic as the situation may be. It was not a belief, as far as I know, that if an older woman with AIDS was to have sex with a young virgin boy that she would be cured.
A woman who has such a father has not been nourished by his eros function. In our story the daughter shows that such a woman is sold to the devil, which would mean that, since she was not nourished on the feeling side, a destructive, devilish intellectualism, a devilish animus of some sort, will take possession of her. She will either be very ambitious or very cold, or she may do the same thing as her father, continuing his life pattern in the calculating, cold way of her animus. The girl in the story reacts in a very typical way to such an inheritance by realizing that there is this negative possibility and trying to keep herself out of the terrible danger. (89)
whatever she did was done in a destructive way, so she developed into a completely passive feminine personality. (89)
The girl without hands has to suffer because her father did not solve his own problem decently, but avoided the conflict by selling her to the devil. Seen from a woman's standpoint, she is threatened by a terrible animus. As soon as she touches anything on the side of life activity she may fall into animus possession.
she cries so much that the devil cannot get her. She protects herself by a pure attitude; the tears wash her hands and she remains clean, but the devil has tried to get her, and her father has had to chop off her hands. She is thus mutilated and unable to take up any activity in life(90)
The threat of the devilish possession creates an impossible situation for the woman. For me personally it fueled on many years of running, with little awareness of where I was running to or from. The experience does feel like an external demon-like possession. When the devilish animus is not active, the woman feels normal and fine and like she can and will do anything she desires. She is real and honest and can face any situation at any cost and be true, not to worry she will be taken care of, this she knows. When the possession is activated she laments, "what was I thinking? I can't do this, I don't even want to, I am weak, I am a mess, I am worthless. Who would want me as tainted as I am?" and still she keeps striving, but internally now as a wrestling match.
This is a burdening, like a useless-feeling life full of dead ends, but as experienced in circles of repetition. The needs keep piling up and she is unable to effectively address them, she looks to others, maybe men, maybe parents, maybe drugs. She remembers when things felt good, but it feels like a very long time ago, like a distant land of fast fading memory. The possession is the only living thing that exists. This can drive a woman in many different directions depending on her anchoring and projecting personalities. It drove me into internal states of hopeless depression, worthlessness and destruction looking to completely die at the hands of the devil thereby placing my being in very dangerous situations with very dangerous people.
All the second half of this story is concerned with the negative mother complex and the demonic father as well it is the same development. In both cases the girl is doomed to passivity and has to go back to the unhurt virgin ground in her soul. (97)
This is the only place I had in the past been rightly able to find peace the looking at old pictures of myself as the "unhurt virgin" or by summoning potent memories of those times, as to re-invoke the feelings held hopefully somewhere in my body that will overtake the decay.
Where in the story does the handless maiden return to this place? When she leaves the father and walks in trust into the unknown. Trust and innocence are two characteristics of the child these are the two aspects of our own energetic self that need to be preserved. When the trust is gone, suspicion and desperation can move in. When our innocence is missing and we forget our innate purity, we then become open to the corruption of thought forms having little to do with the truth of our nature devil thoughts. The handless maiden held on to her trust as traveling to the forest with no aid but that which she trusted would guide her or arrive to help. She also kept intact her innocence and purity she dressed in white and cried honest sweet tears thereby physically keeping the devil away. These were her first step in the retrieval of her unhurt virgin self.
If one regresses into this primitive layer, it is because one cannot live on the ordinary level with other human beings. As long is one is at that level, one has to be a part of it. But the forest is the place where things begin to turn and grow again; it is a healing regression . This is a genuine tendency, for it seems as though only nature in its virgin beauty and essence has the power to heal in such a case. (97-98)
This is where death has home one can feel it in the force of the forest. The constant turning "where things begin to turn and grow again". This is the pull to the mountains, the desert, the power places where man is not king where the devil cannot touch. The virgin beauty of nature and the unhurt virgin of the woman both are of the same matter, one is of our earth, the next is of the human both emanating the vibrations the untouched natural child, wild, free and healed.
At first glance it might seem that the angel had been added to the story at a later date, but apparently there is always something there resembling the angel, even in countries where they do not believe in angels.In Russia it is an old man; God himself comes down to help the poor girl. So divine intervention seems to be a genuine aspect, and not just to have been inserted in this version. Practically, this means that only a religious experience can help the woman out of her difficulty. (99)
Even in the Russian story the woman cannot save the child she loves so much from drowning. God himself has to come and say, "Do try!" The fact that she is so limited and wounded makes the divine intervention necessary, and that, in my experience, is very true-an actual miracle is needed. One can only help people to the best possible attitude, but it needs a miracle to heal the deep wound so that she can stretch out her hands and then the waters of life bring the cure. (100)
This is when the woman must also believe in the miracle. The energy of miracles is accessible by will and intent. The body is in a constant moving towards a vibration towards wholeness. I once was told that a miracle is a positive permanent shift of perception. The shift of perception in this case must be moved away from the present persuasion of the devil and back into the fertile grounds of trust in surroundings and self. The unhurt virgin can believe in miracles, the wounded bound mis-trustful one cannot. The handless maiden had to observe her father's violence and disconnection as enacted on to her, then had to walk away from that drama with the unhurt girl given the lead. This is only the beginning step towards the full revival of whole woman that is being grown from the once again young rich soil. This is a complete starting over a rebirth.
