My parents’ marriage


Mom and Dad, laughing at Lake Arrowhead, circa 1956


My parents had a really happy marriage.  They met and fell in love in a Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) high school in Los Angeles.   Basically good and good-looking, outdoorsy, kids, they rebelled against their church’s strict rules against drinking, smoking, and pre-marital sex.  Before they got hitched, at the frighteningly young ages of 21 and 22, they shared sleeping bags while camping out before the Rose Bowl Parade.  The early years of their marriage were hard.   My father was in medical school and worked 24 hours at a time in the hospital before going on to his part-time jobs at a gas station and a mortuary.  He didn’t have time to think, let alone feel.  My mother, though, grew lonely and depressed at her secretarial position and afterwards, trying to attend to four year-old me and my much cuter and quieter two year-old brother.  Just because we had been running around all day at our grandmother’s house playing with our uncles and cousins didn’t mean we were tired, or that dinner and the dirty house would take care of themselves.

Mom and Dad in matching Norwegian sweaters with my mother's brothers
Mom and Dad, before they got married, with my mother’s brothers and a snowy friend.
My beautiful picture

Mom and Dad, exploring gold mines and camping somewhere in California, circa 1957

The U.S. Army drafted my father right out of medical school and my parents opted to spend three years in Germany in lieu of two years in Texas.  Although it was difficult at first, especially since my father had to train for six months away from the family, the easier work schedule and social life that they found on the base gave my parents the opportunity to turn towards one another again.  Both of them enjoyed skiing and traveling and socializing with people from different cultures, ethnic groups, and religions. They explored Europe together, usually with my brother and me, but also alone or with friends.

My beautiful picture

Mom and Dad clowning around with their friends at a party on the base in Augsburg, Germany, circa 1966

I remember them laughing, but cannot think of a single time I saw them yelling or arguing at one another. Disagreements usually had to do with money—my father thought my mother spent too much on clothing for herself and the kids, while my mother complained that he spent too much on his sailboats.  He generally deferred to her in actually enjoyed spending money on her, because she was beautiful and elegant and looked great in diamonds.  She appreciated how hard he worked to pay for luxuries and went along with his enthusiasms, such as sailing, even though she never got as excited about it as he did.

My beautiful pictureShe enjoyed just being in his company, she said, even if he seemed to be ignoring her behind his computer monitor.  Both came from musical families that valued classical music.  My mother also liked popular songs but deferred to my father’s more intellectual interests in jazz and opera when they sat together in the evenings.  My father admired my mother’s taste in decorating, so if he decided what they did together, then my mother determined how the boat or the home they did it in would look and feel.  My father liked to jokes and my mother liked to laugh. She laughed at everyone’s jokes. Mum Dad & K

One of the most important lessons I learned from my mother is that one’s husband should be interesting.  “Your father never bores me,” she said.  He loved the way she rubbed his neck on long family car journeys.  While my mother probably dedicated more cognitive room to my father than he did to her, and was generally less able to discuss his feelings, she was emotionally intelligent enough not to read any irritation or frustration he expressed as an attack on her person.

Family Latta

Dad, Kari, Kimberly, Chris, and Mom, in front of our home, 1986

My father’s temperament was basically sweet, and both of my parents had strong, emotionally involved mothers, so it was easy  for him to accept her dominance in the household.  She respected his dominance in the business and financial spheres.  He wasn’t too keen on her wish for another child in her late thirties, but he went along with it because he loved her.   He also accepted very little responsibility for the nurturing of my sister.  “Joan, your child is crying,” I can remember him saying.

They accepted stereotypical gendered roles without buying into a philosophy of male dominance.  My father had some old-fashioned attitudes, but he respected intelligence and ability in women.  Both of them were strongly pro-choice.  They pursued different hobbies but generally practiced them together (Mom needle pointed or read while Dad puttered on the boat). Mom never did master the black runs and usually got cold long before Dad, but she was a good sport and headed out with him every day.

Mom and Dad on the slopes,  Sun Valley, circa 1979

Mom and Dad on the slopes, Sun Valley, circa 1979

Because my father’s job was so demanding, they had to learn how to entertain themselves separately, but they shared the same Southern Californian, SDA roots as well as the same dream of a healthy, happy, family in which parents and children spent a lot of time together outside having fun.  They planned a rich, relaxing, athletic retirement together, but that dream never came true.  My mother died of colon cancer after a short illness in 1990.  She was 54.  Dad remarried another woman from the same high school, but she was an altogether different sort of person and did not bring my father much joy.  Truly happy marriages are rare and precious.

Mom, as seen by Dad, on Freya, circa 1981

Mom, as seen by Dad, on Freya, circa 1981

My parents taught me a great deal about what a good relationship looks like.  Partners do well when they admire each other’s  interests and respect their different strengths.  I also think a man who bores a woman will soon lose her, no matter what else may offer, and that mutual admiration and toleration for one another is vital for long-term happiness.  My parents’ good marriage will always inform my interpretations of other relationships.  It will also help me, a committed feminist and apprentice psychotherapist, to see that even couples who adopt relatively rigid gender roles can share power equally and effectively.

Getting home after a Holocaust: Dream, August 21, 2013


I was at a picnic, and all my neighbors and friends and family were there, even my son’s father.  The weather was so lovely and we were all having such a lovely time, that it saddened me to know that I my son was at home, probably sitting in the dark, feeling lonely and miserable.  So I left the happy scene and headed for the house, just a few blocks away.

Suddenly I was driving our old 1967 white Mercedes, and people started massing into the streets.  I slammed on the brakes, barely missing an old man.  Up ahead I saw tiny grey clouds wafting up from the ground all around us.  A policeman stopped me at an intersection, and, crouching down, shouted for everyone to take cover.  I didn’t feel very frightened as I hunched behind the steering wheel.

The ground shook violently in a thundering explosion. Something had blasted part of the road away.  The policeman stood up and ordered everyone to stay away from the punctures in the asphalt, but I had already started to drive ahead, through the tunnel where I thought I saw enough good road to get me  home, to Brendan, to see if he was all right.  No policeman would separate me from my child.

nuclear 2

But my car wheels grazed one of the steaming potholes and the whole surface gave way, pulling my car down with it!  I scrambled out the window up onto the side of the sinking car, and, using my mountain-climbing skills (which I seem to need in many of my dreams lately), I pulled myself up the enormous, concrete wall and up onto a ledge.  Unfortunately, the earthquake had pushed the road far, far beneath me, probably ten stories down.  Trapped!

The policeman was rescuing a man stranded int about 5 stories down with a cherry picker.  He was directly below me.  “Help! Help! Help!” I shouted at him.  He seemed to ignore me but soon came zooming up to bring me down.

I got into a bus with a number of other women and men, each of them as dazed as I was.  We talked about our symptoms: racing hearts, shaking hands, difficulty moving, hazy, slow thinking.  “We’ve been traumatized. This is normal,” I said.  Brendan’s father was on the bus, too.  I threw my arms around him and cried, “I am so grateful that you are here.  We must always stay together.”  We would look for Brendan together.

