Friday, October 19, 2018

A Sex Object Manifesto

In the Fall of 2018, I enrolled in a modern art history class taught at my local community college. At the beginning of the semester, I noticed on the syllabus that we would be doing a reading response to Linda Nochlin's 1975 article, Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

At the time, I was in the beginning of my midlife crisis, feeling defensive about all the efforts I had put toward various projects which I gave up near completion, and so I anticipated having a powerful response to the reading assignment, which I did.

It became my manifesto, which I shared with numerous friends. And so, I put it out to the Universe.

***

Amy Lewark
ART 207 - Art History 1900-Present
November 8, 2017
S. Newton

Reading Response to Linda Nochlin's Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

I have been curious about this reading since the day we were given the syllabus. There is a
certain amount of frustration I feel from growing up being told I could “achieve anything I put my mind to” and then experiencing the reality of being a grown female in the world, with or without children. A little validation goes a long way for me, psychologically speaking, and Nochlin’s article provided just that. I spent enough time in academia and the working world to understand what that looks like from a female perspective, and now sixteen years as a stay at home mother to see the “other side” of it. So my thought, originally, was that I could write a dissertation on the subject, but I will spare you, as I would probably be “preaching to the choir” as they say, anyway.

The first important point Nochlin mentions is that feminism must deal with scholarship, not just
real problems with everyday life. Certainly, aspects of everyday life are greatly affected by being female, and I do think that understanding traditional gender roles can help explain why even if there are actually some unrecognized great female artists, why there are so many fewer great female than male artists. I spend a fair amount of time reading sociological commentary on gender roles, being the parent of a boy and a girl, and living in a fairly non-traditional household (we are all home most days of the week due to our choice to homeschool and the way in which we do it, and my husband works from home and has a lot of free time). There was an article going around from Oprah.com a few months ago which a friend shared with me addressing many of the frustrations of being a working woman (Calhoun). I found it to be a little long, and somewhat of a diatribe, but a thorough discussion of the problems women in our generation still face. Through reading it, and also pursuing a line of inquiry of gender roles and human sexuality, I decided to turn my own midlife crisis into a body of art work. I am coming up with ideas fairly regularly which try to address the existential realities of being a man or woman in this world, and how modern societal framework helps exacerbate the negative implications of gender roles. That is a subject for another time, but I wanted to mention it because it is directly related to this reading and also to what I have learned regarding great modern art in the western world. The interesting thing about the Calhoun article was that although it was directed mainly toward working women, I shared it with the other stay-at-home and semi-employed women (not career-seeking) I know, and they still connected with the article. There was a particular part of the article which stoked our ire, all of us being the children of the women of the second wave of feminism, taught to believe we could accomplish anything with persistence, and it was this: men still largely shirk care giving behaviors. Even when there are no children in the picture, a woman is more likely to end up caring for an aging in-law than her husband would be. He is more likely to throw money at the problem.

So it is my observation that this generation X that is in mid-life, which is the most evolved mid
life generation in human history, still suffers from the problem of previous generations not grooming  men to be caregivers, due to an economic system that rewards itself for generating tangible goods and money over care and culture. Yes, women are “incapable of greatness” in the sense that their time and mental energy available for the creation of great art is, on the whole, much less than what men have.

I particularly liked Nochlin’s discussion of how listing the “great female artists” ignores the
question which can help us get to the root of the problem. In this class, we learned about Bonheur, Morisot, Cassatt, Claudel, Delaunay, Kollwitz, Modersohn-Becker, Goncharova, Hoch, O’Keeffe, Colter, Brandt, Hepworth, Savage, Lange, Karr, Krasner, Kahlo, and do Amaral, but only a few of those were ever household names (Cassatt, O’Keefe and Kahlo) compared to the dozens of male artists who most living adults would recognize. I believe most of these women never had children, which certainly simplified their cognitive load. Another troubling pattern in the art world is the role that women end up playing to male artists, which helps those men to be great artists. Think about Morisot’s body of work compared to Manet, Claudelle’s to Rodin, Sonia’s to Robert Delaunay, Kahlo’s to Rivera, and Krasner’s to Pollock. The women had far fewer recognized works compared to their lovers or husbands, but were no less skilled.

The one exception to this rule is probably O’Keefe’s body of work to Stieglitz, but she broke from him to save herself and thereby saved her art. I learned of two more troubling examples on my trip to Eastern Europe: Alphonse Mucha, who I had assumed married a woman who was from outside the art world, but he married a model who was also an artist. I don’t know if she gave up on her art to support his work and their children, but there are no examples of her art in the Mucha Museum in Prague and none in the book produced by the Mucha Foundation. Maybe her work was mediocre, but I will never know.

When I was young, my mother had a book laying around the house called “Second Banana” by Dottie Lamm, wife of Colorado Governor Richard Lamm. I remember finding the title humorous and asking my mother what it meant, and she responded with the well-known phrase, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” It is actually a term used by comedians, another way of describing a “Double Act” where the comedic effort is uneven, but supported mainly through efforts of the “Second Banana.” A good example of this technique is the comic duo Penn and Teller. Teller has never uttered a word on stage, but without his supporting effort, Penn would certainly be a loudmouthed flop. Even Einstein was unable to do his work without a harsh agreement with his wife that she would not talk to him or otherwise get in the way of his thought. But he needed her to bring him food and otherwise take care of his needs so he could direct all his energies to his brilliant thought experiments. It is one thing to have a financial patron in order to pursue one’s passion, but yet another to have one taking care of all the human needs we have for food, clean clothes, someone to listen and provide validation and very importantly touch, and largely, throughout history, all these needs of the brilliant minds of our time have been met by women, because men have been unsuited to meet them, and generally do not meet them for women. The exception to this rule is in aristocratic life where it is possible to secure these services through servants. Again, men are able to throw money at the problem, whereas women must throw themselves at the problem. This is probably also why the great women artists that did exist were from families of some means, whereas great men artists come from diverse economic backgrounds.

The second example addresses a lot of the other concerns Nochlin raises in her article. Gabrielle Munter (1877-1962) has an enormous special exhibit at the Lenbachhaus in Munich which is home to many of the works of Der Blaue Reiter’s Wassily Kandinsky (a household name) and Franz Marc. I had not heard of her before, even after studying Der Blaue Reiter in our class. But it is my opinion that Der Blaue Reiter would not even exist without her. Did Stokstad even think to mention her? She received great amounts of private instruction from childhood onward, and dedicated herself to the pursuit of art. She traveled all over the world, spoke five languages, painted various subjects, met many famous artists, and kept on top of the avant garde trends in art. She was a prolific artist. The special exhibit at the Lenbachhaus makes a point to illustrate her diligent practice (she would paint the same scene many times) and intense curiosity about artistic experimentation. She never had children, and personally placed a priority on her art, probably rendering such “important” lifestyle tasks such as having clean dishes or freshly pressed or new clothes to the bottom of her task list. So, her mind was fully available to pursue her passion and develop her talent, and the relationships with other artists that would help inform her work, and theirs. She was the glue in her artistic community through her intense interest in and dedication to art. Not many women, even 100 years later, get to dedicate their lives to art in this way, either because they are married, or mothers, or because they are liberated and they now have the right to get paid as men do, so their “talent” is directed toward more lucrative professions (ultimately serving the patriarchy). Those who do pursue art or have a little free time to do it are either considered dilettantes, or consider themselves dilettantes on some level. (And, as Nochlin mentions, aristocrats don’t make particularly good artists, probably because their lives are not well-informed about the human condition.) This is part of the western white male narrative, which places value on money over cultural efforts to boot.

So why didn’t we learn about Munter in class? She is the entire reason Der Blaue Reiter
collection exists at the Lenbachhaus because she was a collector of her instructor Kandinsky’s works, as well as Marc’s. She carefully hid artworks in her house in Germany during World War II and they were never found, so that when she was much older she was able to give them to the city of Munich for display in the Lenbachhaus. Nochlin writes about the fundamental defect in Art History – that it is from the Western White Male perspective, and I think this is probably a big part of the problem with the lack of inclusion of Munter in Art History texts, valuing the same Western White Male qualities in artists. As Nochlin states, Art History accepts the “great artist as primary, and social and institutional structures within which he lived and worked as mere secondary ‘influences’ or ‘background.’” There had been rumors that perhaps Einstein’s first wife had participated in the writing of his 1905 Relativity Paper for which he won the Nobel Prize, and in fact their divorce agreement stated that she would receive half of the proceeds for the Prize, but even a female researcher, Galina Weinstein, who investigated the letters from both Einstein and his wife determined that because her letters did not contain references to relativity, she must have been no more than a “sounding board” (MIT Technology Review). Gabrielle Munter started out as a student of Kandinsky’s, and although Kandinsky was married, their teacher student relationship evolved into an extramarital affair. I propose that by being involved with Kandinsky sexually, the view of her by Art Historians may have been colored as to see her as part of Kandinsky’s support network, rather than as a great artist in her own right.

