Friday, March 28, 2008

Paris in the springtime

Doesn't that sound just fabulous? Paris in the springtime sounded like a dream to me ten years ago. I had a one-year old daughter, and hadn't spent as much time mothering her as I had dreamed of doing, and I had been working on a weekly STAR TREK magazine for over a year and a half without a break. Even when I had my daughter, after 36 hours of labor at home, I was working on that damned magazine 12 hours later. It was a relentless job of constant maintenance. When I took it on I hadn't realized that there would never ever be a break, but I was well-compensated, and my husband had the opportunity to do some commercial directing work for the owners of the magazine. All he had to do was put together a credible script and budget...

So, we planned our trip based on the idea that the money from his directing would pay for the trip since we had to go to London to meet with them. Then as long as we were in London, why not also go to Paris since I had a magazine client to meet with there as well. And, since we were both going to have to work, why not take my mother along to help with our daughter? This all seemed like such a good plan at the time. It would be partially written off for business, and finally I'd get to see the left bank for real!

Of course, the husband completely misread the bosses and created a Hollywood-style budget to beat the band with every bell and whistle included. The commercial was merely $260K over the budget they had envisioned, and they canned him. Our tickets were already paid for though, and I had meetings set up in London with Paramount folks, and in Paris with magazine folks, and so we went on my dime. Couldn't pay taxes now, but what could be done. Husband promised he'd find a way to repay me.

Those were the days when you could bring lots of wrapped items onto carry on, so in the weeks preceding our trip I prepared for traveling with a 14-month old by buying umpteen little gifts for her to unwrap all the way to London. I can't imagine how people travel with young ones today. We sat four across the middle of the plane. Our little girl was so well-behaved and cheerful people got off the plane telling us that we'd changed their minds about having children. I nursed her through the take-offs and landings so her little ears wouldn't hurt her, and we landed in London in the middle of the afternoon to snow falling over the city.

We stayed in a flat in Bellsize, and it was really perfect with a washer/dryer and things we needed like TV to help divert her when I was on the phone working. I worked and met and worked and met, and my mother, my daughter and my husband toured London, my favorite city. I had been there four years earlier and gave them a good list of things to do. I did manage a trip to Covent Gardens, and the bosses took us to Portabello Road, and then also had us out to their country house near Oxford for High Tea. It was beautiful, brisk springtime with lots of green, and that's all I remember about it because I was either nursing or I was working.

So, then we took the Chunnel to Paris which was really cool. We got to our flat in the Mareille, and it was every bit the artist's garret that's been described in every book about being a starving artist in Paris. The husband, my daughter and I slept on a fold out futon that sloped to one side, and my mother slept in the bedroom. I got not a wink of sleep for a week, and subsisted on coffee and pan au chocolat. Of course, this is what my little girl subsisted on too as I was nursing her. So you can imagine how restful it was.

I had my meetings with publishers, and then my husband and my mother decided we had to visit museums in order to experience Paris. So in my exhaustion we went to the Louvre, the museums of Rodin and his lover Camille, the Sacre-Cour (sp?) and on and on, walking and walking. There was dog poop everywhere so my daughter had to be carried and it was just when she wanted to walk. All I wanted to do was go to little book shops and sit and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes in outdoor cafes. I was so tired! I was really on the verge of collapse when my mother finally decided to take Be for the evening while the husband and I went out. Of course, we had to go on the most expensive cruise up the Rhine (is that the river there?), and of course, I paid. We have a photo of us that my daughter keeps in which we look so happy. Well I drank a lot. Still my mother and husband were furious and united against me that I was a sour-puss and didn't want to have fun, and they abused my good will completely to the point where I was considering getting on a plane with Beatrix myself and leaving them to enjoy the stupid museums.

