Family

You may or may not have noticed that I’ve had a hard time writing a blog post for the past couple of days. The reasons are many, I suppose. There is certainly the busy-ness around an event holiday, with cooking and traveling and lots of time with people. Spending too much time with people, even the ones I love, is exhausting and makes me cranky.

And speaking of cranky, there is a lot of what I’ll call pretense about this holiday – perhaps most holidays. So if my post on Thursday seemed sort of negative or bitter, well, that’s because this country, my country, along with being wonderful in some ways, has and does behave deplorably in so many other ways. One could say that this is true of most people, as well as nations or governments and perhaps that is so.

However I find it troubling when a person or entity touts its praiseworthy values and then does not even come close to living them. It’s ‘talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.’ Most people who know me would probably say that I am perilously close to being a ‘Pollyanna’ in my determined optimism. But that veneer seems to be wearing thin in places, as I age.

I’m going to return to the pretense issue as it relates to family. Family of man [sic]: we all belong. Blood family: even before genetic testing, the net of biological connection was rather vast. I know that I have many blood kin whom I have never met. But we are family in a genetic sense. And of course there are the blood kin with whom my life is closely intertwined. There is family as a legal entity: this would include those who have married ‘into the family’ as well as any other legal joining, like adoption.

Family as a unit: those who protect and nurture one another, without specific biological or legal connections. That would include ‘friends as family’, regardless of living situation, or any of the classifications used to define people as different. These are the chosen ones, the people we want to spend time with, or more specifically, at least for me, the people that it is relaxing and comfortable and de-stressing to be with.

Unfortunately, my experience with holidays over the decades has involved many hours surviving the pretense of family as nurturing and loving. Patience and good will is wearing pretty thin in that arena. I think that part of what I am trying to say is that I have shed almost all of the illusions I treasured as a child and young adult, that the rosy pretenses were real. And I am no longer willing to wait for the idyllic future when some miracle will have taken place and the rosy pretenses (like the Velveteen Rabbit) have become real.

There is a song from the mid-1970’s, written and performed by the Steve Miller Band. If you want to take a trip to the past, click the link here. The clothes, the guitars, the hair… One line keeps playing in my head. (I believe they are called ‘earworms’?)

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.

Yes indeed, the future is here.

NaBloPoMo_2015

 

I said “No”

I said “No”. no1

A casual friend asked me to do something to help her out – for pay – and I answered, “I’m sorry, but I have another commitment on Wednesday afternoons”. Here’s the big news – the commitment is to myself. In the (not so distant) past I would have felt compelled to alter my own schedule for 2-3 months in order to help her.

You see, because I could do it, I was programmed to say, “Yes” and abandon whatever I had planned. In this case, I would be giving up something that it’s taken me years to begin doing for myself. Somehow I found the clarity of mind, the actual (not pretend) belief in the importance of my own life choices to say, “No, I have another commitment.”

I may be belaboring this point, but the urge to take care of others, to meet their needs before my own, to save them (from the consequences of their own choices), that compulsion is very strong. I really thought that the drive to serve was hard-wired in my little brain, after all these years. But its true what the neuro-psychologists say, you can alter your brain circuitry. All the years of reciting affirming words about my self-worth seemed silly; honestly it felt like a joke. But the little, powerful synapses or whatever, have triumphed. New grooves!

no2I have held the deeply seated, life-long belief that the only way to be a ‘good person’ (whatever that means… probably ‘a ‘good female’) was to selflessly rescue others. I’m certain that I said “No” as a child. I must have. Every child does. But the older I get, the more I am aware that those were different times.  I was trained to acquiesce, to agree, to do what I was told or asked to do. Long before I had any significant cognitive abilities, (age two?) the habit of saying, “Yes” was well established. Certainly the family unit functioned more smoothly that way.

I was a docile, compliant girl, trying to please even those who treated me poorly, even when my inner voice began to protest.  As a college student, I began to participate in public protests regarding social/political issues. But in the personal arena, I remained a “Yes” girl for a very, very long time.  Now I’m rewriting the script.  I said “No”.

