Looking back and thinking forward

Month: March, 2014

Silently watching

Early morning. Still dark even though the clock reads 6:00 a.m. I look away from the computer and stretch widely in my chair, arms reach upwards and feet extend out into the room. Two cats sit still and quiet – sphinxes in the early morning. Patient and waiting. As I stretch and sigh they look up slowly from their posts. Mimi on the carpet close by, and Oscar on his stand huddled down. I realize how dependent they are on me. For they await their breakfast, and I am the only one who will give it to them at this time of the day. I realize how they need me for affection, encouragement, discipline, and food.

Much like any young child.

My thoughts stray to when I was a child and I remember sitting still silently watching the adults around me. Keeping track of their movements, facial expressions and listening for intonations as they spoke, all the while gleaning information that was important for my emotional and physical survival. A shift in my mother's face, slight shadow, tightening lips, softening or glaring eyes, clenching of her jaw were some of the signs that taught me to relax around her, or become afraid, wary of what I did or said. Still learning about a brand new environment, or getting to know new people in my life, I treaded with caution, and took seriously things that were said in anger, or even with humor. Sarcasm was confusing and hurtful, because as a young child, learning to survive could be treacherous and lonely, or safe and warm depending on the reactions and behaviors of the significant adults in my life. 

As adults, how often we forget that children are sitting or standing silently by, watching our every move or unintentional wince, making assumptions and interpretations, finding meaning that is relevant to their unique and egoistic perspective.  Moment by moment they drink in our everyday reactions and behaviors, learning about their worth as future adults.

How helpful it would be for children if only we could talk them through what they might be understanding about how we are feeling.

But, then again, do we always know what we are feeling when we are being around children? 

Leaving to be left

I have never dealt well with separations of any kind. In psychological terms I guess it is called "anxiety of separation." It is a good way of describing some of what I feel when I leave, or am left behind. Anxiety. With me, though, it is often a lot stronger – like fear, for example, and is almost always connected to the fact that I must, in some way, be intrinsically bad. So that, if I feel I am too bad, I had probably better leave before I am left. Complicated sounding, I imagine. But then again, the feelings are complicated and confusing too. Of course, with my child development background, and the understanding I have acquired about emotional memory development in the brain I have a pretty good idea where it all comes from in my childhood. And, after years of therapy, I acknowledge how I have had those feelings reinforced as I grew up. I am even beginning to understand why I "found" myself in situations that reinforced those feelings over and over again even as an adult – with family members, lovers, and even with friends. Lately, I must say, understanding all of this is, in fact, mind blowing! I find myself sitting for long moments going over incidents or situations in my past, and as if awaking out of a dream, I am amazed at what I am able to understand about so much that went before. Of course, at times during these reveries and revelations I feel regret and even anger at all the wasted time spent in pain and angst, shame and guilt. But mostly, I feel a huge sense of relief – as if a boulder has been shifted from the path in my life's journey, and I can now walk through freely – with a lighter step. Understanding the absurdity at how I viewed things in the past, is one of the steps toward relearning and undoing the brainwashing of years gone by. This is my birthday present to me for this, as I enter my sixty fifth year – shedding the shame, and lifting the veil. I know it does not happen overnight, and that some of the wounds will remain as shadows haunting, hooting, and hollering now and again. But, somehow it feels as if the worst might be over – finally. For, once I have allowed myself to open up my eyes, why on earth would I shut them down again?

Breaking the armor

Quote of the day:

I think a lot of people at some point leave behind their conditioning and examine fundamental myths they've been taught. Susan Sarandon

Lately it feels as if the armor is breaking up and floating away piece by piece. Defense mechanisms and survival skills I learned as a child and youth are starting to crumble the more I find them to be unnecessary for my life as an adult here and now. For a long while I felt safer hiding inside the cocoon, behind the armor, or protected by some kind of invisible shield. But then it started to feel like I was carrying around a burden – a heavy weight, filled with fear and guilt, shame and anxiety that bore no relevance to the reality of my life and who I have become now. I have been chipping away at it for sometime now, and the absurdity of carrying it all around has overcome my need to hold onto it. 

Yesterday, as I stood out in the yard in the pale, warm sun raking away old winter leaves and exposing the beginning tips of spring bulbs in the garden, I had the strangest sensation of pieces of armor breaking free from protecting my Self, and they were flying away out and up from different angles and spaces. Almost as if an invisible shield was being penetrated by points of light. 

There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. 
That's how the light gets in. 
That's how the light gets in. Leonard Cohen

I must say it is a strange sensation feeling me in the world differently than how I was taught to see me. 

Me and my hair

There are those who say that I psychologilize too much. And I would agree that I do … just not "too" much. For while awareness can be painful when confronting my imperfections, I would rather understand why I feel what I feel, or do what I do, than live in a dark, unintentional haze of psychological ignorance. I rather like discovering what my subconscious has to offer, or what lies within the ancient, emotional memory templates of my brain. Mostly it frees me to be all I want without fear, and frankly I am sick and tired of schlepping all that burden around with me any longer.

Which brings me to the subject of my hair.


I almost always kept it long. I had a love-hate relationship with my hair. When I was young growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) it was too curly and fuzzy. In such a racist environment I quickly learned that my kind of hair was unacceptable in a white, "civilized" society. In those days it was bad enough that I felt like I did not belong within my complex family system, and therefore did everything I could to try and fit in externally to any social group that would have me. So, I tortured myself with lengthy, agonizing hair-straightening sessions, which were undone in a second if one drop of humidity slipped through the air around me. 


