Happy Halloween!

Dear reader,

Here’s a good little read for Halloween…

A HALLOWEEN STORY

Water rises. I careen toward the bridge beneath which, not a moment ago, water raged, and where is the bridge now? A line of sweat forms at my hairline, trickles into my eyes, stings my eyes. I talk to the bridge, Please be intact, I say, as I gun the engine. River rages, swirls, scrubs the planks as if to erase the bridge’s memory. Bridge jabs back at me with a bony finger, much like an ancient grandparent would, You should never cross a bridge in a flood, it admonishes, as if it has experienced this kind of thing before, and it has. 

Weirdly, bits of Simon and Garfunkel float like water on the brain. “Like a bridge over troubled–” Well, you know.  

The song will not leave me alone. “…I will lay me down.” Well, let me tell you something, Simon and Garfunkle, this chick isn’t ready to lay herself down yet, so go trouble someone else’s friggin’ waters.

Before. Yet. Past. Future. Neither matters for the Now I’m in.

For reasons I cannot explain, I don’t dare back out of the canyon, back up that long hill to where strangers warned us not to cross.

“Don’t do it,” they’d said. “Happens fast, Stay here. Hunker down.”

“Drive!” someone familiar urges from the seat next to me.

Observers sit wordless in the row behind me and why are they silent? Why do they stare? I know they stare because I feel it. Go ahead, I say to them, drill holes.

The van is running over a large tree limb and someone has packed thirty gallon drums of gasoline into the third row and who would do such a thing? The van heaves upward. Barely contained gas thumps against curved ribs.

Thump thump.

Muddied water torn down by broken hills seeps into the crack of the driver’s side door. Sqidgy toes, windshield wipers inadequate for torrential downfall might as well not be there. Objects–bikes, cars–fade into the whorl until they are no longer distinguishable.

“Drive!”

Without warning, I am not kidding without so much as a moan, too late the front of the van lifts up, the wheels up and off, horrifying, now the back wheels lifting off, and I am a toddler walking on top of my daddy’s shoes light and effortless while he walks me around the room, my fingers locked in his, and I should giggle with delight at great strides made with no effort at all. Instead, I gasp as a newborn for first breath, then cry out. I scream but no sound comes forth. I am rendered soundless by the flood. I am born mute, and who will hear me?

blake-cheek-803253-unsplash-1-drowning-photo-e1539105026316.jpgBrown sepia foam dims vision while blackened trees float by, branches scrape the van, poke bony fingers into windows like great screeching banshees on the hunt for innocents.

He’s laughing now, the one in the seat next to me, high pitched, crazy laughter.

Thump thump

“Drive!”  

Foolishly, I gun the gas again, as if a gas pedal will prevent our shockingly languid three hundred sixty degree turn. Wheels spin in a galaxy of gas fumes and I become the river…

 


…By some miracle, water thrusts us to the other side! Wheels touch down, water lapping up into wheel wells. The engine gives a great sputter then it dies. We must get up the hill! I turn the key again, pray, listen to the whine until, at last, a spark catches! We should be cheering, clapping, sighing, spent.

I wake up, before the explosion

 

YOU DESERVE…CONTINUED

If we don’t fix Can Opener Deficit Disorder, then we have the perfect excuse not to try  a new way and we may hurt ourselves, instead.  As a result we may very well miss joy beyond mere survival. That, my friends, is a rut, an excuse, a bowl of leftovers from a poorly set children’s table, a rut lined with excuses…

Why try hard?                    

I can’t.

What’s the point.

My friends, we were made for so much more.

 

If, at the age of thirty I believed I was worthwhile, I would have also have believed I deserved a better can opener. The same would have been true at the age of seven, but the idea of worthiness was an impossibility given the circumstance. For some of us who survived to adulthood this paradigm runs like a deep fault line beneath the thin veneer of our grown-up lives. By the time we’ve grown up we are afraid of what lies beneath.

I’m gonna give up

We may have heard, “You can’t” or “You’ll never” or “Get your head out of the clouds” or “You’re too sensitive.” Or, my favorite: “Why do you make things so difficult for me?”

