Monday, March 29, 2010
So it turns out that not only is the house I grew up on the market, but of course there is a virtual tour of it on the internet. I looked at it, disoriented, trying to figure out which room they were in - this one darker than I recall, this one brighter; where would the porch be if this is the room I think it is?
The most disorienting of course was sheer decoration - as a friend stated on Facebook "Whoa. Back away from the stencils." Amazing how much of a house is what's done with the space - of course, I see the "positive" side of this all the time (Before and After pix of spaces are a favorite of mine) but I'm not used to seeing it "backwards" so to speak - this is the After and I am trying hard to backpedal into the Before. Only its not working, and that's a good thing.
Last night my mostly humorous confusion (no tears over this one, relief, actually, to see that time has, in fact, moved on in that home) manifested in the form of a dream taking place at my grandmother's house - the one I actually saw years after she died, when a young couple with two small kids accepted my story and let me in to see it. In the dream, my mother is alive and telling me how hard it was to deal with all of my grandmother's effects. There was a chair I had wanted badly and Mom got it wrong - got the wrong chair (now a scratching post in our living room) - and in the dream I couldn't find the chair and cried. Mom started to blame me - as she had done in real life - that I hadn't come to help, how could I expect her to get it right? - and I calmly responded that her anger was legitimate, but also she needed to see that I was 13 and missing two important people, too. We were able to reach some state of peace - true peace, sad and slightly angry, but without base aggression - and hold one another, if only for a moment.
We were interrupted in our hug by a knock at the door. A strange couple with a limo outside were looking to take my grandmother away - to a party, they said, but we knew it was to death - and suddenly her house became a maze. I kept pulling chunks of fuzz out of my mouth (this has been an odd theme lately in some of my dreams - that I cannot speak for endless gum or fabric or fuzz in my mouth, which I pull out but continues to clog my throat - and so couldn't tell them that I hadn't seen her, not in years, and thought she was already dead. We wandered through some ethereal version of her house, now made into a dream world expansion with empty corridors spanning across centuries of timelessness, me pulling out wads of fuzz and sticky substances, trying to hide them, throw them away, so no one would see me choking.
The cats woke me, meowing and batting at one another. I had to shake the fog of the dream off my face, check my mouth and throat for clear passage. The red finches and sparrows have returned, and they chirped at the windows. I gave thanks to my house, told my grandmother and mother both that I miss them, and meditated for 15 minutes, tempering to-do lists with my breath. Back to the present: writing, a hiking date for 1pm today, granola and yoghurt breakfast. Which is more mysterious, I wonder? This reality or that one? What's in my head or what is in front of my eyes? Maybe there's no hierarchy. Maybe they are all mystery productions.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
A couple of nights ago, I decided to drive by the house I grew up in. I was in the area, teaching the last of my Junior High creative writing program (through WCATY) and it was late - post-drink with a new friend, pre-hotel return. The times before back in the area are sometimes overloaded with emotion and I can't go anywhere near the north side of town. But this time, everything closed down but me, it was ok. I drifted along the streets, through blinking red lights, tracing the paths of 18 years of life, followed by a few mixed ones after - dating someone back in the home town, brother still living in parents' house after mom died - and it felt wonderfully stimulating (wish I could predict things like that! such good writing time) as opposed to traumatizing.
A block away I saw the for-sale sign on the house next door, then, as I got closer, yes, a for-sale at 1414, the house I grew up in. Without thinking, I took out my iPhone and entered the information for the realtor and sent it to myself, before I could judge anything. I knew I probably wouldn't call, that it, in fact, might be bad news to do so, but I did go back to see my grandmother's house years after she died, and it did resolve at least this feeling like her old place wasn't haunting me anymore.
When I am ready, it will be good to call on the new owners, whomever they are at that point, and walk through this house where I grew up. It had already changed around a lot before my brother sold it - totally re-done interior: wood floor where the green matted carpets used to be, exposed brick where plaster used to crack. Then, all of a sudden, it was sold.
Last night I had a dream along the lines of two kinds of dreams I've had about that house for many years. The first sort (not what I had last night) is more of a waking dream - lucid, lyrical - in which I think of "home" and what comes to mind is not the house I have owned for nearly 6 years, but *that* home, my childhood home. The two lay over each other in a strange, very dream-like way, sometimes as I sleep and often as I am awake. But what happened last night was the second sort - I dream of the house, of living in it, visiting it, and it is wholly different than could even physically happen. Once I dreamt a woman had turned it into a ballroom dancehall kind of place (the ceilings are stuck at a firm four-square frame house height of ten feet) and last night, that some incredibly hip and lovely loft-building couple had turned it into a place of total light and sparkly corners, completely altering it to its core. It was hard for me, in the dream, to be both happy for it and also sad to have lost the simple place I recall - often, now, in memory exercises where I make maps and lists of what was in every room. They told me they were trying to sell it for a million (Why would you fix it to your desires then sell it? I asked, and they had no reply) which wouldn't work for the location in my hometown the house is in.