Women have long complained and known about being seen as sex objects, and I wonder how
many great artists who were peripheral to a male are discounted because of amorous relationships with male artists. How many of those women’s careers suffer due to the pitfalls of becoming Second Banana, and how many male artists, due to the emphasis society places on men being success objects, become energy vampires for the equally talented and hardworking female artists in their lives? I think that in order to break this pattern, not just for women, not just for artists, but for all people, parents need to be aware of these false dichotomies and raise all children, regardless of gender, to be self aware and generous human beings. If I am never known for being a Great Woman Artist, I hope at least to accomplish this with my own children, so that any relationships they have can be cooperative in nature and so that no one person is Second Banana in all realms of the partnership. If we can accomplish this goal on a societal level, it is my hope that men will have less pressure to be success objects, and that women can achieve greatness in whatever field they choose, but also that the larger effect will be to shift the economy to one that values caregiving and culture just as much as it does monetary and tangible ends. To this end, I hope to raise awareness of these patterns and their implications through my art, and I shall continue to eschew the status quo to which many women dedicate their lives in reinforcement (to the detriment of humankind, but the benefit of the monetary economy), in order to free myself to make art like my life depends upon it.

What I have learned so far in this class reinforces what Nochlin writes regarding the concept of a “mystique” surrounding great artists. The secret to great art is the diligent pursuit of the passion (eudaimonia) without regard to the question of success. Great art requires collaboration with like minded individuals. The belief that individuals are somehow imbued with a genius does a great disservice to society. Along these lines, there have been scientific studies showing that praising gifted children for their intelligence encourages laziness, and so I have always been careful to thank or recognize my children’s effort to encourage effort in general. Giving them time to pursue their interests has enabled them both to appear quite “talented” in their respective interests (computer programming for my son and art for my daughter) while also fostering their general intelligence.

It has been my observation that families in which the Puritanical (dare I say Patriarchal?) mindset of busy-ness for busy-ness’ sake reigns engender a general environment of anxiety, stress, a lack of self-reflection, a lack of “talent”, mindless behavior, and overall mediocrity. In the 18th century, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville noted a different mentality in the US from that of Europe, where Americans had a higher degree of stress due to the relentless pursuit of (empty) status, because there was no ceiling for what one could theoretically obtain through diligent work. I believe this mindset has engulfed our society, made people unaware of how their status-seeking impairs not only their own happiness, but also success, and how all the “status” we seek comes at the cost of someone else’s life. The question of women’s role in art is but one good example. Ironically, it was Einstein who wrote a note to a bellboy in Germany in 1922, when he did not have money to tip the bellboy, about how to achieve happiness (this note recently sold for $1.5 million at auction): “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.” As Generation X women, this is what our mothers failed to acknowledge. Our mothers recognized our need to self-actualize outside the home, but they did not recognize the qualities or repercussions of empty, passionless success through servitude to the patriarchy. The second wave of feminism brought birth control and the ability to work in any field we desire, but it came at the larger cost of lost societal genius, as well as the growth of sociopathic and selfish behavior. When Nochlin wrote her prescient musing, women were still not allowed to wear pants to work, even though they were allowed to hold jobs and control the results of their own sexuality. Developmental stages in a child come in fits and spurts, with advancements always bringing chaotic behaviors as the new skills are assimilated within the context of old, outdated behaviors. I believe this is the typical trajectory for any sort of evolution, from the level of the cell to the level of society, and right now society needs to recognize that relentless pursuit of status is at direct odds with happiness, and also greatness. There will be no truly great female artists until there is equity among the sexes in caregiving, and also not until women recognize the potential in their free time and use their cognitive surplus for more meaningful pursuits than are currently encouraged by society (the patriarchy). It will require an irreverent disregard for soccer games, bake sales, mowed lawns, clean dishes, thank you notes, or anything else not proving meditative for the woman performing that task. It will require the ability to not worry about things that don’t necessitate worry, and for more behavior that, from the outside, might look selfish, but that will encourage more independence from the traditionally “cared for” populations (husbands, children). It will require us to be there emotionally for husbands and children, so they can learn to do that for others, too. As I like to say, “What’s good for the mothership is good for the fleet” and my pursuit of happiness through art is good for my fleet, it is good for me, and I hope it will prove to be good for society, too.



 
Works Cited

Calhoun, Adah. The New Midlife Crisis: Why and How It’s Hitting Gen X Women.
http://www.oprah.com/sp/new-midlife-crisis.html

Jones, Josh.  Albert Einstein Imposes on His First Wife a Cruel List of Marital Demands.
http://www.openculture.com/2013/12/albert-einstein-imposes-on-his-first-wife-a-cruel-list-of
marital-demands.html

MIT Technology Review. Did Einstein’s First Wife Secretly Coauthor His 1905 Relativity Paper?
https://www.technologyreview.com/s/427621/did-einsteins-first-wife-secretly-coauthor-his
1905-relativity-paper/

Nochlin, Linda. Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Art and its Histories: A Reader – Section III, Gender and Art. 1975.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter," she said. As a neurobiologist and a survivor of verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, I knew exactly what she meant. As Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the judiciary hearing, a flood of similar images washed through my own mind. My own personal hell, displacing joyful memories my family so easily remembers, on "repeat" in my mind.

Anything resembling these many memories triggered impromptu trips down memory lane hell.

Unexpected and unwanted touch.

Anything of a sexual nature.

Music I listened to regularly during times of intense trauma.

Smells.

Calvin Klein's Obsession continues to make me feel faint, makes me want to vomit. Makes me shake uncontrollably.

I think I have an idea how to fix this.

***

Sexual problems are one of the most common reasons for couples to divorce.

My husband told me just last night that the only time he thought of leaving was during our 13th year of marriage, 2009.  At the time, he had just been laid off from his job, the lead-up to which was eight years of rockstar-like performance for various unappreciative companies which either used him as a scapegoat after his departure, or threw him out like a broken tool as they closed locations, divisions.

"You are being eaten by the machine," I told him.

A friend warned me that starting a business together can often spell divorce for married couples. I blew it off.

***

 I was quite young when I first found him - the little man in the boat.

Alone in my room in the partially-finished basement, I would listen for footsteps in the kitchen above to know if it was safe to play with him.

The floor in the old bungalow was fairly creaky and gave me ample warning so I could quickly pull my hands out from between my legs and adjust my underwear as if nothing had happened before my mother found me.

I didn't hear the old wives' tale about getting hairy palms until well after I had shared these experiences with a few of my young girl friends. We laughed at the idea while laying together, one on top of the other, imagining what it would be like with the boys we pictured in our heads.

"You be the boy this time."

"Okay, but it's your turn next time."

***

I had sold my soul at such a young age to play with my Nautical Friend, and girl friends, so joining the church seemed like the wrong thing to do. I was a sinner, and I was okay with it. When I told my poor mother that I wasn't joining, and she offered to buy me the new tennis racket I wanted (since I made varsity tennis as a freshman, thank you very much), I went ahead and sold my soul again. Church? Sign me up. Love-love.

It was 1992 and the Presbyterian Church of the USA was embroiled in a debate over the morality of gay and lesbian people in the ministry when I was the first youth member of our particular church's government. On the agenda of this particular meeting was a debate about whether or not to support a national resolution in favor of gay and lesbian clergy.

The congregation was split on the matter. We would have to decide it as the church leadership.

I was on session with adults who were parents and grandparents of my peers.

Our Presbytery Liaison came out as a Lesbian during the meeting. She was a paid member of the church staff and could lose her job if the resolution failed at the national level. She was a respected member of our ministry.

I wrote and gave a speech in favor of the resolution. I was the only person under 20-something, maybe 30-something years old, to speak out on the matter.

The resolution passed, but we lost half the congregation to more conservative churches in the area.

I never ever imagined that people in my very liberal Denver church, at that time home to Colorado NARAL, and the Denver Gay Men's Chorus, would be split so evenly on this particular matter.

The resolution failed at the national level, and such policy would not be enacted until 2011, nineteen years later.

***

Fields of Gold by Sting and Linger from the album Everyone Else Is Doing it, So Why Can't We by the Cranberries were our favorite CDs to listen to while we explored each other's bodies in college. My boyfriend's dormitory roommate had moved out when we came back from our first Christmas Break together, so I moved in.