but they can get to the turning point, and in the second half of life have their hands healed and can stretch them out for what they want not from the animus or from the ego, but, according to nature, simply stretch out their hands toward something they love. Though this is infinitely simple, it is extremely difficult, for it is the one thing the woman with a negative mother complex cannot do; it needs God's help. Even the analyst cannot help her - it must one day just happen, and this is generally when there has been sufficient suffering. One cannot escape one's fate; the whole pain of it must be accepted, and one day the infinitely simply solution comes. (100)
And once the moment of "that's enough" has been reached, and it is no longer acceptable to struggle, the surrender begins. The surrender to spirit, or god, or to the ally of death any of which now have been given the permission to remove that element, that faulty long-held belief that is shading perception and thereby tainting and maiming the woman's play in the world. One day the handless maiden wakes up and says No more. From here she must re-build strength as her 3-D presence-essence has been weakened and the work at this point is a relentless movement between surrender (death) and animation (life). And now this is the only work worth enacting, for the alternative is to slowly rot into a decayed shell of motions with no soul to fill
The handlessness which formerly was painful passivity has now been transformed into conscious discretion. That would be the positive aspect of the previous handlessness. (104)
I wonder if her idea of conscious discretion could also be called the art of timing and patience. Knowing when to say or act, and know what to say or do and when not to speak or execute. How is this related to painful passivity? Painful passivity would be being too afraid to ever speak or act, and then letting it build up and maybe erupt in a blow that is destructive to self and others.
In the "Girl Without Hands," for many years the woman drifted more and more out of life and was cured only by accepting the fact that she had to stay quiet in the woods, and temporarily not go back into life. This is a very frequent motif, and being excluded from life for many years seems to me typically to illustrate a problem of feminine psychology. From the outside it looks like complete stagnation, but in reality it is a time of initiation and incubation when a deep inner split is cured and inner problem solved. This motif forms a contrast to the more active quest of the male hero, who has to go into the Beyond and try to slay the monster, or find the treasure, or the bride . There seems to be a typical difference between the masculine and feminine principles. The unconscious is experienced in isolation by the heroine, and afterward comes the return to life. (106)
This is why a single thread of standards cannot be applied to both girl and boy, man and woman. These are two different bodies, two different moving energies.
In primitive material you find exactly the same problem of the heroine's being confronted with the powers of good and evil as soon as she goes into the unconscious. In a woman this has to do with the problem of the animus(107)
And I wonder if this is where the woman must detach from what her ego and past training has learned for her to decipher as good and evil. A while ago I wrote this:
Maybe it is here that the handless maiden's spiritual experience must transcend societal definitions of what is spiritual and what is not, of what is good and what is not, of what is acceptable and what is not. For if neither good nor bad, neither God nor the devil hold pull, then there can be no tug-o-war as there is no rope.
Marie-Louise von Franz 1972 Problems of the feminine in fairy tales Spring Publications
We pushed on after dark in hopes of making it all the way up to San Simeon, close to Big Sur. We arrived at the campsite around ten. Ethan back in his element. As he unloaded his simple cooking equipment and began building a fire, I started to see this covered wagon of ours as a system. We had what we needed.
That's when we saw the meteor. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw fire in the sky, breaking off into smaller pieces.
"Ethan! Behind you!"
We watched silently as the larger remaining piece floated over the sky, taking minutes to break down in the atmosphere.
We turned back to the fire, but a shift in the moonlight made us turn around again. There, large as life, filling a third of the sky around Taurus, a thick cloud of debris had appeared. Giant and face-like. I was thinking it reminded me of some sort of demonic visage when Ethan, scratching his head, declared, "It looks like a demon."
So we stood there, arms akimbo, looking at this demon.
"Do you think we're the only ones to see this?"
"Is this a message from God? Is it for us?"
"You're the first person we've talked to today," Ethan began. "Did you hear anything about a big meteor shower last night?"
She cocked her head.
"We are right by a military base. You probably saw a rocket of some kind. Our boys like to play with their toys."
I read an article in the New York Times recently that stated scientists had identified a part of the brain devoted to face recognition. This, they say, explains the many sighting of Jesus on a rug or the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast.
Try telling that to my wide eyes as they surveyed the Big Sur landscape as the truck chugged on through route 1. Everywhere faces. In rock formations, I saw more and more beings, souls trapped in stone or watchful eyes protecting their territory.
We hiked out to an alien landscape. The Pacific stretched out to the sky. Something so volatile appearing as still as the rock faces. I recognized an energy to the cliff. I was on, the back of a tortoise, with ancient head and limbs climbing out to greet the great ocean.
What are these forms? Are they an accident of evolutionary function or a dialogue with our environment? I knew a psychic medium named Don who sees faces in the air and messages written on people and objects. He could tell you things about you that only you would know . What told him? He taught me how to see, how to tune myself so that suddenly I could see a sign of where to go if I was at a crossroads or could offer guidance to others. It comes and goes these days, maybe out of intermittent doubt on my part. Whether there is another reality stirring underneath our grid of sensory awareness, or it's an evolutionary glitch, those faces are there - you see them.
