Friday, June 4, 2021

Stories


I’m eating rhubarb pie on the patio, watching a pair of chickadees hover over the wet lawn, listening to the cool wind rustle through the tree boughs, and thinking about the stories we tell ourselves.

Our minds are fueled by story. Stories unite us, warn us, soothe us, infuse us with courage. We use them to transmit our values, to slip truth into dangerous places, to remember, to escape, to fight, to heal, to find each other.

Story is what humans do. Consciously or not, we are constantly building stories to make sense of the world around us. Stories cushion the mind--keeping the brain from breaking every time the heart does.

Over the last year, reeling as loss chased after loss, we’ve needed story as much as ever. 


My sister should have turned 25 this week.
Her ashes have been in a jar for three months.  


Painting the day after I heard.



It wasn’t like we hadn’t braced for bad news.

Still, it came out of nowhere. She’d just recovered from Covid after all. Quarantined, gone back to work. She had work, again, despite the closures, despite everything else. 

Scattered from coast to coast, what else could we siblings do but begin piecing together a story? What happened to her? When and how and why? In an instinctive expression of human grief, we shared memories, pooling our knowledge of Glory Anna's life so we would remember. We all knew her so differently; we even call her by different names.

I mostly recall her infancy—she was born into chaos and conflict. I left home the next year; we only shared a roof for two years of her first five. I listened to stories from the years after: stories that infuriated me, stories that made me proud, stories that broke my tired heart.

I could tell Glory’s story a dozen different ways, each version with a different villain to despise but always the same abrupt ending. (How does the math work? Am I still the oldest of 11? Does our baby sister move up to tenth place? What do we do with the gap?)

The true story? It’s all of them. The story that soothes me is that, though we’d never met as adults—distanced by twenty years and a thousand miles, in the weeks before her death Glory told me the stories she needed me to know. Those are the things I want most to remember. Our parents will include none of them in their stories, as they don’t fit their criteria for remembrance. We tell ourselves the stories that bring us comfort, after all. My bedtime reading is their nightmare, and vice versa.

Religions offer prepackaged story sets that remain popular in part because they claim, to varying degrees, they can keep the weight of the universe from crushing our little minds. Some achieve this by locking the mind in an airtight box while others leave room for add-on stories, or let you choose your own adventure. Stories gave me flight; stories keep my parents trapped and sad.

As a child, Glory was a storyteller. She saw power in stories, a means of escape from small minds and small hearts. When she got older, she tried other escapes.

I hesitate to speak of her death—my neighbors don’t know, nor my in-laws—because I resent hearing “I’m sorry for your loss” when news headlines remind me daily that the world doesn’t actually care. If I was a child, or poor, or black, or gay; addicted, homeless, pregnant, stalked by an ex; Asian, African, Jewish, born in Palestine? The world wouldn’t give a damn about my loss. Ohio didn’t care enough to give Glory unemployment. Michigan saddled her with medical bills. No one checked on us to be sure we were getting an education and healthcare and not just whippings and whooping cough.

When therapy is inaccessible and street drugs easier to obtain than prescription ones, “I’m sorry” feels…offensive. I resent hearing “I’m sorry” while millions of Americans mourn 600,000 Covid dead while being told we just need to “get back to normal” capitalism. People lost spouses, providers, children, teachers. Disease stole parents from 40,000 kids in this country alone. We’re losing our planet, our democracy, and our humanity, but, yeah, enjoy that normalcy. 

I resent hearing it from people who can’t grasp that my loss is just the same as hers: a safe childhood, education matched to our potential, parents who loved us more than their sadistic sex-obsessed god. I lost Glory when she was a toddler and I moved far, far away, crying at my therapist’s because I had my own kids now but still worried over the babies I’d left behind. I lost her again when she was 16, when my own escape and healing meant estrangement from our parents. I never expected it to be permanent. As my recovery progressed, I slowly reconnected with five other sisters, but I never saw Glory again.

I am angry that Glory had to fight so hard just to live in this unfair world. Her loss was far greater than mine because when I left that world at 24, I found the support to heal and build a new one, while she had to support herself however she could, forgoing the education she could have excelled at. She was winsome, brave, intelligent, resourceful, and kind. There is comfort in knowing she can’t be hurt anymore.

Glory tried so hard to live on her own terms; I wish she could still be exercising that privilege today. 

Tonight her siblings will remember her on her birthday. We will tell the best stories and stay away from the sad ones. We may comfort ourselves by weaving tales of dreams, ghosts, dandelions, or mermaids. Because Glory, who refused to be limited to a tangible world, would like that. 


Glory and me a decade ago.

Monday, May 31, 2021

A Time To Give Up As Lost


A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost...


