Story (P.S.)

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll Post Script:  I spent quite a bit of time yesterday, thinking and writing about the idea of story. At the end of the day, I had a lot of notes and nothing that I was happy with, nothing that captured what I had been thinking. But because I am committed to posting every day this month, I posted a small, bilious section. This morning I chose to take most of it down. I will leave two quotes from the work of others who have influenced my thinking. Here they are:

Creative non-fiction, also known as memoir, is a popular form of writing these days.  In the introduction to her book, Old Friend from Far Away (title taken from the writings of Confucius) Natalie Goldberg says of the word memoir: “ It comes from the French mémoire. It is the study of memory, structured on the meandering way we remember. Essentially it is an examination of the zigzag nature of how our mind works.”

When I was young, I read the work of the great Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I found his theories fascinating and they made a lot of sense. [Based on decades of research, Campbell postulated that there are two basic plot lines for all stories.  One is ] “… The Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through all of humanity’s mythic traditions…”


The site

The other day I took a look at the other pages on this website and realized how incredibly out-of-date they are…  The page entitled The Beginning speaks only about the EAW drawings and what I say is still true, but so limited.  It’s also not accurate to call it the beginning, as I currently see the history of the project.  The Pages page just shows the full image of the first couple of pages of drawings and that’s fine, but there have been so many more.  And I haven’t been using the blog to follow the The Whole Story of the drawings for almost two years…

Yep, quite out of date.  If someone follows a link to the site, well, it doesn’t represent me, or my work, and I think it would be confusing.  So it’s time for a re-vision of the site.  I’m working on that.  I started by calling it The Middle, which in a way it is… I am in the middle of something.  I have also considered Along the Way or In Process as page titles.  One of them will stick, or maybe I’ll be adding pages.  But the process now is to re-view and understand what I have been doing.  Which will clarify what I am doing; what I am in the middle of.  (Dangling participle… poor thing, hanging out there alone, as if off a cliff.)

I honestly don’t read a lot of blogs myself.  And I am aware that only a few people read mine with any regularity.  That is fine with me.  I have never been much of a self-promoter.  But perhaps if I read more blogs, I would know why people blog.  Okay, that’s sort of ridiculous, because of course people have millions of different reasons for blogging.  Why am I blogging?  Wish I knew.  Honestly, sometimes it seems like I just woke up here in the blog-o-sphere.  Like the dreams where you are in public doing something embarrassing.

Now, wait a minute.  Reframe!  If I believe any of Brené Brown’s work, and I do, then what I am doing is making myself vulnerable, which is NOT the same as embarrassing myself.  I am ‘owning my story’ and spitting out the shame I have carried about being who I am, having the thoughts and feelings that I have.   So there!

Revising & emending

“If your mind carries a heavy burden of [the] past, you will experience more of the same. The past perpetuates itself through lack of presence. The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future.”        Eckhart Tolle

Revision is about re-seeing.

Revision:  1. emendation, correction  2. reconsideration, review, reexamination, reassessment, reevaluation, reappraisal, rethink,

Revise: reconsider and alter (something) in the light of further evidence

ORIGIN: mid 16th cent. from French réviser ‘look at,’ or Latin revisere ‘look at again,’ from re- ‘again’ + visere (intensive form of videre ‘to see’ ).

As the stories from my past, those little blots of shame, are exposed to light and air, they lose their substance, do a little cartoon-like “poof” and virtually disappear.  I honestly didn’t believe it could happen.  I took it on faith that sharing them was a good thing to do; I hoped it would sap their power.  I’ll be damned; it did.  If I search for the hurtfulness of that comment by my grandfather’s friend (see post on 2/27), even the memory is as insubstantial as a bit of fog. And the sting?  I truly cannot summon up the pain and shame, even if I try.  It’s gone.

“Revise:  To reconsider [my life] in the light of further evidence.”

Further evidence.

“Most of us can remember shaming events from childhood that felt defining.  But more than likely we remember them because we didn’t process those experiences with parents who were open to talking about shame…  I don’t blame my parents for that… They didn’t have access to the information we have today.”            Brené Brown

For months now I’ve been asking “Why?” these shaming episodes have retained so much energy all these years… and the answers keep coming.  With each new insight, my life story can be emended.