I still struggle once in a while with worthiness, purpose, joy, happiness, or fulfillment so, my point is this: when  those of us who come from extreme difficulty struggle from time to time, we may now have access to proper tools with which to open things up–for instance,  a good adviser, coach, or counselor, someone skilled at help you “open up the can.” Or…an actual can opener.

I, for one, am willing to try for a better way to open up that can. Because I believe, inside each of us there’s something good, something hopeful, something worth sharing. And I’m not about to waste it.

We’re not wasters.

So let’s go, get a better can opener, and actually use it.

If we don’t purposefully set out to reward ourselves with proper tools, our lives are bleak indeed. Let’s not fail to understand this: that to strive for something good is to strive for reward-worthy living. We are capable of doing so much good in this world. To strive for more means we believe our efforts are worthwhile.  It’s not too far a leap from there to conclude that we are worthwhile too.

So we get to the core.

We are worthwhile. We deserve a better can opener.

“You Deserve a Better Can Opener” concludes next week.

 

YOU DESERVE A BETTER CAN OPENER

Let’s talk rewards.

Yes, rewards.

But first, may we talk about Can Opener Deficit Disorder?

I used to suffer from Can Opener Deficit Disorder and I’ll tell you why. For a very long stretch–years–my parents did not own a real can opener. Can openers cost money and therefore were considered a luxury available only to the well-off. My dad reasoned his spare change was better spent on cat food, which I was expected to open for him with the jackknife. Not that I minded, because I had no working knowledge of can openers. Hence, because I had no understanding, no witness to tell me any differently, I had Can Opener Deficit Disorder.

I only wished we could have afforded BAND-AIDS.

But BAND-AIDS belong to another story.

The point of this article is this and I’m not the only one who learned it early: the one necessity in life was the one that demanded we suffer in order to subsist. Forget about a reward. Many of us experienced similar survival events in childhood, and could not have possibly had any working knowledge of what a reward was. We were too busy surviving.

The idea of rewarding oneself may be new idea for those of us who hail from one of life’s bleaker landscapes, a place where a certain mindset, an automatic way of being  may support mere survival. You understand, some of us hail from that place where rewards sit like isolated cabins on far apart hills, rewards hidden in thickets of brambles that hurt too much to get through. It was best not even to imagine bestowing a reward upon ourselves, best not to think about them at all. Besides, if adults in our lives were disabled from teaching us their value, how could we possibly learn about rewards? A decent can opener that might have been viewed by others in a different situation as a necessity in the kitchen. In mine it would have been a lovely reward for a kid working hard to please a parent, but I had no clue about rewards or how lovely they could make my life. Neither did my parents, given their situation. Some may laugh at the saying, “You work hard, and then you die” but, for some of us, survival in childhood under the tutelage of a mentally ill parent was no laughing matter.

The silver lining to Can Opener Deficit Disorder? In spite of a flawed system I learned to work hard and expect nothing because nothing would certainly follow. This reached into my very core for a while, and supported my survival, for which I am grateful.

I was thirty when the light finally cracked open the rewards center of my brain. When someone made the comment, “You know, Eva Stanfield, you could go out and buy a new can opener instead of struggling with that jackknife…” The light of that moment shone on something too-long stuck, unchanged in my psyche. I had a job. I could actually go to a store and buy a brand new can opener for myself.

What an epiphany! Epiphany which took only thirty years to sprout, grow, and break open my earth. Then, another one broke through: I didn’t have to suffer in that way any longer. More epiphanies to come, each gently breaking through those times when my earth softened and I was ready for them.

Life is hard, it’s true, so why make up additional suffering? Why not reward our work with some simple pleasures too?

When the earth beneath me started to shift: I no longer viewed a decent can opener as a necessity. Rather, I viewed the jack knife as the necessity.

You Deserve a Better Can Opener continues next week…

When a Pump Fails

I just have to share a dog park experience with you before I put the rocking chair on top of my car and drive to town. Yes, I will have the music blaring from speakers hung outside the windows playing “The Beverly Hillbillies.” I won’t disappoint you.

