Archive for the ‘Deep Thoughts’ Category

The Help

I went to see “The Help” this weekend.   I knew I would like it, and I did, even more than I thought I would.

And it made me think of Mrs. Williams.

I have to state, first, that I was born around the time the events depicted in the movie occurred.  And Mrs. Williams didn’t start working for our family until I was in junior high, I think. I’m not quite sure.

I also have to emphasize that my family was not a wealthy or upper middle class family, with a stay-at-home mother who hired help so she could go be involved in bridge clubs and social events, etc.

No, my mother worked full-time, and she worked damn hard. My father worked full-time, and he, too, worked damn hard. It’s entirely possible that during Mrs. Williams’s tenure my father was working two jobs. My mother was the first female certified latent fingerprint examiner in the state of Georgia. She was either working days and on call nights, or else she was working nights and spending her days testifying in court.

So Mrs. Williams was no luxury for our family. She was a necessity. And we loved her. I loved that she and I shared first names (Virginia). My sister loved her for standing up for her when my brother and I got too bratty. She taught me how to roll lemons on the counter, putting a lot of pressure, before you cut them open to squeeze the juice for lemonade or hot toddies, because that releases so much more juice. She taught me that hot lemonade made with honey worked wonders on sore throats.

She loved us. At least, that was the impression we got from her. Maybe she didn’t. Maybe we were just a job. I remember being struck by the difference in our homes, on those days that I rode with my parents to take her home to the projects. I remember being a little scared when we drove through the projects, because the people looked so tough. Now my older self recognizes that if they were tough, it was because to survive, they had to learn how to be tough.

Mrs. Williams, wherever you are, please know that in the months that you worked in our family, you earned a tremendous amount of love, and your memory will always be bright in our hearts.

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It does appear as though the direction we’re taking is rebuilding the house. Joe was there yesterday evening with the adjusters and mooring company, and they’re going to be gutting the house either tomorrow or Monday. And instead of it taking 2-3 months, as they originally estimated, it’s now looking more like 4-5 months. In other words, we’ll be lucky to be home by Christmas.

Joe got my wedding ring out for me, as it had been left in my jewelry armoire that will have to be replaced. And he got SGB’s manuscript off my brand new dresser that will have to be replaced. Are you sensing a theme here? Yes, the furniture is going to have to go. Even the brand new stuff that we got last Saturday. Less than a week ago, it was, and yet it seems a lifetime.

On the positive side: the hotel is just 10 minutes from my office. I can only hope the apartment they put us into next will be as close. Another perk of being in the hotel: free breakfast. Someone else doing the linens and making the beds. Clean towels every day. That’s good, right? And we get to have the dogs with us. (Poor babies–they’re so discombobulated they don’t know what to make of things. And how do you explain it to them? I’ve tried, but you know, they’re dogs, probably not understanding anything I say.)

Other positives: I get to go buy new clothes. And shoes. And at least one more handbag. My house on the inside will be all new. I get to buy new furniture. Yes, I’ve already started looking. (Hey! Stop laughing! Yeah, it may be 4 or 5 months until I get to go buy that new furniture, but if I start looking now, I’ll have a good idea what I want and where to find it when the time comes.) And new makeup. Sephora, here I come! And a new piano.

It’s just that when you try to sit down and think of everything that you’ve lost, it can be very overwhelming. I was making lists yesterday, and they only covered the bare minimum of what was in any given room. All my junk jewelry–cheaper to replace than to try to clean. The 3 or 4 fascinators I never got to wear–will the smoke smell ever come out of them? A basketful of scarves. My books. Notes from my Shakespeare & Chaucer classes (just in case I ever decide to teach English). Journals. Blank books. Note cards, stationery, books where I’ve scribbled down favourite recipes. Cookbooks. Beautiful leather-bound very expensive books about the Crusades and various medieval writers. All my numerous copies of The Canterbury Tales. Notes from my Dante class. My grandmother’s journals (which I devoutly hope are in our storage unit but I’m afraid they might not be). Photographs. Holiday decorations. Mostly things that others would attach no value to, but to me are priceless. The clothes that I was planning to pass along to the incomparable Izzybella or Sarah-bear. The clothes I’ve been saving as I’m on my journey to smaller sizes.  All my beautiful shoes–the cream brocade grannie boots, the black lace guess do-me heels, my bitch boots, all the wedges and heels I’ve been purchasing over the last 6 months or so. And my handbags–most of them comparatively inexpensive, but still hard to replace.

