Sunday, December 19, 2010

What Was I Thinking?

After rereading last week's post, I am amazed at my stunning lack of gratitude. True, I get caught up in the seeming futility of life and wonder what it's all about. But then there are moments like this, sitting in our little library, wrapping paper and bows strewn about on a card table, my daughter home from grad school, reading peacefully on the couch and my husband sketching in the armchair next to the warm fire. Kate's orange tabby walks in and jumps on the couch. Victorian carols waft up from the radio. Through our window, I can see the western sky streaked with lavender and pink. In a few days, our whole family will gather to exchange gifts and love.

I don't want to sound corny by saying this is the meaning of Christmas. Maybe it's that the meaning of Christmas is the meaning of life. You know - family, home and hearth. Something I have to be thankful for every breathing minute of my life. And sometimes I forget. I think of the despairing young man I spoke to this morning. He fears the uncertainty of life, where everything you love and believe in can be snatched from you in a heartbeat. In losing The Way, I felt a small taste of that. Anyone who has experienced loss of any kind, and it's unavoidable in this life, faces that recurring possibility. Loss, birth, life, loss, birth, life and so the cycle goes on. The trick is to live each moment and be grateful for it.

My daughter took a course on happiness and the law last semester and found she scored high on the happiness scale. What distinguished her from her fellow students was and is her capacity for gratitude. She has not had an easy life, caught between the warring factions of post-cult parents. And yet, she is thankful. Thankful to have parents who love her so much to fight over her.

Peace has fallen on our households and the children are grown. We have all moved on. There is so much to be thankful for. May each of you who read my blog (and I'm exceedingly thankful for you and your kind comments) may you have a lovely holiday and have a moment to catch your breath and count the numerous blessings around and in you and the world.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why Not?

Yesterday I stopped by the Hickory Stick Bookshop. It was buzzing with browsers, Christmas shoppers and fans of local author Wendell Minor who was signing his latest children’s book. There was rousing blue grass music on guitars and several people I knew - particularly four from a book group I belonged to that met once a month at this bookstore. How odd that we should all cross paths at once, we said. Bizarre. Serendipity. Lovely.

We started talking and it wasn’t long before one of us blurted out the question of the day - why do we write? (That would be me.) Robert, a retired journalist, answered without missing a beat - “because I love literature.” He loves to read it, write it, teach it, think about it. He loves it. Davyne, a dynamic poet and inspiration of the group, said she wrote because she couldn’t live without it. She would go mad, she said. It helped her make sense of the world and herself and other people. Cara, an attractive anthropology professor, left before I could query her.

So that left me. Why did I write? Why did I do anything for that matter? I just started swimming at the Y again and those questions have been popping up. It's always a danger sign for me, these questions of why. It's a refrain of the season - why do I do anything when there's so much horror in the world? Then again, there's beauty - the soft lapping of the pool water under my hands and the splash between my feet.

One of my therapists always encouraged me to ask "how" instead of "why." I've tried but despair keeps chasing me like a wolf nipping at my heels. The answers my friends offered apply as much to life as to writing. We do, we live because we choose to, because we love it. We participate in life because otherwise we'd go insane. Living helps make sense out of life.

I don't know if any of you saw the Flash Mob YouTube video of the Hallejulah Chorus being sung in the mall food court but it was quite extraordinary. Every day people, like you and me, vulnerable and loveable, raising their voices into the void. I sobbed when I saw it. My husband thought it strange that I should have such a reaction. But it's the season, see. We're all just doing the best we can, even when we don't know why.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fallen Angels

My mentor, Don Snyder, recently wrote to me about the publishing world. Seems that violent sex is still in high demand. One of his students just published a book about a serial rapist who goes around attacking women with a coke bottle (let your imagination fill in the rest.) This book is the only one of his many students' works to "make it" in the last ten years. So what does that tell us? What it tells me is that the marketplace has not changed….a lot. The law of supply and demand plays out. People want violence, the media provides violence.

Then again, Don wrote the screenplay for "Fallen Angels," a beloved Hallmark Christmas movie. (It will be airing on Hallmark Channel again this year all through the holidays, especially on Xmas Day at 8am and 6pm.) That tells me that decent movies and plays are still in high demand,too. Is it the holidays that actually do bring out the best in us or is there an undercurrent of love that exists there all year round?

Rough sex and violence - some of us have experienced enough of that to last a lifetime- why write about it and pollute the earth even further? We worry about keeping the environment clean and saving the planet. What about the environment of our minds? What about saving each other? If we contribute to the mental pollution of human beings, then, in my opinion, the earth doesn't stand much of a chance.

There I go again, sounding like Tiny Tim from "A Christmas Story" (my favorite holiday movie….next to "Fallen Angel.") I'm not sure my own books, "Losing the Way" and "Walkaway" have enough sex and violence in them to make it in this marketplace but I worry that I'm doing my own share of polluting. I mean, who wants to hear about a young girl corrupted by a cult? But this story bears witness to the truth, my truth, and the truth sets us free, or so said Jesus. Plus, it has a happy ending.