 

The Middle

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I am in the process of revising the pages on this website.  This is the first part of that draft.  The Eeyore drawings are for my mother and a writer friend. eeyore on head

I don’t know if this is actually The Middle, but in a way, that’s how it feels. Anyway, this is what follows The Beginning, as posted on this EAW website. Along the Way or In Process, any of these would be apt titles. It began, four or five years ago with a drawing pad on which I did randomly inspired drawings of food, encircled by writing, having a conversation with food; which itself grew out of a (still un-evolved, that is, un-promoted) consulting business and the ‘discovery’ that everyone has a Food Life Story. This project has led me deeper and deeper into my self, my own story, my writing and healing. Other circumstances have aided and abetted this process. All of these gifts, these open doors, some arriving unbidden, but welcome and some actively sought, have grown and expanded my inner and outer lives, producing changes.

And the largest changes have manifested in the writing, here. A few years ago, I began blogging. On the AaCL (Assembling a Cooking Life) site I was sharing ideas about creating a more pleasurable cooking life, given that “Everyone eats, so someone has to cook…” It was intended as promotion for the consulting business and in it’s way, it was satisfying. But I guess my heart wasn’t really in it; I’ve never been much for self-promotion. I was also blogging here on the EAW (Eating Art Work) site, journaling my way through the pages of drawings I had already done.

Now that I think about it that was the beginning of the middle. The writing was personal, albeit carefully edited. Taking baby steps into the world: putting my words, thoughts and feelings out there. My story. That too was sometimes satisfying. Satisfying, however, is not, was not, fulfilling. I was not fed by the effort. Simultaneously, the needs of my elderly father and the miserable chain of our mutual his-tory were draining me. And the slightly appealing and slight success of an EAW business, producing and selling products using the drawings I had done, was distracting, as well as time-consuming.

eeyore & poohWere these distractions false turns, tangents, and ‘wastes’ of time? I have thought that; I have railed against the draining, the siphoning off of my sap; to what end? Hindsight has made it clear that I had to complete that journey with my father, to the bitter end. After decades of submission to misery, I had to spend some time with him while I was aware of my anger. That was the only path to eventual self-healing. Was it fun? No. Was it necessary for growth? It most certainly was.

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.

My ‘story’

My story.  The things I hold onto, that I repeat, to myself and to others, have created and continue to create my story.  Right now I am tired of the story I’ve been creating.  I do believe that bringing events to the surface, exposing them to the light of day and examining them is a vital step in the process of releasing the hurt and moving on.  On an intellectual level, I see the necessity and merits of this activity.  I shall continue to de-construct shame.

However, I am also remembering that the more I tell a story, to myself or others, the more solid it can become, the more it becomes my story.  My identity.  “This is who I am.”  Injured party, wronged individual.  Even if I stop short of a full pity party, “oh poor me”, I have contributed to my own pain by claiming ‘the down side’ as my story.  I have an aversion to cover-ups, born of the superficial and controlling  ‘make it look good’ & ‘as long as it looks good’ atmosphere of my childhood.  But I am wondering if a determination not to gloss over the hurts has kept me in a negative headset for far too long.

 
Can I also claim, as my identity, as my story, the fact that I wrote poems as a girl or that I loved to sing or that for almost ten years we produced real plays in my family’s garage?  Can I claim as my story that I loved the local library and reading was my greatest joy?  Can I claim as my identity the unparalleled bliss of trudging around my grandparents farm, through field and pasture, up the hillside and down by the brook?  May I claim the social and physical pleasures of Girl Scouting:  companionship, camping, hiking, orienteering, canoeing, swimming, archery and tying knots?

 
Answer: yes, of course I can.  Because those and other positive events, combined with the hurts and indignities, are what shaped me into the woman I am.  You can’t bake using just dry ingredients; you have to add the wet ingredients and stir.  Don’t over mix, there will be a few lumps.  Or perhaps the recipe calls for beating until the batter is smooth and silky.  However you blend the disparate ingredients, combining is required.  Even if you are layering elements in a casserole, it is the magic of the parts co-mingling that makes the the whole thing work.  That is the chemistry of cooking and an apt metaphor for how I wish to re-construct my life, to tell and own my story.

