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The Upside of My Dark Side: Difficult Riches


Campo Bust

Day Six in the Quest2015 posts and it’s getting dark in here.

Is it just me or is it the holidays?

I crave the dark at this time of year, so this prompt fits right in.

Get a cup of tea. This is a long one.


What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.

Muriel Rukeyser




Which emotions do you feel most guilty about having?





We invite you to take a closer look. We think that you can gain more from accessing the full range of your emotions. You don’t have to avoid discomfort to live a meaningful and engaging life.

Dr. Todd B. Kashdan & Robert Biswas-Diener from The Upside of Your Dark Side



I grew up in a home with an alcoholic father.

Story goes that on my parent’s wedding day, my Mimi told her new daughter-in-law, “Thank goodness someone else can take care of him now.”


This poisonous truth seeped in to what became my home long before I was conceived, but writing that sentence makes my belly ache.


This does not have to be a post about alcoholism does it?

Can I just give you the website for Al-Anon and be done with it?


The onus of caring for my father became one of my mother’s many responsibilities. I learned early to care for myself and to help with my three younger sisters. I learned that we did not speak about what was confusing or painful, that we just, “paddled our own canoe.” As a kid, I had no choice. We lived around and within my father’s illness, for that is what I now consider chronic alcoholism. The fragrance of beer was as familiar to me as the smell of the liquor store on Clark Street, a dank bouquet refrigeration, cardboard and vodka, mixed in with floor cleaner and matches.


Vintage postcard


The culture of my family was one of isolation. We belonged to each other and the ship was always in danger of sinking. (Boat metaphors are a constant in my life. I grew up on the Great Lakes. We nearly lost our lives on a boat. Story to follow.) In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown describes culture as “the way we do things around here.” I learned that the way we did things at home was to bear up no matter what. And what could take some pretty drastic proportions.


There are many difficult riches in the shadow side.

John O’Donohue


I learned valuable lessons as a result of growing up with alcoholism.

  • First, I learned that Al-Anon is an absolute lifesaver and if the holidays are activating your emotions about your behavior or of your family members, then please get to a 12-Step meeting.
  • The second thing I learned is that I always have a choice to do things differently.


If I am to answer this prompt honestly, I feel guilty about loathing having to stop my life to take care of other people, particularly people who are sick. The stories I have to tell about my growing up are many. But the overriding emotion of resentment I have had about caring for others is something I have dealt with in Al-Anon and therapy and many other healing modalities. During my children’s young years, I had little conflict with them and illness. They were so lushly dependent on my husband and me, even when they did silly things like jumping off radiators and landing on their heads, I did not get triggered. But as they have grown and my devotion to my creative work has increased, this resentment has paid me a visit.



Afraid that others might find out?


You’d think I’d be over all of this, right? This is what I fear you might know about me. I still wrestle with the weight of having to care for others, even my own kids. This isn’t an all the time thing. But, the weight catches me, poisons a moment when I might reach out in care, but instead resent the responsibility. And then, I have a chance for change.


Yesterday, real life served me a cocktail stuck with two swizzle sticks of inspiration that made me know that I still have room to grow.

Yesterday, my 17 year old was laid up with a lapful of homework and menstrual cramps, normal run-of-the-mill physical symptoms that most overwhelmed young women have today. My foray in to resentment did not last long after I read this post from Matt Licata:



When you sit with a friend in pain,
when their world no longer makes sense;
when confusion rages and
no rest is to be found.

Just for a moment,
will you resist the temptation
to make things better,
to reassure them,
to provide answers,
even to heal them?

Will you offer your stillness, your listening,
your presence, and the warmth
of your immediacy?

Will you hold them in your heart,
with the same tenderness
of a mother holding her little one?

Will you embrace them where they are,
without needing them to change or transform
according to your own needs and schedule?

Will you stay close,
holding your own impatience
and discomfort near?
Will you look into their eyes
and see yourself?

Will you stay in the inferno of healing
with them, trusting in disintegration,
knowing that you are only witnessing
the falling away of an old dream?

Sometimes in doing nothing
everything is undone,
and love is revealed to be
the only true medicine.

- Matt Licata and Jeff Foster

I took Matt and Jeff’s words as tickets to the possibility.


“Will you embrace them where they are,
without needing them to change or transform
according to your own needs and schedule?
I let her be. I inquired. What I gave to her in time and juices and tea and ideas were offered with a loving heart. And she asked me for nothing more. We talked a little about cramps. My husband went out for Midol and gave her a heating pad before he left for yoga class. He made sure we had soup set up for lunch.

