Lighthouse: The Second Flat Upstairs

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In the next few weeks, I discovered I could return to that quiet connected state whenever I wanted, simply by remembering. Paying attention to what I was doing, doing it as well as I possibly could, that helped, too, bringing in an aspect of internal silence like I experienced that moment down by the seashore when I was nothing and everything.

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I continued reading 77 Truths. I aimed to stay with each one until it became tangible within me, though I admit, some had to germinate inside for decades.

The second truth: I am not my thoughts. That one was easy for me. No graduate from University of Windenburg College of Liberal Arts and Cultural Studies escaped with their thoughts intact: we’d all been deconstructed and reconstructed so many times in our search for the foundations of cultural constructs of gender and identity that we were lucky to ever find any thought we might latch onto and call our own, reflective of our true selves. In those days, especially, when I relished the feeling of stopping my thoughts at every opportunity, and, in doing so, found that I felt more and more alive, it was easy to accept that truth.

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The third truth posed deeper challenges: I am not my feelings or emotions. I’d always found something within me that I clung to when I felt lost or sad or lonely. It was a feeling of home, but not one that came from my actual home, one that I simply recognized as me. It consisted of one part love, one part joy, one part mirth, and two parts melancholy. Decades later, as my hormonal balance shifted with perimenopause, I lost touch with that feeling for close to seven years, until finally, coming out the other side, there it was, waiting for me, like the open door to Grandma’s kitchen when the aroma of oatmeal cookies rushes out in welcome. By then, I’d embodied this truth, and that helped the panic to lessen. By then, I’d learned to be curious about what was there when the glass of my familiar emotional cocktail sat empty. At any rate, that was decades later, and during those early weeks, I simply wondered, “If I am not these emotions that give me my sense of me, then what is me?”

The fourth truth presented an even more difficult riddle: I am not my conditioning. Everything I had learned in college was that, yes, I was my conditioning–as each of us were. Gender, politics, bias, musical preferences, prejudices, beliefs, as well as a significant proportion of personality, and nearly all social identity, derived from familial, social, cultural, and educational conditioning. Strip away that, and what is left? I couldn’t even begin to fathom.

Still, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the blog. Clicking around on the various tabs, I stumbled upon the author’s personal blog, Looking for Love. I laughed at the title–what purpose did an extraterrestrial have for love? Weren’t they all emotionless super-brains, like Mr. Spock?

I read several posts. The writing was sweet, sentimental, and endearing. One post, dated a few years back, reflected on the joys of little things, focusing on his baby brother and the brother’s new puppy. It was surprisingly ordinary and startlingly human.

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I began to realize that maybe I’d been wrong to think that someone not-from-this-planet would not be able to relate to me and the specific challenges I faced as a human. I began to realize that this might be the very person who could help me understand how I could be more fully human. That night, I became a fangirl of Septemus Sevens.

Throughout those weeks, my friendship with Max continued to grow closer. He was always there during my shifts, visiting with me, hanging out with the regulars, befriending Mojo, the neighborhood stray.

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Mojo adored him from the start, and when I watched them together, I could see why. I tried not to feel jealous.

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Max often leaned on the counter while I was filling orders, especially if it was one of those times when I was in the zone, watching me.

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“It’s a joy to watch you at work, byu,” he told me.

“Even when I’m like this?” I asked, giving him my biggest, meanest, toughest scowl. He cracked up, and his laughter made a good day better.

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One evening when I was hanging out there during my off hours, he told me he wanted to show me the flat upstairs, not the one he lived in, but the other one.

“Any day now,” he said, “people might be coming to stay here for a while, and if they come when I’m not around, I might need you to help them get settled in. Can you do that?”

“Sure,” I said. “How will I know who they are?”

“If they say they’ve just come from the cookie store,” he said, “then that’s them.”

The exposed brick walls and simple furnishings lent a cozy feel to the place, bringing back memories of college apartments.

He asked me to make myself at home, and maybe find something we could watch on TV, while he went next door to his flat to check his voice mail. I was flipping through the channels, and when he returned, I’d stopped on a sci-fi movie I remembered from childhood.

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“What on earth is this?” he asked.

I’d been feeling remorseful about the insensitive comments I’d made about extraterrestrials during our conversation a few weeks before and watching the film with him didn’t help.

“Quick! U-bot! Protect us before they freeze us all with death rays!” screamed the actors.

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“This is like every bad stereotype ever made against extraterrestrials,” Max observed.

“I know!” I exclaimed. “This is what I grew up with! Is it any wonder?”