Heck, even my bathroom scale! I don’t know how I’m doing weight-wise, because I haven’t been able to weigh myself since last Sunday morning! I know I’ve been doing some stress eating, but compared to what it would have been pre-banding, it’s absolutely nothing. But I like seeing the numbers on the scale every day. It keeps me focused.

The ugliest bridesmaid dress ever, that I was going to take to the cleaners and then sell on e-bay. Now I guess I’ll just stomp on it and let it be thrown away. The most beautiful formal that Izzybella got some years ago, and that I swore I would someday wear. The baby christening gown and blanket made by my grandmother years ago, that I was planning to pass down to my niece when she’s old enough to have children, that my stepsister’s daughter was blessed in, that Izzybella was blessed in. That I won’t throw away, of course. I will make every effort to have it restored because that, too, is priceless.

And the most treasured things of all are the memories. Memories of Molly, when we first brought her home, with her adorable afro, lying on the floor doing the Molly Flop. Stan gnawing my shoe that was bigger than he was. Molly burying full bags of Joe’s Christmas candy in the back yard. Chase putting on Joe’s heavy gloves and heading for the fireplace, startled when he was stopped, and explained, “I Joe!” Chase seeing me pour out the dregs of a milk carton for his brother, and started bellowing, “Milk! Milk!” and not calming down until he saw me take a full milk carton out of the refrigerator. Alannah and Kyle climbing the tree in our back yard. Chase wandering around nakey after his baby pool-soaked diaper fell off. Christmas Eves with Ben & Janine and their kids. Clover coming to give me a shot in the butt when I was doing IVF trying to have kids. Danny and I, staying up all night after watching Blair Witch Project because we were too spooked to turn the lights off. Crying my heart out in the long days after the IVF failed. Molly peeing on an area rug right after we told Joe’s friends from Australia that she was a good dog and never tinkled in the house. Christmas after Christmas after Christmas. Joe making huge pots of mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner. Joe making huge pots of mashed potatoes for the two of us, and danged if we didn’t manage to eat every bite. Molly being incensed at Mom’s being allowed in the then-yellow room, when she wasn’t, and defiantly going in there to tinkle the day Mom left. The bathroom door constantly coming out of its hinges. That Christmas morning when I sent Molly in to wake up Izzybella, and she enthusiastically complied, jumping onto Izzy’s stomach and kissing her face. The day I drop-kicked a multi-pack of Wolf chili because I was in a snit, and dang near broke my toe. Joe playing guitar so loudly that I could hear it from the inside of my car as I pulled into the driveway. MoMeNTuM meetings. Jehara bringing me my beautiful awesome wonderful zen box that’s now smoked out. Dancing in the living room with Joe. Dancing in the living room with Molly. Having Molly join me when I was practicing yoga in the living room. Spending three months sleeping on the recliner in the living room after having had knee replacement surgery. Laughter, tears, arguments, hugs, kisses, joy, sorrow–the soon-to-be-torn-down walls of our home are replete with the emotions and events from the past 13 years. Those things can’t be replaced. But the new walls will be erected, and in 13 years, we’ll have 13 years worth of memories to look back on.