Andrew was in the fold, we needed another day of his company. We headed south in two cars so he could go back to Berkeley and we could continue back to LA. We had picked a site called The Pinnacles. On the Internet, it looked like it might be the place for some mischievous camping and payoff hiking the next day.
Two and a half hours later we were at the site ready to set up in the dark. Number 20 had plenty of space around it, at least as far as we could tell in the dark, and a comforting lone tree arcing over the firepit.
There it was again, though. Was this camping? Lot numbers, designated parking and fire building? In the distance, there was even the glow of a community bathroom. No matter. We had food to cook and whiskey to drink.
As we sat around the fire, I started to understand a few more things. Understanding not intellectually but experientially.
First, time slowed down. I sat by the fire talking with Ethan while Andrew played a beater guitar. Suddenly Ethan was a pioneer with his clothing and spectacles hearkening back to the 1800's. We were doing something that had been done for as long as the human form has been on the planet. Connection to past versions of "us" rippled like shuffling cards. We stay the same but with different clothes, different cultural impositions.
There was the fire itself. Hypnotic. We made a song called "It All Comes Back to the Fire." We could stray a bit away to soak in the stars or hear the wildlife, but every time we were drawn back.
The whiskey began to provide warmth and courage to open up to our surroundings, but I was feeling differently from my companions, partly in fear and partly in reverence. The reverence was out of a desire to accept the surroundings, to quiet our chatter and notice where we were. The fear was of the unknown. How big was this darkness around us? The cradle moon only provided light a few steps ahead. My brother had spoken of a caution the West teaches. There's very little that can hurt you back in Maine. Here, he had to learn about scorpions and snakes and black widows. Was one of these waiting for me up in the hills?
We stumbled up. Up up. I trailed, envisioning myself as the movie character the monster chooses to attack. The weakest of the herd. Up up. Then Andrew hit the barbed wire.
Stop. Look around. We were at the edge of our grazing grounds. We could go further, but I was already nervous. I began to head back. It all comes back to the fire.
More chatter. I began to feel the space around us more. Coyotes in the distance. Owls overhead. Monsters cracking dead branches in the forest around us. I implored my companions for a silence. We listened. We listened for a long time.
I thought the reader might be interested in my process of exploring consciousness. Elsewhere in this site I have made mention of notebooks I have kept. These notebooks have served me well, by allowing me to look back on my explorations and consider the experiences I documented therein. The notebooks consist of quick sketches, notes written immediately following an ASC (altered state of consciousness), and also a systematic analysis of my explorations using a kind of symbolic shorthand I developed to simplify that effort.
This evening I have decided to embark on yet another excursion to that place within.
I believe it may be advantageous at this juncture to state my method for inducing trance within myself. Throughout these notebooks are hints as to that technique as well as detailed discussion of how I have induced trance in others. However, up to this point I have not yet given a detailed accounting of my own method for entering such states.
I have decided to begin by first writing down some of the most unusual aspects I have noted previously. One was discovering a way to increase my body's heat. Another was the how I could meditate in various positions. It is here that I will begin this entry, by recollecting my previous practice of meditation. I see several benefits to this. One is that it will put into one place my practice as it had been prior to taking a break. I fully expect that having not meditated for some time it will not only be difficult to begin it again, but that in a way it will be like re-learning how to meditate. Thus, by writing this, I not only am sharing my practice as it has been in the past, it is a kind of refresher course for myself, on how to jump back into altered states. Further, if there is a change in my practice in this renewed effort, I will be able to perceive that change more distinctly if my previous method is clearly laid out here at the beginning.
As of late, it has been rather cold and my resources for warmth quite limited. Therefore, I have decided to begin this meditation in a slightly different way. I have occasionally meditated while sitting or walking, but tonight, as has been my preferred posture, I have chosen to recline. I notice in rereading my notes that early on in my practice I thought it mattered what time of day I did the meditation. However, as my practice continued, at some point that idea was dropped and I was meditating at various hours.
Usually I have liked to prop myself up with pillows. I have found no personal use for discomfort and therefore I have decided to make myself quite cozy. I realize that having left off meditating for so long, I am putting myself in danger of falling asleep. However, I am counting on my body to remember the practice as I had so rigourously followed it.
OK, I am now zipping up my sleeping bag, my only source of heat most days lately. It is not yet winter and I am reluctant to start the fire. Before beginning to allow myself to go far in the process, I have decided to use a technique similar to the one I use to enter into altered states for art creation. I will use this technique as a warm-up, serving two functions: preparation for this renewed journey and also to warm up my as of now rather chilled body.
I am going to think back now on this process and will write what I remember of my meditation journey as it normally flows from beginning to end. I will then begin the process myself and follow up with writing whether I was able to meditate adequately or if, as I assume, I will need to engage in a serious practice in order to obtain similar results as before.
OK. Thinking back to my prior meditations . I would begin by closing my eyes and doing pranayama breathing for a few minutes. I have used this exercise many times in the past to focus my attention on my breath if I was not in the mood to meditate. Gradually I would shift my attention to my belly. I would not actually think of 'heat', yet it would be a held silent intention. Yes, that is how I accomplish this oddity and I am making a mental note that I will indeed begin tonight with this practice. Of course, shivering as I am, I highly doubt if I will forget to begin with this tonight.
