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.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More about "Walkaway"

The way my mind works is this: I call someone on the phone. Nobody answers. It's my fault. Maybe it's my Jewish genes but guilt runs very deep in my veins. Omnipotent guilt in which I think I'm responsible for just about anything that happens in the world. The cult loved this. I was as easy to manipulate as a marionette. Things have gotten better since I left but I still have to stand guard against recalcitrant brain cells.

So when I post something like the first scene of a new book and almost nobody says anything, my insecurities spike and I wonder if I shouldn't just chuck myself into the fireplace. My husband tells me this is an extreme reaction, especially when there's no fire burning. In "Walkaway", I've been told the character is too weak and no one will like her (i.e. me). That's the problems with memoirs - her is me - you can't get away from yourself.

I'm happy to say that I'm through with memoirs and the narcissistic self-loathing that goes along with them. I'll have more fun with fiction because if no one answers the phone, I won't blame myself and think about throwing myself anywhere. Life is short. Why make it shorter? I'm working on something called "constructive hedonism," commonly known as "having fun." Not something that comes naturally to me. But fiction is fun, memoir is not. So there you go.

I'm still going to try to get "Walkaway" published though. I still think there are people out there, like yourselves maybe, who will relate to the confusion, fear and exhilaration that accompanies leaving a cult. My writing teacher once told me that the reason we write is to "relieve the world of some of its loneliness." If my writing helps one (preferably more but I'll go with one) person feel less lonely, then I have succeeded. Someone has answered the phone. Because writing is often like calling out into the void. When no one answers, you wonder what you did wrong. If someone does respond, even if it's to say "shut up and go back to sleep," at least you know you reached someone. You know you're not alone.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Beginning of my New Book - WALKAWAY

Many leave of their own accord because they become disillusioned,
fed up or burnt out, or they realize the cult was not what it said it was. …
Cult members who leave in this way are known as walkaways.
Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D.

I celebrate my twenty-ninth birthday by fleeing from my husband and a fundamentalist cult I joined when I was fourteen. My mother and I and my two kids barely make the jet from Portland, Oregon to New York, afraid that someone will follow us. But no one does. We crowd into the fifteenth row, in the last available seats, and we seem to be safe.

The plane lands at JFK at close to eleven'o'clock at night. Two-year-old Joshua is just starting to wind down, having whined and thrashed since Chicago, tormenting not only his grandmother but all the passengers within earshot. Grace, on the other hand, at one month, slept peacefully the whole trip, crying only when she needed my breast.

The stewardess kindly allows us to leave first. We're that family on the plane whom everyone stares at, daggers in their eyes, for keeping them up for the last three hours of a transcontinental flight. No one offers a hand, not a single expression of compassion. It's not like in The Way where believers would be tripping over each other to help. The Doctor always said the world is like this - cold, indifferent and hard, just like the devil. I pass a row of adolescents dressed in green and white soccer jerseys and one of the boys says, "Cute kid, but try some Ritalin next time."

Mom exits first, pushing the stroller filled with a baby satchel, purses and toys. She maneuvers through the hatch and leads us into the tunnel towards the terminal. I'm carrying both sleeping children, Joshua who has finally dozed, and Grace in her Snuggly. My arms feel like sledge hammers but I don't want to wake up the kids by calling for help.

I straggle behind when suddenly, Mom stops and turns around. She seems tiny compared to the other passengers who have started to deplane. Her dyed black hair is mussed and flattened on one side from pressing it against the window.

"Where are you?" She says with a hint of irritation. Guilt rips through me. See how bad you are, some voice in my head says. You're bad for upsetting her. Bad for leaving your marriage, bad for leaving the believers, bad for being alive. The Doctor always said that if we left The Way, we might as well be dead. "The only way you leave is feet first," he would say.

I train my eyes on Mom. The avalanche of thoughts keeps coming and I'm in free fall. When she sees me, she circles back. She looks angry now, deep hellish circles etched beneath her eyes. Bad. Bad. The voice gets louder. She stops in front of me, empties the stroller and takes Josh. His head is lolling back and forth and Grace is beginning to fuss. We're stopped in the middle of the aisle and New Yorkers are starting to stream by at an alarming rate. A bottleneck is forming behind us.

"Come on!"

"Move it."

"What's the problem?" a man shouts from the crowd.

"YOU'RE the problem," Mom yells. She grabs the stroller and starts towards the terminal without me. I take a step back, holding Grace's head to my chest and someone bumps into me hard from behind.

"Watch where you're going," he says.

I move over as far as I can and hug the wall. The strangers rush past me. I'm rocking Grace against my shoulder, praying God will show mercy and get us through this alive. There's no sign of Mom or Josh. The sounds around me are deafening, feet pounding against the hollow floor, voices echoing off the aluminum frame, the roar of air in the tunnel. My heart is pounding hard. I close my eyes. Bad. Please God, help us.

"What are you doing?"

I open my eyes and Mom is staring at me, a quizzical look on her face. Josh is strapped in the stroller, calmly drinking from a bottle filled with apple juice.

"Nothing," I say.

"Well, come on then. We have to get home."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mother of God

Last weekend, I met the mother of a cult leader. There's often talk of Second Generation Adults (SGA) - children of cultists who are born or co-opted into a group without their consent. But what about the parents? I've never given a thought to Wierwille's parents or Moon's or Gurumayai's. What were they like? What did they think?

Luna Tarlo, an unassuming, soft-spoken woman in her seventies, is the mother of Andrew Cohen, a popular American guru. She was one of his followers for three and a half years and wrote about her harrowing experience in a book called "Mother of God." I was introduced to her through my son who interviewed her for his documentary on U.G. Krishnamurti. U.G. basically "exit counseled" Luna from her son's cult.

Andrew Cohen is the founder of Enlightennext, "a non-profit organization endeavoring to create a revolution in consciousness and culture." Sound familiar? The Way made similar preposterous claims. "Word Over the World." WOW?!? Luna saw from the inside out how "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." She was denigrated and humiliated by her son who instructed her, a writer, to throw all her writings into an incinerator. She did just that, believing him to know what was best for her better than she did. She was under his spell.

She hasn't seen her son for many years now. I didn't ask her how it felt. I hear from families of prisoners every week, from mothers and fathers whose sons have committed murder or robbery or rape. Some are bathed with shame, others with horror, many with anger. Sometimes I wonder why I work in a prison. I say it is to make fewer criminals, yet there is an identification that takes place in me. A "there but for the grace of God, go I" sort of thing. But I digress.

I'm sure many of us have heard our own parents' relief when they knew we were free of the cult. I know from my mother's reports how frustrating and infuriating and sad it was to have her only daughter seized in the stranglehold of a megalomaniac. But for Luna, whose son IS the leader, what is that like? She seemed perfectly at peace with herself, that she had done everything she could to raise him in a decent path. It's tempting to blame the parents, to say,"Your son is a (fill-in-the-blank) criminal …mad man….cult leader."

Luna's book is a sensitive portrayal of the dilemma we all face as parents. We believe in our children and trust them to follow a righteous path. But what do we do when they veer from our instruction and become someone we do not recognize? Luna followed her son to the ends of the earth and came up disillusioned. She was not afraid to speak out against him once she realized his ends and means were wrong. Her book, like many accounts of cult survivors, is full of sadness, rage and healing. But it has another element - courage - a moral clarity that has the courage to declare something is wrong when it IS wrong. Even when it's your own son.