They took us to a police station where officious men and women made us take a test.  Each person had to do a different thing. To me, they said, “look into this light and speak as fast as you can.”  They didn’t tell me what they wanted me to say, but indicated that my fate depended on my words.  I burbled out my accomplishments, my virtues, my job experiences, my talents, anything I could think of.  Someone else had to type as quickly as she could on an old-fashioned keyboard that was difficult to operate.  Some people were not allowed to take the test.  I could not see where Brendan’s father had gone to.

I must not have done well because they sent me to a labor camp processing radioactive pigs, where workers typically lasted for no longer than 5 years.  “It’s better than dying now, isn’t it?,” one of the officious people asked me, not expecting an answer.  Less than a minute after I arrived, I stumbled into one of the boiling vats on the assembly line and began coughing up blood.  A man with hollowed cheeks and sunken eyes in a strangely puffy, yellow face, held me as I retched.

I learned that the earthquake had jolted me far forward in time, and that the entire planet had fallen under the control of giant casinos.  All other businesses had failed, and now the gaming industry ran all public and private institutions.  Even though I had a Ph.D. and many years of teaching experience, I had not attended a casino-run university, and, therefore, my qualifications had no value.

Somehow I got home to the house, after all, years later, and found Brendan.  “You are safe!  You stayed here!” I cried out joyfully.  “No,” he replied.  “I left.  And I traveled for years and learned many things.

Telling the Story of My Son


It is difficult to tell a story true or slant.  I have edited this post since I first composed it, because some of the things I wrote were hurtful and not precisely true.  I have a point of view, of course, and was in many cases interpreting or guessing at events that I did not witness.  It also does no good to open up old wounds or to speak about things that took place in the past.  It is not helpful to blame other people for things turning out differently than I hoped they would, and it is also not responsible.  

I will try to tell the story of my son, who is 22.  When he was very little, he had a difficult temperament. He was easily upset by loud noises, including the vacuüm cleaner, and often unable to soothe himself to sleep.  We tried to be good parents, but we were young and far from our families and we made many mistakes.

I suffer from depression and my illness got very bad when my mother died–just months before I gave birth. I cried a lot during my pregnancy and afterwards.   About two years after my mother died, my father married a woman who made everyone, including my father, miserable.

My depression got much worse, but, with the help of friends, medication, and a good therapist, to control it enough to finish my dissertation and find a job.  Unfortunately, I was not able to hold my marriage together.  I made many serious mistakes that I deeply regret.

At any rate, we separated when my son was 6–and I moved to a separate state to take the job I had found–tenure track English professor. Very hard to come by and I had worked hard to get it. The agreement we had, after much battling with lawyers, was 50/50 custody but our son would live with his dad for two years and then come to live with me.

I was able to work but got more and more depressed, being so far away from my son. Some days I would collapse on the kitchen floor and weep. Other days I would just lie down on in the room I had made up for him and cry myself to sleep.

Finally I got a jot a lot closer to my son, in Pittsburgh, and the drive was only 4 hours, so I could visit him more often.  He came to live with me later.

My son is an incredibly intelligent young man but  he has a hard time with maths. He was diagnosed with some learning disabilities, but I think his biggest problem was a lack of  patience and discipline. He never learned to keep track of his assignments or to complete them. I helped him with this as best I could while he was in Pittsburgh, but the schools were sooo terrible–I tried four—and my son was clearly so depressed going to them in Pittsburgh –that I ended up sending him back to his old school, where he had friends and a few teachers who understood him and could help him.

So, he lived with his father and his stepmother from age 6 to age 10, and from age 11 to 17, when he graduated from high school. After years of dismal grades he  applied himself during his senior year and got As and Bs.

When my son was about 12 his father and stepmother adopted a Chinese baby.  They all traveled to China to pick her up. My son liked the journey but for some mysterious reason never got very attached to his sister. His father and stepmother never asked him if he wanted a sister, or included him in the decision. I think he resented this. I don’t know for sure, but it could also be that he feared his father and stepmother loved this child more than they loved him.

He began to withdraw more and more.  He had never been like other children, but he had always had a good set of healthy and happy friends.  As he got older he spent more and more time alone.  He stayed up late playing computer games and was exhausted during the day.  He did not learn how to discipline himself to complete or to take pride in his schoolwork.

He started college in Washington State, but stayed only 6 months and failed all his classes. He got involved in a Strurm-und-Drang relationship a girl he had known in high school, and somehow persuaded the college she was attending to admit him.  After a year, the school suspended him for bad grades.  He was clearly not ready for college.

Then he came home to Pittsburgh, where the tormenting girl continued to torment him, and he to torment her. Finally that relationship fell apart and he began a new one with a girl from a very troubled home (he is drawn to people from troubled home).

For a while, she spent her time living with friends in a kind of flophouse, where everyone smokes cigarettes and watches tv most of the time. The house is filthy and he doesn’t like it but he is not able to leave her and they don’t have the money to live anywhere else.

She attends hair-dressing school on a GI scholarship that he gets through her father.She can only go to school part-time because she doesn’t have a driver’s license or car and relies on her roommate to take her to and from school. Also she will not or cannot get up before 11 o’clock in the morning.

My son also never got his license, even though I taught him to drive and have encouraged him many times to take the test and get it.   His father also helped him to get his learning permit.  I have even offered to give him a car—I have two–if only he got his license and a job to earn enough to pay for his own gas and insurance.

He claimed that he was too afraid of driving–and he really is very anxious about many things that other people are not anxious about. He has always been a fearful kid, because he could envision the negative impacts of things.  At the age when other little kids were flinging themselves down slides, he would climb up to the top, consider the prospect, and climb carefully back down.

But he will also admit that he doesn’t want the responsibility of driving.

I was thrilled when he moved in with me, because I had missed him for so many years during his life and finally had him under my own roof. Now, I thought, I can help him to live a better life! To be more disciplined, to have more faith in himself, to think more positively….

I had connections at the zoo and got him a job there. He had to be there at 7 am , and had been used to staying up all night with his girlfriend, who goes to bed around 3 o 4 in the morning. He used to be an early riser–for most of his life he was up at 5, until he got to school years and started to play video games all night.

So, he had very bad habits when he started the zoo job. I had to wake him up and drive him to work so that he wouldn’t be late. Then, after a few month, he quit the job without even telling the manager. He just decided he didn’t want to get up early any more. He was lonely and depressed and very down on himself.

He was sitting around my house, doing nothing, playing games, watching tv. Not helping with the chores, unless I asked him many times. Not interested in cooking with me, or hanging out with me at dinner. He was very reclusive, as he had been through high school. He was, he told me, very depressed and lonely.  I could not convince him to participate in family dinners or events.  Since he didn’t go out very much, he didn’t make many friends.

He said he was afraid to be around people, afraid of what they were thinking about him, afraid that he would lose his temper and get in trouble, or simply be miserable because people–all people–were mean, deceitful, shallow, stupid, and rude.

I was still so happy just to have him around and thought I’d go easy on him for a while to build up trust. He would occasionally show up to help with the dishes or to do something I’d asked him to do, but then he’d retreat into his room. He was not looking for jobs, he was not doing any art projects, he was not trying to go back to school.  I thought he would grow out of it.