 

PS:  Check out this wonderful photo a friend took, when she used one of my EAW kitchen towels to cover the resting dough of her Buttermilk Bread!  Love it!

grapestowelw:dough

DeConSha

DeConstructingShame is the name of the game.  Name of the blog, name of the job.  And you know what?  It’s hard work.  Picture a hard-hatted woman (yes, there is a hard head under the hard-hat), wearing overalls and work gloves.  Digging into a moldy, smelly, rotting foundation; taking it apart brick-by-brick. Bricks

The de-‘construction site’ metaphor may not be a perfect description, but I’m going with it for now.  Because shame has to have sources, doesn’t it?  The supplies come from lumber yards, cement mixers, plumbing, electrical and hardware supply warehouses.  The shame messages were passed along, almost slyly, unobtrusively, ubiquitously, by my grandparent’s and parent’s generations, and updated, (essentially unchanged) by Seventeen Magazine and it’s media cohort.

In my daily writing on DeConSha, I’ve been exploring the impossible task of achieving adolescence in the late 1960’s, where fitting in & looking good (the requirements haven’t changed much for the teens of today) inevitably led to sexual harassment and shame.  Gotcha comin’ and goin’, I say.  But nobody said that to me, to us, then.  We were displayed in our mini-skirts and it was open season for boys and men to evaluate us.  To follow the hunting metaphor, they took pot-shots at us.  My grandfather, my father, my Geometry teacher and every boy or man seemed to feel confidently superior in their maleness and comfortably entitled to rate, berate, mock or praise us.

Without a language to understand this phenomenon, without a sense of worthiness and pride, other than attractiveness to males, where could/did I go in my confusion?  If I failed to please, or if I received ‘unwanted attention’, either way, it was my fault, I was to blame and the shame of it all settled into my being.  Having been thoroughly primed, as a child, to accept responsibility for any short-comings, the searing moments of embarrassment that clustered in those years still sting.

So, I’m digging them out.  Threw away the work gloves.  Bare hands are the only way I know to do this.  Scraped raw knuckles, dry, cracking cuticles, fingernails that never were a proper feminine accoutrement… Every day I get up and I dig in the slime of the shame and although it seems endless, I choose, I must choose, to believe that it is not.

Two other notes:
Someone showed me the recently released Special K (Kellogg’s) youtube video called ‘Shhhhut Down Fat Talk’.  Don’t know what I think about it… special-k-Fat-Talk-1

As a large woman I truly detest fat talk and it is everywhere.  But I have some uneasy feelings about a member of the PPFIC (Packaged & Processed Food Industrial Complex) trotting out this campaign.  Of course, they have the money to do the research, set up a fake store and make the video.  Would love to hear what you think…

My second note is in the “Come on, who wrote that title?” category.  In the March 2014 issue of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology there will be an article entitled “The Ironic Effects of Weight Stigma”, based on studies done at UC Santa Barbara.  Of course I haven’t read the article, so I could be over-reacting (who me?)  Somehow ironic is not the word that seems most appropriate when talking about the effects of weight stigma.  Suppose I could be glad that research is happening at all.  Same with the Kellogg’s video.

If doubt arises

So, here is what has been happening…

I have been working daily, writing out some of the ugly stories of abuse regarding body size, weight and appearance from my youth.   These are incidents that have clung to me, stuck with me all these years and which played a significant role in my belief that I was unworthy.  After writing the blog daily for a month, it became obvious that I had to unearth and expose – not publicly, but for myself – these toxic experiences.  So that’s what I set out to do.

I’ve been trying to write them out with the same commitment that I’ve used with my Eating Art Work drawings:  no judgment.  Yes, I hear voices – particularly of my family members – who disagree with my reconstruction of events.  I’m okay with that.  Because it’s clear we all experience events differently, even in the present moment.  Therefore, it’s to be expected that our memories of events are different.  What I am writing is what I remember experiencing, as in feeling, not just a recitation of facts.

At first, there was a sense of almost giddy relief/release in getting these words on the page/screen.  I am purposely NOT rereading as I go along; using a technique I encourage student & client writers to use, blacking out the screen.  That way everything is fresh, not predigested, with all the life worried/edited out of it.  There is so much to say, I’m not at risk of running dry anytime soon, now that I’ve set myself to the task.

Ah, but there is a price.  As with any committed writing task, you begin to live with your characters or your topic, all day and all night, away from the keyboard.  So there is this yucky sensation, kind of a slimy, greasy film that settles over me or has settled into me.  I guess it’s the toxicity.  But it has bloomed into self-doubt.

