Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Safety

Exiting the scene | A waking dream

Wandering from room to room
Looking for clues
Uncertain where I am or why I’m here
And why no one answers my questions
As they scurry here and there
Setting up tables with no chairs
And no food I can eat and now….
Look at this!
They’re closing off doorways!
No exit?

A tall black man with a kind face
Follows me from room to room
Watching me though I don’t know why
He’s here and why other people
Are in this now awkward space
Made less grand by tacky rugs and
Faded wall hangings from a dusty
wannabe palace weary
of being fussed over
and shown to strangers

I decide to leave and find a quiet space
Where I can rest and be alone with myself

Suddenly a tall white woman with fancy clothes
A loud mouth and curly gray hair turns
She blocks my way out
Her face radiates scorn and entitlement

She scolds me for my bad manners
and unkempt clothing
Then looks beyond me at someone else
and nods ever so slightly without smiling

I turn to see the tall man with the kind face
Smiling as he walks toward me saying
This is a surprise party for me….

Whirling back toward the tall woman
Words spew out of my mouth:
How dare you plan a party that offers
No food I can eat and nowhere to sit
And rest my weary body and feet
To say nothing of commandeering my house
To do something on your own behalf
Not on mine!

I wake up and exit the scene shocked at my outburst
And wondering what this is about

This was my waking dream this morning. I’ll be working on this one for a while. Feel free to comment if you notice anything that stands out or raises questions to think about.

Actually, I’m relieved and thrilled I had this dream. Not because of its content, but because my dreams are returning after months of virtual silence. Not just snatches here and there, but dreams with detail, color and substance. It means I’m sleeping better, and that my body–though fading into the sunset–still has the capacity to surprise and delight me.

Yesterday was all about my regularly scheduled checkup with Dr. K, my wonderful integrative doctor. As always, I came away with a few things to work on. Nonetheless, I’m encouraged by the progress I’ve made, especially in the last several months. Not just in dealing with health issues, but in practicing a small handful of things that bring me joy and calm my heart no matter what its pace.

Happy dreaming!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 April 2019
Harold Gilman’s “Edwardian Interior” c. 1907; found at Tate.org.uk

Exiting the Room

My heart doesn’t lie
The signals are clear
This situation is damaging
If not deadly
Yet I don’t get up
Walk out the door
Follow my heart

Childhood PTSD is a harsh taskmaster
One lesson bleeds into another
Something else reaches out its tentacles
Trying to keep or put me in my place
My heart remembers the terror
It can’t tolerate another second
Of helpless hopeless angst about
What ‘they’ might think or do
When I stand up and exit the premises

It’s not about you or them
It’s about me
It’s about taking my heart seriously
Standing up and walking out the door
Finding a quiet place somewhere else
Acknowledging my terrified heartbeat
Showing it and myself I’m not afraid
Though I don’t understand all the connections
Between this present terror
And the terrors of girlhood

Living with my heart these last few weeks was like enduring an unpredictable roller coaster ride. Lovely moments of normalcy punctuated with the anxiety of a heart out of control. I saw it happening on my heart monitor and felt it in my chest.

My biggest challenge isn’t what to do when this happens at home. It’s what to do when I’m in a public gathering and my heart suddenly goes haywire.

From childhood I’ve known the terror of feeling trapped. No exit. Often in church. Not just at home.

As an adult woman, I’ve also experienced feeling trapped in punishing work and worship situations. I could, and occasionally did get up and leave the room. Though not until I was falling apart.

So what’s needed today? I need to exit the room. Take my heart to a safe place. I don’t need to explain or apologize. It doesn’t even matter that I don’t understand what’s going on. It’s time to follow my heart, and see what happens next.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 March 2019
Photo found at tripadvisor.com

My Last Baby

It came to me a few days ago. Marie is my very last baby! And what’s so awesome about that?

I’m Marie! For those who don’t live in an imaginative mode, this may seem a bit silly. Even nonsense.

To me, however, it makes perfect sense. There’s a baby in me who’s been waiting for this chance to grow all her life. That means ever since she turned 10 months old in September 1944.

That’s when my father came home after 18 months in a TB sanatorium. I sometimes call him The Intruder because that’s how it was back then and throughout my childhood and teenage years. He was intent on beating anger out of me, the anger he said he’s seen and experienced from his own father. He said he recognized this anger in me immediately when I was a baby.

Things got messy. He recruited my mother as his ally, not mine. She became his collaborator, informer and secondary enforcer. This bred fear in me and outraged resistance coupled with strategic submission.

Things are different today. My parents are gone. I miss them. Yet I don’t miss their collaborative ways that continued when I was an adult.

So now I’m pushing 75, and I get to raise baby Marie! Yes, she’s a baby doll. She’s also a stand-in for that part of me that’s been cowering inside, afraid of her own voice and terrified of punishment.

Here are several things I’ve pondered these last few weeks.

