2020 Reflection

Human beings don’t make it easy on themselves. That truism can come in the form of setting challenges, taking gutsy risks, insisting on growth and healing in the face of trauma, grief, or the simple fact that you don’t have the tools—yet—but forge ahead anyway. It can be taking a chance at second love after heartbreak. Not easy. But so many do it. It can be reinventing yourself in a new career to seek greater fulfillment or after a professional train wreck. It can show up as continuing to live and love after the incomprehensible loss of a child, a home, a limb… We get back up again, we humans. I love that about us. And the capacity for altruism, grace, and love is seemingly endless within our quirky, remarkable species.

But 2020 has opened my eyes and propped them open with toothpicks—opened them, beyond forgetting, to the painful truth that the dark side of humanity exists and can wreak untold havoc, misery, and harm. People will trash their lives and—even worse—endanger or destroy the lives of others for no other reason than pure selfishness. Self-interest heightened to the point of cruelty, brutality, and rage perpetrated on anyone who may be perceived to threaten it by simply existing and wanting their human rights­­­.

Over the past four years, the self-interest of politicians seeking power and the money necessary to keep it has led to ugly, inhuman acts of injustice, from the caging of children to the groveling and pandering to the wealthy, whether via pardons for heinous crimes or tax laws intended only to further line their pockets.

This year, those in the highest offices in the nation have refused to see to the basic needs of American citizens during a deadly pandemic. They’ve ignored the horror, cast blame everywhere but on themselves, and done a hell of a lot of golfing.

But, to return to my original thought—that human beings don’t make it easy on themselves…

What about all the people who refuse to wear masks because… what is it again? “My body, my choice?” And then lots of people get sick and die. Including the mask-refusers. Not making it easy on themselves… The motto “Live free or die” has real teeth again.

As the death toll climbs into the 300 thousands, people still expound, with absolute certainty, that Covid is a left-wing hoax, as they host maskless parties to prove they are willing to double-down on that wacky, baseless, and deadly theory.

The dystopian flavor of 2020 leaves us all vulnerable, many of us appalled, and too many of us dead or with permanently compromised health.

We are literally dying.

It is no coincidence that 2020 was the year the BLM movement was thrust finally into the consciousness of the nation in a way it had not managed before. The threshold for so many Americans has lowered. We are pissed, scared, in despair as never before. The last four years since our 45th president took office have been bad enough, but when people start getting sick and dying and that president lies, denies science, refuses to acknowledge what is happening, leaves his citizens exposed and unprotected, then starts a Twitter war to support police who have ended black lives at a statistically improbable, ethically heinous rate–well then. The reality of sanctioned racism and murder finally caught some much needed attention.  

People of color, as we know, are far more vulnerable to Covid. Am I paranoid to think that our leadership is secretly hoping that letting this pandemic “run its course” will help them make America white?

Who are we?

All the people I hold dear, that I fill my life with—the ones I’ve collected over the years and loved, with whom I’ve nourished relationships … they dazzle me, each in their own way, with how they pursue life. The deep love they bring to bear in their lives. The earnest, valiant, often deeply courageous efforts they make to learn and become and grow. To know better, do better, be better. Their innate compassion. Their ability to admit what they don’t know. Their ability to value science while maintaining an openness to spirit—in whatever way that works for them. Their kindness, humanity, and, not to be forgotten, their humor.

I’m spoiled, have existed in a lovely bubble. I know that. 2020 has burst my bubble.

All humans are capable of both goodness and greatness, but far too many choose self-aggrandizement, power, and levels of opulence exponentially greater than their ability to enjoy it. They choose these things over thei­r own humanity.

I see this now in a way I never let myself before. This learning is part of the legacy of 2020. A bitter pill for an innate optimist to swallow, but for which I’m deeply grateful.  

We can make change every day with our actions, thoughts, and words. We must use our actions, thoughts, and words without surcease to shift, however infinitesimally, the paradigm preferred by some, but rejected by most. We may feel helpless because we do not walk the halls of power, but we are not.

Words Matter

Our words cast spells.

They change the world, because they change us.

If you doubt me, then you probably don’t believe in prayer. Many people don’t. In fact, a child of the 60s who was raised by atheists, I didn’t either until I realized that “prayer” is just another term for “words matter.”

Whether it is a mantra, a prayer, an affirmation, a dark-of-night wish uttered with a full heart, or just the words “I love you” spoken again and again to your beloved people—the utterance of words is powerful. Either aloud or in the silence of your mind.

Throughout history priests, imams, and rabbis have urged their followers to “pray together” to right a wrong or heal a hurt. Foolishness? I don’t think so. Maybe it didn’t work the way they expected it to—via the intercession of a supreme omnipotent being. But those hopeful, fervent prayers equate to energy, belief, and thought. Our thoughts and beliefs create our actions—we cannot think and believe “hate” and act from a place of love. We cannot think and believe “I’m worthless” and act from a place of optimism and confidence. We cannot think and believe “I’m a victim” and behave any differently than as a victim.

Chanting, meditating, journeying, manifesting, affirming, singing (I swear gospel singers can change the world), even drumming, whatever you do or whatever you call it, it is (in the terminology of the Western/Judeo-Christian paradigm, forgive me) a kind of prayer.

Fear is an inverted prayer. Fear consumes our minds. Our bodies even. It takes root. Without meaning to, we perseverate on all the thoughts and beliefs darkly birthed by fear. They become unintentional prayers to manifest the worst that can happen.

Do we want that? No! Of course not. So how do we feel fear and also act to defeat it?

Well it sure is hard and I’m no expert. I’m not going to glibly state that “all you have to do is…” and then lay some platitudes on you. But understanding how it works has helped me a lot. Internalizing that knowing has helped my body react to its own fear by overlaying images of light beings flooded with love on top of fear’s dark thunderheads. It actually works for me, I’m happy to say. Well, most of the time. A pandemic and an authoritarian commander-in- chief would challenge Buddha himself. (Okay, maybe not, but all us regular folks for sure.)

