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You two are among the most shallow, insensitive people I’ve ever met, and I wish I didn’t have to spend any time with you at all, ever.

I don’t care that it’s been 16 years. I still think your husband is gay. He ain’t taking all those trips looking for work. There’s this movie I think you should see…

I’m tired of you trying to excuse your temper tantrums by saying, “I’m Italian!” I’m a hillbilly, but you don’t see me married to my cousin. You don’t have to personify your culture’s most dysfunctional stereotypes.

*****

Your turn. You know darn well you have something to say. Let ‘er rip. We won’t tell.

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Through Different Eyes

I’m just a little bit trapped in my family room, while men of various nationalities and native tongues install wood flooring in the adjacent kitchen. So I thought I’d post, for a change. Maybe the various native tongues brought this story on.

The biggest part of my job at the counseling agency where I work is to provide clinical supervision to graduate student interns. We work with a variety of colleges and universities in the area which offer masters’ and doctoral degrees in counseling and psychotherapy. Our interns are required to audiotape or video their sessions, then present them for critique in supervision.

Last year, one of my interns was a priest from Malaysia. I almost always enjoy working with interns; it’s gratifying for me to help them grow and it’s truly exciting to me when I can watch someone realize they’ve discovered a true gift, a calling, for the counseling profession. Ed, the priest, was one I would say was truly gifted, and has great potential.

Throughout the year, I supervised his work. I was immediately struck by the sense of calm that his presence brought to the environment. I’m not sure that can be taught or learned; I think it’s part of a person’s spirit or it isn’t. Ed had this quality to a remarkable degree. He was an extremely well-educated, well-traveled man, probably in his early 40s. The most challenging part of his work was trying to make sense of American culture, particularly in regard to how we treat adolescents.

Ed was often clearly shocked by the way kids speak to their parents; and surprised that we condemn corporal punishment. He described having been beaten as part of a normal upbringing. He is close to his parents and does not see them as having been abusive in any way — his perspective was that beatings were for his own good, not out of their anger. Be that as it may, he agreed to the agency’s policy of requiring parents to agree not to use physical punishment while they are in treatment.

Working with Ed challenged me, both as a counseling supervisor and as an American. He asked questions that I honestly can’t answer, like “Why did she buy an XBox for Christmas when they can’t pay their rent?” “How will children learn respect if their parents don’t behave honorably?” It was fascinating for me to see “us” through Ed’s eyes.

Part of “speaking the language” of another culture is learning the slang, the idiomatic idiosyncrasies of a region. This is true, by the way, of American adults working with American adolescents. Not that we necessarily must “talk the talk,” but we must understand what they’re saying. (You know’m sayin’?) I helped Ed out with these kinds of things, when I saw he was floundering. Although he is a priest, his language was mildly peppered with profanity. My “style” as a counselor is to match (as much as is comfortable, without being disingenuous) my clients’ or supervisees’ way of speaking. So he cursed occasionally, I cursed occasionally, and we understood one another.

One of Ed’s client families was a very conservative, evangelical Christian Mom, Dad and two teens. They would not have dreamed of uttering a hell, a damn or an ass, unless they were reading from the scriptures.

One day, Ed sat down in my office and said, “I believe I have offended the Purebreds.”

“Oh? How so?”

“I’m not sure, but I may have cursed at them.”

“Oh. What did you say?”

“Well, you know how they are always flat, and never express any emotion?” I did know this; we discussed it regularly. Ed went on, “I have tried and tried to get them to share some feelings, but they do not. Last night, Adam was very disrespectful to his father. When I asked how his father felt, he said, ‘I do not like this.’ That’s all he said! No passion, no emphasis! So I said to his father, ‘Well, if it were me — and here I pounded on the chair arms — if it were me and my son spoke to me that way, I would let him know that I AM MAD AS SHIT!! MAD! AS! SHIT! MAD! AS! SHIT!’ Then everyone grew silent and looked frightened… is ‘shit’ considered vulgar?”

“Weeeelll…yea. It is.” I had to laugh. I couldn’t help but imagine the wide eyes and dropped jaws of the Purebreds while their Asian counselor pounded the chair and shouted about being MAD! AS! SHIT!

At the end of the year when we talked about how things had gone in the supervisory relationship, Ed profusely expressed gratitude for what he’d learned from me. He even asked if I would supervise him via Skype when he returns home. I would be honored. I told him that part of the reason he had learned so much was his humility. He was brighter, and more mature and better educated than most of my students have been. But he was by far the most humble; the most willing to risk being vulnerable, telling me about his blunders, asking for help. This ability is uncommon among humans in general; in my experience, it’s almost unheard of among priests, of whom I’ve supervised many.

