Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 7

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

meadow07

Dearest Kaitlin,

There’s so much in your letter that I want to respond to, but let me put first things first.

I gather from your letter that you’re not feeling safe in regards to Newt, or Reid, either. It also sounds like you are ready to begin to take steps to divorce Newt.

It’s very important to have safety measures in place before you begin the procedures.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline, www.thehotline.org, is a great place to start, even before you begin filing any paperwork.

They can let you know how to develop a safety plan. Another valuable resource is  WomensLaw.org, which offers information about how to file a restraining order, if needed (and don’t dismiss this possibility, just because you know and care for these two brothers). WomensLaw can also connect you with programs near you, including free and low-cost lawyers. Both of these resources are great first-stops as you begin your plans.

They offer free online chats, too, so when you feel you need to talk with anyone, 24/7, they’re there for you. My friend Micah told me that she would often call the hotline (1-800-799-7233) when she started feeling panicky. She said for the first dozen times she called, she wouldn’t even speak. She just held the phone to her ear and listened as the advocate stayed on the line with her. Knowing they were there, Micah said, gave her the strength she needed during the roughest times.

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So I wanted to bring that up first because it’s the most important thing. You need to be safe. These resources can help.

I’m so glad that I can be on your support team! I know I’m not very good at giving support–like you say, I’m analytical! And my empathy doesn’t seem to translate into comforting words but into action-steps or intellectual theories.

Those websites I linked to also offer references to services near you that offer free support–nearly every town and city has a place like House of Hope, where those who have experienced domestic violence can go get support from others. This would be support that’s actual support–not like what I offer!

Guess what, though? I have exciting news! I’m ready to learn to be better at all of this! I’ve enrolled in a graduate program to get a master’s in art therapy! Classes start next month, but I’ve gotten a head-start on the readings and research. Oh. Man. Do I have a lot to learn! My dream is to be able to offer art therapy at HoH and the refugee center. I suspect that art offers a way to heal from past trauma, and so I want to learn how that works.

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The best part is that as I learn more, I’ll be able to be a better support person for you!

You are already in my top-tier support! You’re so kind, so sharing and giving, and… just you! It makes me smile to think how everyone who has you in their life benefits.

OH! The other important part! Congratulations on becoming a new grandma! Jordan sounds lovely, and Brooke does, too.

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I loved hearing about Dakota. You know that I’ve got a special spot for adopted kids. Ben sounds like such a good big brother. I know how valued a big brother can make a little sister feel!

Your feelings don’t sound like they are a mess to me, Kaitlin. They’re feelings! We have all sorts of feelings! And I can understand how you would still think of Newt with fondness and even love. It’s OK to do that and to also feel afraid of him and hate him, even, at the same time. We don’t have to have just one set of feelings! We feel what we feel. Our feelings don’t have to make sense.

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I don’t think you need to force yourself to open up to Leroy more than you feel ready to. It’s evident that you love him and that he’s there for you. You can just take it as it comes, sharing what you feel ready to share without pushing yourself in ways that make you feel unsafe. Sometimes talking helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. Trusting yourself to know what you need in the moment might be the best approach at this point.

Well, some big changes have come into my life in conjunction with my decision to go back to school!

First there’s Youssef! He’s our new nanny. Since I wanted to be able to have time to focus on my studies, I decided I’d hire him. We both felt it would be good for him to start right away so that Jena could get used to him before I had to leave for classes.

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She loves him! And he adores her! I feel so happy when I come home from the library to find them playing together or to see him reading her a bed-time story.

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When Jena first came to me, it seemed best for it to be just the two of us. That let us form close bonds. And now, it seems right for Jena’s sphere of care-givers to expand. This is helping her to build trust as she sees that more people than just me can offer her love and nurturing.

It’s been a big help for me, too. Youssef is wise, kind, and has a wealth of experience. Being able to talk with him about the things I’m learning provides me with every bit as much as what Jena gets. We’re so happy to have him in our lives.

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Just like with you, when you get one you get two, and our home circle seems to be expanding!

Did I mention my friend Mizuki Suzuki to you? (Don’t you love her name?) We met when she came to repair a broken stereo, and we became friends that first visit! Since then, our friendship’s deepened.

She is also going back to school when the new semester starts. She’s going to become a teacher! Because she lived all the way out in San Myshuno, and because she’ll be quitting her repair job to return to school here in Windenburg, and because Jena and I have this huge house all to ourselves, I invited her to move in with us.

And she accepted!

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I’ve been amazed how much it helps having another adult in the home. Mizuki is so thoughtful, too, always looking to see what needs to be done and pitching in with a smile.

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I think you would love her–she’s funny, childish, and creative. She will make a perfect primary school teacher! She’s focusing on the Waldorf method because, as she says, she wants to “educate the whole child!”

I joke that it’s a good thing. I wouldn’t want just half a child educated! Or just a third! And how would one decide which third? Shall you educate the right leg and stop there?

Whole is much better!

It turns out that for Mizuki there’s another benefit in living with us: She and Youssef have become an item!