What made me want to write this blog is thinking about the 2020 election. As I write this, Biden/Harris have won the majority of electoral votes. Depending on when you read this, who knows what you will know about the outcome of it all. Still, I am optimistic for the future and flooded with relief. Oh, and ready to keep on working.

If there is one thing the Trump presidency has taught us it is that words matter. They have power to destroy and incite. They also have the ability to heal and soothe, but we’ve seen precious little of that for the last four years.

I’ve noticed people casually lying lately. Blatant, but casual, while I sit and listen and know the truth. I imagine it has become normalized for so many who realize lying of all kinds can be used to one’s advantage, as evidenced by the man in the White House.

The president’s lies and his vile, hate-steeped language have both altered reality. His platform is so prominent, and his voice so amplified by his power, it didn’t take long at all for him to get inside our heads. Think of all the actions that have resulted from his words.

The activism and resistance of millions of progressive citizens. People never before activated in this way—well they are now. A reaction in opposition to the ugliness because we all believe we can create change. We say it, believe it, act accordingly.

And on the other side—the open hostility, violence, and rage of haters and bigots. I’m not naïve enough to think Trump created those people. They were there all along. But his words empowered them. Big time.

Trump and his enablers have cast a spell on this nation. I do not know exactly how we will reverse it, but I know we can.

Love is, ultimately, the most powerful force in the universe. I try every day to let my thoughts and words be those of hope, action, tolerance, justice, optimism, courage, and love. Sometimes I get scared and then it’s hard.

A battle for the soul of our country requires that we cast our spells with every word and thought.

Speak up when we witness cruelty, injustice, or bigotry. Speak silent prayers inside our own hearts about what we intend for ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors, and all humanity. Don’t shortchange all of humanity. I mean, words matter.

Let’s use that power for good.

Rape, Suppressed Memory, and the Hope of Forgiveness

“I wronged you in the past,” came the LinkedIn message notification on my phone. It was late on a Friday afternoon. I was at work, plowing through as much as I could before the weekend.

I did not recognize the name on the message. Whoever it was, he wanted to apologize.

For what? Who was he?

About an hour later, my brain miraculously coughed up a possible answer to the second of those questions. My friend Molly and I had once rented a house in Charlottesville from someone whose son also lived there. Could that guy be this guy? We used a nickname for him—one that seemed to align with his adult, LinkedIn name. This is an example of a brain doing something remarkable, because that is literally the only thing it has offered up to me from the locked vault since I received that message.

It turns out my brain’s suggestion was correct. That guy was this guy.

And at that moment, I had to face a hard fact. I had virtually no memory of the entire year. The only thing from that year that has been in my active memory files in the 40 years since is that I was living in that house when John Lennon was killed. That sliver is what allowed me to figure out what year it was. I Googled it. 1980. Got it.

That’s it. No actual memory of the house, my room, the street, any events from the year either at work, school, or home. I have subsequently learned that there were two other housemates, who lived in the basement. In a late-night Messenger conversation, Molly texted me numerous specific memories of all the roommates, the house, stuff we talked about and did— that I cannot conjure no matter how I try. An entire year—gone.

Including the rape that took place in my bedroom one night. I eventually listened to my rapist tell the story. It was not the story of a shared memory, where my brain provided images and feelings to fill in the edges. It was a brand-new story he told me, and the main characters were named “You” and “I.”

Let me back up a bit. Why did I ask for a call with my self-professed rapist?

  1. I wanted my questions answered.
  2. I wanted at least one black hole in my mind to be filled in.
  3. I wanted to control the conversation—no more surprising messages on LinkedIn or an apology via letter or email where he got to spin the narrative.

I asked him to talk the following Sunday. He agreed.

Friday afternoon—I was numb… like, kind of fine, actually, for a few hours. I called my sister and told her about the messages. “Are you okay?” was her first question. And I said, “I think so.”

Friday night into Saturday… definitely not okay. I have no clear explanation for the mental and emotional processes of the next several days. Rollercoaster, though painfully trite, gets close to being descriptive. Information overload. Brain overdrive. Heartache.

I had been raped a second time—a little over a year after the first one. And I had erased it, and all the months around it.

I felt as if he had just raped me, because until that Friday afternoon, I did not know he had.

The complete blank in my brain resulted in massive uneasiness and anxiety.

What happened?

I forget things. My brain learned the trick when I was very young. I forget so I can be strong. I forget so I can live as if it didn’t happen. I erase huge swaths of my life so I can feel better about my life.

So much forgotten time. Entire years, it turns out. That fact is a punch in my gut almost as heartbreaking as realizing I’d been raped not just once, but twice.

My housemate rapist looked for me, forty years later. He sought me out, found me on LinkedIn, and assumed I’d remember, just as he did, the events that took place. Also that I’d likely welcome his request to apologize. How could he have known that the event that has been with him for 40 years was only introduced into my consciousness by him?

His first messages were clumsy, unintentionally hurtful because rather clueless, and made me nervous about speaking to him. But I knew I needed to. Wanted to.

I processed the shit out of the whole situation all day Saturday. I spoke to my sister and my daughter, on the phone. My friends Mary (by chance she was in town) and Beth came over to sit with me that afternoon. We made a plan. I wrote my notes, my script, to help me get through the call. I got mad. At him: “How dare he contact me!” At myself. For forgetting. I sobbed intermittently with utter helplessness—once again I had to face my own vulnerability at the whim/hands/intentions of a man. I raged with fierce strength: “This does not define me.” I was exhausted.

The next day, Beth returned, to be by my side while I was on the phone.

I tapped in the number he’d given me. I vibrated all over as floods of adrenaline and cortisol had their way with my central nervous system. My voice shook when he answered the phone and I said hello.

