Drop Out, Turn On, Grow Up

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

I used to wear long flowing skirts with rainbow bursts of color splashed across the side. There were headscarves with silver thread in dusty rose, orange, chartreuse, and umber. Large silver hoops with turquoise beads, amber stones around my neck, and a three inch long silver cuff with inlay that made me feel invincible.

The exotic bohemian garb began when I was a professional belly dancer, and the style grew until it seemed I’d turned full-blooded gypsy. I had style for sure. But my style spoke louder than I ever could. A lot of people would take one look and write me off as one of those annoying hippies. But I didn’t smoke out, I was never going vegan, and I hated the idea of groupthink.

Behind my back, my boss at an art gallery said, “Lauren only dresses that way because she needs too much attention. She’s insecure.”

Having just moved back to anonymous Seattle from connected New York, I certainly was having an insecure moment, trying to find my footing. It had nothing to do with the way I dressed.

For me, my attire was in the spirit of the dance. As an artist, I loved to wear all the objects that made me happy. When it began, I was on the East Coast, missing the laid-back vibe of the West Coast, where people can just “be.” The scene I’d left in Seattle wouldn’t think twice about my dress. But by the time I moved back, I was totally over the Burning Man crowd.

I’d been involved with enough guru wannabe’s to know that the whole thing was a hoax. The drugs made people feel powerful in an otherwise disempowered life. Overnight, you could go from being a hooker to a tantric practitioner, or from a massage therapist to a healer or shaman. The ultimate path was to find a way to make money off of your newfound mystical powers. But I was always the one paying for their dinner. Then came resentment, and statements like, “You don’t appreciate my gift.” Because really, one person never has enough worship to give them. The people I knew, needed as many lovers as possible. Hence, I got tired of the scene, though my style remained the same.

Three years later, I was newly married and having a crisis of not feeling attractive anymore. I gained weight, and stopped getting looks from men or glares from jealous women. A server at a brunch spot that I went to every weekend asked me if I was pregnant. My empire waist dresses and wrap skirts seemed like the culprit in letting myself go. Or maybe it was the decadence of being in love.

I wanted to feel sexy again. But even more than that, in a city where you could go to the same coffee shop everyday for years without a single person ever talking to you, I wanted to feel approachable. I was tired of appearing mysterious and intimidating. It might have worked in New York where people have the balls to talk to anyone, but in Seattle, not so much.

Piece by piece, the bright colors disappeared. My hemlines began to climb up to my thighs. As an art model, I can’t wear any jewelry, so that slipped away too. The only thing that remained the same was the tights and combat boots. Now it’s all a slim minimalist aesthetic. Black cotton dresses with ruching at the sides, short blazers, Rocker T’s. I fit in just about anywhere I go, while still looking somewhat interesting. People can get to know me without a bunch of snap judgments about my dietary restrictions, my spiritual life, my bank account, or my need for attention.

I have a close friend, Freda, who moved here from New York shortly after I did. She fell for a hippie vegan guy and now they are preparing to move into their second yurt in Eastern Washington. They have a cool life together – growing their own food, playing in a band, working temporary jobs. She has long itchy dreadlocks, and years later, I still pine for her chocolate brown silken strands that tickled instead. She left her job as a Geologist, and even surveyed Yankee Stadium at one point. Food-wise, we’ve found common dietary ground by dining at sushi or Indian places.

Freda finds her solace by being identified with a group that shares hardcore values. But she is amazing, simply on her own. When I get those rare moments of having Freda solo time, the belly-shaking laugh comes back, and the spark in her eyes reappears. It’s when I know she’s stripped to the core of her pure self.

I stand by while her friends are sometimes judgmental, calling me an enabler for having a drink with her before their show. I’ve watched her go through evolutions, and I’m sure she’ll go through more. It’s the nature of our lives as free spirits. I don’t really get this current evolution that she’s in, but I do my best to be supportive. I’m on the other side now, looking in.

Every commune eventually reaches its end. It’s the nature of the hippy beast. This week, I read the highly entertaining novel, Drop City, by T.C. Boyle. For years I laughed over the front cover in bookstores – eight naked people lying facedown in a circle amidst wild flowers and grass. Looking at the cover, it’s uncertain whether or not they have just drunk the wrong kind of kool-aid, or if they’re all facedown, taking a bizarre nap. But in their facedown nakedness, arms piled around their backs, they seem stripped of individual identity.

It’s 1970, and a commune of hippies decides to skip out on the land regulations of California. Their leader, Norm, moves them all to his uncle’s deserted cabin in the middle of Alaska. As can be expected, chaos ensues. Their lazy cluelessness in the wild is contrasted by the hard work of the settlers down the river, who work day and night to store food for the onset of winter. The greatest plot twist hits as 24/7 nighttime descends and the thermometer drops forty degrees below zero. Utopia is forgotten for the harsh struggle against fierce elements.

It seems we’re all trying to protect ourselves from the harsh truths of nature. In the wilds of Alaska, it can’t be avoided. Religions all promise a utopia on the other side of death. The thought of it completely bores me. Nature is much more exciting. It’s a struggle, it’s a discipline, it’s a code of values completely contrary to anything humans want to snuggle up to.

While reading, I thought a lot about the dropout hippies on their drug binges doing nothing as months and even years passed. Only on drugs, does it ever feel okay to languish. The idea is such a concept of extreme youth, and not even in youth does that make you happy.

