Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Writing

Little Girl Speakings | Maya Angelou

Here’s a poem for children. A taunt song of sorts, best heard when recited out loud, with appropriate emphasis on key words. Perhaps you’ve sung songs like this to yourself many times. My comments follow.

Little Girl Speakings

Ain’t nobody better’n my Daddy,
you keep yo’ quauter,
I ain’t yo’ daughter.
Ain’t nobody better’n my Daddy.

Ain’t nothing prettier’n my dollie,
heard what I said
don’t pat her head,
Ain’t nothing prettier’n my dollie.

No lady cookinger than my Mommy,
smell that pie,
see I don’t lie,
No lady cookinger than my Mommy.

Maya Angelou, in Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou
Published by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, 2013

quauter–quarter
cookinger–better as a cook

All my childhood I waged a double war. One war was with my father, at home. There I was his ‘problem,’ and he was the man sent by God to correct the problem. Maya Angelou’s poem wouldn’t have worked for this home-grown war.

The second war, however, was with childhood acquaintances and classmates who seemed to think male clergymen were sissies, or at least not ‘real men.’ Unless, of course, they were senior pastors in one of the big churches in the city. In their eyes, my father wasn’t one of the ‘real men.’ I know this because I watched their faces as I tried to explain my father’s situation.

Maya Angelou’s poem can be read as an in-your-face response to people who believe their privileged families and circumstances are better than her own. Note the repeated words ‘nobody,’ ‘nothing,’ and ‘no lady.’ She leaves no room for doubt. She has the best deal in town. They do not.

I can also imagine Angelou writing this poem for young girls surrounded by a better-than-thou, unforgiving world. Her poem is a gift of empirical, emotional truth. It’s for all young girls learning to take care of themselves and their voices, especially when the world wants to ignore and belittle them and their circumstances.

In either case, the hero in this poem isn’t Daddy, Mommy, or even ‘my dollie.’ It’s the young girl who dares to sing this song over and over, no matter the circumstances. Think of it as voice training for the 21st century.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 February 2019
Photo of young Maya Angelou found at atlantablackstar.com

For women of a certain age

Restless mind and body
search for direction –
Ways to speak into the void
of life counting down –
One day and night at a time
Relentless

Heaviness hangs on my eyelids
I want to sleep – or do I ?
Maybe I don’t want to be
Awake

It’s easier that way –
And who would know the difference
between sweet sleep and
fear-driven avoidance?

For what was this body/soul created?

Maybe I missed something
In the directions for women
of a certain age and temperament

I’m more than a statistic.
Writing when Awake is dangerous.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 February 2019
Photo of sunset in the Black Forest found at pixabay.com

Evensong

My feet ache
relieved and resting
The humidifier hums
in the background
Soft cotton
envelopes each leg

Pajamas are my
evening friend
holding me close

Wrapped in
my mother’s shawl
breath comes
and goes easy

The old house creaks
beneath D’s feet

Whatever today
was about slips
away with each
exhaled breath
cleansing this
body I call home
sweet home

Today I went to see my Lucy Pacemaker heart doctor. As expected, my irregular heartbeat is growing with each passing year. I don’t like it. I am, however, grateful for each day and night I’m given.

While sitting in the doctor’s office I reviewed my recent journal entries. Then I read and reread a chapter from Upstream, a collection of Mary Oliver’s essays and poems. She describes how she moved beyond difficult situations of her childhood. Her solution was twofold: immersion in the natural world, and in the world of literature. As she describes it, these were “the gates through which I vanished from a difficult place” (p. 14).

So here I am, near the end of my life, finding myself living more and more in the worlds of music and writing. My own and that of others. My pared-down yet equally exciting (to me) version of upstream living. Leaving behind, yet drawing on the unsolvable puzzle of my childhood almost without noticing it.

I wrote the poem above just before Christmas. There’s something magical about capturing in words the simple wonders of my life. I might enjoy wandering in a forest somewhere. However, I choose to stay close to home. Close to D and Smudge. Close to the bone. Close to this last fling. Close to my journal and my heart.

Thanks for reading and listening.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 February 2019
Photo of Milky Way Night Sky found on pixabay

Why Mary Oliver’s words matter

A few years ago a friend introduced me to Mary Oliver via one of her books of poetry, Thirst. Spare on words and extravagantly beautiful, her forty-three poems grabbed my heart and my imagination. The collection focuses on her grief after the death of her longtime partner, and her struggle to find words that capture the reality of her faith.

Mary Oliver challenges me in ways similar to Emily Dickinson, with one exception. Oliver’s poetry, also heavy with meaning, is remarkably and painfully direct. In each poem she invites me to enlarge the way I see, experience and respond to what seems everyday and ordinary.

Since her death on January 17, scores of visitors have visited this site looking for posts about Mary Oliver. At the top of the list: It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, a poem about prayer.

In the last week I’ve read and listened to multiple tributes to Mary Oliver. Her poetry is stunning; her challenge to us as human beings is direct and piercing: Wake up, Observe, Report. Not simply about nature, but about this world and its creatures as part of God’s great poem. A reality we ignore to our great loss.