Here’s the thing. I knew he wanted to apologize. That seemed, on the face of it, good. But I was not at all sure if he wanted to take responsibility—which was the only kind of apology that would actually help me. If his apology was for his own sake alone, I would know it. And it would hurt.

But it wasn’t.

Nothing can change what he did. He will have to live with that self-knowledge forever. But his actions on that Sunday afternoon on the phone were everything I could have hoped for, but had not hoped for.

He wanted the call to be healing. I did not think it could be.

But it was.

I led, he followed. I asked, he answered—with brutal honesty and full ownership of the awfulness of his choices and actions. He said the correct words: “I raped you.” He offered no excuses, and lay no blame or responsibility at my feet, as happens all too often.

I am not the only woman he is trying to find. There are two others. And for their sake, at the very end of our phone call, I offered him some suggestions about how he might do it differently next time. He thanked me.

He told me he had read my Me Too blog before he reached out to me—found my blog link on LinkedIn and then typed the words Me Too in the search bar. He thought he might find himself there—but it was someone else. When he messaged me, he already knew he was not the only man to violate me.

His wife was raped in college too, he told me. When she shared that information with him, when they were dating, he told her, “I did that.” He confessed the truth, that there are women out there, like her, because of him. He told me that their ability to work through those brutal facts, and every emotion on both sides, made all the difference to them. It took a long time and I don’t think it was easy. In the end, I had to respect him for that honesty with the woman he loved, and whom he could have lost.

It turns out we were housemates, not close, not friends, but friendly. He said he wasn’t the best housemate. I had to remind him to do his dishes.

After he told me what happened, I asked, “Why did you do it?”

“I was a privileged little shit.” Like so many upper-middle class white boys on college campuses, he imagined himself to be entitled to whatever he wanted. He thought he had magical powers to make women want his penis inside them. However it got there. The fact that he recognizes that now, and owns it, and refuses to be that guy anymore—well, it made an impression on me. As my heart broke for 20-year-old me, I recognized the growth and humility in him that makes him a human on a path, just as I am.

As for forgiveness, I’m not there yet, but I want to be. And I hope I’ll find my way to that place. I usually do.

The night he raped me, he knocked on my door. “I was lonely,” he said. “I asked if I could get in bed with you.”

His words triggered no memory. Still a blank. I sat in my sunny Sunday living room, tears dripping from my chin as I listened

He went on. “You were surprised, but you said, okay. Just to sleep.”

So he got in next to me.

I fell asleep. He didn’t.




How did I maintain equilibrium and a sense of peace and happiness through many years when some pretty basic things about my life were painful, unfulfilling, or difficult? High stress around a mentally ill, often homeless, mother. A rural life that did not align with my basic needs. Abstinence from the one thing that had always defined me: writing. And what was essentially a profoundly unsatisfactory marriage. But if you’d asked me at the time, through those years, “Are you happy?” I would have said yes.

There was a family and it was full of love. The love my husband and I felt for our children filled up the gaps and fissures in our own relationship. And I now know, with the clarity of time and distance, there was another thing that was fundamental to my sense of comfort within my life.


My kids

The moment I gave birth to my first child, the human need we all have for touch was satisfied. Holding, hugging, cuddling my babies as they grew was, to paraphrase Michelangelo, what gave me life. At least it’s a very very big part of it. And I’m happy to say, I raised two humans as cuddly as I am, and not as uncuddly as their dad is. (He has many great qualities; cuddliness is not one.) Our grown children are paying that warm gift of touch forward in their adult primary attachment relationships—aka with their girlfriends.

After waking up the other day having dreamt I was writing something titled “Touch,” I obviously had to write something titled “Touch.”

My new motto is: Touch—I’m into it. And looking for outlets for my touch, beyond the friendly fluff of my resident feline.

Once I knew I was going to write this blog called “Touch,” I decided to click around on the internet to see if what I intuitively know to be true is backed up by science. Cuz science is cool.

As predicted, all the studies (and they have been numerous in recent decades) support what is obvious to you, or anyone, who has hugged or been hugged, cuddled, stroked, held hands, made love, or driven a car with a lover’s hand resting on your leg as the miles rolled sweetly by. Touch is incredibly healing for us, and, in fact, vital not just to humans, but to animals of all kinds.

A cat, dog, or horse will push head against human hand, demanding pats, nuzzles, and ear scratches. Children who feel safe and nourished by our love will fling themselves at us, arms out, knowing that the hug is waiting. My children, as mentioned, always felt comfortable seeking loving touch, hugs, cuddles, booboo kisses. My son loved to excuse himself from his dinner seat and come sit on my lap when he was finished eating. From toddlerhood on, this routine rarely altered. The result was lovely for everyone—a longer time lingering at table, the family talking about the day, my husband and I making plans, gossiping about work, as I finished my wine or just sat with my little, and eventually less little, boy on my lap. He did that till he was 11 or 12 and just did not fit any more.

To this day, my all-grown daughter will stick her arm into my lap when we are watching a movie, hanging out, talking… and I know she wants some touch. I will stroke her arm as I have done for over 25 years, or maybe her back, and why wouldn’t I? But as adults, we rarely ask for the touch we need. (It would never have occurred to me to ask for a hug or a backrub from either of my parents even when I was a child, let alone an adult.) Humans, at least in this culture, are programmed not to ask for touch, no matter how needed. We don’t push our head against people’s hands or stick our arms into people’s laps. I suspect most Americans would think that saying, “I need a hug” is a sign of weakness. And that’s sad.


My son with pup.

Now that my kids are out of the house, I am a single woman living alone. I don’t mind living alone, but I am usually pretty touch-deprived. Like many Americans, I suspect. Having a pet helps immensely. If you have that warm furball pressed up against you and can nest your fingers in a fluffy cat belly or stroke a dog’s silky face, you have a leg up. Also, if you are a woman, you are likely to receive more touch than your male counterparts. We women are more likely to hug hello and goodbye, and to really squeeze when we hug, too. The other day I burst into tears while confiding something painful to a friend of mine. She immediately hugged me—a real hug, and I accepted gratefully.