It was my birthday last Thursday, and I tried doing nothing all day. I felt increasingly depressed as the minutes ticked by. I collapsed with sleepiness on the bed and couldn’t get up without a homemade mocha and a campy Ami Stewart vinyl record playing “Come on baby light my fire.” Disco + Hippy = Crazy.

I am on the settler end of the spectrum. I love action. I love getting things done and preparing for the future. I love being a survivor. It seems I’ve won some kind of fight against submitting to the corporate world, which is something that hippies and settlers have in common.

On a positive note, without the hippy movement, we wouldn’t have the entrepreneurial market that we have today. Through their vision to see outside of the box and create technology, now artists can make their own rules, and sell their work without the big man in charge. That’s the thing. Most hippies turned into yuppies eventually. They got bored of tuning out, so they turned on and got with it.

Sometimes I put on the old clothes, just to see how they make me feel. But they represent a Lauren that doesn’t exist anymore. All of that fabric slows down my stride, and the long skirts get wet and dirty in the rain (not to mention the bell bottoms). I feel like I’m wearing a costume. I can’t see myself beneath the eccentric character.

My life now is all about movement. I’m in a race against time to achieve my goals as a writer. I’m growing a life with my husband. All of my values have shifted. When I was in my twenties, I thought everything would remain the same. But it all grows. That is the way of nature. We just have to tend to it.

The Value Of My Mothers

March 25, 2013 § 2 Comments

As women, especially, we carry our mothers within us. We carry our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers and so on. Beginning life through their looking glass, we interpret from their experience. As adults, we hopefully bring something new to the equation.

In The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd shares how she went from being the good Southern Baptist wife, to an awakening of the anti-female language in the church and the traditional roles she had fallen into without question, causing her to become the many breasted woman. She takes a precarious journey towards finding her own true voice, fearing that she will lose her husband or that her kids will be too shaken. But what results instead is a total awakening that greatly improves her relationships and her life.

I go back and forth between two worlds on a consistent basis. Living in downtown Seattle I am surrounded by strong-willed, independent, mature, and passionate women. They hold themselves tall. They’re never looking at the floor, but straight out into what they can learn and how they can grow. They earn respect from their peers, and are active in their community.

Being around them long enough, I can forget that there is another world, the one that I come from, where women live beneath a patriarchal religion that tells them they are unclean and not worthy; the downfall of humanity beginning with Eve who tempted Adam with an apple; a Bible with so few mentions of women, that as a girl I clung to the stories of Ruth and Esther for dear life.

It’s a struggle to still see this mindset in my family members. I am often held to the same standards as the mothers who went before me, even though my husband and I do not share the same value system as my family. Trying to gain their respect as an independent human being, apart from my husband, is difficult. I often feel that for them, a husband is the replacement of your father, and my decisions are like a child’s whims that need to be reined in.

My mother was raised in the fifties and sixties in the Midwest. The negative messages she received about being a woman were manifold. She began to believe that she was dirty, ill equipped to handle life, unintelligent, not worthy of a college education the way her three brothers were. She says that her greatest achievement is having given birth to my sister and I, and raising us well. My mother did the best that she knew how. Though within her, I always sense an untapped potential – creative talents lying inert, a lack of belief in her value. She wonders out loud, “I’m already sixty something, and what have I done with my life?”

She was always with us, always there when we got home from school. But as then, and even now, there is a sense that she is often absent. Maybe it is the trait that my sister and I both share with my mother – we all have a tendency to get lost somewhere up in our heads. My nieces also share this trait, with their wild use of the imagination and sudden bursts of wit. With this up-in-your-headness, there is the danger of retreating from a fully functioning life. All of us women in the family are artists whether we express that or not. Maybe the problem lies in wondering whether our expression is valid or valuable.

In Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter – A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine, she writes, “I like the way Clarissa Pinkola Estes says it: ‘When a woman is exhorted to be compliant, cooperative, and quiet, to not make upset or go against the old guard, she is pressed into living a most unnatural life – a life that is self blinding… without innovation. The world-wide issue for women is that under such conditions they are not only silenced, they are put to sleep. Their concerns, their viewpoints, their own truths are vaporized (Monk Kidd, 21).'”

I want to know my mother from before I was born. In photos she looks mischievous and carefree. She wears dark eyeliner, with funky 1960’s hairstyles, and mod clothing. She plays the piano, or munches an ice cube in old film footage at the racetrack with my dad. In photos, they goof off with their Old English sheepdog, Big Boy. They are young and beautiful, and life is rich with possibility. She worked for the telephone company, and he was an engineer. On the weekends they took random road-trips, not sure where they’d end up.

As a child, her mother was bipolar and overwhelmed by raising five kids. Grandma preferred her three sons to the two daughters. She never really liked women that much, and she also wasn’t very happy with her emotionally distant husband. But she did love fashion, expressing herself, and working in retail.

On my father’s side, my history of mothers only exists in photographs. His mother died of cancer when she was my age. In photos, she is always laughing with friends. She looks like the center of the universe. Her face is a strangely familiar territory of my eyes, and my sister’s lips. So many aspects of her have been passed down to us, but what they were (outside of photos), we’ll never know. I cling to these images – a grandmother, only visible in stills of black and white. I build up stories around her that only make her more beautiful, more daring, more carefree.

I quickly flip past the photos near the end of her life. She is washing dishes, with my dad (a toddler) playing at her feet. The lines beneath her eyes have turned purple, her shoulders slump towards the sink, exhaustion is written all over her failing body. I choose to forget this, though it lingers in my subconscious, and I wonder if like her, I could possibly die young.

