I have been exercising my brain and mind for a year and a half, researching the answers to questions I have had about myself, and I am now ready to dance. I am ready to rock’n’roll.
Setting up the form and structure of this first book is like doing the choreography. The actual steps and movements are the chapters, and every note of the music, every beat, every pause of silence, is the verbal record of the story the best that I can tell it.
The force and energy of the dance comes from my belief that writing this book is why I was born. Writing this book is the single most important occasion and event of my life. Through its words I hope to help on some level every single person who reads it.
It is not my intent to engage in argument on any level with anybody. I have had enough conflict in my life. I will particularly NOT communicate with “born again Christians” who believe that they have everyone’s best interests in mind, and know the answer for everyone. It is not my desire to step into that gladiator’s arena. It serves no helpful purpose, and I will not waver from this resolve.
I am snapping off the dried seed pods from the poppies that are done blooming in my back yard, listening to the booming thunder from our first summer monsoon strom arriving right on time at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Jagged bolts of lightening strike the ground just on the other side of this rusted steel wall behind me that marks the edge of America and Mexico. The ground is dusty red about three inches cown, under that might as well lie concrete for all I could dig a shovel into it if I wanted to.
But all I want right now are these seeds, so I can save them and plant again mid winter for next early spring’s bloom I am reminded of another poppy field from my childhood, every possible color from my crayon box as I sat on a rock and gazed, near eye level with them, across the flat field that ran along side the jeep road. I don’t remember, had we walked this far from the bus turn around to meet my father when he came by long after us on his way home from work and back to the homestead? Or had we gotten a ride from the homesteaders across the road from my poppy field, Eklund’s?
Right now the air is so fresh here, lightening striking very near to the house right now. Close enough I will go unplug my DVD player though it means starting the stupid movie that’s in there all over again. I do not like it, but my budget does not include the cost of television cable. Just a moment. I’ll be right back.
There. That’s done, and it’s pouring now. When I passed the open door I saw my gangling puppy’s head jerking from side to side as he tried to focus on the falling rain drops. Rain is a gift here, and he’s never yet seen it in his young life. My five gallon white ex-restaurant pickle buckets out under the edge of my tin roof are filling fast now. I can wash my hair in that water, and it will be soft as baby hair. I like it that way. I just popped my head under that streaming water, A bolt of lightening hit close enough it made me jump.
Oh, this life giving rain. It will bring the grasses green, the weeds, and the bugs. I wish I still had my chickens. Remind me, I have 2 great chicken stories to tell you later. One about chicken grieving and the other about rattlesnakes.
Nowhere outside of Alaska can there be a smell so sweet as the scent of the desert after a rain. And as the sun nears setting, there in the eastern sky I can see a rainbow being shredded by the jagged white of lightening aiming toward earth.
SHAME AND GUILT
When and if I get to address this, I right now think that if shame goes off track, which evolves far earlier than the ability to feel guilt or even embarrassment, then maybe conscience never develops correctly.
If a person gets broken too early through a major betrayal, then perhaps they just sake off on a narcissistic (read extremely selfish) cover-and-project- and disown-and-disguise-my shame track.
abuse does not usually “just start” at some later age, as if the parent decides, “Gee, my child is old enough now, I guess it’s safe for me to begin abusing it now.”
people who are afraid cannot listen and will not hear
When our brains were formed in interaction with a selfish person without a conscience, and we were still able to love them absolutely and unconditionally, it certainly puts us at risk the rest of our lives for loving the same kinds of people. We love other kinds, of course, but it isn’t the other kinds that hurt us and lie to us and deceive us and hurt us, now is it? I am speaking, most certainly, also about myself.
When these kinds of people pay attention to us we think that might mean they love us.
I think my soul “grew down” into the world of the homestead. I was able to be with my soul in that world. We practiced being together in that world. Nobody else was there, but what matters is that I and my soul were together there, in that place, in that environment, in that world, during that time – and it both formed a huge part of me, and saved me. Then there was the vision.
I think I experienced a great deal of what Damasio describes as “calm” with the locked-in patients. Somehow I was also “decoupled” from either my body, from my emotions, or from both. I had no consciousness, but I think when I was outside and away from my mother, I had that calm. Maybe in the corners sometimes, too? This is NOT dissociation, is it?
Perhaps to satisfy myself somewhat I can find a way to take the book “to another level” in the discussion questions at the back of the book. Anybody who concerns themselves enough to bother with attending to those questions will be indicating another level of involvement with the story anyway. I will have to be very creative! And consistent in the “degree of level” that I take those questions to. They will have to tie directly to the story – say with dissociation – but I cannot explain or define these kinds of concepts in the story itself. It will be a sort of after-word.