A hug is best when it rests for a minute. When you and your hug-partner can feel your heart rates match, and the day’s tension drain from your bodies. Except when we hold our children or our lovers… if we have them… we rarely hug like that. I suspect most Americans would find a hug like that, from a friend who is not a lover, awkward at best, creepy at worst.

And it’s a shame.

But the studies do show that even simple conversational touch is immensely beneficial. (Did you know that in the US we touch during conversation with friends about 2 times an hour but in France it’s 110 times an hour and in Puerto Rico… 180!)

What Michelangelo actually said, according to Google, was: “To touch is to give life.” And in all the ways we can interpret “life,” it seems to be true. The benefits to mental, physical, and psychic health abound. Here’s one quick example—one study of women looked at increased numbers of hugs from their partners in correlation to blood pressure and heart rates and the results were stunning. Both numbers dropped. And that is not the only study that links hugs with cardiovascular health.

We’ve known for a long time that babies and children need lots of touch. Children who are raised with plenty of touch are calmer, better adjusted, and more resilient, while children who are not touched fail to thrive or grow, for starters, and the rest of the outcomes are just as awful.

My dad and I wrapped my then 3 year old daughter in loving touch

But we grown-ups need touch too. Touch! I’m into it…

  • Touch creates cooperative relationships. Is it possible to incorporate touch into the work place in the Me Too era? Not sure how we’d navigate that… (My boss is a hugger. At first I was taken by surprise by this daily greeting for everyone she encounters in the office. But I grew to love it. Her hugs are real, and she looks you in the eye as she comes in for the squeeze. I feel seen and cared about. I’m good with it. If she were a man, I honestly can’t say if I would be, but that is a topic for another blog.)
  • It produces oxytocin—the mothering hormone it is sometimes called, also known as the sex hormone, but really it’s the love hormone, as it is released not just by breastfeeding and sex but also by simple touch. Oxytocin enhances positive thinking, optimism, bonding, compassion, and trust.
  • Speaking of compassion—one study showed that when a toucher was feeling compassion, the touched person knew it about 80% of the time. (This study was done so that the two people could not see each other and hands reached out through a hole in the wall—very sciency.) The touched person could also sense other emotions, but compassion was the big winner.) So if you touch people, they will feel your compassion for them. So do it.
  • Touch also releases the neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. They help us regulate our moods and they relieve anxiety and stress. So—touch is part of a solid care plan for folks with an anxiety disorder, not to mention just good practice for all of us living high-stress lives in a high-stress country with high-stress headlines bombarding us daily.
  • Not just heart related disease, but all disease is affected positively by touch simply because (and the evidence is clear) touch boosts our immune systems. Do you get a lot of colds? Hug your kid. Cuddle your partner.

But seriously, do we really need data and studies to make us practice something so elemental to our beings as touch? The people in France don’t need a scientist to tell them, “Touch your friends approximately 110 times each hour that you are in conversation. Here is a printout of the health benefits of this practice. Call me for a follow-up in three weeks.” They touch because it is part of who they are and their society accepts safe, warm, friendly touch.

Chimps groom each other several hours out of every day. Have you ever seen a cat lick another cat for … ages? I mean their tongues must be pretty tough to endure that much exercise. But I digress. Horses in a paddock will nuzzle one another and many will trot right over to be scratched and stroked by the nearest human. Touch is encoded in the DNA of countless species. If we don’t touch enough, it’s because we have allowed cultural norms and social taboos to override our instincts. And of course, I am not advocating that men grab pussies—that is not touch, that’s assault. And also of course, we have to be very aware of what other people are comfortable with. Consent is vital and boundaries are to be respected.

I hope you will practice more touch when talking to a close friend—reach out to touch her hand as you tell her a story or ask her how she feels. If you are lucky enough to have a partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, friend with benefits… touch that person more. Let’s make cuddling our national pastime instead of school shootings. If you still live with your children—no matter how old they are—up the hug quotient. And whenever you see that family member or friend who makes your heart sing—show it with touch and share the love. That’s what I’m going to do.

Postscript. I have found over the years that when I carefully link to all my sources and online articles in a blog, zero readers click on them. (That’s zero as in absolutely none at all.) So if you want to find the research I refer to in this blog, a simple Google search will do the trick, as it did for me. Or ask me for my sources in the comments.



“Why is My Life Like This?” Is the Wrong Question

30 miles out to sea… the little comma-shaped island is Nantucket.

Thinking too much about things. It’s a lifetime habit I have not yet entirely broken. Thinking has its place and I’m pretty good at it, truth be told. But as powerful as my brain happens to be, my heart is even better.

When I seat my Self there, I am at my best. I can easily know what my gray cells can never deliver.

I’m grateful for my brain, don’t get me wrong. And all the other parts of me, as I explained in one of my favorite Thanksgiving blogs. But what is the lesson I learn again and again— when I feel the need to know “why?” Ask my heart.

A few days ago, I started to write a blog in honor of Thanksgiving. I was having my long anticipated (and partially dreaded) solo Thanksgiving. Once I knew neither my children nor my sisters could be with me, I turned down several invitations in order to carry out the holiday my heart knew was right. Me and my cat, Boo Radley, a 12-pound turkey and a few fixings, and solitude.

I started the blog, and it was rolling out as a kind of “this is my choice/ here is what I’m doing/ this is good/ let me explain myself/ allow me to excuse myself for being the windswept hero on the clifftop with tangled hair and a fistful of crumpled poems.” I digress. Plus, there are no clifftops here, nor are there poems to be crumpled. The thinking blog I started to write… well, it was horrible.