Toxic bloom… the expression rang a bell.  It’s used to describe the algae that grow in fresh water lakes and tidal areas of the ocean.  Runoff from human waste and pesticides are considered major causal factors.  I was struck by this language:   “One thing [we] know for sure is that [toxic] blooms can cause dead zones. In Lake Erie’s central basin, the algae can die and sink to the bottom. Bacteria eat up that dead algae and rob the water of oxygen at the bottom of the lake.”  (Taken from: Warmer Waters Fuel Toxic Algal Blooms In The Great Lakes: Wisconsin Public Radio News-Nov 26, 2013)

Okay, so what I’m doing here may seem like a stretch, but I’m trying to express how the toxicity of these long ago experiences robbed me of oxygen, inhibited my growth and caused dead zones in my psychological development.  The self-doubt I am experiencing today is not a questioning of my memory; it is a recurrence of doubting my self-worth.   The “WHO cares? WHY write this stuff? WHAT is the point?” questions are flying around in my head, shouting.  It’s not that I’m actually listening to these voices, it’s just that they are so loud.

Fortunately, the cross-fertilization thing is happening again. This quote from the yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar came my way.  “If doubt arises, … let it come. You do your work, and let doubt go about its work. Let’s see which one gives up first.”

So, that’s my plan.  Tomorrow, I will invite doubt to come in and hang out while I get on with my writing.  Sounds a little goofy, but if I can exorcize the long nurtured and toxic self-doubt of my youth by writing out these ugly tales, then I’m thinking that today’s self-doubt will lose much of its energy.  I’ll let you know.

Shame’s antonym

My grapefruit drawing:  gfruit

A friend forwarded a link to me, from the internet; a response to a blogger who was banned from Facebook for “fat shaming”.  I’ll put the link at the bottom of this post, in case you want to check out the original post and the responses.  I thank the sender and at the same time, I grow weary of the bashing, shaming, blaming cycle.  What struck me about the article was when author Dodai Stewart writes: “PRIDE — defined by Merriam-Webster as ‘a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people.’ ”

Oh.  Really?  Well, knock me over with a feather.  Self respect?  Deserve respect?

Not that I didn’t believe her, but I had to do a little research on my own, because I was taught that PRIDE IS BAD, bad, bad.  As in, ‘Pride goeth before a fall’.  Pride is a shameful thing, dangerous and a terrible thing to feel or own.  Can you imagine my surprise when I saw her definition?  Are you putting this together?  I had been taught that self respect and believing that I deserved to be respected by others was wrong.  What?

One fact that surfaced in my brief exploration of the word:  “In Christianity, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.”  Sins!  Not that my parents were religious, but a repressive, WASP-y perspective was in full control of family values.  The sins, btw, are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.  Pride has been more accurately translated – from ancient Greek to Latin to English – as ‘hubris’, meaning arrogance.  Translation like a children’s game of ‘telephone’.  ‘Hubris’ being a less common word, ‘pride’ is put on the list…

Here are a few other definitions from the online M-W Dictionary/Thesaurus about PRIDE:  “self-esteem … honor … self-worth, self-regard … consciousness of one’s own dignity … If you take pride in yourself or your accomplishments, it means that you believe in your own worth…”

“ANTONYM: shame.”

“With a positive connotation, pride… is a product of praise, independent self-reflection, or a fulfilled feeling of belonging. Philosophers and social psychologists have noted that pride is a complex secondary emotion which requires the development of a sense of self and the mastery of relevant conceptual distinctions (e.g., that pride is distinct from happiness and joy) through language-based interaction with others.”  (Source)

A number of these concepts (self-esteem, dignity, self-respect, self-worth, feeling of belonging, sense of self) have been a regular part of this blog posting month; they are central to the work I am doing.  PRIDE can be considered not just the Antonym of shame, but the Antidote to shame.  Honestly, I think it will take a long time and a lot of practice on my part to be able to write or say that I am proud of something that I have done, without expecting the sky to fall (and crush shameful me.)  However, doing so, practicing this paradigm shift is clearly critical to my efforts to de-construct shame.

Link to article about woman banned from FB for fat shaming.