tamarjacobson

Looking back and thinking forward

Writing exercise

Describe my home study – ten minutes – go:

The cats settle in, Mimi climbs into the basket near my feet, curls into a ball and falls asleep. It is a large African basket, which I had planned to use for waste paper right next to my desk. I have never been able to use it for that because Mimi has chosen it as her favorite spot to hide away and sleep. Oscar raises his head from the cushion that Tom brought for me from Brussels many years ago. Oscar’s favorite place to sleep is on that cushion that lays upon my rocking chair. The chair that the university child care center staff gave me when I left for Philadelphia. As I look around my study I notice all sorts of treasures that I have received over the years. They may not be worth much in terms of monies. But each one has some special meaning for me. On the window sill the violets are blooming. One of them was half dead when a colleague gave it to me last May. She told me that if anyone could bring it back to life I could. Now it has grown new leaves and its fuchsia colored flowers bloom tall and strong in the sunlight as it streams through the windows. When one of the leaves fell off as I brought the plant up from my car, I planted it in a separate clay pot and attended to it daily with water and softly spoken words. It too has grown baby, fuchsia flowers that bloom through the new, fresh, fleshy leaves. On the wall behind and above my computer are photographs and sayings – some postcards that friends have sent me over the years – others are sayings like the one my therapist in Buffalo gave to me when we parted asI left for Philadelphia. I sigh because I realize how many times I have parted from people I thought I could never live without. Too many times to count perhaps. For each time it hurt – always a little more than the last time, although now I know that I will survive each parting. Just as others will survive without me. I wonder what will happen to all my nick knacks when I die. They will not have the same meaning for those cleaning up my room. They won’t know how each picture, plant, figurine, Buddha, or basket propped me up and supported me through long hours as I sat at my desk typing a blog post or writing by hand in my journal. I close my eyes realizing my ten minutes are up.

Cats are fast asleep – calm and warm. Their presence has warmed me too in the writing of this piece.

Writing routine

Time to create a writing routine. Am thinking this will mean lessening my use of social media and cutting down on Internet Scrabble games. Or, perhaps I can use all those as rewards for writing each day as many words as needed to complete the first draft of my book by June. What a bind! Starting phased retirement with deadlines! And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It excites me – the prospect of this book. I put off the writing because I don’t want it to be done at the other end … and then what? I like the feeling of knowing what is coming during the writing and reading up for it. A subject so near to my heart that it breaks. Some people catch a thrill from mountain climbing or bungee jumping. I get it from delving deep into the heart and soul of the psyche – uncovering awareness – of what makes us tick.

So plans are afoot for my writing routine. Probably early in the morning – the time between the edge of night and break of day … when, for me, thoughts and memories are the freshest. Or directly after my shower, after a long walk, or taking myself out to my favorite breakfast restaurant, because often my finest thoughts pop into my brain during those times I am alone with me. Who knows? All I know for right now is I sense a fire in my belly, and when that happens – the writing is sure to follow.

With each writing project I develop a different flow. At the time I wrote my other books early morning was necessary before I started the work day. Now that I have all the time in the world I suspect the routine will be created along the way.

This morning, I give thanks to my new blog, for it has already gotten me into a writing mood, and a routine is evolving as we speak.

Dieting as deprivation

For years I have understood that there is an emotional connection between me and my hunger. I am sometimes just physically hungry, but often my hunger is connected to emotions – like anger, boredom, or loneliness. Lately I have realized that dieting feels like deprivation, and, in fact, I become quite anxious – even panicked – when I diet.

Revelation.

I notice that I don’t seem to feel that way when I deprive myself of clothes, going to the theater, museums, books, or any material possessions really. My greatest source of delight comes with going out for breakfast or dinner. It feels as if I am being rewarded for something. Food, therefore, equals love. I remember when my son started making his own sandwiches for school. I felt lonely and deprived for days until I understood that I was not needed for providing his sustenance – I equated food for love then too. I remember the warmth and happiness I felt when I ate with my nanny and the other servants on our back porch when I was a child in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). We sat on the floor and ate sadza out of a large pot, dipping balls of it we had rolled in our hands into the thick, warm gravy accompanied by tough, tasty chunks of beef. We washed our hands in bowls of water that were passed between us keeping our hands clean for each new sadza ball we created. I would listen as they talked back and forth – at times understanding their language and at others it did not matter. The atmosphere was kind and welcoming. I felt safe out there, and wanted. No one watched or commented on how much or what I ate, how dry or curly my hair was, or how much I talked.