I was so surprised to come home one day and find them in each other’s arms!

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I felt a little awkward at first. Then Mizuki said that it simply happened quickly. They met here at our place, when Mizuki would come to visit. Then one day, before she even moved in, she dropped by while I was out and Youssef invited her in to wait for me, and they got talking and felt they had a connection. She hadn’t mentioned it to me when she moved in because at that point, it wasn’t romantic. But in the days after she moved in, it became so.

I find it sweet, and I’m happy that Jena can be around a loving couple.

I don’t seem to have any interests in romance, myself, or any romantic feelings towards other people. So I am happy that Jena can have a model of a healthy romantic relationship without my having to provide it!

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Well, it seems there’s so much change in both our lives as our circles expand.

I want you to know that I’m always here for you. I’m enclosing my phone number, in case you ever want to call. It would be amazing to hear your voice!

Take good care of yourself, Kaitlin! I treasure you!

Lots of love,

Meadow
555.555.1212

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 6

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

kaitlin603

Dear Kaitlin,

Hi! Oh, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could meet sometime? I wouldn’t stop smiling the whole time! All the hugs!

I’ve had so many thoughts in response to your last letter, and I’ll share them with you. But first, I want to tell you thank you!

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In association with my volunteering at House of Hope, I’ve been examining my support system. And do you know what? You are one of my strongest points of support!

We’ve been using the materials available at the Soul’s Self-Help Central, an online resource center. I filled out a grid listing people I know that I thought could be part of my support team and their capacities to offer support. You came out so strongly in every category! I’m not surprised. You are an amazing person, Kaitlin–brave, kind, generous, and insightful! You’ve got a great sense of humor, too. I’m guessing that everyone who knows you has you on their list of support people.

And that makes me wonder. Who’s on your list?

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I would be honored to be, if you felt I had the skills and capacity. I am so inexperienced when it comes to life, and I’m discovering that my interpersonal skills are woefully undeveloped. I’m starting to suspect maybe I’m not very mature emotionally. But, you know what? I am eager to learn and grow and develop capacity! So, maybe if I’m not a very good support person for you now, I will be later, after I’ve developed more skills, maturity, and abilities with people.

At any rate, you can know that all my good wishes and gratitude circle you!

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Congratulations on Leroy’s proposal and your conditional acceptance! I hope soon the circumstances allow you to accept for real. Congratulations, too, on his adoption of Dakota. I guess, in a way, she’s a new daughter for you, too. Adoption is such a wonderful gift–I’m really happy that you get to experience it, too, and what a lucky girl she is to get to be part of such a big, loving, supportive family. See all the good things that have come out of your brave actions?

I can understand your not wanting to claim the word, “victim.” That word carries so much baggage–and none of it good! I’ve discovered that the women in my art group don’t like the word, either. During one of our painting sessions the other day, the topic came up.

Some of them use the word, “survivor.”

Ira says, “I don’t like labels, anymore. I like saying, ‘I’m a person who’s experienced trauma.'” She says that, since all of us living on this planet have experienced harsh situations, and the trauma resulting from those situations, that descriptor connects us with everyone. I like that insight.

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Jasper’s organ teacher uses the word “hero.”

“It’s what we are,” she says. “I am a female hero who’s made it through my journey of trials and tribulations with the help of all my helpers, and now, I shine brighter.”

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She says that when she read Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, she wept.

“This was my story,” she said. “All the patterns and steps of my journey, described here in archetype.”

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She and I are going to lead a workshop on “The Hero’s Path,” along with one of the counselors. I’m excited that we’ll be leading it together, because that means we’ll be colleagues, and we can become friends! When I only knew her through the painting group, I had to limit our relationship to “service-provider/client” due to policies of HoH, since I’m the leader of that group. But that restriction stops when we lead a group together!

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I’ve learned that when we’ve experienced trauma–and domestic violence is trauma–that any emotion can trigger it, causing us to re-experience all the fear, anger, and danger-signals we felt the first time we experienced it. It’s because when we feel deeply again, all the emotions can come rushing back. So please be gentle with yourself when you think about all you felt during your recent exchange with Leroy. It takes time to learn to trust again, and letting yourself feel whatever you feel seems to be one of the important steps to get there.

I don’t know much at all, but I’m learning. I’ve been researching trauma, grief, and shame and have discovered that they are very interconnected.

As best I can understand from what I’ve read, when we experience a trauma, our mind switches into survival mode. In that state, the focus is on survival–life doesn’t feel safe. In survival mode, the mind focuses all our energy on getting us out of danger, and so the painful emotions associated with the trauma are split off. We just don’t feel safe enough to deal with them.

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When the system works, later, when we’re safe, we’re able to feel and process the emotions, at a time when our very survival isn’t threatened. But what if we don’t feel safe again? Sometimes, we never reach that point, and the emotions remain split off.

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When that happens, we can sometimes develop guilt and shame, especially if the traumatic event left us feeling helpless. Guilt at least offers some illusion of control.

