I cannot move forward in my current writing process right now if I don’t stop right here and now to write a post that will clear a pile of mental obstacles out of my way that have been accumulating over these past few days of working with my mother’s letters.
The image came to me a few days ago that I feel like a bowling ball right now sailing down a lane toward a neatly arranged collection of pins that represent the end goal I am working for at this stage of my writing process. I have been trying to stay on track and not get sidetracked, distracted or bogged down as I go through what is the first edit of the body of my mother’s letters. I am stuck.
It’s like the lane I have been rolling down has suddenly ended. Broken, it has disappeared into space. No, I am not going to let this stop me. I am going to look at this current blockage (I just wrote ‘blackage’ here) as something I can tackle in words and eliminate.
Where do I start, though? What is it I ‘have to say’?
As so often happens, I will only know for certain as I write the words that follow next.
First of all I want to say something about two little, common, seemingly insignificant words in the English language that my mother found a way to leave out of her letters without losing the meaning of what she writes about: “a” and “the.”
The online Webster’s dictionary lists 99 separate entries for the word, “a.” It lists 43 for the word, “the.” My mother’s style of writing did not require either of these words to communicate her meaning in her letters. Yet now that I have bowled my way through a first edit of her letters covering 1958 through half of 1963, I realize that it is only NOW that I am seeing that I missed – until now – the significance not of her having left these two words out of her letters, but the significance of me blindly choosing to drop them into her text during my editing process.
The English patterns of usage for “the” follow most commonly along pathways related to its use as a ‘definite article’, an ‘adverb’ or as a ‘preposition.’ Patterns of common usage for “a” include ‘noun’, ‘indefinite article’, ‘preposition’, or ‘verb’.
In my commitment to myself to allow the main body of my mother’s writings to remain as a chronicle (the way she wrote them without adding ‘analysis’ or ‘interpretation’) I have tried to be very careful as I roll along down my lane of first edit NOT to alter her text. By adding “the” and “a” occasionally I have merely been attempting to clarify for ‘outside’ readers the meaning of some of my mother’s phrases.
It has only now finally struck me how stunningly accomplished my mother was in writing without including these two small English words into her letters. Because very occasionally she DID include them, I am not going to be able NOW to go back and ‘edit backwards’ and remove “the” and “a” where I have inserted and included those words. Nor do I think I need to or have any desire to do so.
Yet at the same time this morning I am finding myself marveling at the skill my mother had as she wrote in her own shorthand without using these words. Today, 50 years after my mother wrote these letters, many readers are familiar and comfortable with modern skills in text messaging that certainly have followed similar communication patterns.
For the sake of attaining consistency for ‘outside’ readers of my mother’s words in published format, I have to make some decision of my own about what I am going to DO with “the” and “a” in the body of her verbal text. Do I let reference to ‘homestead’ stand? Or do I consistently alter sentences to read ‘the homestead’, or ‘the log house’, or ‘the mountain’?
How am I going to reach a point where I can trust my own writing ‘flow’ ability to overlay-insert occasional word changes within her text without feeling I am compromising my intention to allow my mother’s words to stand as HER chronicle?
This is one of my mental quandaries right now. Once I have ‘bowled my way through’ this first edit of her work, I will need to return back to the beginning and set myself yet again to rolling down the ‘bowling lane’ toward yet another edit of the entire body of her writings.
If I were working with a collection of writing under different circumstances this ‘issue’ about “the” and “a” would not have the importance I believe it does to me at this moment. I suspect that in line with what experts might talk about as ‘object relations’ difficulties, my mother’s early forming brain-mind-self never grew to understand in normal ways what a PERSON actually was.
When the brain pathways that form in early infant-child developmental stages do not have the necessary information to build the early forming right limbic social-emotional brain correctly, all sorts of later appearing confusions about who a person is, including the self, appear.
‘Splitting” and ‘projections’ are aspects of these early brain forming changes that appear in my mother’s ‘mental illness’. She did not, for example, have the ability to recognize that I was a PERSON because of her ‘splitting’ and ‘projections’ onto me.
As I work with her writings I am beginning to see more of what I hope to confidently name at some point as clearly repeating patterns and themes of her disorganized-disoriented insecure attachment disorder and its symptom – her mental illness (most likely Borderline).
So when my mother neglects to add “the” to “the homestead” I cannot instantly assume that ‘homestead’ wasn’t real to her as if it was a PERSON in her psyche and/or a projection of her mind. “The log house,” or “log house” or simply “house,” or “mountain” (“the mountain?”) in my mother’s written lingo very well might have represented externalized projections from her mind, just as “ALASKA” itself probably did.
People do not speak-write about “the Alaska.” We refer to Alaska by its name. I am also questioning how to ‘handle’ my mother’s use of capitalizations in her writings. Sometimes ‘Mountain’, sometimes ‘mountain’. Sometimes ‘Homestead’, sometimes ‘homestead’. Sometimes ‘Log House’, sometimes ‘log house’.