Back to remembering .
My breathing would begin to change and I would feel the heat level rising in my belly and chest. Next I would feel it move through my legs and arms. Once I would feel comfortably warm, I would cease the activity. I recall that I have continued this to the point of creating substantial sweat. I think that was a kind of experiment to see if I was merely convincing myself that I was getting warm, or if my body was indeed getting warmer. Apparently I did convince myself, and left off doing further experimenting with this. (Note to self: maybe look into exploring this further.)
My eyes would still be closed and by this time my body would be relaxing into the expected meditation. It would not be long before I managed to bring up hypnagogic forms in my visual field. I would accomplish this by turning my closed eyes upward towards the top of my head.
I recall that I have often noted that my breathing about this time would begin to get slower and shallower. This would be how I would maintain the trance rather than slipping into sleep. I have trained myself to sleep with the onset of deeper, faster breathing. It is as though one style of breathing says, ok, sleep. The other tells my body, no, stay awake and watch. (Hm... is it my body? On some level I suppose it is, though while asleep or in meditation, my body is clearly at rest.) Anyway, to meditate, if my breathing would not yet be changed by the time I saw hypnagogic forms, I would change it. I would attend to it carefully until I was certain of its rhythm.
Next I would focus on hypnagogic forms. Unlike how I proceed with my meditation for creating art, I would keep my eyes closed. Instead of attending directly to the hypnagogic forms, I would begin an internal search. I would 'look' for what I call the great blue. This is a speck of brilliant dark blue light that is even more fleeting than the hypnagogic forms. It would dance before me. I would follow the blue inward through the hypnagogic forms. The more I would follow, the further away the blue would get from me.
What I'm refering to next is rather difficult to describe it is a sense of effort, but an effort particularly of will. If I would actually try to focus on the blue, it would leave me totally, so that I would have to start back at the stage of hypnagogic forms. The attention and following given the blue would be as an unemotional bystander, like the focus one has looking at an uninteresting object that passes by the corner of one's eye.
If all would go well, eventually the blue would cease to run away from me. In the distance I would see it much bolder and, it seems, bigger. It would begin to take on aspects of reality. Prior to this, I would be quite aware of the hallucinatory nature of the hypnagogic forms and the blue. Now this perception would begin to change. I would still be aware that the image is not real, but its appearance now would be becoming so vivid that I would be naturally drawn to it. No more effort would be required. It would be as though I lost myself to the blue light, as a moth is lost in a light.
As I would travel toward the blue, it would be common for it to suddenly disappear into a vast darkness. Yet I would have the sensation of being in motion, heading toward it. (I should note that this sensation of motion is not uncommon and is yet another hypnagogic sensation. I have described this movement in my notes as being inward and outward simultaneously, as though, by going deeper inside I am leaving physical bounds and discovering that there is no difference between in and out, up and down, etc.)
There would still at this stage be an ability to manoeuver, but it would seem as though not only time but spatiality would begin to become relative to perspective. At such times, my perspective would be so changed that space, distance, speed, and time would begin to lose their meaning. I would still be aware of these as a reality and have a sense of awe that these 'laws' don't operate 'correctly'.
So then I would travel through a darkness where it would be as though I began to pass alternately through realms of light. Not realms actually, regions. No - I can't quite find the right words for it. Anyway, suffice it to say that all the swirls and hypnagogic forms would have long gone and now what appeared to me would be brilliant colorful lights. Each light would be clearly separated by a period of darkness. I remember this passage so well because it would appear so real. No longer would the imagery be merely vivid, it would feel real. There would be a sense that, yes, physical reality is real and still exists 'out there somewhere, where I am not'. But this new Place would be as fully real as that other reality I once knew not long ago.
I then would reach a deep darkness - darker than any other darkness I ever encounter outside of this Place. It would now feel like a Place neither inside my head nor inside my body. It would feel like a Place that does not exist in the physical world I know - as though it is a universe in its own right. Then I would emerge from the darkness before a light so brilliant it would be painful and fearful to behold. I recall, now, how my first encounter with this light so terrified me, because I thought I would never be able to return to that other universe I had once known, and if I did, I would surely be blind. This was not just a fearful thought I had, it seemed a real possibility. And in some sense it was reality. After returning from this universe, my body was filled up with what felt like fire.
From experience, I would know that the blue is beyond this barrier. I would have to pass through the blazing fire. On the other side would be a brief darkness with the blue light very near to me. I would be able to see its form and feel its flow, its awareness. Usually I would stay and be awed by its beauty, but sometimes I would chose to go into the blue. This became ever more the case near the end of my previous meditation practice.
Upon entering the blue, I would lose all subject-object reality. I would be the blue. I would be everything. I would be nothing. All that would be only what I am. Writing of this now I can say that the experience is dissociative trance, in the sense that physical reality no longer exists as a separate reality. In many ways, it does not exist at all and appears as an illusion, as though I have woken from a dream. In this trance I would be aware only of Being as the reality. Nothing else would be real. Not the life I once lived, not my children, not even the journey to this Place that is no place. Reality would be only what I am. And I would be not at all what I am when not in this Place. Yet, I would know that this Being that I am is who I am really in all places and states.