I caught mononucleosis sometime in the later part of the Fall Semester 1993, so I scaled back my class load to 12 credit hours in the Spring of 1994, the least I could take without losing my scholarship. I took "easy" things like Cultural Anthropology, Drawing I, Deviant Behavior, and Flute. My classes were chosen to optimize the rest I needed to beat the virus. Nothing started before noon. The classes all fed my soul in some way.

Between classes, I laid in bed and read the necessary assignments. I read about sexual practices of the Hopi Indians and I read about United States kink. We had pushed the two twin beds together, so there weren't many other places to be in the small room.

We didn't kiss that whole semester, because I didn't want to give him mono, but it didn't keep us from intercourse.

College was stressful.

I was his medicine and he was mine. Why not take advantage of an early awakening? Got five minutes before you have to go to class? Sweet!! We don't have to leave for dinner for 20 minutes. If you know what I mean.

I have looked it up, and the frequency with which we enjoyed each other was certainly in the realm of addiction.

Not to brag, but we both graduated with honors. And I did it in three years.

The summer after graduation, we married.

I think the sex kept us motivated and happy.

***

I never understood people who put their children to sleep in another room. All I had to do was sleep topless in our giant bed, and just roll to one side when either of my young children stirred in the night.

I was the She-Wolf, nurturing her pups.

To get them to sleep, I read them several stories and then nursed whoever was youngest until we all fell into breathing synchrony. Often the love took me, too, and I would wake later than I hoped - 11 PM or later - to join my lover-husband downstairs. I carefully removed myself from between the children like a magician removing a tablecloth from a set table.

We were never interrupted by crying.

We learned to be creative in our love making.

Shower, unfinished basement, kitchen. Anywhere was fair game.

We connected in silence.

***

In an episode of Vox Explained that we watched two weeks ago, a memory of something extremely significant from my past was prompted. "K-o-m-i-s-a-r-u-k. Koh-mis-a-rook." I said. "Why do I remember that name?"

We were watching the episode on Female Orgasm, and a neuroscientist named Barry Komisaruk was interviewed extensively.

"Oh, crap." My eyes were like saucers.

"What?" my husband asked.

"Pause it."

We have a system now. We pause, no questions asked, knowing that we may get so caught up in some huge episode of armchair philosophy that we forget we were watching television at all. These interactions have been so amazingly healing for our relationship that we now view them as sacred.

"That's the lab I would have been in had I chose Rutgers instead of Ohio." I recalled, shocked.

"Holy shit." he said.

The onion was peeling itself again. Layers of fear peeling away at a rapid pace for the last two years led to this moment. Another significant realization.

I chose to research Alzheimer's Disease rather than Female Orgasm.

Despite my lifelong reverence for it.

***

By 2015, the fog of depression had finally made itself visible to me. I don't know how long I had been living under it, even though it was something I struggled with off and on for years.

I tried Saint John's Wort in graduate school and didn't like how on the first day I stubbed my toe hard enough to bruise the nail and shrugged it off. "That's not right." I thought. "I still want to be able to feel. I should still care."

When my son was young and I was pregnant with my daughter, an also pregnant friend told me she was dealing with some depression and wasn't sure what to do because she didn't want to take any prescription medication while pregnant.

I asked her what it was like to take antidepressants, and said she didn't really like them because they made her feel "vanilla."

"Ew," I groaned.

"Yeah," she replied.

It seemed like all of my friends were on antidepressants, and many of them weren't having sex, except one friend who was always chipper and who made sex with her husband an every other day event. They're probably the only couple I know who make "paperwork" a priority.

***

There was something electric in his energy. The eye contact drove me wild. Sometimes I didn't even hear what he said because all I could think about was grabbing his hand to sneak off somewhere like the restroom or the supply closet. There aren't very many hidden places at school. I don't know how people have affairs there.

I hadn't felt that way in so long. So very long.

Was I blushing? Probably.

"I can't help myself." I told my therapist later. "I'm touching my hair, licking my lips, my heart races..." I felt like I was a sex mechatron being operated by a demon. And I loved it.

What I didn't tell her is that it the anticipation was so incredible that I would start having that feeling as soon as my alarm rang in the morning. It continued in the shower as I passed the time waiting for my conditioning treatment. I needed a release or I was going to lose my mind. I could barely concentrate on my son's discussion with me in the car on the way to school, where I would see the object of my affection.

He was like a virus.

***

Female copulatory vocalizations, scientists believe, serve to increase sexual satisfaction in males and females.

Our house has three bedrooms upstairs, in close proximity to each other. Years and years of shushing my inner goddess had taken a toll on my soul. I associated my dear husband with arguments, agendas, compulsion. I had to pair our sexual activities in my mind with a new stimulus in order to heal. Luckily, when it comes to sex, he has an open mind.

"I'm moving my bed away from my neighbor's wall to the other bedroom," my crush said.

"Oh..." I thought. "Why the hell did he tell me that?"

And... another fantasy was born!

Unwittingly, in my creative and curious mind, he planted the seeds of fantasy.

Of revolution.

Without kids around, maybe I could have again what used to heal me?

Was it real?

Does it matter?

***

 I knew my depression was bad when I dreaded mornings.

"Aw, you know - it's like Green Day everyday," I would say to friends I hadn't seen in a while when they would ask me how things were going.

Giant piles of laundry were everywhere. I hadn't wiped the sink or cleaned the bathrooms or mopped the floors in forever. Anything that didn't stay done once I did it sucked the tiny bits of soul right out of my chest each time the tasks reappeared.

Were it not for the angry scolding my physician administered regarding my surreptitious use of thyroid hormone to treat my depression (yeah, I'm naughty like that), I was at the point where "vanilla" would have been welcome. But even thinking about my doctor gave me a panic attack, so I couldn't go ask him for psychoactive medication.

But one day, in the shower, I realized it had been forever since I had a date with the man in the boat. Like maybe since before the days of Sting and the Cranberries.

I wasn't really feeling it, but I made myself do it anyway.

And it was so. Fucking. Amazing. It was so amazing that I wrote myself a prescription for a daily date with the man in the boat.

The fog, of which I was at least now aware, was finally dissipating.

***

"These are like the best years we've have ever had," said my husband earlier this year.

"Really?" I said. We laid there, breathing heavily, hearts racing and hypersensitive.

"Why are you so happy?" he asked. "I think it's because you are doing art again."

"Wha? Oh yeah... maybe..." I said. Could it have been that? I was making art, again, and it was unlike any I had ever made. Everything I made felt like I was filling up another crack in my broken heart. I felt creative. Alive. In love.

And so horny.

***

If I am remembering correctly, there was not a sound from us as she kneeled, leaning back passionately with her jeans on, beautiful full head of curly blonde hair bouncing, moving her hands between her legs and moaning. At least a dozen of us were sitting on the floor in a circle around her, mesmerized by her writhing.

It was the cast party after the last night of our high school Drama Club's performance of Paint Your Wagon. I think she was Mormon, too, and we were playing Truth or Dare.

She was the dramatic sort, ever willing to put on a performance, and this one did not disappoint.

Mirror Touch can be a burden, sure, but it can also be a gift if I choose to use it that way.

I can "remember" with my whole body, just from sight.

***

"God dammit," I said to my husband one morning in July, "Why the hell would you pick that ringtone for your alarm? Are you trying to kill me? I am trying to forget him! You think I bought a whole different shampoo and conditioner when I still had plenty of the old stuff just because I like the new smell?"

I had to cure the "virus" in my mind. It was making me feel "bad crazy." (As opposed to "good crazy" which is pure bliss, "bad crazy" is the depths of sorrow).

My fantasies, I felt, had led to despair.

My therapist said that crushes were okay, unless they turned to obsession.

God dammit. That happened. I don't know when.

"Have a nice life." I texted him. It killed me that I did that.

(Anyone want to sign a petition to remove all of Selena Gomez' songs from the radio? Back to You. Bad Liar. Get them out of my head. Please! Fuck. Crushes when you are 43 are NOT the same as when you are a teenager.)

***

Dr. Barry Komisaruk's office was brand-spanking new in the winter of 1996 when a group of prospective graduate students and I interviewed at the Rutgers Newark campus. Dr. Komisaruk was kind, fascinating, and very clear that he wanted me to work in his lab.

For years, the story I told of why I didn't attend Rutgers involved getting gas in Newark near campus with a graduate student host, and seeing a man with a gun. A gun. A gas station. My mind was triggered back to the gas station near my house in Denver, and the man with the gun, standing over my car.

Newark was too full of trauma. Ultimately, I would go to the rural school and research Alzheimer's Disease under Dr. Robert Colvin whose wife was homeschooling their two boys. He was a gentle Christian man and I felt safe with him.

Also, I worried about what to say to people about my research. What should I have said? That I researched cumming? How was that going to go over when just a few years before, I saw a large urban church lose half its membership over the idea that their clergy might be anything but figureheads.