Luna said she wrote the book in hopes of waking Andrew up. It hasn't. He's become more popular. But she has been encouraged to write the sequel - the book in which she waits, continuing to be there for her son when he at last becomes disillusioned with what his life has become. Because we all know that "every idol has clay feet." But the power Andrew wields is intoxicating. It may take a miracle for him to open his eyes. But Luna hasn't stopped believing in her son, not the one idolized by thousands of people, but the one she nursed and raised. Miracles happen. They happened to us. It can even happen to a cult leader. I hope for Andrew's sake, and for Luna's, that it does.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reality Breaks

I just visited Betsy Lerner's very funny blog about writing ( It is really entertaining, even if you're not a writer. She writes a few witty paragraphs, asks a follow-up question and gets a lot of responses. I was going to go to my Weight-Watchers meeting, especially after I'd consumed a bowl of chili, cake, ice cream and barbeque chips. But I read her blog instead. It made me feel good. I'm not hungry anymore.

Now Thriving in Reality is pretty serious business. Or is it? I mean, there's my 9 month old grandson and he's got a new toy from Genius Babies, because he is, of course, on the road to brilliance. It's a little workbench type thing with a blue and yellow plastic hammer and four color-coded balls which the genius baby is to hit through a color-coded hole. Sounds complicated even for an adult. My grandson put the hammer in his mouth and sucked on it. A good choice. I probably would have done the same thing.

My son just came into the library asking for a "crap novel" - something to divert himself from his otherwise serious work of editing and making existential films. He wanted a something "light" like a detective story. I looked but the closest I could find was Sherlock Holmes. And who wants Sherlock Holmes? I am disappointed by the astounding lack of good crappy novels in my library. I mean what to do when you're overwhelmed with gravity? How to lighten up?

My son has returned to the library eating a veggie burger and a pickle. He has given up the search for a good dime store novel. I ask him what he's going to do now, now that I have failed to provide him once again with what he needs.

"I'm going outside to smoke half a cigarette then I'm going back to work," he says.

"Why half a cigarette?"

"Because that's all I need."

Everyone needs a break from reality. Reality, even when you're thriving, can be a lot to take. Food, cigarettes, toys, detective novels, funny blogs….whatever gets you through the night. Now, if I were Betsy Lerner, I'd ask "how do you cope with Reality?" What gets you through the night?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

If It Walks Like a Duck

Last Sunday, there was a massive "manhunt" in southern California for thirteen people (five adults and eight children) who had gone missing with a leader of a religious sect named Reyna Chicas. Two husbands feared they were planning a mass suicide and authorities were alerted.

Good for the authorities that they took the husbands' concerns seriously. One husband brought them his wife's purse which contained identifications, deeds to property, cell phone and letters indicating they were waiting for the end of the world. The Sheriff spokesman said the letters "read like a last will and testament, like goodbye letters."

Six months earlier, Chicas, a Salvadoran divorcee and mother of two, had planned to take followers out to the desert to await an earthquake or another apocalyptic event. One of the followers forewarned family members and the trip was aborted. That follower was subsequently ostracized.

When authorities finally found Chicas and her followers twenty-two hours after their disappearance, they were "comfortably gathered at a Palmdale area park" - adults were praying, children were playing on swings.

But when Chicas was brought in for questioning, they found her rambling and disorganized, giving a false name and stating she had no children. Her two children, a son, 15 and a daughter, 12, were taken into protective custody. Chicas was placed in 72 hour mandatory hold in a mental hospital, deemed unable to care for herself or others.

I'm trying to piece this story together. Chicas was described by a former friend as "simple - a doting mother who always had her children in tow." Friends said she was "not professional, not prepared," as if all cult leaders had to be slick snake oil salesmen. Not your typical cult leader, if there is one. Fifth grade education, four years divorced, increasingly religious, delusional and disorganized. Psychotic perhaps. Perhaps?!? She denied her own children. Prayed for God to take them to see their deceased relatives. Now THAT sounds like a cult leader.

Of course, one worries about the children and the letters they wrote, convinced that their mother was speaking for God and she was right. Are they with Daddy now? Or is Daddy the devil? Perhaps they're with well-meaning strangers who will try to convince them that Mama was crackers and they deserve to live a full life, that God, in fact, WANTS them to live a full life here on earth and do His work here until He decides to call them back home.

Wherever they are, and the other six children, from ages three to seventeen, my heart goes out to them. I'm glad the State caught up with Chicas, whom I think I can rightly dub a cult leader. She was a suicidal fanatic as well. But how are you going to convince the children of that? The children who love her and call her Mama. On the surface, everything looks harmless enough- playing in the park and praying. But anyone who's been in a cult knows that surfaces lie.

Still, I have hope for these children, as long as knowledgeable professionals are involved. They must be aware of Parental Alienation Syndrome in which one parent (ie a fanatical cultist) brainwashes the child against a noncustodial parent. Children can be brainwashed to be convinced that the whole society is evil and against them. Whole religions brainwash their children of this, but I'm getting off the point.

All I want to say is that I hope the lawyers and doctors and social workers and ministers, and especially the father, if he's still around, will continue to take these signs seriously. I hope that they will NOT FORGET the farewell letters these children wrote, even when they say they were "only kidding." If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Predators Prey

V.P. Weirwille was a predator. I never fully realized the impact of this until the other day when I received an e-mail from a former member of The Way whose friend had obviously been a victim of "the Doctor's" sexual abuse.

She had been a vivacious and totally committed believer. She sincerely followed VP's teachings and was a shining example to her brothers and sisters. She worshipped "The Doctor", lit up in his presence and enthusiastically obeyed everything he said.

Then, one day, everything changed. She announced to her spiritual family that she had to leave, giving no explanation. She and her husband met with VP and she couldn't even look him in the eye. Her light was gone. She gave no reason for her sudden escape - just that she had to go. VP told her to work on her marriage, just as he had told me to do. She left instead, never to be heard of again.

What happened? I can only extrapolate from what was said to me but I think I know. I remember being that intrepid, vivacious believer until The Doctor got his hands on me. Then he twisted my sincerity into slavery and forced me to do things to him I would never do, much less imagine. He locked me in his lockbox and I was helpless to escape.
This woman fled and it's haunted her ever since, ruined her life, I'd say. Now she is a recluse, with no connections to family or friends or her past.

It could all be in my imagination. But I know the signs. And the story awakened my memory to a darker time in my life when I had nowhere to turn. I was one of the fortunate ones. I escaped. Some were not so lucky. The Way is strewn with casualties of women who were prey to Wierwille, Martindale and other "men of God." Some killed themselves, some disappeared. There but for the grace of God, go I.

I was always taught that predators preyed on the weak. But after hearing this story, I realize that's not true. Men like Wierwille prey on the strong - on the most sincere and devoted of followers because these are the most easy to manipulate. We are the most vulnerable because we loved most freely. Yes, we were young and we were naive but that does not mean we were weak. One has to be strong to keep a lockbox, even when it becomes a prison.

This sad story reminded me of the evil of such men as Weirwille. I know of other believers who still don't believe him capable of such abuse. They don't believe him capable of rape or cold-hearted manipulation. VP will always be their "man of God." Let the detractors believe what they will. For myself, I know what I experienced and I know what is true.

Thankfully it is all in the past, but every so often, something happens that reminds me of what I lived through. Of being a victim. Then I must pick myself up out of the despair and anger and remind myself of my strength. I am not weak, I wasn't then either. A beautiful flower is only plucked in its prime. I and other survivors like me need remember that it was our beauty and vulnerability that caused us to be "picked." I am trying to recapture some of that beauty, allowing it to shine with the strength that underlies it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Grandparent Adventure

So there we were, on our way to see our new granddaughter, born the day before by C-Section. We had gotten our Google directions and followed them to the letter to this hospital on the other side of the state. We haven't gotten around to purchasing a GPS and now would have been a good time to own one. After an hour's drive, following the directions to a T, we landed in a back alley behind the hospital. We weren't even sure we had the correct hospital because the name was different. This was Midstate Medical Center. We were looking for General Hospital.