Emend:  to correct.  It’s not about changing the facts, altering what happened to make a prettier story.  It’s about correction; in light of new information, correcting the story I’ve been telling myself for 50+ years.  As I cast off the ugliness of the events I’ve used to define myself, the spaciousness is hard to describe.  The challenge & delight now is choosing how to move forward.

“The quality of my consciousness [today] is what shapes [my] future.”

Game on.fog

Shrinking patriarchs

I want to express profound gratitude to two individuals whose writing and insights have given me enormous comfort and courage as I proceed with the examination of my life story.  They are not alone in the pantheon of the wise and kind, but they are stellar.   Star Fruit 1 Thank you, Brené Brown and Eckhart Tolle.

I will begin with this quote from Brené Brown:

“Our stories of worthiness – of being enough – begin in our first families.  The narrative certainly doesn’t end there, but what we learn about ourselves and how we learn to engage with the world as children sets a course that [may] require us to spend a significant part of our life fighting to reclaim our self-worth…   (Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, p 216-217)

Here’s one of the first memories that comes to mind.  I’m a preteen, visiting my paternal grandparents.  We spend an evening at the home of their long time friends, people who have known my siblings and I since we were born. After supper we play a game of Scrabble.  I’m enjoying the experience; not exactly a ‘grownup evening’, but special nonetheless.   When there is a debate about the Scrabble acceptability of a word, I am sent to the next room to fetch the dictionary.

The moment I am out of sight (but not ear shot), Mr. G pronounces “It’s a shame Cathy takes after her mother; she could be a very attractive girl.”  My grandfather concurs, deriding my mother’s body size and agreeing that I am not likely to marry well. At the time, I didn’t even notice that their wives did not speak up; I shut down completely and didn’t hear another word all evening.

How or why has this ‘minor’ incident continued to be so charged?  Well, I’ve answered this question before:  I have given it power for years.  I enhanced its strength because I never spoke about it.  I never even imagined telling my parents what I overheard.  Never.  Why?  Did I believe that they agreed?  Was I already so convinced that I was unworthy and therefore had no reason to complain, since they were just speaking the truth?  Was I scared of what my parents might say?

                                                          * * *

Owning my story does not mean making it my life story – creating my reality by perpetuating the story line.  So, I’ve made a museum.  Actually I think I made it long ago, enshrining the incidents and people who caused me to feel pain and shame; those who shamed me.  The central gallery has contained larger-than-life-size images of my father and his father.  That has been the core, the heart of the collection:  Childhood.  There is also an Adolescent wing.

For many years I’ve wandered these halls, having locked myself in; I was trapped inside.  While there, I regularly re-lived these events and the figures of these men grew with each replay, like characters in a tale by the Brothers Grimm.  In silent action clips, I fed their looming shadows, swelling their images for decades.

As I’ve begun sharing these stories, owning them and sharing them, owning them by sharing them, I realize I’m no longer alone in the halls of my museum.  As I stand in and walk through these halls of shame with others, I see the images I’d created of these men are beginning to shrink into insignificance.  They no longer dominate my life story.  Powerful shame-loss.

The tightly sealed doors, now open from the outside, have allowed others to enter and join me in the museum.  As the enshrined figures shrink, the storybook power that had sustained them is broken, triggering the release of the interior locks.  I am able to leave, to exit these galleries built of my stories.  I own them and now I can leave them.  With the shattering of the spell, I awaken, seeing where I have been trapped and discover that I can walk away!  As I take each step, with each bit of distance, my vision clears.  The museum shrinks and I begin to see so many other elements of my life: things that are also and now my life.

Owning my story

Back to de-constructing shame for a bit.

 “… that core belief that we are enough comes only when we live inside our story.  We either own our stories (even the messy ones), or we stand outside of them – denying our vulnerabilities and imperfections, orphaning the parts of us that don’t fit in with who/what we think we’re supposed to be, and hustling for other people’s approval of our worthiness.  Perfectionism is exhausting, because hustling is exhausting.  It’s a never-ending performance.”

from Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, pp132-133

Perfectionism and performance.  Ouch.  The effort to ‘look good’ continued far beyond my adolescent years of hustling for appearance-based acceptance and approval.  Long past the drive to ‘look right’ physically, I was caught up in a trap of questioning: ‘What should I be doing?  Is this how I should behave?’   Frequently feeling like a failure, but worse than that, an empty failure.  Questioning why I was doing this or that and if I really wanted to be doing it.  Failing at the doing and at the same time not really having my heart in the doing.