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“Is what any wonder?” he asked.

I turned off the film.

“Is it any wonder that I’m so insensitive and prejudiced?” I asked quietly. He scooted closer and looked at me with half-closed eyes, the way he does when he’s really listening. I told him about my dad and his conspiracy theories. I told him about my mom, who wouldn’t let me go to certain parts of the city, “because they might be there, and you don’t want to mix with them.” I told him about how I always thought that I was open-minded, generous, and nonjudgmental, but that, recently, I’d discovered that prejudices loomed behind nearly every thought, waiting to pounce.

“Did you get to the fourth truth yet?” he asked. “That is, if you’re still reading that blog.”

I told him I had. “But I think I am my conditioning. All these judgments I have–and they don’t even come from me but they’re so tightly wound up inside of me that they’ve become me! I don’t know what to do, how to free myself.”

He smiled. “I’ve been watching and listening, byu. You’re doing a great job!”

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“Really?” I wasn’t sure. I went on to tell him that I’d found the author’s personal blog, Looking for Love, and that it was helping me to see common ground between us and extraterrestrials.

“Did you know that the author is gay?” I asked.

“Pan,” Max answered.

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Pan? I’d thought he was gay. I had a roommate in college who was a panromantic asexual. Every day, he fell in love in an “Aimless Love” sort of way. It made living with him an adventure.

“Panromantic or pansexual?” I asked.

“I’m both,” Max answered, shifting the focus to himself.

“I’m straight,” I replied, needlessly.

“I know,” he said.

“Cishet.”

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I reflected on the tall ladder of privilege I stood on: cishet, white, upper-middle-class background, educated.

Max looked at me with his earnest gaze. “You’re doing just fine, Mallory,” he said. “Don’t be hard on yourself. You’re my sunshine.”

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I took a long walk that evening along the beach. I felt so much. As I walked, I began to notice how I was not these feelings. These feelings stirred within me, threatening to overwhelm me, but I wasn’t these emotions. I wasn’t the guilt, I wasn’t the remorse, I wasn’t this strange giddiness that rose up every time I thought of Max’s gaze, every time I remembered his voice. I wasn’t my privilege. I wasn’t the prejudiced thoughts that battered me whenever the voice of my father spoke inside of me. I wasn’t the lies that movies told me.

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Maybe, I was the girl that looked at the photo of a little extraterrestrial boy holding a puppy and felt, inside of me, the opening of my heart.

Maybe I was the fangirl who was falling in love with the words of someone not-from-this-planet who happened to be able to see into mysteries that somehow beckoned me.

Maybe I was what it was that was seeing this, feeling this, thinking this, experiencing this–and then, it all fled, and I fell into that silence again, where no thoughts tread.

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As I walked back up the trail, a light shone from the window in the house on the bluff.

Someone sat at a computer desk.

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I recognized him from a photo on his personal blog. It was Septemus Sevens, this was where he lived, and my fangirl heart raced.

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Septemus 28

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Dear Sept,

We made good use of your day off. We worked on your school project. You had me read the instructions silently to practice my sintakoo-lacky-si. You seemed to follow along pretty well, so I must be getting better at transmitting.

I was happy with the effect the mental activity seemed to have on you. I know when I’m feeling shaky emotionally, having something to concentrate and focus on usually gives my emotions time to settle.

You were feeling pretty confident by the time we wrapped up the project and you headed in to bed.

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I went back out after tucking you in and added a few finishing touches to it. This is one fine volcano!

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Ms. Swits liked it so much she gave you extra credit, and when you got home you were proud and cocky. You’re an A student now.

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“Aren’t you proud of me, Pops?” you asked.

Of course I am, but not for the reasons you think. A’s are fine and good. But I’m proud of you. I’m proud of the sensitive, intuitive, caring, quirky, funny person that you are. I’m proud that you’re so full of good you don’t even know what mean is. I’m proud that you’re in touch with your brothers and sisters and sending them comforting vibes every chance you get. I’m proud that you have no clue what a miracle you are.

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“Oh, we’ve got someone coming over,” I told you when you pulled out your homework. The school had called. Because you’ve been doing so well, you qualify for a special program where they match gifted kids up with mentors, and your mentor was due to come over for his first visit that afternoon.

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Your mentor is Gunther Munch, Lucas and Wolfgang’s older brother.

I asked him how his brothers were doing. “Wolf made any progress on his college apps?”

“Wolfgang. You two know Wolfy? ” he asked. “I’m sorry for you. Don’t hold it against me, all right?”