It is hard to pin point immediately the feelings of emotional deprivation. It creeps up on me when I least expect it. And so, I am starting to take note of how it feels – holding still in the moment just experiencing the sensations: a little anxiety; my body and especially the pit of my stomach feels cold and empty; lonely; afraid and a little panicked; and, yes, it feels like a gaping hole in my soul. The fact is, food calms those sensations for a short while, and I even feel comforted momentarily, but, in fact, the hole never, ever really fills up from eating a juicy chicken leg or just one more soft, sweet stroopwafel.

I love psychological revelations. While they never actually fix the problems, awareness does give me another option – an opportunity to choose reactions or behaviors, when I am feeling less vulnerable. It is not easy staying in touch with our earliest emotional memories, because we have repressed them for good reason at the time when they might have represented real danger.

I can’t help but turn back to my most favorite book: Appetites: Why Women Want, and remember just how complex is the subject of food, love, desire, culture and how I fit in – or fit it all in before I cut back on portions, and eat healthy again:

Being known. This, of course, is the goal, the agenda so carefully hidden it may be unknown to the self … the extremes announce, This is who I am, this is what I feel, this is what happens when I don’t get what I need … In quadrophonic sound they give voice to the most central human hunger, which is the desire to be recognized, to be known and loved because of, and in spite of, who you are; they give voice to the sorrow that takes root when that hunger is unsatisfied. (Page 175)

 

Structure

Back in 2010, I wrote a piece as an application for attending a writer’s workshop with Natalie Goldberg. I decided to share and edit parts of it here, because, as an author, it describes what I feel or think about writing in general.

Last night (October 4, 2010), driving home from work I heard Jon Stewart interviewed by Terri Gross on the radio. Terri Gross asked him what his morning meetings were like as his team plan for their evening shows. Stewart told her that contrary to what some people might assume, their meetings were well organized and structured. He went on to say, “… I’m a real believer in that creativity comes from limits, not freedom. Freedom, I think you don’t know what to do with yourself, but when you have structure, then you can improvise off it and feel confident enough to kind of come back to that.” I marveled at the coincidence for earlier that day I had started writing this piece for my application to the intensive workshop series with Natalie Goldberg, and had been thinking about my own relationship with boundaries and limitations. Indeed, Jon Stewart summed up some of my thoughts.

I need a framework or some type of formal structure from which I can develop my creativity in the area of writing. With regards to writing and meditation, I am self taught. By reading books, attending a few classes, and then going it alone. I experiment, do a lot of observing of others and learn the jargon – adapt to the culture, and then develop my own way of doing things. On the other hand, I have had years of formal education, including acquiring a Ph.D. In that sense I was taught to write and research in a certain type of structure that is common in academia. However, it is not helpful in writing about memories or telling my story. An intensive workshop with Natalie Goldberg could provide a different type of guidance and structure for the things I have learned to do on my own – things I am already doing day to day: mediation, walking, writing.

I have written articles for magazines and journals, columns for newsletters, and a number of books or chapters for teachers about self-reflection, attitudes and emotions affecting interactions with children and families. Indeed, most of my writing includes telling my story. At times I do that to model for others how they might tell theirs. In the case of teachers, I want to help them become more authentic in their relationships with children. At others times I share my story as an act of self-expression.

Twelve years ago, when we relocated to Philadelphia after many years in Buffalo, New York, I left behind a therapist who I had been seeing for several years. I began writing a blog. As a blogger I have been able to use writing as self-discovery and reflection. When I began it often took the place of therapy for me. Blogging is an interesting forum for writing because as personal as it is, it is also as public as can be. Over the years I received much feedback about my blogging posts in all sorts of forms – from the quality of my writing to the appropriateness of the content. I learned to write for a public audience, even as I shared my inner life, at times in a most intimate manner, and my writing has certainly improved as a result of all the feedback and practice.

Blog writing is a writing exercise for me. Writing a journal for no one else to read is a different kind of practice. Either way, writing practice is a form of structure from which I can develop creativity in thinking, style and expression.

Where I am III

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[Post card from Syracuse Cultural Workers]

It’s the end of an era for me. Here I am heading into 2017 … into the politically unknown. I feel uncertain, and more than a little worried that hateful rhetoric and mean political actions will hurt those most vulnerable.

On the other hand I am drawing on faith that the past eight years have also taught us a lot more about acceptance and understanding of the Other. For let’s not forget that it began with an appeal to our better angels:

What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives – from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry – an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels. Barack Obama, January 17, 2009

I took that sentiment to heart, and have tried to live it every day since then. I feel sure that I am not alone in this. In our community where I live, I have met and become friends with many people, who live with this sentiment daily. I see pasted on doors, posted in yards, and on local business windows signs that say: All are Welcome: Hate has no Business here.