I wanted to do important research I could be proud to talk about.

Plus, I just didn't see the importance in Female Orgasm research, because it wasn't something I had a problem with.

***

This morning Google's news service alerted me to the idea that women may release DMT - dimethyltryptamine - also called "the spirit molecule," during orgasm.

La petite mort - another name for orgasm - is French for "the little death." According to Wikipedia, it refers to "the brief loss or weakening of consciousness" and as such is in effect a path to ego death. Think about it - in that moment of bliss, after orgasm, you have transcended yourself, punctured the layer of maya, or fear, that keeps you from enlightenment. You are at one with the Universe. You are Peace.

People take a lot of drugs to get a feeling like this.

I was taking my medicine daily in the shower.

My friends all commented on how I was radiating an alluring sexuality.

I was exuding bliss, and attracting all sorts of interesting experiences and people.

***

We conducted our experiment for a few weeks, stroking the backs of female C57/B6 mice, to see if they exhibited lordosis behavior (downward arching of the back as to upwardly present the vagina for copulation). My mentor in 1992 at Tulane was the incredible Dr. Arnold Gerall, who was involved in the discovery of sex differences in the brain. I consider him an original feminist. He empowered many female students to pursue behavioral neuroendocrinology. It was Dr. Gerall who recommended that I apply to Dr. Komisaruk's lab.

Mice, like humans, are spontaneous ovulators, and are most sexually receptive around ovulation. In mice, this happens every 4 days, and in humans, it happens every 28 or so days, which also happens to be the same length of the moon cycle.

Males are sexually available at all times.

And if they are blessed at all with the kind of libido I can have around ovulation, being in a household with a tired, cranky female has to be incredibly frustrating. Some sort of healing is needed after a long day in a thankless cubicle farm. Why else, evolutionarily-speaking, but in the modern era, would a man choose to be married to the same woman his whole life if not for the potential of regular release of the ego?

Being the sensitive and giving soul I am, that means that over the years, I, like many other housewives, have "taken many for the team."

"Wifely duties," indeed.

When there's too much duty, and not enough joy, extinguishing female desire completely is easy.

***

So. YES. I owe a huge hug to all the women who came out during #metoo. It is through this dialogue, and through Christine Blasey Ford's testimony that my husband now knows the struggle.

We're unwrapping that onion along with the world.

In the realm of Love Languages, his is definitely touch, and mine is listening. (Maybe I don't actually have a love language, because I have a busy mind an active imagination and can be a terrible listener). So, poor guy... he loves to sneak up on me when I'm at the sink or the coffee maker frothing milk, or folding laundry, or...

"FUCK!!! You scared me to death! Please stop touching me because it makes me feel like I am being chased by a bear," I said numerous times over the years.

Of course he was hurt. Who wants to think that their touch is so repulsive to their spouse as to elicit panic?

"Okay. It is not you. It is my PTSD. It gets triggered pretty much anytime I feel violated - like I don't have control over my own body. It gets triggered by feeling I don't have control over how I am touched, or where I am, or who I have to be with. I want to be with you. But I need you to ask to touch me, or at least don't surprise me with touch." I pleaded, calmly.

He finally got it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I can finally breathe again.

I can finally enjoy his touch again.

***


It was time for my annual exam, and I had just a few concerns for my doctor (a wart on my palm, and a skin lesion from sun exposure). But I left feeling like a broken liability.

"I can't find your cervix." she said.

"Oh yeah, I have a retroverted uterus," I explained.

"Is sex ever painful?" she asked.

I knew where this discussion was going, as I had been researching whether there was a connection between retroverted pelvis and retroverted uterus, and had run across the connection to painful intercourse just weeks earlier.

When a woman is fully sexually receptive, after enough foreplay, the cervix shortens and moves out of the way. In women with retroverted uteri, the penis can bruise the cervix.

I usually feel better in a day or so, but the awareness has helped my husband and I be more mindful of foreplay.

Anybody have a spare $1200 laying around so I can get a mammogram? I'm kind of high maintenance that way.

***


"I was under the impression she was a Lesbian. Then she goes and marries some guy and has a baby." he complained.

"Yeah. Sorry." I responded.

But what I was really thinking about was how I was tired of my "Wifely Duties" and the resulting painful and exhausted sex, how I sometimes can be attracted to women, and how I think labels are stupid and confining - precisely because of what he said. Plus, two close friends of mine had identified as Lesbian in their 20s and had serious life partners for several years before eventually marrying men and having babies.

Lesbianism makes total sense to me. It gives a young woman the opportunity to know her body in new ways through shared experience with someone like her but not her, without the risk of pregnancy. That's my egotistical rationalization, but if I'm being honest, I find the female body so beautiful and captivating. We women really are this miraculous, healing, protective, life-giving, love-embodying safe space for humanity. Whether my attraction is reverence, or something more, I do not know.

I don't think it matters.

Labels are stupid.

***

"So?" was my response in 2000 when a male family member came out of the closet.

When I thought about it, I should have known. "He was able to hold conversation when Selma Hayek was on the television," I explained to my husband.

The amount of change that occurred in our family in response to our gay family member coming out was interesting. Because I firmly believed, from studying under Dr. Gerall, that sexual preferences were rooted in biology, it was just a non-issue for me. It was harder for others to understand. I think on some level I was worried about judgment from our family if I ever even hinted at being attracted to women, because even when it was becoming acceptable to be gay or lesbian, bisexual or even bicurous people faced even more stigma.

Yeah, Selma Hayek is a goddess. <swoon>

***

The way I see it, I was born with this amazing healing resource at my disposal - wherever I go. I don't need to see a doctor to know when to use it, I just listen to my intuition. Being attracted to men or women just means that my fantasy world is at least twice as active.

It opens up all sorts of possibilities for fighting the aging effect of impotence, and saving my marriage. It keeps things fresh.

An open approach to sexuality is totally doable if we choose to see our lovers as independent individuals, rather than possessions. All we really want as humans is intimacy and freedom. Each of us has to be mindful of that in all our interactions in order to change the world, because each of us has the power to provide both intimacy and freedom for others. It is the most loving thing we can do.

A healthy marriage is one where both partners are dedicated to each others' pursuit of bliss.

Welcome to my healthy marriage, deep in the onion, beyond ego, where love is unconditional, and we heal each other.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Work in Progress

My dead grandmother put me up to this. Charlene, this feels so crazy. I mean, it feels RIGHT, but my ego is not happy. Will I have the guts to publish this? To lay myself bare for the world to see?

*****

I am a narcissist.

Well, my therapist says I am not, just because I am worried about being one, and then there's the whole problem of my tendency toward empathy.

But the internets just informed me that I might be a vulnerable narcissist, so it must be true. Okay, the internet didn't inform me that I might be a vulnerable narcissist. It sent me articles on the subject because I love psychology and read articles on it every day. And if I am anything, I'm a bit of a hypochondriac.

But, I mean, I just wrote about my experiences with rape and sexual harassment. If that isn't a publicity stunt, or a plea for love and validation, I don't know what is!

Except, I know there is another layer to this onion, and that layer is the reality that putting all that pain out in the Universe, for anyone to know, means I don't have to hide that stuff anymore. It doesn't have to be part of me anymore.

Writing about my #metoo experience gave me peace. So maybe writing about this stuff will, too. Maybe, like my Grandma Charlene hopes, it will help someone.

*****

People know my trauma. As a vulnerable narcissist (or whatever I am) early on, I collected friends through sharing my stories. While I talk a good pity party regarding isolation, I have had marvelous connections with amazing people all over the country and even all over the world. If my lifestyle were freer, I would like to visit them all, and spend a few magical hours or days together enjoying what it is to be human. I have been fortunate to have lots of Anthony Bourdain - like experiences in my life, whether traveling or just in the grocery store in my own town. I love people and what I can learn from them.

Over the years, I became a lot less sensitive about the various traumas I suffered in my life, and even my depression and anxiety diagnoses. I think, in talking about these things, I was able to finally not feel like they defined me. But I always had control over how much I could share, in the moment.

If these things got out, they could affect my ability to be employed, potentially, I thought. For example, my PTSD and/or Major Depressive Disorder diagnoses. I don't know if these are current. I only found out about them when I had to get my records for our medical insurance back in 2009. I don't know if they're real, or just a code my previous therapist had to enter to bill my insurance.

And then, I just realized, maybe one negative effect of the Internet is that we all have to worry about being truly known, because it could affect our livelihood.

And that is one way that capitalism has facilitated shame, and thus, narcissism.

*****

When I first started my genealogical research, I found, in the 1929 Colorado Springs city directory, a listing for my great-grandfather, Grafton Ellison, at the Modern Woodmen's Association of America sanitorium. I knew that he had tuberculosis, and was under the impression for most of my life that he died of tuberculosis in 1934.

