Saturday, May 30, 2015

on being "seen" part two

I've written a little about some of these topics before but it's my blog so I get to repeat myself as often as I like.

Part of the experience of being bullied is creating a defense system. Some people do it by becoming bullies--you can't get picked on if you are doing the picking. Some find other ways. Bottomline, as children, without the help of wiser people, you are going to come up with systems that don't cut it over time.

You will bring your old, deficient defenses with you into adult life completely unaware they are deficient. When situations arise that resonate with who you were at age 8 or 10, you will trot out your old remedies and defenses and find them strangely lacking.

My old remedy was to lean against my creative talents. As a child I was very productive and skillful when it came to art. I received lots of praise from adults and sometimes from my peers, so even though I was terrified of being chased home by gangs of angry girls or cruel boys on dirt bikes or accosted in the hallway by some skeevy kid with bad skin, I had art as a refuge.

My creativity held me up for a long time. At least it did until the time that I wanted to take my art into a bigger arena. I quickly discovered that there were people who wouldn't like my stuff. Also, that I wasn't as skilled as others.

It devastated me. I was completely unprepared for my coping mechanism to come up short.

My lack of awareness, finding out that I was vulnerable in the one area I thought I was bullet proof, caused me to run away.

My life existed in two parts--the part of me that got all my self worth from being good at something and the other part of me that was broken, denigrated and deeply hidden.

But I didn't know that I was operating like that. And out of that I created a life of shielding and avoidance.

For years I lived looking over my shoulder, watching for the people who would sense my vulnerability and rip me to shreds. It became harder and harder to share the things I was interested in because of excessive concern over criticism.

The list of things I said "no" to was ridiculously long. Teaching or any career where I would need to control a room or deal with unruliness was absolutely off the list of possibilities.

Instead of dealing with people, I developing skill after skill so there would always be something I could hold up to protect the broken bird living in my heart.

But because I could never be perfect in any of my pursuits, eventually those things became new ways for my broken bird to be rebroken.

I ran for years until I recognized I couldn't "skill" myself into safety.

Eventually, the broken bird must be seen for what she is to be healed.

And it is hard. Because with it comes acknowledging that someone else saw you as less than...a person ok to harm. And for me came the double shame of lacking the resilience to stand up to the rigors of a critical world and therefore never being able to take creative risks.

There is a word that comes to mind for someone lacks resilience and that can be harmed.  That word is "weak".

With such a mindset, it's a wonder that the broken bird can ever see the light of day.

As I've said before, I feel a certain safety in writing. As I imagine you, my readers, you are infinitely kind and empathetic. I imagine you've been there. That you have a broken bird too.

The illusion of that safety allows me to write and start the process of being seen. Of giving my broken bird heart light and oxygen.

In seeking and finding others to witness, to bring compassion, to hold space, to seen and be seen--by and by, the broken bird is healed.

The world is not a perfectly safe place. People will not love you automatically. They also will not universally embrace your brokenness.

There are plenty of scenarios in my daily life where I don't feel safe--but I don't avoid them anymore.

I'm more ok with not being perfectly defended--with being vulnerable. I don't need my list of accomplishments to protect me as much. I'm less perfect today than I have ever been.

But I have a better sense of where I can bring my broken bird out into the light. And I do.

Monday, May 18, 2015

In Praise of the Shy, the Quiet, the Introvert

The ones that don't want to fight
but who are endlessly engaged and powered
by our own bubbles

for we are the ones exhorted to "put ourselves out there"
and "be seen"
 in a world ravenous for entertainment and stimulation

we are not here as your puppet show
or random curiosity

like some undiscovered life form
remote from all sight
in some undiscovered rainforest

we don't want to be discovered
lest we be consumed

(you wonder that we even exist)

we will not be consigned to a museum
where we can live in the stasis of your gaze

deep space stars blaze and burn on
ignorant of the limits of your perception

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Mom--it's Mother's Day

I mention Mom from time to time in this blog but I've never really gone into her story. In some ways I think that telling my Mom's story will be one of the great works of my life because of the slice of history she inhabited.

I started to write a little of Mom's story today but it's way too much to go into in a blog post.

I wrote in my Mother's Day card how everything I have in my life could be linked back to something she either taught me, did for me or gave me and that I give thanks for her daily.

The Super Hero as a young woman.
She smiled at this and then out of the blue said "you know what you really owe your life too?"



If the Allied forces hadn't pushed back Nazi occupation, my Mother would never have met my Father (an American GI) while she waited in the snow for the streetcar that was supposed to take her to her job at the American hospital.

When Mom talks about her young life it sounds adventurous and dramatic--a series of clear, happy images interspersed with genuinely terrifying events. Now that I think of it, it reminds me a little of the story of Candide.