We parked our car in a free spot in front of a mental health counseling center down the street from two dumpsters. The brick building loomed before us, surrounded by tall chain link fences and dead-ends. But we spied a door on the loading dock which instinct told me would be open. I dragged my skeptical husband up the stairs and sure enough, the door swung open. I strode in, arms waving confidently, and followed the corridor past more grungy dumpsters and piled-up crates. We swept through the halls beyond the time clocks and encountered a man with what looked like a gurney covered with a sheet..

"We must be near the morgue," my husband said.

"Let's go," I said and we entered the first elevator we saw. The door closed, we pushed the button. Nothing happened. Pushed it again. Still nothing. I pushed the "door open" button but accidently pressed the alarm. A voice boomed over the loud speaker. "If you're going to Family Birthing come up the way you went out."

Okay, we said, and went searching for the route to Family birthing where our son and daughter-in-law and new baby would be. My husband found a stairwell and we bounded two stories up the stairs. We stopped at a door and on the other side of it, a sign which said "Family birthing Center." But, of course, the door was locked. I knocked and knocked until the door flew open. Two uniformed policemen with stern surprised looks on their faces opened the door.

"Where did you come from? How did you get in here?" The taller one asked.

"The loading dock. We're here to see our new granddaughter."

"You came in through the loading dock? How is that possible?" They eyed me suspiciously.

"It was open. And our Google maps directed us there. We couldn't find the front door."

They were not amused. "You can't be here," said the other officer as he shuttled us through the halls. "I'll have to take you downstairs so you can repark your car in the correct lot and come back up here."

"You can't be serious," I said. "She's right down the hall. Can't we have a peek?"

"Sorry ma'am. All the security systems have been down today and you've identified another breach. This is serious, I'll escort you down."

The first officer turned his back and talked into his walkie talkie. He frowned as we walked by, as though we were grandparent terrorists set on stealing babies from the maternity ward.

We finally reparked our car and found our way back upstairs to our children and new grandbaby. She was, of course, extraordinarily beautiful. The kids looked relaxed and happy, just like you'd want new parents to look. We told them of our adventure.

"Oh, that's why the door must have kept locking all day and nurses would rush to all the exits on a moments' notice," said our son. "It's been happening all day. At one point they came in and checked the tracking device on the baby's foot."

"People steal babies?!" I said naively.

"Evidently all the time," said our son. "But we're protected. She's in here with us."

And my mind flew back to my time with my newborns when they stayed in the maternity ward and were rolled back into my room from time to time. No talk of kidnappers then. It was a more innocent and safer time.

Some say they want to build a cell tower in our small town of 1800 people and for what? To someday place GPS systems and microchips in our brains? What is this brave new world we're facing? Having GPS that night wouldn't have been so bad but at what price? I wonder what perils this generation will face.

Looking into the face of that infant, I know danger is all around us, as it has always been. But we face new dangers now, the loss of freedom, the loss of security. There have always been treacherous acts of God which threatened lives. Now we have Man-Caused Disasters. May baby Quinn be protected from these and may she know the safety that comes form having two loving parents. That's the most any of us can hope for. She has what no electronic device can replace - a human brain, a human heart and a human soul.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Hello again! It's been a while. Mainly haven't written because there was nothing to say. I mean I got contacts and last twenty pounds and have been backpedaling into my forties, in complete denial that I am approaching mid-fifties. It’s sobering - this aging business. This summer I've gone to baby showers and family picnics, played badmitten and SET (a mesmerizing card game), cat sit for my daughters' cats and driven back and forth to the airport to pick up my son who just returned from a year away, traveling around the world.

I've watched my mentor venture to Scotland where he can caddy for world-class golfers on the course at St. Andrews and figure out how to write books for the masses. I've fought with him too. He says sex-sex-sex and more sex sells. That's what the publishers want, he says. Now, I respect Don Snyder deeply - he's really the first person who taught me the CRAFT of writing - how to write a scene and know what you're doing. But I draw the line at explicit sex. Don't get me wrong. Sex can be the most beautiful thing around and Don is after HOW to write about it perfectly. I hope he achieves it. If anyone can, he can. But after the sum of all my experiences, I'm not sure I could.

Oh, and I've also finished my sequel to LOSING THE WAY. It's called WALKAWAY: CONFESSIONS OF A LOST DAUGHTER. There's a fair amount of sex in it, too. It's really a story of reconciliation between a daughter and her estranged mother after the daughter leaves a cult with her two young children. It's fraught with sex and heartbreak, custody fights and violence. Sounds like a winner, huh? That's the other thing I've been doing this summer - writing and revising, revising, revising, revising. They say all writing is revising. But as far as sex, I've gone the suggestive route and left out the panting and the groping.

Last thing on my mind, just to bring you up to date was that I truly overdosed on religion. I think after my friend committed suicide and I went to that monastery, I fell off the planet temporarily and lost my bearings. My church got a new minister who's a little too gung-ho for my tastes so I've stopped attending. I'm not meditating or journaling like I used to and amazingly, I'm still alive. I haven't been smitten with the botch of Egypt. I mean as far as I can see it, meditating makes you a better meditator, praying makes you a better prayer and writing makes you a better writer. All the praying in the world won't make me a better writer. I have to work at it. I'm much happier now.

I still believe in God, though I prefer the Jew's YHWH (or is it JHVH) no vowels and unpronounceable. To me, that's honest. For whatever we call the higher power, we're sure to get it wrong. Still "IT" understands, I'm sure and looks on us poor bumbling mortals as extensions of its immortality and light. I believe that. So hurray for faith in something. I read Christopher Hitchens book GOD IS NOT GREAT about all the reasons that "religion poisons everything." He had some good albeit hackneyed arguments. But a good faith, a solid bedrock of trust in something unseen (not the IRS), something beyond ourselves that is good, that makes me happy. And happiness, I'm coming to learn, is really all we have. To do our work and enjoy the portion we've been given. I think Solomon said something like that. There's the Bible again. Can't get away from it.

Anyway, that was my summer. I'll try to get back on my horse, Blog, and start riding again. How about you? How was your summer? It's good to be back.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Earth Mother's Day

Every year around this time, my mind seems to get overheated and shuts down like a car engine. It ceases to function properly and I end up taking some time off to rest and regroup. That's what I've been doing or trying to do since Tuesday.

Last Tuesday, a dear friend from church committed suicide. I've been shaking ever since, overcome with a new kind of anxiety, the kind that says "There but for the grace of God, go I…."

My friend had been battling depression for months and he promised to call me if he ever felt like he couldn't handle it anymore. He didn't call. One night last week, he climbed into his car, sped down a straight country road and veered off into a stone wall. He wasn't wearing a seat belt. There were no skid marks.

Suicide. It's still too close to write about. He was in so much psychic pain, this must have seemed like the only way out. And this morning I'll be going to church, back up the dreaded steps, to share my grief with the other parishioners.

How does one recover the mind after a shock like this? I couldn't even concentrate to do my breathing. Contemplation seemed like a nightmare because I could only see his face. I had overdosed on God the Father at the monastery so prayer was out, too.