I remember how much The Doctor used to enjoy teaching Christian Family and Sex. He showed us raunchy pornography movies "just to expose us to what the devil was up to." Remember the one with the two lesbians and the German Shepherd? Once when I visited him in his motorcoach he had a folder of obscene photos spread out over his desk. He said he was doing "research." Some research. In my experience, Wierwille was a polluter, not a savior. I don't think there are any saviors out there. We're it, gang. And we get what we're asking for.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hold the Presses!

I was talking with my son the other day about this process of posting Chapter One of my book on line and how it would be affecting his other family, my ex's. My intention here is not to stir up any hornet's nests and create bad feelings. I wanted to write my story to help other people not feel so alone in similar situations. I always think, if I had had a book like this when I was leaving The Way, how much simpler my journey would have been.

Manipulation, abuse, divorce, custody, mental illness. These are all very hard subjects. But many of us, I'd say all, who have had brushes with TWI are not unfamiliar with them. My goal in writing this book is not to hurt but to shed light on a dark and painful subject….which happens to be my life. There are others involved who were a part of that pain and I have included them in the story. It was unavoidable.

But it is important to note that these were things that took place over twenty years ago and much has healed in that time. It may fall apart again with the advent of this book but that's a risk I have decided to take. Besides, the book may never see the light of a publisher's day so this all may be a moot point anyway. But for the purposes of this posting, which is not an easy one, I just want to include the disclaimer that THINGS HAVE CHANGED!

Our kids are grown and thriving and my ex-husband and I have a workable relationship. I am no longer afraid of him and he is no longer abusive towards me. He has changed considerably, as have I. The follies we endure when we are younger, fortunately don't have to follow us into our older years. We have BOTH learned.

Victor Frankl was a Jewish German psychiatrist who survived a concentration camp in WWII. He wrote of his experiences in a book called MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING. He said that "What is to give light, must endure the burning."

I guess part of enduring the burning of putting my story "out there" is to know that a few people may not like it. And for those that read it, or see themselves in its pages, they too must endure the discomfort. But the fire burns the dross away as the truth sets us free. Another wise guy whom we all know said that one. I'm choosing to believe it and carry on.

Happy Thanksgiving…

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Trip to the Library - Another scene

This is a short interlude between longer scenes in Chapter One but I wanted to let it stand on its own. This was a pivotal point for me in starting to take back my mind from the cult. Thank God for libraries!

Soon after we arrive, I take the kids to the public library. When we return, Joshua runs into the house, almost slipping on the snow, arms full of books.

"Look, Nana," he says. "Trucks!"

Mom leans over and examines each title as Josh holds them up. She smiles and exclaims over his brilliant choices. It is hard to know who is more excited. When I was young, Mom would bring home presents from work, large colorful children's books newly released by her publishing house. I hoarded them like jewels, the cherished signs of my mother's love. They were proof that she thought of me when she was gone, that she thought of me at all. This nurtured a love of books that followed me into adulthood. Once in The Way however, my choices became limited only to Christian literature, focusing primarily on The Bible and the Doctor's writings. Mom's letters to me over the past fifteen years included impassioned lectures against the cult's censorship. Of course, I denied it. Now that I was home and free to read whatever I wanted, it seemed logical that one of my first stops would be to the local library.

"And what did you get?" She turns to me.

I show her the titles. She picks one out and flips through its pages.
The Battered Woman. I edited this book, worked with Lenore Walker on it. It was the first book ever published on the subject of wife abuse. I had to really fight and convince my bosses that there was a market for it. Now it's a classic."

"Yeah, well, I thought I should read up on it and figure out what's been happening to me."

Mom looks down then back up at me, her eyes clouded with concern. She lowers her voice. "I suspected that was the case."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chapter One continues...

A handful of turned-over onionskin pages sit on the table beside a bottle of White-Out and two half-used pencils, one red, one black. When I was young, I used to love to bite into her pristine pencils and chew them until they were riddled with tooth marks. Mom would scold me. "You always put everything into your mouth. Don’t I feed you enough?"

I stare at the papers before me. Mom told me she was working on a memoir. She didn't intend to publish it, she said. She just wanted to leave a record of her memories for her children and grandchildren. Curious, I pick up a page and read.

My mother's relatives regarded me as a strangely cold, unapproachable child. “She acts like a gentile,” they said, and blamed Dad for having chosen to live in a suburb where there were no other Jews.

In truth, I was not affectionate or demonstrative. From infancy, I disliked being touched. Even today, in my old age, I experience a moment's hesitation before I can kiss someone's cheek in greeting. I am much more comfortable being alone than in situations where I am expected to be sociable. The feeling of loneliness, no more frequent now than when I was younger, is seldom a yearning for a particular person who has gone out of my life. It is instead a familiar, throat-tightening ache for the person I wanted to be and never was.

