Being There

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Most of us at one time or another indulge in consideration of what we might do if we suddenly came into a large amount of money, say, by winning the lottery. What would it be like to be able to do anything, money being no issue? Recently I’ve talked with several friends going through life changing experiences, and yesterday, having just gotten off the phone with one of them, I had the thought that if I won the lottery, I might like to stop working and just be there for my friends and family. For instance, if someone had surgery, I’d be able to go and wait with the family in the waiting room, run errands and cook meals. If someone lost a loved one, I’d be able to drop everything to go to the funeral, even in a distant city. I think I could really appreciate the job of being there for the people I love professionally. I hate it when something major is happening and I’m not able to be present for it.

In a way, I kind of have that job already, though the people I get to be there for are my therapy clients, and I don’t typically get to know them before they’re struggling, since they come to me often when things have reached some sort of tipping point, and we dive in together. Often when I ask clients about their social supports, they talk about their hesitance to talk to friends and family or ask for help because, after all, no one wants to be a burden. Usually when this comes up, I ask them to recall a time they were there for someone else in a time of need, and what that felt like. It’s generally a very good memory, often something that led to a closer relationship with that person, or something that called them to delve a little deeper into themselves and find something really valuable they didn’t know they possessed. I have never once had anyone talk about what a pain it was, or how it required them to leave work early, or how they didn’t get as much sleep that night because of it.

I want to say this clearly because it’s easy to forget: It’s a privilege to be able to be there for the people we love. It’s an absolute privilege.

Mrs. Marker’s House

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WP_000489When I was young, we lived next door to a woman named Mrs. Marker, who I remember as having been very old. When we are four or five, of course, everyone seems very old. My older brother and I would walk over and visit Mrs. Marker occasionally, and she was always happy to see us. A very generous woman, she gave us a radio that I listened to while falling asleep throughout most of my childhood. Mrs. Marker died when I was in the first grade, and hers was the first funeral I ever attended. I don’t remember being particularly sad. I’m sure it was explained to me that people die, and I’m sure that I accepted that Mrs. Marker had lived a lot of life and that things were as they should be.

When I got older, my mother told me stories about her that I remember to this day. Apparently when Mrs. Marker’s husband died, she went into a deep depression. One day she woke up and saw Jesus sitting at the foot of her bed. He told her to get up. She replied that she didn’t feel like living. He told her that he understood, but that one day she would, and she needed to get out of bed now. My mother also told me Mrs. Marker used to chase the devil out of her house with a broom. This may sound odd to those not raised in the Bible Belt, but to me, it has always sounded like a perfectly valid way to deal with depression.

The Engineer sent the above picture today and told me that her house (we still think of it as Mrs. Marker’s house even though a steady stream of people have lived there over the last 30 years) was sold to a development company and torn down to make way for new construction. It’s happening a lot in my old neighborhood. Dad’s house is now surrounded by new, monstrously large houses, and it being on the corner lot, I’m sure that as soon as he decides to leave, it too will be replaced with something massive.

Meanwhile in the Midwest, the Photographer and I are doing some house hunting, and we would love to find something along the lines of Mrs. Marker’s house – not too big, in a good neighborhood, on a nice sized lot. It’s proving hard to come by. There seem to be very small houses and very big houses, but finding the in between is not so easy. I love older homes and have always missed the fireplace in the house I grew up in. We’ve seen a lot of homes with the fireplace bricked up, for energy efficiency of course, but it’s hard not to think of that as a real shame. The Photographer grew up on land where they raised sheep and chickens, and while we don’t aspire to farm life, he finds the many backyards in our area with no more than five square feet of green rather sad. It’s hard not to feel like something we care about – a picture, our history, something unnamable – is disappearing. And yet today when I saw this photo, what came to mind was the image of Mrs. Marker in her bed, feeling that the future she was in was not one she wanted to be a part of, and Jesus, at the foot of it, saying that one day, things will feel different.

Promises to Jim

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A few years ago, I had a dream that the Nurse and the Artist had a baby, and it was a boy who had a very particular name. I dreamed the full name, first and middle. Several years later, when the Artist was pregnant with her second child, their first boy, they had several possible names picked out, including the one I had dreamed. They asked soon to be big sister Nora what her favorite was. She said the baby’s name was Jim, and she never wavered. Every time someone asked her about the baby sibling she was going to have, it was, “I’m having a brother, and his name’s Jim!” And so, Jim it is. In fact, his full name is the exact name I dreamed several years ago, before Nora was even here.

