On the Seventh Day She Painted Her Nails

nail
Nail polish isn’t just some chemicals in a bottle, it is light and color measured out in droplets of perfection, at least that’s how I see it. I pick out nail polish with all the reverence of a devote, matching base color with glittering top coat, pink on pink, gold on gold, disco ball silver glitter over moonstone white with rainbow opalescence. God I love nail polish. I have jewelry and clothes, but only with nail polish do I feel that girly sense of wonder when I sit back and look and my frankly adorable toes and say wow…that’s awesome. I’ve just recovered from yet another bout of clinical depression, the kind that makes me wish for death while I cling to life through long naps, dried fruit, my cat and a good book. In depression I can’t write, I can’t eat, I can hardly do any of the things that a competent successful, vital person can do. Instead I feel childlike, lonely, useless and afraid. No one can help a depressed person unless it’s to get them a blanket, make them eat or get them to talk. A depressed person can’t be helped because the pain comes from nowhere; the medicine does more harm than good and all the bleeding is internal, intangible and imagined. When it passes it’s like having survived a hurricane which blew only in your soul; you look around expecting the house to be gone, your possessions strewn across the road but everything’s in place and you are you only with a little less sparkle than before. Maybe that’s why I love glittery nail polish so much. On the seventh day she painted her toes! This act marks my Sabbath, my holy day, my healing time of rest and revitalization. I know I’ve reached recovery when I pick a new color, look myself in the mirror and say, “I’m feeling pink today.” Today I was feeling pink and my new nail polish reflects that. I may never publish any of the wonderful books I have written, I may never ride a camel around the great pyramids, I may never hike in the alps or walk the grand Camano through the Pyrenees mountains but I’m here today because of you, because of my husband, my son and because of the little things, like nail polish, which make life sweet. God bless you all, and thanks.

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Christmas Lights

christmas-tree2
When I think of Christmas I see lights reflected off snow, sparkling red, blue and green. Somewhere in the distance voices raise in song and I am again a child, my hand in my mother’s as together we view the light display in temple square. In my child’s mind this temple embodied every kind of magic, its beauty shining like a beacon of beauty and peace into a wary world. I used to pray that this part of Christmas would last all year. I loved the silence of Christmas. I loved the sense of wonder, the love and warmth of light reflecting out into the darkness bringing hope. In no other time of the year did I feel as loved, as united, or as precious as I did in those long dark winters in Salt Lake City. I was still a child then, still innocent and open to the magic in the world.

In the days after we’d decorated our fragrant tree, I would gather my books, blankets and my teddy bear Rose-Amora and slide carefully into the corner behind the branches to read by Christmas light. I remember hearing my father walk through our old Victorian house while he called my name. I’d listen in silence, my book sitting still in my lap while my father pretended he couldn’t find me. I giggled when he return to the living room with my cat Cumulus Nimbus under his arm. “Find Eleanor,” he’d say, setting the cat down before the tree and sure enough Nim would run right to me meowing.

It’s so easy to forget what Christmas is in the hustle of holiday sales, family get together, and church events. It’s easy to fill silence with noise, and stillness with action, to remain so busy in preparation that we forget to rest in the fullness of experience. Each year when we take out the Christmas lights I am reminded of what happy feels like. Each year I take time to rest with a good book and a cat in the light of peace as I did so long ago in the light from a Christmas tree. Each year I listen to the world call my name while I pretend not to hear because it feels so good to rest in stillness. Whether your light comes from the star of Bethlehem, the Menorah or the Holy Fire, be still in its presence, practice gratitude for all that you are and all that you have and be childlike; for only in innocence can we know peace.

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Nothing to Prove

two girls holding hands
I no longer have anything to prove. Not to myself, not to my friends and not to the world. Stress, anxiety and worry, guilt and fear grow stronger when I reach for perfection; wanting in every way to prove that I am worth knowing, worth hearing, worth the time it takes to say hello. Freedom lives in acceptance, as does love, compassion and the greatest gift, contentment. I have set aside my need for riches, my wish for worldly wealth and I am at home with myself and to myself in a way I never was before, simply because I make no excuses for who I am. I am…and that’s enough.