Analysis and a careful breakdown of pros and cons is not going to answer the questions that sneak into my head late at night since arriving in my new life/job/home/island ten months ago. The questions run like this: Did I do the right thing? Why am I here? Is this going to work out? Have I made a terrible mistake? Will I be able to afford this? Are there any men on this island? Why is my life like this?

Wrong questions.

And I know that. The minute I feel my brain firing like that, I roll my eyes. They roll all the way back into that brain and frown at all those neurons freaking out and having a panic party. If eyeballs could enunciate, mine would probably say, “tsk, tsk, tsk.”

So when that happens, I make myself a nice cup of tea, light the candles, and remind myself that there is learning happening.

Because—this is my life and why am I here if not to learn? Yes, and grow. Yes, and trust the universe. Even when things seem objectively nuts, both out there in the world and in here in my confused state.

There is not much more to say, except that it seems pretty obvious to my cardiac muscle’s figurative counterpart that there is a reason for all of this.

I am an introvert living a literal and metaphorical insular life. I am on an island, but I think obsessively about how to get off of it to see my children, the world, tall buildings, friends. Doing so is not easy. Residents are very often trapped here by weather. And if you have a demanding job, well, you are mostly doing that, anyway. So what is in store for me here—to learn and become? Here where I am trapped by ocean and wind?

Wind-blown after a short walk in my neighborhood on Thanksgiving.

I’ve never liked wind. It has always made me extremely uneasy. So now I live in the birthplace of all wind. The place wind gets trained to be a Superwind. The elite wind mall, bragging a variety of winds never before imagined. Isn’t that interesting? Perhaps I am here to be blown away.

My life, though still clearly privileged by any objective standard, is extremely pared down. I have downsized to 500 square feet of coziness. I am blessed to have a place I can even remotely afford here in Nantucket, and so why the dark thoughts? I love where I live. Why do I feel insecure? I let myself worry about meaningless what-ifs until I remember I don’t want a big house. I don’t want a mortgage, a lawn to mow, an oil tank to replace. I can spend my Saturdays writing a blog, exploring the beach, or the Whaling Museum, or walking through town with a friend as I did today… instead of cleaning, calling plumbers, and repainting the bathroom. Much is possible.

A pared-down life on an isolated windy island is life as I know it, for now. It is exactly where I need to be, and my heart is learning why.


That Time When I Lost a Piece of Myself

In the time before

In a recent email exchange with an old friend from grad school, 25-year-old Vanessa appeared, invited by his words. It was as if he added water to a freeze-dried me, and I reconstituted before my own eyes.

There she was, that other, prior me. A young woman who had done one thing consistently since she could hold a pencil: write.

That Me-Who-Wrote refused to be vanquished or even dimmed, no matter what. While working full time, putting myself through college, juggling night working with day studenting, and acing my classes, I wrote. Riding the roller coaster of teenaged misery and the even more distracting bumper-car ride of 20-something angst and ecstasy, I wrote. Living fully (like 24 hour a day LIVING LIFE), loving with an ease and joy that defined me, offering my heart to the wrong men and having it cast away—no matter what, the stories poured out. And then there was that eating disorder, an abortion, and my mother’s descent into psychosis. And still, I wrote, just about every day.

The thing is, I could not NOT write. I had plenty of options, and many choices to make… every day. Whether I sat down, pad in hand, or before my typewriter (yes… typewriter) was not a choice, any more than breathing or eating are choices.

But now that I think of it, eating was a choice. For almost three years in my twenties, I actually chose not to EAT. Why did I stop eating? There are answers to that, I believe. Explanations. I’m pretty sure I know what that was all about. But that episode in my life troubles me less than the much longer episode of abstinence that makes far less sense to me.

Why did I stop writing for 25 years?

75% of the work I’ve done over the last 15 years—in my shamanic journey, my spiritual questioning, my self-healing— has been focused on that singular question, which is like an ice pick in my heart. And I still don’t have good answers.

Yesterday, on the phone with my sister, I grieved freely for the first time. I cried and cried. It was a conscious grief. I let myself feel the loss fully. It felt like shit. But why had I repressed the emotion for so long? I had allowed the loss of a piece of myself to exist only in my mind, where I could manage it, look at it, “think about it.”

I have put words to this fact—that I was a writer who stopped writing—many times. Friends and family who knew me in the before time could never reconcile the non-writing me with the person they knew. I had handydandy answers ready. Answers about having a family, raising kids, that my (then) husband was the writer in the family now. Excuses about being a working mom, a teacher with hours spent reading the writing of 13-year-olds and helping them make it the best it could be. All the writing I did for other people, clients who needed my words and skills to say what they wanted to say. I enjoy that work, don’t get me wrong. But I have, for years and years, put all of myself into helping other people be writers, or giving other people the words they could not find on their own.

Writing did return to me for a while when I invited it in, about seven years ago when my marriage ended. It came easily for a time. I became prolific again, briefly.

I often wonder if one of the reasons that marriage had to end was that I realized I would never write from inside it. Not writing was a defining factor in how I saw myself in that relationship. As hard as it was for my husband to allow himself to grow as a partner within our couplehood, it was just as hard for me to return to the writer I had been. That is not on him. It is all on me.

But even though the words flooded back for a while, the act of ending a marriage is never going to be enough. There needs to be so much more.

For a short time, I was in a relationship with a man whose belief in me as a writer spurred me on. But there needs to be so much more.

I need to believe in myself as a writer. I need to accept the loss of 25 years and reclaim the part of me that I lost. The part that snapped off. The giant organic piece of my soul that just broke the fuck off and rolled down the cellar stairs.

When my friend John reminded me: “You were always a serious and optimistic writer,” my heart jumpstarted as if I’d said those words myself.

Yes, Self, you can be serious again. You can be optimistic again. That means… you write.