My history of mothers didn’t have the opportunities that I do. Through everything that I do in my life, I celebrate them. I celebrate my right to speak, to write honestly and openly, and leave a record of myself that goes beyond old photographs found in a shoebox. So much of what my mothers really felt, was never spoken.

As I think about opening my life to the possibility of motherhood, I understand the importance of a line of mothers. I see the magnitude of knowing, before I take that step, my own value as a self. It’s painful to me when my mother writes off her life as not being very important. All I can really do is make up for it, everyday, with how I live my own life.

When she lost her mother, I was nine years old. Mom lost her luster as a distant perfect goddess, always washing dishes at the sink. She became a human being. Our family was split down the middle at the time, mid-move from Chicago to Seattle. She and I were still in the old house. She was afraid, scared, hiding boos in the back of the refrigerator (she never drank). Every night we stayed somewhere else, or a friend stayed with us.

Suddenly, it seemed that I was becoming the mother. I resented her for it. I didn’t know how to control my anger. That was when mom began to say that I reminded her of her mother. I was scared that like grandma, I was bipolar too, and maybe diabetic. No one really painted a positive image of grandma, though she was always nice to my sister and I. And it was my aggression that brought up the comparison.

“Most of my life I’d run from anger as something that good daughters and gracious ladies did not exhibit. Perhaps the thing most denied to women is anger. ‘Forbidden anger, women could find no voice in which to publicly complain; they took refuge in depression,’ writes Carolyn Heilbrun. Her words came true for me. Without the ability to allow or the means to adequately express the anger, I began to slide into periods of depression (Monk Kidd, 74).”

You could say that depression runs in my family, but I broke out of a habit that descended down through the women for generations. It was a long, painful process, letting go of that mindset and way of being. But then one day I woke up, fully in charge of my own life, fully capable, and fully expressive. The sluggish, then raging, suicidal thoughts were completely gone. I cracked the code. The answer was within me all along. As long as I face life with no fear, give what I have to offer, and value my gifts, I am happy. It’s a simple equation. But there was nothing simple about how long it took, and difficult it was, to figure it all out.

In life, there is always what we are, and what we were. They live together simultaneously. Some people catch up to who we are now, and some never do. But we all manage to learn from each other. Though my parents raised me, their daughters have raised them as well. My family speaks a different language through an opposite worldview, but we can still connect with laughter, good food, and the stories of our interconnected lives. Everyday, we grow in awareness of ourselves in relation to each other.

The Silence of Snow

January 13, 2013 § 5 Comments

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Many years ago, I had a ten-month relationship with a Palestinian man who was getting his PhD in political science.  We were more like companions than lovers, but the sexual tension between us drove us crazy.  There was only one time, early on, that we acted on that tension, and it was a disaster.  Amidst our attempt at satisfaction, he fell asleep, and I left him there, alone with his own snores.  He woke up after I left, confused and lonely, wondering where I went.  I was furious, and it was a tremendous blow to my ego. I was very young, but I’d been through so much at that point, I was also very old.  Much older than I am now.

That winter it snowed so much, that I was stuck at his apartment in the University district for three days.  I hadn’t dressed warmly enough, so he lended me his black and white checked Keffiyeh.  It was thick cotton.  Piled around my neck, it protected me from the elements.  I thought of how the Keffiyeh is most commonly used for protection against the hot desert sun.

It wasn’t really a fad yet, to wear a Keffiyeh around a college campus as a fashion statement.  So a lot of people gave me funny looks.  It felt as though the scarf could speak much louder than I ever could.  There were people whose eyes lit up with happiness, and others who frowned.

Magid was much older than I was, and looked like a cross between Omar Shariff, and Louis Jourdan.  Outside, his cigarettes added smoke to the steam escaping from his full lips.  We walked through the city, beneath trees with intricate twig webs of white.  We drank espresso at the Solstice coffee shop.  He read the world politics section of the newspaper with his legs crossed.  I wrote poems.

Mostly, we just fought all the time.  But that weekend, with all of that snow, we created a cozy world for ourselves.  Unobstructed by stress, power struggles, and Magid’s pain over always feeling like an outsider.

 Though he had many friends, he was locked inside of solitude.  And within him, always the constant conflict between East and West.  To be in the West was both to avoid his homeland, and also to fight for it with the safety of distance.  To be in the East was to be beaten down and humiliated.  Even community, tradition, and  family, could not protect him from this.  He was a foreigner no matter where he went.

The same feels true of Ka, Orhan Pamuk’s main character in his richly poetic novel, Snow.  Through Snow we are given a view into the struggles of the small town of Kars in Turkey, and the conflict between Islam and the State.  Since a ban on headscarves for girls in school, there have been several suicides among the headscarf girls, but it is uncertain as to whether their reasons were religious or having more to do with their miserable lives.

Ka is a poet who comes to Kars on the pretense of covering the suicide girls and the political elections for a Frankfurt newspaper (where he lives as a political exile).  But his real reason is to seek out a beautiful woman he remembers from college.

While in Kars, Ka writes several poems.  He is snowed in, and the roads have been closed.  Political tensions come to a peak.  And though involved beyond what he would care to be, the events pale in comparison to the love he has found, and the overwhelming feeling that he will lose her.  What is more, his Atheism is challenged by the perfect symmetry of snowflakes, and so he begins to see through all points of view.  He becomes susceptible to the mystical, the charismatic, the theatrical dramas that cross the line from stage to reality.

My companion, Magid, did not seem to have a sense of faith.  I admired that about him.  His family was Christian, and he always said that Americans had no idea how many Christians lived in Palestine.  He taught me that the news we receive here is very dishonest and biased.  He took it upon himself to educate me on world issues.