Even though we don’t often think about it, established rules we use for capitalization always reflect relationships and values. In my mother’s dichotomous thinking, sometimes places were just as closely connected to the ‘friend-or-foe’ dichotomy as people in her life were.
When ‘normally’ considering a ‘normal’ person with a ‘normal’ brain-mind-self, we can assume that seriously considering the words “a” and “the” (their inclusion or deletion) in sentences is a trite and trivial affair – perhaps a silly waste of time and mental energy.
I am working in ‘a twilight zone’ here. I believe my Borderline mother existed in ‘a twilight zone’. In fact, I probably share this belief with many others who still have serious questions about exactly what kind of a reality the Borderline brain-mind-self actually operates within.
Personification of mental projections IS a problem! In the same way that I was ‘personified evil’ to my mother, not a child, not a human being – I suspect that ‘the log house’ and ‘the homestead’ and ‘the mountain’ and even Alaska itself represented something not ordinary to my mother. In fact, I suspect that I will eventually be able to clarify that even ‘the dream’ that my mother seemed to organize and orient her entire being in relationship to was as much a literal THING to my mother as her own body was.
When we consider the terrible reality of severe child abuse I believe we are actually looking at actions committed by human beings whose earliest forming emotional-social brain did not include the necessary information that would have allowed them to KNOW what a person was as clearly differentiated from an object.
This entire area of thought is one that I think about continually, though I am not ready yet to explore my thoughts in words other than to say that the human mirror neuron system, as it is connected to the motor neuron regions of the brain, has been designed from it origins to help humans use TOOLS to better ensure survival.
Whether or not the mirror neuron is ACTUALLY involved as part of the human empathy experience seems to be a matter that is open to great debate in scientific thinking. I am not going to perpetuate any myth in this area. I am also not ready to thoroughly explore the scientific facts in this debate, either.
I tend to agree with research I have read that states that the human mirror neuron is NOT actually involved in the brain region activational patterns that operate during the experience of true empathy. In other words, empathy DOES NOT use the mirror neuron system. Empathy is ‘something else’.
If this is true, then it seems entirely possible to me that someone like my mother with her Borderline brain had problems with circuits and pathways that ordinary, normal people do not – but that at the same time ALL of us experience a ‘borderline’ just at the interface between empathy and the mirror neuron system. My guess would be that this ‘borderline’ exists just at the interface where our social-emotional brain understands the difference between human beings as being something MORE than, DIFFERENT than being object-tools.
If this distinction between humans as BEINGS versus humans as object-tools does not form right as the body-brain is forming in the beginning – a developmental process that is entirely dependent upon the quality and kind of earliest caregiver interactions that we have for its formation – then never will this person EVER be able to ‘normally’ know what a person is, including their own self.
As I understand it, the process that is supposed to normally occur that allows us to KNOW the difference between a person and an object-tool HAS to include emotional FEELING FELT, mirroring early infant-caregiver interactions. If these resonating, mirroring interactions do NOT allow the feeling felt experience to happen for an infant-child, the ‘borderline’ between human-as-human or human-as-tool-object never forms correctly.
Without ‘proper’ formation of this ‘boundary’, true empathy (and we could say corresponding conscience) will not exist. Such was my mother. And as readers of this blog already know, these changes in early development also completely affect-direct the infant-child’s development of their entire nervous system, including their brain, their autonomic nervous system (vagus nerve system, stress response system, calm and connection system), and their immune system. As Dr. Martin Teicher states, an evolutionarily altered being comes out – basically at the far end of the baby-human being assembly line!
Looking backwards in time at human evolutionary development, these evolutionarily altered beings are, in my thinking, simply ones like those who existed before the period in our specie’s development when having the luxury of knowing the ‘boundary’ between human and tool, human and other, or even what a HUMAN even was, existed. (Way back before we had spoken verbal language).
Of course as often happens, this post is becoming lengthy. That doesn’t matter to me. I need to clear this blockage, this ‘wreckage’ out of my ‘bowling lane’ so that I can return to my task of accomplishing the first ‘once completely through’ edit of my mother’s writings.
Considering all that’s being dumped into this post, that’s a lot of blockage-wreckage!
Tied to these thoughts I am having is the miracle that happened last Friday. I just happened to be on the telephone with my daughter as she was holding her son (my first grandchild who was born premature and is now three months old) as he did something so important most everyone actually MISSES its significance.
He saw his own hand for the very first time, and recognized what he was seeing!
My daughter had noticed over the previous 48 hours that her son had loosened the tight fists he has waved around since he was born, and had begun to spread out his fingers. Then, suddenly, within a single infitesimally minute segment of time – he SAW his own hand, and from there began to move it around while following it with his vision.