The husband's solution to my exhaustion was to have us meet some professor friends of his parents and then he decided we should take them up on their offer to stay at their country house in the mountains south of Lyons for an extra week away. Which I paid for. I was the FedEx commercial of the little truck finding us at the edge of society, as we stayed at "Les Iris" with me working on the STAR TREK magazine while he went for hikes in the mountains. My mother moped at being away from "culture". My daughter played amongst the irises when it was warm enough. I read endless STAR TREK galleys.

My favorite place on that trip was Annecy. What a beautiful, clean place, where my now 15-month old said her first word -- nur -- for nursing. The canals, the mountain, the lake! We stayed only a day there, in a modern hotel, but it seemed like such a relief for some reason. Perhaps it was the weekend and I had no FedEx's left, and I finally could have a day to sight see and my mother and my husband had never been there before and didn't feel they had to boss me around.

Someday I want to go back to Europe and just see it and have my own way with the place.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Jewish...but not

On Easter, I always find it most confusing to be half-Jewish. It is the least believable of all the Christ tales, and of course the most significant to being able to call oneself, "Christian". I really love that TV movie, "Jesus of Nazareth." I believe it totally, as much as I believe in Mary Poppins and the Wicked Witch of the West and the love of Rhett and Scarlet. I love the music of "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar." These depictions move me to utter belief in that reality.

As I've matured though, and explored the deeply held faiths of other cultures, and even delved haphazardly in the Jewish faith of my own family, I slam into the inner skeptic. I find myself making excuses for a belief held in Christianity that seems really now much more like a flimsy remake of some good original material. I read of Mithra, and Serapes Bay, and even of Amenhotep, and I have to wonder. I read of the Goddesses Ishtar, Inana, and Ashara and wonder how Eostar, the birth of the star, the fertility rights of Spring Equinox got so confused.

It begins to feel like Christianity is no more than a crazy game of "grapevine," where we've whispered secrets so long that the original message is lost and garbled into a funny story that should make us all laugh. That we've crusaded, crushed kingdoms, burned women over it, of course, removes the laughter quite completely.

Still I love the music, "Oh happy day! Oh Haaaappy Daaa-ay! When Jesus washed my sins away! Oh Happy Day!"

The simple beauty of a man, revealed as the true nature of God, dying in a terrible injustice and rising from this death to declare his eternal love for humanity humbles the storyteller in me. I really love that this man's story tells us that he's Jewish, deeply enmeshed in the lineage of his Jewishness, the sons of David, a Prince and Ruler in Israel.

I can relate to that "Jewish, but not..." aspect so personally. I come from a proud disenfranchised, barely-believing Jewish family. Lately, I've become aware of how much I missed out on because I was never taught much about my Jewishness other than the food, a few words in Yiddish, and some local glory in Denver's past. I have found myself wondering and wondering about why my grandparents walked away, why they never taught me anything. Was it because they no longer believed, really? That's the claim. I wonder though if they didn't teach me because to them I wasn't really Jewish, since my mother is a Christian.

My grandmother, who I called, "Mamaw" used to say to me, "I'm sure that Jesus was a very nice man." That phrase probably has influenced my faith more than any other statement that was ever uttered to me. Did she know? Did she know that I would never ever be able to invest myself in the "Godliness" of Jesus the man? She, the girl who never missed a Sunday school Hebrew lesson growing up? She was no dummy.

Neither was my "Papaw" who took us for a picnic on the holiest day of the Jewish year -- Yom Kippur. I find myself wondering, Why that day? Why a picnic? Why always a painting and a walk in the woods? Was it really about irreverence? Thumbing his nose at the Rabbi's, who'd demanded he, the son of the Temple's founders, come up with the money for a pew, for the High Holidays, or not come at all during the height of the Depression? Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, of at-one-ment, my only Jewish holiday, expressed in such a backwards, strange way. Yet, no day of the year was more important to me during my childhood, not Christmas, not Easter. There was no day that felt MORE reverent than the day I got out of school to spend time with my family in the woods.

