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.


Elisabeth Kinsey said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for this post. Love it. I had a similar experience with bathrooms. I think my entire 7th grade was me hiding in a bathroom.

Deborah Batterman said... [Reply to comment]

Why do the right words always manage to appear when you need them most? Threaded as they are by a profound theme, every one of those 'disappearances' you write about here is a story in and of itself I'm hoping to read more about.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

I wonder how many others have had their retreat be the bathroom? As one of my comments on FB said, it would also be interesting to hear from others or even write an article about those who gave up writing because a parent had read their diary. Thanks for commenting, Elisabeth.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks, Deborah. Yes, this post does seem to carry the skeleton of a story and as I write these pieces, the view comes clearer and clearer as to how to focus a memoir.
I so agree that about words managing to appear when you need them the most. The magic of our vocation.
Thanks for commenting!

Lynn said... [Reply to comment]

What is it about 7th grade & bathrooms? I hid out in the bathroom during lunch because the bread on sandwiches made me gag. Sweets made up for it...


Irene Miscione said... [Reply to comment]

Great post, thanks Val. I though for a moment you were starting to write my bio! I shared a bedroom with my little sister and used to give her my barbie dolls to take downstairs with her to play so I could have privacy in the room to write. Haven't thought about that in years!

Becky Green Aaronson said... [Reply to comment]

Val, so glad you are taking care of your health and your creative soul. Beautiful post! I disappear too, at times, and find it re-energizing to block out the rest of the world on occasion and focus on my creativity.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]


Hello Valerie,
It's really funny, just the other day I was thinking that you hadn't sent your blog in a while, then I remembered there had been a few other times where they came in sporadic flow...that said, I'm happy to read about what you've been up to, and glad to know you've been productive with the pen.

I too am an escapist of sorts, I think writers have to be in order to pursue their craft.

As a kid growing up in the 50's, I was a loner...traveling with my imagination to places only I could go to. Even now, being retired but working at completing two novellas and keeping up with adding poetry to my poetry page, I have recently stepped away from volunteer work I thoroughly enjoy, and will continue to support emotionally and financially, until this present work is done.

I'll not bore you with the rest of the details of my life, but be assured, I have become pretty good at being an escapist.

It's been good to read your blog and do keep writing.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]



A thousand thank-yous for this blog. You know what, just yesterday -- yesterday! -- I found myself wondering what happened to your blog,
then quickly "knew" that you'd decided not to be a slave to it anymore, which led to thoughts about our discussion months back that your blog
was born of the need to be read, to be heard!, because this inherent part of writing has been denied you for so long. So, maybe, your über-successful stint as a Blog Goddess satisfied that longing long enough to allow you to drop back into the real work? I'm just so fascinated that my radar picked up your blog distress signals only yesterday!

And, fyi, I am SO with you on this time thing.
Your #1 Salem Fan,

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

From SANDRA PETERSON via email:

Yeah! Glad to hear from you and what a great blog about disappearing. I am. Right now. "Disappeared" for a few days at the OWC House at Rockaway and beginning to make sense to myself as I unwind in its solitude. surrounded by weather too miserable to tempt me out. Thanks for making contact!

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

From JUDITH WATT via email:


You always amaze me with your truthfulness and ability to write a riveting story. Why am I always amazed? I know it's coming! I find myself reading quickly, almost short of breath, to reach the end. Then I'll scroll back to the top and read your story once again at a leisurely, savoring pace. With a book, the suspense is sometimes almost overwhelming and I've been known to read the last few pages before I can return to the beginning to read, once again, at my leisurely, savoring pace.

Thank you for sharing yourself with all of us Gobsmacked followers and for having grown stronger and wiser to be the beautiful, creative, intelligent, witty friend that you are.

I love you,


Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

From BARBARA SULLIVAN via email:

Hey Val--just tried to post this comment on your blog. Can't tell if it took or not, so am sending it this way too:

About the bathroom thread: just yesterday, I was in the women's room in the college where I teach. A few of us were washing or drying hands and blabbering to each other when someone came in, rushed to a stall and locked the door, then burst into tears. The rest of us looked at each other with lifted eyebrows, trying to judge by the tenor of her sobbing whether desperation or privacy should prevail. She just went on crying fiercely behind the stall door, as if she still had a ways to go, and one by one we left. My boss mouthed to me that she would check back later. When everyone else had gone, I knocked on the stall door and said, "I'm not going to interrupt, because it's a woman's sacred right to cry in the bathroom, but if you want to talk, I'll be in my office for a couple of hours," and I gave her the number.