How can I write book and not describe who that book is about? I am not talking just about me, as the individual person involved. We can say, “It is about a child or about an infant grown into a child,” but do we really understand what an infant or a child really is?
We are first a “one thing” and we continually grow into a “something else” from birth onward. This growth occurs at an astronomical rate the first days and months of life as the brain forms, and through age 5 the “person” is hardly the same kind – as if not even the same species as it was in the beginning, so radically has its brain changed along with all of its abilities.
We always assume that everyone goes through the same stages and therefore is in a parallel state to every other infant or child – that they can be compared formally across the board. When the infant experiences are traumatic and abusive, this does not turn out to be the case.
Though from what I am being told, none of my readers care about that.
I was not a regular sort of baby and I did not grow up to be a regular sort of child. The trauma of my life changed me from the first breath I took. Yet how can I write my story without talking about my premise, that traumatic experiences with abuse from birth change the way a baby’s brain forms, changes the infant they become, the toddler, the child, and the adult?
The point of telling a story, seems to me, is that the reader is taken along by the writer on a journey of changes. The reader is vicariously experiencing the experiences of the writer as the story goes along. Nobody tells an infant at the start of a day, “Now pay close attention. Today is the day you are going to learn such and such, and your brain is going to form new circuits so that it will operate tomorrow differently than it is operating right at this moment. The experiences of your day today are going to change you.”
And yet it all happens anyway. Is there a way I can so tell this story that the reader comes along with me, and fully understands, or become conscious of what I am trying to teach them just through the experience of reading the story as it happened? It would then become a “show” and not a “tell.” That the reader gets the point in the end is the point. If I am skilled and talented enough, I can make that happen. It will all have to be in the integrity of the story.
I want the readers to be changed by reading my story so that they see themselves, the world, and one another differently by the end of it.
Because it will be like telling a story about a member of a different species, who does not perceive the world or relate and respond to it in the same way as an ordinary person would. I have to make the reader experience that difference from the inside out, not just tell them from the outside in. Their reading needs to be an internally altering experience, so subtly and perfectly crafted that they remain innocent and unsuspecting, yet fascinated throughout the entire book.
Damasio’s lower level of consciousness operates with and through and by wordless images. I will have to use words to put the readers into that place – into that wordless image place. There is the alchemy of it all. I will have to transform through my story the dross of their ignorance into pure gold. Like Rapunzel, straw into gold with the spinning of my tale. My writing and this story will have to be brilliant.
I will have to manipulate the readers, which is really what they want, anyway. That is the power of storytelling, and that is what they are paying for.
I have to craft an impeccable story that will teach them what they do not even know they need to learn, and would refuse to learn if they knew that I was teaching them. As if this is the secret that has to remain hidden behind the veil of the words, on the other side of what they will know. I can teach their unconscious mind if I can reach it, and that will happen in the place of the wordless images. That is the space of LIFE itself, the creative space, the changing space. The time has come, I believe, that we as a cultured species need to know this information. My life then becomes a sort of parable, a story, an epic, a myth. It has to be one that interests them and fascinates them, and keeps them reading as if they are reading their own memories of their own future they are moving into one word following another through these pages. This will not be just another story, though they will not, in mass, know it. I will trick them, in a good way, into eating their medicine soaked until it is invisible in a spoonful of sugar water. Every word that I use, every image, will have to be a part of this magic trick. This illusion of a story that can teach and help to save the babies. I can do this. I am a mother.
This makes me think of the dream I had when I was working at Red Lake, of the deep gashes in my legs and the grass that grew out of them. The nurturing of the mother, the earth, of the mother, our body – even if we are men, our body is our earth, the planet our souls are attached to – one way or the other, for better or for worse. It is that power of green growing grass that needs to inform this book, tell this story, instruct its readers. The storyteller is just the carrier of the story itself, like a mother carries a baby within her womb that is not hers, that is not she, until the time of birth when life takes on a separate form of its own.
Unstable patterns of interaction with an unstable mother
I am watching every move she makes. I am listening to every sound, every change in pitch, every pause, punch and pounce in the sound of her voice. I hear the tones of her. I hear more than she can ever imagine. She does not know that I know what she is telling me. I know she is dangerous, that she is not safe, that she hates me, that she wants me to be dead. I know that she threatens my breath. I know that she threatens the fabric and fiber of my being, of my tiny body, even though I know no words. I am a biological creature. I know things in my body that have been taught to it by millions of years of experience of all my ancestors of every kind. The parts of my head that hear her were once parts of ancient jawless fish. Just because they are now in the head of what looks like a baby does not mean that they are not there. We just don’t see them this way.