But yesterday, my husband and I planted some new hydrangeas - two Limelight bushes and one PeeGee tree. That may sound trivial but it focused my mind and helped (literally) to ground me.

We started with a hole then we added 6 inches of peat moss. My job was to add water and turn it into a rich roiling reddish-brown soup. I reached my bare arms into the dirt and peat and kneaded the soil, squeezing water through each dry part until it was all soaked.

The smell of the earth and its satisfying texture reminded me of playing with clay as a child. I molded and splashed until I emerged a filthy mess. I would have gladly jumped in to cover myself with the mixture but my husband constrained me.

So today when I awoke, after a night of dreams about my lost friend, I attempted my morning exercises - meditating and journaling - both of which had been virtually lost to me this past week. I closed my eyes and followed my breath, focusing only on the up and down of my stomach. That worked for a few moments before my mind skipped off.

Someone told me an upset mind can be like an agitated two-year-old child. So how to deal with it? Don't scream, don't slap, don't judge. Just gently guide it back into the task at hand. And so I imagined my mind as a two year old and there was a Mother, a perfect non-judgmental Mother who gently led me to a quiet within myself. Earth Mother!

Father Sky stepped aside and let the Great Mother appear. And so I am once again grounded. At least for the moment. It's almost time for church and I feel the anxiety rising. But I'm not going to avoid it. That would only make it worse. Face the sadness. Face the pain. And with the help of the Earth, on which I can't help but be grounded, I will make it. I only wish….

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What WAS she thinking? (or a Plug for Reality)

When I was a single parent, working with AIDS patients at an inner city hospital, I used to have lunch with another single parent friend. She recognized my tendency to become overly involved with my patients and lose sight of my own life. "Earth activities, Kris. That's what you need," she would say. "Ground yourself on this planet. Clean the fish tank, water the plants, wash the floor."

Last week at work, I overly-identified with one of my patients and his family and got swallowed up in their lives. I lost my grip on my own life. I thought a weekend at a Benedictine monastery would help me get back in touch with myself. Paradoxically, it did just the opposite. It reinforced that old mindset of magical thinking which was so familiar in the cult. Finding a community that seemed "open and free," (that phrase should have tipped me off) was a "tangled root" that led me farther and farther away from my real life.

My tendency to launch off into space in search of some spiritual truth can lead me to the brink of madness. I long for a connection with the universe and forget to recognize that I already have one. Like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," I go running off to find something that I've had all along. I AM connected, like it or not.

The trip to the monastery was a trip to the extreme reaches of religion. You don't get much more religious than to sit under a large ebony cross of Jesus and listen to a dozen robed men chant the psalms. I felt sort of like Snow White among the seven Dwarfs. Only there were twelve of them and they were the ones dressed in white.

After my voyage to the brink, I've decided I'm going to cut back on my spirituality and invest more in the here and now of planet Earth. Many other people seem to be able to handle the spiritual quest but I don't seem to be one of them. I spin out of orbit too easily and become ungrounded.

My life seems dull in comparison to the resurrection and ascension of Christ but at least it's MY life. I have many connections: my family, my work, my art, my friends, my home, nature, the universe, and yes, God, whoever that is. I realize what's often missing is often a connection with my own heart and soul. My life. The breath may not be quite as exciting but at least I have my sanity. And what's more important than that?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Get Thee to the Monastery

So I went on a private retreat this weekend to a Benedictine Monastery. (It's only fitting now that I've decided to not join the church.) How refreshing to be in a spiritual community that was open and free, at least on the surface of things. Twelve round monks dressed in white hooded robes chanted and sang five times a day and I got to sit in and listen. A wonderful time to think and pray, read and write...

Here's a poem I wrote while I was there.

An Encounter While Reading Thomas Merton

He says that love depends on
believing we are loved and
contemplation is not for loners.

I turn the pages, underlined with pencil.
It's in the mid-80's, this bright May morning.
She plods up the hill, carrying something,
stops at my faded Adirondack chair
and shows me a large triangle of driftwood.
"It looks like a mobia strip," I say.
"Or the pelvis of a buffalo," she adds
and we laugh. It just floated up to her
from the river as she was standing on the bank.

She sits down on the ground next to me,
says she has needed this alone time.
She confesses that she has decided
to restart her medication and I say everyone
I know is on medication for something, including me.
And she says the wheels in her head just won't
stop churning and she judges herself so harshly
sometimes to the point of hatred. She lives in Brooklyn
and is four years married to a fireman, "a good man,"
who fought at the World Trade Center. She goes to
Al-Anon and has a two-year-old son named Adam.
I listen, weigh each word like Merton, then I tell
her my secrets which are no secrets at all,
but they hang in the air like pollen.
"Unseasonable weather," she says at last.

When she leaves, she thanks me for my kindness
and we hug. Then the gulf within me opens
and my mind turns round and round
like the tangled root she brought
up from the shore.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

To Join or Not to Join

I think I've told you about St. Mark's, a little white clapboard church about a mile down the road from me. I've been attending there for four or five years, I don't really remember. I started going right after I saw "The Passion of Christ." All that blood and guts of Jesus compelled me back to the Christian way. Go figure. This year I tried to watch the movie again and got only so far as the flogging in the court of Pilate. After two martinis and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I fell asleep. I would certainly have gone out and gotten ploughed at the crucifixion if I were one of the first disciples.

In any event, I have been recently grappling with joining the church….officially. Well, I've been grappling with this for four or five years but it was never really an issue until our old minister retired, the one white hair and one leg who looked like my father. The new minister, an earnest unretired priest with a shy Gary Cooper smile, arrived and I made the mistake of telling him that I'd been around, lo these many years, and had not yet been recognized by the Bishop. Well, his eyes lit up and he gave me a book on "the peculiar way of life of Episcopaleans." I was happy to receive it and become a candidate for membership. After all, didn't I really want to belong….to something?

Evidently not. Every night for the next week, I was tormented with nightmares about Wierwille and the cult. On Tuesday, I woke up at 2:30am, sobbing. I don't remember the exact content of the dream but the familiar pain of betrayal was there. A palpable memory of abandonment. The next night, another dream and the next until I was afraid to go to sleep.

I called my old minister and spoke with him about this situation. "I think I'm scared of joining anything," I said. He thought I had diagnosed the situation correctly. And he encouraged me to talk to the new minister, Father "Woody" and give him my book, which I did. After he finished my book, Father Woody came and paid us a visit and he almost blushed as he apologized for his enthusiasm. "I feel like a slick, oily used car salesman. I think it's best that you back off joining for now," he said.

Needless to say, I felt relieved mostly. There weren't any real benefits to joining, beyond what I already enjoyed. It wasn't like I'd get a guaranteed all-expenses-paid ticket to heaven or holiness. And the thought of the bishop laying his hands on my head sent me into more paroxysms of fear and trembling. Why fix something if it's not broken? Still, I couldn't help feel like I'd failed at something. Commitment.

The word "commitment" to a former cult-member is like "Incoming" to a Vietnam vet. It makes one want to dive under the pews and take cover. In a cult, it's a do-or-die mission. All-or-nothing. In church, Father Woody, tells me, it's very low-key and the point is not to PUSH but to ALLOW things to take their natural course, like the way flowers grow. We don't pull them out of the ground. We let them evolve according to their own time.