He listened carefully to my assessment, and offered this perspective, “I don’t feel that I am being humble. I am being a student. In my tradition, a student finds a worthy master, and then submits himself wholly to the teachings of that master. You have been a worthy master.” Yea, that was a good day at work.

Usually when Ed offered his perspective on American life, I was left thinking, “You’re right; we’re pretty fucked up.” But there was one moment I recall when I felt some national pride, following Ed’s examination of Americans. Commenting on the prayer presented at President Obama’s inauguration, he said, “I thought it was just perfect. It was honest about difficult things, but in the end, it brought humor. It said, ‘We can laugh while we work together to do better.’ That is a very American way of being!” I hope so; I like to think of us that way. Here’s the part of the prayer he was talking about:

“…we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say, ‘Amen.'”

Amen.

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Yes! We are doing it again! Five years now! And thank you for the hundreds dozens OK, none, really of inquiries unspoken vibrations sent in this direction, wondering whether we would have it this year. That does mean SO much to me! (You know, that I could just FEEL that so many people were thinking about it.)

(Just an update, for anyone wondering. I’m getting better, healthwise. I am better than I was at this time last year. I’m just not “well.” And in some ways (not complaining, truly), life is a little tougher, because the weller I get, the more I try to accomplish, and the more I look to other people like I’m just fine, and then I overdo or overestimate and wipe out. So, my absence here doesn’t mean I’m not OK; it means I’m adjusting to the next phase of my recovery. Or something like that.)

So, yea, back to the Cookie Exchange, which will be held next Wednesday, December 23 (borrowing from previous years’ invitations):

Start with some variation of:

Favorite holiday recipes
Special traditions
Favorite gift to give
What you wear when you don your gay apparel 🙂

and/or anything else you’d like to tell us about your holiday celebration. As is the custom here, there aren’t many rules. Whatever you’d like to share is fine — carols, stories, decorations, a favorite holiday tradition or memory, something new that you’re trying this year, whatever. Here it’s Christmas, but all holidays are welcome. If you don’t celebrate ANYTHING, then your grinchy scroogey ass can just fake it for one day, for goodness’ sake! Make something up! And you don’t HAVE to include cookies, if cookies aren’t your thing. It’s just that “Cookie Exchange” has a nice, Christmas ring to it. Better than, say, “shindig” or “hootenanny,” although it may turn into either or both.

If you don’t have a blog (what?! why not?!), stop in next week and leave your contributions in the comments. If you DO have a blog, leave a comment here next Wednesday on the Cookie Exchange post, and we’ll all come to your party, too. You won’t gain any weight, and you won’t need a designated driver! So here’s the deal, again. We wanna come to your place and eat your cookies and rummage around in your things and stuff next Wednesday. (Oh, and do post an invitation at your place, if you’re so inclined — everyone is welcome, the more the merrier!)

Last year, I had an ambition to show you photographs of my town — Pretty City — which really is glorious at this time of year. I wasn’t well enough to get out and take the pix. I’m going to attempt again. That’s something you might like to share, too — does your hometown have some holiday decorations or events that we should not live our whole lives without seeing?

I’m so, so far behind in holidaying. I almost scrapped the party this year. But truth is, it does help get me in the spirit. I hope you’ll post at your place or come by here 🙂

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My 9-11 Post

It’s still the same. It’s here. Have a safe and thankful day.

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Sunday Post

chipped rainbow chime2

“One day [my] teacher, Frederick Wilkerson, asked me to read to him. I was twenty-four, very erudite, very worldly. He asked that I read from Lessons in Truth, a section which ended with these words: ‘God loves me.’ I read the piece and closed the book, and the teacher said, ‘Read it again.’ I pointedly opened the book, and sarcastically read, ‘God loves me.’ He said, ‘Again.’

“After about the seventh repetition I began to sense that there might be truth in the statement, that there was a possibility that God really did love me. Me, Maya Angelou. I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things, I could try great things, learn anything, achieve anything. For what could stand against me with God, since one person, any person with God, constitutes the majority?” –Maya Angelou

Romans 8:35-39

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Can you keep a secret?

I can. With the best of them. It’s part of what I do for a living. And that may be part of why I really don’t like to do it in real life. Let me amend that. It’s not that I don’t like keeping confidences. Actually, keeping confidence is my default mode. You don’t really have to tell me not to pass something along. Unless you specifically tell me to pass it along, I probably won’t. No, what I don’t like is being snared into keeping secrets, in real life.