So here’s a question…Should I drive to the opera like that??? See column to the right.
Here’s the story. I hope you won’t mind my macabre humor here. Please just remember this story comes from someone who was raised with monkeys, after all…

DOG PARK CHRONICLE NO. 1: When a Pump Fails

It is fair to generalize that, in dog parks across America, a person may encounter a hefty cross section of  human and dog species. The local dog park is no exception.
Yesterday, as I entered the dog park with my dog and walked toward the shelter, I noticed a woman sitting, one arm draped over the back of the green bench. Apparently, she had come to give her service dog a break. She (the woman not the dog) proved to be quite chatty and knowledgeable. So chatty, in fact, that I believe I now know more about her after twenty minutes spent in her presence than I know about a lifetime spent with myself.
There was no subject about which she knew little. When I attempted to talk oh, say, about dogs, the weather, the area, her corrective personality managed to get my facts straight for me every time. Thank goodness. I had had no idea how wrong I had been about practically everything. During the course of the “conversation” I learned about where she’s from, why she’s here, who she’s with, and how long she’ll be staying, her health issues too, all without even asking! I also learned new inflections for phrases like “Mm Hm,” “I see,” and “Oh really? How interesting.” And, as if on cue, my Lamaze breathing method for childbirth from years ago kicked in. Also, in record time I developed a heightened appreciation for the amounts of snow fallen way over on yondro mountains, how wonderful the snow pack will be for our water supply come summer, over there, somewhere, anywhere but here in the moment.
So, the woman has this lovely service dog which she, in case of an emergency, trained to be super friendly with uniformed men–ambulance drivers, policemen, firemen and, by default, even UPS and mail men, a friendliness which mail and UPS men don’t appreciate when they see the dog approaching. In spite of the dog’s “impeccable” training they remain inside their trucks in a state of terror because the breed is the largest Great Pyrenees/Newfoundland mix “ever recorded since the twelfth century.” Then they lob packages into the jaws of the waiting dog,
The UPS guy has developed a tremendous aim as a result, same as the mailman. Not to mention the dog, who played catcher for the Baltimore Orioles at one point in his career.
Well, so far so good. Too much info for five minutes, though. But there was more.
Apparently the woman has had a pump installed in her head and, at any second, her head could explode. “So literally,” she explained, as I looked away feeling a tad ill, “my head could explode. At any given moment it could go off,” she said. “It could happen now!” Evidently the dog could save her from that.
I decided a protracted stay at the dog park would be, well, unsafe, so I turned to leave. As I said my goodbyes she said, “You’ll be seeing a lot of me at this dog park in future days.”
Not if her head explodes.
Wait…
Never mind.

Do Unto You, Too

kaleidoscope-2186166_640

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ –Martin Luther King

Kids learn in grade school that the answer to this question lies in doing rather than telling. MLK’s question simply threads the gemstone of morality from which all decent human behavior springs. The brilliant heart of the gem Do unto others as you would have others do unto you says

  • “Don’t lie.”
  • “Don’t cheat”
  • “Don’t steal”
  • “Don’t bully”
  • Share your stuff

diamond precious-1199183_1920

It’s true–how we treat each other remains the hallmark of a life well lived. However, how may we treat others well, if we treat ourselves with disgust? We may not realize we slam ourselves with put downs:

  • “I’m so stupid!”
  • “I’m an idiot!”
  • “I screwed up.”
  •  “I just can’t get anything right.”
  • “I’m sorry.” (Essential if we have indeed broken the Golden Rule against another–but have we really committed an actual offense or are we in the habit of putting ourselves down?) “Sorry” gets  a lot of air time.

Unwarranted self-denigration is not a moral virtue. Maybe as kids, self-denigration was passed on to us.  Some of our adults refused us admission into our own lives. We weren’t allowed to enter the theater, much less look at the screen, to sit in the seat and get acquainted with possibility so that we might individuate, to become our own person, to grow up as our Maker intended. We were hardwired  from years of hearing damaging phrases from our powerful adult bullies:

  • “Quit your whining!” they said when you were thirsty,
  • “You are worthless!” when you brought home a “B” from school,
  • “You’re too sensitive!” when a nightmare frightened you,
  • “You’re selfish!” when a sibling stole something of yours and kept it,
  • “You’re stupid!” when you asked questions,
  • “You’re arms are too fat!” when you knew they weren’t…. Or were they? You look at them again.
  • “Shut up!”