I remind myself that I managed to make a commitment to my husband fifteen years ago. He didn't push, he didn't threaten. He just created a safe environment in which I could decide for myself. And I've never for a minute regretted my decision. Perhaps, that's the key here - safety. When, if ever, I feel safe enough to join something, like a church, I will. I have to remember that it's much more complicated for me than the average person. The wounds are evidently still deep, deeper than I wish they were. But I can still attend and run for cover if it gets too much. Allow, don't push. That seems to me what Jesus would have advised.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

Last weekend, I went to a retreat on Centering Prayer sponsored by a local church. On the face of it, it seemed harmless enough. I mean what possible problems could arise from just praying silently with a room full of strangers? Right? Wrong!

The other participants were, mostly like myself, sincere God-fearing women. There were a handful of men, including the leader, a cheerful monk from Toronto. He had us sit quietly and let our minds "just be" in the presence of God. Whenever our minds strayed, which was often, one need merely say one's "love word" to bring it back. The point was not to push thoughts away or to empty one's mind. The point was to welcome all thoughts and feelings and simply refocus each time one arose. Sounded very much like Eastern mindfulness or Vipassna meditation, which I have been doing for years. He wasn't asking us to give up our free will or hands ourselves wholeheartedly over to the God of His understanding. Harmless enough.

Until the priest-in-charge of the church opened his mouth. I might have known that trouble lurked beneath the surface of this jolly minister. He looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Abby Hoffman with his hippie sandals and the shock of white curls on his head.

The group was talking about obstacles that arose during prayer and the priest raised his hand and said, quite unabashedly, that he couldn't help but having erotic thoughts enter his mind the whole time and wasn't it time we stopped looking for ecstatic "God" experiences and just allowed our minds to be as human as they really were.

Human! Here we were, a room full of post-menopausal women, and I doubt any of us were thinking of anything besides what we were making for dinner that night. But I knew where he was coming from. I'd heard it all before. The shock value of a man of the cloth admitting to carnal thoughts permitted us lowly laymen (women) to do the same. The only problem was most of us WERE having epiphanies and the like.

Wierwille, my former cult leader, used to do the same thing then he'd sleep with as many women as he could find. I'm not saying that's what this minister did but it was awfully suspicious behavior. Of course, it took me a whole day to register why I felt so vulnerable and upset. It took my husband to point out that perhaps that man had touched on one of my triggers and that made me feel very anxious.

So, once again, an innocent stroll into the murky swamp of religion turns up alligators and snakes. But it turned up other things too. The beautiful flowers of compassion and birds of paradise. I did happen to have a transcendent experience, though, we were reminded, that is not the goal of centering prayer. Nevertheless, as I was sitting there, I had an overwhelming sense of Presence. Something or someone holding my heart in the palm of its hand, like cupping a fragile robin's egg. I was reminded that for all my spiritual aspirations, I am still wounded, and can be triggered at any moment in any place. I still have to watch out for those wolves in sheep's clothing. Happy Easter.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Faulkner on Fear

I've been writing a lot about fear lately - the fear of being in groups, the fear of being alone. I thought this week, I'd share the most inspirational piece of writing I know about fear. It has to do specifically with writing but I think it applies to all varieties of creativity....and living. Here is Faulkner's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech:

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work -- a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed -- love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

The poet’s, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On Procrastination

I'm starting a new book. I think I already told you about it. A story for my father-in-law about his childhood mentor. It's a study in making up history since I don't know a lot about him or the mentor. I can only imagine what their lives were like.

Sitting on the couch in my library, I'm finding ways to avoid writing. I hear my husband, rattling around in his studio. I imagine him painting, dancing back and forth in front of a new canvas. Sometimes, he is afraid to commit color to a surface, afraid that he might fail, just as I am afraid I might fail to find the words to write. I'm afraid my imagination will fail me. Do I have it in me to create?

The door to his studio just opened and closed. Now I imagine him outside, ranging around his old Model A truck, contemplating how he'll restore it this Spring. Ah, Spring! How does anyone do anything on such a beautiful day? He's coming up the stairs now to the main house. Perhaps he'll join me in my game of procrastination. Perhaps he'll save me from it.

No, I hear a brush drop. I imagine him picking it up, grabbing his palette. He has resumed work.

It is time for me to do the same. Writing is hard because it is alone work. And being alone is perhaps the hardest thing of all. Will anything save me from being alone with myself?

Today our daughter left for a new apartment closer to school. She says she fears being alone, not for her safety but for sanity. She just broke up with another boyfriend, an unsatisfactory relationship - not abusive, just second-rate. One in which she couldn't fully be herself. She's opted for making it on her own to being in a mediocre relationship.

I know there are books out these days about settling for a "good enough" relationship. You don't have to be single and hold out for the "right one" forever, they say. I'm not sure I agree with this. Holding out for the "right one" is holding out for the one who enhances your Self. It's not enough to just not be alone. One must be at peace with one's aloneness before joining up with another soul. My husband and I didn't choose each other to escape the loneliness but rather to share it, until our mutual emptiness united us both.

I think the fear of aloneness is the root of procrastination. Some might say it's fear of failure but at the root of the fear of failure is the fear of rejection and the root of the fear of rejection is the fear of being all alone in the world.

My husband just walked in. I ask him how it's going and he says "good. How about for you?" I say "good" in hopes that it will be. He can't live my life for me, no matter how close we are. It's up to me to handle my aloneness. I don't HAVE to write but I'd like to. So, up again old heart. Fill the void with imagination. In the end, that's all I can truly call my own.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Confessions of a former Group-o-Phobe

It's striking how hard group situations can be after being in a cult. I wrote last week about attending a group for former cult-members and it must have sounded like I had mastered the art of collective social situations. Not so. I still balk at everything from church to staff meetings to Weight Watchers pep sessions.

Weight Watchers is a good example. Everyone gathers to hear a motivational talk for the coming week. How to avoid fat foods and bulk up on healthy ones. How to exercise so you sweat. How to make the most your special W.W. system with points and all. How many points do Girl Scout cookies have anyway? All benign things.

I sit with a room full of overweight people, ladies mostly - or ladies who THINK they're overweight - and squirm in my chair as the "facilitator" whoops the crowd into a frenzy of enthusiastic starvation. She flips the flip chart and quotes inspirational sayings from such mental giants as Earl Nightingale and Dale Carnegie. "Yes, we can, yes, we can." It sometimes feels like an Obama rally.

But I'm better than I used to be. There was a time, shortly after I left The Way, that sitting in a room of fervent believers, like, um, church, for instance, would trigger my anxiety through the roof. When the minister would quote the Bible, it would be like someone shouting "Incoming!" to a Vietnam vet. I'd want to dive under the nearest pew and cover my ears. But now I'm a relatively content churchgoer. So what's changed?

First of all, I can CHOOSE when to go and when not to go to church (I average about once a month.) I can CHOOSE to leave also if I feel uncomfortable. Not so in The Way. There I was under the constant threat of becoming "a greasespot on the highway of life" if I disagreed. I also have learned to LISTEN to my inner voice. If a group gives me the heebie-geebies, I split. Fast.

My boss at work is a cool guy. He's a forty-something psychiatrist who studies Buddhism, practices Tai Chi and cooks gourmet food. He's absolutely astounding with the inmates. He also attends the Zen Mountain Monastery and knows my history. He assures me that the monastery is not a cult. "As long as it's 'us' and not 'them', " he says, "I will go. As soon as they start playing the 'better than' game, I'm out."