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“Wolfgang’s my friend,” you said quietly. “He’s teaching me a lot.”

“Ah,” said Gunther. “What can my brother teach? How to skin a cat? Possibly. Where to pawn ill-gotten gains? Likely. Five ways to explain to Mother where you were all afternoon when you should have been at school? Most definitely. I think, perhaps you learn from Munch Boy, senior, yes, my young friend?”

I’manequalopportunitylearner,” you said real quick. “I learn from everybody.”

You turned back to your book, and Gunther began telling you about Goethe and the The Sorrows of Young Werther.

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“I think one day I will love to fall in love,” you said.

There’s no hurry, son.

–Your pops

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Septemus 24

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Dear Sept,

We had another visit from Geoffrey, checking in to see how you’re doing.

I was happy to report that you are doing great.

I’m having fun watching you explore your world. At this stage, you’re beginning to think about future careers. I guess going to school has you thinking that way, all those questions about what you want to do “when you grow up.”

First, I’m telling you never to grow up. Just grow. Keep your openness and passion for exploration all your life.

I trust you will. It seems to be your nature.

Most of your playtime, these days, centers around trying on different careers.

Sometimes, you play doctor. I find the doll a little creepy, personally, with those weird, staring eyes, but you seem to love your little patient, and you tend to him with gentle care.

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Then you put away the doctor set, and you tell me you’re off to explore space.

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But first you have to build the rocket.

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It’s taking us a while to get this rocket finished. I’ve been reading the instructions. Most of it, we can’t make heads-or-tails out of.

“If I just look, I can figure it out,” you told me, holding up the measuring stick against a coil.

I took a shot at it after you headed in to do your homework.

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We haven’t finished it yet, but we’re persistent. I guess having a project that takes more than a day–or maybe even more than a week–to finish develops patience. Not a bad quality to have.

When our brains are tired from looking at schemata, we still find that playing dolls is the most relaxing.

“I think really, of all of the choices there might be, this is it,” you told me.

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“What do you mean?” I asked. “Choices for what?”

“What I do when I grow up,” you said.

“You want to play with dolls?”

You laughed. “No, silly!” you said. “Be a dad!”

Aw, son. That means that when I grow up, I get to be a granddad. Good choice.

Your pops,

Sebastion

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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Alina 2

A reply to: A letter from Alina

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Dear Alina,

What joy to receive your letter! So you’ve come through your trial and made it out the other side.

Not many get the chance to live through the mythic experience of Orpheus and Eurydice–but then, not many of us travelled through the eras past to step into the present day. Nor do we have step-fathers returned from the grave!

And not many of us possess your bravery, Alina, for surely, it’s in finding the strength to trust even when in the grips of fear that true bravery lies.

So now your curse has been lifted, a gift from the strength of your mother, Robin, and your own brave heart.

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What is next for you and Robin?

And how does it feel to have the curse removed?

You asked what it was like to be a professor of literature.

It was my life for a very long time–over thirty years, and before that stretched a decade of preparation.

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There were things I liked, things I loved, things I tolerated, things I rejected, things I railed against, things I professed, things I chafed at, things I adored.

In that way, it was much like any job, I suppose.

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The finest moments centered around the catching-hold of an idea. One year, we all went mad for Thoreau; I nearly lost eight students to “The Walden Effect.”

When a certain type of sophomore first reads Walden, something dangerous can spark. Once it does, this bureaucratic life that muffles our everyday becomes intolerable. And when that happens, the susceptible sophomore turns to me with a bright eye and declares, “I must do something meaningful.” I came to recognize the signs.

“Fine, yes, you will do something meaningful, but AFTER writing this term paper.”

“No! I need to experience life directly!”

Before I lost too many students, I tossed in a lecture on Thoreau’s life: He was a student before he dropped out. Then he ran a pencil factory. He taught. He found meaning in the quiet and loud tasks of a single day: And then he dropped out. But even then, he didn’t really drop out.

His cabin was short walk from Emerson’s home, and nearly daily, Thoreau’s old crowd dropped by to visit, to read, to play chess, to wonder at his quaint life. While all along, Thoreau was studying, reading, writing. He lived deliberately, yes–But one needn’t drop out to live deliberately.

I suppose my quest as a literature professor was to craft my own deliberate life. Literature forges my path through beauty.

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Perhaps that old aphorism applies: You can take the professor out of the university, but you can’t take the university out of the professor.

My academic eye has become native by now.

My greatest joy still lies in the alchemy of spirit and word. The other day, a friend dropped by.

