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:
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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.