But I loved it this way, too. I tried to take ideas and think of bringing them back here, to the home I actually own, the one I am in right now, writing. I couldn't shake this desire to buy that house - that new version of the old house - in toto. Maybe I wanted to freeze it from changing, or maybe I just loved that it was new and old, even as it was hard for me. I told them about my childhood neighbors and what I knew of the history of the neighborhood. They were delighted but also not committed to staying there.
Like me. You couldn't get me to move back there, not to that house, or that town. I don't hate it or find it a bad place - I think it's quite a good place, actually - but it's not my home. Madison is my home. Right?
I called Dylan and mentioned the For Sale sign, debated whether I would call the next day, whether I should tell the truth (I used to live here, saw it was for sale, and wanted to look but am not looking to buy it) or fake it. I don't think I could have faked it, and Dylan agreed, but also warned me that the truth might not get me in - it might with a current owner, but not with a realtor.
I didn't call. In the end, it was too messy emotionally and I was too tired. Instead, I went to Horicon Marsh on my way home, one of my favorite places on this whole earth. I found a new place to enter in and drove along a quiet road, listening to peepers and barking geese. Finding "home" out in the middle of the marsh, looking out over the flattened cattails and sharp blue waters really re-centered me in a way I am certain going to 1414 wouldn't have done. And by the time I did get *home* much later last night, I knew I was where I am supposed to be.
Waking this morning after the confusing dream, I fell into a fog for an hour or so. Where am I? What do I need? What is home? I opened up the images I took at Horicon - the place my subconscious directed me in the middle of my meanderings - and felt re-honed, re-centered, at home.
Wisconsin. Yes, both that home and this home - 1414 and Madison - are home. Horicon is also home. I am home all the time. I carry me with me all the time. The dream is the truth, and right now typing in bed is also truth - a much bigger truth than the stories of where, when - a truth that is also much simpler.
I am home for me, and all of my memories are fodder to keep the homefires burning, as are fantasies and now-moment realities. All my mysterious productions - plays on words, dramas of the mind - all of them point to the same thing, not contradicting things. I just had to back off enough to see what they were all pointing to in their chaos. Many thanks to Horicon for bringing that truth home to me.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Michael Amos Hall, my father, as Judge Hawthorne in the Crucible at MIT, 1955.
Today is the 20th anniversary of his death. He died when I was 12.
I don't remember when I picked up a copy of Born to Win: Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments by Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward. I know at some point, in Florida, early in my Miksang teaching days, a student asked me if Miksang is related to, or could be related to, Gestalt studies. I didn't honestly know what Gestalt was, other than a passing knowledge, so asked for more information. I became fascinated, but at the time just looked at what was on the internet, a mere cursory glance.
Then, somewhere in the intervening years of tons of therapy, ample Buddhist reading and psychology reading, and discussions with friends, Gestalt came up again. I went looking at Half Price Books or Avol's or Frugal Muse for what I could find of it, and Born to Win practically leapt off the shelf. I was quite turned off by the title (Ick, eh?) but it was only a dollar and when I looked inside, this other thing, Transactional Analysis, about which I also knew little, also looked really interesting.
The book was perfect timing and I devoured it. I was struggling with the critic inside that would make a fuss of the simplest messes. An example: coming home from doing errands, hungry, I would pass the last place of tasks (Ace Hardware, for instance) and a stern voice inside would say "Miriam, just one more thing to do. Go do it."
A child-like voice would respond "But I'm hungry and worn out. It can wait."
"But we're already here and it won't take but two seconds."
And so on and so forth, until I either went home guilty and did nothing else all day, or did the errand and let the judge "win," going home hungry and off-balance.
Neither way won, really. I could tell there were different voices, but it wasn't until the book and some work with both TA and Gestalt with my therapist at the time that I recognized the judge voice to be my father, years dead, in my head, and the little girl to be me, frozen when he died in some kind of freaked-out, nothing can change, but I feel awful here, place. Recognizing the voices hasn't entirely eliminated them, of course, but it sure has added space and compassion for both "characters" in me, and made for a lot less suffering.