Upon returning from such journeys, I would realize I had nearly stopped breathing. This has been verified by witnesses. And I am left to ponder now whether such trances are akin to dying or birth.
I should mention that as I am meditating, my body goes through what I think of as the falls. Immediately after I perceive the blue light, my body often reacts with a quick jerk, as though I had an unexpected fall, as one has before going to sleep. What is unusual is that my body then experiences a series of falls. These falls were initially a hindrance to my meditation, but I soon discovered how to relax into the falls and allow them to cause my body to fall away from my awareness.
As an interesting experiment, I once decided to see whether I could initiate this same depth of meditation with my eyes open. I began that experiment in the late afternoon and finished around 10 pm. The same results were achieved with open eyes and sitting as were achieved with closed eyes. However, it did take longer.
In the past, I found that I could reduce the time required to reach a deep meditative state if I:
1. meditated on a consistent basis to the point where I reached the blue;
2. used chant overtones as a focal point at the beginning of my meditation;
3. practiced waking mindfulness during the day prior to meditating.
At times early on in my meditation, it would seem as though I were viewing cells and electrochemical activity. Writing of this now, such impressions seem impossible and hallucinatory, but in fairness to my subjective experiencing of this, I will quote Mavromatis:
However extreme in scope and speculative this idea might seem prima facie, it might not sound all that unlikely when seen in its proper perspective. This could be achieved if we allowed ourselves to view hypnagogic images as a conglomeration of 'solidified' electromagnetic waves which, in the last analysis, they must be. Whether we are indeed dealing with the emerging into consciousness of a personal subconscious or a Universal Unconscious, we are faced with experiences which are compounded of fluidic impressions, intuitions, feelings, certainties, awareness of significance, and more 'objectified' (turning into object-based experiences) images.
"The contents of conscious experience," as Koestler observed, "have no spatio-temporal dimensions; in this respect, they resemble the non-things of quantum physics which also defy definition in terms of space, time, and substance." The comparison may be more literal than metaphorical. Hypnagogic visual images have been observed by many researchers both to form themselves out of specks and clouds of what is argued to be ideoretinal light and to dissolve again into it. It has been pointed out that such observations take place at those stages of hypnagogia nearest to ordinary wakefulness. This implies that the deeper subjects are involved with hypnagogic experiences the less likely they are to observe their possible ultimate speck-like nature. It remains, of course, debatable whether the 'specks' are indeed of ideoretinal origin .
Both in hypnagogia and in meditation the human entity is presented with multilevel organizations of internal activity, the interrelationships of some of which, e.g. electrochemical activity and symbolic imagery, appear incongruous to the waking mind . Moreover, one may be able, as argued above, to switch one's perspective from one series of aspect-symbols or organization to another, or, as in meditation and hypnagogia, one may perceive two or more organizations simultaneously. As Deikman points out, the 'illumination' mystics talk about may be more than just a metaphor, it "may be derived from an actual sensory experience occurring when in the cognitive act of unification a liberation of energy takes place, or when a resolution of unconscious conflict occurs, permitting the experience of peace, presence, and the like." The notions of energy being liberated during hypnagogia is also a view held by yogis and occultists, and may be explained in respect to this state as the result of relaxation, of the 'letting go' of tension produced by the intense application of the active mode. (1987, pp. 119-121)
Regardless of how my experience is classified, my experience of this awareness is subjectively quite profound. Often it leaves me for many days and sometimes weeks dissociated from my normal awareness of object-subject relationships.
So, now onto the journey. I will record as usual the experience, regardless of whether I successfully manage to meditate or not.
Summation of next entry: Unable to go beyond hypnagogic forms
Entry approximately one week later:
I find great difficulty in being in this world. I can drive but a short distance while I am intent on remaining in my center. I can only speak softly, briefly. At such times, I pull away from the world. I have gone days in a sort of divided presence. Within I have a quiet peace, a knowing that I can not share adequately. Outwardly I must function as anyone else. I look upon those I encounter and smile. I see aspects of myself, know myself in others; feel drawn to them, as though somehow I can share this otherness that I am and they are but do not yet embrace. This is an odd experience. I leave my time of meditation and it is as though the meditation continues unbroken. I walk and work and live, but it is not as I did before. It seems as though I am Being and becoming simultaneously. Is this what it is to walk as a god upon the earth?
I've noticed this phenomenon before - a sense that the training somehow continues in me, carries itself forward in me, even when I'm off the mat for some reason, or not training in a specific skill; that learning keeps happening during a hiatus of some sort. I get this image of a chemistry experiment-certain active parts of the procedure are done, and then it's left to stew, a series of interactions continuing. It's a very cool feeling in the body, a sense of being alive and in motion at deep levels of intention/attention/action; a sense evoking trust, a hint of ease - I don't have to actively, consciously carry forward everything that happens, in order for it to happen in me
Listen: the technique is extra; the entry is where the work happens, where you get kezushi, where you get uke's balance - that's where the matter is decided, not later on.