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I’m still on my Elsie Dinsmore binge (she says, blushing with slight embarrassment). And I’m on book 4, Elsie’s Womanhood, in which she marries the inestimable Mr. Travilla. I chuckled when she calls him Edward for the first time in front of her father, and blushes at her father’s disapproving look (it reminded me of Emma’s referring to Mr. Knightly as “my Mr. Knightly”).  I’ve laughed more than once at some turn of phrase that has completely changed in meaning since the books were written. And I wonder, as I have wondered every time I’ve read the books (yes, I’ve read them multiple times. Hush, now!), how these incredibly pure Christians can uphold slavery.

In the fourth book, the Horace Dinsmores and the Edward Travillas are fortuitously in Europe when the Civil War breaks out, so the reader hears snippets about the war in the form of letters from home. On the day that they receive the fateful news of the Emancipation Proclamation, Mr. Dinsmore (Elsie’s father) remarks that it will take a good deal out of their pockets, several hundred thousands from Elsie (who has inherited her late mother’s estate).  Elsie’s not worried about the money, and says that if she “were only sure it would add to the happiness of [her] poor people, [she] should rejoice over it” (chapter 25).  The husband of Elsie’s mammy is overjoyed to hear the news, as he has been praying for freedom for quite some time. Elsie’s mammy, Chloe, on the other hand, is distressed at the thought of having to leave her beloved family, and doesn’t want to be free. Elsie quietly assures her that she shan’t have to leave them at all, and it would break her heart if they had to part.

This dilemma isn’t, of course, confined to old novels. The other night Joe and I watched part of a PBS documentary about Thomas Jefferson. One cannot talk seriously about Jefferson’s ideology (“We believe that all men are created equal”) without talking about the fact that he was a slave-owner.  He did, in fact, propose numerous times while a member of the Virginia House of Burgess that slaves be emancipated, with no success. If he believed slavery was immoral, why did he own slaves? Why did he not emancipate his slaves? Without talking to him one on one, there’s no way to definitively answer that question. That issue alone does not negate all the good he did.

It’s a common mistake, I believe, to judge the actions of others in different eras by our own cultural mores. For someone in this day and age to own a slave is unthinkably appalling, yet it happens even now. Is it right? No. Not at all.  The fact remains that I am not an 18th century plantation-owner. I’m not an ancient Roman landowner (yes, they had slaves). If a person is taught from the time of birth that slavery is not only an acceptable institution, but the normal order of things within one’s society, then the likelihood that the person will even think to change it is small indeed.

Obviously even in the times when it was common to own slaves, there were were those who understood it to be an immoral thing. They freed their own slaves. They helped others escape to freedom. They spoke out against slavery. They wrote against it. They pledged their lives and their sacred honour to ensure that it was brought to an end. In the Civil War, I had kinfolk on both sides. A something-great granduncle enlisted in the Union Army and died when he was quite young on the first day of the Battle of Shiloh. I’m proud of him, even though I’m sorry that his life was cut off so young. And yes, I’m proud of my something-great grandmother, who taught her slaves to read, even though it was illegal (if I’ve got the story straight). She was something of a firecracker, and I have immense respect for her.

There are so many questions that appear to be perfectly straightforward on the surface. Then you begin digging and they’re not as easy as they first seem to be. I think my grandmother was a good woman; I think my uncle Alexander Waller was a good man; and I think Thomas Jefferson was a good man.

I’m not sure I’m doing such a good job of making my point. I just know that as I myself have more knowledge and understanding than I did as a child, so that I could not judge my youthful actions based on the knowledge I now have, no more can I judge honourable righteous persons of another era based on knowledge that is common in my own era.

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Gypsy Feet

10 1/2 inches, cedar and floo powder, a strange Gregorovitch combination indeed! You’ve been bitten bad by the travel bug, and change is the name of your game. A true wanderer, you can’t stay long in one place and wish to travel the world.

I couldn’t help but grin when I saw this one. I really do have gypsy feet. I’ve never lived in one place so long, and I’m itching for a change something fierce. When I was younger, I’d move on a whim just because. I went to Minnesota to try it out. Went to Austin. Went to Salt Lake City. Went to Anaheim. And then Joe and I settled here about 14 years ago. We’ve lived within a 10-mile radius the entire time.