The road to poverty is paved with unnecessary consumption; that driving need to own the latest, the greatest, the biggest and the best in order to be cutting-edge, cool and accepted. I have bought my fair share of acceptance based merchandise. I have run up my credit cards and wept when I couldn’t pay the bill. I wore the right shoes with the right dress to the right occasion where I said all the right things to all the right people? Instead of feeling exhilarated, accepted and admired I felt tired and jaded as if I’d shelved the best and brightest parts of me for one radiantly superficial occasion.

Once shelved, our best and brightest features begin to fade. Our true natures waste away into the shadowed recess of our souls, coming out in confessions to a friend who isn’t really a friend because in truth, she’s never really met you. Oh sure you’ve shopped together and gossiped together but the moment you let your true self slip into the open, you’re confronted with the reality that you’ve crossed that line into inexplicable depth. Your pretty friend’s eyes glaze over, there’s a lull in conversation accompanied by the reality that you’ve gone too far. “Beyond this point there be dragons,” the old maps used to read and you struggle through uncomfortable chatter, the bird song of small talk, until you reestablish the comfortable anonymity that kept you both intimate strangers. Then your friend grows busy, too busy, to shop and gossip and her world spins on without you.

I have nothing to prove, nothing to preach, I’ll love you in your best dress or in your most ragged pair of sweats. You know the pair you reserve for those days when you’re too old for teddy bears but too broken to understand how much you need one. I don’t care if you’re not wearing eye makeup or where you got your hair done. If you can’t stop crying I’ll probably join you. If you’ve got the giggles I’m right there to.

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
-William Shakespeare

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Cultivating Silence

I love silence. It’s a rare and beautiful thing. Silence eludes me at times but is easily cultivated once I let go enough to let it wander free. I love drifting through my silenced house with nothing to do. It’s these empty spans of nothingness that feed my soul in a profound way. I put on silence like an old coat, one that holds me close with its friendly warmth. I like the way silence buffers away the complicated storm swept world as it soothes my mind into quiet order.

In those rare moments when silence is accompanied by nothing to do I invariably finger a book I have no intention of reading or better still I pet my cat and break silence into a raucous flow of vibrational joy. My cats purr is deep and throaty. It is a cultivated purr won from silence, the silence of never having known love. That was not a nice silence. My cat has the purr of a feral cat dumped high on a hill top farm. It is the purr of courage which sings, “I dared to trust and in trust found love.”

Sometimes in my silence I contemplate at my toes. I have brave toes. I like to think of all the places my toes have led me. To the crib where my baby boy slept, to the door of my mother’s house, to the airport where together, toes and I boarded a plane. Finally I like to think of the moment my toes stepped to the top of Wearyall Hill. In this place the silence listens, builds and grows into a sort of spiritual wonder I can scarce find words to express.

One of the sweetest silences I know is barn silence. That’s right…barn silence. I have known barns filled with the slow breaths of big horses and the silent swoop of swallow’s wings. I have cupped my hands to catch gold bright dust particles suspended for a moment in the gleaming perfection of sunset; my horses quietly chewing in their darkening stalls. Barn silence is the best silence because it is filled with contentment. It whispers, well done, everyone is stalled, blanketed, fed, happy and safe. You’ve done your job, your free to find your bed but linger a while because contentment like this only comes to rose sniffers, day dreamers and those who understand and love the richness that comes with the knowledge that all is right with the world.

Silence gives rise to contemplation, the birthplace of epic daydreams. Epic daydreams become manuscripts upon which I labor hour after hour day after day. I nestle down happy with the certainty of my well spun plot, the depth of my characters,  enjoying the peace of knowing that everything will end as I wish it. What if life could be as conveniently orchestrated?

In Silence I disconnect from the global mind, allowing myself to once again become unique to my surroundings. In this great disconnect, I go off-line into silence and am again the girl I was, quiet and shy, no longer forced to brave a world which feels too big.

