Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

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

Choosing to embrace the possible

Several weeks ago I finished reading Dr. Edith Eva Eger’s riveting memoir, The Choice. Dr. Eger is in her 90s. She’s a psychotherapist and a survivor of the Holocaust. One of thousands, including her entire family, rounded up by Nazis and sent from Hungary to Auschwitz. This is a 5-star book, well worth reading.

When it appeared the Nazis might not win World War II, Dr. Eger, a young Hungarian Jew teenager, was evacuated from Auschwitz. Eventually she ended up in the Death March of young girls who walked to a prison facility at Gunskirchen in upper Austria. Many didn’t make it.

Dr. Eger begins and ends her memoir by describing her work with several types of clients suffering from PTSD. Each had a different version of PTSD; each had to unravel the tangled knots of past histories; each had to find within him or herself the courage to change.

After recounting her own story, Dr. Eger describes the way these cases challenged her to understand more about her own traumatic experiences as a young Hungarian Jew. Recovery from PTSD isn’t over until it’s over.

The map of Dr. Eger’s journey from Hungary to the USA is convoluted, filled with high personal drama and heartbreaking choices. Some would call it a page-turner. I could only take several pages or short sections at a time.

Here’s what grabbed me: The one thing Dr. Eger did not want to do was, in fact, the most important thing she had to do to be at peace with herself and those she most loved.

This got me thinking. If she still had unfinished work even after she was a well-known, sought-after psychotherapist, what might that mean for me? What have I missed seeing back there in my history?

Short answer: I missed seeing my lost self. Not my family history or my father’s abusive, unyielding treatment of me, but myself! Yet there I was. From the second month of my mother’s pregnancy until I was 10-months old, my father was not a daily presence. He was in a TB sanatorium somewhere, fighting for his life.

Those ten months are a small piece of ground that belong to me. They aren’t marked by his attempts to beat anger out of me and make me into a tame, submissive ‘good girl.’ It’s not too late to take care of that young infant in me. The one I overlooked for so many years.

I highly recommend Dr. Eger’s book, even if you’re only interested in a no-holds-barred, first-hand account of part of World War II. On the other hand, you might also find a bit of your lost self along the way.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 October 2018
Image found at mdmemories.blogspot.com

What next?

Standing alone
Holding what’s left
Of a lovely old body
Weary and dependent
She now begs for mercy
And justice from me
Her semi-absent keeper
Of too many years

What now?
Where now?
What next?
I haven’t a clue.
Have you?

The dilemma of each day. I don’t feel sorry; I feel sad. Last night I had a plan. Then I woke up this morning and my body begged for mercy and justice. My plan changed.

I want to save the world. Or at least what’s left of it. Now. Not later. My body stands there staring at me in the mirror. And what about me? Don’t I count for something?

The responsibility to take care of myself, not the rest of the world, weighs heavy. Not because I don’t know what to do, but because I’d rather be out there fighting for justice and mercy!

How ironic. Looking back, I see patterns that drove me. I also see the high cost my body is paying. Then I think of all the students and friends I’ve exhorted over the years to ‘take care of themselves.’

The title of a book I read in the last year or so comes back to haunt me: The Body Keeps the Score. Indeed it does keep the score. Mercilessly, yet mercifully when I’m willing to pay attention. This is now. Not then. I have choices.

So this morning I cancelled my plan and am listening to my body. Keenly aware that my new baby doll stand-in for me, 10-month old Marie, knows exactly what it means to be abused and taken for granted by someone who claims to love her. Sadly, I have sometimes been my complicit enemy, especially as an adult driven by ghosts from my past.

The sun is out; fall is almost in the air; it looks like a good day for a walk in the neighborhood! And a long look at that lovely photo at the top–a dock that reminds me of my favorite childhood getaway.

Happy Thursday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 October 2018
Photo found at pinterest
Dock on the Skidaway River, Isle of Hope, Georgia

A Conceit | Maya Angelou

This short poem from Maya Angelou resonates today. Especially in light of undeclared and declared wars raging in the USA and around the globe. Note that a conceit is an image or metaphor as often found in poetry. So use your imagination as you read! Maya Angelou is painting a picture in poetic language. My comments follow.