I didn’t really understand what I read about trauma, guilt, and shame, until I began to apply it to the most significant trauma I’ve experienced: the death of my mom.

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It was my first year in college, during finals week, when she died. I just couldn’t deal with it. I remember thinking that if I felt the pain, I would drown. I’d drop out of college and I’d die. I didn’t think I could survive it.

So I didn’t feel it. I focused on my finals. I aced all my tests.

Then, when I got my grades the next semester, and I saw all those A’s, I felt so guilty. “I shouldn’t have studied. I should have gone to the hospital more. How could I earn A’s when that happened? I should have been with my dad. I should’ve stayed with Norman. I should have dropped out of college.” I thought I could’ve prevented her death if I’d just been there more–if I’d dropped out and taken her to chemo. Or if I’d stayed with her in the hospital. Or if I’d brought her flowers. Or if I’d worn red tennis shoes, instead of black ones.

Then the shame came. “I’m a terrible daughter. I’m a bad sister. I’m such a selfish person.”

For about two years, I didn’t grieve, but I was guilty all the time and I felt so ashamed. I could hardly see my dad and brother because of the shame.

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What finally brought me out of it was in junior year when I took an Intro to Comparative Folklore class, and I discovered fairy tales from every culture dealing with the death of the mother. My favorites were about girls who lost their mothers just as they were coming of age. There are hundreds of these tales! I lost myself in them, and then I found myself.

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Around that time, Norman came to visit. We went to the botanical gardens on campus. When I saw a bromelia in the greenhouse, I began to weep. It was my mother’s favorite plant. Norm hugged me, and he began to cry, too. We slumped onto a stone bench, holding each other, nestled in the humid hothouse air, and we finally felt safe enough to grieve, and we cried until we hiccuped. And then Norman looked at me, and he said, “It isn’t 42.”

“What isn’t?” I asked.

“The answer to life, the universe, and everything,” he said.

“What is?” I asked him.

“Damned if I know.” We laughed so hard. We laughed as hard as we’d cried, and then we laughed some more, and then we cried again, and then we ate ice cream in the tea shop, and my eyes hurt and my chest hurt, and I had a knife through me. I cried a lot during the next year. And then my dad died. And I cried a lot more. But I stopped feeling guilty, and I didn’t feel ashamed. I felt safe enough to feel, especially when I was with Norman or Jasper, even when it was hard.

I’m not saying that grief is the same as domestic abuse. I’m just saying that I’ve experienced the splitting off of emotions and the guilt and shame that follow.

Feeling guilty is nothing to feel guilty about, and there’s no shame in feeling ashamed. It’s all part of how our minds and bodies are constructed to help us survive. Call it socio-biology. And when we understand the process, maybe then we can create the safety that we need to be able to move through the process and back into our healthy selves again, to find our own paths back to being the heroes that we are.

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I hope that I can help to create a safe space for you, Kaitlin, so that you can share with me how you feel. I would like to be able to do that. Maybe our letters can be your hothouse, with bromelias and orchids and roses blooming, smelling sweet, and safe, and calming. And then we could drink tea and cry and drink more tea and maybe even laugh.

Speaking of laughing, I have no idea what’s up with Ira and Norm. She calls him “Babe.” He calls her “Cupcake.” And he told me yesterday that they haven’t even yet shared their first kiss. At any rate, it’s plain to see that it’s love.

Kaitlin, I’m sending you all my thoughts and feelings of admiration, gratitude, and friendship.

Love, love, love,

Meadow

kaitlin615

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Dove 10

Author’s note: I accidentally published this before I added any words! Sorry! For those of you who saw it without words, I hope you enjoy it more with them!

A reply to: A letter from Dove

dove1002

Dearest INWk,

How lovely your children are! They look full of delight! Do they keep you busier now that they’re bigger and more independent? I would imagine that all that curiosity and energy keeps you on your toes!

I was saddened to hear that your people also have domestic violence. When I first considered it, I felt that, being telepathic, the suffering from domestic violence with your people would be less. But then, the more I thought about it, I began to see that telepathy (and are you also empathic?) would not necessarily prevent the suffering. What I realized was that if we knew what others were thinking about us–especially their harmful thoughts–then we might feel even more hurt.

Is there such a thing as “privacy of the mind” among telepathic people?

Recently, I’ve been examining my support system. Or, maybe more accurately, I’ve been realizing that I don’t have much of a support system, and it’s time for me to build one!

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Of course the subject came up through my volunteer work with House of Hope. In fact, we had a seminar for the staff (including me), along with employees of other local service agencies, like the refugee center that brought Jena here. The seminar’s title was “Support2“, and it was about the need for support-givers to have sound support systems.

We were given a worksheet. On it, was a starting list of qualities we would look for in members of our support system.

Here’s the list:

1) The ability to listen for the duration of my need to ventilate or communicate something without changing the focus onto themselves.

  2) The ability to then share regarding the given topic from their own personal history and/or perspective.

3) The ability to help me understand the situation from a different perspective, through systems-thinking, reframing, or providing new insights and understandings.