+ prosody of speech; innate memories and responses
“What I have to say to Linda is not always understood by her most clearly. We do the best that we can. It is not always easy being invisible. I can see her but she cannot always see me. Sometimes that leaves us both stumbling around in the dark, her looking for me and me being with her while she’s lost, looking for me. Sometimes she is just lost.”
You can call me Linda’s life force if you want to, if the word “soul” troubles you in any way. I am connected to the sum and the essence of who and what Linda is in this lifetime. She carries me around with her in this lifetime and I will carry her around with me in the next one. I am the closest thing to her pure essence that she has. I am, therefore, an integral part of her story. If she were not here I would not be either, and the other way around.
How can I include my “soul” without sounding at all “religious” or “new agey?” It will have to be a natural thing to the reader, one that is not even questioned. So I have to expertly set this up so that it operates just right throughout. It has to be natural and necessary.
The river hummed a melody, a soft, low, muted, lullaby — comforting and soothing — , forever present, except in winter when the river even hummed itself to sleep. I was too far away to call its sound a rumble, though I’m sure it was if I could have traveled down the mountainside toward the low angled edge at the bottom of the mountain across from me where the river traveled along its base.
Nor could I hear the swishing sound I’m sure that river still has if I could have gotten close enough to see it closer to its banks as it moves itself forward but not backward over any stones that might be in its way.
For I was a bird that could never leave its nest.
The kiss of death was placed upon my brow with the first breath I ever took. The kiss was waiting for me there in that birthing room. My mother’s labor with me had been terrible, as had mine with her. That we both made it through alive should have been a good thing. But it was no cause for celebration. Something called evil had taken its toll and we both became its innocent victims.
The shadow of the cloak of evil wrapped itself around us so tightly that my mother and myself, as mother and daughter, never escaped its hold over us. My mother died with us estranged. It could have been no other way because my mother was never born into her own life, so could never appreciate mine.
What should have been a shout “to live” became the reverse, spelled backwards, when live becomes “evil” instead. My mother was not perhaps turned completely inside out prior to the traumas of birthing me, but once that final line was crossed there was no going back. The act of turning was no doubt inevitable. It just happened to happen around me.
The “crimes” of which I was accused, as if they were war crimes I had committed against my mother personally, were as real on the list of her litany as were the objects which she added to her list of things she broke over my body – or those on the list that I had “destroyed,” supposedly intentionally.
I didn’t know that day that the hardness I heard in my father’s voice, that I had never heard before, was probably the wall he had to build around his heart to speak to me the words he brought me into that room to tell me. “Linda, I want you to leave this home.
I am probably poised at this very moment with my toes curled over the edge of a thick board, a diving board, scratchy and gritty beneath the wet skin of my feet. Poised and frozen for one instant before the bounce, before the leap into the air that will take me first up, and then down down down into the water until I find myself down very near to the bottom of the pool of my life. Before I use my arms and kick my feet, eyes open to find the bubbles that I will follow so I know the right way up. I will follow those bubbles, some larger some small, some moving faster than others to the surface of wetness. I have to go back into that world of tears now to meet myself then, to meet myself now. Only I will not go that distance alone today for you the reader are coming along beside me. Silently but near enough that I will know that you are there beside me.
Is there a story lying down here at the bottom of this pool? Will I be able to find it down here, and to clasp it in my hands, closing my fingers around it firmly yet gently so that it can’t get away as I rise with it to the surface, trusting that it will not dissolve, that it will still be there, intact, as I bring it to life for the whole world to see?
I thought to myself this morning, “Maybe now I can take a small detour and at least read one piece of literature to fuel my own writing. I have a worn yellowed mass market paperback copy, published by Bantam, a 1981 printing of James Agee’s Pulitzer Prize winning story, “A Death in the Family.” Poised on the edge of THIS experience, I opened it and read the first line.
“We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.” (p 11)
“Nope, Linda! Close that book. You may not read another single word.”
There is at least a month’s worth of digestible protein in that one sentence alone for me. I cannot read another’s words. I have known that since the beginning of this journey to write my own story. My brain does not know whose images are whose and it does not care one twit. A juicy digestible tidbit is a wonderful thing to a brain that is starved to express its own images, and it can make any image its own. And I know it will do that to me. It will feed to me, tiny spoonful after tiny, curve-handled sliver spoonful anything that it finds useful to play with me while I am trying to be only serious. Dead serious.
It matters not that I have never been to Knoxville, Tennessee. Not as a child, not as any age two-legged creature. What matters is that I am intending to disguise myself as a child right now to go back there to discover what I knew back then when I was disguised as a child in the first place.