There was a part of him that wanted to be liberated from his culture.  But the part that was still entrenched in tradition, railed against my strong willed nature.  He was both attracted and humiliated by my need for independence.  Insanely jealous, with no reason to be, since is wasn’t beyond him to take another woman home, if I wouldn’t go with him.

He said he would take me to Israel, but he never did.  Instead, he went alone when his father was dying.  And on his way back, he was strip searched and made to stand naked in front of group of guards.  They rifled through his credit cards.  They confiscated his luggage, and then gave it back to him after they had stolen the gifts he was bringing back.  They assigned him a guard, to escort him at all times in the airport, until he boarded the plane.  He was made to feel like a dangerous criminal.

When his plane had a layover in Jersey, he called his family and found out that his father had just died.  There was a sense of relief at having missed it.  If he had been there, it would have been weeks of sitting in the house and mourning while all the neighbors came by to offer food and condolences.  He considered whether or not he should grow out his beard as a sign of mourning.  Then he decided that no, he was in America now.  He didn’t have to do that.

He flew home, and when he told me all about what had happened, he cried.  It was summer now, and we were eating burgers at a bar in Fremont.  The sun was hot on our heads, streaming through a large window behind us.

The last time I saw him, we fought so badly that I drove him back to his street and dropped him off on the sidewalk before we could even make it to dinner.  I drove away without even saying goodbye.  The next day, I moved to New York.

Our story was a small pocket of my life.  And in that pocket is the silence of snow, a Keffiyeh, Magid’s cigarettes and a newspaper stuck under his arm.  We are not fighting the fight between East and West.  We are peacefully gazing at each other from across the table with love in our eyes, while the students around us are wondering what a young girl like me is doing with a stubborn old man.

I see that Magid is living a successful life as an intellectual and writer.  He is hard at work, stripping the layers off of the Westernized condescending and racist approach to Arab culture.  His research has led him to express his thoughts through a historically Arabic point of view.  It appears that he has returned to the East.

I will always remember that in Arabic there are over twenty words for “love” but in English, we only have one.  I will remember the way that the men all danced together, and swung their hips in a subtle way.  I will remember the koobideh with basmati rice and saffron.  The poets and musicians; the pain and love that they expressed.  The ancient culture that we could never feign to understand in the West.

Breaking My Erotic Silence

September 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

After watching the excellent film The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, I had no choice but to pick up Dalma Heyn’s book, The Erotic Silence of the American Wife.

In the film, Pippa marries a wealthy man thirty years her senior when she is a young runaway living on the edge.  She mutates from being an expressive human being with problems into the stilted and empty role of being the Perfect Wife.  But underneath all of her prim lines, you sense the real Pippa lurking underneath.  She begins sleepwalking, ending up at the min-mart where she buys cigarettes.  And then, out to lunch with her neurotic friend, Pippa begins to combust:

“You could be married to anybody, if that’s what you’re worried about.  Marriage is an act of will.  I mean, I adore Herb, but our marriage functions because we will it to.  If you leave love to hold everything together, you can forget it.  Love comes and goes with the breeze, minute by minute.”

When Dalma Heyn set out to write her book comprised of years worth of interviews with wives who committed adultery, she began with an armload of clichés, stereotypes, and societal views that had nothing to do with the feelings of actual women, their marriages, and their experiences.  The problem that all of these women shared, was that they bought into the ideal of the Perfect Wife – she is selfless, giving, able to predict the needs of everyone else, without ever meeting her own needs.  When these women don’t measure up to this idea of goodness (and no one ever does or should), they constantly feel bad – they are a failure, there is something wrong with them.  In the process, they disconnect completely from themselves and go numb.  They can no longer experience a fulfilling sex life either.  They’ve become what they thought was their husband’s fantasy, but it has nothing to do with them.  They are looking at themselves from the outside in.

“They spoke of a profound awareness that they were somehow no longer themselves, that they weren’t in a relationship but playing a role in one (Heyn, 103)…”

They wonder what became of the sexual outlaw they were before marriage.  Some of the women had not even had premarital sex.  Regardless, women from their twenties to their seventies, and all walks of life, experience adultery as a rebirth of self.  They don’t experience shame or guilt – they experience life, total joy and an uninhibited place to reclaim their authenticity.  They seek out men that have none of the prerequisites that they look for in a husband or even a boyfriend.  They might not even be in love with these men, it doesn’t matter; the experience of total freedom is the same.

The women often have no desire to leave their husbands.  But through the experience of adultery, they understand that they need to change the shape of their marriages, so that at last, their needs can factor into the relationship.  There is no going back to the Perfect Wife.  Some of the women never tell their husbands and fare well, while a large percentage of the women who do tell end up in divorce.  But every marriage is different with different outcomes.

I never thought that I would get married because I loved being single so much.  My sexuality was the ultimate adventure for me.  So sometimes, I wonder, how did I end up married to a man whose sexuality is so vanilla.  He’s turning fifty this year, and though he thinks of having sex all the time, it’s often the last priority.  When it doesn’t feel like a routine, when he isn’t being too sensitive and careful, sex between us is wonderful, but rarely ever dark, or seductive, or unbridled.  Can these things exist in a marriage?  I always thought they could.

When we were dating he struggled to keep up with me.  He stayed up late with me till the early morning hours and we had sex everyday.  He was working three jobs and started to feel the pressure.