I came to point in my life in which I needed to make a change–call it a mid-life crisis. I wanted to see the world and do some good in it, so I started looking into volunteer opportunities abroad. I thought that if he and I could do this together, we’d reconnect and he could discover the better side of himself. He wanted to go to Nepal, so that is where we went. He said he wanted to live with monks and teach them English. The program had this option, so we made the plans and headed to the airport.

He was 20 at this time. We had made one leg of the journey, to New York, and he had a real anxiety attack. He cried and pleaded and carried on, utterly panicked.  All of a sudden he didn’t want to go to Nepal . But I had already made the arrangements, someone else was living in my house, and he would have no where to go except to the very filthy house where his girlfriend lived. He had no choice, he had to go with me. We landed in Doha, Qatar, and stayed there for a day or so.  He was furious and frightened at the same time, and refused to go outdoors.  But I finally got him up in the evening and we walked around the Souq and he seemed to be having a good time.

Nepal was a shock for both of us (see one of my posts about that here) but he prevailed and was a good sport about it for a long time. we lived with a Nepali family who hosted about five other volunteers, all his age. He was jovial and extremely funny with them–they loved his sense of humor and had them in stitches with his jokes about Americans abroad–he is a wonderful storyteller with an advanced vocabulary and a good mind. But he went into withdrawal in Nepal, as well. He found someone who sold him a huge amount of very low-grade pot there (it grows everywhere, in every yard, along all the streets–it is a weed) and started smoking every night.

I don’t mind pot-smoking in moderation. It can be a good, beneficial drug, but I am against smoking it every day. And I told him that I thought it was bad for him to be smoking it so much. But he went ahead and did it anyway. The worst thing, however, was that he had his computer with him, and there was internet at the house where we stayed, so he spent hours and hours in his room (still quite messy), skypeing with this girlfriend, who is very sweet but not at all ambitious or educated.

He was depressed and inward in Nepal, as well. I had been given a job of helping to get five kids, ages 5 -10, ready for school in the morning. These children were the most delightful, loving, dear people I met in Nepal–and they were especially dear because they had recently been rescued from servitude in the country. Their parents had sold them. THey used to fall all over me in a tumble, kiss my hands, and hug me–they were so full of love and goodwill. My son never wanted to go near them…even though he could have…he said it made him sad to see them, and that he didn’t want to get attached, because it was too hard for him to say goodbye.

Brendan never worked with the monks, because, he said, he didn’t think he could be a teacher. He didn’t think he could teach anyone English.. I encouraged him to simply get in there and start talking to them, and to learn from them as they learned from him…but there was no talking him into it. I think he simply wasn’t ready for the culture shock that it would have involved–living in poverty, sleeping and eating very little, and spending most of his time with people who spoke a different language.

We came home after two months. Brendan really needed to come home. He was getting more and more depressed and withdrawn. I was afraid to have him alone in PIttsburgh, so I came home with him, even though I had planned to stay longer. He was glad I made the journey back with him.

He lived with me for a while, but I lost patience with him when he continued to spend his days watching tv or hanging out with his girlfriend. And yes, smoking a lot of pot, but not drinking or doing other drugs. I layed down the law and he got mad and moved to his girlfriend’s house.

He was mad, furious with me, because he had been seeing a psychiatrist who prescribed Klonapin to him and gave him a big bottle of the stuff. The next day he had it I found him passed out on the couch, the bottle clutched in his hand. I took it away and and said I would monitor his doses from now on. He was furious and accused me of treating him as a child. I also called the psychiatrist and told her that I he also smoked pot and that I was worried about her prescribing such an addictive drug to him. At their next session, she told him I had called her and accused her of selling it to his friends. I should have told him that I had spoken to her before this, and prepared him for the visit, but I didn’t. That was another mistake. He felt so betrayed by me and by her that he walked out and insisted he would never return.

At the time he believed that only Klonapin would help him with his anxiety attacks. Anxiety is also the reason he gives for not being able to look for a job. He stopped speaking to me for two or three weeks–living with his girflfriend all the while–but later apologized and said that he was glad I had taken the drug away, because he understood how addictive is is, and didn’t want to get addicted to anything.

He got a job doing data entry from 4 pm to midnight with his friend who is also his source for pot. The manager on the job as well as B’s friends smoked while they worked, and managed to do okay. B, however, was not able to focus well while high and lost the job. He was devastated, but I was glad because I ddn’t think this was a wholesome job environment and hoped he would finally, now, get a real job.

But he hasn’t. He looked around in the very economically depressed neighborhood where he lives with his girlfriend, and found nothing. THere are plenty of jobs in my neighborhood, I think–at Home Depot or the supermarket or the coffee shops–and I have said he can live with me as long as he is working. But he doesn’t want to live with me and obey my rules.

He recently became very desperate for money –his girlfriend has been supporting him, but her monthly scholarship check did not come this month and they are broke, without enough to eat (but they also budget very badly–when they have money they blow it all at Pizza Hut or KFC) , so I agreed to let him work at my house, scraping and painting my garage.

It took him a long time to come to my house—he has trouble finding rides–and when he got there he dilly-dallied and finally started the job at the end of the day. THen he had a breakdown–in which he was screaming, weeping, really truly falling apart. This is a very depressed, very emotionally volatile young man. He said he hates himself and wants to punish himself because he is worthless and deserves to be punished…and he also complains that I am trying to manipulate him into getting a job…and that I never listen to him, and don’t treat him like an adult…

Many internalized, negative messages that have accumulated over the years torment him.. Depressed people are the hardest to reason with, because they don’t see reason, or feel calm.

I am at a loss. I am not depressed now, because I get my exercise and take my meds and go to a shrink and meditate at lot.  But I feel a great deal of pain, sorrow, agony. It is so hard to watch him making so many bad choices. He has so much at his finger-tips, a parent who would help him if only he would do something for himself.

His father does not see the depression, which is so obvious to me. I see that my son needs medication and therapy, and get I can’t force him to get this help. I have offered, and sometimes he says he will call the therapist…..but then he doesn’t do it .

He seems determined to dwell in pain and darkness and actually seems to believe that he deserves to be there.   He needs help but I don’t know how to get it for him.  He needs to ask for help himself but doesn’t know how to do.

Second Al-Anon Meeting


So, today I actually spoke and said I had trouble with the “god stuff” in al-anon because I’m an atheist and do not believe in a creator or a higher power.  This did not go over as badly as it might have, since I then proceeded to weep while talking about how badly I need help with my son.  A number of people came over to talk to me afterwards, and I will certainly go back to that meeting. 
 