That was one long battle with tuberculosis.

Grafton had been a housepainter in Denver. My great-grandmother Adah's father, Clarence Wilson, was also a house painter, and he died the next year, after falling from some scaffolding while painting the interior of the Paramount Theater. I wonder if Adah met her husband Grafton through Clarence's activities as a house painter?

This was at the height of the Great Depression. Adah and Grafton wed in 1924, and by the next year, on August 1, 1925, little Charlene Ellison was born (There you are, Grandma! See, I'm doing it!). The very next year, he was at the MWA Sanitorium in the Springs, and by the time Charlene was 8 years old, he had died. For at least five years, during the Great Depression, he battled TB, like many, many other people in this country. His illness, and the stigma of it, would affect my family to this day.

I would more profoundly understand what my family was going through after I watched the PBS American Experience episode on TB. It was like having leprosy. It was extremely shameful.

Grandma Charlene, I am sorry for the isolation you must have felt.

*****
When I was a child, I always said I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, and that was because I felt like the mind contained multitudes. I remember I was probably six years old when I said to my father (an avid reader of science and science fiction) "I think maybe there is a universe inside of me, and a universe inside of you, and people in that universe, and universes inside those people."

His response was, "Yes, some people have said things like that before."

While most people comment on my optimistic attitude, the reality is that I am prone to very negative self-talk. So when my Dad said that, I thought, "Oh, I thought it was a special thought. But I guess it wasn't. So I shouldn't bother thinking about those things anymore." I could have just as easily thought, "Wow, I wonder what else those people have realized that I might find interesting?"

It only dawned on me recently, when I finally was introduced to the concept of the multiverse, that I could have used the opportunity to learn about Sir Isaac Newton. Maybe that would have dawned on me had I been a child of the internet age.

But the Universe has its own plan, and instead I would end up investigating the nature of existence through the earthly plane, first. I went to Tulane University because, in order to get into medical school, I felt I needed to have the most competitive major, which was Biomedical Engineering. So I applied to the four top Biomedical Engineering programs in the US, which at the time were the University of Pennsylvania, Case Western Reserve University, Johns Hopkins, and Tulane. Tulane, actually, was an 11th hour addition to my list because my good friend said they had the best scholarship programs. I was very disheartened over my rejection letter from Johns Hopkins. I didn't get very good financial aid to Penn or Case Western. I chose Tulane because I got a huge scholarship there, which covered my tuition. So the Universe decided for me.

*****

The first time I ever seriously considered suicide as a parent was when my kids were 5 and 2 years old, in the winter of 2006 after we first moved to Loveland from Monument. My husband had been working in a very abusive employment situation. Um, actually, two jobs in a row. The first place is legendary for being an abusive work environment, and happens to reside in the Modern Woodmen's Association building in Monument (no kidding - my life is full of coincidences like this, and I'll try to mention them when they come up). He actually left before anything negative befell him directly, but the stress he experienced from watching his coworkers suffering made us both think it was just a matter of time before it was his turn.

In 2006, the real estate market was super slow, and so after a few months of living at his brother's apartment in Broomfield, commuting to Loveland, and me struggling to clean up the house in Monument for random house showings with a 2 year old who needed a nap, we got a tiny 500 square foot 2 bedroom apartment in Loveland. We used one room to store most of our belongings, and I had a king size mattress on the floor, next to a twin mattress in the other bedroom. The kids and I spent most of our time in the little living room and adjacent galley kitchen where I would stand all day, looking for help for my son's sensory issues online, and also looking for houses.

I looked at 130 houses before our house in Monument sold and we moved to the home where we currently live.

The days were interspersed with feeding children five meals a day, getting my daughter down for a nap (so the multiverse didn't implode), taking them to the coffee shop to meet other homeschoolers, and the aforementioned standing-kitchen-internet time.

At some point in February, around my birthday (of course), I started seeing auras, not being able to recall words, and having intrusive thoughts about ending my life.

*****

I wonder what really happened. The newspapers at the time, The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, have conflicting stories.


May 27, 1934, Denver Post:

JOBLESS SALESMAN ENDS LIFE WITH GUN

Victim of a nervous breakdown. Grafton R Ellison, 33, of 4441 Utica Street, an unemployed salesman, shot himself to death Saturday night. He had been bed-ridden two months.

Mrs. Ada Ellison, his wife, said he appeared cheerful Saturday afternoon. Shortly before 7 p. m. Mrs. Ellison, her 8 year old daughter, Charline, and her mother, Mrs. Clarence Wilson, 4412 Stuart Street, went to the kitchen to eat supper. They heard a shot and rushed to Ellison's Room. They found him dead.


May 27, 1934, Rocky Mountain News

ILL, TAKES OWN LIFE

Wife Returns From Work to Find Husband Shot Dead, in Bed

Illness of many months caused Ellison Grafton, 34, of 4441 Utica Street to end his life yesterday.

He was found in bed at his home with a bullet hole through his head and a revolver in his hand.

His wife, Mrs. Ada Grafton, found him when she returned from work and notified police.

Mrs. Grafton informed police her husband had been despondent because of his continued illness.

*****

Here's the funny thing about genealogy. People talk a good talk about being related to Charlemagne, but the fact of the matter is, the value of it is in helping us understand ourselves better.

The reason my mother and I went to the Denver Public Library's Western Genealogy section to look up the newspapers for the day of Grafton's death is that a few weeks earlier, I had received his death certificate in the mail from Colorado's Vital Records division. I was expecting it to say that he died of tuberculosis, of course, but what it said was that he died of a "revolver shot wound head" and suicide was clearly circled. 

When I opened the envelope and saw that, I knew in my heart that this was a significant find. I knew that it would be something that everyone in my family who was descended from him would want to know, because it explained a lot.

This finding would be the first of many I would find while researching my own and my husband's genealogy, which would explain exactly how we got to where we are now.

*****

Where are we now, anyway?

Our son is 17 and is 12 credit hours from the completion of his Associate's Degree. He did this with very little to no formal schooling.

My daughter is 14 and is a very talented artist who helps edit her friends' novels and loves caring for animals.

Both of them keep up on politics. They help around the house without my asking. They are kind, compassionate, and humble, but also highly competent and confident in what they have taught themselves. I get lots and lots of compliments on my kids, and I love them more than anything in this world. I would do ANYTHING for them.

They hate it when I talk about them - it makes them uncomfortable. And honestly, I am reluctant to write anything about them at all because I feel like it is important that they tell their own stories someday, and that perception of them is not clouded by anything I might say.

And that is another reason why it is so hard to be vulnerable and transparent on such a big scale. I don't know who reads this.

Maybe someday we will more consciously appreciate the challenges people have overcome rather than valuing the idiotic idea of perfection. Maybe my vulnerability can help us get there. Not that I see myself as particularly special - just that I see other people being vulnerable, and how it is helping.

In fact, a few years ago, a like-minded homeschooling scientist mom I know asked if authenticity was a good thing, and I think authenticity as vulnerability is good. Authenticity as being mean is not good. It's all in the intention, as it is with anything. Is it self-serving, or serving love?

*****

The living circumstances were wearing on us.

"Oh God. It's Caillou again. I cannot deal with that kid's voice!" I thought, wishing I could go far, far away from the television. But if I left the room, the kids would surely follow, and then I would have to entertain them.

I just could not bring myself to do whatever the thing was "AGAIN! AGAIN! AGAIN!" My brain railed against me. I had no business becoming a mother. None. At. All. I don't like doing anything over and over again, especially not cleaning up human waste. And that is a LOT of parenthood in the early years. Throwing away uneaten food that was demanded, or that you thought necessary in order to prevent a tantrum. Changing diapers. Picking up food from weird places. Wiping up poop from weird places (especially the slots around the seatbelts in a carseat).

Just a few years prior, I had devised a very legitimate experiment to uncover the molecular mechanism by which estrogen influences memory in mice and carried it mostly out. I left graduate school with about six months of experimentation left to complete my PhD in molecular biology and neuroscience. I think it was about $3500 in funding that I needed to finish, which I didn't get, because I had the "wrong mentor."

I don't have a lot of regrets in life, and if I were to have one, this should be it.

Except the Universe gave me two daily reminders of why I was rewarded for quitting, and why I can't quit now.

And the thing about these kids is that I learn so much from them. They were born with a knowing, a wisdom, that was undeniable. I think most children are. Children bring about our capacity to love, if we listen.

*****

So, to be eight years old, Grandma, and I am sure that house wasn't very big... maybe you, and Adah and Edith were in the kitchen? Did Adah just return from work at the bindery? Did you run in when you heard the shot?