As I sat on my mediation pillow listening to him pad around the house a memory appeared like a livery insides of a lake trout. My father on such a December day before the holidays, I am 13. I have my first menstrual cycle and am supposed to go swimming at a pool with my Lutheran youth group tomorrow. I am sewing a red poplin dress for Christmas on my treadle sewing machine in my bedroom, which is plastered with Monkees posters. I walk to the corner store to get tampons having never purchased such exotic items before. They are far out of my reach. I stand with my nose stuck to the display of paperback romances, edging my eyes over the tops of the thick lascivious looking novels wondering if I have the courage to ask the kid behind the counter for help.

I don’t.

So later, my Dad went out for them. He brought the box of tampons in to my room, where he touched my shoulder. I stayed bent over the sewing machine, not yielding to acknowledge his blessing on the day. I went swimming after church on Sunday.

This is perhaps my only memory of my father giving direct attention to my actions when not perfumed with beer and wine. Brené Brown says, “We cannot give people what we don’t have.” During my childhood, my parents did not have a sense of faith or belonging to give me. The safety I felt was won from desperation. The belonging I felt was just this side of isolation, of hiding in plain sight.

Neither of my parents spoke to me about my menstrual cycle. Yesterday at my house stands in stark contrast to my upbringing. In my parent’s home, we did not talk about things like near-miss tragedies or grave mistakes; we did not talk about adventures that turned out to be dangerous and stupid endeavors. One might say my parents were brave, leaving the society of their combined 14 siblings in the Chicago area in 1968 and finding a home for us in a new, very small town where there were no people of color and only 3 Jewish families. They took big risks. On our first Memorial Day weekend in the U.P. my father piloted his fishing boat with his newly won operator’s license around the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His only crew was my not nautical mother and three girls under 10 years old. It was a trip that nearly cost us all of our lives.

And it was something we never, ever spoke of, even after surviving a gale off Whitefish Point in the same waters where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down. When we arrived at the fishery where we sought safe harbor, the people there were surprised to meet us alive.

I grew up with silence around every important event. I learned to skulk around the house to eavesdrop on my mother’s phone conversations with her sisters. Long distance, so they were short calls, but potent. 190 proof. I learned things by standing quietly behind closed doors. I read the emotional weather of our family and dressed accordingly.

I held that memory as I heard my husband leave the house. Then I asked myself, what is different in my life today that provides this reality for my daughter? What has changed in my life?

The culture of our family is, “We belong to one another. We show up. We are in this together. And we will make time for each other, even if that looks different from what other people do. We may do things differently than other people, but we’ve thought about it and this is how we roll here.” And most often, that is together.

Later yesterday, after the Midol and heating pad had done the trick, we had dinner together. Without any baiting on my part, the conversation turned to the question of how technology has impacted real life. The discussion bears telling, but not here, not right now. What does bear repeating is that as we asked how texting has changed our lives directly, we got to share how different it is for my husband and me to talk with our children, to have a sense of who they are and when we are needed. The conversation led to our daughter understanding in a historical context how we have crafted a life with conscious choice about the culture of our family.

“Our stories define us. They affect our well being, our relationships, our present and our future. They are vehicles of energy, vessels of possibility. They contain infinite potential and we can harness light and power from the experiences of our lives. Every ordeal we have suffered holds some treasure for us. Every catastrophe has stripped us of something and given us something. The nakedness, we know. The gifts are yet to be unearthed. According to Hannah Arnedt, the story reveals the meaning of what would otherwise be an intolerable event.”

from Jan Phillips on Huffington Post


Housatonic Cross Collage by Suzi Banks Baum


How could you spend this year trying to be open to the emotional window that allows you to be courageous?


I will be open to the emotional window that owns my childhood, grieves the toxic silence that still resides in me, but finds tonic in the way I live today, tonic in my open heart.

It is the window that allows for the hassle of parenting, of living in close proximity to others who get sick, who have cramps, who need lunches made or doctors appointments, who need college tuition paid and tires rotated and prayers and petitions for safe passage lit onto one thousand sacred candles and traffic lights.

I live this close to my kids because I know the emotional wasteland that exists for some. I live this wary of alcoholism because I know the rampage it lays waste to in the very best lives. I live this openly because I know you have stories too.

Mary Oliver’s poem arrived in my lap today. This line speaks to me of memory and of what we learn from asking hard questions like these and making room for the answers, no matter how uncomfortable those might be.


believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,


~Mary Oliver


I believe in the value of real life.

I believe it is fragile and irrefutable.

I believe that we get to make different choices than our parents made and often, those choices are a result of our own hard work and willingness to heal.