Living in Israel during my twenties and thirties, I allowed my hair to grow long and wild. I did not hate it as much as when I was younger, because it seemed to fit in more with the culture around me. Indeed, there were quite a few people with hair like mine. I felt more acceptable, and even sexually attractive, although when I spoke Hebrew my anglo-saxon accent was immediately detected as "other." Indeed, when I worked as a preschool teacher, Israeli parents would express concern that I might not teach their children to speak Hebrew appropriately. Looking back I realize what with one thing and another, my memories are laced with feelings of angst, loneliness, and longing, nay, struggling to belong to anyone, or group that would have me. 

And then I came to America.


Almost 26 years ago, I arrived in Buffalo, New York one year shy of turning 40. And I changed my life. Even though it was my decision to uproot me and my son, and leave everything behind, I arrived in America feeling like a refugee as if I was going into exile – into hiding from a painful past. People opened their arms and hearts to me, and took me in. My long, wild hair and strange, antique, British, Rhodesian accent seemed exotic and charming to everyone I met. And if I worked and studied hard, the academic community accepted and acknowledged me. For the following twenty years as my hair grew and grew, I reinvented myself academically, professionally, and personally.


About five years ago, I cut my hair. I was sitting in the hair salon looking at myself in the mirror, when the stylist came up behind me and asked what I wanted to have done. At first, I had come in to have a small trim, as I always did about every eight or nine months or so. Suddenly, without thinking I said, "Cut it off!" My voice was strong, firm and clear. "All of it?" she exclaimed. "Yes," I said. Well, she snipped and cut and people sitting around the room gasped and spluttered as the fuzzy curls tumbled to the floor. She made a dent to it, I must say. And I quite liked it.
New Image1

But somehow it was not enough. And then one day my friend Hana and I were walking on Forbidden Drive by the Wissahickon, when she declared to me that what a person needs in this life to be happy and successful is a good therapist and an excellent hair stylist. We laughed about that, but the idea hit home. I asked her for recommendations. One was the therapist, and the other – Olivier. And I have not looked back!

Two years ago I was heading to Italy for a writer's workshop. I visited Olivier for my usual haircut. I said to him, "Make me chic, and stylish – make me look like an intellectual – a writer." He set to work, and created a new me.


As I looked at myself in the mirror I felt at home with me – finally – after all these years of searching for self worth. Strange things started to happen. Colleagues thought I had been very ill – maybe with cancer – my mother hated it with a vengeance. She was forthright, calling it "vile," and openly shuddering with disgust each time I walked in the room. People stopped telling me how cute and curly I looked, and it even put an end to some of them taking the liberty of intrusively running their fingers through my hair without my permission. More importantly, though, I felt free, mature and confident when I looked in the mirror. I had made a statement for me, and with it I banished the emotional pain of my past. 

Quite a lot for just a hair cut, I must say.

These past ten months, I decided to grow my hair again. I had fun asking "friends" in a status update on Facebook to vote on my hair – long or short. Interestingly, the men surveyed were unanimous about it being long. Women were mixed – mostly liking it short. Now, it has reached the point where I can go either way – full on long or short as in Italy. I have thought about it a lot – hence this blog post!  Indeed, as I write this piece I see that it could even serve as an outline for a Memoir Through my Hair.

As I see it, growing it long pulls me down, back into my past, and I do not want to go back there again. Cutting my hair short brings me present for all that is, and right here, right now, is where I want to be. 


Quote of the day – a meditation:

"In one ancient language the word memory derives from a word meaning mindful,

In another, from a word to describe a witness,

In yet another it means, at root, to grieve.

To witness mindfully is to grieve for what has been lost" (and to be present for all that is

Freeman House, Totem Salmon. Shared in group meditation, and a personal postcard to me by Wendy Johnson at Villa Lina, October 2012.

Memories hang heavy at times, rising up from nowhere it seems like long, dark shadows that nip and bite at my soul. At other times they bring back feelings of elation, and I wonder if that is the trick of nostalgia to wipe clean all complexity, doubt and anxiety from the past leaving me with fresh, flagrant joyousness, and a yearning to retrieve all the perfection that once was. Memories are accompanied by regret and mourning, wishing that things could have been different and blame for not having made it so. And then again, they bring understanding and awareness that clear away darkness shining a bright light to clear a way forward. Memories are heavy like a large boulder on my shoulders, a stone in my heart, dragging me unwittingly toward a deep abyss. Memories are light and fluffy like snow flurries and feathers that buoy me upward floating in air. The past lies in old photographs, and freshly taken pictures that become old a minute after the camera clicks. I love to look at them and wonder at how I was feeling, what was happening, and how the pictures portray that brief hanging moment in time gone by. 

What a challenge to "stay present for all that is," with all that memories bring to bear! I thank Wendy again and again for sharing that meditation almost two years ago. For waking from the constant flow of memory dreams I find me sitting still and silent, legs crossed, and sun streaming warmly on my face. I breathe in and out slowly and deeply, and cast my eyes around my room to discover:

  • Oscar stretched out on the carpet in the sun next to me,
  • Plants green and freshly watered, some flowering hopefully even when they shouldn't quite yet,
  • Pictures on the wall or ornaments on a shelf representing dear friends and generous love-filled moments …

… And I feel completely grateful for my life.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Dedicated to my therapist