Did you see it?

Is that why you drank yourself to death?

Were you able to be with him when he was sick, or was he quarantined? Did you lose him that day, or had you lost him a long time before?

*****

My earliest memories include being pushed off my mother's lap when she was pregnant with my sister, and also feeling disappointed when my sister was brought home from the hospital as a newborn. In fact, one of the favorite stories my mother likes to tell of my independent nature is that when I was three years old, I packed up her overnight bag with all my doll clothes and walked right out the front door. What she didn't know was that the sentiment behind that action, which I clearly remember, was, "I've had enough of this shit. I'm out of here." To this day, when I feel boxed in, unappreciated, unheard... that is my instinct. To get the hell out of Dodge.

I feel terrible for these feelings, which my therapist says is a problem. Not that I have those feelings, but that I can't forgive myself for them. Maybe writing about it will make it better. It has made a lot of things better for me.

I love my sister. She's another very private person, so I cannot say too much, but I just want to say here that she has a tremendously positive impact on my life. She is so strong and compassionate, and she does things for all the right reasons. She busts her ass to help a whole community of people in ways they can't help themselves every single day. She even helps her coworkers. She gets a lot of help from my parents, and I am glad for that, because whatever love they put in, she puts out to the world one hundred fold.

I wonder if Edith, her namesake, was so strong.

I know she worries about being a working mother. Her kids are at that hard age where they require a bit less attention, but it's imperative to be around because it's the make or break years for parenting, from an attachment perspective. Ages 6-8.

Thankfully, like you, Grandma, they have their grandparents around for support.

*****

In Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it can Help you Find - And Keep - Love, which was recommended by my therapist, Amir Levine describes how adult attachment style influences our relationships with other adults. My husband and I had both taken an online test which indicated we scored almost identically as anxiously attached.

What that means is that we both answer people promptly and worry about saying the wrong thing. We worry if we haven't heard from the other person in "too long." I haven't finished reading the book yet, because I got really upset when I read the part about people with avoidant attachment styles.

Avoidant attachment styles are the people who put up walls. They control the flow of the relationship. They are absolutely toxic for people with anxious attachment styles.

We have several extended family members with the avoidant style, and had several friends, too. Obviously we have choices about the latter, but not about the former. All we can do with our family members is try as hard as possible to communicate our feelings effectively when given the chance, and be mindful of the uncomfortable feelings that come up when they exert control over the relationship. For the friends, well... I let 'em go after writing them a poem that came to me in the middle of the night. Letting them go allowed for a tremendous reduction in stress, which helped us to bust through a few other problems we were having in our marriage which we just weren't getting to because of the constant issue of avoidant people in our lives.

*****

when your heart
has had
all it can take

do you retreat

we are all in this
alone
together

*****

A lot of my philosophy on psychology revolves around my deeply held belief that although I have had a lot of trauma in my life, other people have suffered worse, and often, they're the people you least suspect. Some people, I can look at and I know, because of the mirror touch synesthesia.

My therapist asked me last week what it was like to have mirror touch synesthesia, and that made me realize I forgot to include the part about how easy it is to lose myself. Sometimes I feel like a chameleon, or shapeshifter. After spending time with people, I sometimes have no sense of myself. Something funny about having no sense of self is that it is easy to achieve that feeling of detachment the Buddhists talk about, because when I can't make sense of myself, the natural sequelae of learned helplessness is that I have to stop caring about identity. I let go of my ego. I just am. It doesn't matter.

That kind of detachment makes compassion a heckuva lot easier. When you've felt all those people on such a deep level, you realize how very little really matters.

All we really need, it turns out, is love. (But food is a form of love, as well as clothing, shelter, diversions for the mind and avenues for self-expression).

*****

Charlene would call us, drunk from New York, asking me to call her "Grandma." I wouldn't. I grew up without grandparents because of her mistake. I grew up without knowing my cousins because of it.

She died August 6, 2004, soon after the birth of my daughter, and five days after her 79th birthday. She had a long, long battle with esophageal cancer, during which she took her vitamins religiously, washing them down with cases of vodka (my kind of woman - she knew how to balance the good and the bad). My mom and her half sisters stopped by my house to take Charlene's ashes to her burial site where my "Uncle Fred" was interred in Colorado Springs. A psychic medium would tell me this year that she said her death was so long and awful that it, "Would have been better to be hit by a bus!" in a distinctly New York accent. (Yeah! I saw a psychic, and it was so amazing!)

Troubled she was, clearly.

I'm sorry it was so hard, Grandma. I owe you, big time, for everything you went through so I could have this amazing life.

My mother grew up believing that Charlene was her sister, and found out that Charlene was actually her mother after the death of her adoptive father, while helping her adoptive mother (Adah, Charlene's mother) clean out files. This was in late 1978. I was just shy of four years old, and my sister was one.

*****

The hardest times when we were living in that tiny apartment waiting for our house to sell were when my husband would come home late, and the kids were cranky and fighting.

I had gone through the La Leche League Leader training, so I had read Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen, Alfie Kohn, Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication, Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber & Mazlish, books on Sensory Integration, and books on Childhood Development (Gesell Institute). But at the end of the day, suffering from exhaustion, it was hard to mindfully employ what I knew in my head.

I was sure my son had oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD - which is funny, because he is ODD, but definitely not oppositional or defiant). He had just turned five and had his world turned upside down by a move. It came out in his behavior in a big way. Anyone who knows my son now would have difficulty imagining him as either oppositional or defiant.

Sometimes they would hit each other, and although I had read all those books, my inner instinct was to hit them. I didn't. I want to make that very clear. I hit my daughter once a few years later after lots and lots of warnings. But these feelings of wanting to hit my children were so torturous to me that I ruminated on the thought of suicide, a lot.

I ended up seeing a therapist for a short time and after we moved into our new house I felt a lot better and the kids calmed down a lot. I also discovered I was estrogen dominant, and started using progesterone which got rid of all my visual migraines and word recall issues. I also noticed that the migraines correlated with the use of Tide and Cascade detergent, and discontinued their use. I never ended up having the EMDR therapy the therapist recommended, but being settled in our new home, having access to good home cooked meals, and leisurely days with plenty of personal space made my emotional life a lot more stable.

*****

I have a good friend who I have had since I was three, so yes, that means that this year we celebrated our 40th anniversary of friendship.

Our kids are about the same age, and although her kids go to public school and mine are homeschooled, we still talk a lot about parenting and motherhood.

When our kids were really little, I used to just breastfeed mine if they were acting up for any reason. As long as it wasn't a diaper issue. Boob juice really did fix everything. I got much, much better at this, and patience in general, with my second child. I tried to reason with my son when he was just a wee thing.

I felt badly because at one point my friend mentioned that shoving my boob in their faces might not be the best approach because the kids would not learn to process their own emotions. I worried about this quite a bit, wondering if I was just a big human pacifier, but also way too traumatized and exhausted to do anything else.

But as it turns out, I was doing exactly what I needed to do. I was responding with love. I welcomed them when they were at their worst, when other adults shrugged their shoulders. I held them, and stroked their hair, and looked them in the eyes while they kicked me in the face and kneaded my other breast (that drove me nuts). And the peaceful look they had while doing that gave me the immediate reassurance that I was doing the right thing.

*****

Gratitude journaling was recommended to me in 2010, a year after my husband started working from home. I did it for a whopping week, I think, and felt better and stopped.

Five years later, a significant health event in my husband's life would turn everything upside down, and I would begin journaling again, although not particularly regularly. I would do it when I would feel the compulsion. I think maybe I became better at recognizing sorrow setting in, because I remember feeling a strong need to say something to someone about what was going on, but I didn't know who to talk to. I was not under the care of a therapist at the time, and worried about the expense and shame of seeing a therapist. Writing, however, settled my mind and headed the suicidal thoughts off at the pass.

I have so many entries where I have just literally spent the time talking myself out of suicide.

"Sylvia Plath thought journaling would save her." I wrote one day.

It was shortly after this, in the winter of 2016, during the holidays, that I would take it upon myself to get us to a couple's therapist.

*****

It was, I realized through genealogy, all of the secrets the families kept that perpetuated the trauma across so many generations. The pride.

I thought of the movie Seven, and pride being considered a deadly sin. The more I got to know people, the more this particular characteristic turned me inside out, because I realized the full effect of pride and narcissism on my own life, on the lives of my friends and family, and the lives of states and nations, and the world. I felt surrounded by people acting in self-interest, not acting out of love. Much of the parenting I witnessed was guided by a single agenda - "I want to be able to be proud of my child" - rather than out of unconditional love. The kids of these parents know they are not loved unconditionally. It shows up in their attention-seeking behavior. This is the genesis of narcissism.