I started this blog in 2013 so I’d have a reason to use my voice again. It seemed an easy (er) way to find the flow of words that had once been a cascade. It has been fun. I am not sure if it paved the way as much as it filled the gap. I am grateful for it, but it is not enough.

What I need to do now: feel my grief. Let it move through me and pass away. Integrate the learning. Return to myself.

There is only one way to know if these lessons will take. If the writing starts again.




Thank You, Sylvia Plath

For a person who tends to overthink things, it’s odd that I never really examined why Sylvia Plath was such a powerful force in my teen years. Today, when Google reminded me it is her birthday, I had an intense emotional reaction to realizing that she would be only 87 now, had she lived. All the decades of her absence slammed into me as a deep loss. I feel my throat tightening again now, and the hot glitter at the edges of my eyes.

When I’ve told people in the past that Plath was an important writer for me, I’ve heard comments like, “Oh that’s so dark,” or “Were you suicidal too?”

What? Do people who love Byron have to be promiscuous bisexuals to adore his ravishingly rich poetry? Do people who love Homer need to be blind? Those comments strike me as both naïve and sexist, but that is not the point of this blog.

Today, I realized in a simple, clean epiphany that was far from surprising or unexpected—Plath showed me that we can use words to unhinge the meaning from the experience and slam the page with truth.

She showed me that nothing is off limits.

She showed me that what is real has a place in writing. And real is found in the world outside us but also the world inside us.

Of course, other poets could have taught me this, but she is the one I found at the moment when I was open and vulnerable to awakening.

I have owned The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel for 47 years. They are on loan to my poet daughter at the moment. I am sad about that today as I long to leaf through them. Though Colossus came out in 1960, months after I was born, and Ariel in 1965, after her death, my editions are: Colossus 1968 edition Vintage Books, and Ariel 1966 edition Harper and Row—pictured above.

But I digress.

Her posthumous book is the one that now, reading many of its poems online, I realize with some mild surprise, I must have read hundreds of times, so ingrained are the words in my mind.

Like so many very young aspiring writers, my natural talent with words was hidden under bushels of cliché and “shoulds” when I was 12, 13, 14. The stuff I wrote at 6 and 7 was far more real. Plath was the bitch slap I needed… and so much more.

In “Lady Lazarus” Plath scorchingly writes of her near deaths, one by chance and one by her own hand, adds raw layers of stunning images—her, curled up under the house, trying to die while underground critters came to rest upon her (“I meant / To last it out and not come back at all. / I rocked shut / As a seashell. / They had to call and call / And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.”)—and references to Nazi doctors (“So, so, Herr Doktor. / So, Herr Enemy. / I am your opus, / I am your valuable / The pure gold baby, / That melts to a shriek.”), carnivals (where she is the attraction: “There is a charge / For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge / For the hearing of my heart– / It really goes.”), and so much more as she rises again and again from death (“What a trash, / To annihilate each decade.”).

I read these words, at 15 and 16, knowing that she did not rise again, the next time she tried. I knew this voice was silenced forever and it grieved me. I cried real tears for her, and for me, for all we both lost.

“Daddy” was another poem that sank into my bones. I did not know, till then, that we could write such forbidden things. That we had permission to speak truth to power. That fear need not demand silence if proclaiming these truths would have meaning. If not to anyone else, at least to the writer herself. I was scandalized, thrilled by her scorn for the Nazi beekeeping father who held such sway over her life:

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You——

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

But not only that—the bold zero-fucks-given way Plath just went there. This may seem like no biggie nowadays. People write from depths that were off limits 40, 50 years ago. I believe Plath’s unrepentant, slicing honesty and the devastating perfection of her language helped pave the way for every writer since. And that is with her husband’s horrible interference, now thankfully undone in more recent editions.

The Bell Jar was an amazing book and of course I read it. But only once. I am a writer of prose, not poetry, and yet it was her poems that called to me again and again. I have never read any book as many times as I’ve read Ariel. Why? I asked myself that today for the first time.

It freed me. It blew open my mind to possibility. I did not try to act on that possibility till several years later, in my fiction, but the seed was sown, permission given.

And I adore her because she did not need permission. She was a trailblazer who, despite suffering from mental illness I cannot fathom, wrote. She wrote real. She wrote genius. She wrote pain. She wrote her own ugliness. Her strength. Her tragic flaws. Her own unmatched, shocking beauty.

Her words were an incision, clean and kind, into me. Thank you, Sylvia Plath.

Shelter in Place OR When Children Must Come to Terms with Their Imminent Demise Something is Very Broken

“This is a lockdown. This is a lockdown. This is NOT A DRILL.”

That’s what the students at the public schools heard on Friday in the community where I live, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. They pushed tables against doors, crouched in corners, and tried not to make noise. They hoped and prayed that they would be allowed to live.

Thirty minutes went by before they learned that it was a false alarm. Someone had accidentally triggered the panic button.

Thirty minutes went by in which every adult and child in the school wondered if the shooter would find them. And when.

Texts were sent, like this one: “I don’t know what might happen. I love you, Mom.”

Some students could not bear to wait and jumped out of second floor windows.

I can’t begin to guess why they jumped… Was it fear, plain and simple? Survival instinct? A despairing belief that it might not matter but I’ll try anyway? It seems that “I want to live” looks like shelter in place to one child and it looks like jump out the window to another. What would you do?

By incredible, ironic chance, a panel discussion about Massachusetts gun legislation was scheduled for later in the day and I had planned to attend. I did attend, completely unsure what it would look like in the wake of the morning’s events. Three members of the Massachusetts legislature were there, as well as a representative from Moms Against Gun Violence, and a high school student activist extremely involved in the national gun control movement.

That boy told his story.

“A fourteen-year-old girl one foot away from me was crying so hard that tears flowed in a stream from her chin. All she could say, over and over and over was, ‘Where is he? Where is he?’”

The boy, let’s call him JJ, went on: “By he, she meant the man out there somewhere who wanted her dead.”