That seems to be a good distinction. Whether it's Weight Watchers, church or a Buddhist Meditation group, as long as the group tolerates differences, mine for instance, and is inclusive of other people, I'm okay with it. We don't have to buy into EVERYTHING they're saying. We can pick and chose. If the shoe fits, we wear it. If it doesn't, we don't blame our foot. We look for a different shoe! Some groups can be so rigid, you're bad if you're slightly unique, which we all are. It's their way or the highway. I'll take the highway - even if it means being alone. It's not always comfortable, but it certainly is safer.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Trauma and Recovery

I recently co-facilitated a former-members support group for ex-cultists. We met in a spacious office and went around the circle and told our stories by turn. There were survivors of all sorts of groups - Bible-based cults, therapy cults, new age cults, even political cults. We listened to each other's stories, reacted and asked questions. Even though I had heard many similar accounts, it didn't mitigate the shock of what people do under cult mind-control.

When it came to me, I rattled off the litany of abuse which I'd suffered while involved with The Way International- things like sexual abuse, physical abuse, spiritual exploitation, psychological manipulation, severe depression, suicide attempts. They were all old hat to me. But when I finished my recounting, everyone sat in silence. I felt embarrassed, like I had done something wrong and upset the group.

On my way home, while driving, I had a chance to reflect on what had taken place. I had been horrified by some of the things I heard from some of the ex-members - things like hypnotism, child abuse, brainwashing. Perhaps, I thought, other people had had a similar reaction to my story. Even though I'd been through it a thousand times, I even wrote a book about it all, it was still unsettling for me to see people's response to my story. They were looking at me the way I had looked at them.

I think whenever people hear about trauma of any sort, the reaction is the same. Shock, denial, horror, anger and grief and so on. Even if you've been through abuse yourself, hearing other people's stories can elicit these same emotions. Now I think I understand how people I know feel when they read my book - why some of them look at me cross-eyed and don't know what to say. Perhaps they worry that these aberrations of normal human experience are contagious.

My abuse took place over twenty-five years ago. I'm healthy, happy and living a more or less sane life. But when I show my scars, and see myself through the eyes of others, I am reminded of the pain. The pain is new to the ones who are hearing it for the first time. But, for me, these wounds are healed and I am basically whole. I only get thrown if I react to their shock, like a baby that falls and looks at the pain on its mother's face then starts to cry.

I have to remind myself that I am not a child. I am no longer a victim. I will always be an ex-member, always a survivor but now, by God's grace, I'm a "thriver." It's been a long road from trauma to recovery and I need not go back. Except to hold out a hand to someone who is trying to cross the chasm to healing themselves. That is why I'm co-facilitating the group. But that doesn't mean I still don't get tweaked by my own story. Sometimes it's just plain hard for me to believe I went through all that stuff. And if it's hard for me to believe it, why should I be surprised that others feel the same way, too?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Amazing Grace

This week, I received a call from my son in India at five in the morning. He was phoning with the most wonderful news. A director in Bollywood who had taken an interest in his documentary, hired him to write and co-direct two full-length feature films. My son was ecstatic. And so was I. It's been a long journey from the cult days and my son is living proof that children can survive their parents' involvement in a toxic group.

Later that day, I received a call from his father. Alec called to rejoice with me in our son's accomplishments. Of our two children, he said "We raised them to follow their dreams and that is what they have done."

"Yes, it took a lot of faith on their part," I said. "You know how it is - leap and the net shall catch you."

"Well," replied Alec. "It didn't exactly catch us. When we were their age, we went crashing through our net."

"Yeah, The Way was a disaster," I said. "But they're on a good path. They've done better than we did and that's all a parent can hope for."

"I always said, if I did nothing with my life than love my children, I will have been a success," he said. "I believe we've both been successful at that."

My eyes filled with tears and I swallowed hard. We both had come a long way since our violent marriage and the abuses of The Way, the hospitalizations and the custody fights. It had taken a lot of work and forgiveness but all that was behind us now. We could revel together in the success of our children. Not only were they following their dreams but they seemed happy doing it.

Funny how when you love someone, his dreams become your dreams, her success becomes your success. Such is the way of being a parent, whether you're divorced or married. It's one of the great mysteries of grace - how life goes on and happiness happens. I'm grateful for the love my children have received - from every quarter. That's my definition of grace - the capacity to love and heal in the face of adversity. To start over again and again and again and finally to succeed.

It's been a good week.

p.s. check out my son's trailer for his new movie about U.G. Krishnamurti:
ug a

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Mother/My New Book

I'm in the midst of marketing my second book. It’s a hard sell in New York these days, or so I'm told. It has nothing to do with vampires or baseball so that makes it a hard sell.
What it is about is leaving a cult, with a mother-daughter story at its core.

My mother and I were never close, not in the traditional sense. Mom was a superb provider, as my father was mostly out of work due to a penchant for scotch. In a time when most daughters had stay-at-home Moms, mine slaved away at a job in Manhattan, editing books and running her own subsidiary of E.P. Dutton. At night, she would come home, cook dinner, run a sewing machine and make me clothes or edit freelance manuscripts. Did I mention that she also wrote and published several novels? She never stopped working. And I never stopped craving her attention.

By the time I joined The Way international, I thought I was over it. I gave up trying to get her to notice me. I didn't understand her sacrifice. I only saw things through my own limited vision of the world - that I was at its center and Mom didn't revolve around me. She revolved around her whole family - keeping food on the table and gas in the car. No wonder she didn't notice that I'd gotten myself hooked up with a cult. As far as she was concerned, it kept me out of trouble and that was good. One less thing she had to worry about.

And still she did worry. When The Way took me out to Kansas and points beyond, she never stopped writing or scraping together a few extra bucks to send me. Twenty-five dollars was a lot thirty years ago and Mom even sponsored me in The Way Corps, though she didn't believe in it. Not a bit. But she believed in me and refused to lose touch. Even when I cursed her and thought her possessed of devil spirits, she didn't give up. Finally, when the time was ripe, she rescued me and her two grandchildren.

I never understood my mother until I had my own children. I never understood the tenacity and grit it took to hang on when your love looked hopeless and you were convinced you had lost the reason you were holding on. Well, I don’t want to give away the plot of my sequel to Losing the Way but suffice it to say, that my relationship with my mother is at the heart of it all. The estrangement, the misunderstanding, the forgiveness, the reconciliation.

Today would have been my mother's eighty-ninth birthday. She died three years ago from complications of Alzheimer's Disease. Were she alive today, I know we would all be celebrating, my children and me, celebrating a life of giving and love. Even though she was not an affectionate person, she was a loving person and I know she loved me. And I loved her, in spite of the years I walked away from her.

Oh, and by the way, that's the name of my new book: Walkaway: Confessions of a Lost Daughter. But don’t hold your breath. It may never see the light of day. Like I said, there are no vampires.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy (Belated) Valentine's Day

Yesterday, my husband and I woke up on an air mattress in my in-laws' house. We were visiting to talk about a new project I am working on - a book about my father-in-law's childhood mentor who was a struggling artist during the Depression.

I kissed my husband, wished him Happy Valentine's Day and he hopped out of bed. He came back with a card and some earrings. I had nothing to give him. I had forgotten to buy a card. He said it was okay, of course. He knew I loved him but I felt bad. I had taken the most important person in my life for granted.

I met my husband over sixteen years ago when my ex-husband sued me for child support. He had custody of the kids at that point and I was in the process of moving up to their school district. I had seen my now-husband at a Parent's Day at my children's school. Then we bumped into each other in court. A miracle. The best thing my ex ever did for me, besides give me two beautiful children.

My husband has been one of the great gifts of my life. He is an oil painter and a piano player. A few months ago, a doctor told him he had heavy-metal toxicity - lead and cadmium poisoning. The natropath recommended that he get a sauna to sweat out the toxins. We took our meager savings and invested it in a sweat box which we now keep next to his studio.

