29 January 2013

My Disappearance

I have always disappeared in one way or another. The history’s there; I just had to write this blog to discover it and understand why. 

My family lived in New Hampshire in a small ranch house across the street from Lake Winnisquam. I shared a bedroom with my sister who is six years younger. My brother, two years younger had his own room. The walls were thin, the commotion pretty constant, and finding privacy almost impossible. Dad used to tease me about spending so much time in the bathroom, the only room where no one barged in or bothered me unless it was an emergency.

I first disappeared into a typical pre-teen refuge, burrowing down after bedtime under my blanket where I would read or write in my diary by penlight with one ear bud plugged into my transistor radio. Even though I had school the next day I would stay up until one or two in the morning, leaving my parents dumbfounded as to why, when in the morning, I was so miserable to get out of bed. Sometimes my dad resorted to pulling the pillow out from under my head and yanking back the covers. One time he sprinkled my face with cold water. My escape was discovered one night when I fell asleep, the transistor radio cord unplugged, and rock-‘n’-roll woke my parents.

That was around the time the Beatles took over my life and I soon disappeared into a fantasy world with three other friends. We formed a secret club, each of us becoming “the bird” of our favorite Beatle and writing stories about our “luv” and then exchanging them. That only lasted until one of the parents caught Ringo’s bird passing a rather risqué story to John’s bird. We had to disband. After that, I didn’t dare write stories.

Next, I disappeared into my diary, filling it with a teenage angst pot of longing for love and someone to understand me, a place to help me figure out what to do with classmate troubles and old-fashioned, strict parents.

Then the summer after turning fourteen, I wrote in my diary that I’d fallen in love.

Because we lived on the opposite side of the road from the lake, we had to use the right-of-way at the west end to go swimming. That summer I met and fell for a boy from Boston who was there with his family vacationing in one of the summer cabins. His name was Bruce, but his cousin called him “Punk,” as I would. To my astonishment this handsome lad liked me. I kept him a secret as my dad thought all boys from Boston were “bad seeds.” Punk and I would meet and hang out at the right-of-way during the day and a few times we met in the evening to be alone. I wore peddle-pushers and a mod satin shirt with puff sleeves and twenty-five tiny buttons down the front. I wasn’t ready for the heavy petting. I only wanted to kiss him, and those buttons kept me safe.

After Punk returned to Boston without conquering that blouse, a few letters followed, but soon my first love faded away. My parents never saw the letters as I brought in the mail every day, so I was safe from discovery, or so I thought.

One night at dinner, Dad asked about the boy from Boston.

I can’t remember what I said, but I must have asked him how he knew, and he said, “You shouldn’t leave your diary out and open on your desk.”

I waited for some kind of punishment while I went from fear of discovery (Oh, my god, what had I written? What had he read?) to anger at this breach of my privacy. (What gave him the right to read my diary? And how could it have been open on my desk? I always lock it and hide it away.)

I don’t know what happened to that diary. I wish I had it now. After that, I only wrote notes to my girlfriends, poems, and school reports. For my escape, I started drawing and painting instead.

When the fights with my dad increased, I would retreat to the right-of-way and sit under the old tree where Punk and I made out. The roots that protruded above ground held me between them and I would lose myself in the cry of loons, the twinkle of lights from cabins across the lake, the smell of bar-b-ques, and the accompanying laughter and voices of other families that drifted to me over the water’s dark surface. I often took a book and could stay there for hours.

The day after my father committed suicide, I disappeared to the right-of-way, scaring my mother. But that house was too chaotic and filled with confusion, shame and grief. I needed to be alone, to cry, to settle my head, body and soul so I could return and carry on, although my heart would be damaged for a long time.

Life continued and changed many times, and so did my reason for and avenue of disappearing. Whenever life became too noisy and stressful, whenever I needed to escape trying times—the fear of moving to a new land three-thousand miles from home, the loneliness of being that far away with a three year old, divorcing an abusive first husband, the craziness of an out-of-control seventies and drug culture—I would lock the door of my house, hang up a do not disturb sign and paint or draw while listening to music. For days, I would do this, often having to tell those who stopped by, “Yes, sorry, that sign does mean you,” even when it was a new friend.