"I love the evil man who knows he is evil more than the righteous man who knows he is righteous. Of the evil people who consider themselves righteous, however, the following is said: "They do not even turn away on the threshold of the underworld." For they imagine that they are being led to hell in order to redeem the souls there." - Tales of the Chassidim

So many secrets were kept from children throughout history, in order to not affect their opportunity in this life. But those secrets kept them from understanding the generational trauma that would provide the root of every obstacle they would ever face. They would be shamed. They would be blamed. In the name of pride. Hiding wounds. We all know people who were rejected from their families of origin because of their mistakes. What a profound act of love it is to welcome a child back into your arms, at any age, when they have made a huge mistake and have nowhere else to turn.

You brought this child into the world - this child is your responsibility forever. This child's energy. Help the child to love themself wholly, and you help the world. In the absence of parents, we owe this to our siblings, too. Forgiveness is the ultimate act of love.

*****

Ancestry.com notifies me of new records for my ancestors with a little green leaf in the corner of their profile. Because I have done extensive research on my known ancestors back to my great-grandparents, new records for these generations rarely come up.

Speaking of that - I need to put a countdown timer for 1/1/2020, because WOOT! I am waiting for that 1950 US Federal Census!!! ALL UR SECRETS ARE MINE!!! Sorry, I have a little thing about "singing over bones" as Clarissa Pinkola Estes says in her Jungian Feminist book, Women Who Run With The Wolves. It's one of several reasons I got a bracelet that says "Well behaved women rarely make history." This is a relevant paragraph because one of my favorite poorly-behaved woman friends is helping Ms. Estes with her genealogical research. My friend is singing over Estes' ancestors bones! Bone singers unite!

The Social Security Death Index was released by the Social Security Office a few years ago, and that was where I learned that Charlene had several other names. Aliases.

Grandma!! I still have one more name to figure out! I figured out who my grandfather was, and I even found the baby boy you gave up for adoption. My uncle is an artist! A good one! All those house painters in your ancestry, and your son and granddaughter end up being painters, too. What are the chances? But seriously, what were you up to?! What did you need to hide so badly you took the secret to your grave? If I do the writing, will you tell me?

Well, Charlene wasn't the only family member I had with an alias. My father's father also had an alias.

So yeah, this girl who grew up middle class in Denver had two grandparents with aliases.

Secrets.

*****

My interest in psychology started very young, because when you are the oldest daughter of a woman who lost her father and learned she was adopted when she had little kids, that's what happens.

I forgave my parents a long, long time ago. They never fail to love me. I know how deeply my parents love me.

Through genealogy, and my own experience as a mother, dealing with generational trauma, I continue to forgive them and love them more and more each day. I recognize how the life my parents gave me is so much better than what either of them had. Both of them had alcoholic parents, and their mothers were battered.

So it makes sense that corporal punishment was the order of the day for them discipline-wise. Plus, it's what everyone did. It was fashionable. But they never drank, ever. When I did my little teenage rebellion and invited some boys over, we had to drink the Cherry Kirsch they purchased to make some dessert for a pot-luck. (That's why your dessert didn't taste like cherries. Because you just put water in the dessert. Ha)

To this day, if I do something I feel shame about, I feel the hairbrush on my bottom. It keeps me very honest. It keeps me a "good person." It also tortures my soul.

But I want to tell you that although the beginning of my parenting journey was harrowing, because I didn't know a better way, watching my parents grow as grandparents and in-laws has shown me that it is possible to heal the deepest of wounds. It is possible to forgive oneself and move on, and through the act of forgiving oneself, it is possible to manifest abundance through love and generosity.

I'm sorry it was so hard, Mom and Dad. I owe you, big time, for everything you went through so I could have this amazing life. But I also know that what you want is for me to be an agent of love in all that I do, so that is what I will do. Because it is the right thing to do.

*****

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have a real need to be alone. This need poses quite a challenge for my mental health and my marriage, especially since my husband and I are both anxiously attached.

I found just as much stuff about his family as I did mine. And it all made things make sense. It was all stuff his family was eager to hide, because they were highly stigmatic events like divorce, mental illness, abandonment, alcoholism and even murder.

I want to write about these things because I think they will help people see how historical events and generational trauma affect them personally. I also am considering becoming a professional genealogist so I can help people heal from generational trauma.

My husband and I both suffered significant psychological loss between ages 6 and 8 as children. This is the time period when the "narcissistic lesion" can be formed if a secure attachment is not formed with an adult caretaker.

I don't see what happened to us as special. I see it as a sign of those times. Our story isn't that unique. It just happens to be the one I have to share.

We were part of the latch key kid generation.

"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child." Indeed.

Fatherless, too. Many of our fathers fought in Vietnam.

*****

Lawnmower parent? Whatever.

"How do I reconcile the narcissistic side of feminism with the attachment needs of children?" I asked my psychologist.

"The children just need to know that their parents are there for them emotionally no matter what. No matter when." She said.

"That makes sense." I mused.

I was wondering, privately, if she secretly laughed at my choice to live a 1950's era existence when I could have put my children in someone else's care. I wondered how she could care so much about adult attachment, and leave her new baby with someone else. I imagine it is both a relief, and a stress.

But I also knew from watching my parents help raise my niece and nephew that grandparents can be good parents, too. Maybe even better parents, because they have a longer perspective, and tend to fuss less over little things. Well, that is certainly the way my parents are. I am sure my niece and nephew know their grandparents will do anything for them. ANYTHING.

And then I thought how I inherently knew that the educational system was not a good substitute for a secure attachment object because of its pitiful failure to do that for me and my husband, but I just didn't understand that the formation of secure attachment didn't have anything to do with quantity of time spent with the caregiver, but QUALITY of time.

It is my observation that modern life for most people consists of waking way too early and having to usher unwilling children out of the house WITH A LUNCH conforming to certain standards of the day, going to work 40 (or more) hours a week, shuttling kids from one activity to another (if one is well to do, anyway, otherwise the children are self-parented), feeding the whole bunch, keeping grandparents happy, and doing it all over again. What I like to say is that "most people get the ass end of each other" because everyone is spending the best part of the day away from the people they love.

So modern life is about processing the trauma endured during the work and school days during the time together. Supporting each other through traumatic events. At best. I do not know if our little family would have made it under those circumstances.

That lawnmower parent has helped that child have less trauma. Less stress. The lawnmower parent is a secure attachment object. As long as the parent is acting out of love, and not self interest. There's the rub.

*****

I realize now, that through my vulnerable narcissism, I was looking for a secure attachment object.

The realization was a really painful one.

"Next week we'll talk about 'Father Hunger'" my therapist said. That was three days ago.

I Googled it.

Oh yeah. I have that.

That's why, over the course of a 22 year marriage (we've been together for 25 years), I have had crushes on other men for 18 of those years. I am still looking for my inner father.

Or maybe, as my friend from Algeria said all those years ago, I am just a "healthy girl." Maybe monogamy can be an oppressive, anti-feminist institution.

Perspective is everything.

*****

Attachment disorder, I believe, can manifest as a number of different childhood illnesses which cause classroom disruption.

It seems to me that classes for "regular" kids these days, if the accounts I am hearing from friends whose kids decided to go to public middle- and high-school are any indication, end up containing a large percentage of disciplinary time rather than useful content for the students.

Whenever I hear about behavioral issues in children, I wonder if they have a secure attachment style. What was their home life like for the first eight years? Were their families constantly relocating due to corporate America's treatment of its workers? Were their parents struggling financially due to divorce or medical bills? According to Elizabeth Warren, these are the top two reasons for bankruptcy filing in the US. What usually happens is that a family is dependent on two incomes (either by lifestyle choice or necessity), and then there is either a divorce or a medical emergency that makes it so bankruptcy is necessary. In households with one wage earner, but two partners, this is less likely to happen, because the non-working partner is like an insurance policy.

An insurance policy is putting it lightly. This insurance policy is also available for small claims like picking vomiting children up from school, taking cars for maintenance, volunteering in the community to spread good energy to people who need it, figuring out logistical nightmares like vacation planning, taking grandparents to the doctor, moral support, and generally making life sweeter. If I do say so myself. Oh, and being the secure attachment object.

Feminism is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Women should be able to do anything a man can do, without judgment (I have a little thing I got for camping which enables me to write my name in the snow, and have changed tires on the side of the interstate by myself while pregnant). But in every single thing that exists, there is both good and bad. I propose that the expectation of women being able to work which started in the 1970's gradually lead to the abandonment of children (since largely, fathers weren't picking up the invisible labor for a generation and a half or so, and still lag behind in that area), the explosion of narcissism, AND, especially, the great divide between the wealthy and the rest of us. We have two incomes, so we can have bigger houses, so we can fill them with more stuff, and the cost of everything has gone up because now a household earns a lot more than it used to. Do we really need to be so productive? Don't we have a huge problem with waste? Who gets more and more wealthy from our purchasing stuff to validate ourselves?