Around the same time, I decided to give him a fashion show.  I went into my closet and put on all my old fetish gear – vinyl, thigh-high fishnets, towering platforms.  When I paraded out, he was not aroused by it at all.  He said I was playing the part of someone else.  Maybe it was who I was before he met me, maybe I never was that role to begin with.  It just wasn’t for him.  He wanted me to put on a sleek and elegant dress instead.  I’d never encountered a man who didn’t go crazy over artifice.  For a week after that, he struggled sexually, and then unbeknownst to me, Viagra saved the day.

For him, the two events were unrelated, but after that week, I stopped taking risks.  I started feeling nervous about making him uncomfortable.  I left my kinks behind.  He loves my strength in all facets of our life together.  But he has a puritan side, a clumsy embarrassment over anything out of the ordinary.

The other issue is that he’s not the string bean-types that I used to date.  He’s like one of those massive warriors that you see in movies like 300.  Built like a rock, solid, stocky, with huge hands that don’t know their own strength.  When I told him that I like to be choked, he gave it a try and almost broke my neck.  When he sleeps with his arm across my chest, my ribs begin to feel like they’re crushing under the pressure and I panic, trying desperately to wake myself.  I’m still learning how to live with our differences.

But life is also easier, happier, more content with him.  We can’t get enough of being together – we work together, go out all the time, talk openly about everything, and share our passions.  It’s always fun, even when we’re fighting.  We don’t buy into the term “settling down” like many couples do.  I play the role of the Perfect Wife more for my parents than my husband.  When they show up, everything is clean and dinner is delicious.  When they’re not here, our lives are chaotic and slightly out of control.

I don’t idealize our relationship.  I didn’t marry a man for his status or money.  I married a fellow outlaw, who lives by his own rules, and makes me laugh.  I’m well aware that the future is uncertain.  I’ll be surprised if our marriage survives for the rest of our lives, and I very much hope that it does.  And does that only mean the rest of his life, since I’m so much younger?  I make jokes about being a wealthy old widow, living like a gypsy and on the prowl.  But really, it’s just to make myself feel better about the unknown.

I went through some confusing changes in the process of our growing closer.  Like a rubber band snapping back and forth.  I was caught up in the whirlwind, in the romance in the beginning.  Then after our engagement I rebelled and fought and wanted to leave.  I couldn’t figure out what I was doing.  But on our wedding day, it all made sense.

For a short while, I turned into an old lady, had no real friends, started to compensate for my husband’s reckless, accident-prone nature by being extremely anxious, nervous, overly careful.  At times, the pressure of being a wife overwhelms me.  I’ve often wanted to run back to when my life was more straightforward and simple – when I could just work, do my art, and have sex with random people every now and then.

Sex was self-discovery, mutual-discovery, empathic-discovery.  Married sex is something completely different that I don’t quite understand.  It’s like we need to learn to speak each other’s languages, and haven’t quite gotten there yet.

There is a strange role-reversal where in our relationship I am supposed to be more like the man and he is more like the woman.  He wants to cuddle and be close, and I just want to get laid.  He wants to work up to it for long periods of time, while I get bored waiting.  He wants me to initiate, while I just want to feel wanted.  And yet, he is enormously giving, patient, and selfless – which makes me feel like an impatient, selfish, taker.

No couple is perfect, and somehow our differences balance things out.  My husband is the first man I was ever in a committed relationship with.  I guess I got bored with everything else.  Before we met, I had become an evil heartbreaker.  The ego trip felt nice, but it didn’t feel right to hurt people and feel nothing.  My husband didn’t buy all that crap.  He saw right through it (though he admits to being scared of me at first).  It was good to be seen at last.  Really seen.  It still is.

When I think of other men sexually, I wonder what would be the point, when there’s only one man who lets me be who I really am.  Maybe not the dominatrix side, but every other side.  Everyone else pales in comparison.  Everyone else seems like they’re missing something.  With everyone I dated before, I was never really myself, and was never accepted to begin with.

I am the subject of my husband’s life.  He says that I give his life meaning.  He even took my last name.

Yesterday was our 2nd Anniversary.  I hemmed my wedding dress and surprised him by wearing it on our dinner date, along with my birdcage veil, and my grandmother’s jade necklace.  We talked about our plans for building our future together.  We talked openly and honestly about how we really feel about all of it.  We raved over Sea Urchin, Veal Sweetbreads, Cavatelli with Morels, Chocolate Truffle Cake with Black Cherries.  We even talked about this post, and how our memories are different, and yet the same.

This is the first openly honest thing I’ve ever written about my husband, stripped of all the idealistic tripe.  I’m breaking my erotic silence.

It’s Not Your Genes, It’s The Way They Raised You

July 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s hard to remember the first six years of your life, but according to Oliver James in They F*** You Up – How To Survive Family Life, those first years and how our parents relate to us, define us more than genes.

Parents are often limited in their ability to connect with us in all stages, such as the competitive adult who lacks understanding for the fantasy life of a four year old, but strongly relates to the adolescent.  Other parents are short on empathy due to problems with depression or lack of proper care in their own upbringing.

If our parents lacked empathy, were abusive or absent, there’s a very large chance that we will end up struggling with depression, narcissism, or personality disorder.  If those issues aren’t dealt with, we’re at risk for repeating the exact same cycles in our own children.

What our parents value in us and encourage determines to a large extent who we become as people.  From infancy on, we are treated a certain way on the basis of a complex weave within the mind of the parent.  What do we remind them of, do we bring back memories of negative experiences in their own childhood, do we remind them of their own failings.  The cycle repeats itself when we become parents ourselves.

“Each parent treats each child so differently that they might as well have been raised in completely different families (James, 8).”