I mourn my confusion only because I have done such a piss poor job at creating moments of quiet reverence, or phrases of truth for my children. They are materialistic and hate anything that smacks of ritual. My daughter's skeptic is huge, much huger than mine, and I can see she rejects my wonder and hopes that she see through the easy explanations, and my son just doubts a lot. I have given them too much information, if anything, instead of too little.

What happened to Christ the Jew? It wasn't until 300 years after his death that Christianity was anything other than a sect of Judaism. Was he God? No, not to to me, anymore at least than I am God. That's another blog. He was a Jew. He was an adept, highly studied and educated, perhaps beyond the bounds of his Jewishness. Perhaps, he traveled and learned of the Hindi, the Zoroastrians, the Buddhists and brought new ideas into Judaism. Perhaps, he did die and live again, but all in all, I'm sure what it boils down to is this, "I'm sure he was a very nice man." That is as far as I can go. Happy Spring Equinox!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

what's most important

The point is that for years the most important thing to me was to be married and prove that anyone could love anyone. I believed with all my heart that my ex-husband would one day appreciate, cherish and love me. He said he loved me, but the proof for me had to be acceptance and non-violence. It's not that I am the easiest person in the world always, but I believed that love could find a way to accept me basically as I am without having to define me, label me, or make me behave differently. My ex-husband used to call me, "My ever-changing Amanda." That was the moment I felt he loved me the most, that was the closest he came to accepting that I am what I am. I wonder if I am somehow insufficient myself because I could not love him when he would not stop pushing me around and calling me names and always having to have everything his way. I mean we see movies all the time where there is this acceptance of abuse as part of the relationship. I couldn't love it.

Yet, I still suffer so much because I love many other parts of him. I love him wrongly though. I love him more as a mother loves a son than as a woman loves a man. That has always been true I suppose. I never could see him as a true partner because he just never was. I know this is true because I'm now experiencing what it is like to have someone who loves me as a man loves a woman, and how it is to love as a woman loves a man, and I can say that this was not the experience of my marriage. Acceptance is the biggest part of this. There is no need for apology because mistakes are part of the bargain.

It was suggested by my daily astrology somewhere today that I should list out what is most important to me so that I wouldn't be distracted by task-givers. I thought I might record those things here because it gets down to the real point. I get really distracted by enjoyables and things to do, I find, and it takes me a while to get to the real point.

What is most important:
  • My kids' well-being (food and shelter, emotional and psychological and physical health)
  • My own well-being (ditto)
  • Expressing my true gifts (as a writer and teacher, dancer of life)
  • Doing my duty, working (in service of humanity)
  • Kindness and love (true relationships)
  • Being competent (fulfilling my promises, establishing stability)
  • Continued faith in goodness (in spite of outward appearances)
  • Beauty (natural and hand-made)
  • Studying the Masters (gaining wisdom)
  • Peace (within and without)

I'm not sure how to bring all of this to bear in my life sometimes because I spend so much mental energy grappling with how much off base I was in my former existence. It is truly crossing the abyss on a thread of hope.

Monday, March 17, 2008

nervous exhaustion

I may finally be succumbing to nervous exhaustion. I haven't slept well in over two weeks. Horrors. When I think of what people around the world -- in Darfur, in Iraq, in Israel and Palestine, in Sudan and in Tibet have to put up with, I think I'm a pretty sorry excuse for evolvement. Nevertheless, I can't seem to sleep more than a few hours. My head hurts a lot of the time, and I'm finding it hard to be with people.

I know intellectually it seems like a good time to go to a Doctor, but I'm uninsured and have just spent all of my extra money proving to my kids that they're loved and that they will have nice things on their birthdays and that life is not all so bad. Har. A few points here are a stretch for me right now. I feel dishonest about the stuff, the experience of their birthday celebrations. They looked pretty pumped up but I couldn't have done it without the help of my lover.