Still, I really am going to have trouble biting my tongue about the 12 steps.  Not only am I never going to “believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity” (step 2) (and actually, I don’t feel insane, either); nor am I ever going to 3. “turn my will over to God as I understand HIM” because I don’t believe in god, or any other deity or exogenous power, certainly not a masculine power  (why can’t they at least use gender-neutral language? the Episopalians do, and the Reformed Jews, and lots of other god-lovin’ folk);  and nor am I likely to admit to this mythological being the (step five): “exact nature of my wrongs,” as though I could possibly fathom them or interpret them accurately; and there is NO FUCKING WAY that I’m going to (step six and seven): “humbly ask” a mythological being to “remove these defects of character” (this defies logic–there is no power that can do this magical thing); and also NFW that I’m going to (step 11) “pray only for knowledge of this mythological masculine being’s will for me and the for the power to carry out this god’s will (especially since the god that most of the people in SUPER CATHOLIC SW Pennsylvania is literally a mother-fucker (god impregnates his own mother with himself) who, according to the cardinals and the popes and all the other masculinists in charge of the church today, created masculine beings to be permanently superior to all feminine beings).  Finally, it is highly unlikely, nay impossible, that I will (step 12)  have a spiritual awakening while submitting to these terms.  
 
If this is the program I have to buy into, the steps I have to follow, then it’s never going to work.  
 
Still, I’m so desperate to talk to other people who have struggled with the stuff I’m struggling with now that I’ll make an effort to get what I can out of the meetings.  So I’ll go along with admitting that I’m powerless drugs and make an inventory of myself and even admit those faults to anyone who will listen compassionately and nonjudgementally, try to make a list of everyone I’ve harmed (that’s a long, long list, and my kid is right at the top of it); and make direct amends whenever possible (one of the most beautiful rituals of Yom Kippor) and continue to take a personal inventory (but I’m sure as hell not going to dwell on my faults, as the steps direct me to do, and that is so like Christianity….focus on your faults, your defects, and crimes, and then pretend that only a deity that does not exist can remove them, so you’re fucked).  What’s with all the negativity and attachment to the exact words that a Christian masculinist penned fifty or so years ago? 
 
Look, I’m going to keep on going.  But I’m also going to keep on kvetching.  

The Place that Grants all Wishes


I wrote these words in my journal when I was at Boudhanath, in Kathmandu:

Boudhanath

Here is the Buddha himself magnificently before me, strong, rounded, ample, powerful.  They say that this place, more than any other place in all the world, is where wishes are heard and answered.

What are my wishes:

1.  I wish to heal.  Heal the mother in me who feels wounded.

2. I wish for true companionship.

3. I wish that my son will find his way, his strength, his chai, his chi, his life-force, and know his inner beauty.

The first wish is nearly granted.  I am a good mother if hardly conventional.  I have done my best.  This wish is the one I came to Nepal to plead.  It requires a sacrifice.  I would like to stay here to explore further sides of myself in the world, accomplish something that feels like an accomplishment.  But it is time to return.  The journey must be completed for the wish to come true. This is what the spirit of the place, Boudha, tells me.  It called to me and I came.  There was much to learn.  Have I learned what I came here to learn? Here is what I found out:

That I love my son.

That I have a great desire to take care of him and to be with him.

That, although he can care for himself, I want very much, very much, to spend more time with him.

He has confessed that I drive him crazy, that he doesn’t always like me!  This makes me laugh.  Bravo! I am shouting.  Hooray for you to be able to tell your mother this!

I like Boudha.  I could spend a long time here.  It is a good place.  I like the people circumambulating the stupa, an anarchic procession they call chora or kora.  I liked riding my bicycle here.

I have been watching a man doing his puja, his prostrations, for over an hour.  He is wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt and he is bald.  He has wrapped his prayer beads around his wrists.  He stands, raises his beads with both hands to the top of his head, then to his third eye, and then to his chest.  He kneels, hands sliding up the wooden prayer board, lays himself out and pushes himself back up, swings his hands above his head, touches his third eye, his chest, and down to the board.  His hands slide up to support his body in plank, and then brace to push him back up again.  He has repeated this movement twenty or thirty times while I have been describing it.  He looks older, maybe 60. A woman in a pink kurta sits indolently on the board next to him, where a dog is sleeping in the shade.

I am looking up at the Buddha’s stern, blue eyes and this is what they say to me:

“The connection was never lost, never broken, only tested.”

“But,” I complain, “there were gaps, missing slats on the bridge between us!”

The Buddha says,

“It is whole.  All is well.  The bond, the bridge, is sturdy.  Trust it across wide distances and deep canyons.  You will never break it.”

The sky is so beautiful tonight.  Bright clouds are puffing out behind the dark mountain and the golden roofs of the gompas.  Bells are ringing, dogs are barking, and the tourist stores are broadcasting “om mane peme hum.”  Prayer flags are swaying gently in the wind. My heart is full of love.

The Decision to Come Home, Part One


August 8, 2011

I’m still jet-lagged and consequently did not put myself to bed last night until 5 am.  The dogs woke me up a few hours later. I let them lay on the bed with me but they couldn’t settle.  So I’m pretty tired right now, plus slightly loopy due to the anti-histamine I just took.   I haven’t mentioned that the stress of coming back, or something I ate, or the fabric in my new kurta, or all of the above, gave me a lovely and acute case of hives, which itched like mad on the long flights home.  Brendan had stomach problems in Nepal, but I had skin problems.  Maddening mosquito bites or bedbug bites or some other noxious insect attack.   And while Brendan is happily scarfing up food as fast as he can, I’m still trying not to scratch the tiny red wheals that have appeared all over my legs and arms.  I should be sleeping, or taking a cold bath, but I have a lot to recount and want to do so before I forget too much.

The Decision to Leave:

From the point of view of my friends and colleagues in Nepal, I made the decision to return to the States with Brendan rather abruptly.  In fact I had been deliberating for many days.  It was a hard decision to make.  It was hard to leave the women’s center and much, much harder to leave Anura, Bipin, Gaurima, Krishala, and Nirmala.   But I had very strong reasons to go. The most significant reason for returning with Brendan is that we had started out together on a two-month odyssey and needed to come back together for the odyssey to complete.

When I first got to Nepal I was smarting from the break-up.  I didn’t want to go home, didn’t want to face the pain directly, and I also saw how much work there was to do.  I didn’t see how things were with Brendan, in his mind and heart, didn’t recognize how important my presence was for him.  This blindness amazes me in retrospect.  He doesn’t like me talking about him in public, and that is why I haven’t revealed much about how I have come to see in him.  He’s a very strong, intelligent, and complicated young man.  He doesn’t get much attention from his father but never speaks an ill word about him.

I have to find a different way to tell the story.

Brendan developed a great deal of self-confidence and maturity during out time in Nepal, but he is also in a place in which the support and loving presence of his parents is vital.   I had responsibilities in Nepal, but my responsibilities to my son vastly outweighed them.  He was visibly relieved when I announced that I would go back with him, and cheerful, thankful, and great company on the way home.  Going back with him was good for me, too.  Here is what I wrote in my journal on 26 July, while I was still pondering what to do.

Am still feeling restless, dreading the time when Brendan will return, wondering how he will do by himself in Pittsburgh, and worrying that he will not do very well.  I miss him.  He’s here, but in another house, and I miss him.