Though obviously, I can’t remember how I was treated as an infant, the one thing I do know is that my mother does not like babies at all.  She has difficulty relating to them, and is bored until they get to the toddler stage of being able to talk.  She was also unable to breastfeed.  Our Old English Sheep dog, Big Boy, guarded my crib religiously and growled at any unfamiliar person who dared to enter my room.  All through my childhood, I was often much closer to animals than to people.

When I was older I lived at the pool with the girl from next door.  My skin was a dark chocolate, my hair a golden mushroom.  I don’t remember if there was an adult with us.  It was normal back then for small kids to run rampant through the neighborhood without supervision.  My mother hated parks, possibly because it meant she had to talk to the neighbors.

My parents didn’t really interact with me in playtime, and my sister was too old for most of my games.  What I remember is that my mother seemed like an ever-present figure in front of the kitchen sink.  Always washing dishes.  I would look up at her from my spot on the floor, next to the record player, chewing small square ice cubes and listening to children’s albums from the 1950’s.

She always loved us, was always caring, if not strict due to a desire to ingrain us with her beliefs.  But she was a distant, foreign presence until my teens.  My father didn’t really know how to deal with being a dad.  In fact, he is still figuring it out.  As a parent, do you ever stop figuring that out?  Especially since your children are constantly growing, changing, evolving – hopefully.  Once stern and emotionally unavailable, he is now more loving and affectionate than I ever thought possible.

I remember having a fear of using the toilet.  I was afraid that a giant snake would come up the pipes and bite me in the ass.  I washed my hands before flushing, then pressed the lever down and went running, flailing my arms down the hall, certain the snake would get me.  There was also an angry tiger that lived in a massive empty oil tank in the basement.  I could hear him groan within the metal.  I pictured him pacing, muscles flexing beneath his orange and black striped fur.

My sister told me they opened a McDonald’s in Africa, but since they didn’t have cows there, they just used six-foot long worms that they sliced into patties.  She said the patties were kind of rubbery and grey.  I actually believed her, and then held a grudge for years when I realized she’d made it up to prove my gullibility.

I find it lame that some people think children are not sexual creatures, and that you wake up at twelve suddenly aware.  All children are sexual, and their levels of inhibition all depend upon how adults handle their sexual expression.  There was enormous embarrassment around my constant desire to stimulate my genitals.  It was a humiliation for my mother.  I found ways to hide it – hands hidden in pockets, the edge of a chair.

When I was four or five, I was at someone’s house, and a boy pulled me into a bedroom for the classic, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”  With our pants pulled down around our ankles he pointed at my crotch and said, “I can almost see it.  Don’t worry, you’ll grow one soon.”  Suddenly, I felt incomplete.  I was missing something.  But that something looked kind of funny and I didn’t get why it was so important to have one.

I didn’t have a crush on a boy until the first grade.  Below age six, my crushes were on beautiful women, particularly, my preschool teacher.  She carried a Gucci purse, and always wore purple with lots of make-up.  I craved her attention, wanted to be close to her, wanted to be like her.

At four, I was so shy that when people asked me my name all I could say was “Hi”.  For a while, that is what they called me.  “Hi.”  I stuttered and could only speak after literally spitting it out.  From the very beginning, I was behind in school.  Maybe my sister struggled too, but she was an over-achiever.  My parents always treated her with respect, like an adult, while I was always, and still am, the entertaining fuck-up.

“From the moment we gather on Christmas Eve or the day itself, our parents and siblings demand that we enact our appointed role.  Never mind that we may have long since ceased to be the clever one or the fatty, the attention-seeker or the moaner, our family treats us just as they always did and within minutes of walking through the door we are back in the nursery.  The achievements and independence of adulthood are swept away and we find ourselves performing a role that we thought was long obsolete (James, 35).”

Going back a generation, it seems that everyone in my mother’s five child family needs therapy.  “Offspring of families with five or more children are significantly more likely to be delinquent and to suffer mental illness (James, 4).”  My grandmother had depression.  She was not really suited to having so many children, and would have been happier with a career.  She loved fashion, and later in life, liked to write.  But to her children, she lacked empathy and was prone to negative outbursts.  My grandpa was emotionally distant and had trouble expressing affection.  He was reserved and stern – does that sound familiar?

Growing up, my father had very little emotional support.  His mother died when he was three, his grandmother who helped raise him after, died when he was eleven.  His sister ran away from home at fifteen, and his brother died in a car accident at eighteen.  To cope, my grandfather was an alcoholic, and he married a woman who never accepted my father as a son.  So for a long time, my father struggled to emotionally connect with people for fear that he would lose them.  He’s had moments of irrational fear and outbursts, particularly, when I learned how to drive.

Something about the whole environment of repressed feelings has turned me into a fighter for speaking my mind.  When I came to adulthood, I was the first in the family to speak directly and honestly and openly.  It was an enormous shock, I think, for everyone.  When they attempted to close up, or retreat backwards, I kept marching forwards with my banner raised.  Now when an issue lurks beneath the surface, it is always bound to come out at some point, and we are all happier for it, even if my mother blanks out the things that she doesn’t want to remember.

At this stage of my life I have a very healthy, strong relationship with my parents.  I work through the way things were in the past through my writing, and I find understanding and forgiveness for the course we were all on that we really had no control over.  The mind is made up of maps and patterns that can only be broken through vigorous insight and awareness.  My mother can afford a therapist.  I can afford a pen and a pad of paper.