I recognize instantly what she is saying. I'd experienced it since I was a small child. Whenever I reached to be picked up, Mom would hold me for a moment then put me down. When I went to kiss her, she would turn away, offering only her cheek. Her shoulders would stiffen if I tried to hug her. At a young age, I learned not to climb up on her lap the way other children did with their mothers. I knew she would only brush me off like a fly. I always thought she hated me.

This is a remarkable revelation. Here in her own words, she acknowledges her basic nature. She doesn't apologize. She's not ashamed. I'm ashamed of everything. I think everything is my fault. Even in The Way, I was always apologizing. Mom hates it when people say they're sorry all the time, like when she came out to rescue us last week and I kept saying I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. She finally told me to put a lid on it. She said she got the message the first time.

The Doctor once told me that Mom was possessed and not to trust her. He said the Prince of Darkness made her so confident. But I don't think I believe that anymore. Here she's simply stating the facts. She knows herself and her ruthless self-knowledge is liberating to me. It wasn't just me she didn't want to be close to. It was everybody. If she was possessed, then that's how she was born. And after bearing two children, I can't believe people are born with devil spirits.

I hear a noise and the light goes on in the kitchen. Mom stands near the sink and rubs her forehead. I quickly replace the page facedown on the table and stand up.

"Can't sleep?" she says.

"Did I wake you?"

"No, I couldn't sleep either. I usually wake up about this time anyway and fix myself some toast. Then I go back to bed. I heard the water running." She approaches the family room and glances at the vase of roses. "Oh, you found my book, I see."

"Yes, I hope you don't mind that I…"

"It's not all that great. Just something for me to do. Now that I'm retired, I have a lot of time."

"Well, you'll be busy now."

"Yes, I suppose I will. Now look who's here." Mom motions towards the doorway and there is Joshua, rubbing his eyes.

"Mommy," he says. "Thirsty."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

WALKAWAY continues...

Here's another installment of Chapter One of WALKAWAY. I'm not sure how much of it I should post at a time as I don't want to split up the scenes. But this next scene is a long one so I'll post the second half next week. Thanks for reading. And thanks again for the encouragement and support. It's nice to know these words are landing on interested ears.

My thirty-three year old brother Owen meets us at the gate and drives us to Connecticut. It's been four years and he looks almost the same as the last time I saw him. His light brown hair is shorter, but he's still slender and pale, living the life of a struggling composer in New York.

I sleep most of the way home, in the back of my mother's Toyota, wedged between the two car seats. I awake to see Mom's church, its white clapboard frame with green shutters aglow under the snowy streetlights, a landmark that says we are close to Mom's house. Last week, just before a February Nor'Easter covered New England in snow, Mom flew out to Oregon to rescue us. Now we're almost home.

We arrive at a little after one in the morning. Mom bustles ahead and turns on the lights in the kitchen, the room nearest the door. I enter with Grace in her carrier. Owen has Josh. Mom is waiting with a long white box in her hands.

"This must be for you. It was sitting here on the table. It's a good thing I don't lock my doors."

I hand the baby to Mom, take the box and open the lid. It's a bouquet of a dozen red roses sent FTD from Portland. Red roses are the Doctor's favorite flowers, a symbol of God's love for us. Mom leans over to smell them.

"They've lost their scent," she says. "At least they're not as bad as those fake flowers they used in that mass Way wedding you were married in. So what does the card say?"

"It says, 'Happy Birthday, Kris. I love you. God loves you. Please come home, Alec.'"

"Well, he's got some nerve after how he's treated you. Some husband he is."

I close the box and place it on the coffee table, saying nothing.

Once the children are settled in bed, I stand near the bedroom window and look outside. Cold air seeps through the glass pane and I pull my nightgown tightly around me. Here in the country, the cloudless sky is ablaze with stars. How different from Portland where it is almost always overcast. My mind turns to Alec for a moment and I wonder what he is doing, where he is now, if he is with Patty, the new believer. I say a prayer for him, for us. Even though I've left him, I can't help praying. It's a reflex as natural as breathing. My mind is calm now, the voice in my head has stopped and I ask for forgiveness. I even speak in tongues because the Doctor taught us that tongues is the prayer God likes best. It is strange to be away from my spiritual family and home in this house alone with my earthly family. In the Way, fellowship with unbelievers is against The Word unless you are trying to convert them.

"Mommy," Josh says. His arms extend towards me and I kiss him on the forehead, the eyebrows and cheek. Then I tuck the old wool army blanket under his chin, covering the scratchy fringe with a worn sheet.

"It's okay, Josh," I whisper. "Go to sleep. We're home now."

Unable to wind down, I walk back into the family room and turn on a small light in the corner. The box of flowers sits unopened on the coffee table. I gather the roses in my arms and go into the kitchen in search of a large enough vase. Mom's bedroom is in the next room so I must be very quiet. I find a tall glass pitcher, run the water and arrange the flowers. The Doctor once gave me a rose after we'd had sex. Alec thought it was the nicest thing, so loving. He never suspected. Then he found out and everything fell apart.