Give me your hand.

Make room for me
to lead and follow
you
beyond this rage of poetry.

Let others have
the privacy of
touching words
and love of loss
of love.

For me
Give me your hand.

Maya Angelou, in Poetry for Young People
Edited by Edwin Graves Wilson, PhD
Illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books

In this short poem I hear Maya Angelou saying two things about life and poetry.

  • Poetry can be emotionally moving while remaining a private indulgence.
  • This poem asks for more than this. Will you come with me?

Her phrase “beyond this rage of poetry” gives us a clue. This rage isn’t about anger. It’s the raging emotions of literary writing. This includes poems that convey deeply felt, sometimes prophetic emotions.

Maya Angelou’s poem demands more than our feelings, our sentimentality. It invites action. Not simply alone, but also together.

It may sound trite to say we need each other. Of course we do. Yet this poem is about more than that.

On its own, poetry can’t bring about change. It doesn’t matter how persuasively a poem describes our agony or our ecstasy, our losses or our love. What matters most is what we do or don’t do about it.

And so Maya Angelou’s poem offers an alternative to living in the private world of poetry. The alternative moves me into public worlds in which I am not yet present just as I am. Vulnerable, a beginner, falling down and getting up to begin again. Hanging onto Maya Angelou’s hand for dear life. Sometimes leading the way.

This first step doesn’t absolve me of responsibility for the direction we take. Yet if I don’t take Maya Angelou’s hand and follow her lead, I won’t discover what we may need to do next.

My gender, color, family background, or other markers of my so-called ‘identity’ won’t help me solve a problem I don’t yet understand.

Where are we going? We’ll find out together, ‘beyond this rage of poetry.’ Beyond its private intensity and enthusiasm of words.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 October 2018
Image found at wikia.com

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

Chilly nights

Chilly nights
Warmish days
Clock ticking
Daylight fading
Mind numbs
Heart beats
Seconds down
End game
Winning score
Closed door
No exit
Straight ahead
Bells chime
Midnight falls

I’m just back from another round of blood-letting. Mine, that is. Seventeen vials again. Peanuts next to what the Red Cross takes (from others, not from me)—100 vials give or take a few.

Nonetheless, after every blood draw I feel like a survivor when I stand up on my own two feet, put my jacket on and walk out the door fully conscious of who I am and where I am. Last time it was a beautiful picture in a well-lit room across the hall that kept me focused.

This time the lights were off across the hall, so I closed my eyes and reverted to my old standby—Psalm 23. I silently repeated this Psalm to myself as a child when I felt anxious or afraid.

I’m not sure what to make of the words at the top. They came dropping into my mind when I sat down to write. Nonetheless, they likely reflect my current focus on the last chapter of my life, now ticking away one minute, one short line, one day at a time.

I also hear an acknowledgement that death is inevitable. I’d rather talk about it than keep it in one of my closets. They’re already full of other stuff I can’t take with me.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 October 2018
Image found at metmuseum.org; European clock about 1735-40

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

Memo to White Women in the USA

While the iron is still hot, I have a few things to say.

Yesterday I watched most of Dr. Ford’s and Judge Kavanaugh’s testimonies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Like Dr. Anita Hill years ago, Dr. Christine Ford stepped up to the microphone and told her truth. I couldn’t help thinking about my experience giving my ‘testimony’ before my father and my mother. Then, as now, it didn’t seem to end well.