When I got home last night, I wrote him a poem for Valentine's Day. It's just a small thank you for a great treasure. I read it to him this morning in the sauna. He kissed me and said thank you. I felt better. I think both of us did.

A Valentine for Edward

Every day we doff our clothes
and walk to the private beach
in our living room, a heated
space closet with windows,
magazines and music. We
absorb the rays of an invisible
sun and dream of places far
away - the canals of Venice, the
streets of London.

Once you traced the outline
of my naked cheek, you
lifted my chin and tilted
my head, your finger soft as sand
on my moist skin and your eyes
stripped me to my beauty,
like Raphael looking on his
Venus in her ocean shell
and Venus opening her eyes
and seeing, at last, what
the artist saw.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Prison

So, maybe I was a little hard on myself last week. There's a fine balance between responsibility and compassion, I guess. And I've been learning the lesson all week.

For instance, I'm riding to work at the prison one morning, listening to public radio when the announcer announces a story delivered by a Connecticut reporter named Abby Cousins (made-up-name.) A sudden blast of cold air blew up my sleeve as I recognized the name - there could only be one Abby Cousins - she joined the cult with me way back in the seventies and I knew she lived in the same state as I did now. I knew she was still in one of the splinter groups of The Way, a rather innocuous reincarnation of a "twig" fellowship but we had fallen out of touch.

Abby was a strong influence in my life when I was a teenager. She was two years older than me and I looked up to her in every way - from the clothes that she wore to the schools she attended. I wanted to be like her. Her parents were very well-to-do and unlike mine, belonged to all the best country clubs, bought the best clothes and served in the local church. They even took me in, a charity case, when my mother had to travel on business and my father was drinking. No one could trust my father to take proper care of me when he was drunk. Once, Mrs. Cousins scolded me for borrowing one of her pencils and not returning it immediately. "Are you a borrower, Kris?" Her words filled me with shame.

But Abby. How I wanted to be like her - with her effortless charm, brains, and old money. She wasn't beautiful but was attractive in a healthy, affluent L.L. Bean sort of way. She exuded love, bringing new converts to the fold wherever she went and she taught God's Word thoughtfully. Even her parents were Christians and approving of The Way, which her older brother also joined when he graduated from Harvard.

I listened intently to the radio show, my hands getting sweaty on the wheel. She was interviewing someone mundane like the CEO of a travel agency. Her voice sounded strong and musical, almost lilting. It brought me back to the days when we were in The Way together and she dreamed of working for national TV or radio to spread the Word into culture. She once served as our cult leader's (The Doctor's) press secretary, writing press releases and magazine articles to bone up the fractured image of the cult in the media. The Doctor always encouraged us to infiltrate society with the message of The Way, to run classes for the most successful sinners (and to line his pockets with more money.)

So Abby had finally arrived and my old feelings of inadequacy returned. She had always been one of those people who never seemed to sweat, the unflappable duck paddling furiously below the surface. And I had made a royal mess of my life, only to write about it and draw criticism.

Her news report was decent and informative and I longed to make contact with her. Call her up - a blast from her past. But why? She never approved of my book or my rantings about The Way and the Doctor's abuse. She never believed me. Why should I subject myself to her judgment? Better yet, why should I judge her? I wasn't walking in her shoes. I didn't know what she was living through these days. So I decided not to call.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here except that I can be a harsh judge of myself and a harsh judge of other people. Its something I'm working on. I'm happy for Abby, that she's achieved a dream. And I'm happy for me, too, that I'm living mine. Let's just leave it at that for now.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


I'm still having cult dreams. After twenty-five years, you'd think they would have stopped. But now that I'm exploring my spirituality in earnest - i.e. Christian spirituality, I'm getting shaky. Last night, I was back in a big Way meeting, leading it. I woke with a start - thoughts racing, heart pounding, short of breath.

I have to go in very small steps. Baby steps. There's so much I don't understand and so much I want to (I want, I want, I want….) Who is God? What is the nature of God? Why is there evil and suffering? Who was Jesus? I am a perennial doubter. Even if God came down and told me the answers to my face, I'm sure I'd still doubt. So, I'm having to trust my heart. And that's hard for one who always sought "answers " outside herself.

Yesterday, before the circuits in my brain overheated from all these theological questions, I wrote about taking responsibility for my actions in the cult. That seems to be the first step in recovery from just about anything. Look at AA's 1st step -" Admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable." You have to accept that you have a problem before you can tackle it. In this case, my anxiety is off-the-charts when it comes to Christianity because I'm so afraid I'll "lose my way" again. Naming the source of the anxiety helps. So does writing about it. So here's yesterday's post:

I was speaking with a friend the other day about centering prayer and she told me of a terrifying experience she had had many years ago when she was seeking to deepen her spirituality. She was reading many books on spirituality, under the supervision of a confessor and a spiritual director. But she started straying into the turbulent waters of the spirit - where good and evil clashed. She could barely articulate what had happened to her except to say that it took over her life and nearly destroyed her marriage. No one, she said, could relate to what she was going through, not even her counselors. She felt "over her head" in God and couldn't get her footing. Finally, she extricated herself from it - stopped praying, stopped opening herself to these spiritual forces, stopped going to church. She just quit and it took her over forty years to regain her footing.

"Not unlike your experience in the Way, when you thought you're doing God's will and you were led astray," she said.

"Was there ever a time when you felt it was wrong?" I asked.

"Oh yes," she said. "But I was under the direction of some very spiritual people and they encouraged me to continue."

So, there it was. Under the guidance of ignorant guides. Not evil, not like a cult leader, but misguiding, all the same. She gave up her free will to listen to them. Instead of listening to herself and her better judgment. That's the problem with religion. Often we think someone else knows better than we do and we give up our good sense.

Listening to her, it was easy for me to see my own folly in The Way. Sure, I knew what I was doing was wrong. I knew it was wrong to have sex with a married man. I knew it was wrong to allow myself to be used and beaten and abused. I knew it was wrong to deceive other people in the name of God. All in the name of God. And yet, I continued, RATIONALIZING that it was okay just because I was told it was. Brainwashing? Perhaps. That's like the joke - how many cult leaders does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer - only one - but the light bulb has to want to change.

I gave up my free will. I gave it up - no one took it from me. It’s much harder to understand a child who was born into a cult - how do they find their way when their free will IS taken over by a controlling adult system? And yet people DO find their way back to their center. How? BY LISTENING to the still, small voice inside. Cults do everything to make it impossible to listen - by controlling all your free time and never giving you time to think. Our busy culture can do the same. That is why "down time" in which you are with yourself, alone, is SO important. It gives you a chance to listen to yourself - listen to what you're telling yourself. Then perhaps we can hear what our personal God is telling us.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What's Next?

Okay, so there's a way to manage anxiety and stress through mindfulness meditation and centering prayer. But what about God? Where does love fit in, one reader asked. (BTW, thank you, dear reader, this is just what I've been asking, too.)

I'm not sure I have the answer but I'll relate an experience I had recently. I had been praying faithfully every morning, centering on my "sacred word" and following my breath. My new twofold path.

Then, one morning, I felt like I was coming close to the fire. You know, like Moses coming upon the burning bush. The fire turned into light, the light turned into love and love turned into…..fear. I went to work and anxiety hit HARD. Anxiety soon gave way to depression and I was a wreck for the rest of the week. I stopped praying and hit the refrigerator, consuming as much comfort food as I could (my dysfunctional way of coping.) I was utterly baffled. What happened?