I always love the lines in Kate Wolf‘s song, Across the Great Divide:

The finest hour that I have seen, are the ones that come between, the edge of night, and the break of day – that’s when the darkness rolls away …”

… for I believe that light has a way of making its way through the dark.

So, here I am – hoping that we will continue encouraging light to creep in and shine the way as we embark on a new year … new era … new political journey.

Where I am (II)

Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open. Natalie Goldberg

One of my most fervent beliefs is that, as teachers, our earliest, childhood, emotional memories affect how we interact with children – especially when dealing with discipline, and more specifically with accepting and understanding the many varied ways children express their need for attention. The greatest challenge in writing about memories is being as true to my own experience even if it is painful to confront. It is no secret that we all experience a similar event in different ways based on how we emotionally interpret situations, or how we learned to express ourselves. As I prepare to write a book about children and adults needing attention, I realize that my greatest challenge will be writing about my childhood experiences, so that adults reading the book will have permission to reflect on theirs. When writing my past books, being true to my experience has been difficult for those closest to me to accept. For their experience is just as true for them, and most often as different as can be.

My experiences with attention giving or receiving as a child and adult, and especially in my work with children, teachers and families, make me realize that this might be at the center of my own childhood pain. Recently, during one of my therapy sessions, I reached in and gently tapped at this core. It wasn’t surprising really because my therapist and I have been chipping away at this for awhile. Of course through his support and acceptance of who I am, I was finally able to lean in and trust him and me enough to allow myself to feel the edge of a pain, which probably goes way deeper. Indeed, it was an amazing feeling.

So here I am this early morning, two days before entering a new year, realizing that if I want to write about: what disturbs [me], what [I] fear, what [I] have not been willing to speak about … (Natalie Goldberg), I am going to have to understand when those closest to me might be angered or hurt by it. There is something larger at stake for me here. I want to explore and share this subject with teachers, because I believe it is important for our relationships with children. And, in addition, I sense I will uncover more about my own life that, in the long run will help me continue to heal. So … where I am this morning?

…  willing to be split open

Where I am

Writing exercise with prompt from Saundra Goldman: Where I am … ten minutes – go …

Today early morning here and now visiting family across the nation in Seattle area. Enjoying good foods that are different from the every day of our lives in Philadelphia. Special Christmas cookies, especially those small round snow white ones filled with butter and pecans. The kind that melts in the mouth even before I am able to wrap my teeth around the first bite. Enjoying different trees lit by soft white lights. Both family tress I witness here are decorated very simply with just matching balls and soft colors. I think about our humungous tree back on the east coast every year with all kinds of odds and ends, and knick knacks from everywhere: angels of all kinds, one made of metal and wire from Kenya, and one made only from straw. Even a miniature Starbucks cup dangles from one of the branches and a large glass mirror that has inscribed on it “2007” from the year we bought our large angels from Pottery Barn. We were living in different apartments still and each had our own tree. The angels, one pink and one burgundy sat atop. Each year I buy one new ornament. We merged our lives together over twenty years ago – life partner and me. Bringing with each of us different traditions – his of Christmas in the Pacific North West. Me from being Jewish and also nothing really – sort of atheist – somewhat spiritual – Buddhas in every corner of my life – a collection that has built up over the years. Our holiday time has a large Buddha face staring over the Hannukiah twinkling with candles right next to our knick, knack filled tree. I stop writing to think a moment. Merging our cultures has not been easy at times. My way emotional and stormy, his stoic and quiet. And yet somehow we cross the stormy lines and come out the other side together – stronger. The hardest part is always, in the end, accepting that each is different from the other – that we don’t have to be the same. We are able to express ourselves differently and still understand one another.

In the bigger picture of where I am, I face the reality that I am now a Senior on this life journey – with wisdom and experience to accompany me on the next twenty years or so. But whenever I think that I may be through with the past, inevitably I discover so often that the past is not through with me. My childhood is always peeking in even as my hair turns whiter, and wrinkles embed themselves as little lines about my eyes and mouth. Dawn has arrived and soon others will stir. Facing a large clear window in the living room, I observe the soft white and orange lights of Seattle city beginning to fade as the day light struggles to push its way through the clouds.