My youngest gets her second Pfizer jab this week.

I bought her a chocolate malt to celebrate the first but the real prize was my sense of relief. 

After 14 scary months, months of loss upon loss, could we be getting back the future tense the pandemic stole from us?

For a long while last year I held hope that we could pick up where we left off. Return to school, resume activities, keep events on the calendar. But as one thing after another was canceled (graduation, vacation, book club, enrollment, music theater, holidays), I got the message. The world we knew would no longer exist when we finally caught up.

I'm ready for the losses to stop, if only to give me space to grieve all the things that aren't coming back. 

There are people I loved who didn't make it this far, people I mourned alone when I should have been celebrating them with the many who miss them. My trust is damaged; my sense of safety--carved slowly and deliberately over a decade--lies slashed and mangled. I don't know how it can be restored. 

But in the last six months my daughter has finally won me over to love Dr. Who (horror, adventure, loss, romance, socially awkward aliens--what's not to like?) and if there's anything we're good at, it's regeneration. Pretty sure I must be 600 years old by now, I've lived so many lives.

Who I'll be next it's too early to tell, but the process is starting as I begin, cautiously, to explore the new post-vaccine world. I'll have the old memories, fresh perspective, and no idea what time means anymore.

One of my first ventures out was a glass weaving class. Four of us, masked, working at separate tables in a spacious room. 

I'd never worked with glass before and the breadth of sensations suited me: smooth glass sheets, the tiny-pizza-wheel scoring tool etching a gritty trail, biting the glass between rubber-tipped running pliers, the snap of a clean break, the clink of cut glass shapes in my palm, the whirr of a motor switched on, pressing glass strips against the grinder to wear sharp edges and corners smooth. I was so engrossed I even forgot to be anxious, or hold my breath inside my mask.  


To weave the strips for my design, half of them had to soften in the kiln to create waves. Interesting, huh? 

I feel like the glass some days: strong, inflexible, sharp, brittle, translucent, slumping where my supports fall away. 

This week, when I take my daughter downtown for her shot, we'll stop by the studio to see how my art came out. I can't wait to hang it on my wall as a symbol of new starts and taking new shapes.

Look, I'm using future tenses again! Yippee!






Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Fantasy World



Like many people, I've spent a lot of time in my head the last year. 

It's not unlike my childhood when I pretended my home was *actually* a boarding school for the blind, our bikes were horses, and instead of parents I was surrounded by professional educators who were warm, competent, and certainly childless. 

Or like my adolescence when I spent an inordinate amount of time struggling to picture heaven from all angles: from mathematical (try dividing eternity by 2 next time you have insomnia) to optical (no sun, no night, colors that don't exist on our color wheel?) to moral (how can people be happy in heaven if their relatives are on a perpetual barbecue in hell? is ignorance bliss?)

My fantasy world these days makes NURTURING ITS YOUNG its #1 priority. I dream of a society that refuses to buy police one more tank or even rubber bullet until EVERY school is stocked with paper towels, hand soap, free lunch that smells good, and a full-time nurse. Imagine if we agreed that all children--regardless of zip code or parentage--deserve real food, clean water and air, a safe home, health care, education, protection from violence, and the right to play at recess even if they forgot their ID.

Teaching would be honored, and financially rewarded, as a noble profession, with no tolerance for adults who model bullying in the classroom. (In the same vein, cops who violate the public trust, and men who commit violence at home, would forever forfeit any right to carry firearms.)

Mental health screenings--for all kids and caregivers--would be as regular as dental ones. New parents, or abusive parents flagged by checkups, would receive mentoring. Cities would competitively invest in quality childcare to attract companies. Children would be taught from toddlerhood how to care for their bodies and their minds, how to expect respect, and how to say no. Schools would get all the resources they need to fully fund music programs AND drivers' ed. And the healthcare coverage! Funded by taxing the corporations getting fat off our consumption, helpful drugs and therapies would finally be easier to get than deadly ones, even for teens or young moms surviving on $2/hr plus tips!

We'd keep strong families, of whatever shape or immigration status, intact--never killing or jailing or deporting parents over pieces of paper. We wouldn't let fostered children simply disappear. We'd interrupt the detention-to-incarceration pipeline with targeted social support until private prisons go bankrupt and law “enforcers” have to stop using body armor manufactured by American slaves. Maybe fewer kids would grow up wanting to wear a bully’s uniform or to escape their lives by dropping bombs on other kids with a remote control and would instead find meaning in trauma-informed social science, biological research, diplomacy, the arts.

We'd cease building prisons and we'd start centers for healing, with trees and gardens and libraries where Neil Gaiman's work isn't banned. Lots of sunlight. Treatment would focus on recovery, restoration, reconnection, relationships. And probably pancakes and puppies.