My need to come back with my son had much to do with what I felt obligated to do for him, help his get a good, strong start to his sophomore year in college, often the most challenging year.  It would have been hard on him to come back to Pittsburgh and move into his room while Tim was still living in the house, and then to go down to college alone, on the bus or the train.   But I also needed to be with him, to spend more time with him.  He is good company, as I said before.  He comforts me.  Perhaps because I spent so many years longing for him, the terrible years when he lived in his father’s house and I could hardly afford to visit him, perhaps that is why I have such a powerful desire to be geographically close to him.

 

Brendan at Nagarkot in his Space Dolphin Shirt

I have a son, 20, not yet fully grown, who I need to take care of. Or rather I need to take care of myself by being a good mother to him.  The mother in me needs to spend time with him.


Before Leaving for Pokhara


7 July 2011

I’ve been pretty sick for the past few days with a cold, an affliction that has beset many people in Pepsi-Cola.  The Nepalis blame the rain.  I blame the pollution, but who cares?  I haven’t had much energy and my spirits have flagged.  Lying around in bed, trying in vain to sleep while serenaded by carpenters cutting wood on electric saws, blacksmiths pounding metal rods, construction workers banging hammers, and, today, a abrass band that struck up a cacaphonous beat every 20 minutes or so, depressed me.  I’ve had too much time to think about the breakup with Tim and have dwelled unhealthily on my weaknesses, failures, shortcomings, and losses.   I started to get hold of myself when I realized that I was pre-menstrual and exhausted.  What I needed was a a good, solid rest.

I took a nap and then meditated for about 30 minutes.  What a relief it was to drop into stillness, into the what-is-ness of my life right now, right here and to stop fighting, stop resisting, stop expecting, and, best of all, stop finding fault with myself.  It struck me that I was wasting time.  There is no running away from the grief that I feel for what I have lost.  I am riding that wave.  But I can’t let it overwhelm me.   I am so incredibly lucky, after all.  Not only have I the opportunity to get to know truly unusual and generous human beings such as Kat and her best friend, Maria,  I am also here with my son, my only child.  I came here to Nepal in order to do something extraordinary with him.  I have spent much of the past ten years mourning my distance from him, and here he is now, a young, intelligent, and engaging adult.  We are bonding with one another but also with some of the same people during our travels.  We will only be here for another four weeks.  Every moment with this man, this man whom I love more than any man in the world, is a gift.

I took a harrowing cab-ride with Kat and a driver who seemed to delight in roaring directly toward pedestrians and stopping half an inch from their legs.  He veered into oncoming traffic two-thirds of the way into town.  Kat and I have both adopted the same strategy for managing our fear during these journeys.  We talk briskly to one another and keep our eyes off the road ahead.   We were meeting the group at a restaurant in Thamel, but Brendan and the crew had not yet arrived.  My heart ached for him and swelled when he came swinging into view.   I often worry about how I’ll do when he goes back to the States.

We all go to Pokhara tomorrow morning.  The gang—Brendan, Joost, Peter, Angela, Maria, and maybe also Sophia–will meet at 6 am downstairs before heading together into Kathmandu for the “tourist bus,” a lot more expensive and allegedly more comfortable vehicle than the notoriously overcrowded and filthy regular busses.  No farmer is likely to hop on board and deposit ten to fifteen half-dead chickens on my feet.  Still the road itself is terrifyingly narrow, busy, and likely to be rained out in places.  I am not looking forward to it.  But I am happy to be going with good friends, my friends who are also Brendan’s friends.  It will be heaven to escape Pepsi-Cola and the Kathmandu Valley for a few days.   We all need the break.

Monsoon Season in Nepal


The monsoons have started.  All the trash-filled fields have turned overnight into swamps or lakes.  Some kind of bullfrog sounds like sawing wood or braying is under my window.  It and the frogs seem to have fallen from the skies.  They weren’t here before, were they?

When Brendan and I live in the same house, I am much happier.   The keening ache  that has become so habitual, I don’t even notice it, stills at last.   I become aware of it only when he comes back into my everyday life.  Like the summer rain and the sun that returns, he nourishes.

You don’t live apart from your only child from the time he is six and not suffer serious damage.  Not if you have a heart, I think.

How did I get here? What am I doing?


June 15, 2011

When Brendan was six years old, his father and I separated.  I was just finishing my dissertation and felt as though I had to choose between my was-band and my dream of becoming an English professor.  I had supported him financially and emotionally as he went on the academic job market;  had moved with him from one position to the next and postponed my education until he was settled, working and earning money to keep the house up; had sold my mother’s jewelry to put a down payment on our house in Arlington, Virginia; and financed my return to graduate school out of my private funds.  But once he got tenure he made it clear that he would not be making any sacrifices for me.  In fact, he resented the time I devoted to my studies.

He encouraged me to enter a different profession.  In retrospect, I see that he was probably right.  It probably would have been better to have gotten a job in government relations or nonprofit work.  I could have stayed in Arlington and would have made a lot more money and felt a lot more appreciated and respected than I did in academia.  But I didn’t know that then.

I had a dream and I wanted to pursue it.  I luckily got a good, tenure-track job my first year out on the market, which was hard to do then because there were so few jobs and so many Ph.D.s applying for them.  The only trouble was that the job was in Missouri, and we lived in Virginia.  To make a living, I had to move.  I wanted to bring Brendan with me, and fought a bloody battle with his father for custody.   I wasn’t trying to get full custody.  I was fighting for joint custody.  This I got, but the compromise, which I truly believed was best for Brendan, was to leave him in the home he had grown up in, at the school where he felt comfortable, for two years. After that, he was supposed to come live with me.  But when the time came, I took a half-year sabbatical in Washington, D.C. and went on the market again, searching for a job closer to him.  I got the job at the University of Pittsburgh and postponed Brendan’s move to my household, again thinking first of his best interests.  When the moment finally came for Brendan to come to me, his father balked.  I insisted.

The chair of my new department promised me that Brendan would be able to go to the University School, and Michael, my was-band, reluctantly agreed that it would be a good place for him.  Nevertheless he remained so angry about having to give him up—even though this was something that he had agreed to and that had already been postponed for an entire year—that he dropped his son off with his clothes in a cardboard box and not a single pair of shoes.

So Brendan came to Pittsburgh, but lo, the school that he was supposed to go to said that they did not have any room for him.  I appealed to my chair for help, because I knew that he had had enough clout to get the son of another professor, who only taught one semester a year, in.  He claimed he could do nothing for me..

Had I known that Brendan would be put onto a waiting list, and not admitted into the university school, I would not have taken the job.  I would have stayed in St. Louis, where there was an excellent school with room for Brendan.  I did not prefer this option because my aim had always been to keep both parents in my son’s life.

So now I had him with me but no school to send him to.  The local public institution was a magnet school, and Brendan would have to pass a test in German to get in.  He took lessons and did very well, but not well enough to pass the test.  So he was bussed halfway across the city to a school where he felt afraid of the children.

He was there on 9/11.  A plane had gone down outside of Pittsburgh, and all the teachers and students at the university were sent home.  But I could not get word from Brendan’s school about his whereabouts until many hours later.  Everyone has his or her own memory of that terrifying day.  I remember people on bicycles, foot, and in cars streaming away from the city.  We believed we were under attack, and fled all tall buildings.  I could not find out what had happened to Brendan.  The school did not answer calls.  He didn’t have a cell phone.  He was only 9.