Despite the fact that she lived in such a turbulent, dangerous time under such threatening circumstances, she speaks of most of her life during the war with great fondness.

Honestly, I think it was far more difficult for Mom to be an Army wife in the United States with three kids than it was to deal with Nazis occupying her home town or being shipped off to Germany to do forced labor. But, she managed to do both.

And then I came along.

I don't think having another child at age 43 was what Mom had in mind. After years of my father being away in the service, moving multiple times and raising my siblings I think Mom would have enjoyed being in one place with my Dad retired from the service to enjoy something other than child rearing.

Victory wasn't my benefactor. My Mom's decision to marry my Dad and follow that path was my benefactor. And perhaps the fact that Mom couldn't return to Belarus (repatriated prisoners were being consigned to forced labor to rebuild ware destroyed Russia) was also my benefactor.

Those doors closed and forced another door open for Mom.

And through that door was a domestic life in a country she didn't understand and that didn't understand her.
The Super Hero, the author and brunch.

But she walked through anyway and picked up little infant me on the other side.

As I strive to understand Mom I start to see life a little through her lens. By comparison, I was raised with a ridiculous amount of privilege and access and security.

Here is the real question I'll leave you with. How do you look back on a life that includes being interrogated by Nazis and dodging gun fire and be able to focus primarily on fond, happy memories?

Answer that, and you have the key to a happy, free life.

So Mom, thanks for all the decisions you made that made me.

Thanks for being in the right place at the right time.

Thanks for believing in music lessons and education and books.

Thanks for letting me do my own thing but being clear about boundaries.

Thanks for letting me fail and figure it out on my own.

Thanks for supporting my eccentric pursuits.

Thanks for loving Keri.

Thanks for being so fiercely yourself.

Thanks Mom. Just thanks.

Monday, May 4, 2015

On being "seen"

I started this essay about being seen a week ago after attending a conference with my peers.

The one way I have tried to be "seen" in the world is through writing. By writing myself out I transform into a less dimensional person--I show what I can bear to be seen.

There is so much people don't get to see.

One thing they say about introverts is that we are energetically renewed by time alone and depleted by dealing with crowds (crowds for me start at about +5 people). Part of this energy depletion is caused by overstimulation (having to parse so much simultaneously) but I realize for me that a far larger part of that is defensiveness--not knowing who or what in a crowd is safe for me emotionally.

I'm still dealing with grief (oh that you say?). Yes, that.

When Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband on Friday night I wish I could have been there to say to her personally that she doesn't have to be strong or inspire anyone right now. With all her power and influence, she still needs the space to fall apart.

I wish that for her with all my strength. I wish it for myself as well.

I hate having people catch me in an unguarded moment experiencing my grief. I hate it with a white hot passion. But because it shows up uninvited I don't have a lot of choice around it. I just roll with it.

I hate having people see my real frustration with things that don't frustrate them. I usually keep those things to myself. When I don't however, I get to hear from people exercising their smart muscles about what a grump I am for letting little things bother me.

I hate having people see that there are so many areas in my life where I am incompetent. The unasked for advice and feedback masked as concern bugs the shit out of me.

I hate having people see my anger. I have it and I'm told I am wrong for having it--it makes people uncomfortable.

Because of these things I have over the decades of my life cultivated a broken self sufficiency--a kind of DIY lifestyle that covered my heart. I could go to my corner, deal with what is broken alone (much of my internal life is duct taped together), and stay silent on those things that disturb me--from the trivial to the global.

But that all started to crack apart when Steve took his life. I needed to be seen. I needed people to know how broken I was (am). I couldn't pretend that I could bear it all and be so strong. I was falling apart on many levels (I still am).

There is risk in showing that. People have opinions, draw conclusions, and project themselves--many times speaking with good intention and flawed execution.

The human compulsion to opine on and insert themselves into things both sensitive and deeply personal to another--part of their own desire to exist, to be seen--it's just out there.

But taking this risk of being seen is how we build a tribe. We show ourselves little by little and see who shows up with their hearing ears on and speaking mouth closed. The ones who see us--not their own reflection speaking back. These are the safe ones. The ones who can see the grief, the failure, the discontent, the disappointment, and even the anger. They are not battered or bothered by it. They don't need to fix it or advise it away. They have been there.

Because of it, I am finding my tribe--person by person. People who can sit in silence with me. People who offer presence and companionship. People who bring their whole selves and who can bear to be seen by me too.

I have a heightened appreciation for these people and seek them out.

Even as this first year of grief is passing, I find my feelings changing but not dulling or dimming. I need to feel all my feelings. I need people who can hold this space with me.