About five minutes later, she was at my door, mopping up. She had had a crisis of confidence in--of course!--a writing class, during--of course!--a peer review workshop. I talked her through it, and pretty soon she came up with a plan of action and went off to implement it. Brave soul, to disappear from class because she didn't want to cry there; to find a place where she could cry and be heard by other women, who care; to hear that it's okay to back away whenever you need to, to get that if you don't give yourself permission to "disappear," you can work your way into an anxiety box that just gets tighter and tighter; and to trust herself when she figured out what to do next.

So glad you are trusting yourself in this way; I'm very sure--even though I haven't read your novel lately--that it's paying off in just the way you describe.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

That's such a heart-warming story about the student, and thank you for offering that lifeline to her. I can imagine how sleep deprived, over-worked, scared and lonely she felt.

You've thrown that lifeline to me, so I know it first hand. You're one of the major people I'm grateful for in my life. I'm sure you've saved dozens of lives at the college and will continue to do so. That was always your path--to make a difference in the world--and you're doing it one person at a time. My mentor, Peggy Marston, did that for me when I was a student there, and she will always be one of my angels.

Love you dearly,

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

From TONYA RICE via email:

Hi Val.
My plan was to comment on your beautiful post “My Disappearance”, however the post is not there on your blog. I wanted to make sure you know that and thankfully, I subscribe, so I had the incredible, wonderful pleasure of reading it.

In case something screwy happened with Blogger, I’ve got the full text and photos below for your immediate reference. I’d hate for your words to be missed by others.


Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

From KARLA DROSTE via email:

Thank you for your honest and inspiring story of your disappearance. I found my creative soul in the chaos of the vertigo and had no choice but to take the time to feed what was starving inside of me - in my case, a lack of balance. You encourage all of us who are starved of the time, freedom and opportunity to create, to remember that life is short and it is time to express ourselves and our gifts - NOW!

Your story about Kippy broke my heart. May we all remove the sunflower seed and eat what nourishes us.

Love to you, dear Val,

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

How I love you, too, dear friend, and your blog will rocket into the stratosphere once your readers find it, and that will be soon with your publication.

Yes, may we all remove the sunflower seed and eat what nourishes us.

Our writing community is a true blessing for all of us.
love you,

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

You're a gift, Tonya! Thank you so much for backing up my blog. That was so thoughtful.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Whew. I'm gobsmacked. You've known me a long time and this means so much to me. Thank you always for the support, encouragement and lovely words.
I love you, too,

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

One of our gifts--Colonyhouse at Rockaway Beach. So glad you're finding solitude and time to write. Hope the words are flowing and the creative tide is high.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

You know it, sistah! Not a slave to anything, but I am always trying to reach the heart of my actions and when I do, I pass the knowledge on for others.
Your friend,
Love you,
Blog Goddess LOL

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

I love that word "escapist." It sounds like another vocation. (as in Magician)
Keep writing and working. Courageous move to devote yourself to your writing and even though volunteer work fulfills you, it is mandatory we volunteer for ourselves sometimes.
Always good to hear from you, Dan. Thank you for all your support.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Focus can do some magical things for our writing, can't it, Becky? Living with our writing, instead of having it chopped up, gives us a deeper understanding of that world we're creating. I think what is difficult to impart to others is that we carry around a whole other world in our head and heart. Easy peasy. LOL. Disappearing needs to be given power instead of derision, just as introverts have great gifts and should be honored, not just the extroverts who get all the attention. Ok, I'm getting off track, but you know what I'm talking about.
Thanks for your comments. You're always there for me and other writers.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

That made me laugh! Yes, I think this could be the start of many people's bios. Glad it brought up that memory. Writing brings up so many memories that might have stayed buried.
Thanks for commenting, Irene! I sure appreciate it.

Tonya Rice said... [Reply to comment]

Hi Val! That was so sweet of you and thank you for sharing. After I'd sent my email, I realized I didn't send my intended comment:

As usual, you struck a chord in me and moved me to tears. As an only child, it was fairly easy to retreat to my writing corner and I kept it up in college. Years later as a wife and mom, I struggle to find those moments - without lurking thoughts about what I "should" be doing... around the house, in the kitchen, on the job, etc.

After some fights for my "me" time to write, I'm halfway through the second rewrite of my novel.The family's eventual support has freed my mind, and I'm grateful, yet with others so close to me in my life, I still find myself wondering if I'm going to be interrupted even when I know I wont!

Thanks Val for reminding me that I'm not alone, that it's okay and that all will be just fine.



Anne Schroeder said... [Reply to comment]

Valerie, writing and blogging don't have to be exclusive. Come back to us! You're a wonderful writer. I hope you are following your muse.