  4) The ability to voice at the start if they are unable or unwilling, for whatever reason, to give me the time that I need.

  5) The ability to inform me if the content of the conversation is harming them. This shows me that they are taking care of themselves and frees me from that responsibility.

  6) The ability to share what is bothering them AFTER I have finished. Not changing the focus of the conversation from me (if I initiated contact) until it was completed.

  7) The ability to comprehend what I am saying. Even if they don’t fully comprehend, are they at least trying to understand what I am saying or feeling?

  8) The ability to repeat to me what I am saying to help me clarify my comprehension and communication abilities.

  9) The ability to respect my right to refuse their venting on me if I am unable to cope with it.

  10) The ability to respect my privacy in regards to my property, body, and mind.

  11) The ability to not violate my space, body, or mind. This incorporates not touching unless gaining my permission, not telling me what I should do or how I should feel, or that what I am saying, doing or feeling is wrong in any way. It also incorporates not trying to make me adopt their point of view.

  12) The ability to encourage me to choose of my own free will what to do and to help me explore and discover the various choices available to me, even the negative ones. Not trying to fix things for me or run my life for me.

  13) The ability to accept and encourage my participation in activities without them and with other people.

  14) The ability to accept not being told everything and not being my only support person.

(from Building a Support System at SoulSelfHelp)

We were encouraged to modify, add to, delete, or edit this list in any way we wanted, so that it fit us. I added #3 to the list. Surprisingly, thought the list was created for survivors of abuse, I found that it fit me amazingly well. When I mentioned this to the woman leading the seminar, she looked at me carefully.

“Well, you’re highly sensitive,” she said at last. “We’ve found that HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) have very similar needs to survivors. It’s because the world is so harsh, my dear, so if you’re picking up so much stimulus, you need to take extra measures to protect your own privacy and autonomy.”

INWk, that statement floored me! It’s so accurate! I’ve always wondered why it was that I needed all these extra layers of privacy and protection in my life–now maybe I know!

The next step was to make a list of people in our lives who might be members of our support team. Of course, I put down my uncle Jasper, you, and my other two pen pals. I didn’t put my brother Norman’s name on the list, because I knew right off the bat that he didn’t have the capacity for items 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 12. I mean, not at all.

I wanted to put my friend Ira, who’s in the painting group I lead through House of Hope, on the list, as well as my uncle’s organ teacher, who’s also in the painting group. But we were told that we couldn’t have anyone in our support system who was receiving services from the agencies we worked or volunteered for. “You might be on their support team,” the leader told us, “but while they are receiving services from the agency you represent, they cannot be on your support team.”

I completed the project with my short list. We had to rank everyone’s capacity for each of the items we’d listed on a 10-point scale, with 0 for having no capacity to 10 for having strong and consistent capacity. You and everyone else on my list did great!

So the good news, I’ve got strong members on my team! Thank you,  INWk, for being one of them!

The bad news is only one of these people, my uncle, lives near me and is available for me to see regularly. Clearly, I need to do some work to fill out my support system.

dove1001

I thought about my friends. Well, I don’t have many. There’s Anaya!

I invited her over one evening to see if she might be a good candidate. I really enjoy listening to her! She talks about art almost every time we get together, and I always end up feeling inspired.

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But as we talked, I discovered that she doesn’t have all the qualities I’m looking for. She talks while I talk–I mean at the same time–and I’m not able to finish, complete, or even discover what it is I’m trying to say.

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She also has a habit of zoning out while I’m talking.

I asked her once what she was doing, if I was boring, or if she was visualizing what I was saying, or what.

She confided that I was a little boring, and she said, “My mind is like a butterfly. It can’t be tied down! When the ideas come, my mind needs to follow. All my friends understand this.”

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I can understand it, and it’s a fine and even admirable quality for a friend to have. It’s just not a quality I’m looking for in a member of my support system.

So, I added a new item to my list:

15) Has the capacity to listen to me without getting bored, or will at least take measures to pay attention to what I say even when I am boring.

dove1004

So Anaya, while a valuable and inspiring friend, isn’t part of my support system.

The next morning, I invited over the social worker from the refugee center. She was at Support2 with me. She’s actually Jena and my social worker, since I adopted Jena through the center, so, while I can’t be on her support team, she can be on mine.

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We had a good visit. I definitely feel like she’s a strong member of my team.

The thing is, she kept getting up and walking around while we were talking. This isn’t the first time she’s done this. She always walks around while we talk.  I think it’s just that she has a lot of energy and she’s a very physical person. But I find it a little unsettling when we’re in the midst of a deep talk, and she’s suddenly up walking around and joking.

dove1009

I thought about adding a new item:

16) Has the capacity to stay seated during a deep conversation.

It’s important to me, but I have the feeling I’m being petty, so I left it off the list.

I felt better: In a day, I was able to add one more person who I see on a regular basis to the list. I knew I still had some work to do, though.

That afternoon, my stereo broke. Usually, I fix it myself, but I was in the middle of painting, and Jena wanted some attention, so I decided to call a repair person.

I really like the woman who the Fix-It company sent!