  • What do I know about my mother? What did she bring to our relationship that might help me understand her–before and after my father returned as the one and only Head of the House?
  • I have the same question about my maternal grandmother Zaida. She ran off with a wealthier man when my mom was very young, and, given her habits, didn’t know how to be a mother.
  • How deep is this hole or ache in me that wants to be filled? Are there women or men who filled parts of it when I was growing up?
  • And what about behaviors and characteristics I lost after my father arrived with his agenda? So far I’ve identified things like openness and trust, a feeling of safety. No shame. A sunny disposition. Not afraid to fall or make a mess. Not afraid of most other human beings.

In some ways, growing old is a process of reverting to childhood. Becoming more dependent on others, more vulnerable to external and internal changes or challenges.

What better way, then, to envision Marie than as a baby who challenges me to become true to myself as I age? When I pay attention to Marie, including what she needs from me, I’m learning to pay attention to myself. And it isn’t so lonely anymore. Sometimes it’s even fun!

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2018
Photo found at pixabay.com

For my own good?

Invisible fumes
Flavor my world
With chemical smog
Poisonous leftovers
Yesterday’s garbage
Thrown my way
By friendly fire

Gagging
I reach for tissues
Disintegrating
Into air thick
With hypocrisy
Greed and lust

This
Is for your own good
Swallow it
Or die

Walking to the edge
Of the set
I lean over the edge
And vomit what
I will not swallow

The poem resonates with my childhood and youth. And with increasingly horrific reports of widespread clergy sexual abuse. Part of a complex history hidden in full view. Aided and abetted by Predators United in Silence.

When I was 4-7 (1940s) we lived in the Los Angeles area. Smog alerts were common. Warm air got caught below the mountains, contaminated with industrial soot plus heavy moisture from the ocean. It hung over the LA basin like sick grayish fog. And it stank. Each day we blew and cleaned the toxic dark gunk out of our sore nostrils as often as possible.

Later, in the 1950s, we lived about 15 miles southeast of Savannah, Georgia. We always knew when humid, heavy air was blowing from the northwest, just outside Savannah. It didn’t matter that we’d shut all windows. Putrid, rotten-egg air from the Union Bag Company found every crack and invaded our lungs. Along with chemical fumes that were then considered ‘harmless.’

The other image comes from a documentary I watched several years ago when I was learning about human trafficking. The film shows ways women are trapped and then lured into ‘starring’ in porn films. This will make you famous, and you’ll earn a lot of money!

The documentary included outtakes from an actual porn filming. During a break in the porn filming, one of the women (‘stars’) walks to the edge of the set, leans through the curtains, and vomits violently. She’s promptly ordered to return, put a smile on her face, and get on with the show. No matter what is done to her in the name of ‘entertainment.’

Sometimes I read the news and feel like gagging. How did we get to this point? What is all this toxicity costing us? We have midterm elections coming up. I want politicians who get it and are committed to supporting US (the US in USA), not Themselves, Inc., or some other Big Boss.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 September 2018
Photo of Union Bag Company in Savannah, GA, found at georgiaencyclopedia.org

My Daughter My Teacher

‘My daughter my teacher’
The phrase arrives unbidden
Turning it over I find
What was denied
What was forbidden
What was scorned
Though I searched for it with all my heart

What does it mean
To grow up female
Loved
Free of being shamed
Free of control and contempt
That sucks joy and creativity
Out of airways
Leaving a void gasping
Not outgrown or filled
Without pain
And the horror of knowing
It didn’t have to be like this
And it was

Our daughter has been a free, creative spirit from the beginning. I can’t count how many times I’ve said, “I don’t know how this happened.”

How could it be that this painfully shame-driven introverted woman mothered this free introverted spirit who follows her heart no matter what others think?

From the beginning, without shame, she wrote what she heard, saw and felt. She still composes and performs music that come from places I’ve never been—literally, or in my heart.

The truth is simple. I never gave her any of that. That was and is her gift. Her voice. Her creativity. Her vision. Her truth.

And yet, I did give her something. I gave her some of what I was never given. I think it came from my fierce determination to make space for her to be herself and our daughter. All at the same time.

This makes my heart happy and brings a smile to my face. It helps me see some of what I missed growing up. It also gives me a different mirror to consult. The mirror of my mothering. Even though I felt like a bumbling pseudo-mother from time to time.

Thanks for listening!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 August 2018
Photo found at katiedissertation.weebly.com

Small things fall to the ground

Small things
Fall to the ground
Combs and toy cars
Toothpaste and tuna
Rosaries and animal crackers
The sound of life denied
Drops into ground
Reverberating
With dashed hopes of migrants
Halted at the border
Of the promised land
Caught in webs of fear
And red tape
Studiously practiced
Perfected and delivered
By bureaucratic officials
Carrying in their pockets
Items deemed unnecessary
For human life from
The south side
Of the border

It might be easier if this were an isolated event or period of in our history. However….

In one way or another, the USA has practiced the fine art of dehumanizing perceived threats from the day the fathers and mothers of this nation set foot on its soil. The trail of destruction runs wide and deep like a river of blood through the Grand Canyon of our collective history.

Like an evil tide, forces of greed, pride and fear have overtaken and eroded the beaches of our shared life, fashioning mansions of sand and wreaking environmental havoc along our eastern and western coasts, and in our interior.