He explained, “I did not know how long I’d be alive.” He said that, or words to that effect, repeatedly as he processed before our eyes.

No one, he explained, thought, “Maybe it’s an earthquake.” They’ve been trained to fear something far worse than the shifting of tectonic plates, the collapse of buildings, and a tsunami aftershock.

By the time we saw JJ, he was very, very angry. But there was more. Much more. This brave teenager, who somehow managed to have the stomach and the grit to make it to his speaking commitment that afternoon, was traumatized.

I think we say that word a bit too freely sometimes: “I was traumatized,” or, “That was so traumatic.” Many people in our country experience true trauma—abuse and rape victims, children ripped from their parents and kept in cages, the victims and survivors of mass shootings, to name just a few examples. We need to be careful to use words precisely.

Children who thought they were about to die while in a place where they should always and without question feel safe? That is trauma.

However, JJ never once said, “I am traumatized.” He was too inside the moment to think about defining it. But all of us in that room heard it in his voice. Saw it in his face. He will never be the same. None of them will.

And JJ did NOT have to face a shooter. He will NOT have to go to funerals for the next month. But he believed he would die. That his friends, his teachers, might be gone in the flash of a semi-automatic weapon and lie in their own blood until some indeterminate moment when things were safe again.

Outside, surrounded by the flashing lights of every police car on the island, parents gathered, awaiting news, wondering if their babies would come back to them.

This is the country we live in. This is the United States of America. A nation of children who know how to shelter in place, push tables against doors, be very very very quiet. While wanting their mothers. While crying, while needing human connection, while being paralyzed by the most horrific of thoughts. A “civilized” society in which 5-year-olds know what a “shooter” is and must understand that they and they alone are responsible for their actions in attempting to avoid being murdered. They must also know this: if they reveal their position to the shooter, they may be to blame for the deaths of everyone else in that room. Deal with that, why don’t you.

I know I could not.

Marjory Decker, state legislator who sponsored the red flag law that passed in MA in 2018, spoke of her own young children. One of them has night terrors because of the lockdown drills at her school. I have heard similar stories from others whose children are deeply troubled just by being prepared for an active shooter in their schools. Why wouldn’t they be?

As horrible as it is that the alarm went off in our schools by “mistake”—why do we even have to have a panic button in every school? Why must we prepare our children for imminent death because some dude decides he needs to shoot things, AND he can get a gun more easily than a car or a marriage license?

I am intensely proud to be part of the agency that was called upon and that responded to this event on Friday. Our clinicians rushed to the scene and helped children and parents, teachers and administrators navigate the fearful reality of this accidental “not a drill” that they had to live through for 30 whole minutes. We will be back again on Monday, helping as best we can… But I despair. Why does this have to be a thing? How can the gun lobby matter more than the lives and souls of children?

Please explain.







A Mother Thing

Did you ever think to yourself, “We all have one thing in common?” And the answer was: “Everyone has a mother.” Well, it’s not true.

Of course, every human emerged from a vagina. Or out of a uterus, one way or another. But throughout human history, children and mothers have been torn apart. An enslaved mother sold to another Southern farmer upon the birth of a child of questionable origins. A child whisked into sex trafficking. Mother and baby connections shattered by war and famine and epidemics.

Children in cages in the Land of the Free

And here in this country now, children kept in cages, far from their mothers. And, if the people in charge of this Land of the Free get their way, never to be reunited.

Quick disclaimer: I love daddies and I know that every story of family separation, loss, grief, and anguish is likely to involve a father. A father’s anguish is no less important, and a father’s love is no less vital, than that of a mother.

But this is my blog. I’m a mommy. And I want to talk about mothers.

My mother wanted me. I was planned. Still, for half a year when I was two, she abandoned me with a stranger. (She clearly did not see it that way.) It was with my grandmother—a woman I’d never met, in a house I’d never visited. Apparently I cried a lot—to the point of vomiting—upstairs standing in a crib. For a long time. A week? Two? Then, so say my uncles, I changed. Got quiet. Learned the rules.

I only mention this because it is my 1/1,000,000th partial-not-really experience with that awful rift. I did learn the rules and was reunited with my mother. It took me a few decades to really sort out the mommy thing (complicated by her narcissism and collapse into psychosis years later), but I turned out okay. Because I was privileged as hell. I was always fed, always warm, always dry and physically secure. I received an education, had experiences that enriched me, knew other adults who loved me—uncles, friends. And there was my Great Aunt Thelma who gave me all the unconditional love a gal needed, and my father. He was long-distance and distracted by a new family, but that was my family too, a blessing to me. And my father loved me the best he could. And I was white.

By the time I was 17 she was lost to me again, that mother. The psychosis previously mentioned had spiraled her into an alternate universe from which only her voice emerged, now and then, to blame me for things. I didn’t blame her, though. She did her level best with the cards she was dealt. Sure, it was hard to go through life’s trials and joys without a mom to turn to or share with. College. Date rape. First love. A broken heart. A medical crisis. Pregnancy. But I had enough of what I needed to be okay. More than.

Me with my babies long ago.

But you can bet your ass my babies got all the attachment parenting, unconditional love, safe boundaries I could give them, and a warm, ever-present, non-judgmental ear to listen to all of it, even in the middle of the night when, ya know, shit happens. Their privilege is profound, because of the love of me, their dad, and the fact that they are white middle class kids with US birth certificates. And passports.

But the most important of these is love…

I see the effects of that love in my now-grown children. They have self-love and they understand their worth. They are not afraid to ask for help. They are adventurous and kind. They know they’re okay. And they know where to go if they aren’t.

I see the remarkable children of safe, privileged, loving families—those of my friends, my sisters, and extended family.

I heard a statistic once from a therapist a bunch of years ago. 30% is all a child needs. If a parent can give love, attention, safe emotional haven, 30% of the time, things are probably gonna be okay.