As I think about having a baby, I have become even more aware of breaking negative patterns.  In some ways, I feel prepared because I have already done a lot of work within myself.  I’m looking forward to the possibility of the challenge.  And despite a few hiccups, I’m extremely lucky that, growing up, I had a strong and loving family life, and still do.

Oliver James refers to many studies that have proven genes play much less of a role in us than we have been led to believe.  I appreciate this stance, and have witnessed to a great extent, that we do have the ability to change our reality completely, even working through the deficiencies in our early development that are inevitable no matter how wonderful our parents.

I’ll always be the entertaining fuck-up to my family, and that’s okay with me. But as a result, there is always the feeling that I have to prove someone wrong.  I know within that I am a winner, and I’ll just keep doing what I do regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.  The main thing is – I’m okay with myself.  Once you achieve that, others are okay with you too.

 

Traveling Sisterhood

June 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Esther Freud’s novel, Hideous Kinky, is a semi-autobiographical novel of two sisters traveling with their hippy mother through 1960’s Morocco. Freud is the daughter of the famous figurative painter, Lucian Freud, and the granddaughter of Sigmund Freud – a fascinating family rife with details we would all like to know more about, but privacy runs in the family.

The narrator of Hideous Kinky is a four-year-old English girl. Her narration is deceptively simple, leaving the reader to comprehend the complex layers of the story on their own. Mysteries are left untold, such as what they left behind in England, who her father is, and who sends the money. Through the little girl, we are unable to decipher the details of her mother’s love life (though we can surmise), and never know where they are traveling next, or how long they will stay. We feel the confusion and the uncertainty. Time slips away without the basic information needed to succeed back home in England, such as even, how to count.

My emotions over the mother ran the gamut. At times I felt exhilarated that she could live so far off the edge with two little girls in tow. At other times, I felt angry when the girl’s were not receiving education, medical care, food; at one point even spending a day as beggars. Upon their return to England life would seem so regimented in comparison. How would they adjust? But those events take place after the last page.

I’d seen the film before I read the book – and they both have much to offer. One did not ruin the other, as is often the case, though the details of the story differ.

My two nieces are missionary kids. They have been going back and forth between a jungle village in Papua New Guinea, a mission base, and the states all of their lives. Life for them is a constant readjustment. They are flexible and easygoing, because they have to be.

The oldest is very social, relates better to boys than girls, and likes to write fantasy stories (mainly, because she lives one). The youngest is exactly the same as I was at her age – always up in her head, living in imagination, weaving thick plots to escape the boredom of the present, yet a social underdog. However, that was two years ago, and every time I see them, they are different and yet the same.

Now that they are thirteen and ten, childhood is quickly disappearing. They are on the border, where glimpses of the women they will become disarm you completely – vivacious and strong, with lively blue eyes that are full of curiosity.

The oldest is at the stage where her parents and those in her environment are forming strong opinions in her. When they were younger it wasn’t that big of a deal that we have different beliefs. But they are being taught to look down on those who do not believe what they do.

They have always looked up to me. And now, at this stage, I’m afraid of being looked down on. Maybe it’s all in my head. But it isn’t, because I was taught exactly the same thing, and at that age, I looked down on, and judged everything that was “of the world” and “fallen”. I didn’t yet understand life as it really was.

There are cracks in the veneer every now and then. The oldest is now on facebook and she once posted a comment that read something like, “Sometimes it’s hard to believe that there could be another life out there.” I went searching to find it again, but she has since erased it. Don’t we all feel trapped within our parent’s existence until we are free to go?

But for now, my nieces live below the equator, a day ahead of us. When it is summer here, it is winter there. In my neighborhood, it is loud with the noise of people and cars. In the jungle, it is loud with insects, birds, and animals. They navigate difficult terrain over-run with foliage. I navigate cracks in the pavement and annoying people asking for money.

When my oldest niece was a baby she crawled like the natives in the village – with her left knee on the ground, and her right foot walking. She had ringworm from sitting naked on the dirt. I worried over her – but she was completely resilient. It’s the babies that are born there that are really at risk. Many of them don’t even survive birth.

In four weeks, my sister’s family is coming home on furlough and will be in the States until April. When they are gone, I turn off all thoughts of them with the press of an imaginary button. But now, the button is off and I think about their return constantly.

The night before my sister’s wedding, I couldn’t stop crying. As her bridesmaids flitted about, she came into my bedroom to comfort me. It didn’t matter what she said, I knew that I was losing her. She’d found her husband and now all they needed was a distant place to be sent to. A year later they were gone.

They said it was a twenty-year mission, and it’s been sixteen years. As their responsibilities grow, I keep wondering if they’ll ever come back. And how will they cope with life here, without financial supporters, without constant movement, with some sort of steady job that is the same day in and day out?

When we were kids we used to pack our suitcases, hoist everything up on the swing-set, and pretend it was a train that would take us all over the world. It was her favorite game, her escape from boring suburbia.

We have both traveled, escaped conformity, and found an obsession with words – she as a linguist, and me as a writer. But I don’t really know who she is anymore. She never talks. We have only been alone together once in the past sixteen years. We took a walk, and she told me that there are things about my life that she envies, because as a missionary, you have to keep up the façade of minimalism. I told her that I envy her nomadic existence.

When I was a teenager, I idolized her, and thought that I would never measure up. She seemed like a saint, and I felt like a failure. I was her project, something that needed to be fixed.

My nieces represent something that was lost between my sister and I. They are the next generation of traveling sisters. They talk in secret sister code. Life will be a shock for them when they leave the fold. In some ways, they are even more sheltered than we were. I wonder where their lives will take them. I wonder if they will ever consider Seattle home.