In silence I hear my heartbeat. In silence I’m glad I’m alive. In silence I am able to set aside my humanity, drink in the sublime and let go of all the petty rages which injure only me. In silence I am home, I am free and I am at peace because silence asks for nothing. It simply gives me space to be.

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What Phillis Wheatley Taught Me

Phillis Wheatley came into my life pressed between the pages of a rather lack luster anthology. I was twenty-one when I first sat down in my American Literature class ready to be thoroughly educated. My professor was young and handsome. He wore a tweed jacket with elbow patches and I knew that we would have great discussions that would change my life. I was right. My interactions with him would change my life.

The only Wheatley poem my anthology contained was the short but controversial,

On being brought from Africa to America

‘TWAS mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither fought now knew,
 Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

I read the poem with understandable concern. My white Gen-X background in no way prepared me for a woman who spoke with gratitude on having been taken from her family at the age of 7, sold into slavery at age 8 and then named after the slave ship which transported her. How she ever survived the long voyage aboard “The Phillis,” no one knows.

I sat in shock listening to my professor discuss the hardships of her life in blasé tones. He furthered the insult by saying that Wheatley’s poem was ironic. My indignation was instant. Nowhere in her words could I detect irony. I heard a fragile voice, as gentle as moonlight, singing out an ideology forced on her through hardship, a new and vengeful God coupled with the tortuous cruelty of slavery. Surely, no one with a heart could read this poem and honestly believe that Wheatley’s poem was ironic. Slowly I raised my hand, stated my case and flatly refused to back down.

My professor believed that his word was the last word on all subjects literary. My refusal to understand that Wheatley’s poem was ironic angered him so much that he began yelling “ironic” at me every time our paths crossed: In the hall, out on the green, in the parking lot. My reply to each and every one of his attacks was to simply say, “sincere.”

At the end of quarter, after turning in every paper, after aceing every quiz and test I received a D-. The girl who sat opposite me never turned in her papers, missed tests and didn’t read the assigned texts but was shocked to receive an A. I approached my professor, I stated that he’d switched the grades and he replied, “How very ironic?” Yes it was ironic that I should fail this simple class with my strong English background. Yes it was ironic that I should fight for a defenseless black poetess, and yes it was ironic that I, a woman, was forced to defend my belief before an empowered white male. I went to the Dean, I filed my complaint and nobody listened.

So this is what Phillis Wheatley taught me. She taught me that even when you’ve been bullied, brainwashed, stomped on and threatened you have to keep on speaking what your heart tells you is right. Since failing American Lit. I have become a lover of Wheatley’s poetry. In her words I find sweetness, beauty, and a refinement not of this world. Her voice is more tangible to me now than any grade. My soul is strengthened by her poem On Virtue. My love of art grows in her poem To S. M. A Young African Painter, On Seeing His Works. My favorite of her poems is simply entitled,

On Imagination.

Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
 Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.

Phillis is one of the reasons why I write about silenced women. Her history is part of why I will always take up a cause my heart recognizes as pure. Phillis could not speak out against slavery when she herself was enslaved but read again On being brought from Africa to America and notice how gently she presses the truth that we all have the right to find grace.

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Choosing Healthy over Hellish Love: Understanding the Trauma Bond

I’ve known several people who believed in this phrase, “We always hurt the one’s we love.” These people weren’t naturally abusive but each had a brutal past, a despair based perspective and an intangible grief. They lived in a state of bitter despair, their days clouded with careless words, biting comebacks and bursts of violence. There were constant stories of war, drunkenness and past wrongs depicted so vividly that, even though I wasn’t there, I experienced them vicariously.

Trauma Bonds make you the secret keeper to other people’s traumatic experiences. These bonds hold you hostage to atrocities, forcing you to turn for support to those who witnessed hell with you. Break a trauma bond by starting a better life and you will never be forgiven for leaving your fellow victims alone with their pain.  Stay and you will be forever stuck at the scene of the crime, a captive victim to a hellish past.