‘You know I’ll be thanking you forever,” she said.

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“For what?” I asked.

“T.S. Eliot,” she said.

Four Quartets?” I asked. I recommended it the last time we spoke.

“‘At the still point of the turning world,'” she quoted. “‘Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards…'”

She found Burnt Norton online and we recited together:

“at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

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My friend laughed. “To think I’ve lived this long without knowing these words!”

“Oh, but you have known them,” I replied. For that is the mystery of literature: that is what makes the sophomore rebel when first reading Thoreau, that’s what makes the old one rejoice when reading Eliot. It’s the words we’ve known and lived and heard echoing through our souls. Only it has taken these writers to express it in words that we can share with another, and even with our own inward heart.

Alina, my bookworm friend, may you also know many happy moments hearing your soul’s whispers echoed in the literature you read!

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Wishing love to you, Robin, and whatever whispers may be stirring now that your curse has been lifted!

Your steadfast correspondent,

Jasper

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Aimless: Take a Breath!

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One year ago, I was put in charge of a big project at work that would take this entire year to complete. On the one hand, I felt inspired: It was a project we’d been wanting to do for over fifteen years, and we finally were able to! On the other hand, I felt some dread: This project would demand most of my organizational and creative energy.

My mixed feelings stemmed from realizing that to give the project what it needed to succeed, I’d have to scale back my creative activities with SimLit. It wasn’t a matter of time so much as energy. Before embarking on this project, my work days were filled with detail-oriented work that asked for a tiny portion of my brain power–so while I coded and posted and proofread and resized and optimized, most of my mind was free to wander, and that wandering is how I create my SimLit stories.

In addition to the excitement of the project, I felt a bit of grief: How much of my writing would I have to let go of?

I reached out to my friends on the EA Forums who frequent the Kindness Bench.

The advice and suggestions I received from them filled me with hope, enthusiasm, and faith that I’d be able to make it through this, keep up with my writing as much as I could, and return when the project allowed.

I probably read more SimLit this past year than previously because reading was something that kept me going and fueled me before I headed into the office for the busy, stressful afternoon.

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And I made it through it! Often during this past year, when I was feeling frustrated by the stories inside me that wanted expression–but which I didn’t have the right energy to express–and even by those seed that were waiting to be watered, I remembered my friends and their advice.

If a busy high school student can balance her academic, creative, personal, and interscholastic activities with her writing, I could, too. If some of my friends gained energy and enthusiasm when they had to take forced breaks, maybe I would, too! If one friend is able to take advantage of the little moments that appear for writing each day, maybe that would work for me. If another friend assures me that readers will still be here if I need to take a break, I’ll trust her.  If yet another friend can manage to balance grad school with her creative SimLit activities, then surely I can handle this! And if my virtual sister is there to offer support and step in to help with our forum activities, then I knew I could get through it.

It was a tough year–especially the last few months.

But we made it. I kept writing. I found projects that worked with the quality and quantity of energy I had and that didn’t demand the energy I lacked.

And now, here I am on the other side!

For a year, I’ve been looking forward to this particular weekend! And here I am!

The project is a success overall–still tons more to do with it, and a million-and-one details to attend to, but it will work out, and I will likely not be fired, and the support from a handful of coworkers comes close to making up for the lack of support from the administration. And it makes a lot of people’s lives a lot nicer and it helps families and our organization, too. So, a success overall.

And that leaves me… here. I don’t yet know what I’ll focus on with my writing. My plan is to continue with Forgotten Art (which is part of the Pen Pal Project) and Vampire Code, while circling back and finishing a few projects that are close to completion, like Drifter. I’ve also begun a Murkland Starter Challenge, Through a Glass Murkly, which is hosted on its own blog.

I can feel that my creative well has been pretty well drained, but I can also feel vernal springs bubbling to fill it up again.

What a time for thanks! For gratitude for friends, and creativity, and life, and opportunities.

What a time to pause and breathe!

Vadish!  I look forward to whatever is next, and I hope you’re here to read with me!

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 8

A reply to: A letter from Newt

Hey, Newt.

So, read your letter. And I’m writing back.

While I was reading, I kept flashing on this story my uncle told me when we were hiking at the bluffs.

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It’s about the charnel ground. Have you heard of that?

It’s a burial site. But for Buddhists. It’s also a literal place for transformation. Figurative, too.

See, according to my uncle, that’s where the bodies would be left–above ground, so that vultures and jackals could feed on them and all the flesh and stuff would decay and then the sun would bleach the bones. So when the process is done, all that’s left are clean white sun-bleached bones. But the way there stinks.