Maybe my fantasies are a buffer for my mental health, or maybe they're a threat to it. 

I used to imagine I was blind. 
Now imagination is the only way I can live with my eyes open.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Transition

 

According to my mom's nursing textbooks, a stage of labor. The worst part, I gathered from her friends. Tugging and stretching from the inside. "If she seems angry, or starts shaking, or says she can't do this--that's normal." Hallmarks of transition.

I was living in the Philippines while preparing for my wedding when a seasoned expatriate instructed me to attend a "transitions" workshop. I scoffed (I was young! I was resilient! I was leaving in a matter of months!) but that was decades ago and I'm still grateful. 

Having been exposed to very little research-based psychology at that point, the tools the instructors offered blew me away. I believe this was my first introduction to the concept of psychological trauma. They explained how our brains process change as loss, how we grieve even through happy transitions, and how to prepare a RAFT to ride out the rapids of inevitable change.

When they explained the importance of goodbyes, I cried. And there, under the palm trees, I began to heal from years of heart bruises sustained while working for the IBLP cult, which excelled at both facilitating deep human attachments and ripping them away.

Transitions, it turns out, are both cause for celebration and the most intense stage of creating something new. 


The following year, despite obsessively reading birth stories to prepare myself, my daughter was weeks old before I recognized the transition stage of my labor. At the time, the outside world fell away as I went deep inside myself, summoning the strength to start a brand-new life.

This summer has been one long series of transitions. I find myself obeying the same instinct, withdrawing and digging deep. It's been...intense.


Daughter to woman. Student to graduate. Child to adult. 

Shopping to pick-up. Friends to family. Travel to staycation.

Middle school to high school. School to home. Home to university. 

Quiet to loud. Inside to outside. Live to remote. Anxious to angry to hopeful and back again. 

Provider to mentor. Part-time mom to full-time to long-distance.


We moved our firstborn to campus last week, with protective masks and mixed feelings of pride, anxiety, envy. 

For us, it was the culmination of 18 years of choices in support of both our daughter and our values (albeit under circumstances we never envisioned). I confess, as the first to leave home myself, I had not fully empathized with the plight of a younger sibling losing a best friend. But parenting is ever an  emotional expansion--experiencing life through multiple proxies at once, each child needing different support.

Considering how many times I have used paint or a new hairstyle to assert autonomy when I felt otherwise helpless or out of control, I wasn't surprised when my youngest chose a radical new cut for her birthday this month. Or that she wanted to update her room. What did surprise me is that she recognized when the pace of change was too much. She knew to slow down what she could and climb aboard her own "raft", comforting herself with the familiar, digging deep, enjoying change by degrees. 

My girls give me courage to keep embracing change and as always, my partner provides steadying emotional support when I get wobbly and think "I can't do this".

We will all be adjusting to this latest transition for a few weeks, then remote high school will upend the routines we've slid into over the last 5 months of "summer" and we'll calibrate yet again, thankful for the technology that connects us to the things we need and the people we love. 

Transition: the process of changing from one state to another. 

Transitions are stages of movement and growth, and they can be intense! But to live well is to change, so I wouldn't want a life without transitions. Here's to making it through the rapids and floating out on the wide calmer waters beyond.




Sunday, July 19, 2020

WOmenarche



The truck stop toilet bowl
Swirls red
Empties with a whoosh.

Why was it red, Mommy?
Mommies bleed sometimes.
Does it hurt?
Where does it come from, Mommy?
It looked like kool-aid. Giggles.
You’ll learn all about it someday.
And me?
Not you. Just mommies.
Oh.

Nine years later—
Capsized by a wave of hormones
Baptism by blood
I am the fountain
I am the flood
I am…back in diapers?
No, thank you!
This is a mutiny!

At day’s exhausted end I
Brush my teeth, brush my hair,
Scrub iron-rich stains from underwear,
So focused I forget to look in the rearview mirror,
Miss my last glimpse of carefree girlhood.
I miss my body. The one that fit.

For whom this bloody sacrifice?
Certainly not for me.
This woman’s body is cranky and clumsy
And sore and doesn’t fit.
It leaks! A terrible design.

Having lived by the sun,
I’m now chained to the moon,
A mysterious red moon somewhere in my belly
That will drip down my legs
Like melted strawberry popsicle
Thirteen times a year.
If I’m lucky.

For how long?
Forty years, maybe.
Forty!
Panties in the sink 500 times?
I didn’t sign up for this!

You look nice, he says. Is that perfume?
That shade looks unnatural, she says,
I don’t like your tone.