What am I trying to get at here?  Is that hollow feeling actually resentment rattling around inside my head, asking ‘Why am I doing this?”  And how does this relate to the Brené Brown quote above?  The part that resonated for me was ‘owning [my] story’.  I want to do that.  All of it.  I want to feel that I am enough.  I want to know, to find out if I can be enough without hustling and performing and meeting the needs and expectations of others, or more accurately, what I believe they expect or need from me.

In some ways, that’s what is at the root of my messy stories:  the deeply ingrained habit of ‘reading’ and responding to the emotions of others.  Hustling to meet the needs of others, to ‘make’ others happy, has set me up for a lot of misery and manipulation.  Feeling used and resentful, but at the same time, blaming myself, knowing that I’m the one making the choices.  Each time I do this, (and there is/has been too much of it) it feels as if I’ve again stepped away from my path, my story.  My needs and desires and dreams.  Or am I?  Is this my path?  Service?  Service with a smile?

A therapist once asked me, astounded, “Are you really only as good as the last good meal you cooked?”  Yes.  This is still very often the truth.  If I write something that feels honest and expressive, that is another good feeling, which gives me a flickering sense of self worth.  But meals I have to cook every day.  Writing, I don’t have to; because cooking is for other people and writing is for me, the cooking has greater value?.

I’m able to feel pride and self-acceptance in terms of cooking.  I have confidence in my ability to make a meal.  I find value & self-worth in feeding others.  (So frigging retro.)  A corollary to the question “Are you only as good as…?” is that if I make a meal that’s imperfect, sub-par or even one that I like, but others don’t, I can serve it.  I do serve it.  I may feel twinges of shame, but they are survivable because I have a reservoir of feeling worthy as a cook.  The shame does not win in those situations.  I do not crumble when I fail to reach perfection.

Here’s another quote in Daring Greatly, from an interview Brown did with Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project).  She says, (cribbed from Voltaire) “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  What a concept: doing something imperfectly is better than not doing the perfect thing at all.  Two examples that hit home for me are “The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer.  The dinner party of take-out Chinese is better than the elegant dinner that I never host.”  Hmm.  I obviously have more thinking to do about this…

In closing, here’s a political cartoon from today’s paper. (see 2/15 blog post)

I laughed out loud. globe

Mind noise

So, I wrote a blog post about lists the other day.  You might wonder why I was so intrigued that I wanted to write about it.  How does it connect to the de-construction of shame?

Allow me to take a few steps back.  First of all, I attended this workshop on sleep and dreams because I am passionate about them.  Most of the folks taking the workshop were there because they ‘suffer’ from insomnia.  I was the odd ball for sure, stating in my self-intro that I loved sleep and naps.  The presenter shared a lot of information about the ‘whys’ of insomnia and suggestions for modifying common behaviors that work against sleep.

What I got from the sessions was validation of my (I don’t know where it came from, but I have always felt it) belief in the significance of sleep and dreams.  There were many obvious (once you hear them) insights into how our cultural norms are stacked against valuing sleep, rest & dreaming; about the mechanistic way that sleep is addressed medically and colloquially.  Generally sleep is considered a matter of bodily maintenance; the personal, emotional, psychological and spiritual realities of sleep and dreaming are widely disregarded.

I absolutely love it when someone offers language to describe and explain what I have been feeling or intuitively knowing.  I guess that’s why I write, in the hope that I could offer that sensation of “Yes, that’s how I feel or think” to another person on the planet.  Speaking of the planet, of course there are other cultures where sleep and dreams are highly esteemed.  Our loss (rejection) of this fundamental human experience appears to be part of the post-Industrial Revolution cultural shift that includes so many other de-humanizing elements.

One of the behaviors mentioned as being detrimental to entering and remaining in the world of sleep was referred to as Mind Noiseimages-2

That’s where the lists come in.  I know I regularly go to bed with a head full of ‘to do’s swirling around.  If I don’t drift into sleep easily or if I awaken in the night, it is ‘to do’ worry that keeps me revved up.  Tomorrow plans:  which errand, chore or task to prioritize, what to wear (is it clean?), what to cook for supper… It’s a mess.  Not surprisingly, when those are my final conscious thoughts, they are there waiting for me first thing in the morning.