Nonetheless, as white women, we have work to do with each other and with men and other women of good will. However, we must immediately consider NOT doing at least one or more of the following:

  • covering for white men who abuse us to our faces and behind our backs
  • believing lies about ourselves as incapable, weak, over-emotional or intruders
  • endorsing candidates for political office because it will keep the family ‘peace’
  • playing our childish popularity playground games
  • settling for lives put on hold until it’s too late
  • looking the other way or shading the truth to protect ourselves
  • going along to get along in politically or emotionally charged situations

Instead, we might try one of these instead:

  • Pick up the phone and dial 911 for ourselves, not just for others
  • Begin describing what life is and is not like for us as white women in the USA
  • Consider who really benefits from our white male loyalty
  • Speak for ourselves, especially when we hope someone else will say it first
  • Refuse to go along to get along in politically or emotionally charged situations

I wonder why, in this age of so-called ‘liberation’, many white women in the USA are still in bondage to the need for White Male Approval? What do we fear? Perhaps we’re so hooked on the power and prestige we get standing by our man that we can’t even imagine living without them.

The demographics of our country have changed dramatically, yet we’re still governed at the highest levels by a huge majority of white men, with occasional token ‘others’ that include white women.

I wonder what might happen if more of us step up to the microphone and begin telling the truth about our white female lives? Or, even more miraculous, when more white men in positions of power begin listening to white women, black women, tan women, mixed-race women, Jewish women, Muslim women, refugee women, little girls and big girls, teenage women and elderly women. To name just a few possibilities.

I don’t think most men know what they’re missing. More’s the pity, since women have things that need to be both said AND heard. Not with a dismissive nod or a patronizing pat on the back, but with resolve to become partners in change for the good of this country and those who inherit the messes we’ve made.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 September 2018

life takes the long road

life takes the long road
through majestic terrain
gleaming and foreboding

daylight falls quickly
below horizons
of narrow vision
ablaze with dying day

This photo, taken in Scotland, is breathtaking. As breathtaking as a single life that burns out boldly before fading into darkness.

It reminds me that what’s happening in and behind the “news” is often not good news, and easily becomes a distraction from the larger picture. The long view doesn’t promise me an eternity. It does, however, invite me to keep my perspective clear.

One of my readers left a wonderful comment in response to yesterday’s post. In it she shared a comment from a friend of hers in India. Here it is–a way of putting things into proper perspective:

WORLD: How could you stay in the Church after all the scandal?
ME: You don’t leave Jesus because of Judas.

Here’s to a thoughtful Tuesday.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 September 2018
Photo found at pixabay.com

And what of those sinned against?

And what of those sinned against –
Bathsheba and Tamar,
The concubine cut up into pieces
By her Levite priest owner,
The two virgin daughters of Lot,
And millions of wounded women and men
Sitting in yet another dock wondering
How long their nightmares will last?

How can we beg God for forgiveness
And enjoy the fruits of mercy
Without even a nod to our victims
Who daily carry within and upon
Their embodied souls a lifetime
Of self-punishment as though they
Could ever atone for their broken selves?

They sit beside us in the pews (or not)
Afraid to tell their unwelcome truths
Terrified of whispers and innuendo
Choking on heaped-up tamped-down shame
And fear that they are indeed to blame
For predatory practices wielded skillfully
By church-going men or even women
Who now worship God freely and
Joyously believing all has been forgiven
When they haven’t begun to make amends
To those they harmed including themselves

I don’t have answers. Just questions this morning.

1. What does it mean to go to church carrying shame in a body meant to be loved and set free?
2. How do we begin to notice and reach out to listen and learn, not to fix what we may quickly decide is the true ‘problem’ when it isn’t?
3. Indeed, how do we come clean about our own unhealed wounds that will surely be exposed when we’re telling our truth?

The poem above comes from multiple experiences of being turned into ‘the problem’ I was not. Too often this was about my femaleness, which supposedly justified problems and attitudes that originated with others, usually men.

To all such people, including members of my family plus some pastors, employers and work or church-related colleagues:

Your problems are not rooted in my body,
my soul, my mind, my emotions,
my mouth, the look on my face,
or what I happened to be wearing that day.

On the other hand, I could learn from you if you’re interested and I’m not scared shitless. Otherwise, we’ll just keep soldiering on in our walled-off worlds, teetering precariously from time to time until it’s too late.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 September 2018

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