As if I am marooned by choice.

And you’re a lady now? pries granny.
I am.
The boys were fun, she remembers.
Nothing serious, just friends,
But we went to the beach and I couldn’t…
I dearly loved to swim.
It’s our whispered secret:
This lady business is not all grand.

Cramps—
On hikes and bikes and airplanes,
Church pews, carousels.
Bleeding through sleeping bags, guest sheets,
McDonald’s napkins in a pinch.
Crimson blotches on the soap bar.
Rolling engorged and sweaty pads into stinking snails
And burying them in the wastebasket.

I know my roommate’s blood by pungent scent
Uncowed by candles, soaps, or sprays.
She must know mine?
(Does it attract or repulse predators, I wonder?)
Discreet, we never discuss
But when we bleed we take the elevator,
A small monthly indulgence.

Undeterred by calendars
Blood intrudes on
Parties,
Vacations,
Holidays,
Honeymoon.

My lovers were never squeamish
So why,
When I long to bathe a sword in blood,
Am I too shy to ask?

At long last I am ready to put
This program that has hummed steadily
In the background so long
To its use: a portal
To communicate with the future.
Red-hot hope fixed on
A water balloon in my belly
Spills out again in
Pools of liquid disappointment.
My moon is defective,
Its tides too strong.
Are we to be forever marooned in the present?
And then it holds!
Waxes full! Its tides raise a mountain and
From a mighty crevasse bursts new life, lusty and strong.
Blood flows like lava, slows, and is replaced by yellow drops as
Golden as new motherhood.

Before the tides can resume,
Another mountain, another earthquake,
A squirming pink treasure
With squinty eyes, rosebud mouth,
And a slit that oozes pink stain in the doll-sized diaper,
Practice for when she will sync with a moon,
Twelve years hence.

Son cries against the bathroom door.
Inside, I sit over a bowl of kool-aid and clots,
Shaky with relief. I rest my hands
On my thighs as milk lets down.
Gratitude flowing.
Everything leaking at once, salty and sweet.
Twenty years down. Twenty to go.

The toilet paper is gone.
Of course it is.


  
-J. Lofland


7/8/2020

Saturday, January 4, 2020

National Public Radio


When you're working in the kitchen listening to the radio, do you ever fantasize about being one of those voices? About being asked questions in front of the entire country? For the last few years, I must admit that this has been one of my common daydreams. I wonder what I would say, whether my voice would shake, how one gets that kind of platform.

And then, while my family was seeing The Rise of Skywalker and I was still emotionally recovering from Christmas, I got a surprise email. 

And then a phone call...

And, well, I kicked off the New Year by being interviewed on NPR!

The experience is still surreal, since I only found out the day before that I would be a studio guest for a whole hour of the 1A program. Listen here to our conversation about regulations on homeschooling.

Some of you have tried to contact me here, which is how I learned that the Blogspot Contact Form has been down for weeks and messages left there will unfortunately not reach me.

If you have comments, etc., kindly visit Heresy in the Heartland on Facebook.

Thanks for reading, thanks for listening, thanks for caring. I can tell this is going to be a year of new experiences and stepping up to the unexpected!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Adrenaline

I haven't always understood why anyone would want to jump out of airplanes, climb peaks, race down snowy mountainsides on sticks, or be dragged across a lake strapped to a parachute. The last time I was at a beach with my mother, she gestured at the tourists flying like kites over the bay. "Would you ever want to do that?" she wondered.

That's when I realized what we have in common. Because I love a good rush of adrenaline, too. I just don't have to dance with my own mortality to get it. Lesser risks suffice to provide me with the thrill of survival. Going on stage without notes.  Walking into a public school. Inviting a stranger to dance. Inviting a friend to dance (which can be scarier!). Grocery shopping without a bra. Exposing my soul. And--most exciting of all--what I think of as Intellectual Skydiving. 

I get a buzz from daring thoughts. Entertaining dangerous ideas. Challenging norms. Blurring black and white. Indulging imaginations with real social repercussions. Viewpoints that carry potential for rejection, that could get one shunned or branded a heretic by one group or another. Conclusions one shares guardedly, or not at all.

After decades of change and transition and challenging my former ways of thinking, I’m always afraid the adventurous part of the ride is over. I've reached the boring end of the line. Get used to it, lady, I tell myself. It's called being stable. (Go ahead and laugh.) This is where we live now, centered. Rooted and grounded. There's nowhere left to grow. 

My heart looks wistfully back, convinced I will never again experience the heady rush of flirting with heresy or peering over theoretical cliffs or chasing my curiosity into dark, twisting, forbidden caverns.

But then... I do it again. 

And it's exhilarating.