Here’s one of Mary Oliver’s shorter poems. I love the way it makes simple what isn’t always easy.

Musical Notation: 2

Everything is His.
The door, the door jamb.
The wood stacked near the door.
The leaves blown upon the path
that leads to the door.
The trees that are dropping their leaves
the wind that is tripping them this way and that way,
the clouds that are high above them,
the stars that are sleeping now beyond the clouds

and, simply said, all the rest.

When I open the door I am so sure so sure
all this will be there, and it is.
I look around.
I fill my arms with the firewood.
I turn and enter His house, and close His door.

Mary Oliver, from poems in Thirst, p. 38; published by Beacon Press (2006)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 January 2019

Dancing in the face of partisan politics

Pray tell me
How do I dance
In the face of partisan politics
Straining to separate me
From other human beings

And how do I dance with freedom
In the face of threats
To undo me
Or you
Or us

Age and health
Weigh heavily on me
As does diminished ability to move
Freely on my own

And this dance floor seems too small
To hold my aching heart
Longing for more
Than I can ever accomplish

Or perhaps
The ‘more’ is already here

Behind and around me
Invisible
Doing what You intend it to do
Making its way unseen in
Bits and pieces I gladly gave away
And passed along so that
They don’t belong to me
Anymore

As health issues come creeping or crashing into my life, I feel like fighting back. Making sure I’m still out there, doing my thing. I feel the tug of wanting to make a difference.

Perhaps it’s time to rest, dream and even drift through each day. Grateful for living this long. Grateful for opportunities to connect with neighbors near and far.

It seems slow dancing is what’s called for. Listening to internal and external music. Connecting with family, neighbors and strangers. Reading. Listening. Praying for the next generation. And writing my heart out. Preparing for whatever is around the next corner.

Elouise

Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 November 2018

silence of dense fog | health update

pinpoint clarity
flashes bright light on needles
silence of dense fog
wraps thick trunks in mystery
highlights tiny spider web

Despite gorgeous crystal-like drops of water, the overall scene is beautifully murky and mysterious. Which is how I’m feeling today about what’s happening in my life and in my body.

For several weeks I’ve wanted to find a few connections outside my everyday circle of friends and acquaintances. Today I have several wonderful options. Not too many, and not too few. Just the way I like it! More about that in a later post.

In addition, I’ve had some disconcerting health stuff hanging around the edges for several weeks. Nothing specific, but it all takes me to a murky place I don’t understand. Among other things this has included anxiety, lethargy, tremors, and some confusion from time to time.

On Monday I had a 3-month checkup with Dr. K, my wonderful integrative medicine doctor. She reviewed my latest blood work. It looked much better than it did when I began seeing her just over two years ago for adrenal exhaustion.

Dr. K also told me I have three of four genetic markers for CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome). Think of CIRS as cumulative, chronic inflammation that’s often mistaken for other things. The primary cause: mold buildup in the body. When unaddressed, mold-induced problems can be a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s Disease. About 25% of the population have versions of CIRS.

Unfortunately, people sometimes don’t recognize or attend to symptoms of CIRS in senior citizens. They’re interpreted as part of old age.

I’m taking a couple of easy tests to help figure out what’s going on. One involves a kit that will identify where mold resides in our house. I’m also going to take an online Vision Contrast Sensitivity Test. Then Dr. K will get me started on a treatment plan.

Today I’m cautiously hopeful, and am taking extra care to treat my body well. Like a little baby that wants to be loved and cared for.

Thanks again for listening. I decided I’d rather tell you this than sit on it and try to keep going ‘as usual’ — whatever that’s supposed to mean these days.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 October 2018
Photo found at wallpaperweb.org

Conversations that matter

On 21 April 2016, I broke my jaw and my wings were clipped. Not just by the broken jaw, but by a string of unanticipated health events that followed. Today it takes time to attend to my aging body.

So I often wonder what the meaning of my life is now. Why am I here? I know I’m going to die. So what about the meantime, in whatever time I have left on this earth? Is blogging it? I love blogging, but….

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a friend and former colleague at the seminary. Would I be willing to interview a seminarian working on her MA degree? The answer was Yes! Of course! Big smiles and happiness! A high point in my life!

So this last week I spent time on the phone with her. Lots of time. We didn’t talk about the fine points of my life as a pastor (which I am not). Instead, we talked about the not-so-fine points of my life as a survivor of childhood abuse. Especially what it took in my late 40s to begin the long process of healing while I was professor and then dean at the seminary.

Why was this conversation a high point for me? Because it let me know I still have something to say. Especially, but not only to women and men preparing for ministry in churches, or for leadership in religious organizations.

Blogging about my experience has been and still is part of my healing. Yet nothing beats a one-on-one conversation, or a small group discussion in which I’m able to talk about what it took for me to begin healing.

We’re all dealt cards we didn’t ask for, even before the moment we’re born. Going into a professional position or a new job doesn’t magically make all that disappear. In fact, it often triggers it. Understanding how trauma shaped and still shapes us is worthy of our best efforts. Not alone, but together.