How many times have you read or heard these words… “I woke up and at first I felt good and then I remembered…” The sentence is often finished with the mention of a tragedy, like the death of a loved one, or one’s own illness, but it can also be a less dramatic, but very real worry like not having a job or enough money to buy food for your family.  Or having a report due at work or school.  The point is, we often awaken to some form of dread.

I’ve been reading Brené Brown’s 2012 book, Daring Greatly.  Her thoughtful words on vulnerability and shame always resonate for me.  But I was gob-smacked (love that  expression) while reading her chapter on Scarcity: Looking Inside our Culture of “Never Enough”.  I encountered this quote from Lynne Twist’s book, The Soul of Money.

         “For me and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’  The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’  Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it.  … Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something.  And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day.  We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack…”

And there you have it; my day is book-ended by lists and worry, which perpetuate the nasty shameful feeling that I am not good enough.  No matter what I do.  So, as part of this battle to deconstruct shame, I am taking a closer look at the verbs that occupy my lists and the adverbs that inform the actions.  Can it be that this strategy, which I have presumed to be useful and benign, is actually a way that I participate in self-shaming?  Maybe it’s not that simple, but I need to look into it.

Your thoughts are welcome…

Happiness, joy, habit and shame

I love sticky rice.  I love making it and I love eating it and I just plain love the look of it.

Although this drawing hasn’t ‘made it’ onto a towel or tote bag with EAW designs, it’s still a favorite.  Certainly the color makes me happy.

And how does this relate to the topic of this blog?  Well, I’ve been reading in Brené Brown‘s book about the difference between happiness and joy.  One way that she defines them:

Happiness is tied to circumstance and joy is tied to spirit and gratitude.

When I make sticky rice for my family, I have created circumstances that make me happy.  I enjoy the soaking and the rinsing and sight of the rice cooker steaming away.  I love the dousing with rice vinegar and the mixing with the wide, flat bamboo spoon that I brought home from Kyoto.  So I have made myself happy.

The beauty and simplicity of the cooked rice and the memory of the little side-street bamboo shop in Kyoto awaken my gratitude.  Those pearlescent grains remind me of the joy of cooking whole foods and connect me to all that I have en-joyed in this life.  That’s an especially wonderful thing when I’ve been raking muck, about PPFIC and personal shame history, as I have been so often lately.

So what about Oreos?  Am I happy when eating Oreos?  Not an Oreo; Oreos.  Me and the rats.  What circumstances take me to the Oreos?  None of the sensory pleasure that I’ve been extolling about the rice, that’s for sure.  In fact an Oreo eaten whole can be a bit dry.  I’m not a ‘dunker’; although tea or water does help.  But it’s that creamy white center: sugar and fat whipped up together to seduce my bliss point.  Pleasure centers in my brain start ringing and singing and, as I understand it, producing a spurt of happiness chemicals.

But memories? Nothing but shame.  No gratitude or joy to be found.  Sneaking cookies, hiding cookies, eating cookies when I wasn’t hungry.  All for that unbelievably brief illusion of happiness.  How did I respond to that flush of shame?  How did my body respond to the shot of sugarfatbliss?  I would reach for another Oreo.

But to repeat the question:  What circumstances take me to the Oreos?  I believe another important piece of the puzzle is habit.  Okay, maybe that seems ridiculously obvious, but the thing is that while the pleasure centers are being zinged by the creamy filling, neurological patterns are being reinforced in my brain.  Every time I would reach for that Oreo, the habit became a bit stronger.  Again, that may seem too obvious, but understanding the process has been eye-opening for me.  It’s all part of the same show.

I read Charles Duhigg‘s book, The Power of Habit almost as soon as it was published in 2012.  I am rereading now, along with the other sources I’ve been writing about, because it so clearly dovetails with my explorations.  I want to make sense of the connections between the PPFIC’s push toward producing addictive food products and personal habit and shame.  It’s all there, it’s all of a piece, I am sure of it.

A final note about getting the car into position for jump-starting.  It has taken years of sweating and pushing to turn the vehicle of my life around, so that a jump start was even  possible.  So that this writing exploration could begin.  And as you know, you can’t push a car by yourself, even a 1960’s VW beetle.  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me, believing in me when I have not, reminding me I am not alone no matter how hard it gets and helping me onward by sharing her own courage, I am ever grateful to my dear friend and writing ally, jc.  Tea and toast for two.