Jim2

It could be that I was dreaming all those years ago about the Jim that would be born this year. Or it could be that the Nurse and the Artist, people wise enough to take both dreams and the pronouncements of children seriously, made a conscious decision to name their second child in just such a way. It could be that the idea of us is fully formed before we are born, and it could be that we create ourselves and are created, simultaneously and perpetually. I prefer to think it’s the latter, and if that is the case, then I have a sense of responsibility to those I love to participate in their self-creation. In the service of that, I have a few promises for you, Jim:

I promise to keep dreaming for you, to listen to the wisdom of those dreams, and to be there to listen when you want to tell someone about the dreams you have. I promise to ask great questions. I promise to tell you lots of excellent stories about your grandmother. I promise to help you find your own space and shape in the midst of your wonderful and raucous cousins and your playful and wise sister. I promise to remind your Dad about the roundabout and sometimes dangerous paths we took to becoming who we are the minute he starts saying anything that sounds like “Kids these days…” in your general direction.

 

 

 

Aion, Time and the Self

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I’ve been in a sort of extended hibernation this winter. Partially this is due to the weather, which has been exceptionally cold and snowy this year. There have been several days this winter when we’ve been all but forced to stay home and do next to nothing, which is often good therapy, but also a bit mind numbing and lethargic. In a way, it’s actually the perfect setup for a study group I’ve just begun to participate in with my friend Rose, a Jungian analyst and all around wise woman who agreed to put together a group of people to tackle Aion, one of Jung’s most difficult works.

Last week, we discussed the basic concepts of Aion, that the world, and consciousness, unfolds throughout a series of eras, or aeons, which span thousands of years. The book takes an extremely broad view of human psychic and psychospiritual history, and it touches on such questions as: What is the character of the aeon that is ending and the one that is beginning? What of the Self is being expressed? How are the dominant religious myths expressions or projections of that Self? These are mind blowing and world shaking questions.

This week I read the second quarter of Edward Edinger’s book, The Aion Lectures: Exploring the Self in C.G. Jung’s Aion, which, while not light reading by any measure, is easier than Jung’s text. I read it mostly sick and in bed and occasionally getting tired and drifting off, which is probably the perfect way to tackle such a subject. It keeps my analytical mind at bay and frees me from the burden of having to “understand” everything. Unfortunately, it also makes it difficult to put thoughts and images together in coherent sentences that can be shared in a blog, so I will have to ask my friends and readers to be patient with me. The pot is being stirred, and I promise to share thoughts and images when I can pull together an expression of them in a more blog-friendly manner. But for now, I’m still reading, dreaming and hibernating. And I hope you are doing much the same.

Asking for History to be Born (and, a word from Ricky Bobby)

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This December, I’m reading an Advent book by Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher Richard Rohr, who writes about the difference between Jesus in the flesh, or as we see him almost universally depicted this time of year, “Baby Jesus,” and what he calls the Cosmic Christ. Being of Jungian psychological orientation, I find it easier to say, the archetypal Christ. He makes the point that we are missing something if we perpetually conceptualize Christ as a baby. A baby does not demand adult relationship or maturity from us. The archetypal Christ does. As Rohr writes, “The Christ we are asking for and waiting for includes your own full birth and the further birth of history and creation.” 

I like the idea that there is an opportunity during the dark hours each year to reflect on what of the archetypal Christ wants to be born in us, and into history. I feel hopeful about myself and about the world when I consider this possibility.

In the midst of of these deep thoughts the perpetual movie screen in my mind abruptly cut to this:

I’m pretty sure that whatever it is of the divine that wants to be born in me at this moment has a pretty unbelievable sense of humor.

 

The Problem of Identity

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A few weeks ago, this article about a tough music teacher made the rounds via email. I wound up discussing it with some friends, including a school counselor who had a lot to say about the need for kids to learn certain psychological skills that they never get a chance to learn if they are always assiduously protected from criticism, failure and competition. The idea that failure = unnecessary trauma is a particularly dangerous one, a belief that has crept up on us in our efforts to make the world more fair and more fun for our children. It’s a noble goal, but misguided. The world is not supposed to always be fair and fun.

The most striking aspect of this article when I think back through my own life is the idea that “grit trumps talent.” It took my a very long time to understand the proper relationship between grit and talent. The problem with being told you’re “smart” is that this gets understood as an identity. An NPR segment on a musician who was once a child prodigy said it this way: Very few of these prodigies make the transition from child prodigy to master adult musician, because that requires a whole different skill set. A prodigy has a certain innate and remarkable ability, and s/he can master something that’s already been invented. But adult creativity requires doing something in a whole new way.