Uke becomes a part of my body, and I need to keep that part of my body closer to my center as I work.
I lose my sense of ground in the ukemi, and anger roars upward: I let it fuel and focus my attention and my next attack contains more ferocity than usual. I notice it. I stay in the form, but I let the ferocity stay too. I let it fuel my presence and my precision.
When I attack again, he puts me where he wants me, body-to-body, high power, straight to the ground. Ouila! he says, but I'm triggered deep down with a directness, speed and intensity that stuns me - I am here I am gone I am here and something's broken open in me, whole-self primitive elemental distress keening set loose reverberating I'm off my center I'm in my center I'm off my center all of me out to the edges and all of me is paying attention I am alert and vigilant with my body-sensing.
There is nothing personal in what Jaff has done, no intent to harm, and my body knows this and there is no anger no fight rising up but the distress broken open speaks itself inside me like a baby would cry, clear and fully, at the instant something goes wrong. I do not cry. I stay watching listening waiting for what Jaff will do next, watching, watching. He gives me the sign to come again and I attack, take the ukemi somehow, and he releases us all to practice. He looks to me as I move away, asks, "Is it ok?" and I nod, point to my chest and shoulders, bow off the mat, all of me wanting to get away.
I get away. I go downstairs, walk slowly, bare feet on nubbly earth-toned carpet. I breathe. I feel the distress rising up, pushing to come out. I breathe. I walk. I hold the sensations, feeling them but keeping them contained. I am not ready to let it all break open here now. I will get back on the mat shortly. I notice the impulse to go back up right away. I notice that I am not feeling at ease and home in my body. That habit to go back in before I am calm and centered again is strong. This time, for once, I push the edge, invite myself to stay off the mat until I'm actually really ready to get back on. I start to feel a bit dizzy, wobbly on my feet. I sit down. I breathe. I say a welcome to the sensations pulsing and pushing, make the container of myself bigger, saying ok, ok, you are here, ok. I may not attend to you fully right now, I say, but I will come back. Ok, ok, ok... Breathing. Allowing sensation, containing sensation, breathing. My breathing starts to connect with sensation, begins to carry sensation, almost like a hammock carries a person: in-out, back-forth. Sensation allows itself to be carried by breath. The breathing itself an active healing, something is happening - like air a necessary ingredient in composting vegetables, active combustion. The breathing is doing work: carrying, noticing, holding work.
Gradually, to my surprise, I begin to feel calm places open in my abdomen, I begin to feel at home and at ease, directly connected in areas of the core of my body. I'm beginning to reconnect. The break is called upstairs, and people begin to come down to drink, pee, get a cookie. My sense of center rises again, I begin to fuzz out again in blotches here and there. The other students allow me space, at first - do not come into the alcove of the little library where I chose to sit. Then Marc comes in, says something real about what happened. I reply, "Sometimes I just freak out." He nods, says, "That's why I'm here, doing this." "Me too," I say. He has trained in somatics, begins telling me about how he works with it when distress rises for him, something about really getting into the water element, the bloodstream and the endocrine system and he tries to show me. I am listening and only a little bit of what he's saying is registering, feels like effort to attend to him. Michael comes down, comes in straight to me and says, "That was awesome. There was probably more learning in that 2 seconds than in the rest of the two and a half hours."
Though we haven't spoken much about it, he knows my vulnerability with that ukemi. "You know what was awesome about that? I saw it. You went right with him, your body doing exactly what it was supposed to, not crunching up as you usually do. Not that you had much choice at that moment with Jaff. What was awesome was that you stayed right there, kept it together until he was done, and then got off the mat." I looked at him a bit ruefully, said maybe one day I'd get to the place where I get through the end of class before getting off the mat. He said it didn't matter. We all practice with what we've got. If you've gotta get off the mat, you get off the mat. Here at this dojo, that's cool. "We love you just the way you are," he said. Whoa. There is a camaraderie, a sense of community here, but we never get much into openly sharing emotion with each other. Which has been ok with me - lets me practice taking charge of what I need, being there for myself when I'm triggered. It's happened before, though not often, my needing to get off the mat, and no one's made an issue of it. I want to step into that, find the ways of taking care of myself with active power in those moments, regardless of what others may think. So his words surprise me, but I'm grateful for them, can find some space to take them in. It's like water coming in through small cracks in big rock. "Guess I'm in the right place," I say. We move to get water, get ready to get back on the mat. "Maybe you can tell me some other time what you know, about the somatics stuff," I tell Marc. "It's not really going in right now." "Yeah, I could tell," he said. We get back on the mat for jo practice. I'm clear now, with a sense of space; present; feeling tender but centered. We keep working.