Some of us learned early and well, that to merely exist was to be labelled rebellious, selfish, and inconsiderate of others. Physical, psychological neglect and abuse were OK because we deserved it. We were worthless anyway. We were barred from that critical growing up process. We were isolated from normal others, cut away from the cloth of peer interaction and rewoven into fabric of fear that failed to keep us warm in winter.

Here’s the morally twisted part: those with power over us–abusers, neglectors–were “right” and we were wrong.  Always wrong.  So…Abuse was always “right.” For us to question, to have an opinion, to be seen as real meant to suffer psychological or physical injury.  Let’s face it: all abuse amounts to psychological injury. So we learned to hide from ourselves so that we could hide from injury. Woundedness became the GREAT AVOID. Our attentions were forced away, diverted to mere survival.

  • “Will he find me under the bed?”
  • “How can I get warm?”
  • “I shouldn’t have asked for shoes that don’t hurt.”
  • “It was my fault Mom beat me.”

Worse, in the hands of an abuser who uses morality as justification for abuse and neglect (i.e., religious and cult leaders or a partner who says, “This is for your own good” or, “This is what God commands” or “We all have to sacrifice.”), outward neglect morphs into “self-sacrifice” for the  good of the “family.” Neglect of self, then, strangely enough wears a mask of “moralness.”  In other words, we are no good unless we suffer. So we learn to put ourselves down.

Not only does “sacrificial morality” excuse the abuser, the sufferer often uses it (unwittingly)  to avoid making a change.

So we grown up us, our wiring completed by others, have been set into a pattern for life. We have learned to neglect ourselves, to call ourselves names others got away with calling us:

  • “I’m stupid.”
  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “I can’t get anything right.”
  • “I’m sorry. Sorry. I’m sorry.”

Unwittingly, many look for a life partner who will support the tradition. Knowing predators hunt for someone exactly like us.

Until the  grown up child decides they’ve had enough. After all the years of suppressing questions of their own, the abused gets to answer the question by asking the one that really matters, “Is my want of safety really selfish after all?” Or, “Might it not be morally wrong–a crime against me–to allow the abuse pattern to continue?”

sunflower-2091571_1280

Dig deep. To those grownup kids who’ve decided to get out of abuse and rewire their learned behavior patterns, change can be excruciating. And the kaleidoscope of change may surprise us, change the way we look at things. When we start with being kind to us, we may find we have perpetuated abusive talk and attitude onto others by which we are now embarrassed.

We are worth it. Others benefit from our change. Others are worth it. Let’s us treat others the way we would have them treat us. But let’s us treat ourselves kindly as grown up we, at last, may parent our precious child within. It starts with the way we refer to ourselves.

Kindness to self is not arrogance, but decency.

 

A Little Red Riding Pants Thanksgiving

LRRP_COVER (1)

Little Red has agreed to a radio appearance!

 

Fun for the whole family! Tune in to KSQM Community Radio to hear LITTLE RED RIDING PANTS’ NARROW ESCAPE, written and narrated by Eva Stanfield. Two airings: 9AM and 5PM. For bonus laughs at the end of the story, the 5 PM airing will include Little Red’s Handy Vocab List! Total running time 40 minutes with two breaks for station identification.

Go, Little Red, go!

The Rose

(First thing I ever wrote, circa fifth grade.)

THE ROSE

Green her stem

Green her leaves

Red her garment but then–

I was there on that day in fall

She had lost her leaves, her garment, her all.

But wait! There’s still a hope–part of her garment is still there,

Torn from her heart, her heart so fair.

Then I discovered a very sad thing,

She wouldn’t be back ’till the coming of spring.

 

 

How Mr. One-Leg Does It

dark-eyed-junco-on-groundEvery morning a one-legged junco shows up for his job at Starbucks. He stands alone, one foot away from the closed glass door. Coffee vapors seep through the edges, lace a frosty morning. Roasty goodness smiles, beckons you inside with its brown finger. You step closer. Mr. One-Leg refuses to move. You reach for the door. Forget about it. Not moving. You feel like you can’t get at the coffee, though in truth you could. Does the bird understand you’re on a tight schedule? Mr. One-Leg has moxy.

Only when you give this well-fed junco your crumb pledge does he hop aside and let you pass. Now, he has you trained. Then, something else happens: his confidence and courage earn your attention and respect.

