Thoughts

Acceptance (Or Something Like It)

Having recently read Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, I’d decided soon after finishing the book to try one of the recommended readings.  I chose Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Coming To Our Senses, mainly because van der Kolk discussed some of the collaborations the two of them used in studies.  I haven’t put it up on my Goodreads, partially because the book has a weird dual thread of (Kabat-Zinn’s) self-promotion & actual insightful commentary on human perception that bothers me.

But there is one concept that I’ve been stuck on for the past few weeks that I keep playing with mentally.  Kabat-Zinn mentions the Kanizsa triangle, an illusion where three circles suggest a triangle at their center due to their shape.  He presents a scenario where a Zen teacher shows this figure to a student & says something like, “If you say there is a triangle in the center, I will tell you that you’re wrong.  If you say there isn’t a triangle in the center, I will tell you that you’re wrong.”

My initial reaction was a fear where there is no right answer, meaning (for my people-pleasing self) that I cannot make the other person happy or content or solve the problem they present me, meaning a frightening (but purely hypothetical) situation where I can’t solve their problem or get away from their scrutiny.  The idea that ambiguity resides outside of my attempts to understand or create order was terrifying.  Ambiguity means unassessed threats means I might get hurt means run away run away run away NOW.

(And if I wasn’t trying to be honest & make a point here, I’d link to Courtney Love’s “Mono” where she screams those last few words.)

All of that was my traumatized brain.  And now that I’m healing, I’m facing this idea of ambiguity, where things do & do not exist at the same time, & thinking that I might be able to learn to be ok with it.  At least, that’s the skill I want to have moving toward.  I’ve left behind the over-used survival instinct & the chronic exhaustion it causes.  I’m struggling now with the remaining traces on my reasoning, where categorizing past experiences as either all good or all bad seems like an easy solution.

But that’s not what I want.  I want to accept myself & my place in the world & grow stronger from that purposeful knowledge, not from the reactions to the ghosts of the past & the wolves at the door.

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Thoughts

The Not-Snow Day

Grey Window View
Morning View in the Winter

Yesterday was an odd day.  I woke up to a temperature of -3° Fahrenheit & a heater that was struggling mightily to heat the rest of the house.  My husband & I decided to spend most of the day in our upstairs bedroom where the heat from the sun would be captured & our flannel-covered bed could help keep us warm.

It was like a snow day without the snow; a sick day without actually being ill.  We went nowhere, camped out with a bunch of books & busywork, & indulged our cat as he stretched more & more across the width of the bed.  But this is not really what was odd.

What was odd to me was the relative quiet within myself.  I’m a jittery person that is constantly pacing & trying to figure out what to focus on first, because there are always so many things I must be neglecting or forgetting to do.  And I’m still that person to a certain extant, but with the recent PTSD treatments I’ve had have turned a lot of that interior noise way down.  I still felt some guilt over choosing to do almost nothing for the entire day, but I was able to do it with the emotional mudslide.  I could answer the question, “What about. . .” with a common shrug & let the thought alone.

I don’t know if I’ll ever really stop fighting myself—that constant tension between what I want & what I think I’m supposed to do or what I think others think I’m supposed to do has been with me so long.  Anticipate, defend, escape, repeat.  But yesterday was the growing proof that the tone could change, that a different balance could be found.  And that insight is such a small, powerful thing that it scares me too because it is too dear to be lost.

But the fear is not the stronger emotion; what prevails is the wonder & the hope for the future.

Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Winter Tide

Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy, #1)Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aphra Marsh is one of the three types of humans; she is a daughter of the water & an Aeonist who believes in the cosmology of the Old Ones. Her people have fared badly in the United States, having had their communities raided & families sent to concentration camps. Now, as WWII ends & the Cold War begins, Aphra is recruited by the US Government to investigate any possibility that the Russians may have learned forbidden Aeonist magic–a weapon even more frightening than the nuclear arsenal both nations have at hand. For Aphra, this means returning to her destroyed hometown & recovering what she can of her past life.

I picked this book up on a whim from my library, mainly because I recognized John Jude Palencar’s cover art. When I also saw that Tide included deep references to Lovecraft, I started reading him at the same time so I wouldn’t be lost. However, I soon found myself much more interested in Aphra’s story. If interested readers have played any of the Fallen London games, they’ll find Emrys’s rearranged America familiar–even enjoyable with examples like a Harvard-like school that is the best place to learn Enochian & other esoteric pursuits. Tide is also driven more by its events & locales than by its characters. On the plus side, this approach keeps readers’ interest engaged. On the negative side, there are numerous characters to keep track of & frequently do not become more than a list of traits (gay, Jewish, patriotic or Black, multi-lingual, cynical).

But, the thing that Emrys does well is emphasize the community-building & empathetic insights that her characters have with one another. The ultimate subversion to Lovecraft here is that this book about social misfits learning to trust & help one another, not retreat, secretly think themselves vastly superior, or wander so far up their own assholes that you wonder why you, the reader, are even paying attention. (& you are probably starting to guess why I put the original Lovecraft on the back burner.) Tide is a good, engaging start to a larger series & I’m hoping the narrative kinks will be worked out as Emrys continues to explore her take on the Lovecraftian world.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The Book of Lilith

The Book of LilithThe Book of Lilith by Barbara Black Koltuv

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Koltuv’s Book of Lilith is both a survey of Lilith’s appearances & aspects in different myths & a psychological exploration in how the archetype is still meaningful for woman in more modern, secular times. Which is appropriate in its own way, considering that Lilith’s realm, as outlined by the author, lies outside of God’s reach. Most interesting is the histories of how the character of Lilith changed over time as well as contemporary stories & poems that seek to define her. The myriad of sources listed certainly gave this reader plenty of new titles to try & track down.

In the psychological portions of the book, Koltuv also uses Lilith as a totem for those who reach a second maturation, either through the natural course of aging or as a state of being after surviving trauma. The examples of patients’ stories presented here have an authenticity or self-acceptance that carried more weight with me now than when I was a teenager reading Goddesses in Everywoman. (Of course, my age & circumstance might have its own role to play here.) A dense, thorough book (despite its small size) that will appeal to those who enjoy studying where belief & folklore intersect with psychology.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: When Women Were Birds

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on VoiceWhen Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A powerful, restrained series of essays on finding and articulating one’s voice. The topics cover a number of intensely personal experiences in Williams’s adult life: uncovering the meaning of her mother’s blank journals found after her death, Williams’s experiences as a teacher and activist, & her struggles to reconcile her life’s choices with what is expected of her. Despite the individual nature of these events, Williams is focused on what all good writers try to define, which is how to survive and prosper amid the messy circumstances of life.

Much of what I could cobble together of a plot summary would come more in the form of a list but would not convey the power of Williams’s writing or the depth of her thoughts. Or perhaps I simply use this as an excuse not to discuss how much this book moved me. Williams’s ability to make substantive connections between her perspective and the environment that has shaped it is poignant and something special to be experienced by readers. As an aspiring writer myself, this book is now among those I venerate with prose that is vital, aware and knowledgeable of it’s own borders. Recommended to all nonfiction writers as well as readers interested in meditations on aging, living an unconventional life, or women’s activism.

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