Why can't I be small? Why can't I be a streamers and balloons taped to the wall kind of mother? I simply cannot make do with less and thus am driven to work three jobs to pay for things like birthdays they'll remember. I asked my son if he'd remember this birthday, his seventh, and he actually laughed, and said, "Yeah, right mom. I'll be like 100 years old and think, 'I remember that sleepover I had at my Dad's with Ariel, (his friend) and who were those other people, I wonder.'" God he's brilliant. I could have cried. I just about killed myself, my lover, and 12 little kids to make this birthday a bash for him, and he's so brilliant, already. Can I please remember this next year? Please, please, please...

The problem is that I remember my 7th birthday, my 6th, my 5th, etc. I have this memory that won't let go of anything. I'm like a safety deposit box. Put in memory, and it stays forever. I have to REMEMBER that not everyone, not most people, remember things like I do.

This is one thing that saved me during my marriage, however, because my ex-husband is such a revisionist. He simply doesn't remember hurting me that badly, and paints a convincing picture that my perception was wrong. Though because I remember everything with such detail, it never sent me into complete oblivion.

He got this talent from his mother who doesn't remember, now, for instance, that she was so frightened by her son's anger she was prepared to call the police if he ever came over to her house again. She was able to completely revise that memory so that it never happened and she now believes he is an angel. This would make someone with an average memory feel loony, but for me it just illustrated what a bunch of liars was his family.

Now, to write this in such a public forum actually makes me feel guilty and panicked about being discovered, but that's another blog for another night.

Well, I'm sleepy. Let's see if I can make it through 6 hours tonight....

Sunday, March 9, 2008

facing demons

But I don't believe in demons! Now after a week of restlessness, I have to admit that maybe I must incrementally, at least, open the door to the fact that I have demons and they need to be turned into angels.

My lover says it is different for everyone, facing demons. He says that every demon demands attention until there is no ignoring them. Some demons resolve themselves overnight, and others may take months or years.

I have to admit also that seeing my erupting feelings about the state of my life as demons feels very visceral. I kind of confuse the mental image of these demons with the little statues that protect churches -- gargoyles? My anthropomorphizing of too big emotions may be a way to belittle them again. If I don't have to take the image of the demon very seriously then I don't have to take the feelings very seriously...hmmmm.

My demons have been waking me up lately at 3 in the morning. They've been squeezing my chest so tightly that I can scarcely breath sometimes. They pull on my legs as if I'm on a rack, or make me feel that my brain is actually filthy and wouldn't it be nice if I could run cool water through my head until it runs clear again. No amount of stretching or breathing seems to slow down my heart rate once it gets going, and I think I'm actually having panic attacks in my sleep.

It's probably post-traumatic stress syndrome, but what are you going to do about that? I mean my adrenals were shot years ago. I used to see an acupuncturist who could not account for my shot adrenals, and we would wonder over this amazing phenom as if I was this perfectly normal person who happened to have shot adrenals. Do you think it was maybe because I lived in a state of flight or fight? Hmmmm.

The biggest demon is probably the one called "Justice". I really don't get this one and it is Justice that turns me into a weeping fool, a two-year old wanting what I want, and he ignores me completely. Another one is "Survival" and she holds hands with Justice and winks. Then there is "Must" who bosses me around endlessly. There's "Shame" who acts like an iron anchor sinking into a cold and endless ocean of emotion. There's "Can't," and she pronounces her name with a distinctive southern accent from somewhere in my primordial ancestry. "Grief" is a puppy, nippy and yappy and peeing and pooping all over everything I care about. Those are all that I can face tonight.

It's the best I can do, so please let me sleep.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Geez, what an idiot

It is challenging to read the previous post without thinking, "Geez, I must be the biggest idiot."

Yes, I stayed in a cycle of domestic violence well past the expiration date. I understand I should never have married the man based on the fact that he choked me over a bathroom sink even before we were engaged. I get that, I really do. So, what compelled me to stay after he slammed me to the ground on a camping trip in Dinosaur National Monument, leaving a handprint on my face that he asked me to explain as a hives break out? How could I have loved such a villain?