There you have it, folks! The beginning moment of the conscious development and recognition of the individual human self with, “OH, MY! Look at THIS! There is a hand and that hand is connected to ME and I can move it around and determine what it does! How COOL is THIS? Here I AM!”
In a normal safe and secure, loving attachment environment, which my grandson has in super abundance, this developmental stage is taking place as just another stage in the ongoing emotional-social body-brain’s formation. All those nerve cells and neurons, circuits and pathways and connections being made one tiny instant at a time – that form a human being. But without these developmental stages occurring within a loving, adequate, safe and secure attachment environment, the inclusion of BEING A FULLY FUNCTIONING EMOTIONAL-SOCIAL HUMAN BEING will NOT be included in the final product!
My grandson’s mirror neuron system is already developing, but because he is growing in a ‘feeling felt’ attachment environment, his feelings will be involved as a separate PERSON as he grows, as he watches and ‘learns’. At the same time the invisible ‘boundary’ between person-as-person, not person-as-object-tool will be appropriately forming all his other physiological development will be properly forming in relationship to this fundamental fact.
Most every person, my mother and my self included, can say, “Of course I know what a person is,” and “Of course I know a person is not an object-tool,” we do not FEEL it. We report this fact as a SEMANTIC piece of information. This is NOT the same thing as feeling the difference on the ‘AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL’ level. It is a difference in the way memory operation has formed in the beginning.
This being said, I will simply add here that in my mother’s June 17, 1963 letter to her mother, when she wrote, “I figured the other day we’ve moved 17 times in six years – no wonder we’re sick and tired of moving,” she is not aware that she has no more of an idea how her children (or her husband) felt through all of these chaotic place-changes than she did how the household items felt.
My mother’s brain did not have the capacity to ACTUALLY tell the difference between how a fork or a piece of carpet FELT and how her living, breathing children FELT. She dragged every-THING around with her equally oblivious of consequence.
My mother could have no empathy for a couch differently than for a person. Her own ‘feeling felt’ brain-mind-self ‘boundary’ had never formed correctly in her infant-childhood that would have meant that on a FEELING level she could tell the difference between a person-as-a-person and a person-as-an-object.
Without having formed this fundamental ‘point of referencing’ my mother could not appropriately organize and orient herself – PERIOD. The changes that happened to her as a result of no ‘feeling felt’ experiences as her body-brain developed also left her with a disturbed, disoriented and disorganized sense of time-distance-space, a fact that is noticeably splashed throughout the chronicle of her life journey that I am working with in her letters.
I will make one more point here and then hope that I have accomplished the ‘bowling lane clearance’ that I was hoping for by writing here this morning. Over and over again in my mother’s letters she says to her own mother that all she ever wanted was to recreate for her own children (us) ‘the wonderfully happy childhood’ that my mother’s mother had (supposedly – and NOT) created for my mother.
In the end, that attempt to recreate her own nonexistent happy childhood was the DREAM that drove my mother’s homesteading, Alaskan pursuits. That my mother lacked the capacity to actually differentiate her children from her self meant that what she was doing was attempting to recreate her own ‘happy childhood’ for her OWN self.
Several months ago I realized that along with ‘playing baby dolls’ with her own children as the projected ‘doll babies’, my mother was at the same time ‘playing house’. Over and over and over again in these letters my mother describes her homemaking efforts as if she was talking about setting up a doll house.
Until this parallel struck me, I had never thought about whether or not my mother actually had a DOLL HOUSE in her young childhood nursery where she played in solitaire for unending hours, days, months and years. I bet that she DID! This would have been in addition to all the trappings of ‘housedom’ she DID have for the bigger dolls such as beds and bedding, rocking chairs, dish sets, etc.
So it was not ONLY a recreation of her doll play that manifested itself in her distorted mental projections upon her adult life that I can see in the patterns of her activities. It was ALSO the recreation of the perfect doll house that appears repeatedly with ever one of the moves my mother did. (Seventeen moves in six years by her count is a lot of moves, although I believe once I get to that level of detail analysis within my mothers writings I will count far more than that.)
Add to this confusion the fact that my mother didn’t know the difference between her attempts to ‘recreate her own perfect childhood for her children (for herself)’ and the actual hell she created for her own children – especially for me – I realize that working with my mother’s ‘story’ is a bit like trying to calming read a book while spinning around inside a blender at top speed.
My! How ‘Twilight Zonesque’ is THAT image? There we all were, husband, children, animals, props, homestead, log house, etc. — along with the past, present and future combined — all tossed together into the blender of my mother’s deeply disturbed ‘dream’ mind and held captive while she pushed the ‘go fast’ button. Off we would all go over and over again, spinning around and around and around, up and down, in and out, here and there, willy-nilly without end.