A wintry mix

End of the semester arrives, and with it the beginning of phased retirement leave for the spring. Mixed feelings: on the one hand, exhilaration to be free to write, walk, read, discover who I am becoming as I get older; on the other, I will miss the students and coming into the sacred space of my work office with all its precious posters and nick knacks collected over the years.

The freedom feeling wins me over. For having just signed a contract to write a book on a topic I have been reflecting about for a couple of years, I am excited to get going with that. As is my way, I will give teachers, or any other adults who live or work with children, permission to explore their own psychological development and emotions, by sharing mine. And this topic, children needing attention, while near and dear to my heart – also breaks my heart. So many children need our attention in the form of authentic relationships – so many do not receive it. So many teachers overwhelmed not knowing what it feels like themselves, having never received it either. So many of us learned to accept being invisible, repressed, filled with feelings of longing and desire for attention, or acting out just to be noticed.

Are we forever confused, ashamed or guilty about even wanting attention in the first place? Are we numb to the longing?

At a very young age I know I learned to lower my expectations to become unaware of how much I longed for attention.

Since I started thinking about the how’s and why’s – the ways I received attention as a young child, I have started to feel less and less needy for it. This, in itself is a phenomenon that intrigues me. Am I giving myself the attention I did not receive as a child simply by thinking, remembering, and allowing myself to feel the deprivation – now, as an adult?

Much to think and read about as I formulate chapter upon chapter. Am excited to explore the topic but fearful at the same time as I know it will give me pain to remember my own childhood. On the other hand – what catharsis and healing!

I have some goals for my New Year. They are part of my wintry mix: writing the new book, sharing my emotional life with others, allowing myself to face more and more of my uncomfortable or frightening feelings, and becoming more healthy – physically and emotionally.

Winter’s darkness and cold will inevitably bring forth warmth, light and rebirth, and accompany me on yet another journey back in time to hopefully emerge more enlightened than before.

New blog

Well, this is it.

The new format and address of my new blog.

Thanks to my editor and friend, Danny Miller, who suggested I try my hand at blogging, in January it will be thirteen years since I began.

It’s a quiet, cold and rainy day – but it feels new and fresh to me as I embark on a different writing adventure with a new book in the works. I took myself to one of my favorite bakeries for a latte and walnut, gorgonzola cheese scone, and uncovered the wonders of “WordPress.”

I hope my old faithful readers will follow along here at my new site, and welcome any newcomers, who want to journey aways with me.

 

Afternoon reflections

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On this my sixty seventh year. Experiencing the extent of disrespect, emotional abuse and marginalization of me when I was a child – by my mother. The last year experiencing it all physically, deeply in every crevice of my being. Memories long forgotten and buried away arise at all sorts of moments when I least expect them. Some making me scurry away to photo albums to dig up early childhood photographs to catch a glimpse of how I looked and remembering how I felt at the time. At times I am doubled over in pain – on my walk, alone in the shower, or driving to and from work, grocery shopping – anywhere – tears streaming down my face. I feel anger and sadness for the little lonely girl who was me. It is as if I am making a stand for me over and over again. I understand how it all happened and “get it” at how incapable my mother was of doing anything differently at the time. I cannot know how she thought or what she felt – can only assume or imagine if I try and put myself in her shoes. As a child growing up in that house with the people of that time I spent much time quietly observing and trying to alleviate my mother’s suffering. She seemed mostly so unhappy – frightened that my step-father would leave her or have affairs. I hardly had time to know how or what I was feeling. To this day I am always astonished and grateful if anyone pays any kind of attention to me, for my emotional default position is that I am unloveable, a burden – in the way – and fundamentally, oh so flawed – to the point of being destructive for others. The catharsis is excruciating and healing all at the same time. There is no blame in it. Just a sense of what I went through alone as my psyche was developing. As I try to shed the perceptions and realities about myself that I learned so long ago I understand more and more how deeply embedded they are. It helps me to develop compassion for myself as I work at changing the old world view I had of myself.

Young children learn about their identities by the way significant adults in their lives perceive them, and how they receive attention from them. If they are neglected or shamed they learn to believe that there must be something wrong with them. Their need for acknowledgement from the people they love does not allow them to feel anger about the abuse or neglect they endured. They turn it, instead, inward.

I may never fully recover to a brand new emotional default position where I feel confidently loved or deserving. I understand that now. But I am more able to navigate my feelings in the moment and realize when I am slipping into the old narrative I learned over and over again as a young child. Moreover it gives me a perspective about young children’s need for attention, acknowledgement and validation, and positions me to help adults reflect on how they sought out or received attention and how they feel about it in relation to children in their care.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: The new world