And here in the writing of this blog is where a memory brought an epiphany.

Kippy, a blue and green parakeet, was my first pet. I think I was around ten or eleven. He’d ride on my shoulder, poop on my cousin’s blonde flattop, repeat a whistle I taught him, and generally make everyone laugh. I fed him regularly, cleaned out his cage, did my best, which I admit, being a kid, probably wasn’t up to adult standards.

One day, after school, either my mom or dad forgot to bring home birdseed. Knowing that kids often don’t give their parents enough heads-up time about these things, I probably waited until the last minute to tell them I needed birdseed.

I walked to the local market and bought wild birdseed, the only kind they had. Just before dinner, as mom was cooking and dad was reading the paper at the kitchen table, Kippy started to choke. I took him from his cage. A sunflower seed was caught in his throat. I yelled for my mom and dad, raced to the kitchen with him in my hands, crying, as I watched my bird struggling and falling down. Mom continued to cook, dad read his paper. They looked over, but by the time they responded, Kippy was dead. I think I remember someone saying, "It was only a bird." Maybe not, but I heard it in my heart.

Something lodged in me that day, something that equates with how it feels to have something dying in me. I tried to feed my parakeet so it wouldn't starve, and I had the wrong food, so Kippy died. No one from the outside helped. And that’s what brought me to this conclusion as to why I disappear.

I believe that when creative people are threatened with the outcome of being a “starving artist,” it’s a way to discourage us from taking hold of our creative life. (My dad: “You are not going to be a starving artist; you will go to college to be a teacher, nurse or secretary.”) If you’re not being productive in the traditional sense, when you’re seen as selfish or self indulgent because you want to follow your art, your passion, then you're gifted a sense of guilt.

The real threat, however, is being starved of time, freedom and the opportunity to create. The real threat is not taking care of our true selves. The real threat is listening to that inner “guilt pusher” that says you should be doing something else.

In the past six months I have cracked a rib, had oral surgery, helped plan a big party for my mom’s 90th birthday, gone to that party in Florida, returned home to the worst sinus infection I’d ever had, and during this time I had to make a decision: while I healed from these various health issues, I could concentrate on writing my novel or continue to take time from that writing and blog.

I took care of myself. I met with a few friends, but stayed home most of the time and was as quiet as I could be as I worked on my novel. I had breakthroughs. I had a-ha moments. I held myself in my hands and removed that sunflower seed. I fed myself the right food.

And the irony was, when I tried to blog in November, the universe slapped me silly. My blog feed would not work. No matter what I did, I could not get Feedburner to send to my email recipients. I didn't need a clearer message. I went back to work on my novel.

Since then, life has allowed a little time, and I switched my blog email feed to a reliable one. 

Hopefully, for those of you out there who have had a rough time lately—and I’ve read and heard many of your stories—I hope this brings some kind of epiphany for you, too. Even if you are not an artist or writer, you have a creative soul. We all do. 

Last year in January, astrologer Johanna Mitchell said about 2012, “It's a great year if you’re going to change. It’s not such a good year if you can’t find inspiration in chaos.”

My discovery makes me wonder if others out there have found themselves “disappearing,” or retreating, or whatever name you put on it. I wonder if you found your creative soul or true north in all that chaos and if you took the time to feed what was starving.

So much of our time is spent in trying to figure out what to do when we really know all along what we need; for some reason it seems counter-intuitive to care for ourselves. That’s when I go back to the context of “starving artist.” It all depends on who you’re listening to.

Hugs to all,


Other blog posts that you might enjoy:

Kristen Lamb's Blog

"Author Blogging: You're Doing It Wrong"
I think blogging is a wast of time.
"Get Rid of "Should" Once and for All"

"They Call Me the Wanderer"

If your comment won't post, email me at ValinParis (at) earthlink (dot) net. I'll post it for you.