During jo training, Jaff calls Kevin to attack. Kevin (not unlike me) is clearly not connecting with what Jaff is doing, is not understanding what Jaff is wanting him to do. Jaff continues to try to explain what he wants, it's not quite connecting, but Kevin stays there trying to roll with it. Jaff moves in to attack, Kevin does not get out of the way. Jaff's staff hits Kevin in the head, on the left side of the forehead. We all hear the thud, see the staff bounce off Kevin's head, we are all sucking in our breaths, in empathy-connection, and attending to what's happening. Time slows into micro-movements. Kevin shakes his head, steps in to keep going, but Jaff and others move to stop him, because he's got a cut on his head and blood is starting to come. Jaff wipes the blood with his thumb, Michael goes with Kevin downstairs to take care of first aid. Jaff stands in front of the rest of us, quiet, then acknowledges the razor edge of trust between nage and uke, how dependent they are on each other for what happens and doesn't happen. He expresses regret. More quiet. Then he looks at us with a mix of regret, sheepishness, humble authority, and humor, and asks, "So, who will come next?" Everyone laughs, and Dima steps up to take Kevin's place in the demonstration. Kevin comes back up shortly, neatly bandaged, and rejoins the class.
It happens that my co-counseling gathering with my friend is on Sundays. I go from the seminar to a busy customer service day at the library, to Susal's house. When it's my turn, I go right into the middle of the distress that had broken open earlier that day. I come back, like I said I would; cry, sobbing, sending out breath with force over and over, shake and shiver, muscles contracting violently, waves of grieving, waves of rest. True stories and true names unfolding within me; me, letting them come.
Having made the fateful decision to throw up my former life in favor of a brand-new one, if in the beginning I often found myself having a difficult, even painful time in finding a social footing and in feeling I could ever be a member of my new society of rural, agricultural people, in my awe at the beauty and openness of the landscape, I felt as if my soul had at last found its home. Slowly, through my joy in the beauty of this new landscape, I began to learn new things, to see my life differently. I began to realize how life for all of us in the West is informed and shaped by Nature in ways we don't even realize, much less notice consciously. Eventually, all that I was learning led to this book. Butala xiii
What is the feeling that comes when the soul finds a home. What is the feeling of a soul connection. What are those moments, shared by so many, when even though everything obvious may seem wrong or difficult, you know your soul wants to stay. What is that? What is that about?
The landscape came first for Butala. The society around her was foreign and new. She had to get to know the place before she could ever hope to understand the people. She had to get to know it well enough that it started to alter her days, her thoughts, and how she saw herself. She had to let it affect her movement, her rhythm. Then she could begin to understand the people who had grown up in the place. She understood her husband better. She understood how people related to each other better, because it was all influenced by the place, the land, and the process of making it work as their home.
The afternoon I walked out into the field, climbed the hill and saw Peter asleep on the ground with his animals was a deeply significant moment for me, a benchmark against which I measured each of my new experiences. It seemed to me that something had been revealed to me about my new husband that I had never guessed at, that I had seen a glimmer of something about my new life that would inform and instruct me if I could just understand it. The moment was like my dream-visions in that whatever its significance was, I felt it rather than verbalized it or assimilated it intellectually. Like the childhood morning when my chest had filled with light, my entire body felt what I was seeing not like a blow but more like opening the door of a dark, gloomy house onto the outdoor world of light and warmth and color. I filed this experience away, too, as I had the visions of the spirit coyote, and of the wonder and beauty of the universe. I didn't speak of them, but this did not mean I'd forgotten them. (37)
I believe that areas of the body other than the recognized five senses are able to apprehend information about the world which often is not available through the acknowledged senses. (122)
She feels the moment, she feels its influence. She has this moment after she is starting to get to know the place, but it is still foreign. She has this moment at a time when she is still taking this place into her body, still getting acquainted with the sounds, sights and rhythms all around her. She has this moment, and feels it, and gains understanding. She understands the place, her husband, and herself in this place better than before. But what is this knowing. Is it connecting to the moment of the place? Is it connecting to the history of the place? Is it connecting to her husband and his ability to be in this place? Is it connecting to how all of it is connected? Or is it her, knowing it all a little bit better, and allowing herself to become a part of it?
She remembers having a similar experience as a child. What is is about childhood that allows us to feel this knowing. The few moments of childhood that I remember vividly, I can't really descibe. I can remember them, I can feel them, I can almost see them, but I just can't describe them at all. They have no timeline, no plot, no structure. They are just known, in my body, my little child's body and all that it's aware of.
You have to be still and quiet for these things to happen; you have to release your expectations; you have to stop thinking you already know things, or know how to categorize them, or that the world has already been explained and you know those explanations. You know nothing. You understand nothing. You have only what your own body tells you and only your own experience from which to make judgements. You may have misunderstood; you may be wrong. Teach me, is what you should say, and, I am listening. Approach the world as a child seeing it for the first time. Remember wonder. In a word: humility. Then things come to you as they did not when you thought you knew.(129)
Again Butala talks about the knowledge of a child, the wonder, the perspective that a child has. She says this later in the book, after her experiences, after she has fleshed out her thoughts, after she is confident in her new knowledge. But she also says this with desperation. I feel the same need. I feel the same rush to slap everyone, to kick the world, to yell at myself. I feel the same need to scream out that these understandings not be lost, to scream for people to stop doing some things, to scream for people to notice things. With any new awareness, with any new knowledge, with any finding of a soul's home, I think some sadness becomes more sharp, and some bad things become less justified. With any new awareness there is a greater acknowledgement of those who don't have this awareness, of things that stand apart from this awareness, of things that seem twisted by that which you know is false. I don't think she is a preacher here, preaching what she's been taught. I don't think she's an evangelical, wanting to spread her 'great word' to the masses. I think she's realized something that has made some things make sense, even some of the tragedies she's seen. And with that knowledge those tragedies are somehow more heartbreaking.