THIRTY PERCENT. That’s all. That’s not much, really. That means 70% of a kid’s parenting can 100% suck and they’ll be all set. But a lot of kids get zero% because guess what? They got a raw deal.

Starving mother love

When the playing field is so slanted, how are parents expected to be fully present, have the wherewithal to show their love by listening, being there, lying in the sun with a baby on their chest? They’re busy trying to survive. Envision the mothering journey in a land where bombs fall daily? Where there is no food. Where institutionalized racism means everything is so much harder. How do you have anything left?

Probably like you, in 2016 I found out that racism in this country is not a last vestige of an old white paternalism, slowly fading to nothing. No. Racism is alive and well in America. Racism seems to be kind of what America is. Our claim to fame. The not so distant era of suppressed bigotry and implicit bias seems like a golden age.

But I misspeak. If your skin is not white and/or you were not born here, there has never been a golden age.

So I’m talking about the golden age when I and others like me were allowed to kid ourselves that things were “so much better” because it wasn’t in our faces. I am disgusted now, realizing that was me.

Slave children–our legacy

But there is no mistaking it today, in 2019. The war on people of color, women, children, immigrants, families of all varieties, gays and transgender (read: non-whites/non-males/non-cisgendered), not to mention the war on our basic constitutionally guaranteed (but not really) rights, is alive and well. Even more children than ever before are robbed of the one thing that –if there is a god or goddess up there, that deity would want to be like, FOR SURE EVERYONE GETS THIS ONE THING? What is the one thing? Not to be gunned down for being the wrong color? That’s a good one but even more basic than that. To get fucking toothpaste in the prison camp where you live cuz you wanted to escape a war and picked the wrong place to land? Don’t be silly. Food? No, not even that.

Mother love

The one thing —the safety of a mother’s arms.

I despair for our children.

What will this world be when it is populated by the privileged and securely-mothered few and a whole big lot of humans robbed of their childhoods, their security, their hope, their basic rights?

We need to rewrite that story before it happens. Join me in being an activist in whatever way you can. Join me in voting for NO MATTER WHO wins the Democratic nomination. Join me in sending as much money as you can spare to help get people voted into office around the country who will really make change. Join me in always speaking out when you see or hear injustice happening, either in front of you or on social media. Join me in refusing to be a bystander.

Mother love

Get the babies back with the mommies. That’s a good first step.


If you want to help but can’t decide how, check out this site and help progressive women get elected all over the country, not just in your state. 


100th Blogday—Reflections on a Blog’s Birth, Change, and the Optimism to Try Again

Spiralwoman.com was born sometime during the very early part of 2013. At that precise time, I was in a tunnel and the light was starting to show. I was ready to emerge. To write, live, forge ahead. Starting this blog was a huge affirmation of life and joy. I’m not altogether sure of the details of why that is so, but I know it is.

Happy 100th blogday to me.

What was going on? Let’s see. Within the prior year I had ended my marriage, taken a risk on new love, taken a leave from my job, moved 1400 miles with a cat in a truck, tried very hard, saw that love is not always enough, moved 1400 miles back again to a world where I no longer had a home or an income, relied on the kindness of friends, suffered the fucking agonies of hell with a heart, mind, and soul that felt more ripped up than one might imagine could happen to a “mature woman,” and refused to succumb.

I started this blog, 100 posts ago, sitting in the brilliantly sunlit family room of my dear friend Meredith, who basically gave me her weekend home to live in. Occasionally she showed up… a human co-habitant so full of love and grace that I felt blessed all over again by her. One of many blessings hidden in the pattern of growth, pain, and change.

By the time I showed up at her place, I had experienced the unconditional hospitality of three other friends. What I did not talk about on my blog, though I talked around it, was that my heart was, quite simply, broken. I lost love. Plain and simple. A second chance I thought I was being “given,” was no chance at all.

During that period of my life, when someone said, “This might help,” I tried it. No questions asked. There was no ego, no pride that could interfere with any process undertaken by the scaled back-to-the-bone self I was in that moment. I drank Valerian tea and came to love the bitter, nauseous smell and taste. I tried automatic writing to seek my own inner wisdom. I took epic walks in every kind of weather. I circled with women. I dove into solitude. I counted each day off the ledger of my sadness, knowing on a deep level that, eventually, there would be a day that was less hard. I wrote, for me and others, scraping together money until my leave was over and I returned to work.

Before summer came, I was on the way to being me again… mostly. People I loved experienced loss of their own, and I found I had the reserves to offer comfort and support to them. I had replenished my hollowness. One day at a time.

Part of the reinvention of myself included becoming a blogger. Part of it included being an idiot sometimes. Part of it included starting (eventually) to date again, and even having a few, short-lived but meaningful, angst-free relationships. Part of it included stepping into an entirely new job—one that scared and thrilled me and that I turned out to be really good at. I ushered in a new chapter at a workplace I loved with all my heart, turning my skills and passion to the task of making things better for everyone. A mission worthy of the reborn.

Fast forward 100 blogs… I am sitting at a coffee shop on a tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts with an all-new life barely begun.

Nantucket is my new home.

I love this kind of transformative challenge because it reminds me, once again, how tough I am. Emotional, highly sensitive, romantic, idealistic, trusting, irreverent, maternal Spiralwoman is also a survivor and a thriver.

All new everything. I can’t find my way around the twisting streets without getting lost. I can’t buy five items at the grocery store for less than $50. I can’t see the sun from my basement apartment. I can’t imagine the high season, when the cobblestone streets will be choked with cars. I can’t do a lot of things.

But I can… Crush my new, demanding, meaningful job. Host every friend I’ve ever had who is willing to come visit me. Live life with optimism and joy. Spend my weekends on the beach. Or writing. Or both. Be grateful for the lessons learned. Celebrate my 100th blogday!

Isolation is good for the soul.