Furthermore, bullies tormented him on the bus and at school.  It was clear that the district was not going to do anything about it.  I took him out of the public system, which was very poor, especially in comparison to the Arlington schools,  and enrolled him in a private, Catholic academy just down the street from me. My teaching schedule—given to me by someone who knew I had a school-age child—kept me on campus for an hour after school let out.  So  he was home alone for a little over an hour each day.  I cycled home as fast as I could and got it down to 8 minutes.

The kids at the Catholic school bullied Brendan even more than the public school kids had, partly because the principal humiliated him, who was then in the fifth grade, by forcing him to sit with the second-graders for math.  I tried yet another private, secular, alternative school, which only had room for him in the fourth grade class.  I interviewed the hoity-toity establishments in town and quickly discerned that I lacked the cash to get or keep him in them.  In short I considered every alternative available to me and then some.

Brendan became very depressed.  He started to say alarming things such as “I wish I were dead,” and “I’m just going to throw myself in front of a train.”  He grew more and more morose and withdrawn, and did not want to talk to his father when he called.  The was-band, being more childish than his son, threw a fit about it and, in a churlish fit of spite, dis-invited Brendan from Thanksgiving with his grandparents, whom Brendan loved and wanted to see.  His own father actually instructed me to inform Brendan that, if he would not come to the phone, then he would never speak to him again.  I knew that I was both stronger and wiser than the was-band, and that if Brendan were to have both parents in his life, I would have to make the sacrifice.  I drew strength from Lao-Tzu, who said the master is strong because she bends like a willow.  In a storm she bends all the way to the ground  but does not break like the oak, who foolishly barrels up to difficulty with his manly chest.

I also knew that Brendan was struggling so much on the social level at school, where he was being savaged, that he was in danger of a serious breakdown.  He would not thrive here.  When we talked about it, he was visibly relieved but he also said, “You’re nicer,” and that a part of him felt very sad about going, but another part knew that it was for the best.  He missed his friends and the school in which he felt relatively strong and confident.

I was renting a crap apartment on the edge of a very active graveyard.  Burials at least once daily.  Not a happy place.  Psychologists and psychiatrists come to Pittsburgh because the per capita percentage of depressed people is so high.  They say it’s because it rains a lot.  The chubby kid across the street was treated terribly by his dreary hippie, unthinkingly politically correct parents, who continuously pointed out that he was their adopted son of a crack addict who had ruined him in the womb.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve come to love Pittsburgh for all kinds of reasons, but I hated it then.  After Brendan went back to Arlington I hated it more.  I used to collapse on the kitchen floor and weep.  Or I’d go lie down on his bed and breathe through the pain, try to accept not fight it.  I came completely undone. I went into the darkness. Those years in St. Louis and Pittsburgh, during which I could not physically mother or protect my child, where the hardest and most painful in my life.

The university had a lot to do with that.  One of my friends, who was a brilliant philosopher who had her pick of the top jobs in England and America, swore that the institution itself had infected her with a virus, from which she later died.  True story.  She was a Platonist and a feminist, and fussy old patriarchal bastards ran the department.  Another friend, the head of the women’s studies program left the university because she was so pissed off at her colleagues, who had slapped the wrists of a married guy in her department, a medium bigwig in the tiny academic pond,  when they found out that he had been handing out lucrative scholarships to the female students he was fucking.   The woman who replaced my friend in Women’s Studies was and remains mad, insane, crazy, ooby-shooby.

Worst time in my life, but it’s over.  Through persistence, diligence, and many tears, I kept the bond.  We like as well as love each other.  And here we are in Nepal.   We went up to the top of the house after everyone else had gone to bed, and listened.  We hugged, and then joked with one another as we parted.  His room is directly above mine.

The night air is throbbing with frogs.  It rained hard earlier but the rain has ebbed.  It is pleasantly temperate, neither too warm nor too cool.

I had a magical day with beautiful and affectionate children, as well as with a group of women in their late 30s, 40s, and 50s who have a fantastic sense of humor and are genuinely down-to-earth.  I’m learning Nepali as fast as I can so that I can talk to them, hear and tell their stories.  But Nepali is hard.  It’s written in the same  script as Sanskrit.  Spoken Nepali is a lot easier but the language doesn’t really make sense, I think, until you learn the script. How did I get here?  It’s a long story and I’m trying to tell it.   What am I doing here?  Writing is supposed to help me figure that out.

Here is a verse from the second chapter of the Dhammapada,

A practitioner delighting in diligence,

Seeing dread in negligence,

Advances as a fire—

Every fetter, coarse and subtle, burns.

I am not sure I am practicing diligence or not.  I am staying up way too late to write and edit this blog, and I am taking tomorrow off to go with Brendan to Thamel to buy sandals for him and books for me.  I need a Nepali-English dictionary, and some guide to writing Devanagari.  It is neither necessary nor wise, anyways, to adhere to strictly to any teachings.

Did you know that Buddhism spread from Nepal to India and the Tibet? The Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama in what is now known as Nepal in the fifth or sixth century B.C.E.   He rejected the Hindu belief in a creator god and the caste system.  The Newar people of the Kathmandu Valley, my hosts and neighbors, developed a unique mix of Buddhism and Hinduism with a strong emphasis on tantra.  The Buddhist part of that blend faded as orthodox Hindu immigrants from what is now India swarmed into the Valley.  Buddhism declined severely from the 18th through the 20th century, but was revived by Tibetan refugees from the Chinese invasion of their homeland in the 1950s.  Tibetan Buddhism, or Vajrayana, has a more structured set of beliefs and practices than the native strain.  Has my exposure to Buddhism through yoga helped to bring me here?  Absolutely.  I’m thrilled, moved, awed by the physical nearness of the great Stupa, Boudanath, one of the holiest Buddhist places on earth.  I expected to feel this way.  What I had not anticipated is how much I am also drawn to Pashupatinath, one of the most sacred Hindu sites this side of the Ganges.  Because I’m not Hindu (i.e., white), I can’t enter the shrine,  but I did witness the majesty of the place, with its deer park, Mrigasthali Ban, supposedly the site where Vishnu appeared as a stag, and the burning cremation pyres and the orange-swathed bodies on the bank of the Bagwamati River.

A cremation at Pashupatinath. The body is carried to on a bamboo stretcher, which will also burn on the pyre.

Bhisal took me there, and explained that he had recently attended a funeral on the very site where a body—heaped with wood—was burning.  Knowing this made the sight all the more serious and disturbingly beautiful.  Bishal also told me that there was a Buddhist burial ground in the jungle on the east side, where the monkeys live.

I like the idea of advancing as a fire, burning away all impediments in my path.  But I’d like to do more than destroy and consume.  I’d like to be in the light and to be the light, but I don’t know how I feel about the concept of burning up everything, including myself, even though I understand that what ceases to be is dross, not the gold inside each being.  Something valuable remains, but this is not simply the spirit, separated from the body.  The spirit cannot live without the body, body and mind are mutually informing and enlivening parts of a unity, yin and yang, not opposites, but component elements.