Then I saw Sandy, my spiritual director. I shudder to say that because, as a former cult member, anything that smacks of spiritual guidance is a great threat. But I had met her at a low-key retreat last September in which we played with clay and found our center. I have been poking at the edges of my spiritual quest for years, unable to commit to anything but hungering all the same. Sandy, a Methodist minister, saw that and we connected. I've been seeing her once a month ever since.

I told Sandy I had become fearful during my prayer. Not just fearful. Terrified. The closer I got to God, the more panicked I became. I was sure She was going to betray me (I use masculine and feminine pronouns interchangeably as I do not believe God has a gender.) My whole being felt unsafe, threatened with annihilation. What was it?

The more Sandy and I talked, the more it dawned on me that these were the same feelings I had as a trauma survivor. And my trauma had been in the cult. The Doctor, who had dubbed himself "The Man of God," had used me in the name of God. I equated him with God. That's the most devastating damage of cults. They ravage one spiritually, usurping the Mystery and turning a man into an idol. Now, here I was, back on my spiritual quest and the buried memories of the trauma were resurfacing - not the trauma of sexual and physical abuse but of the spiritual abuse. I was sure that God was going to betray as he had before - only that "god" was a man, Victor Paul Wierwille.

Once that became clear to me, that I was mixing up my gods, my anxiety vanished and I was back on track. I'm reminded of Paul Tillich's words at the end of his book "The Courage to Be:" "The courage to be is rooted in the god who appears when God disappears in the anxiety of doubt." On this new spiritual journey, which has only taken me twenty-five years to get to, I am embracing a new God - one of love and goodness and light A God who does not betray or abandon. God the ocean. Kris the pebble. I haven’t gotten to the father/child part yet. That's more trauma to work through. But the goal is there and so is Love. I'm trusting I'll be led into it the way a flower unfolds in the sun. Not something I can rush or push. Just another part of the journey.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Meditation on Meditation

My old friend Karen, from my college days, is here visiting. She just came from a 9-day workshop on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Massachusetts. She learned techniques of meditation and relaxation and is now ready to teach other to help manage their stress.

Karen and I met at a Vipassna meditation retreat two years after I left The Way. I had just started divinity school and was exploring other religious traditions. I figured Christianity hadn't worked out so well so I'd give Buddhism a shot. The retreat was held at a beach house and was led by Susan, a petite Jewish woman with wild brown hair and a thick Brooklyn accent. It being a silent retreat, we were instructed to not speak for the whole weekend.

One afternoon, I was walking along the beach, throwing stones and shells back into the ocean. I was yelling at God. Why had He let betrayed me and caused me to suffer at the hands of The Way? Why had He let everything fall apart? Why? Why? Why? It was unfair.

Susan came walking up behind me. I turned and ran towards her.

"I know we're not supposed to be talking, Susan, but I can’t hold it in any longer," I cried.

"What's up?" she said matter-of-factly.

"It's God. If God exists, how could He let all this bad stuff happen to me? Why did He betray me?"

Susan picked up a small stone from the sand and held it out in the palm of her hand.

"God didn't let this happen to you. God is being. God is everywhere. Maybe you the pebble on the beach felt betrayed but not you the part of the ocean. You are one with being. You can't be betrayed."

Then she handed me the stone and continued up the beach. I stood there dumbfounded.

That moment changed my life because it took me from being the center of my world to being part of God's. God is Mystery and I can't begin to know the reasons for everything but I know and believe that I am part of a greater whole and I am not at the center of it. It was and is a great relief.

I still meditate and find God in me each morning in the rhythm of my breath. I wrote a poem the other day about what it's like for me - this meditation. Here it is:

First, I strap myself in to the leather seat of my
invisible space craft. Then I launch into the deep,
ascend or descend, whatever you call it-
Until I find the orbit of my breath,
the magnetic field that holds me to this life.
Rocks and celestial debris assail my ship
in the form of thoughts and feelings but
I persist until I reach the still point
that pulls me out and pulls me in,
floating in the center of my inner space.

Mindfulness -Based Stress Reduction introduces a form of breathing meditation in which one follows one's breath to the center of one's being. For me, a combination of mindfulness and centering prayer has helped me connect with God and the Source. It has restored my faith and gives me a greater purpose beyond my own limited view.

If you're interested in learning more about mindfulness meditation and/or centering prayer, I recommend Jon Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living or Thich Nhat Hnah's Miracle of Mindfulness or Open Mind, Open Heart by Father John Keating.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy Birthday to Us

Twenty-five years ago today I was a patient on the psychiatric unit of a hospital in Portland, Oregon. I was also nine months pregnant. Two nurses, dressed in pastel-colored lab coats, walked into my room.

"Are you ready?" one said. Her lab coat had balloons and happy faces on it.

"Today's the big day," said the other, a hefty blonde with a warm smile.

I rose from an armchair in the corner of the room and heaved myself onto the gurney. They were taking me upstairs to deliver my baby.

"The doctor will start a drip and they'll induce labor." The nurses wheeled the bed towards the elevator and continued their instructions "We'll take you up to the seventh floor and when it's all over, we'll bring you back down here. All you have to do is relax."

I placed my hands on my bulging belly. The baby kicked. "Is Alec going to be there?"

"Yes, he's already up there, waiting for you."

My whole body tensed. I'd been preparing for this moment for weeks in therapy. "Just expect him to be an asshole," my therapist had told me. She knew about my husband's violent temper. I had already decided not to go back to him. I just needed to get through this day. It never occurred to me to ban Alec from the delivery room. I was still under the spell of The Way, a fundamentalist cult I belonged to. Alec was a "man of God" and it was his right as the father to be there. I didn't consider my rights.

We arrived at the Obstetrics department and Alec was there to greet me. He was calm and smiling, joking with the nurses and encouraging me. "Don't worry, Kris," he said. "Everything 's going to be alright." The good Alec.

Soon I was in labor and Alec was holding my hand. "Breathe," he said. "Breathe." I have no memory of the delivery but it went quickly. Before I knew it, a nurse was handing me a beautiful baby girl. Alec cried. I cried. "We did it," he said.

Today is my daughter's twenty-fifth birthday. She is a strong, lovely young woman. It's a long way from her inauspicious beginnings. But how many people can say that they spent their first few weeks on a psych ward with their mother?

This day marks an important day for both of us. My daughter's birth signaled a birth in me, as well. She gave me the strength to walk away from an abusive marriage and The Way. After I left the hospital, I never went back. Today is a day of deep gratitude for the people we have become.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Butterfly Speaks

So it's been almost a year since I last posted, since I entered the MFA in Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University and decided to improve my writing skills. Well, I haven't exactly graduated (I actually dropped out), but I got what I was after. The keys to successful writing.

I had very gifted teachers who taught me the "secrets." My husband is an art instructor who teaches the "secrets of the Old Masters." I didn't know how envious I was of his students, until I got a taste of instruction myself. I became an MFA groupie and learned what makes writing "work."

Far be it from me to reveal these deep mysteries (hint - scenes, scenes, scenes.) Now that I have emerged, a butterfly from a chrysalis, I have a new manuscript in hand - another memoir, the sequel to Losing the Way - and am ready to present it to the world. I have decided to pick up the mantle of writer and explore different subjects beyond my limited life. Memoir has run its course.

A lot can happen in a year. One can fall in love or be diagnosed with a fatal disease. Nothing so dramatic happened to me, unless, finding one's "bliss" counts for that. I've learned that as much as I love being a prison social worker, there's something I love even more and that's writing. That's why I wake up at four in the morning and labor away on this laptop.

So how about you? So how has your year been? Have you found your bliss? Where is it taking you? I'd love to hear.