I am thankful for taking this long look at my darker side. Thank you Todd Kashdan. (Click to tweet this if you like.)

Thankful for you letting yourself in for this long read.

My Quest mates have been brewing some brave posts.


Tania’s is here. Saundra’s is here. Ginny’s is here.

And Stan provides the soundtrack.



What about your dark side? I always appreciate your comments and sharing.




You can learn more about Quest 2015 here. Here is more about Todd Kashdan, who stopped me in my tracks with this prompt. And so glad he did!

A central figure in positive psychology, Todd Kashdan is author of The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why being your whole self – not just your good self – drives success and fulfillment (Hudson Street Press) with Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener as well as Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life (Harper Collins). He heads up the Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena at George Mason University and travels the globe to speak to business executives, organizations, schools, and health professionals. He also adores his two little girls.






Quest 2015 What are you willing to stop doing in 2015?

What are you willing to stop doing in 2015, in order to do the work you are called to do? #quest2015 xoxoS

A photo posted by Suzi Banks Baum (@suzibb) on

The Quest 2015 posts keep rolling.
Today, Friday, is a snowy cold day.
I have walked with a friend this morning and the idea of stopping habits of over-doing is so captivating.
Especially in this season of indulging.

How about you?
What could you stop, just today?
My friend Tania Pryputniewicz, one of our Out of the Mouths of Babes bloggers and a wonderful poet and teacher writes that her habit of worrying
over her loved ones is something she’d like to stop. Her full post about stopping is here.

I am going to experiment with worry today.
I will just notice when it creeps in, like a dog who has rolled in something schtinky, but wants to slip in and on to the couch without you noticing.
Just sit in its fetid fabulousity and sour the afternoon.

Oh worry.
I’d like to hose you down and see what you really look like under all that crusty stuff.
Maybe there is something of value under there?
What could that be?

How about you?
All my Friday love,



PS Please share this post with a friend. I bet you know a person or two who has a stinky worry lurking around the doorways. Thank you!

Heart leaps: Quest 2015 and a question

Winter laundry dries slowly


Today’s post continues with the Quest2015 project. It is a set of 12 days with 12 visionaries to imagine my best next 12 months as a business artist.  You can learn more about #Quest2015 here and join the free offering by Jeffrey Davis.

Or you can follow along my quest here on Laundry Line Divine. I will post the prompts and my responses here all month. I really enjoy your comments, emails and notes on social media.

Yes, it might be messy. Yes, it might be personal and vulnerable, and yes, I am brave enough to show you my work here on Laundry Line Divine.


Today’s prompt comes from Pam Houston, who is the beloved author of four books including novel Contents May Have Shifted (have you read this yet? please do!)  and the interconnected short stories Cowboys Are My Weakness. She is Professor of English at UC Davis, directs the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers, and teaches in The Pacific University low residency MFA program.


Sit quietly and ask yourself, what in the last day or week or month has made your heart leap up? Not what should, or might or always had, but what did. Make that list. Be honest, even if it surprises you. Keep the list with you this month. Add to it when it happens. Train yourself to notice. Then ask your self today, how can I arrange my life to get more of those heart leaps in it?

My Moon Girl

• When she calls my name
• When there is laughter
• When the popcorn I thought was for me alone, became three batches, one for the two teenaged girls and another my husband’s dinner
• Laundry gusting on the line
• Simple neat stitchings in wool, on silk, in old linen, on the dress I made for myself 21 years ago that I put on today
• The ice
• The owl
• The eagle
• The titmice
• The way he studies them now
• The way she wiped her nose on stage, as a man, in a Shakespearean coat
• The way he calls me just to hear my voice
• That would be me, connected to and in connection with people I love
• Being lost and found in this love, retrieval and permission
• Knowing that I should read page 140 today in three different books and finding a synchronicity, call it serendipity, of learning and insight.
• The promise of ice skating
• Remembering how much I love to ski, even though I am a terrible skier
• Falling asleep holding hands with my beloved
• Knitting, knitting, knitting and then seeing something more than the string, sticks and a plan take place
• Feeling a through line in my work, noticing, perhaps what others see but I am only just discovering and beginning, leapingly beginning to trust that this is my work, not something that will soon arrive when I am ready…. I am ready.
• Seeing my best friend for just a few minutes, but he has grown in to a man from the 18-year-old I met 33 years ago. Such a nice boy.
• Doing yoga…. rotated triangle, crow, plank, watching my palm open up above my head, watching my feet, yielding my heart, bowing to my beloved in class because he, after all these years, has started doing yoga