Simply put: hubris. It's an old-fashioned word. It means excessive pride or arrogance. I loved him, but it isn't as simple as loving him and believing he would change from that. It is a complicated mixture of believing I could conquer the monster in him and bring out the lover, and believing that it didn't matter who I married so much as it mattered that I commit myself 100% to the success of the marriage, and believing that I was so special that I could actually bring peace to our violent relationship and thus be a true drop of success in the cesspool of our world's habitual commitment to agression. I mean I read books on Non-violence and brought them home. I was my own experiment in learning "grace". I was not always successful in rising to the demands a non-violent response required of me, but it was my intention.

Why did I love him? I loved his humanity. I loved his cock-eyed enthusiasm, and his lack of rhythm and his disjointed meaningless, though oddly meaningful poetry. He told my parents the first time he met them that he intended to take care of me, and so I loved his intentions as much as I loved my own intentions. In many ways he did his best, I believe, as did I but we were not a match in temperment, in ways of being and no amount of praying for relief could really make up for that fact. He longed to climb mountains and go to dangerous places. I longed to be on the stage singing in musicals. He longed for fame as a director. I longed to produce the great work that would be an artistic legacy. He would have been so happy had I just written one commercial script that was basic and scary. I would have been so happy if he could have just stopped moving the camera so much. We couldn't do any of this for each other.

We lived in 12 homes in the 20 years we were together, moving more than once every two years. It wasn't like he or I was in the army. We just couldn't get comfortable anywhere. I kept moving with the thought that in this house the violence would finally end. There were periods of seeming stability. Moments when I was sure we'd turned the corner. That's why after 11 years together I decided it would be all right to bring a child into our mess. I got pregnant at a time when I was able to support us with ease. I made $15K a month sometimes and we spent every penny of it on what I have no idea. We bought a better house, a house that I thought would be the violence free house, but wasn't, and rather than help me with daily chores while I worked and nursed around the clock, I had to pay for a housekeeper, a nanny, and a gardener. It was really as if I was alone anyway. He spent his time installing two-way television phones and producing and directing short films and working occassionally for me.

After the children joined us it became a mission to end the violence and to stick it out in the marriage because I remembered the disjointed feeling of my own parents' divorce. I had discovered shortly before I got pregnant the first time, that psychologists were no help at all and often detrimental to my good health. The therapist I had gone to for help decided even though he was 70, that I must really think he was a hot number and that I wanted his body. I really felt completely alone.

The longer I stayed in the marriage the more unbelievable I felt my story would be to those who attested to care for me. They would feel betrayed. They would see how I lied to them. I would be the most untrustworthy person on earth.

There were clear moments when I could have should have would have left because of some other atrocious behavior -- like his untimely confession to my clients in London that they were paying him for absolutely nothing at all except the use of our house. Or when he decided that we should declare bankruptcy and move out of the city where I had found good friends and our children were happy and into a farm town on the Front Range into a house that his mother had picked out, bought and paid for a block away from her eventual home. Those were obvious times to leave. Yet, I loved him and still I believed that if I believed in him as his parents so obviously didn't, if I showed him that he could in fact save himself, if I just shrunk up a little bit more, that all would be well.

So, my mission of invisibility began in earnest when we left Los Angeles, and ended when I told him to leave our home in Boulder 8 years later. I actually had figured that if I just went limp that maybe he would fill the void and not be such a scared little boy. I folded up my wings, my ambitions and determined to do only the smallest things, to only support his endeavors, to focus my energy on the kids, and to let him have the rest of the world. If things came to easily to me, I stepped back from them in the hopes that he wouldn't notice I had stepped out of the unspoken bounds.

I had a friend who finally pointed out that maybe I was thinking too much. That maybe all of my scheming and thinking had so eclipsed my feelings that I no longer knew them. Believe it or not, this was my revelation. Feeling my way through my life became not only possible but my life line. It was only reconnecting to my feelings that allowed me to climb out of my strategy.