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After she finished her work, she stayed for a while, at my invitation.

As soon as we began to talk, she sat down. And I noticed she remained seated the entire time we talked!

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She listened to everything I had to say. She never interrupted. And then she shared insights and observations from her own life, and everything she shared helped me understand better the situation I’d been talking about!

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I had the most amazing feeling while I was talking to her: I felt really, truly listened to.

While I was talking, she became quiet–not just “quiet” as in waiting-for-her-turn. But quiet–as in still, but attentive. Truly, deeply listening to what I was saying, without thinking about what she would say next.

It felt like a real gift.

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I hope I am able to learn and practice that quality.

She stayed for about half-an-hour, and we became friends in that time. We’re getting together for tea next week. I really hope that we stay friends because she’s someone I’d love to have on my support team. And I’d love to be on hers.

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Oh, this is such a long letter! I hope it’s not too boring! Well, you can tell me if it is!

INWk, thank you for being such a good support person for me! I hope that I have the capacity to be a support for you!

I was so excited to hear that some of your inventions are making it out into the world! How does that feel? I did notice your new ice cream flavors, Weight of the World and Taste of Diet. In fact, I bought Weight of the World, and I love it!

It’s so exciting to me to think that I know the inventor of that ice cream! I hope that you’re getting lots of great feedback on it–you deserve it!

Fill me in on all that’s new with you! It always seems like so much happens in your world in between our letters, even though in mine, the days barely crawl by!

Maybe you can explain the funny textures of time to me.

So much love to you and all of yours!

Meadow

p.s. Jena thanks you for the Cat Compendium! She adores cat words! 🙂

dove905

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 4

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

doveex204

LOL, Kaitlin! And OMG! Hahaha!

Oh, I’m so relieved that you don’t think it’s your husband that my brother is writing to!

I’m really sorry for causing any worry. I guess I really over-reacted, didn’t I?

After all, there’s bound to be more than one Newt in this wide world, and my brother seems to think that his pen pal is a really nice guy.

My brother is a nerd, just like you say! He’s what he refers to as “nerd-cool.” By that he means that he’s so much of a nerd that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him, and that makes him cool!

He actually is pretty cool. He’s made the list of  “Windenburg’s Most Eligible Bachelors” for the past five years. It’s funny. I think he’s cute because he’s my brother.

He has this crazy style: like he wears this dapper suit with Oxford shoes, but then no socks.

And he’s always carrying in his pocket this little llama toy he’s got, and he pulls it out and talks to it when he thinks nobody is looking. His front is that he’s a collector, and these antique toys are highly collectible. But the truth is, he’s a kid at heart. Always will be.

So I’m sure you’re right: even though he’s a CEO, he’s really not the kind of guy that a truly cool, athletic guy like your husband would associate with.

One good thing that’s come out of my brother being so happy to be true to his own self is that he’s now with a woman who loves and appreciates him for who he is!

My friend, for it’s a good friend of mine who’s hooked up with him, already knows he’s childish, nerdy, and ironically pretentious, and she likes him anyway!

In fact, she and her daughter just moved in with him.

I met up with them at a karaoke bar in San Myshuno the other night, and they both looked so happy.

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While we were talking, I told my friend that I was surprised that she and Norm got together so quickly. They’d only met a month ago.

“Well, I’m not sure we’re together together,” she confessed. “We’re best friends. And I trust your brother. I know he’ll always be good to me.”

It turns out that she and her daughter moved in with him because they could use a more permanent place to stay. They’d been living in a transitional shelter for women and children escaping domestic abuse.

I hadn’t known that! All the time that she’d been friends with me, she’d never shared that bit about her life.

“I’ll tell you about it sometime,” she said, and we made a date for her to drop by in a few days.

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Before she came, I had a visit from someone else.

One of the employees of the refugee services center that helped bring Jena over here stopped by for a regular check-in. You asked when Jena’s birthday is–it’s in four months. She’s two years and eight months, which is one of the milestones when the social worker is scheduled to come.

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I put Jena down for her nap, and then Marissa, the social worker, arrived.

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She wanted to look in on Jena first.

“She’s gotten so big!” she said. “And she looks so healthy. So peaceful.”

She liked the way we’d set up Jena’s room. “Lots of art!” she said. “Lots of books!”

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We had a long talk.

Kaitlin, you’d asked about my concern that Jena might have PTSD and what trauma she might have experienced. I’ll tell you. It’s harsh, so cover your heart.

Jena was born in a refugee camp. I think I mentioned this in my profile. I met one of the men who was in the same camp with her. He knew her mom. Not long after Jena came to live with me, I invited him over. I’d hoped that he would speak Urdu with Jena.

His attitude was strange. He told me that Urdu wasn’t the native language of Jena’s mom, nor of anyone who’d lived at the camp. I guess it was sort of seen as the neutral language, or the language of bureaucracy. He said hardly anyone has it as their birth language and that, culturally, it meant nothing.

That saddened me, but that’s not the sad part.