• Seeing my friend’s pottery, knowing him since he was 5, now, an artist.
• Candles
• Pine boughs
• Taking her to my red oak and sitting there with her
• Texts from my German kids, love notes, postcards, photos from Meine lieben Kinder.
• Old pages of handwriting
• Photographs of my mother
• Fervent comments from my readers on Laundry Line Divine
• My anthology in the hands of other readers
• All my journals lined up in a bag, ready for an exhibit
• Painting and packaging my Powder Keg Sessions painted prompt cards and preparing them to post and then going to the post office. Happy dances in the lobby of the post office.
• Terry Tempest Williams, John O’Donohue, Jeffrey Davis, Danielle LaPorte, Hafiz, Rumi, Debi Millman, Marilynne Robinson, Mary Gaitskill, Jane Hirschfield, Mandy Steward, Hilary Rain, Brené Brown, Tami Lynn Kent, Alice Orr, Tania Pryputniewicz, Alice Munro, Ruth Krauss, Sarah Ruhl, Adrienne Rich, P.K. Page, Natalie Goldberg, Flora Bowley…reading makes my heart leap because things happen between me and the page and the reality of my life. I gain understanding. This makes me leap all over the room, a gazelle of enthusiasm.
• Listening to my Powder Keg Sessions women read their work aloud.
• New women coming to the group.
• The embrace of a woman I taught last summer and the joy we shared
• Sitting in sacred circle with my Moon Circle exploring the deeper essence of gratitude
• Running downhill
• Acorn caps
• My oak and her skirt
• The copper beech up on the ridge
• Morning

How could I orchestrate my life to have more heart leaps?

Getting out of bed after just the right amount of sleep and socializing.
Speaking my truth even if it makes me quake.
Dreaming bigger and with more language about my work in the world.
Developing excellence with a complete willingness to fail, to be wrong, to wander, and to get lost.
Go outside.
Every single day.
Even when it is freezing and raining and gray…like it was this morning when I rescued the linen curtains that I left on the line from yesterday’s sun…. there is a crow. There are the titmice. There is the phlox leaning in to the messy garden, but I recall their perfume, their pinkness, and their tall strike of elegance on a September afternoon.
Going outside pretty much keeps most of those heart leaps leaping.
Being present with my family and friends.
Working in a way that supports my well-being and joy.
Staying connected…. to my long-time friends who see the difference and to my new friends, with whom I make a difference.

I woke this morning with three words in my heart.

Persistence?  Showing up to write daily.
Nudging projects along, however slowly they roll, rolling them.
Dedication? Being there to say good-bye and hello, good morning and yes, I cannot wait for you to come home from college, stirring soup, closing my door, lighting the candles…
finding solitude within the fray of family life and creating art from this captured territory this is where and who and what I am dedicated to.

Betty J. Burkes on the right, Jan Phillips in the center and me. These two women inspire me to be my fullest self, daily.
Betty J. Burkes on the right, Jan Phillips in the center and me. These two women inspire me to be my fullest self, daily.

My soul sister Betty sat next to me years ago as I nursed my daughter. Betty had just returned from work in Niger, as part of a United Nations project. She, peace activist and teacher, me, messy, chaos stuck to me like burrs to my ankles. I whined a bit and said, “Your work is so important.” She grabbed me with her words without disturbing the suckling, “The work you are doing right now is the most important work you can do right now.”

I am not sure she said ‘Right now” twice, but in recalling it, I feel the right now-ness of her words. Even today. After that, I quieted down. I settled in to motherhood, learned to live with the burrs, and grew more dedicated.

That baby is now 17 and drives herself to school.
The burrs teach me a lot.
And the heart leaps just keep on leaping.

This tiny video is better full screen. Hit the start arrow then click on full screen. It is only 19 seconds. Worth the clicks.

As part of the Quest2015 project, I have been reading some new blogs. These three have really made my heart leap. Ginny Taylor of Women of Wonder, whose work is to help women heal from the trauma of sexual abuse.

Stan Stewart’s improv poem this morning made my heart leap and urged me to create this list…imperfect as it may be in literary terms, it is more improv than anything. Thank you Stan.

And Julie Jordan Scott is a writer, poet, and teacher. This blog post caught me in another heart leap.

What about you?
What makes your heart leap?
How can you make choices that offer more heart leaps?



Powder Keg Sessions Painted Prompt Cards appear in the Art Journaler Community!

Here is another way to journal.
Teresa Robinson offers a subscription to writing and art prompts.
I am tickled that copies of my painted prompts will be dancing on to people’s pages across the planet!

If you’d like your own set of hand-painted prompt cards for your writing, art-making or conversation starting…or simply to grace the window sill above the sink,
go here. I am painting new sets daily.

xo S

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