The Children at the Orphanage


Nirmala. She is 5. Three weeks ago, she and her sister, Krishala, were rescued from a village house where they were enslaved as servants.

I brought a camera to the orphanage this morning.  The kids loved it.  First they each wanted to pose wearing my hat.    Bipin then got hold of it and rushed around snapping shots of the house, his mother, Bimila, and us.

He also took this one of the open refrigerator and gave me a test:  “What is this food?”  He asked.  I really wasn’t sure.  I guessed oranges, apples. “No!” he cried, delighted,  “It is EGG!”  Later on, Anura had the camera, and she photographed this chart on the wall of their class- and play-room.   It has a nice new carpet, all over which I spilled tea on the first day, during a game of ring-around-the-rosy.  Bimala, Bipin’s mother, brings me a fresh cup every morning.  On my second day she suggested that I drink it down right away

VSN runs three or four orphanages.  The largest one holds 16 children, who I understand are all terrified of their “mother,” the woman who keeps the house, bathes, feeds, and clothes them with funds that VSN volunteers and donors provide.  A few years ago, a young Dutch couple came to volunteer for six weeks.  While they were here, they raised over $2,000 from family and friends for VSN in general, which was just getting started.  They later raised enough to found and support another orphanage, where my co-volunteer and friend, Dalina, works.  She brought a lot of craft projects for the children to do, and she also brought cases filled with pens and pencils.  The children showed their delight by opening them, peering inside, and zipping them closed again.  They have never had anything to call their own.  The children’s mother, who is very strict, insists that they spend every minute of the day studying. She took the pencil cases and contents away and locked them into a closet.  She said that the children would break them.  Dalina said she didn’t care; she had brought them a gift and wanted them to have it.  She complained so much about it that the housemother relented and gave them back.  But she still would not let them play games.  Here were five-, six-, and seven-year olds sitting straight in their chairs, never fidgeting, because they were afraid. After Dalina’s prodding, the housemother allowed her to do craft projects with the children for 30 minutes every day.

The “mean” housemother is not as unkind as she sounds.  From her perspective, the children have one chance to save themselves in this society in which family and village connections mean everything.  They must excel at school, and excel they do.  The children from this orphanage are at the top of their classes at the Career Building International Academy (CBIA), which VSN also runs.  This school is a private school, sustained by tuition from parents in the neighborhood.  VSN volunteer fees sponsor the orphan children.  Most Nepali schools emphasize discipline and rote learning over creative analysis, and they do not seem to have the concept of recess.   When school lets out, the fields fill with kids who have shed their uniforms for play-clothes. Keep in mind that the fields are also covered with trash, which is occasionally burning and releasing toxic chemicals into the air.  They play where they can.  There is a slightly cleaner football (i.e., soccer) field where and exciting match between high schools took place this afternoon..  I love to walk about the neighborhood at this time a day.  Every child cheerfully hails me because I am white,  piping “Hello! Hi! How are you?” They are very friendly.

I don’t know how the children I am teaching will do.  I expect very well, since they are l very bright. Like children the world over, they have short attention spans.  I play games with them.  It is actually quite challenging to work with them, because I don’t have a blackboard or a whiteboard to write on, no books with which to teach—not even picture books—and only a room with a new carpet and a few sleeping mats ranged around the walls.  We always begin sitting down in a circle, but the children want to tumble backwards, or get up and go to their room to bring me something.   Yesterday Anura offered me hair oil and Bipin sprayed deoderant under my arms.  “Are you trying to tell me I smell?”  I asked.  “No,” he replied and sprayed all the other children’s pits.

I allow them a lot of freedom because I know how controlled they must be in school.  I incorporate movement into our lessons to keep them smiling.   Yesterday I taught them Simon Says.  When they get too rambunctious, I switch to modified yoga. Breathing deeply and regularly, they learn “in” and “out.” They tumble and wiggle again, just as Brendan did when he was little.  Bimala, their housemother, indulges them, too, thankfully.  They have finally come to a home in which they feel how much they are loved.

Don’t be fooled by their smiling faces and cheerful, loving dispositions.  These kids have seen desperation, death, violence and abuse for most of their short lives. I’m still finding out their story, but as far as I have gathered the children were rescued from other, terrible, dark, dirty, and crowded hovels that pass for orphanages, where they received very little food, and almost no protein. VSN found them and brought them into this family home, where there are a mother, a father, and two children, 10 and 13.

Krishala. Until about three weeks ago she was enslaved as a servant. She is eight.

Krishala is eight and very shy.  I have to coax her to speak.  But she always knows the answer before everyone else, and is starting to get more confident with me.  It is hard for her, Gorima, and Anura, since they are far behind their classmates, who have always had mothers and fathers and who have been going to this very rigorous school for years.  Gorima is the joker, the coyote of the crowd, always making mischief.  If I have a pen or a book in my hand, she grabs it and examines it carefully or insists on writing out her numbers to show me what she knows, or drawing a flower to give to me.  Since I had been so permissive with my hat, she assumed that it would also be okay to pull the glasses off my face.  She put them on and laughed.  Then Krishala snatched them away from her, and we had our photo taken.  Of course we had to do another with Gorima wearing the glasses.  And then Bipin, Bimala’s outspoken and self-assured son, wanted them on.  I couldn’t tolerate this for much longer, since these frames were outrageously expensive and I had already had to replace them once, when my dogs found them on the table at home and chewed them up.

Gorima. She is 8.

Gorima is surprisingly solicitous of me.  I have a wound on my hand from a bicycle that I tried to unhook and bring down from the garage ceiling back home.  It fell straight down.  I ducked, but the gears cut into the back of my left hand.  It’s hard to keep a bandage on it, and the cut has become slightly infected.  I’ve ignored it, but Gorima would not.  She found a bit of dirty plastic tape on the floor, and pressed it on the wound.  Then Bipin brought me a clean bandage, which one of the other volunteers had brought from home, removed the tape, and bound up my hand.  It was a little band-aid, for children, from the US.  It had cats on it and tt fell off the first time I washed my hands.  But Gorima’s concern for me got me to take the wound seriously, and after dinner at Sugandha’s house, I allowed on of the other volunteers to attend to it.  She’s a fourth-year medical student in Newcastle, England.  She cleaned it properly and applied a much sturdier plaster.   Because of Gorima, my wound will now heal.   Maybe she, too, will go to medical school.  Her fate will depend on the success of the VSN project.  As long as volunteers keep on coming, and if donors from around the world help to support the project, she will have a chance.

See how beautiful they are.  If Nirmala, Gorima, Krishala, and Anura had not been rescued by VSN, they very likely would have spent their lives in sexual slavery.  Krishala and Nirmala, in fact were found enslaved as servants.  When Krishala first arrived at the orphanage, about three weeks ago, she went around cleaning everything because she had been made to do so.  I will get more details very soon.  Sugandha does not know their story as well as Gehlu, who brought them to Pepsi-Cola.  VSN has been good to Bipin and his mother, too, as well.  She has no husband—another story to find out and tell—and had been living in a hovel before VSN rented a flat in a beautiful house.  Bipin, who is constantly doing headstands and somersaults, thinks he’s living in a palace.  He and his mother sleep in the same room with the other children.  They have two other rooms—the children’s play and lesson-room, and a kitchen.  They also have flowers in pots in the front courtyard, and Bipin always thinks to bring me a flower when we play ring-around-the rosy.

