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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Letting Go

Dear Mom,

I still hear your voice at times. Like any good mama, you walked that line between coach and cheerleader, though you usually stayed more on the coaching end of the court.

There were your frequent cheer-like refrains: "What a hoot!" and "Keep up the good work!" and "You go, Girl!"

But I will confess...I have fretted a bit of late that these blogs have become too long, too rambling, too much like notes from a mad woman. I can almost hear you saying, "Ugh. Too much! Enough! Are you going nuts up there? TMI!"

Because I do feel a bit insane these days, a bit uncertain what is happening or where I am going. The vortex of family grief -- your death, Dad's stroke and pending divorce -- felt like too much swirl to make sense of at once. I'm relieved I didn't try to keep absorbing it all while making myself carry on from 9 to 5 as if all was well, as if the wheels weren't coming off the proverbial bus.

Honestly -- why do we try so hard to keep it all in? It's like some sort of emotional constipation, isn't it? UGH! NO SHIT TO BE SEEN HERE! LOOK ELSEWHERE! WE'RE ALL CLEAN!

It reminds me of one of your queerest collectibles, the Caganer from Barcelona. Which is, according to Wikipedia:

Caganer (Catalan pronunciation: [kəɣəˈne]Western Catalan: [kaɣaˈne]) is a figurine depicted in the act of defecation appearing innativity scenes in Catalonia and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as AndorraValencia and Northern Catalonia (in southern France). It is most popular and widespread in these areas, but can also be found in other areas of Spain (Murcia),Portugal and southern Italy (Naples).
The name "El Caganer” literally means "the crapper" or "the shitter". Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a peasant, wearing the traditional Catalan red cap (the "barretina") and with his trousers down, showing a bare backside, and defecating.[1]

I gave it to Cindy and Anne, thinking they were the only people who might "appreciate" such a bizarre remembrance. And I didn't think of this then -- but it's sort of a fitting metaphor for their jobs as therapists, where people come in and dump out their shit, and the girls help them deal with it.

Because emotional healing, my "emotional healer" reminded me this week, is dirty, snotty, messy, ugly work. It's tears and farts and stuff you'd rather keep inside, locked up, buried, tucked away, where it can't hurt you or anyone else.

Oh...but it can. Didn't someone in our "extended family" have to go to the hospital once when she got so backed up it became a severe medical issue? Whether it's through drinking or sex, snorting coke or popping pills, eating too much or too little, beating your kids or yelling at your spouse...most dark shit will bubble out eventually.

But we try so, so hard to hold it in -- especially if control and perfectionism and "nothing's wrong here, why do you ask" are the name of our game.

I think I may have written -- if not, here it is again -- I wore a lovely red dress and chunky turquoise necklace the day I told my boss I needed to take the rest of the week off to focus on my mental health. I found my choice of "costume" both fascinating and bizarre. It was like some sort of battle armor, pretending I was fine, I was healthy, I was lovely on the outside...while inside I felt like I was cracking wide open.

And I topped it with the perfect metaphor -- my necklace was rigged up with dental floss! Seriously, I can't make this stuff up. There I was, pretending everything was okay, trying not to fall apart.

And there the crowning accessory was, held together -- literally -- by a thread.

That emotional tank is so funny, isn't it? Emotional healing is such an odd, mysterious process -- like any head healing or heart healing. You almost wish you could wrap yourself up in protective padding, to help others identify that they need either to help you or stay the hell away from you, depending on the day.

As I walked down the sidewalk last week, I saw a dog in one of those protective shields. Like this one (I picked him because he looks like the first family dog I remember, Elizabeth. Hold the phone -- what a weird name for a dog. Did Leigh Ann get to name it? What the heck? That's almost as funny as naming a dog Jennifer...which happened too.)

And I posted this with it on Facebook:
Grief is quite a roller coaster ride to healing, isn't it? Saw a dog with one or those today and think we may need a line of 'em for humans: "Stand back! Healing underway! Don't let me hurt myself!"

There are the walking wounded, the wounded warriors, who come back from battle with scars both physical and mental. The mental ones can be the hardest ones to treat. And sometimes you don't have to travel far from home -- or even leave home -- to know what it's like to live or grow up in a war zone.

The words "under construction" came to mind: "Stay out -- stand back, folks -- we've got a work zone here -- watch your heads -- she might blow at any second!" And that's hilarious, because the portfolio I turned in 16 years ago in a senior writing seminar at Duke was entitled "Under Construction."

Old dogs never die, do they?!

Barb was here last weekend, and I was such a mess -- not a blubbering one but a blabbering one -- sleep-deprived and running on fumes. Polly was in town, and she saw it too. I couldn't not see her, so I suggested she and Adam drop by...and answered the door in my bathrobe. I mean...what can ya do! I did put on some jammies for the rest of their visit.

But I do know what I need to do -- which is to take care of myself. HALT -- don't get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Exercise. Eat healthy foods. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Get plenty of rest. Find healthy distractions. Feed my mind and my soul. Visit with friends. Spend time in solitude. Come to think of it...I think there's some book on "spiritual disciplines" that Leigh Ann read with the church. Maybe I "oughta" dust it off. That is -- if it feels compelling, not like some checklist.