The tragic part is that Jena was conceived–here’s where to cover your heart–as the result of a gang rape. Her mom died from complications of the birth, but before that, she was shunned by everyone else at the camp because of the shame of the rape.

I get so mad thinking about it–it’s one of those “blame-the-victims” things that just burns me up!

Anyway, I’ve always wondered how much of a burden from that Jena carried.

So when Marissa and I were talking, I found an opening to ask her insights into this.

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Marissa got real quiet and thoughtful for a long time. Then she closed her eyes and smiled.

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“I don’t think she carries any burden,” she told me, “not even a psychic or karmic one.”

I couldn’t believe her!

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“It’s like this,” she said. “From birth, Jena was removed to the nursery. She wasn’t with those who would feel her birth was shameful. She was surrounded with the other infants and toddlers, and she was cared for by loving physicians and care-givers. I even hear that each baby has their own wet-nurse, so they’re able to gain the nutrients and other benefits of nursing.”

“Do you think she bonded with her nurse and the people who cared for her?” I asked.

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“She may have,” replied Marissa. “I’m sure she did. But that’s a good thing. That developed the potential for secure attachments.”

Marissa explained that the first months here with me were probably hard for Jena–and they were! She was so sad and had those awful nightmares.

“But look at her now,” Marissa said. “She’s obviously a thriving, well-adjusted, happy and healthy little girl.”

I was so relieved, so grateful! Immediately, I started asking all these questions about Windenburg Rescue and the work they do, and if they needed volunteers, and if there was any way I could help out.

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Marissa said that I’d already helped in more ways than I could ever know, but if I was serious about volunteering, they could use someone who could commit to twelve hours a week.

I gave it some serious thought.

Then, my friend stopped by, the one who’s living with my brother.

And what happened next has changed my plans.

My friend began to tell me about her past, about all the emotional abuse she experienced with her husband.

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As she talked, her usual smile faded, and her face looked worn down from the bad memories.

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She told me about the other women who came there, too.

“We’ve all been beaten down,” she said. “You don’t just pick up and move with your kid for nothing. It’s when you can’t take it anymore. When it’s worse staying, and when you feel that, no matter what, you can’t let this happen to your kid. Do you know that poem by Warsan Shire, ‘no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark‘?”

I did know that poem.

“It’s like that,” she said.

And then I realized that women and children like my friend and her daughter are also refugees, for Warsan Shire wrote that poem to describe the refugee experience. It’s a poem about Jena’s mom, but it’s also a poem for every woman who’s ever had to leave an abusive situation and choose danger and the unknown in order to escape the worse danger of the known.

My friend spied one of my unused easels then.

“Enough talk,” she said. “Think I could paint?”

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So I set her up with a canvas and paints, and let her got at it.

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While I watched her work, I saw a change come over her. That weight she was carrying left her shoulders. She began to move freely. She hummed. And she painted the most beautiful, expressive painting I’ve ever seen, full of hurt, pain, doubt, but also full of joy, inspiration, hope. It looked like life.

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“This is what you should do,” she told me.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“You should teach art. To the women and kids of House for Hope.”

So, Kaitlin, I think that’s what I’m going to do!

Two afternoons a week, while my uncle babysits Jena or she goes to daycare, I’ll go to House for Hope and paint with women and children who need the confidence of feeling their own expression of their own beautiful spirits.

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I wanted to let you know that I was so touched by your story of Leroy’s thoughtfulness in setting out a new toothbrush for you the night you had to stay over. That type of gesture: that’s the thing that builds up spirit! I am so happy you have Leroy in your life.

Oh, my. This letter is tome! I only meant to write a little bit, and I’ve nearly shared everyone’s life story with you except my own!

Do take care of yourself, Kaitlin! I hope you have lots of moments of happiness with your family and with yourself. 🙂

Peace, my friend.

–Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Watergate 5

A reply to: A letter from Mr. Watergate

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Dear Chancelor,

I’m so happy to get your letter and so sad to hear the news about your mom. I’ll try to stay positive so that my thoughts and feelings can boost yours, which seem to be hopeful.

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It’s a challenge for me. I lost my own mom and aunt to cancer nearly a decade ago. Both passed within a few years of each other. It still hurts.

I looked up Joyce Brown’s story. What an inspiring woman! I think it’s wonderful that you’re going to help your mom meet her.

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I’m also happy that learning about your mom’s condition has inspired you to encourage your father to become a part of Milagros’s life. You see? Right there, that’s something positive coming out of this situation.

I’ll keep thinking good thoughts and sending them your way.

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Your letter has really inspired me, Chance.

I love what you say about bad things happening as a means of “getting people to stand up instead of sitting down.”

I suppose if that happens, then maybe the events aren’t necessarily bad! Or at least, they’re not all bad. They’re events that happen: how we respond can determine, in part, if they’re events that bring about goodness or events that defeat us.

I don’t want to be defeated by the cruel acts that others do or by those random events that cause ripples in life.

Instead, I want to stand up and make a change!

So, that’s what I’m going to do.

Right now, I’m thinking about two different ways I might be able to, maybe, make a difference or at least a contribution.