To put it another way: Innate talent is only interesting because of what we do with it. To build an identity around the talent itself is to get lost.

I recall far too many discussions as an undergraduate in a creative writing program about what it was to be a “real” writer. There were readings from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet on the subject. There was a certain image people felt a need to fit. There was an aesthetic, and there were ethics. This was all ego stuff. We spent far too much time learning how to be writers, and not nearly enough learning to write.

The problem of identity is that it is both necessary and misleading. There is a time to say to a kid, wow, look how good you are! But there is also a time to say, yes, we’ve established that you’re good at that. The question is, what are you going to do now?

 

 

A Dream about Peacekeepers

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In my dream, I was living in a commune of some sort. It was a modest life, but I had the sense of being content. Suddenly trucks full of military types came rolling in, and long and well organized lines of men and women with guns poured out of them. They were called Peacekeepers. (The irony of this is something anyone who has seen Farscape might appreciate).

The Peacekeepers were there to take over, and they made it clear that they would be calling the shots from now on. They were not interested in debates or conversations. Anyone who did not comply would be shot. My mind was busy trying to figure out what the new rules were going to be and how to keep myself safe. I thought of my car outside and wondered if I’d ever be allowed to leave again, and what other freedoms I was about to lose.

I woke up wondering if perhaps there were conflicts I was trying to avoid at far too high a cost. Rarely does my dreaming mind go to such drastic lengths to hit me over the head with a point.

Wedding, Archetype

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After a long season of planning, talking, family-communicating and decision-making, the Photographer and I got married this Labor Day weekend.

Wedding 2 David

The Groom

Like all such intense, life altering events, it takes awhile to process everything, and we will be doing just that for a long time to come, which says to me that the wedding was everything it should have been. It grew out of our story and solidified the parts of that story we want to build on as our foundation.

Also, like all such intense, life altering events, it was a struggle to stay present to everything that was happening, because there was so very much going on in every moment. Not everything went as planned, but that’s part of the deal also. A few years ago I wrote about how plans and ideas belong to the realm of air and sky, but our path must still be walked on the firm ground of the Earth, which contributes its own messiness to the way things go. That was true of the wedding weekend events also, and I reminded myself of it often. At a certain point, we let go of plans, and what happens is what happens. Our only job then is to experience and make meaning.

Both ceremony and reception were held at a beautiful place where, as a young person, Wedding 3 Katmy family did community theater productions. It felt surprisingly like those days of children’s theater outside, in costumes and makeup, attempting to look more put together and less wilted than we felt. We had lots of kids in attendance, so it felt important to make the event kid-friendly and playful, and it was that.

One amazing and unexpected part of having the kids there was seeing how they reacted to everything. Two reactions were particularly telling. As I walked towards the improvised outdoor aisle with my father, before anyone else had turned around, a very young one held over the shoulder of his mother on the last row saw me and lit up with the biggest smile imaginable. At the reception, another little one brought me her doll, her doll’s bottle, and anything else she could think to offer, with a huge flirtatious smile and lots of giggles. They were reacting to the archetype, to the “bride” that I had not even been fully aware of embodying, the celebrity of the moment in the white dress.

Wedding 1 rehearsal

Me with the Engineer, at the night before festivities

I realized that in the months leading up to the wedding, I was subject to a lot of advice and a lot assumptions, mostly about what being a “bride” meant. One of the biggest tasks of this time was to figure out how to “be myself” while also stepping into this archetype. It’s not an either/or sort of thing. It’s about figuring out where the intersection is.

In truth, as wonderful as the weekend was, it’s a bit of a relief to get to step out of that balancing act. In looking through pictures friends have shared with us thus far, my favorites are from the time before and the time after, like the photo above where I’m sitting with my father, out of costume, watching friends and family have a good time in the space we created together.

Another favorite moment is one I don’t have a picture of, the night of the wedding, waiting for our ride, still in my wedding dress and sitting on the ground with my four year old niece in her flower girl outfit. “Aunt Kat,” she said, “Come here – I have to tell you a secret.” I leaned in, and she cupped her hand to whisper in my ear. “Booger!” she said, and erupted into hysterical laughter. It was wonderful.

(Note: All photos in this post are courtesy of the incomparable Jill French of Jilly Lane Studios)

Getting Lost (Yes, again)

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compass

Photo by Jetmir Decani

If you are new to this blog, it might be helpful to understand up front that I get lost a lot. If you are not new to this blog. I’m fairly certain there is no way you could have missed this.