Write To Live

June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am feeling vulnerable.  The pitch for my memoir is about to be sent out to editors, and I have spent the last ten years pouring everything I have into this book.  It has evolved and grown with time, and thanks to rejections of past versions, it has become more refined, more complete, more honest.

Though I try my best to not take rejections personally (having worked in publishing has helped me a lot with this), it is still always a hard blow to the ego, with days spent feeling like a failure.  I know my book has enormous potential, now I just need people in the publishing industry to see that too.

In vulnerable writer moments, the best author to turn to is Erica Jong.  “Only if you have no other choice should you be a writer (Jong, 6).”

I have just finished reading her book, Seducing the Demon – Writing For My Life.  The stories from her life are all hilarious, and told in nonlinear fashion.  Most memorable would be how she broke up Martha Stewart’s marriage when it was already falling apart (picture Stewart’s husband as an emasculated chore boy).

Humorous stories aside, it seemed that Jong was speaking directly to me and everything that I am dealing with right now – death and the struggle of trying to capture life in words.

“Life is a dream, but the dream disintegrates unless you write it down (my father) reminds me (Jong, 253).”

I first began writing because I wanted to end my life.  It was a common theme throughout my adolescence, but escalated when I was twenty-one.  I always knew that I was not the person my family wanted me to be.  Within my core, I was not a Christian, but I was told by everyone around me that if I did not follow I would lose their acceptance.  I would be fallen, lost, going to hell.  I did everything to make God real to me.  But instead, I began to see that everything I’d been told was false.

In the process of all this, I was prone to deep depression and would fall into trance-like states where I left my body and began to ponder how I could destroy it.  Looking back, it was symbolic, since the Christianity I was raised with denies the body.

Eventually, when that mode became an everyday issue, I had to enter therapy.  The therapist didn’t sort my issues since I was still stuck within my Christian university and didn’t feel free to speak what I was really feeling.  What really changed my life was writing.

“Writing is tough, but it’s a lot less tough than depression.  Which basically leads to suicide.  Unless you make a joke (Jong, 232).”

At first the writing was not good.  It was melodramatic, sickeningly romantic, full of unnecessary flourishes and old-fashioned language.  Through hundreds of poems, I attempted to express what I was feeling.

I experienced a real breakthrough while reading Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.  Here was a man who bravely and beautifully wrote about gay sex in the 1950’s.  If he could do that then, than I could celebrate sensuality in my poetry, turn it in, and risk getting marked down or reprimanded.  Surprisingly, my teacher raved over the poem I wrote.

We normally looked at each other’s work anonymously.  But at the end of analyzing my poem the professor said, “And the girl who wrote this…” (Everyone looked around since there was only one other girl in the class) “Ope!  Sorry Lauren!”

The room full of boys twittered in embarrassment.  But then my professor continued, “This is the first poem I’ve seen all semester that is ready to be published.”  I sat there red in the cheeks, but brimming with pride that this professor who was such a tough nut to crack, who was known for yelling at people for using the word “deep” because it didn’t express anything, was now telling me I had potential.

“For the poet, the lover becomes the world.  The exploration of love becomes an exploration of life (Jong, 66).”

Before poetry, I painted portraits, then realized I had more to tell.  Poetry was vague enough to feel safe writing what I had to say.  But then I wanted to tell the whole truth and share the whole picture.

To write I have sacrificed money, jobs, relationships, and security.  But I have no choice, and wouldn’t be happy any other way.  My book sits there like the holy grail, full of promises that might not be met.  When I first tried to publish it, I was cocky, with no doubt that the first agent would snap it up and put it on auction, scoring a great book deal which would lead to it becoming a bestseller with a movie deal in the works.  I literally did not doubt this one iota.

In it’s earliest version (not nearly as fleshed out as it is now) it was rejected by over a hundred agents and editors.  Back then it was just a novel about a girl who parties too much.  Now it’s a memoir about a girl trying to forget an oppressive upbringing through an underground subculture that turns dark quickly.

“People who most crave ecstasy are probably least capable of moderation (Jong, 134).”

The people I write about in my book will be both horrified and gratified to see themselves frozen in time.  But the only reaction that really concerns me is that of my parents.  I hope they can forgive the fact that I need to lay them bare to understand my life.  Like many parents, it’s painful for them to allow their child to be their own person.  They will never fully accept who I am because it doesn’t fit into their worldview.  I am the reality that they find hard to face.

“If you want to be a nice person, don’t write.  There’s no way to do it without grinding up your loved ones and making them into raw hamburger (Jong, 239).”

Now when I actually see the living people who embody the other characters in the book, I hardly know how to look at them, without only seeing our past.  To me, they have become caricatures of themselves, mythology.

“Time and again I have found that once I have frozen a person in a book I can hardly remember what the real person was like (Jong, 268).”

At a memorial, I saw them all two days ago.  I realized, that they feel the same way about me.  They are completely unable to understand who I am now, unable to listen, and can only speak in jokes or insensitive diatribes.  They have frozen me in time.  I didn’t want to be there, but in coming together over the death of our beautiful friend, I came to the ending of my story.

“You are not doing it all alone.  You are standing on the shoulders of the dead.  You are writing love letters to the grave.  The word is a link in a human chain (Jong, 61).”

I’m in those last years where you can be considered young.  But I don’t feel young at all.  I feel like time is too short and I have too many stories to share to fit into that shortness of life.  Ideas keep popping into my head.  I want to write them all, to share this thing I cannot stop.  To live, I must write.

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