“so successfully disguised to myself as a child”
That line describes all of us, perhaps. The state of blissful nonconsciousness where each instant was new upon us, fresh as a fluff feather fallen from some high flying bird, floating through the air angled downward in some unpredictable direction, as it searches for the right, the only right place to land upon the earth and within our minds, as if each new moment was the opening scene of our Forrest Gump lives, unwritten until that single exact moment that a single fluff feather floats past our wide open eyes.
Run now to catch it! Life is one of those games everyone plays as a child without knowing any rules, just the rules of a body ripe for the chase, balanced somewhere between right now and the forever not yet begun or imagined.
I am so afraid that as I begin, and truly look inside, that I will find my mother inside of me staring back with her evil taunting look as if to say, “Ha! You thought that YOU could make something good out of all of this?”
Or I will look in there and find within me the same empty shell of a woman that she was.
I prepare to make my makers. That would be both my mother and my father. But it also includes the me that I brought into this world – both the me of the physical body, and me that came along as an interested escort to the me that was in the body.
I remember a phone conversation with mother when Leonard and I lived in Glyndon when I asked her if she wanted to send me the letters and journals on homesteading and I could help her write “the book.” “No. Write your own book,” she told me.
Here I am all these years later with what is left of her material, writing the book anyway. Seems a strange irony.
I read her scrambled pages of notes in the early Alaska years, and I can feel inside that sense of slipping and sliding without any grip, like walking on those wet Alaskan road glaciers that formed just for us. Mother never “got a grip,” I don’t think. I don’t think she ever “found her footing.”
No matter how bright the day, there was always a dark shadow over the part of our family’s life that was mine. As if I belonged to a different story, a different place, a different song that was not one you would wish to listen to for very long.
She was my steam roller.
Those perfect homestead summer days were like a kiss direct from heaven, a forgiveness for every possible wrong ever done in the world, ever contemplated, for any to be possibly committed. Those days were healing days, no matter what happened to me. They were Garden of Eden days. In-spite-of-anything-the-world-is-perfect days. It’s just too bad I had to view them from the bottom of a deep dark well most all the time. Yet still they cheered me. They cheered that other part of me – perhaps my soul. Yet I was so alone, so terribly alone, even with the comfort of a beautiful summer Alaskan day. Maybe, like hollow, somehow. Like a hollow tube, nothing in it, dark inside. No joy, nothing to look forward to, caught in a trap, down in a mine shaft. All her vengeance turned against me. Always.
Like getting lost in the book, “Hound of the Baskervilles,” lost in a thick fog humanly possible to see through or get out of.
Strange things, pieces of paper in her journal like this one, probably fall 1964, says “clean sheets” at the top and then Wed. July 29th and left, then David/Linda. That’s it for the entire sheet of paper. Some just have columns with our names and day of the week we took a bath.
Following dogs through the gates on the descent into hell. I cannot write this book unless I go there. Everything in my being screams at me, “You escaped her, Linda. Nobody in their right mind would go back there! What do you want to do this for?”
First and foremost, for money!
Covered with stinky awful black tarry spider’s goop. To have that feeling that goes along with the horror shows, watching those horror shows that people watch. Not me. I lived in there, lived in that place.
To do it now is perhaps like being my own heroine, to get myself in and to get myself out. A kind of mental memory sniper, searching for those memories, those experiences, nailing them. Because they are mine by right – and by write.
I am heading into my own strange land, my own kingdom where I lived and did the very best that I could as a child – I had no choice. It was like everything happened the way that it did, every moment following the one before it, marching in a line, a march of death. Yet it was the only life that I had. March of life, march of death.
Death march through childhood.
Check out the march 14, 1959 letter – now if that isn’t an example of mother’s logic!
First time I’ve wondered this: Did grandmother push mother to write a book?
I just remembered the large beautiful hollow sugar eggs I believe Dad bought us one year, all decorated with frosting with a lovely scene inside I could view through the peep hole. I bet that was still with my personal things when I left home.
Reading my mother’s writings – how could she have done to me what she did and NEVER have thought there was anything wrong with how she treated me? It all feels so twilight-zonish to me! Her façade is flawless. It is as if her words fit together so well, like a solid wall build against the reality that WAS real. That OTHER reality. The one she does not write about.
But it was mostly like there was the rest of the family who went about their lives. And then there was the “problem” of Linda. Everything went on around me. Like I was walled out of everybody else’s life. Yet it seems so strange to me, in all these words, that the evil never leaks out, never seeps through that wall. Like I was entombed alive – alone.