My uncle had way too much fun describing it:

“Vultures descending, tearing the sinews, gulping down eyeball. Entrails stretching across the plain. Jackals sneaking in after dark, howling with their strange laughs that sound like a child’s cry, grabbing the muscles, gobbling the rotting fat. Hair, loose, dry, brittle hair, flowing everywhere.”

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My uncle is strange. I never know what he’s trying to say. Growing up, I called him “Uncle Obtuse.” He wasn’t going to volunteer the point of the story. So I asked him.

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He shrugged. “Life is messy,” he said.

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At one of the first group sessions I went to at HoH, they showed a film. The purpose of the film was to show how PTSD is PTSD, no matter from what or experienced by whom. So, they interviewed war vets. They interviewed witnesses of 9/11. They interviewed people who experienced domestic violence. They interviewed refugees.

Afterwards, the group talked about how they felt watching the film.

When it was my turn, I started analyzing the camera angles, which were generally really low, looking up at the person, or really high, looking down, and so the effect was one of disassociation, and then I started analyzing the lighting, which was weirdly bright, and then I started talking about the effects of digital film vs. celluloid. Everyone listened. I thought I was doing pretty well.

Then the group counselor asked, “What did you feel watching the film, Norman? What do you feel now?”

“I don’t do emotions,” I replied.

One woman spoke up, “If you don’t do emotions, emotions do you.”

I stopped doing emotions when I was was a kid. It was a day that started out as the best day of my life, and ended up as the day I stopped doing emotions.

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My dad took my sister and me out to see the wind turbines.  It was a big day–Dad was featured in all these articles for bringing wind power to Windenburg, and he was making a name for himself.

At the time, I kept half an eye on the sky. I was a big fan of raptors and other birds of prey. When we reached the field below the turbines, I spotted an osprey. At the time, they were my favorites. I had this idea they were lucky. I watched it soar. I was about to point it out to Meadow when it flew too close to the wind-blades. There was a white explosion of feathers. And then–nothing. Not even a trace.

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I didn’t know how to respond. Dad and Meadow were talking, facing the other way. I didn’t know how to tell them what had happened.

I decided to not say anything. I stacked the emotions. I didn’t know what else to do. My dad was my hero. He was this big environmental leader guy. And his big project that was getting all the attention was killing birds of prey. The dissonance was too much.

When I took over his business, I still had my emotions shelved. I knew ethically that I wanted us to find a way to do wind power without killing birds. Did you know that some years up to 250 birds of prey were killed? That’s owls, osprey, falcons, kestrels, eagles, vultures, and raptors of all kinds.

After I met Ira, I decided I had to do something. That’s why we switched to solar. It’s gonna cost us. It’ll cost the business big-time. If we encounter any delays or set-backs, we’ll probably have to issue bonds to see the project through. But even if it bankrupts us, it’ll be worth it. I can get a job as a chemist.

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We’ve been learning in group about the ways that trauma and stress change the brain. It’s true that if you don’t do emotions, emotions do you. Something got split off in me when I turned away from what happened to that osprey. That’s what allowed me to run the company for so many years.

We’ve also been learning that the heart has its own mind, and just like our brain can influence our heart, our heart can influence our brain. It’s a two-way path.

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Ira, Aari, and me, we each learned the same exercise in our groups. It’s called “heart breathing.” For a slow count of five, breathe into your heart. Hold it and rest. Breathe out for five. Pause. As you do this, start breathing from your heart, as if it is your heart breathing in, breathing out.

Don’t think about how it doesn’t make sense. Just do it.

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Aari does it when she starts getting mad. Pretty soon, she’s laughing again.

The trick is to remember to do it.

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I took Meadow up to the hills the other day. I wanted us to look out and see what it was like without the turbines.

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Yeah, I shut the turbines off two weeks ago. They’ve been dismantled.

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I looked at the sun. That sky stretched. Next time I see a falcon or osprey cross that sky, I won’t have to turn away. It’s safe. I can let myself feel the thrill of watching those wings spread.

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So, here I am writing. Newt, I think it’s probably best if you don’t count on me to help. I honestly don’t know how. I am not the kind of guy who helps other people or who even knows how to be helpful, especially when it comes to emotions and feelings.

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You’ve got your therapist for that, thank God.

I’m a friend. I stick. Maybe you can share with me what you learn about doing emotions. I got a lot to learn in that area.

Keep writing, buddy! Keep hanging in there through messy life.

–Norm

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 4

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

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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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