These are old CD backups of my memoir, originally entitled Leaving Semesterland. Since its creation in April 2010, that title has changed many times. For a while, it was simply Semesterland. Then I fragmented it into threes — Semesterland/Enduring Work,/Leaving Semesterland — which makes sense, given the love triangles I have helplessly involved myself in since girlhood. The first chapter then became Expulsion, and the last Attempting Synthesis. Now, four years later, I am considerably condensing it from three sections into two — which sounds and feels like progress. And now it occurs to me: the only part of my book that has always made me feel anticipatory when writing and editing it, and consistently remained the same in terms of title and content is the middle. Enduring Work.
That portion of my memoir is strictly about my journey through school, those twenty-eight consecutive years I spent either studying or teaching art. It started out joyous, but turned deadly the moment I began teaching art as a lowly adjunct in 1994. That is when I began ignoring what I was feeling in classrooms, dismissing my angst at both students and colleagues with a blithe “It will get better. It HAS to.” But it never did. And as a result during the following sixteen miserable years, I lost a long, carefully cultivated sense of good instinct and trust in myself.
It is coming back, slowly but surely. Yet it doesn’t take much to lay both my personal and professional self low, as my previous blog posts have postulated. I often, and especially of late, feel like I am on an emotional as well as professional roller coaster of spectacular highs and lows – and I am not bi-polar, or schizophrenic (although some dishonest college students once inferred that I was). What I am is a mass of contradictions, as my husband has frequently pointed out. Including Strong and Transparent.
Strong: Recent events of a both personal and professional nature have finally given me the strength to access certain aspects of my Big Blank, the black hole in my memory of almost anything that went on at home from 1968-1971. All I know of that time period — meaning what I feel — is that something very bad happened, and something worse happened afterward that changed me and everyone else in our house forever. And I was purposely made to feel as though it was my fault. Sometimes I still believe it.
What little I do remember are either very mundane events — like feeling numbly forced to sit on the couch with my mother and watch black and white movies about bad things that happen to children, or generally nasty children, like The Bad Seed. And Bunny Lake is Missing, which gave me nightmares. Or I remember only the aftermath of something really bad, such as the afternoon my father impaled me with his icy blue glare from across the living room, which pushed me so far into the soft chair cushions that I could feel the wooden slats pressing into my back. Then I got sick all over myself, my father went into a fury, my mother weakly admonished him to leave me alone and helped me clean up. Afterward I went into my parents’ bedroom — not mine — and curled my small body up on a round pink rug. And presumably went to sleep, because that is all I remember.
Having spent about a third of my adult life in counseling or psychotherapy of some kind, I am fully aware that traumatic events are often too traumatic to feel. So we stuff them until we can handle them. Or decide to never handle them, like my family of origin. But, if unresolved, they tend to sneak out at unexpected moments, and negatively affect aspects of our present day life.
The daughter who believes I live to make everyone unhappy recently gifted me this little box, knowing that I have made artworks and written entire memoir chapters on this dreadfully familiar tale. You see, I used to keep a sort of Pandora’s box in the back of my mind. Artistic little girl me visualized it into being as a place where I could stuff horrid, unhandleable things and slam the cover shut. But over many introspective years, more and more of the contents of that box have seen the light of day, and disappeared. It’s pretty much empty now. However…
Transparent: Those vivid flashbacks of my Big Blank are making their way into the present, making me periodically feel like I am feeling them for the first time ever and therefore about as substantial as a wisp of HandiWrap. I feel weak, shaky, and unable to make good decisions, although I am making relatively good ones nevertheless. I can’t sleep for sickeningly second guessing myself — and I have important decisions to make in the upcoming weeks. My anxiety level had me up at 1 a.m. today, checking all the downstairs windows to see if indeed an intruder had sliced them with a utility knife I carelessly left open in my studio. I then dozed for two hours, tossed and turned for another hour and half while obsessing about recent losses that seemed to have utterly negated a few significant victories, and finally gave up and rose to begin my day. At 4:30 a.m.
One of those decisions is big. Yesterday, while I was working alone at Art in the Annex, I got another phone call from the director of Americorps to schedule a second interview with yet another venue that might be interested in hiring me for a year, beginning in early September. The first phone call felt wonderful, probably because the potential job didn’t sound like a good fit. This one had me fighting tears because the interview at a senior center with an “arts and crafts” program already in place seems like a perfect fit for my skill set. I suppose I felt the way many serial homeless people as well as those in transitional housing must feel when pushed. I don’t want to Move On. I want to stay right where I am. As H put it not very long ago “I’ve been here two months. I have two years to Move On. Can’t they leave me alone for a little while, just to get situated?”
But my rusty instincts are telling me something I am fighting hard not to hear today. So I am trying to be patient with myself, sit tight, shut up and not be so damn transparent — and let things transpire. Which leaves me wondering if those two very similar words have the same etymological origins.
They don’t. Both come from Latin, but transparent comes from parere, to show. Transpire comes from spirare, to breathe. And being transparent is not a negative either, I discover. Among other things, it means to be free from guile, candid and open. My negative impression of transparency is merely an aftereffect of that painful conversation with my daughter.
So I go and get Pandora’s Box, where it has lived inside a secret pocket of the purse my daughter encouraged me to buy on my last visit with her, now eight months ago, flip it open and prove that she not only knows precisely who I am, she might admire it. She also loves who I am despite how uncomfortable who I am makes her feel, at times.
By the way, CDs are ridiculously hard to shatter — although Netflix and/or the US Postal Service seem to do an easy job of it. I have had to resort to a strong scissors, and do it in short sessions of about ten minutes each before my right hand begins to tire, and ache. And as I laboriously cut my memories into pieces, intending to put that dangerous beauty into the hands of people who feel pretty fragmented themselves, I remind myself of how strong I really am. And that transparency is a strength.