Just recently I felt an impulse to go into some of the boxes in our attic - all boxes of ephemera, paper goods, from all parts of our family. Both my parents and all of my grandparents are dead, and we have all of their lives packed away in Banker's boxes upstairs. The weight finally got to me, so I poked around. The photo above, of my father acting as a judge, was one of the first I found. I didn't think much of it (other than, damn, he was a handsome devil) at the time, but today when I went to find this one (and others, scanned and posted at www.flickr.com/photos/herspiral) I was struck by his sternness. Even though I hadn't had this image in mind, it's clear that that ROLE is one he played a lot in my life, though certainly not the only one. I also remember him as kind and soft, and vulnerable and loving. But now I have a face for my critic, my judge, my un-budging constant companion who makes things too black-and-white, too concrete for reality. It feels good to see that this was (both literally and metaphorically) a role he played - for himself, and for me - and not HIM, entirely.
RIP daddy: the judge and the loving father, for the day. Every moment that I am alive and you are not, our relationship continues to build and burn and renew. Thank you for all you continue to do for me, wherever you are.
Friday, March 12, 2010
The verdict is in. Between massage, acupuncture and sickness in the last three weeks, it's become apparent to me that the upside-down lobed leaf shape of my lungs is actually the heart here in my body. The heart, more shaped like a tangle of weaving, must be doing something else, because my lungs are doing all of the feeling.
Last night, after a forum at the Overture Center on Miksang, a few of us went out for a drink at Nick's on State. A massage therapist was there, and a couple of the folks had gone to a talk the night before done by a neuroscientist who claimed, amongst other things, that we really are just a skin apart from each other, if that. Our energy is barely contained - hostile or helpful - and we can show this with brain scans for the non-believers who won't get anything out of seeing a psychic or getting Reiki done. The massage therapist mentioned how the body holds memories, how doing work on a person can literally release a memory from the body and one can "feel to heal" through having skillful massage done on them. Someone asked if everyone stores memories in the same places - all childhood trauma in place x, for instance - and she said no, but some trends (and I was thinking in my mind, like chakras) show up similar places - grief in the (no, don't say it) lungs, for instance.
I've known this for a long time. My very first acupuncturist at 19 told me that lungs were the center of grief in the body, since I would come to him again and again with respiratory problems. It often wasn't the sensation my heart breaking, but the clutter of so many losses filling my lungs with phlegm that would finally drive me to get help. My lungs would not lie, since the body does not lie, and even if I ignored the stories, the tears would - and still do - get stuck there, causing me to stop and rest and breathe through it.
A few weeks ago I went to New Mexico for a mega combination trip - two weekends of teaching Miksang in ABQ, one week in Taos with Natalie Goldberg (last of the intensive) and then a week of vacation with Dylan, passing from Taos to Santa Fe and back to ABQ to teach. I was very stressed upon departure - neck and shoulders, which are my pre-lung problem areas, very tense and locked up. I tried to get a massage in ABQ, but it fell through, then didn't schedule one until too late, so it wasn't until I'd been in New Mexico for over a week that someone finally broke up all the muscles (with a small contribution a couple of days before by a retretant friend) and tension. It turned out, as is often the case in Taos, that the masseuse is an energy worker, psychic and massage therapist, so she put all her senses to work, noting my feet were holding something back and that I am "strongly sensitive" (ah, yes). When she got to my lungs and chest, shoulders and neck, she said: "You have a lot of sadness in there," she ended, and she was right.
My body responded and let it all go, which she noted was wonderful but also likely to cause some post-massage messiness.
Did it ever. I spent all of the rest of the weekend, the end of the retreat, crying. By the time we got to Sunday night, the last night of the retreat, I felt feverish and stuffed. By Monday morning I was full-on sick; dizzy, coughing, sore throat and clogged sinuses. Dylan arrived that afternoon and I did my best to keep up with introducing him to everyone and entertaining, but by Tuesday I was totally worn. We did a modified version of the activities we had hoped to do in Taos, and as we went down the mountains into Santa Fe and ABQ, I limited my contribution to the trip to driving. No hiking, no supporting the local businesses or seeing all the art of Santa Fe. Just resting, crying, mourning the loss of my vacation and my inability to process the grief of the ending retreat because I was, ironically, sick. Sick in the lungs, by the next weekend, coughing so hard I woke with well-defined abs after the third night of being up hacking late.
Returning home, where my heart really is the most at ease, even with loving hosts in all three cities in New Mexico, has calmed a lot of the cough. After a week of sleeping a lot but also hurrying to catch up on things the cold left me behind on last week, I finally got to acupuncture today. Cupping and poking, essential oils and some herbs are already helping to thin the last of it and put me back into balance. When I mentioned to the acupuncturist that I have often had respiratory problems in my life, she smiled. "Sensitive people often do," she said, and that's when the image of my lungs being my heart came to mind. Lungs, the inside skin, the way the oxygen that eventually feeds the heart even enters. Lungs are the sleeves of our inner organs, our first defenses and most publicly reached inner place. I wear my heart on my sleeve; breathing in whatever hurts me and whatever helps me almost too easily. At least they are as much a benefit as a cold bug catching grief basket.