writing to survive
. . . only the retelling counts

Embrace you

I can be a bumbler, a stumbler with language. I write messages to strangers, send mixed signals, let loose doves in times of war, blot out the only source of light in a hopeful story. I am sometimes confused, and so I confuse.

I want to clear the air, to clarify a recent concept in my last message, my latest missive directed straight to “you.”
Here is what I wish for you -- no hooks, just hand in hand love, trust, and the ability to hold and be held, I wrote in an apparent embrace of the embrace. And I’m all for the cheek to cheek and chest to chest, but I wasn’t talking about lingering hugs or the nighttime spoon. I was writing about the creation of a holding environment or space, the act of being present for someone in a profound way and having that person be totally present for you.

A holding space is a healing space, a way to help contain pain that feels bottomless, a way to reflect someone’s inherent goodness back to them through empathy, passing on the knowledge that one day that person will be able to hold her own. Or, as my
family therapy textbook glossary so helpfully puts it, a holding environment is “a psychoanalytic concept referring to a therapeutic space analogous to the mother-child environment that allows the [client] to safely explore feelings and thoughts often with a sense of play” (Goldberg & Goldberg, 2013, p. 519). To rephrase and give it my own spin, a holding environment is a therapeutic creation that results in a kind of re-parenting through unconditional positive regard.

I think it can apply to relationships, too, to the intersubjective reflection of
the beauty you are. It’s love as ideal as you are going to get or give, soul-affirming and deep. It requires a full commitment, a strong self, and comfort with vulnerability. You probably won’t be able to give it unless you’ve been gifted with it yourself in childhood or through a special relationship (though I think parents can fake it and provide that space for their children no matter their difficulties with self). And it is a process. But this is all speculation. I’m still in the beginning of the journey, and the destination keeps shifting on me. I have to remind myself to be brave and keep at it.

However, my wish remains the same: may you (or “you” or
you) have love, trust, and the ability to hold and be held. As for me, I wish for the sustained ability to accept that I am worthy of such a gift. How can I give if I don’t allow myself to receive?

Image from pinterest, with a tip of the keyboard to the lovely Grace, who graced me with birthday wings.


I feel like a curmudgeon. Perhaps I am a curmudgeon. A quick search of Google images, however, appears to indicate that a middle-aged woman is an unlikely candidate for curmudgeon. Older man as curmudgeon? Yes. Older woman? To some extent. Cat? Depends on the (sour)puss. But woman at the mid-point in life (if the end point is 88+)? She doesn’t fit the mold.

Frankly, if the mold is based on a stereotypical idea about judgmental old folks, I don’t want to fit it. Curmudgeon becomes shorthand for bitter elderly (wo)man. It’s not the fact of being older that is the issue, it is the assumptions many people make, that somehow older folks have hardened and brittled over time, are constantly clucking their wizened tongues and making judgments about kids today and how the world has changed while they’ve stood still. This is a mold that deserves to be broken.

In most cases, I avoid fitting neatly into a category. Who wants to be poured into place? My abundance cannot be contained. But sometimes I want a tribe, my people, a group of all ages, not always looking on the bright side, the ones who cultivate their shadow selves, who exist in the dappled light of the forest, where things are not always as they seem, and the rock that might trip you up hides in the shade.

I am fine with this darkness, with this ambiguity. But I weary of being the lone voice, the one who names what is often nameless.

Image from Books by Caroline Miller.

Nothing from nothing

The prompt? Dripping. I’ve got nothing here. Nothing. Do I enter the world of plumbing, or provide the sensual, blurred image of a body emerging from the shower, the droplets gathering on the tile floor, the towel waiting to gently buff the skin? Should I get sarcastic and just let her drip? I am noncommittal. Nothing to see here. The thin layer of tension on the surface keeps me from slipping my big toe into something. I float along on nothing.

I am burned out. Or not particularly inspired. To plunge past my reluctance requires an emotional commitment, and I am saving myself for marriage, for the one that I love, the one who won’t leave me behind. I avoid avoidance, worrying over the equation that somehow works though nothing equals nothing else.

In the fight between being and nothingness, nothingness is definitely winning out here. WWSD?
What would Sartre do? Well, I suppose he would say that in the face of nothingness and our own eventual extinction, we must create meaning or else risk being pulled into the abyss. You can’t live off of nothing. You can’t live in nothing. Surely I’ve got something going on.

Defining myself by my family is derivative. Defining myself by my work is confusing. Is it the writing? Well, that’s paltry. Is it the graduate program? That might be the totally wrong path, though I keep at it. So I’m struggling with it right now. You’ve got my moment as my moment exists. I guess you would call this authenticity. I’ve got
that covered. For now.

So I listen to Billy Preston and forget all this philosophical BS.

From the prompt “Dripping.”

Image from
Pleasure Photo.

The history of things

I bought the rug after my divorce, something to put under one of my marital spoils, an antique British dining table from a shop on 18th Street in Adams Morgan. An Indian man with a pale, puffy wife and a couple of kids owned the shop, the table a find my first husband and I snagged during our initial months in the District after moving back from Ohio. The rug was an Ikea purchase, something bright, but not too so, and relatively cheap. Seventeen years later, frayed and stained, it remains under that table in the room adjacent to the office where I write.

My second husband and I bought an antique French armoire at the same place, shortly after we moved into an apartment a couple of blocks away. The armoire, designed to be broken down for easy storage and shipment, is now in pieces under the guest room bed. I have an urge to set it up, to re-oil its cracked, patterned surface and let it spread its lovely walnut veneer wings and fly again. But the thing is designed for grand spaces. It is out of proportion to our 1914 renovated Berkeley bungalow, much more attuned to the apartment on Wyoming, and the large living room with high ceiling and tiled fireplace. The four-story building was built only a few years before our current house was constructed, but in the idiom of a Washington, DC townhouse, big, wide, and urban.

Three cats have died since I bought those pieces, and a dog, too. A child arrived, and new cats, and a dog that is not so new now and has a heart murmur. The antique shop closed up some time after we moved to Wyoming Avenue. It was open less and less frequently, and when it was, the pale, puffy wife was absent. Phantom children had left their handprints in the dust, their footprints in miniature on the concrete floor. We would stop by, anonymous, forgettable, and as the man from India talked antiques, he would swipe his hand over his hair distractedly, like something was missing, some part of himself incomplete.

From the prompt “The rug.”

Image by me.
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