I don’t know how this will play out. Nonetheless, I’m hoping for more informal opportunities in which my personal and professional experiences come together in surprising ways.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 October 2018

The morning after the week before

Dancing in aisles around subjects
We wish we could avoid
Drunk with lust for power
Or sidelined as spectators
We are the worst circus in town
At war with ourselves in a script
Written in the heat of battle
Directed from the top down
Delivered on time or die the death
Of a thousand retributions

When did we become what we have become? Or has it always been this way?

In either case, we’ll get nowhere until we commit ourselves to listening and responding appropriately to the voices of survivors and to those who care deeply for their well-being.

As for survivors, we are many. Telling our stories matters. Listening to our stories matters. Working with us instead of against us makes a difference. So does ignoring, belittling or taunting us.

Recently I’ve been reading Intoxicated by My Illness, by Anatole Broyard. It’s about life and death. It’s also about his own approaching death. He’s brutally honest, funny, sad, thought-provoking and more. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re dealing with your own mortality.

Here’s a quote from page 68, revised to fit my gender. I don’t think Anatole Broyard would mind.

The dying woman has to decide how tactful she will be.

Anatole Broyard, Intoxicated by My Illness, p. 68
Compiled and edited by Alexandra Broyard
Published by Ballantine Books
© 1992 by the Estate of Anatole Broyard

Yes, this is about the way I deal with myself and others. I’m dying a bit each day. It doesn’t matter whether I have a diagnosed terminal illness. I don’t have time to beat around the bush or hide behind polite niceties. Or promise to do things I know I cannot do.

This also has to do with this moment in our nation’s history, and the importance of survivors speaking out against all odds. I still have a few things I’d like to add to the conversation. How about you?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 October 2018

chilled blood huddles

chilled blood huddles
beneath waves of hot anger
shot from unchecked mouths
with deadly accuracy
the clock ticks down to nothing

I wrote these words on Friday evening, the day after last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings of Dr. Christine Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. The poem attempts to capture in words the look, sound and feel of time running out.

But for whom is it running out? I don’t think we’ll know that for a while, no matter how this plays out.

In the meantime, I understand this about myself as an adult survivor of violence toward women:

My responsibility is to take care of myself,
not to change the culture of violence toward women

I didn’t think this up by myself. I heard it in a public radio interview with a woman working on behalf of sexually assaulted persons. Her comment rang true, given my sense of despair and hopelessness.

I need to keep the focus on my sanity and health. Take care of myself.

The images and words I saw and heard during the Judiciary Committee hearings took me right back to the meeting with my parents in 1993. When I left that meeting I knew I couldn’t change my father’s attitude toward me, or my mother’s loyalty to him as her husband.

Yet perhaps I might make a difference for other survivors, or even for a few perpetrators. I still think that’s possible.

Most difficult is the high level of commitment I need just to take care of myself. Daily. Especially as I age. And then there are those unpredictable bombshells that keep hitting the news.

So here I am, still committed to telling the truth about myself. Not simply as a survivor, but as a thriving adult woman given an opportunity to make a difference, beginning with herself.

Thanks again for listening.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 October 2018

The Ring of Truth

Yesterday morning I brainstormed themes and titles for a post—all over the page of my spiral notebook. The page got more crowded by the minute. So I gave up, and began writing my Memo to White Women in the USA.

Today our national controversy is even greater than it was yesterday. For some it’s all about party politics and the next Supreme Court Justice.

For others, it’s about the need to take seriously what Dr. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Ford talked about. Right now, everyday women and their supporters are coming out of the woodwork. Galvanized. Ready to insist on truth no matter how much it may cost them personally.

So I’m back to my page of unused themes and titles. But first I have a challenge. If you’ve never written out your story, at least for yourself, I challenge you to do that now, not later. Not just what happened to you, but how it made you feel.

There’s power in the act of writing your story down. Making it visible. Word by word. Line upon line. As it comes out, unedited and raw. It doesn’t matter whether it’s poetry or prose. Just so it rings true to you. You don’t have to show it to anyone at all. Especially if they’re people you don’t trust.

I wept gallons working on what became some of my early posts. I also had a trusted professional who worked with me when my writing raised things I had to deal with. Sometimes they were about unfinished business. Other times they were about how to take care of myself. I highly recommend seeking trustworthy professional help. Especially when past experiences keep spilling over into the present.

So here are several titles without stories. Maybe they’ll get you thinking, or coming up with your own better titles for your story. They might even prompt you to begin a list of things you remember and wish you could forget.

The Ring of Truth
Against All Odds
Marked for Life
Strength in Weakness
This Woman’s Burden
Broken not Bent
No Prize for a Good Performance
I Dared Say No
At Great Cost
Free at Last
Daddy’s Little Girl
I Married a Predator
I Thought He Loved Me

Perhaps you don’t think this is all that important. Well….You’re important, and that’s enough all by itself.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 September 2018
Image found at India.com

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