I’m not knocking this area. We’ve got some really great friends; there’s lots to do in Dallas-Fort Worth. The weather’s beautiful when it’s not horrendous. The mild summers, when they come, are surprising and enjoyable.

But I wanna go! I wanna move! I want new experiences, new places, new things. I’m craving it like I crave a glass of icy cold water when my throat is parched. And the craving just gets stronger and stronger. If I weren’t married, I’d have been out of here a year ago, at least. I want to go somewhere new, somewhere I’ve never lived before. I feel like a chrysalis who’s trying to break its wings against the coccoon–that narrow confining coccoon–and until it succeeds, it remains furled up and unmoving. I’m ready to unfurl my wings and fly!

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A thought

Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past.

– Anne Lamott

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Last night I had an art therapy session scheduled for 6. I got to Dallas about 5, so I sat at the biggest Half-Price Books in the world and read until 5:45, and then wended my way to J.’s office. When I arrived, she was still in session with another client and was running late. So I sat down and opened up Chakras and Their Archetypes by Ambika Wauters.  I’ve been reading on this off and on since Saturday. After a moment or two yesterday afternoon, I arrived at this exercise:

Recall an experience in your life where you felt like a Victim. This would be a time when something happened to you which was out of your control and left you feeling hurt or unsure of yourself.

When I was 13, maybe 14, a grown neighbor up the street molested me.  Some of the specifics around the incident are blurry–I don’t remember his name. I seem to recall that he and his wife had grown children who no longer lived at home. But I know that they always welcomed all the kids in the neighborhood at their house. They let us play pool on their pool table, served sodas and snacks, and were just really fun to hang around.  One day I was there with some of my friends. His wife wasn’t there, so it was just him. My friends left, and I was about to leave but he wanted to talk some more, so I stayed. He molested me that day. I left his house feeling filthy, dirty, terrified of him. It reaffirmed my feelings that I was a bad person.  I never dared talk about it in direct terms. I tried telling my friends that he wasn’t a very nice person after all, and I never went there again. I don’t know if any of them believed me, and I hope he never did that to anyone else.

The first time I ever spoke of it again was earlier this year when we did a cleansing ceremony at Jehara’s flat. I wrote a letter to everyone who sexually used me, and as I was writing that letter decided it was time to address him as well. I still remember how I felt reading that aloud, how angry I was–not just that he had harmed me, but that I had let him continue harming me by keeping the incident bottled up inside and allowing myself to feel guilt and shame over something that wasn’t my fault.

What are your feelings about this situation now? Are you angry, enraged, sad, grieving? Are you willing to tell yourself more about how you feel regarding this situation? Be willing to take the lid off your feelings and experience them as they are.

When I read these questions, I asked myself how I felt about it. And I felt nothing. That seemed very peculiar to me, so I closed the book to allow myself time to ponder the question. I skimmed through a few magazines and a book, but still couldn’t feel anything. J. was still with the previous client, so I went into the room with the sandbox.

I got some dolls down–a Chauceriangirl doll, an Amazon warrior doll, a Buffy doll to represent Izzybella, a red-haired buff doll to represent Amethyst, and a buff black-haired doll to represent Jehara. Then I picked an innocuous-looking male doll to represent the man who molested me.

I acted out the scene with the me doll and the him doll. After the incident was over, I sort of buried the incident away, so I threw sand all over the me doll to symbolize the shame and guilt and hiding. And I sat the him doll in a corner of the sandbox.

Then I acted out the scene at the cleansing when I told Jehara, Amethyst, and Izzybella about it, and I remembered the rage I felt then. I buried the him doll in sand, but no matter how hard I tried, his head was still sticking out above the sand. My sister dolls hugged the me doll, and I started shaking the sand off of the me doll. My Amazon warrior doll told me that I have always had the strength to deal with these things, and I didn’t need her anymore, so she went away.