If one could create a fairy tale life that seemed so real the REAL real world disappeared from view completely, from thought, from memory.
Like there is no inkling remaining. Sifting through her words like ashes for remnants of the truth and I am still so empty handed. How cunning was she? How pervasively convincing? Right now I wish I could talk to JoAnne Vanover, as if she would have some clues. She found my mother in that trash heap of an apartment in the end, and forced her to go to the hospital. My mother did not want to go, did not want to have surgery, and in fact died in the prep room.
I am feeling really sad about Ernie today, that he just feels so unwilling to cross any real line to give me anything of himself – being old and being rigid, I guess. I don’t understand anything, really. Just that he does not want to be with me, and that so resonates with all this not being wanted that was so far past what I think very many people can EVER understand.
I was thinking today about how mother and her mind created an edifice of who she thought she was, or intended to be on some level. How behind the walls of her words lie all the horror of what she felt perfectly OK with doing to me — how crazy it was, how crazy I would feel if I didn’t have my siblings to validate my experience.
When I found the sentence in her earthquake writing:
“I was so thankful! I hugged and [she meant kissed no doubt but she wrote killed], each child in turn.”
It is like in this sentence that “other” mother spoke. The Medora mother who killed her children. Like right here might be the only hole I am ever going to find in her own façade of she saw herself in relation to the family.
But the family never meant me.
Just as Ernie’s family does not mean me.
I have to walk straight through the gates of hell to write this book. Ernie will never understand this. That I am writing “one hell of a book” and I mean that literally.
That everything in my life came from the PTSD, really. There was no part of me, or of my life that was not affected by her hatred of me. “There was no stone left unturned” when it came to her hatred of me – the insidiousness of it, the consistency of it, the pervasiveness of it. And right at this moment I do not know how to communicate that sense to my readers. And I don’t know how to go back for the story without these feelings arising in relation to this work.
I was writing this morning about the split. The Devil’s dichotomy, Satan’s split – her switching in regard to me. If I could somehow make (not that it’s my job or that I have this power or ability) the façade that was hers crumble away so that the pure child I believe that she was at some point could step out of all the shit – there she would stand, smiling and all clean, pure and shiny. Like I have to do that for myself, but I so want to do it for her. She could not do it. She did not have that capacity within her. She was broken.
I want to save my mother. But I also want Ernie to love me. Both things are impossible, I guess. Just very very painful to me.
Do I think that somehow I am going to come to understand my mother, and that will change anything? My 18 years or terror and sadness, my death march childhood? It is not in HER words that I will find my own reality. That is inside of me. And yet this seems important somehow – maybe a very late developmental stage of “individuation” from her – the separation from her that was never allowed to happen in the first place?
In part, the story of the homesteading that is embedded in her words in part of my life with this family, part of my heritage. I WAS there. I walked the mountain with the rest of the family. I loved the mountain with the rest of the family, maybe more than anyone else did. I rolled the sleeping bags up so neatly when we first slept in that Jamesway, so wanting to please my mother. Usually I guess pleasing her meant not having her get mad at me. Me, trying to control the monster.
Those “go to Alaska” motivations did take us out of LA, and THAT was a good thing. It is just so all mixed up!
How can a person not take the good with the bad? But the BAD was so BAD and so SAD – and the whole experience of homesteading go so out of control.
But her words will not show the rest of this story!! No matter how hard I might look there for them.
There is a part of me that does not believe I can write my book successfully any more than mother could write hers. Like it’s a family writing curse!
Do I have enough from her letters for the timeline to be complete yet? Can I have that information by the end of this coming weekend if I don’t have it now? Wed is July 4th and a holiday day off of work for me mid-week.
This is the hardest stage, the writing of my childhood. Now that Cindy has told me authors only get 6%, and now that this is really hard anyway, I only want to run away. I want to run away from Ernie. I want to run away from Naco and Bisbee. I want to run away from myself, from everyone, as far and as fast as I can possibly go.
Yup, I want to run away. Far far away. Did I feel this as a child? This intense desire to escape from prison? I feel I am in prison now, but that I cannot make any real changes in my life until this book is finished. Maybe if the 6% won’t so much motivate me now, the desire to be finished and get on with doing something funner with my life will!! I hope so. I do not want to end up like my mother – that is a great fear of mine.
Writing this book is like building an edifice, a structure to show others what the life of a terrified child is like. There are the subdivisions where the ordinary people live, and then there’s those that the sad people live in.
Each story is building part of the “house” that I was raised in. All the architectural elements that were constructed around me in my mother’s mind. Things that I could not change, nor could she, evidently.