Navigate / search

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.

xoS

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Yearning: Tell Me Yours & I Will Tell You Mine

Cups up at Bascom Lodge, Mount Greylock, MA

 

Velvet magenta maple against a golden oak.

Rain soaked leaves around the compost bin.

Nuthatch upside down on the feeder.

The clink of my husband’s spoon on his mid-morning oatmeal.

My fingers are chilly. I keep it cold in my morning writing space.

 

I am in the center of something I started in 2009.

from one of my first Laundry Line Divine posts...setting forth on an adventure to parts unknown
from one of my first Laundry Line Divine posts…setting forth on an adventure to parts unknown

 

In the nearly six years I have been blogging here on Laundry Line Divine, I have developed something I had no idea I was heading in to. When I started this website, I was writing in the few free hours I had between my responsibilities as a mother at home, as a gardening teacher and all the other ways I spent my hours.

My mother was in the middle of her descent in to Alzheimer’s disease.

I had just had a complete hysterectomy and thankfully, did not have any complications from all the unknowable horribles that lurked around my life that year.

 

I was simply a mother writing my experience.

I was attempting to build my author platform.

I was putting wheels under my work in the world.

I began experimenting with speaking up and out.

 

Since that time, my life has changed dramatically.

I am still a Mom.

I still work from home.

I am still researching how to speak my own truth.

 

But so much looks different.

I have developed a body of work around mothering and creativity.

I produce events for a local writing festival and teach at conferences.

I teach two different writing workshops locally and have led over 60 art and writing workshops in the last three years.

I have published an anthology of 36 women’s voices about the creative lives of mothers.

I have one son in college.

I have on daughter in high school.

I have one German exchange daughter in my home right now, and two others in Munich who call me their US Mom.

My own mother has been dead for four years this past October 10.

I am 56 years old.

 

And I am still filled with the same yearning that made me start to write in the first place. I didn’t set out to become a writer. I didn’t set out to teach. I just began taking my own writing seriously enough to budget time in my week for a little solitude. As I warmed to this practice, I noticed a longing within me that had been masked by the chaos of mothering. I sensed a yearning that is taking me years to describe. I began to feed it by offering myself small windows of time within my days at home to make something for the simple pleasure of making. I began, slowly, to let what I longed for- which was some sort of affirmation that this mothering path was the right one, that this work is enough, this relentless, challenging and joyful work is where I am supposed to be-to let that direct me, like a rudder. Rather than finding distraction from my mothering life, I began to see what I was doing as important enough to consider it sacred. This most ancient of responsibilities, being a mother, could, despite what our culture has told us for generations, be important and valuable.

In those early days of writing, I told stories of how I lived my days here in the Berkshires. I live in a small town surrounded by woods and farmland, in a county peppered with other small towns and people who work to run this community and sustain the systems that make this sort of life possible. I had lived in Manhattan for many years. I knew what that life was like. And I knew, in my heart, that raising our children outside a metropolitan area would allow me to spread out a little, not spend every waking hour in busyness and give us all space to be outside and to live slowly.

 

Benjamin and Suzi 1997

 

Slow became my mantra. Slow is not always my reality. But by being as slow as toddlers studying ants on the sidewalk, as slow as candle flame at 2 AM when I am awake with worry and hot milk, I found a new way of being.

I began to hear what I longed for. I was happy with the decision I’d made to stay at home to mother. I thought we’d have four children. I lived through several very sad miscarriages and a few years of trying to get pregnant again and again, before I arrived at this size of our family being enough. I could make my way with this crew and meet a few community needs without too much frantic living. I gardened with kids for many years. I learned new skills, studied yoga and taught. I carved a life of doing around my children’s needs. I knit. I made jam. And I hung my wash outside on a cotton rope.

Whites

But I could not shake the calamity of my heart. There was a voice within me that said, “really? This is it?” My own mother had been bored with being home-bound with children. Out of necessity and self-preservation, she taught for nearly all the years of our growing up. I was not bored so much as deflated by the reality that motherhood merited no real value in our culture but for keeping the kids out of traffic and getting food on the table. I could see how advertising and merchandising were designed to supply our every need, every style shift and every worry. But I found little that spoke to the soul of a woman who mothers.