I have one relative who is fond of telling me (and others) something, usually something personal, sometimes “juicy,” often controversial, and saying, “You cannot tell ANYBODY.” And then when I am around the “anybodies” to whom she was referring, I can tell that she’s told them the same thing. So we’re all there, knowing, but being forbidden from discussing it with one another while we all pretend we don’t know what we know and aren’t thinking about what we’re thinking about. You know?

It happens with people sometimes who tell you something awful that a mutual acquaintance/friend/relative has done to them. But you mustn’t say anything. To quote Pearl, “I’m tired of this crap.” Telling me how you’ve been victimized may relieve you of some of the distress about it, but it delivers that distress right onto me. I can’t confront the person who did you wrong because you don’t want me to (or do you?) and because it’s “not my business,” (then explain to me again, why am I in this?), and I can’t pass it on to someone else to relieve some of my distress about it, because that would be gossip, and that is against my religion (unless it’s something totally worth breaking that rule for). So . . . here I am, stuck with your crap. Not that that’s an unfamiliar position for me to be in, or one that I can’t handle. It’s just that normally, when I’m in this position, I collect a check after 50 minutes.

I’m aware that both my personal and professional history contribute to my regard for secrets. How many good things have to be kept secret? Not an upcoming “surprise,” but an ongoing secret? Good things don’t become secrets. It’s the illegal, immoral, unethical things that become secrets. And most of those things couldn’t go on apart from the secret-keepers’ participation, collusion in them. And in the end, I believe nothing remains secret. Light shines eventually. Do you know of a secret that has been and will be a secret “forever?” I don’t. They’ve either been revealed, or I can see how they will be, even years down the road, even after some of the main characters are long gone.

I recently received an email from the mother of one of LG’s friends. The subject line said “Something weird about LG, I thought you’d want to know.” The email explained that LG had mentioned to the writer’s daughter, Sneezer, something that she had seen in a TV movie. The topic was of a disturbing, controversial nature. When I scanned my feeble memory bank, I almost immediately knew what LG was referring to. It was from the movie, “The Stand,” which we allowed her to watch part of, on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. I think it’s a great movie. It’s also over LG’s (age 11) head, but I hope some day she’ll watch it. The part in question was, ironically, a scene which LG didn’t even see. Jif changed the channel. But I, open-minded, open-mouthed therapist Mom, told LG why she couldn’t see it. In doing so, I told her what happened in it. In exactly . . . six words. That is to say, I did not give her a graphic description, the very thing that Jif and I were trying to protect her from. But apparently the brief explanation was striking enough that she told Sneezer something like, “I saw a movie in which [six words].”

I wrote back to the mom that I knew exactly what she was talking about, and I was sorry if hearing about that was distressing to Sneezer, and I would discuss it with LG. Before I went to discuss it with LG a few days later, I reread the other mother’s email. And I had not caught this upon first reading, but she said there, “If you discuss this with LG, do NOT tell her that Sneezer told me and I told you. Sneezer is worried about getting her in trouble.”

(Here’s the part where I shatter any remaining illusions that I am a pleasant, easy-going person; I really think I used to be. I don’t know if it’s WTF, or old age, or what, but stuff bugs me now, and I say so.) Maybe it’s just me, but that pissed me off. I didn’t get any say in the matter. I was being instructed on how to handle a sensitive subject with my child. I really resented this other woman making the rules about how I could and couldn’t do that. And somehow, just the very act of my opening her email obligated me to follow the rules contained therein, or else be a . . . bad person? Bad friend? Tattletale?

I wrote back to her,

“I didn’t bring this up with LG earlier in the week, because we’ve been so busy. I went back and read your email before approaching her about the subject, and I was glad I did. I didn’t catch the first time that you didn’t want me to mention Sneezer. I will talk to her about it without mentioning Sneezer, as you asked. But I did want to let you know, for future reference, that’s not how I normally communicate with LG, i.e., bringing up something but being unwilling to fully disclose where I’m coming from. I wouldn’t want her to do that with me, so I don’t like to do that with her. I only mention this because I hope that if anything arises in the future that you think I should know about, you will still tell me, even knowing that I will tell her where my information came from.

. . . And you can reassure Sneezer that LG isn’t in trouble; I don’t think she did anything wrong. I do need to remind her that not everyone talks about all the things we talk about. Occupational hazard, I’m afraid.

Thanks again for letting me know, and I hope my way of doing things won’t prevent you from communicating any concerns in the future.”