Because I know this about myself, I take certain precautions. I look up directions before I leave, even if I’m going somewhere I’ve been before. I have the Photographer, who knows that part of his job for pretty much the rest of his life is going to be giving me directions and occasionally coming to the rescue when, despite those directions, I am still lost. I have a road atlas in the car pretty much all the time that covers at least 48 states. Somehow, in spite of all of this, I managed last weekend to become profoundly and totally lost.

A friend who is soon to be married was having a shower at a local winery, about an hour and a half from my home. The website of the establishment warned visitors not to use a GPS or mapquest to find their way because those methods would tell them to use roads that have not existed for years. I carefully wrote down the directions the proprietors provided, thinking it was a very good thing I’d visited the site. I was to go to this winery for the shower, then later meet the Photographer and some other friends at another winery in that same area for an afternoon picnic. I carefully wrote directions from one winery to the other. It was only maybe 15 minutes away.

My first mistake was in not gassing up immediately when I got off the interstate and noticed that I had about a quarter of a tank left, but I was running late, and according to my directions I should not be going that far off the main highway. This turned out to be incorrect. It also turned out that as careful as the winery proprietors were in offering precautions on their website, their directions sucked. Roads they told me to turn on were unmarked, and I missed a very important turn. I did eventually arrive, 45 minutes late, and frighteningly low on gas. the winery proprietor offered to give me directions to the nearest gas station, which was maybe 15 miles in the opposite direction of where I needed to go. This was the same proprietor whose directions had gotten me lost on my way there, so I politely declined. I texted the Photographer. No problem, he said, he would bring some gas with him, so all I needed to do was meet him as planned. As usual, thank God for the Photographer. I had enough gas to get to where he was.

My second mistake was in failing to realize that if my directions to establishment #1 were poor, very likely I would not fare any better with my directions to establishment #2. I had no idea how badly, in fact, they would lead me astray. I also had no idea that I would have no cell phone reception, and neither would the Photographer, or that my phone had been searching diligently for a signal for over an hour, which was running the battery down to practically nothing.

My directions informed me there would be a fork in the road, and I should go right. There were many, many forks in the road. I always went right. These were gravel roads, and there were no street signs. There were also no other human beings. At once point I realized I’d gone about 25 miles with the gas light on After that, I stopped keeping track and decided that since I was probably going to be on the side of the road at some point, it would be better to look for a highway. I was very happy when I found one.I was incredulous that my car continued to work, mile after mile, as I did not pass anything remotely resembling a gas station.

Finally, fortunately, I found a building with an empty parking lot, next to a farm where an entire family was outside working. I parked, walked over and asked if they had a phone I could use. They turned out to be incredibly nice people who gave me gas, directions to the nearest gas station, and directions to the winery I was trying to get to. Good directions, as it turns out, something I’d been lacking all day. When I offered to reimburse them for the gas, they told me, “Just pay it forward.” I gassed up and made it to the Photographer and our friends just as they were considering the question of when they should start driving around looking for me.

If you’re looking for the moral to this story, I’m not sure there is one. What I’m left with is yet another story of getting lost and then found, and another reminder that as much as getting lost seems to be a perpetual part of my story, so is finding helpful friends. This seems to be true even in the middle of nowhere.

 

A Game

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The Engineer and Nora have a game, and it goes like this. Say she is wearing a blue dress:

E: Nora, I like your pretty green dress.

N: No Papa, it’s blue.

E: What, this dress? No, this dress is green.

N: No, it’s blue!

E: Blue? No way, you’re goofy, that’s green.

N: No, YOU’RE goofy, that’s blue!

They’ve been playing this way since she learned her first words for colors. In the beginning she was tentative about it, not quite sure she had her words right. Papa, after all, is much bigger, and he knows far more words, so how could he be the one to make a mistake? Now she is quite confident and calls him out on it every time.

As Fathers’ Day approaches, I’m thinking about all the different ways we are taught. Popular culture has it now that we must intentionally work on our kids’ development on a regular basis. While this springs from the noble goal of doing everything we can to be good parents, it ignores the fact that kids develop every day just by engaging with the world around them, and whether or not we have read the latest book on the subject, we do teach them and help them develop just by being with them and being who we are.

I much prefer the Engineer’s game to any well intentioned educational kids’ activity I’ve seen on Pinterest boards. The game has taught Nora to be confident about the way she perceives the world, and not to hesitate to speak up about it. After all, even Papa, who knows everything, is sometimes just goofy and needs to hear the truth.

 

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