This afternoon I walked near a house where a young family lives. The sky was gray, a cold fall wind made me draw my sweater collar up around my ears. The wool could not muffle the piercing cries of an infant I heard as I walked quietly by this small house. Instantly propelled to a similar afternoon of my own, I was standing by the sink with a red-faced inconsolable baby in my arms. I knew the gut dropping feeling of the mother of this squalling child. I knew the inch-march of the clock through a relentlessly tedious afternoon, where a nap is fruitless, dinner a puzzle, and no end is in sight. I knew how much, in those moments, I wanted to be mothered or at least accompanied or witnessed. The isolation of those moments, the shame-tide that rises around your ankles for not being a better mother, a wiser mother or at least a mother with better snacks on hand soaks in through your grimy sweatpants. It took only a few moments of that baby’s cries to bring me back to a time when any sense of living a productive life had halted and I was lonely, but never truly alone. I thought that since I enjoyed the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom that I had nothing to complain about. It should not be so hard, right? I am not putting on hose and heels and getting out to an office, right? History has not helped to ease entry in to mothering, with damning portraits of women chopping up their children or driving them in to lakes only to be countered with the lambs and rosebuds we stencil over the cozy cribs in upstairs bedrooms.

The conversation about parenting is changing. There is more writing and art in the world made by women who are comfortable stating that they are mothers. There are many more ways today, that mothering is seen as a choice, as a lifestyle and as something to be planned for and perhaps even supported by our corporate structures.

Reality is life-blown-open-and-apart, no matter what your situation- whether you have a natural childbirth or a C-section, whether you grind your baby’s food, nurse on the subway or let the nanny make those decisions- your life is unalterably altered when you become a mother. I wanted to know if it was possible to express this, to talk about what gives me comfort, what inspires me and what leads me. I found myself rather alone in this quest. I didn’t feel endorsed to talk about myself. There was lots of discussion and whining on the web, there still is, about the drudgery of teething or the 10 best things your child has taught you. This is good, it is a start, but it does not satisfy my soul.

One of my mentors told me to write what I most wanted to read. What I needed to read. Mary Oliver wrote in Wild Geese, “tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” Your sorrow and your joys, what sustains you and what clears your mind, I want to know those things. And I think that writing about mine may give you some comfort. Having a small bead on creating this small person, this house for a soul, I wondered if there was something more than practical about the ordinary acts of mothering. I wanted to know I was not alone in yearning for something more, for a deeper connection with Spirit/God/the Universe and with other women. Feeling isolated and ashamed while living in a community kept me alert to what was missing in my life. How could I be lonely? I was always in the company of at least 3 other people and many times, more.

Catherine and Suzi 1999

I have always lived with my creativity active. It is my natural state. My life force is as a maker and I fit my making to the times. Whether I am baking intricate birthday cakes or running the Parent’s Association, knitting for babies in need or building books, I find a way to make and engage through that making. This life force has buoyed me through the worst of times. It has also given me a strength and ability to do things I never dreamed of doing. And I am convinced that supporting women in engaging their creative voices will allow them to discover tools to improve their own lives and the lives of their families.

So my original yearning to find the sacred in mothering and the dovetailing desire to express from inside mothering has provided me with work that keeps me very busy. But it also has pressed me to be accurate in how I behave, to hold my integrity foremost and to be honest about where my priorities are. My children are now 16 and 20. The demands on my time are different now and I have an opportunity to complete sentences, thoughts and projects. I am more able to find ways for my work to be in the world.

This, for me, is a revolution, a huge change from the way things have been for me. Prior to becoming a mother, I pursued a career in theatre, never quite making it, always the one not cast, called back again and again, but not cast. My creativity was fully served by my career as a seamstress, which developed in to couture work, thus my making muscles were engaged, although my heart wasn’t.

And it was my heart that demanded attention.

Engaging my creativity in the service on my own voice was something that I had never done. In the midst of mothering, I discovered I had something to say.

Now, I teach others to do the same thing. I see the ways joy enters lives that were cluttered with sorrow and shame. I see the ways creativity enlivens and expands the horizons of women who thought they’d have to wait decades before they had a chance to speak or work on their own.

Since 2009, “seeing and celebrating the sacred in daily life” has been my mission.

Finding the divine in my ordinary existence- the church of now, discovering a sense of belonging within myself and with other women who express from inside mothering, of discovering my effort is important and worthwhile for the world and not just three people, these are the riches I have gained by pressing in to my creative expression.