(In the interest of full disclosure, I have some shopping habits which I still need to get under control, especially in the realm of books, clothing and shoes - the latter two are improving).

Men can actually lactate. I think it is a lot of work, but it is possible for the extremely determined. Now we have laws so that breastfeeding mothers can pump while at work. I think, in order to get out of a lot of our problems, we have to recognize that men can be nurturers, too. Men can do invisible labor, and they can help aging parents. (Props to my brother-in-law who is the Invisible Labor rock star). There have been a few stay at home Dads in our homeschooling group over the years. My husband once told me he was jealous that I got to stay home with the kids. I do have to say, the way we did it, it was pretty awesome.

Also we need to be okay with less for a while. I do realize this is really easy for me to say, because according to Pew my household with one income is in the 50th percentile in our area. So, it wasn't the sacrifice for us that it was for many of our friends. But they made it work, and if I had to live on a lot less, I know I could do it, because they showed me how.

I think the millennials inherently know this. They are less likely to buy houses, and more of them are working from home or having a parent stay at home.

*****

"I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR ABOUT TRUMP ANYMORE. I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR IT ESPECIALLY BEFORE I HAVE HAD COFFEE. NO TALKING TO ME ABOUT NEWS. I PROTECTED YOUR HEAD SPACE FOR YEARS WHILE YOU WORKED FROM HOME, AND NOW I WANT SOME. I WANT TO USE MY HEAD FOR MORE PRODUCTIVE STUFF." I yelled at my husband.

I probably did yell. Yelling makes this story sound super awesome. Because, I hardly ever yell. When I yell, I yell mindfully, something I have probably rehearsed over and over again in my subconscious.

I had to break nearly completely to have the courage to ask my husband for space. I wrote about that breaking already, in my last post.

When he started working from home, a homeschooling friend warned me that she knew some people who got a divorce right after they started working from home together. I didn't think it would be a big deal, but it kind of was. There were really great things about it, and also some not great things. I am still processing it all.

Last January, we sat in couples therapy and I talked about wanting to move my computer away from where our family has all their computers. To my own space. It was a scary thing for me to request. He saw it as a rejection of him. And I saw his reaction to his perception of my rejection as rejection. And so, we walked on eggshells. The both of us. Sometimes it felt like the house was full of eggshells. I think he felt like that, too.

There were other reasons, too, related to ongoing family issues. I have decided that the families that "look" the most perfect are probably hiding a lot.

"Why can't I get anything done, creatively?" I kept wondering, after the 2015 health crisis. But then I took a class and had to do the work for a grade, and so it was easier for me to get away. If I had a reason, I could get away. But this semester, and over the summer, and last summer, I wasn't taking classes. So it was like All Trump All The Time.

This is a Public Service Announcement: IF YOU WORK FROM HOME AND/OR SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH A SPOUSE WHO HAS MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES, DO NOT FOLLOW THEM AROUND AND REMIND THEM REPEATEDLY THAT A 'PUSSY-GRABBING' NARCISSIST NOW RUNS THE FREE WORLD.

And there was the reminder that the other option during the election was a woman who stayed married to a man who denied sexual acts with his female intern. HE GASLIT HER IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE WORLD. OVER AND OVER. Bill Clinton was an abuser. That is what hurts the most about any sort of abuse, sexual harassment and rape. It's a he said/she said kind of situation, and he's denying it, and the victim is like, "Did that really just happen? Am I losing my mind? There is no way that just happened. That only happens on TV."

Notwithstanding the issue of consent is that it's okay for men to cheat on their wives. We laugh it off - "Oh, he's a healthy boy." But women are called sluts, whores, harlots, etc. Both candidates, to me, are a reminder that it is still very much a man's world. Women are still treated like possessions.

Where is our progressive female candidate? The one with all the lovers?

*****

"Dear Diary," my crush said, mocking me, "Today he and I talked about..." I sat in the school lounge with my journal every day, half hoping to get some journaling done, and more than half hoping he would stop by to talk. He usually did.

"Nuh-uh!" I said, shaking my head. I had just written about him, trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with all these complicated feelings.

I had found journaling to be very powerful. There were things that had happened over the 25 years of my marriage which are like little whisps now - just figments of memories. When trying to remember them, I would be told that they didn't happen, or that I was remembering it all wrong. It wasn't intended to make me feel crazy, even though that was the effect. It was meant to repair my perception - to cover shame. It was meant to try to get me to forget, since there was nothing we could do about the past, anyway. But it became very apparent to me, lack of awareness just let the problems persist. It enabled them to get bigger. Ignorance is not always bliss.

At one particularly difficult time this year, I sat in the rocker chair in our sitting room, staring, not knowing what to do with myself, because I was so depressed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my old journals from my childhood and years as a young woman, detailing everything about my rape, all of my crushes, boyfriends, you name it. It was a regular Mortified Nation. I shared the funniest ones with my family, since we enjoyed the show together so much. I wanted my kids to see that crushes and sexual feelings were normal, because I was raised to feel shameful about my sexuality, and I don't want them to feel that shame.

That shame gives other people power over us.

It was then that I realized that it's just the way I am. I fall in love really easily, get hurt, and somehow pick myself up, dust myself off, and live to love another day. Sure, it's a liability for a married person, but probably an important and benevolent energy to spread. Love. Attachment. I'm wired for it biologically. Especially when I am healthiest.


*****

The latest crush was like my Dad, but an artist. What they all have in common is they are nice guys. And I don't mean the "nice guys" like on reddit who are all "Why can't I get me some pussy? I'm such a nice guy. The problem is that women are all bitches and hoes!" No, these guys I fall for worship their mothers and sisters because their mothers and sisters love them, and support them, too. They push my understanding of feminism forward. They encourage me and build my confidence, recognize my intelligence. They are charitable, forgiving, kind and graceful. But also, they know how to be present when I am feeling deeply. They also know how to control themselves and honor boundaries and not withhold love to get their way. They are humble. I can tell they know how to love. And they understand that life is a learning process. They are broken, but working on themselves. They are people to build a dream with. Away or together, I never worry about where I stand with them. They know the power of forgiveness. That, to me, is attractive. That is handsome.

Maybe it is not 'father hunger.' Maybe it is just smart. These are the qualities we should foster in our sons. People like this are infectious, in a good way. Their presence alone is healing.

Infatuation eventually, after significant pain, gives way to a warm love and concern which never ends.

I use those interactions to spread connection and joy to others. Because, ultimately, those feelings are useful if in the end they promote love in the world, and hopefully I have not hurt anyone. Flirting can be good, right?

I'm worried I did hurt someone, though. I worry about it a lot. It keeps me up at night. And generally, I am a pretty good sleeper.

I really don't want to be the person who hurts someone who has already been hurt enough.

Even if hurt is an opportunity for growth. Some people don't know how to heal from such hurt.

*****

Was it like that for you, Grandma Charlene? Your mother had been working since your father couldn't. And then he was gone.

Did you have mirror touch like mom and I? Did you look to men to fill your father hunger?

You were married at least four times, and had a child with yet another man. This was a surprise to all of us.

Were you drinking to forget it?

Did the men ever help you find what was missing?

It doesn't seem like they did.

*****

The Universe led me to my love, my husband, at Tulane University. Over the years, we learned and grew, as we built something bigger than ourselves, with love. From two broken people, we replaced ourselves with two children who love each other and both their flawed parents. They are forward thinking. They are encouraging and help raise others' confidence, recognizing intelligence and kindness. They are charitable, forgiving, kind and graceful. They are humble. But also, they know how to be present when others are feeling deeply. They know how to control themselves and honor boundaries. They know how to love. And they understand, because we were transparent with them, that life is a learning process. They will never be too prideful to work on themselves.

What are we going to do next, honey? I still have things to do to help others. I need your help. Please let go of the news. It is a poisonous distraction from our mission here, when viewed in excess. We need to help heal the people around us through proper use of our love and attention. I see you changing and growing, mindfully. I see you healing. I love you. Thank you for your forgiveness of my 'father hunger.'

*****

I know now that to heal myself, I need to continue on this path of authenticity, vulnerability, journaling, making art, and meditation. I need to do this to close my wound, to heal my narcissism, so I can help others, regardless of who I am with.

*****

Please Universe, Grandma Charlene, so far the bread crumbs left for me have been amazing. I have always tried to act out of love. Please let sharing all of this help me to let go of this. I hope it helps someone.

Oh, and by the way, the word is VAGINA, not pussy.