Sometimes you may feel like a one-legged junco. You may have come into this world intact but birth family had its way with you and now you find you’re “missing a leg.”

  • You may hunger to be seen.
  • You may long for mutuality.
  • You may also experience crushing loneliness. This may come as a result of choices you make, which may not be bad choices at all–I’m talking about the hard and best choices a person makes to protect one’s self from others who would harm.

Sometimes good choices can feel incredibly bad when it comes to choosing not to stay around people who make you feel bad. You may feel like you lost a family or mate that wasn’t really family at all. A double whammy. This can be crippling. That’s one possible outcome.

Yet, you, like Mr. One Leg, continue to show up for life because you’re made of good stuff. You may have received some awful programming. You may have been bound for years by unhealthy family ties. You may have lost some feathers, picked up some dents and dings along the way. You may have lent your heart to someone who vandalized it for a while. They may have even burgled your voice. You may have lost sight in one eye. A broken wing may have mended badly, a beautiful dream may have ended sadly and maybe, just maybe you can’t fly like you thought you somehow would. Life took little child you and did its thang. You got a bum rap. And yet you survived.

It’s good to establish the facts. That way you can look into the mirror and view your strengths, your remaining options. We are all damaged. Don’t be afraid. You have new choices to make so you’d best get busy. Think about this: as you look into the mirror, let’s suppose your world of CAN’T shifts to a world of WHAT IF?

  • What if your remaining leg has gotten so strong that it’s given you REAL STRENGTH?
  • What if the other birds respect your COMMITMENT to the door?
  • What if your woundedness gives you REAL COURAGE–the kind that brings you to a better way of doing life every morning? What about that, my friend?
  • What if your tactics for survival in the past may now help you to STRATEGIZE for your future?
  • What if you dig deep and ACT on your hard-won knowledge?
  • What if there’s more to you than you realized?

I give Mr. One-Leg a lotta credit. Once he figures out a basic strategy he takes it one hop further! He gimps alongside you to the patio table (making sure you follow through on your commitment). Then, he looks up and says, “More, please!”

 

Witness–Is It Real?

If we have a family member who suffers from mental illness, then we suffer alongside them. Or beneath them. We are their witness, yes. We understand too well the tumult, the moment by moment, the wrinkled implication of their affliction, especially as it pertains directly to us. We are forced to come to the realization that they may never be our witness. We suffer out of our own want for them to please get better or out of our desire to be seen by them. We suffer out of our basic unmet needs to be clothed and warmed, the very indicators that they care for us. We want them to witness us. But they cannot see beyond the thing that binds them. They cannot see us.

Who will be our witness, then?

Well, heck, we reason, haven’t we been lovingly placed in this physical time/space thing right now? Doesn’t all of nature see? There is so much out there that is real that we haven’t seen yet. We cannot see the true largess of life (or its smallness)–we only see glimpses. With great relief and wonder we stand and gape at the portal.

Then we break down the biggest most beautiful things into the smallest, even into quarks (But are they really the smallest?) You may want to check this out: Tiny Grandeur: Stunning Photos Of the Very Small.

Are we, ourselves, any less awe inspiring? Our bodies, our spirits? Our sheer will to struggle? To overcome? To really live?

If we were somehow able to pause on our path and pull back the curtain all the way–if we glimpsed all of it right now, the big and small stuff behind all we see and experience here, I wonder if our eyes wouldn’t go blind from brilliance and our physical bodies unable to manage the weight of its abundance.

Meantime, we pass through this very real space one step at a time (sometimes two steps forward one step backward!) doing what we were meant to do. All of nature–great and small–is our witness. Our body is our witness. Our spirit is our witness. What happened and will happen to us was and will be real. Our struggle to live in this time/space continuum is real. We know it because we see growth here, in spite of or because of the difficulties of a family member’s mental illness. As we continue to move forward we forge a path by clearing the brush of uncertainty out of the way.20161017_1246331

As a result of our work we see dynamic change spring up not only in us but all around us in nature. Nature is reciprocal. Nature reflects back to us our struggle, rewards us with glimpses of what lies just beyond the scrim. Then, we see that we are our own witness. Witness is all around us. It’s inside our very spirit too.

And it is enough.