Yesterday, I received a visit from one of the women who works for the refugee services group that brought Jena over here. She was doing a check-up to see what questions I might have or what assistance we might need.

As we were talking, she began describing the work they do.

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“Why, last year alone,” she told me, “we brought in 346 refugees from Syria.”

That was in addition to Pakistani refugees, like Jena and others from her camp, and from people who came from all over the world.

“Where do they live? How do they get work? How do they get settled?” I asked.

“That’s where we come in,” she said. Their organization gets them places to stay and helps find them jobs. The people who volunteer and work for Windenburg Rescue also help with language-learning, filling out paperwork, navigating the bureaucracies, and learning the culture.

“We can always use more volunteers!” she told me.

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So, that’s one thing I’m thinking.

Then, I’m also thinking about maybe possibly helping out at a transitional shelter for women and children.

You see, my friend, who’s now my brother’s best friend and new room-mate, used to live at House for Hope here in Windenburg.

It’s a place for women and their children who need to escape domestic abuse.

My friend dropped by for a visit the other day, and she was so full of enthusiasm.

“Your brother’s given me a chance!” she said.

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She went on to tell me about some of the other women living at the shelter.

“It’s mostly believing in themselves that they need,” she said. “You have no idea how emotional abuse erodes self-confidence. Year after year. It’s insidious. And I’m not even talking about domestic violence.”

My friend noticed one of my easels in the kitchen.

“I’ve always wanted to paint,” she said.

“Have at it!” I encouraged her.

I showed her where the canvases and acrylics were stored, and she got to work. I watched her paint, offering encouragement and answering her questions when she asked, and it was amazing to see her joy grow as she completed her painting.

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“You’re an amazing art teacher,” she told me. “The women and kids at House for Hope could really use someone like you.”

So, Chance, here I am, thinking of two ways that I can help others, ways that I can stand up and make a difference.

I know I’ve made a difference in Jena’s life–and she’s made a difference in my life. And now I want to take our good fortune and pass it forward. I’m only going to choose one volunteer position to start with because I want to be sure to have enough time and energy for Jena, my own painting, and my work as a folklorist. But I will be choosing one in the coming days.

And then, I’ll be out there, trying to make a difference. But I know already that the real difference will be the changes that happen in me. Doing things we call “good” is funny that way: It always helps us most of all!

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Chance, next time you hug your mom, give her an extra squeeze from me.

Sending you and yours all good thoughts!

Your pen pal and friend,

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Liam 4

A reply to: A letter from Liam

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Greetings Liam!

I received the most surprising letter the other day. It was from your step-daughter Alina!

Since she wrote, I am guessing that the danger is passed, that she’s returned to the living, and that the curse has been lifted.

I certainly hope so.

I worried for her, you, and your family.

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Of course, worry is foolish. I know this!

But even still, when those we care for are in trouble, it’s hard to banish worry with a thought.

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You mentioned that magic seemed to be rubbing off on me. I hadn’t thought of it in that way. I had thought that your letters and the power of your words were opening my eyes to the magic that was always around me–that everyday magic that we’re often too busy to notice. Or maybe it’s just that we don’t conceive that it could be here, in this world, in this moment, and so we don’t see it, we only feel it as an invisible buzz around us.

But maybe it is as you say, and, in addition to opening my eyes to everyday magic, your words open the channels between our worlds and magic enters in.

Could be.

I received a most interesting phone call the other day.

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It was from my niece. Nothing unusual in that, right?

Except she had an appointment and she wanted to know if I could come babysit.

Now, I’ve volunteered to babysit my grandniece Jena many times. And now and then, Meadow will drop her off at my home while she spends a precious half-hour taking a walk or getting a cup of coffee.

But this day was different.

I’d be babysitting at Meadow and Jena’s home, and my niece would be gone all afternoon.

It may seem a small thing, but to me, it’s close to a miracle that Meadow has developed enough trust in her daughter’s safety that she’d leave her for an entire afternoon, even though she’s leaving her at her own home with her favorite (and only) uncle.

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You see, Meadow’s been fretting about Jena’s past. Jena’s birth mother died giving birth, and, because Jena was born out-of-wedlock, she was shunned by most of the people there at the refugee camp. When Meadow learned of Jena’s past, she took it hard, worrying that trauma from those years might affect Jena’s present happiness.

I’ve been trying to convince Meadow that her little girl is happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. Taking this step of letting me watch her for an entire afternoon shows me that, sure enough, Meadow is beginning to trust in her daughter’s well-being.

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I’m also smiling at the reason that Meadow needed a sitter for an afternoon. She’s considering volunteering at a shelter for women and children.

Now that’s a good thing! Meadow has so much to offer others, and she hasn’t always realized it, not because of lack of self-confidence, but due to the assumption that everyone had it as good as she did.

My niece and nephew were raised in privilege, and my brother and his wife did a good job in raising them to be good people. At the same time, they’ve lived in a bubble of good luck.