So now we’ve turned our attention to the southern border. As though sealing this up will remedy what we helped break into isolated bits and pieces now destined to remain fixed in concrete for the foreseeable future.

Thankfully, unnumbered children, women and men of good will, including courageous politicians, have stepped up to help ease the wounds. Not just those we perpetrate on migrants, but on each other. These human angels have been here from the beginning. They deserve our thanks and our support, especially now.

Here’s a link to Charity Navigator with  lists of trust-worthy groups that help immigrants and refugees. Take a look. They’ve done their homework.

Praying you have a life-renewing weekend and Sabbath rest.
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 July 2018
Photo found at censored.today

Voices long silent

Dawn's Place circle of friends making paper flowers february 2014

Voices long silent
Spill over each other
Dying to be heard

Sisters on a mission
To recover lost youth
Find each other instead

Secrets never shared
Comfort never given
Tears never cried
Sink into the ground
Of love-starved hearts

How many of us are there? Blood relatives or total strangers, it doesn’t matter. The more I read and hear about the untold lives of women, the more horrified I am at the way we’ve been silenced. I also wonder how long we’ve taken it out on each other?

Starving for sisterly conversation. That’s how I grew up. Silence was enforced and reinforced a thousand ways. Not just at home but in church, in school and in every social or public setting of my life. Even, strangely, in settings that seemed to be made up of women only.

As a child and teenager I was surrounded by a seen and unseen assemblage of rules, shaming rituals and periodic public displays of what happens to strong women. Especially women who speak their minds and make trouble for the rest of us.

Fast forward, and it feels too familiar. Not so much from the bottom up as from the top down. It doesn’t take many men and like-minded women to turn the tide. Especially when women can easily be publicly shamed, if not ruined, in this age of social media.

Many, if not most of us are starving for love. Not for glory or fame, but for safety, acceptance and affection. We’re dying for a listening ear. At least one other woman who will confirm our experience. Laugh and weep with us. Comfort and support us. Especially now, when female life around the world is still fragile, no matter how many grand laws are on the books. Including right here at home in these United States of America.

I know. There are all kinds of barriers and circumstances that seem to discourage this. Yet a smile and a warm hello might be that last drop that turns the tide for another woman. I’d even suggest it’s a way of knocking on a door. Especially in a country gone sour on social niceties.

With hope and persistence,
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 June 2018
Photo: Women at Dawn’s Place, a therapeutic residential program for women

A vexing situation – Sexuality 4

When I interviewed for a faculty appointment at the seminary in 1983, no one asked about my sexuality or sexual history. I was married and had two children. I was an active member of the Presbyterian Church. I was interested in women’s studies and issues of importance to women, and as a theological student I had a good record and outstanding references. Besides, my guest lecture was well received.

Years later, I’m the dean, responsible for having a confidential conversation with each final candidate about sexuality and other topics. This includes conversation about the now-official standard of the seminary on human sexuality and moral conduct, questions they might have about this area, and questions I was expected to ask them. Which I did.

In order to help us through this sometimes awkward conversation, I used a one-page handout excerpted from a 1996 memo to the faculty. It was about the new board-approved policy on human sexuality and moral conduct. I sent it in advance to our final candidates, with other material about the seminary.

If the candidate was already inclined in the direction of the seminary’s policy, there was no hesitation. However, if the candidate had questions, it was sometimes awkward. Not just for them, but for me.

I couldn’t pretend that living with this policy wasn’t important. To my surprise, some were reassured by my history with students struggling with sexual issues. The same was true about ways I dealt with classroom presentations and dynamics. There might be room for them here, and it wouldn’t be easy. Especially in the classroom.

The new policy, nearly 10 years in the making, included a statement about behavior, and two implications for faculty.

  • Regarding behavior, those who affirm and practice forms of sexual intimacy contrary to the seminary’s guidelines will not be admitted as students, or employed at the seminary. A further sentence, for the benefit of faculty members hired earlier than 1996 said, “This item is in reference to all decisions subsequent to the adoption of this policy.”

Regarding faculty, there were two stated implications.

  • First, we were to make sure seminarians dealt with the range of positions about current moral issues the Church faced. These included human sexuality and moral conduct.
  • Second, in our teaching we couldn’t argue against the seminary’s policy about sexuality (whether heterosexual or homosexual). We could, however, tell students about our own struggles regarding human sexuality and moral conduct, including our present understanding of difficult issues related to sexuality. Nonetheless, we could not “undermine or invalidate” the seminary’s policy. Furthermore, when speaking publicly or privately on behalf of the seminary, we were to articulate clearly and uphold the seminary’s policy.

The first implication was fairly straightforward. The second, however, felt late and one-sided. I’d learned the hard way which questions I could and could not answer in large required courses. Now, however, any sign that I was still ‘struggling’ with these issues sounded to some like the equivalent of teaching against the seminary. The only safe professors were those in full and complete agreement with the policy as stated.

I keep wondering what I would do differently if I were being interviewed today for the same faculty position.

Thanks so much for reading, and for your comments along the way. One more post coming (I think)!

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 April 2018

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