Saturday, May 5, 2012

Perhaps, Indelible: Four Things that Broke My Heart this Week (And Then Dancin’!)

Perhaps, Indelible: Four Things that Broke My Heart this Week (And Tina Fey Stole My Dance Moves!)

I fight my inborn, high sensitivity all of the time, but after listening to the latest episode of “The Mental Illness Happy Hour” podcast, thanks to brilliant guest Dr. Jessica Zucker, I was recently reminded that sensitivity is a gift--and one I will therefore be indulging in full-force in this post. I hereby present you with four things that broke my heart this week.  

“Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea” by Barbara Demick

This book was haunting and heart-rending. I’ve been wanting to read it for a while, but haven’t had the courage. It was a book I had to work myself into slowly and then, once in it, read obsessively until finished, because I needed the pain of experiencing it to be all over in one fell swoop, rather than stretched it out over weeks or months. 

Now is the part where a nicer and more enlightened person than I would wax poetic about the resilience of the human spirit, but I don’t believe that what we possess that allows us to survive horrors has much to do with either resilience or the human spirit. I don’t necessarily believe in the common narrative that those us who survive against all odds are, by default, the bravest or noblest among us. But I must give kudos to those featured in the book, who did go on to cobble a life together after such harrowing and horrifying experiences. There is nothing I can do about the suffering of those living in North Korea now, and no amount of prayer and wishful thinking is going to alleviate their tragic situation. I'm glad that I'm aware of it, but awareness alone does not create change. So I’m left to just hold them all in my heart and hope for their sake the regime eventually collapses and that those who are left standing are able to eat, stay warm, and be comfortable for the rest of their lives.

An Essay

After almost three years, an anthology that contains a poem and an essay I wrote many years ago finally arrived on my doorstep. I was glad to get it at all. Just as the anthology was getting ready to go to print, the publisher underwent numerous challenges, including a chronic illness, which continually delayed it's release date. Ironically, the book is entitled, “Flowers Bloom in the Moonlight”, and is a collection of poems and essays about facing adversity. The essay of mine they published was about my intense, two-year involvement with an abusive spiritual leader. I hadn’t read it in the three years since I submitted it to the publisher. Reading it from the book last night after so much time had passed, I realized that while it was truthful and honest, it wasn’t as angry is it would be if I had written it now. I was still coming out stages of self-blaming when I wrote it, and in the essay, I put the entirety of the blame for what had happened onto myself, rather than directing it at the person who deserved it. 

Today, I would have written a very different piece. Now, I would place blame. I would rant, rail, and scream, “You had no fucking right to abuse vulnerable people!” I would refuse to blame myself for being taken advantage of. I would be righteous and outraged. But I wasn’t capable of it then. And that’s okay. I still honor the person who I was at that time, the person who was trying to make sense of the experience, trying to take responsibility, trying understand the enormity of what had happened. And—trying to protect the abuser from her actions. I can have still have compassion for the person I was when I wrote it. And the fact that I can means that I've grown stronger. And that makes me, if not happy per se, feel much more at peace with myself. 

My Family

In a time long ago before the economic collapse, there was a teensy amount of arts funding for a wonderful program called Poetry on Buses. And one of the poems I recall reading stated that there is a writer in every family, and that person is the dangerous one, the one who is always about to spill red wine on the white carpet. 

In my family, I’m the spiller. I’m the one pointing out the obvious at the bi-yearly Denial Olympics that pass as family gatherings; the one who has no patience not to tell the truth anymore. Over the last several weeks, a series of phone calls from said family members has left me feeling bereft and helpless and completely used up. I am taking a hiatus from "helping"--ie, getting sucked into a vortex that has no potential left to change or improve. I'm amazing at denial-after all, I learned from the best--but I know a hopeless situation when I see one, and I'm not obligated to keep pushing the rock uphill. 

Paul Gilmartin

Comedian Paul Gilmartin is the host of the afore-mentioned Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast, which is amazing, but so consistently intense and triggering I need long periods of time between episodes to cope with the aftermath of hearing each show. In a recent episode with Dr. Jessica Zucker, Paul shared his vulnerability around the abuse and boundary violations his mother put him through. It was an amazing story to witness, but something specific in the conversation with him and Jessica really struck me. At one point she tells Paul that her mother will never validate his experience….“and then, once again, you are erased.” Something about the word “erased” struck me very deeply. I had to hide my tears as I rode home on the bus with this podcast playing in my earholes, feeling how that simple phrase describes so much of how I have felt throughout my life:  and now, you are erased. But this is also old pain--pain that is moving away more and more each day as I begin to grow more powerful, and whatever the opposite of erased is. Perhaps, “indelible.” 

And since I was such a Debbie Downer in this post, I now reward your fortitude with funny woman Tina Fey, and her sweet dance moves--which she stole from me, but you know what? I am a forgiving person, and if Tina wants to steal credit--well, so be it. Get it on, bitches! (Sorry--embed code broken, so you have to follow the link.)

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