Taped to the cover of the spiral bound notebook that was my journal in the months of March to May 2003, is a copy of Judyth Hill’s Wage Peace. Written in response to 9/11, her poem set something in motion with in me. Judyth presented the possibility that a way of being could promote peace. I was home with two young children when the World Trade Center bombings occurred. I did not feel capable of joining teams of volunteers cleaning up rubble or comforting the grieving. I had my hands full. The loss was so great and I felt so small. I carried her poem around with me as a talisman of hope.

 

Wage peace with your listening:

hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools:

flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

 

Clothespins?

Flower seeds?

Clean rivers?

Surely, she had written this poem for me.

I was sure she was telling me that being a mother is enough.

I know she was right. I just had to wake up to that myself.

 

Next week, I will be away at a writing retreat. I see myself posting from there. As I prepare to leave, I will be dwelling in the heart of my yearning. I would love to hear about yours.

 

Please comment here or send me an email.

I love hearing from you.

Even if you differ from my point of view, hearing yours is a joy to me.

I appreciate your time reading me here.

 

 

With love, S

 

 

This Untrimmable Light

 

John O’Donohue says, “Light is the great priestess of landscape.”

 

Today is the second talk of our Giving Motherhood a Voice book tour.
We are in my homeland of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
My sister, classmates, neighbors; college pals, teachers and new friends are in the audiences.
The authors from An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, Kathy Drue of L’Anse, Michigan and Monica Devine of Eagle River, Alaska are joined by Terri L.Bocklund of Sykesville, MD here in Marquette today at 2 and tomorrow in Ishpeming at 6:30.

 

To describe the joy of doing these talks in this place would take more words and time than I have here today. Last night, in Escanaba, Terri described the genius loci of Lake Superior, the great vast “sweet sea” as the first French explorers called this place. Genius loci is the protective spirit of a place. While Lake Superior and this wild remote land can be harsh, offering winter winds that battle with all that is man made, there is also a densely beautiful grace to this location. Just this morning, cedar and birch, a Bald Eagle, 3 crows sitting close on a branch and a gaggle of turkeys greeted us.

Mary Oliver’s poem, Mindful, will say for me, what I cannot yet say.

Thank you for all your good wishes for us here.
I am off to put on my party clothes and get ready to talk.

Mindful

by Mary Oliver

Everyday
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

“Mindful” by Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early. © Beacon Press, 2005.

Listen to Mary Oliver’s read here.

Find John O’Donohue’s book here.

 

Find me at the Peter White Library.

Best,

 

S

 

Happy New Year. I have my nose in a few books…


Composing My 2014

 

At this time of year, I am deep in reflection and recalibration.

I pour over my journals and blog posts to read my tracks and notice,

what made me so happy this year?
who had an impact on my daily life?
what moves really made a difference in my life?

I spend time reading the books that make up my daily routine.
Rumi, Mary Oliver, Mirabai Starr, Jen Louden, Christian McEwen…

How about you?
What have you noticed about this past year?
What really lit you up?
Who inspired you?
While you are here on Laundry Line Divine, what posts do you recall that stayed with you?

As I tune my inner life for playing full out in 2014, I hear two words:

Burn

Instigate

 

 

Morning UP

 

 

Lissa Rankin urges us to pick a word of the year, but, I cannot just pick one.

Burn, to me, is as Rumi suggests,

A Just-Finishing Candle

A candle is made to become entirely flame.
In that annihilating moment
it has no shadow.

It is nothing but a tongue of light
describing a refuge.

Look at this
just-finishing candle stub
as someone who is finally safe
from virtue and vice,

the pride and the shame
we claim from those.

~Rumi

I am looking to become entirely flame.
I desire to release, burn off all that no longer serves me.
I desire to be full of the light of the Divine.
I want to flame from within and light the way.

Instigate?

This is harder to discern.
I am a team player. I love and live in Sisterhood and
dearly love my men, my Tribe, many of whom I have played with this past week
on various and wonderful adventures.

 

Eclairs

 

 

Instigate?

Could this be about Rampant Sisterhood?
I am teaching a workshop in finding and engaging your authentic voice online on January 13-14.
If you are in the Berkshires or near, here is a link to the event.

Til I complete the big honking post of my 2013 Appreciations,
I leave you with this question:

What ignites you?
How can you kindle your own inner flames?
Have any posts on Laundry Line Divine helped you particularly?

Standing in your light, ablaze with your beauty,

Suzi

%d bloggers like this: