A Succubus Plans Her Day

We weren’t allowed to scream. To have done so would have rendered us rebellious, unladylike and rude. We weren’t allowed to show our shoulders, talk back to boys or be defiant. Only in rage did the women in my house raise their voice. Only in rage could you hear the anguish shoved down through centuries of dissimulation, our silenced dreams recalled in high pitched tirades, spoken so loud that the walls shivered. We were all good girls once, poured into tight dresses and tighter shoes. We said our ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous,’ did our make-up and remained girl like, lady like, picture-perfect, while the years of pent up rage and humiliation turned us slowly into passive cannibals.

I ate my first husband with a smile. He was probably a good man, but I didn’t wait to find out. The second one was cruel, he went down as smooth as butter, sticking to my ribs like a well cut gown. I’ve worn him long and well, his money, his name, his house in the hills, are all visible signs of my victory. I’m stuffed on victory, rolling in it. No man ever made me scream in child birth. No man ever made me change a diaper. No man ever made me grow old in silence.

Long hours stretch before me begging to be filled. Maybe I’ll buy a new dress today or maybe I’ll buy five? Maybe I’ll stop by a café and drink coffee with a friend, or maybe I’ll go to France or Morocco and find a new man to eat? Maybe he’ll be tall and handsome? Maybe he’ll be rich and plain? Or maybe he’ll be cruel in that especially delicious way, sliding down my throat like sweet cream on a hot day.

My rage is a palatable thing that no longer tastes of bile or blood’s corroded metal tang. It is sweet like pudding and revenge. It is the friend I turn to, the confidant who always has an answer. It is my alter-self and my master plan. My rage has given me a long memory. It recalls rooms filled with the silence of clocks that slowly tick out the interminably long hours of a pointless life. It recalls the shackles of obedience, the lie inherent in a false smile and years of unending, unendurable servitude.

Picking up my handbag I catch my image in the mirror. Hollow eyes see hollowed cheeks and elegant collar bones that protrude beneath the thin straps of a little black dress. Beautiful I am and beautiful I will remain though my eyes are sharp, cold, dead and haunted in a way that only a cruel man could overlook. And he’s out there somewhere…viciously vulnerable…made tender by lust…rendered delicious by desire.

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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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Good House Keeping

The Coffee stains on the table are my grandfathers. Each intersecting circle creates an Olympic design. The curtains were sown by my grandmother, yellow with little red flowers faded by a thousand sunrises to varying shades of light pink. The chip in the oak countertop is my mothers, the place where she sliced a thousand cuts of meat and missed the cutting board only twice. The scrapes on both side of the back door belong to the dozens of dogs who have graced our lives with wet noses, wet kisses and the click of claws on the hardwood door. The scrape on the floor belongs to my father, the place where he drug his chair along the old oak planks, bellying up to the table, newspaper in hand.

If I were to find my place in this old farm house, it would be in the attic where the pink and green wallpaper now hangs like fly paper from the narrowly peaked ceiling. The floor where my brass bed once stood is scored by my running leaps which always moved the bed an inch. Other children slept here, my mother in her time, her mother before that. The attic is a child’s place, a lofted wonderland whose view never alters with the years. Stepping across the old planks to the warped single pain window, I see a hundred acres of oak trees. These are the same trees that my great-great grandparents planted one hundred and fifty years ago.

Reaching out I take a swath of wall paper, tearing a neat strip to make a sample. Now that the house is mine, the workmen repair the shingled roof and paint the gingerbread siding to its original peach and cream. Someday soon, on summer holidays my own grandchildren will sleep in brass beds in this attic room, their eyes tracing the green and pink wallpaper of my mother’s childhood. In turn they will mark the house, damage the molding, and scratch their ever increasing height into the door jambs. Someday this will be their house, filled with their stories, memories, dents and dust, creating the best kind of housekeeping for a well lived, well loved home.

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Slaying the Princess to Feed the Dragon

Weight is a huge issue in America. It consumes us, eats us up and devours us whole. Weight consciousness maintains a mind bending strangle hold on every aspect of our lives.  We count calories, workout harder and diet more than any culture in the history of mankind and yet year after year we just get bigger. Our fixation on the waist line has led us to embrace personal betrayal. We have broken away from our own authenticity and turned our backs on self-respect, all in the hopes that we can blend into society’s idea of perfection.

At the age of seven I wanted to be a princess. I had the face, round with large eyes and rosy cheeks, but I lacked that slender physique which said, dainty, graceful, slim and resplendent. Due to my lack of, “dainty,” I lost sight of the pretty, couldn’t see the rosy cheeks or the large round eyes. At the age of seven I embarked on a 30 year career of yo-yo dieting, self-hatred and illness. With eating disorders in tow, I stocked my fridge with “health food,” took hot yoga, took spin classes, weight trained, aerobicized, ran, skied, biked and dieted my way into a ruined metabolism, adrenal fatigue and depression. In my depression I finally realized that I will never be a size two princess. I will never be “dainty.”

I’m farm stock. It’s that plain and simple. My people have been hauling hundred pound sheep and thousand pound cattle through sleet and blizzard, over hill and dale, for time out of mind. I am in no way related to the blue blooded, pampered princess types capable of feeling a pea through a dozen layers of eiderdown mattress. My people were not made “dainty.” We never have had…not once…a “dainty” sixteen inch waist or long “dainty” fingers. We are farm people, built to work, built to survive, built to procreate in large numbers and eat whatever was dumb enough to wander into our way.

Still, I let the princess take my life from me. For thirty years she lived in my head and told me if I just cut more calories, if I just worked out harder and smarter, I could earn the right to live. She told me that I was worthless, big and stupid. I felt defenseless to fight her. I felt alone and unlovable, degraded and disowned. With help I gained the courage to slay the princess, feed my dragon like hunger and rescue my farm girl self from the nether regions of hell.

Now I eat when I’m hungry and remind myself often that nothing’s worth doing if it’s not enjoyable. After a life of hellish self-abusive workouts and diet regiments, it’s nice to find out what feels fun. Over the past year I’ve learned that I still love to work out, I still love to hike, swim and lift weights. I take care of myself and I look and feel better then ever. I’ve turned my back on “dainty.” I’ve chosen instead to feel powerful, athletic, happy, whole and healthy at every size. I’ve pledged to love myself no matter my weight and you know what? That’s OK!

So with a new respect for myself and women as a whole I have begun my fourth novel, a book about a big beautiful farm girl who’s relationship with God, clarity in being and love of authenticity, is unparalleled. I’m writing Marie-Celest for all my fellow Farm girls. God built some of us bigger and stronger so let’s stop starving away our God given strength.

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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 the Rain has Taught Me

Sun shines

and I bolt from the house

like a bird-freed from its cage

capering through my garden.

My thoughts beg the flowers to bud

the leaves to unfurl

the world to open up

blue sky and blinding day.

In light I remember what it was to be a child

bare foot in the grass

golden patterns filtering through branches

casting bright shadows across the lawn.

In blinding hues

I am the girl I was,

the woman I wanted to be

laced into a tight sundress and sandals

with red lacquered toes

too bright to be proper,

too free to care.

With sun comes heat.

Under its pressing warmth

I grow slow and lazy

flopping from lounge to chair

porch to sitting room

a glass

iced cold

pressed against my temple,

the phone or a friend

resting ever at my side.

Light makes me civil,

makes me social,

makes me the chatty companion I never am

when the rains come

and they come as surly as sun-set and death.

Rain comes on fierce wings

blown off tumultuous oceans

to fall with force from fat lazy clouds

or sting my face with fog

too heavy to maintain its ephemeral form.

With the rain comes the other self,

the turtle self;

a shell wearing, head hiding, self-cramming house dweller

too afraid to venture into the cold and clammy world beyond.

What is there to celebrate

when darkness creeps on moistened toes

to drench and smother all small joys?

I die in the rain

wilt and recede in its constant drizzle

my soul braking, shattering, glittering on the pavement

splashed across the surface

like the drops which wound me.

My soul free falls into the depths of black ridged winter

then vainly does my heart cling to artificial light

powerless to replace that blinding golden glow of summer?

The rain has taught me patience,

the value of old sunlit memories,

the necessity of an ever expansive inner world.

From long spells of impenetrable darkness

I know that no matter where I am or what I am reduced to

there is a place inside my mind

for a girl in a sundress

luminous under a full and fearless sun,

a girl who refuses to dream in monochromatic–rain dampened hues.

By EE Orme on surviving Seattle, the place where sometimes it rains longer than 9 months of the year.

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.

Locating your Authentic Self

Locating your Authentic Self is an important step towards relational intimacy. It is impossible to experience deep sustaining love if you are hiding behind a role. In life we misplace our true identity behind labels and ideas that obscure the person we really are. Removing the layers of pretense and fear driven identity can be an intimidating undertaking. Only through authenticity can you find freedom, joy and true love.

Fake identities manifest through fear, loneliness and a need to please, protect or be accepted. These labels come from parents, siblings, society, educational titles, or they may be self-applied. Labels start small but they quickly take on a life of their own, crippling their host’s ability to live authentically in the process. False identity states: I am not a whole person until you know this fact about me. Or, I wouldn’t be good enough for this moment if you knew the real me.

My most destructive false identity came with childhood. I was told that I was, drifty, irrational, difficult, bossy, too sensitive and controlling. These labels grew into, Bitch and finally Crazy Bitch, a title I took to with zeal. I wore it like battle armor, ready to shred my life and my family. Being Crazy Bitch, offered me a way to escape the permanent victim hood I was raised in.

When my husband first asked me out I said, “You don’t want to date me, I’m crazy.” Was this my truth? At the time I thought it was. After years of being labeled, of rebelling, and of being labeled again, I developed an identity that said I was crazy, untrustworthy and mercenary. He looked into my eyes and said, “You’re not crazy.” I remember how sad I felt for him. I knew that at some point I would shred him, break him, hurt him the way I had my family. I overcame my destructive false identity and have a healthy authentic marriage because of his love, trust and support.

In my book Magdalena’s Shadow, I introduce my audience to Coco, a girl who struggles with finding her true identity. Her story begins under the labels: idiot, unlovable and crazy. As the story progresses her labels grow to encompass: model, single mother and whore. Coco could succumb to these labels but like so many of us she strives to overcome the labels she was branded with. Guided by a strict code of personal integrity, Coco begins a compelling search for personal freedom, self-worth and lasting love.

Freedom is yours when you rise above unwanted roles and other people’s beliefs about what you should be. Sit down and list out the roles which you identify with and ask yourself, “how does this role make me feel?” Question, “who would I be if I didn’t believe this about myself?” Listen carefully to your heart’s answers. Be still with your authentic self. Take time to bond with the feeling of just being you, even if only for a moment. Stripping away the layers of false self can feel scary. It helps to understand that the false self has no integrity, is incapable of lasting love and lives wholly outside of intimacy because intimacy cannot be achieved in the presence of a lie.