Then I started wondering about him. I don’t know what his life was like. I don’t know if he ever regretted what he did to me, if that was a sole occurrence or if he molested more people. And I knew that I understand it wasn’t my fault. And I forgave him.

As I went through all this processing, I just never once had any feeling toward him. No hatred, no anger, no hurt, no tears, no resentment, nothing. I have somehow been able to let go of it.

There is another thing in my past that has caused me incredible amounts of guilt and shame. I first admitted it aloud about a month ago. Since then I’ve talked about it with J. several times. So last night I thought about it too. And the shame and guilt are gone from that as well.

In another book I read recently, the author says that lies are toxic. I’ve been lying to myself for many many years by burying all these things and not facing them. It was like I thought that if I admitted it, then it would make them real and would mean that I was a bad person. But when I did finally talk about them and admit them, I was able to realize that while they did happen, and nothing can undo that, I am not a bad person.  I feel like the toxicity is leaving my body.

I told J. the first night I met with her that I just think it’s the right time for me to do this. Last night we brought that up again, because I’m making so much progress so quickly. It is the right time. I’m reclaiming my Amazon warrior. I’m reclaiming a sense of myself as a good person. I’m no longer allowing anyone else to run my life, whether by active design or by default because I bury my head in the sand and permit it to happen. When I brushed the sand off of my chauceriangirl doll last night, I brushed it off of myself as well.

I’m clean. I’m whole. I’m complicated. I’m real. I’m honest. I’m good.  Processing will continue.

And processing of another kind–I love, Love, LOVE our new juicer! When I got home last night, Joe made me some apple carrot celery juice. And it was just as delicious as it could be. The juicer’s a little bit of a pain to clean, but nothing difficult. I’ll definitely be using it. Yay for the juicer!

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Have you ever seen or read Great God Brown by Eugene O’Neill?  I’ve probably mentioned it before; it’s one of my favourite plays. Not because it’s a good one–actually, it’s very flawed. It’s about people, and the masks they wear for each other and for themselves.  It’s about how people usually don’t see anything in anyone else beyond the masks, sometimes not even recognizing their loved ones without the masks.

I was thinking about that today. I thought of all the masks I’ve ever worn, the masks I’m probably wearing now, and I had this mental image of a stick figure with mask upon mask upon mask upon mask.  For 7 years now, I’ve been consciously working on unmasking myself and trying to figure out what’s beneath all those masks. I wondered if I’ve made any strides or if I’ve just been substituting different masks for the ones I’ve removed.

When I shared this thought tonight with J., Art Therapist Extraordinaire, she reminded me of an onion and all its layers. She also reminded me that the onion can be rotated, and with each minute rotation a different face reveals itself. All those faces are real. They’re all different. And they’re all beautiful.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with masks, as long as I know when I’m masking myself and when I’m exposing my true nature. Not everyone needs to see all my layers; not everyone needs to see every aspect of me. There are things that I want to keep private, and I have decided that’s okay.

So tonight in art therapy, J., made a plaster cast of my face. And she took great pleasure in something that she saw as one of my beauties, something I’ve always seen as unattractive. My eyes droop down at the outer edges, and I’ve always thought of it as ugly. But not too long ago I was noticing that Sarah Michelle Gellar Prinze, someone I’ve always thought extremely beautiful, has eyes that droop down at the outer edges. So maybe it’s not ugly. Maybe I just need to look at it differently. And when J. made my mask, she accentuated and emphasized the shape of my eyes. And it looks beautiful on my mask. I can’t wait to sit down and adorn it, inside and out, and see what I can make of it.

Not on the subject of masks, but the incomparable Izzybella surprised me by sending a lovely floral arrangement to me at work. Receiving flowers is utterly delightful. They make my desk smell wonderful, and they’re just beautiful. Also–purple streaks are coming, I hope, this week. Photos will be posted as soon as the streaks are.

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