Process notes

Thank you NaBloPoMo.

I have learned so much, or shall I say I’m learning so much.  My evaluation of yesterday’s post, on a scale of 1 – 10, was zero.  Okay, maybe one.  (After all, I did include my old sketch of Oreos – actually the Newman knock-off sandwich cookies.)

I do believe that one of the ‘reasons’ why I gave myself such a low score was the topic…not only difficult, but also gigantic.  And there were other factors at play:  a busy day and fatigue… In truth I didn’t want to write or post anything, but… I am stubborn and I’ve made a commitment to do NaBloPoMo, so, even though I didn’t like what I was posting, I hit publish and went to bed.

In the night (so much happens then, ‘intelligence gathering’, I call it, except that it’s intelligence of the unconscious, not the thinking mind) I realized that what I posted (published still seems like a different thing altogether) were simply my preliminary notes on the subject.  Which is fine, actually.  Yes, I sort of wish I had known, or seen, that that’s what they were at the time,  but hey…so be it.

When I hurried down here to write this morning, the Brené Brown book from which I have been quoting arose from the chaos of my desk.  Subtitle:  “Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”.         Oh.       Yeah.

For decades, in my work as a writing coach and teacher, I have been telling students & clients the wisdom of the writing sages. They all say it in one way or another.  “Basically it’s about practice (like everything).  You have to do some lame, lousy, crappy  ‘bad’ writing to get to the good writing.”   Well, coach, listen to thyself.

So, in fact I’m glad that I did (wrote & posted) what I did yesterday.  Woke me up, in a way.  Yes, this challenge to my self, to push and begin wrangling with the more dense elements of my topic has been/is really great.  I’m much further along that I was 24 days ago.  But “progress not perfection” has long been a mantra of mine and I am invoking it again on this cold November morning.    purpear

Onward, awkward

I am feeling a tad uncomfortable about the personal nature of some things I posted yesterday.  The irony is that on the one hand, the act of writing about my own experience seems easier than synthesizing all this research, as I’m trying to do.  However, the sharing of deeply personal stories triggers a lot of fear alarms.  There are only a handful of people – that’s a literal ‘under ten (fingers)’ – who are occasionally reading this blog, so it seems somewhat absurd to worry about exposing myself…but for today, this moment, that’s the truth.

I said yesterday that ‘I’m not going to share all those unpleasant details here…’  and I won’t.  I chose the word ‘unpleasant’, but what I really wanted to call them was  ‘gory details’, a phrase from my childhood.  My mother was a big fan of Charles Addams (an American cartoonist known for his darkly humorous and macabre characters.)  Perhaps that is where the expression came from.  (If you don’t know Addams work, here ChsAdis a link to check it out.  Be forewarned that it’s a little dated, some cartoons are quite misogynistic and some rely on racist stereotypes, but there’s also some very dry wit there.)

But I digress.  Hmm, avoidance?

Fact is, because of feeling so discomfited by my small revelations yesterday, I’ve realized that I actually need to write down all those miserable, shaming memories from my early life.  I carry them with me and, particularly when I am doing this work, they rerun daily in my head/home theater.  Just getting them down in writing, for myself, not for the blog, may serve as a way of putting them to rest, by vomiting, purging, detoxing.

Here are some more words from Brene Brown that are comforting, challenging and encouraging me in this work.

‘Shame keeps worthiness away by convincing us that owning our stories will lead to people thinking less of us… We’re afraid that people won’t like us if they know the truth about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, how much we are struggling… if we’ve worked hard to make sure everything looks “just right” on the outside, the stakes are high when it comes to truth-telling.  This is why shame loves perfectionists – it’s so easy to keep us quiet.’  (pp. 39)

So, I’m going to push on here.  My ambivalence about the Internet – the risk of behaving like a Kardashian, as if I am the center of the uni-verse – is in conflict with a drive to “own my stories” on this blog.  At least some of them.  I’m ready to risk saying something that scares me, in case another woman thinks/feels the same way, but can’t say it yet. Others have been courageous; they have done that for me.

Shame, addiction, causation, de-construction.

‘The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart.  In one of it’s earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today.  Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”’  (pp. 13)