There's a fine line between nagging and nudging, between "I need to do this" and "I want to do this." And we're all slipping and sliding along the slope, because we are creatures who have hard saying no, who are greedy, indulgent, afraid of scarcity. My generation calls it FOMO -- Fear of Missing Out -- and I'm sure it had another name at another point.

It is, in a sense, the ultimate journey of grief and of life -- what to carry, what to leave behind. And I am, to be fair -- obsessed with being prepared, at all times, so I'll be well equipped when bad things happen to me. Packing perfectly so you have just what you need, but not too much dead weight. And I've fairly mastered the literal art of it -- and am more than happy to help others! -- but I am, like you, a bit of an emotional pack rat. Loath to let go of ideas, people and places that might be better off in the past.

I've been thinking about the metaphor of waterskiing -- a sport Dad mastered, but none of the rest of us girls did. You have to let go of the rope. I posted this on Facebook, and a funny little discussion ensued about whether it was or was not necessary actually to TELL people to do that -- isn't it instinctual? Shouldn't you know better?

Well, apparently not everyone does. And there are horror stories that ensue. You can be drowned as you are pulled along by a greater force.

But if you get it right -- the balance, the timing, the coordination -- you can skate across the surface in an almost supernatural feat.

Holy cow -- did the photographer manage to catch Dad right at the moment as he was letting go of his right ski?! Was he going barefoot? Almost the ultimate feat of derring do! Jeepers, I didn't even make that connection -- but look at the title of this post. Letting Go. Let it go. Let it go.
Was that a little "cheer up, Buttercup" from the universe or what?

Do we need to bust out some Disney?
(Side note: With the themes of sisterhood and female power that dominate Frozen, I was about to give Disney an MIP (Most Improved Player) award for shedding that troubling "Help! I'm a victim! Rescue me! All I need is a sweet kiss or some magical shoes from a handsome prince!" philosophy that has fed so many women's studies classes and papers. But...yeah...hmm...could we get a heroine who's not a dreamy blue-eyed blonde with a two-inch waist?

I guess Disney -- like most of us -- is a work in progress, isn't it? Well, sometimes you have to settle for "progress, not perfection," as they stay in 12 Step groups!)

We used to talk a lot about "coaching" at work. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses. Growth is a balancing act -- building up the strengths, acknowledging and identifying and targeting the weaknesses. They will likely never become your top talents, but you can improve them, you can build those neglected muscles, you can in my case learn to let go.

So, one of the things I've found a bit alarming lately is my almost pathological need to discuss, to share. I'm not exactly sure what that's about -- in one sense, it's my gift -- but I'm also guilty of oversharing, talking too much, blabbering on when silence can be golden.

This blog has been a great tool, and I'm determined to continue these "letters" to you until Leigh Ann and I travel to Buenos Aires to release the last of your ashes, on December 27. And after that...we'll see, but I think you'd want me to keep this digital creative sandbox fresh, dynamic, unexpected.

And speaking of unexpected -- what a surprise gift I received this week! A friend from church in Charlotte read my last post to say how much she enjoys my blog...and might I want to spend some time writing at the condo she and her husband bought in Asheville? It's their connection to their roots, their hometown.

I'm trying to find the right balance between time at home and time away, so I'm thinking it might be a special place to be in December. And I know you would approve 100% of that one -- I told her about our trip to Asheville after Camp Crestridge, our dinner at the Grove Park Inn, where we saw Mikhail Barishnikov. It's a special city I'd been hoping, thinking I could visit during this chapter of grief and mourning. So, when I woke up to read her email yesterday morning, I just started to cry. Because she has two daughters, both of whom went on "my trips" to Brazil, and she wrote that she hopes they'll be as close as Leigh Ann and I are.

One more mama...out there in the universe...encouraging me, cheering me, picking up where you left off.

And I may be a little naked at times, a little too guilty of letting it all hang out -- but how else do you get people to know you need shelter, that you've lost a home base, that you need somebody to take you in?

Because if there's anything mamas teach their babies, it's that sharing is best. Oh, yeah -- and that sometimes you need to let go of even your very favorite toy. Shed your beloved, trusty security blanket. Because you're a big girl now.



P.S. My "plan" is to let the blog go on hiatus in a long form during the month of October, but I've already come up with a bit of a "substitute teacher" that I absolutely cannot wait to roll out! I am amusing myself so much coming up with the lesson's gonna be sort of a digital comic book.

HINT: It will tie into your favorite October tradition, the Magic Pumpkin!


Anonymous said...

Lynsley, this is so powerful and I am awed that you have the strength of character to self reflect, consider, write, and most of all, share. You are truly courageous.

Dee Stephens said...

I think you're doing the right thing for you and that is to share. I'm much the same way. I would also say consider maybe attending a support group. I have a friend here in town that did that after losing her Mom. She too, is a writer and former reporter, and said it helps tremendously. XO