Saturday, October 26, 2013


London, Clapham Common, 2012

I have a thing about control. I am not surprised by this - I have known it to be true my whole life.
However, recently I have come to have somewhat of a more personal understanding of what people mean when they say that addiction, eating disorders and violent sexual acts are about control.

I have many students, a few of whom work with me in a very intimate memoir critique group. Some of those same students, and others not in the critique group, also meet with me personally one-on-one to get feedback and support for their writing. A lot of these meetings happen when I am on break between sessions of my weekly writing classes. It so happens that two of these independent meetings have been explicitly about control - meaning, the students themselves have used the word control repeatedly - though the personal memories they are writing about are completely different.

One woman was in an abusive marriage for over a decade. She still carries a lot of guilt and shame over it, which we talk about a little, but mostly, because I am a dharma arts teacher and not a therapist, we talk about how to work with that in the writing, and how to work with it when not writing but knowing she'll go back to writing about it. The second had anorexia for approximately the same amount of time. Both of them have been away from these situations for a long time, and yet, they are both just now turning around and trying to write about them. They are both shocked at how hard it is to write about, after years of therapy and reckoning.

But here's where I come in, as a human being. I kept hearing them talk about control: about how the abusive husband really was in control of what he did, but only saw her as being in control and fought back against her. About how the anorexic student knows increasingly that it wasn't about weight loss but about coping with a traumatic childhood by controlling the only thing she knew she could: her food and body.

I don't know that I have anything more profound to say than this, because right now I am just feeling the power of what this means to me. Having recently encountered, attempted, given up on but then more slowly, over time, integrated a series of books and ideas on mindful eating, I can see where I grasp onto any new view - but especially those that promise weight loss - and give in totally to it, give myself over to it, hoping it can control me or I can learn to control myself. Structure is always a challenge, because the part of me that wants control wrestles with the part that wants someone else or something else in control.

I recently had a dream - I won't go into here for sake of its intense grossness - in which, as a man sexually abusing a young girl (having been sexually abused as a young girl I was horrified to wake and realize I'd been the abuser in the dream) I could see how it was really, feel how it was really about control. I know from the addicts - including a sex addict - that I know that while one gives over control to the drug, if one's addiction involves controlling other human beings, there's a paradox there worthy of much reflection.

I am doing my best to face all this control and confusion about control with compassion. Gentleness is the enemy of control: too soft, too ambiguous, control says about it. And yet, the space of gentleness is exactly what is needed in the face of airless, tight-fisted deterministic behavior. I keep practicing. Encountering others who see the deep roots and handcuffs of control underneath their most shameful behaviors helps. Feeling myself the difference between when I am in (the delusion of) control and when I am not helps.

Above all, meditation helps. It is the place I have trained myself to drop my grasping, my gasping, my struggle, even if only for seconds at a time, and feel true liberation - from addiction, from abuse, from being caught in the drama triangle. Here I am reminded that these are all human struggles, and I can re-approach my life with curiosity, compassion and communication, in lieu of some semblance of control.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Big Love for Baldwin

James Baldwin is one of our household favorites. He is so clear, so precise, full of what in Sanskrit is called Prajna: sharp wisdom, clear-seeing and often painful clarity.

This is a quote from his essay "The Artist's Struggle for Integrity." Thanks to Whatsupsmiley for featuring it. 

"…But then one has got to understand—that is, I and all my tribe (I mean artists now)—that it is hard for me.  If I spend weeks and months avoiding my typewriter—and I do, sharpening pencils, trying to avoid going where I know I’ve got to go—then one has got to use this to learn humility.  After all, there is kind of a saving egotism too, a cruel and dangerous but also saving egotism, about the artist’s condition, which is this:  I know that if I survive it, when the tears have stopped flowing or when the blood had dried, when the storm has settled, I do have a typewriter that is my torment but is also my work.  If I can survive it, I can always go back there, and if I’ve not turned into a total liar, then I can use it and prepare myself in this way for the next inevitable and possibly fatal disaster.  But if I find that hard to do—and I have a weapon which most people don’t have—then one must understand how hard it is for almost anybody else to do it all…"

For her own thoughts about survival and prioritizing the creative process from recent Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro, please see my most recent Memoir Mind post...

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


NYC, 2011
Synonym discussion from Merriam Webster:
Ensure, insure, assure, secure mean to make a thing or person sure. ensure, insure, and assure are interchangeable in many contexts where they indicate the making certain or inevitable of an outcome, but ensure may imply a virtual guarantee ensured the safety of the refugees, while insure sometimes stresses the taking of necessary measures beforehand insure the success of the party, and assure distinctively implies the removal of doubt and suspense from a person's mind assure you that no harm will be done. secure implies action taken to guard against attack or loss secure their position.
While the noun "ensurance" does not exist, it's been in my head lately, as the idea that "insurance" should actually be "ensurance" or "assurance" rather than, or in addition to, being insurance.