Trauma bonds are fused by a love that goes beyond healthy. It asks that you bare your soul, set aside your values and immerse yourself in a cult like existence. The bond is so overwhelming that you forget who you are and what you ever wanted for yourself. Only the trauma exists; the perpetuated recollection of the darkest moments in life replayed again and again within the trauma bond collective.

Trauma bonds are defensive. Everyone outside the bond is viewed as a potential risk, criminal or predator. Within a trauma bond there is no room for growth, no room for happiness, success or healthy relationships with the outside world.

In my book, The Only Home I’ve Ever Known, my character Gidra is trauma bound to her mother Sophia. They survived a war, hid from enemy troops and forage for food through bombed out villages. With the wars end their trauma bond continues. It grows, warps and twists into a new kind of desperation which makes Gidra’s life impossible to endure. At the beginning of the book Sophia artfully recalls their shared past in order to maintain her control over her daughter. You and I have been through a lifetime together and there is no one in this world who will ever love you or know you the way I do. Please remember that when Parker starts to make you promises. Please remember how hard we’ve fought to stay together when life wanted to separate us.” With these well-chosen words Sophia strives to enforce the trauma bond and destroy any hope Gidra may have of a life outside their bond.

Identifying and breaking away from a trauma bond is an important step to discovering your autonomy.  If you are experiencing a relationship that leaves you feeling depleted or depressed it may be traumatically fused. Separation is usually the first step. Only through separation will you begin to gain a new perspective of the world around you. Secondly, forgive your trauma partners for the life they offered you. When you learn to let go of your past you will be ready to embrace your present. Practice self-protection. Set safety boundaries that free you to live authentically. Open your self to new experiences slowly. Too much too quickly can send you back into old habits.  Practice everyday gratitude (this I really can’t stress enough). Chose to be happy and remember that you do not owe your life to anyone. You were born to live each day on your terms. Go forth and truly live.

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Role Enforcers

If you find yourself feeling the need to explain your actions, you are probably confronting a role enforcer. A role enforcer is a person, or group of people, who intend to keep you stuck in their version of what is acceptable. Role enforcement has been a necessary component in human development by keeping us safely organized within a social structure. Parents are natural role enforcers. It’s the parent’s job to shape their child into their idea of healthy maturity by keeping the child safe within the bounds of a shared identity.

Friendship also acts as a role enforcing infrastructure. Friendship begins with shared interests, perspectives and behaviors which support one another’s idea of what’s OK. If you step outside of the shared state of normal then you run the chance of being teased, nagged and manipulated back into the flow of what is acceptable. Remain at odds with your friend’s relational infrastructure and you’ll soon be looking for new friends.

So what is role enforcement’s place in an intimate relationship? In truth it has no place because a healthy relationship is deep and open. There are no shared states of normal. Instead there is flexibility, compassion and understanding of the changes and shifts which slowly transform an individual throughout a lifetime. We are born seeing the world through our parent’s perspective, we are raised and shaped by the qualities of our friends but as adults we may choose to break the mold, rise up and become the person we were born to be.

In my book, “The Only Home I’ve Known,” I introduce Gidra, a World War II survivor raised in the sex trade. She lives a life born of desperation; driven by a will to survive the worst situations. When the war ends her mother Sophia (an abusive role enforcer) maintains the survival role. Gidra is objectified, sold, paraded out and bartered for jewels, clothing and money. She meets Parker, whose unconditional love shatters her perspective; freeing her from the role which crushed her. With Parker’s love she dares to seek a life of possibility and hope.

Always beware of role enforcers. Identify the people who make you feel as though you must explain your actions. Notice when your authenticity is challenged. Watch for little comments and innuendos that imply you are not acting in accordance with role expectations. Role enforcement is a natural state in herd mentality but it has no place in an open aware relationship. Desiderata by Max Ehrmann states, “As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all people.” Love the role enforcer for the well-intention gifts they tried to saddle you with but never surrender your sense of self or let anyone box you into a false identity. Take comfort in the knowledge that you are unique to this world. There never was or ever will be another you.