I wanted to tell everyone about my discoveries - no, I wanted first to understand them clearly, then tell everyone. But these weren't things you could tell people, I was realizing. Did you know the moon has phases? My friends would have thought I'd lost my mind. And anyway, such a question hardly conveyed the magnitude or quality of my real discovery, which was closer to something like this: life makes sense, or the world has a governing body, or the power and beauty of Nature is astounding. (43)
She talks of wanting to tell everyone these things, that they probably already know. But it is her way of knowing them, her way of seeing them, her way of experiencing these things that has changed so much. The fact that she thinks her city friends wouldn't understand at all just makes me think that in the city there isn't the time or need for such understandings. Maybe these understandings have to start in nature, even if you bring them back to the city. A city can be a home. A city can be a soul's home. A city can be full of understandings, meanings, and connections just like a rural life can be. But when I've had these in the city, it was often with people. A connection to the understanding of people. A connection with the history of people. Body knowledge about the movement of people, their routines, their desires, their rhythms. It wasn't a connection with the moon.
Who is to say which is deeper, more important. It's a personal choice. It's a personal thing. It's probably slightly random. Some people will find the home of their soul in Manhattan, or Delhi. Others will find it in the desert or the prairie.
Walking was a way to pass the time, to familiarize myself at a deep level with my new environment, to enjoy what was fast becoming to me the best thing in my new life the landscape. It didn't require a membership, social skills or specialized skills, companions, a vehicle, money, a weapon, or even a special costume. All I had to do was open the door, pick a direction and start walking. I had to be careful to avoid fields I knew had bulls in them, or in the spring especially, cows with new calves, but on such a big place this was easy to do. (53)
TO walk out the door, pick a direction and start walking. There is something about moving in a line, passing places, people, buildings, things. There are places where you can do this, and there are places where you can't. I was in Oxford when I was fifteen, visiting a friend of the family. Every morning I would wake early, step out the door, and start walking. I remember the absolute utter joy in my feet and my legs, my heart pumping and my hair wet (it was winter and everything, all the time, was covered in cold mist). I could go to the road, walk along, and then head out over fields with paths and little weird stepping-over places I fell in love with in the fences. I could walk and walk and walk in these fields, eventually coming to a road, walking down it, and find a pub, a church, and all the quaintness of storybook villages. This ability to walk, walk, and find, was an elemental desire, and a mind's yearning.
The only other place I've felt this is Manhattan. It's a walker's city, it's a poor yearner's paradise. I'd walk out my apartment door, down the dozens of stairs, out the door, and start walking. Uptown, downtown, acrosstown. It didn't even matter. I never went the same way twice, and I always found something new.
Most of the places I've lived haven't been set up for the walker, they've been set up for the car. Within city limits you can't feel this way in a car so I set off on road trips.
Walking, going by, is a way of processing. A way of seeing. A way of moving your body and letting your mind come as it may.
I have said, "This is the place where words stop," referring to that moment when, out in Nature, not shooting, collecting, studying, naming or farming, we realize that an entity is present, or that Nature is alive, even that Nature has a memory. I meant by this that suddenly there seem to be no words to describe adequately our experiences, no familiar phrases or colloquialisms to fall back on, no single nouns or verbs which have been given over to the sole purpose of describing such awareness. (55)
Nature has a memory. I know this, as Butala does, but even she tempers her words here. How ridiculous does this sound, to a modern person prone to wishwash. How "woo-woo" does this sound to someone afraid of not being taken seriously. But I know this. I don't know how to define it, I don't know how to understand it, and I don't know how to explain it, but I've felt this history, I've felt this memory, in the way Butala describes feeling things without her "acknowledged senses". Certain houses have memories, certain trees have memories, certain fields have memories. They give the feeling of their histories when you stand in them, on them or near them. They give out a feeling of their events and people in the mood they surround you with when you enter their area.
I had begun to search my own soul for some grounding, some thing that was me, truly me, so that I might build on it and make myself into a person again. I began to see that I had never been my Self in the first place, that I had spent my life being what others had wanted me to be and as a result, never having rebelled, never having said no to anybody, I had no Self, or the self I was using, not being the true one, was thoroughly unstable, easily shaken, even destroyed. I was thrashing about in the ways I knew reading, writing stories, thinking while out walking on the prairie by myself for clues as to how one did this monumental work of self-creation. (71)
Desire and passion, weaving together to create a self, to create an identity. Bringing the senses back into it, bringing desire back into yourself. So many people experience what Butala describes. There are enough self-help books, creativity books, writing books, psychology books, television shows and talk shows that focus on people "re-discovering themselves", finding themselves, becoming their true selves. We live in places we don't like, we have jobs that don't fit who we are. I think we need to awaken our desires, enliven our senses to that we can know things we ACTUALLY like, feel things we ACTUALLY want. We need to find all these things, these people, these places, these jobs and weave them together to create our soul's home, our soul's cocoon, a place to be.
Butala, Sharon 1994 The perfection of the morning: an apprenticeship in nature Harper Perennial