Jena and her tenuous first years at the refugee camp introduce hardship’s touch, and now both Meadow and her brother have begun to look for ways to make a difference for those suffering in this wide world.

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I thought about this while babysitting that afternoon.

My thoughts mingled with the stories you told in your letter.

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It would be so easy for those stories of loss and danger to weigh heavy and to weaken one’s faith in the goodness of life.

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But look at you! Look at the wisdom, kindness, and generosity you carry! Look at the sacrifice each member of your family and clan are eager to make for another’s benefit.

Look at how Meadow, and even my nephew Norman, are now looking for ways to help others, to make even one life easier.

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It’s one thing to be good in heart and good by nature.

It’s entirely different for hardship’s shadow to prompt us to put that goodness into action.

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That’s when caring becomes compassion: goodness plus action.

So, yes. I would say that magic is indeed rubbing off on me and on my family.

Alchemy is magic, right? And when suffering and hardship transmute to trust and compassion, that is pure alchemy.

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Thank you for encouraging Alina to write me! I look forward to getting to know her.

Wishing you health!

Your friend,

Jasper

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Dove 8

Author’s Note: The story at the end of this letter contains spoilers for the game Samorost 3. If you want to discover this fun puzzle-game for yourself, you might want to skip the story at the end!

A reply to: A letter from Dove

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Dearest Dove,

So I do have a friend from “the big way out there!” And the friend is you!

Do you know what? I don’t feel surprised.

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I feel happy.

And Maki is your friend from the Twin Roses story! That is so wonderful! How on earth did the two of you manage to meet up again?

I told Jenna the story of II  TTYE, the girl, and the Twin Roses ice cream, and she loved it. It’s her favorite story.

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I went into her room the other night, and she had the most enchanted expression on her face as she was singing, “II  TTYE flies! Girl flies! All round the sun! All round the stars!”

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I asked her when I tucked her in what she liked about the story.

“Twin Roses!” she said. “And stars.”

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I wouldn’t be surprised if Jena wanted to be a space explorer when she grew up. Or maybe a physicist.

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Congratulations on your new apartment! The photos you sent of the girls are adorable. They look so happy!

Sometimes when I watch Jena, I wish I still had that joy of everything being new. That’s how your daughters look in their photos.

At least learning is still new to me–especially chess!

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Do you have new things you’re learning, and does it fill you with wonder and inspiration to learn them?

I love your time-scarf! Yes, a knitted scarf is a much better description of time! All the yarn connected up together!

Jena and I have begun to create our own story. We’re both making it up, and I’m writing it and illustrating it. My uncle knows a publisher who might be interested, but even if he doesn’t want it, we’re having so much fun inventing it!

I’ve enclosed a copy of the first chapter for you to share with your littlies!

I have no idea how long it will end up being. I think very long… like a whole scarf’s worth!

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You see, Jena keeps inventing more!

Originally, it was going to be a story about an alien–but Jena decided she wanted it to be about a space squirrel. He’s lost, but he meets lots of friends, and they all help him to become found again. But Jena says we need lots of adventures along the way. I really love the way her imagination is developing!

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Jena would love the decryption code! She’s only just making sense of letters, but I think it would be fun for her to know about codes, too. Or if she’s not ready for that, I would be! I love encryptions and decryptions!

The other night, Jena and I went outside to look at the stars. Jena began laughing as she pointed at a comet.

“What’s so funny?” I asked her.

“There’s girls!” she said, pointing out at space.

And at that moment, I felt like my heart opened up and let in all of life! To think! This universe is more vast than I ever knew… and there are so many more out there, and one who’s come from there is my friend, you!

Thank you, II  TTYE.

Love,

Meadow

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Samorost the Lost

By Jena and Meadow McCumber

If the stars are flowers,
Are we their seeds,

Made of light-dust
And cosmic giggles,
Space-bits, and weeds?

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In the Beyond beyond,
Far from the Here that’s near,

the hound looked up
at a tin ear’s cheer.

“Oh,” said the one tree,
“What brings this here?”

“Never worry,” said two tree,
“Only the silly fear!”

“Then color me goofy,”
said three tree,
“For afraid is me
As sure as can be!”

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Down from the tower
ran the little one, lost.

It is the Space Squirrel,
known as Samorost,

Cosmically tossed
through the space whirl.

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“Ahoy!” to the hound dog!
“Avast!” to the bunny-pillars!

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A strange wind blows hither,
to make a lost squirrel shiver.

“What dost thou want?
Little lost squirrel?”

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“To be unlost
In this big wide world.”

“My puff can blow magic,”
said the puff flower truly.

“Ride the wind higher,
Back towards your home, duly.”

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“Ring-ho!” said Goldie,
the gazelle with the old key.

“Jump aboard! Follow me!
I’ll take you to Old Ghoulie!”

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Down step by step
Over the lichen lip

Goldie and Squirrely
traversed the path curly.

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“What, is that you?”
said Old Ghoulie.

“The one who is lost
That they call Samorost?”

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At the end of the world
the secrets unfurled.

And the way home was told
To the Squirrel, lost yet bold.

To be continued…