I don’t know whether she’ll ever tell me anything after that. I do know that I don’t want to be constrained by her ideas of parenting, so if she chooses to keep something from me, because I will be honest with my child, that’s the risk I choose to take.

I think it’s the mixed message about these examples that pushes my buttons: I trust you enough to confide this in you, but I don’t trust that you can choose how to handle the information in an appropriate, constructive manner. So I’ll tell you what to do with the information.

How do you handle imposed secrecy? Is it hard for you, or is it just me?

file under: &About Me &Family

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Artism

While visiting virtual friends recently, I was reminded of how very much I enjoy children’s artwork. William sent others here to see the turkeys and the snowmans (perhaps my favorite posts here), and he showed us the chilling charming examples of his own artwork. The depravity imagination depicted there was inspiring. At about the same time, CK talked about viewing her son’s artwork at the preschool teacher’s conference. These friends got me to thinking about my own experience of children’s artwork, as therapist and as mother.

Part of the teacher conference in LG’s preschool was the viewing of the children’s artwork. While Jif and I waited our turn to chat with Ms. Stacey in the circle time area, we went to look at the children’s self-portraits on the bulletin board. LG had been drawing self-portraits for ages. Hers were characterized by remarkable attention to detail, for her age. Her drawings of “wittle dirls” featured not only fingers, toes and ears (advanced for her age) but perhaps even earrings, nail polish, a scarf, a purse. She was a girly girl and didn’t care who knew it.

As we stood there happily scanning the bulletin board — “Oh, look at this one! Isn’t that adorable?” — my eyes came to rest on one self-portrait that was not like the others. The subject had somewhat of a circle for a head. But no face. No limbs. The body, however, appeared a convulsion of shape and color. Hmm, this can not be good. The absence of a face. Ohdeargod. This child is probably severely neglected, completely under-stimulated, perhaps abused. There are no legs, with which to run and play — or to escape. There are no arms, no hands. A clear indication of powerlessness, helplessness. I feel almost sick. I look closer at the body. It is triangular in shape, such as children draw to indicate a woman’s dress. The colors are bright — I would even say “loud,” and the shapes swirl around one another wildly. I fear this child is psychotic. I glance toward Ms. Stacey, who is just finishing up with the parents before us. I stealthily lift up the corner of the red construction paper on which the self-portrait is mounted, so I can read this poor child’s name. There it is: LG Fairchild.

While I stand there, stunned, Ms. Stacey sidles up to us and greets us cheerfully. She sees that I have seen, and she gives me that head-slightly-cocked, lips-pursed, brow-furrowed look of concerned compassion that teachers sometimes give to parents of the not-quite-right. She says, too brightly, “You know, LG is very good at many things…” and she leads us to the circle time rug where we put big butts in little chairs and listen to the very many things that LG has mastered. All the while, I can’t focus on what Ms. Stacey is saying, because in my head, I am saying, “What on earth was she thinking? She draws way better than any of these little rugrats. What is that drawing? Ohmylord, does Stacey think she’s abused? Psychotic? Is there something wrong that I have missed?” And like that.

We finish up with Ms. Stacey, and return to look at other displays around the room. LG, who has been playing across the hall with Ms. Betty, joins us in her classroom and quietly escorts us around its perimeter while Ms. Stacey meets with the next parents. We find ourselves in front of the self-portrait bulletin board.

“This one’s mine!” she says proudly.

“Yes, I know. Can you tell me about it?”

“It’s me.”

“It’s hard for me to tell, that, though. Because I can’t really see your face . . . “

“I got bored with faces. And hands. And stuff. Do you wike my dwess?”

“This is your dress?” I ask, pointing to the wildly colored triangle.

“Yes! I designed a new fabwic! Do you wike my fabwic?! I was going to finish my face and stuff, but I took too wong on the fabwic! Do you wike it?!”

“This is fabric?” I asked, my voice catching in relieved giggles/snickers.

“It’s paiswees! Do you wike my paiswees?!”

I WIKE ‘EM A WOT! “These are the loveliest paisleys I have ever, ever seen. You are a most excellent fabric designer!” Thank. GOD.

At the end of that school year, Ms. Stacey pulled out the first self-portrait, and another one, the one that LG did at the end of the year. The final one had a face, and hands, and fashion accessories, the way most of LG’s drawings had for a long time. And Ms. Stacey was so very proud at the progress LG had made under her guidance over the school year. I never told Ms. Stacey that while the other kids were mastering hands on the ends of their arms, LG had moved on to textile design.

The moral of this story: ask a kid to tell you about his or her drawing before you call protective services.

file under: &Family &Can’t Make This Stuff Up

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