Anura. She is 10.

Today I showed them videos of my dogs and cat on my computer.  I have been missing my dogs very much, and wondering how I will get through the three months after Brendan leaves without anyone to hug or hold.  Freya and Baldr are very affectionate, like most well loved dogs, and much cleaner and healthier than the dogs around here, who survive on rotting, maggot-infested food and scraps, and who have all sorts of diseases and infestations.  When I’m lonely or sad I can pull them up onto my lap or fall asleep with them at my side.  But here I have no such friends.  Even if I could find a young puppy, clean it up and bring it into the house, which I can’t, I would still have to release it back into the streets when I return home, and that would be cruel.  So I have been feeling sorry for myself in anticipation of future loneliness.  There is no way I’m going to have any kind of romance with a Nepali man.  First of all, they are very short.  Second of all, most of them have very strange ideas about women.  We could never get on.   Thirdly and most importantly, I’m not even close to being ready for a new relationship, and look forward to the time alone.  I will be living more or less like a nun, as I have been, rising early, working hard for the benefit of others, living on simple food and water, and going to bed early and sober. It will be lonely at times, of course, but I will not lack for love.

The orphan children hang on me, crawl into my lap, and all try to hold my hand at the same time.  Nirmala, the youngest, gets the most attention from the other kids, but she also loves it when I pick her up.  In fact all of them want me to pick them up and hold them.  All of them except for Gorima, the dreamiest, shyest one, who nevertheless wants to touch me in some way.  How to express how happy this makes me, how it satisfies the mother in me who was starved of mothering for so many years?  But this story will have to wait until the next post.

Bipin in my hat

Many sources of love


Street in Kathmandu

June 13, 2011

9:30am

Just back from the orphanage. There are currently four orphans there, Anura, who is 10, Gorima, 8, Khrisala, also 8, and Nirmala, 5. Two more are coming. We played a lot of games because they wiggle and squirm a lot and it is hard for 5 and 8-year olds to focus their attention on one thing for more than a few minutes. Unbelievably, children as young as five years are forced to sit very still for long periods of time in school. Nepali educational philosophy, as far as I can tell from the other volunteers working here and my teacher, Bishal, holds that children should be rigidly disciplined and made to memorize great reams of material. They are very good at listening and rote learning but not at creating or innovating.

I taught them Ring-around-the Rosy today, and we all laughed a lot when we hit the floor on “down.” This is how I am teaching them “down” and “up” and “around.” When they begin to get too excited, I have them breathe “in” and “out.” Poor little Nirmala was completely unfocused by the end, and I really can’t imagine how the children sit at attention for hours on end in the schools. They all waved goodbye to me very affectionately, and I was glad that I could tell them that I would be here for a long time. Working with loving and beautiful children, children who would otherwise almost certainly end up trafficked and enslaved as prostitutes, fills me with light and happiness.

One of the things I meant to mention in earlier posts is how wonderful it is to be here with Brendan, who is very good company. He still gets mad at me occasionally for treating him like a child (in his opinion), and I am trying hard not to “matronize” him. I take great comfort in his presence here. He loves me, and is unlikely to announce, out the blue, that he is finished with me and will be looking elsewhere for a more suitable mother. This alone is quite reassuring in light of recent events.

He started working at a different orphanage today. He and the two German girls, Sarah and Eileen, will be painting it in bright colors over the next month. He has already met the children, and on that day he came back from them as radiant as I felt this morning. Now I must return to my Nepali studies. The second book of the Dhammapada begins

Diligence is the path to the deathless

Negligence is the path of death.

Those who are negligent Are as the dead.

Understanding this distinctly,

Those who are skilled in diligence

Rejoice in diligence,

Delighting in the pasture of the noble one.

I could easily spend four or more hours a day studying the language, but in fact have only one or two hours to devote to it. I am getting better at asking for things in shops, and the children are also teaching me. They find my Nepali accent utterly abominable. There is much work for me to do here, and if I work diligently, I believe my heart will grow lighter. What I am trying to express is, there are more than one kind of love, and I look forward to a period of sensuous but not sexual connections with other people.

The Author on her Book


I have just thrown away an entire dumpster full of notes and essays related to the book that I’ve been working on for more than 10 years and that I am having some trouble giving up. I have carted these papers around -from Arlington, Virginia to St. Louis, Missouri, and then on to Pittsburgh and then to Washington, DC, and then to Los Angeles and London. Many papers came back with me from the British Library, where I spent eight hours a day for three months going quietly mad.  These flew home with me to Pittsburgh and some came out to Santa Barbara the summer after my father died and I had to clean up the estate while crawling out of darkness.  I tossed whole chapters, whole years, into the bin.

I feel somewhat as though I’ve just had a miscarriage, or as though I’ve just forced myself to accept that the fetus was dead and I no longer even wanted the child.  I’ve been carrying it, mostly formed, around inside of me for so long, and I’m finally coming to terms with the truth that it has stunted my intellectual, professional, and emotional growth.   It has been a permanent dis-ease, a burden I could not put down, an illness I could not give up.

I put everything else aside–my painting, my political activism, my genealogy hobby, my cooking, my gardening, my social life, my health–in order to “focus on the book.”  For  years after I stopped believing that anyone would ever read it, I’d say to myself: I will do that when the book is done.   But it was never finished!  I didn’t particularly burn to write it, either.  I’m not sure I ever did, but maybe I have forgotten.   It was simply what I had to do, the hoop I had to jump through, in order to get to the next level in my profession.

No book no tenure no job no income no respect no self-esteem no identity no self no thing.

Or so the chain of associations seemed to go.  My entire self-image became fixated, frozen, limited, fetishized, like a shrunken head. It hung leadenly around my neck and bent my back.  I should be rejoicing, not grieving, for I am like Christian at the gate to the Delectable Mountains.

Writing a book and getting tenure are both very fine goals, especially if one is writing a book that one passionately wants to publish, and if one feels well-supported and nourished, in all possible ways, at the tenure-granting institution.  In my experience most people write books because they must, not because they have an important message to share, and spend most of their lives in a state of self-aggrandizement and anxious paranoia.

Still, I am melancholy.  My book was my art for many years, and I am very fond of it.  I think lots of it is very, very good, and innovative, and interesting, and I do burn to share it.  But I do not know quite how, just yet.  I haven’t thrown out all the notes–I’m far too much of a packrat and a historian and a collector to do that.  Perhaps I’ll share it with you here, in pieces, as poems.  Or I’ll publish it privately.  Or send it down a well, or create a massive collage and hang it in my living room.  Or have it compressed and made into a bench.  Or shred it with cheese and make omelets.  Or beads.  Or stepping stones to the next destination.