My mommy died last night and I’m grieving. She had cancer and she decided to end it with physician assisted euthanasia. I didn’t know if she’d actually do it, didn’t know if it would be real, how real it would suddenly be. She suffered from a severe and untreated personality disorder for many years that made it painful or impossible to be close to her as I gradually grew up. This loss is hard because I am mourning the comforting and loving mama I had when I was very little, in my earliest memories. In a way, I lost her many years ago to her mental illness and inability to get help, but I always hoped I might find my mommy again with a clear mind. I am grieving the loss of happiness she felt for so much of her adult life due to mental illness. I didn’t know I would cry so much, realizing that my mommy will never wake up again, that the arms that carried and cuddled my tiny self will never comfort me again.
One of the many reasons why I left working in the education and childcare field was how hard it was becoming for me to bond with a child and then lose that relationship at any time. The only way I felt invested in that work was to be a mentor, teacher or nanny who really formed a healthy and heart-centered relationship with the individual child with the hope of watching them grow over several years. But when parents too easily pull their children from one school or nanny for trivial reasons in search of ever greener grasses, as if raising kids were an accomplishment competition, I saw evidence of too many parents who refused to open to humanly communal childrearing, then wondered why they felt so isolated and hit with hardship and lack of support. They didn’t stop to think about the healthy bond that a normally-developing child instinctually makes with non-parental caring adults, much less how hard it is for those adults to always have to bow around the nit-picking demands of communally uncommitted and emotionally ignorant parents. It became emotionally exhausting and when I realized that I was slowly resenting the feeling of caring for these kids, I quit. It felt like my normal, nurturing, healthy adult instincts for investing in kids in my communities were being ignorantly exploited and disrespected by the godlike status of the nuclear family.
In Fresno, and nearby areas.
The San Joaquin River at Woodward Park.
Incense in the air, like a spirit, in my grandparents’ house.
My cousin and I meet an adorable, friendly cat in the orange orchard at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno.
This kid is all KINDS of precious! What a cutie! He also let me pick him up.
I pass by my old house, where I lived when I was ten. A lot of memories here.
Back in my grandparents’ house, I always want to take in every moment of home. Even the oranges are beautiful.
This dining room is where we have shared many meals together. It’s emptier, now :,(
But still, I remember the joyful things my grandpa created, and I carry them with me.
But this is still the land of angels, and I wish to return again, again…
– Gentle J. Pine
There’s too much silence when it comes to talk of mental health issues and kids. That is, too much silence for the right things, for the soul and the need for heart-comfort, while there is so much vocal fear of societal alienation. Total anonymity, as an attempt to protect the sufferer when they are minors, only isolates them more. By keeping news of mental suffering secret from the people who would really help them, the suffering young person does not find relief.
Obviously, there are the right and wrong people to tell, but the trustworthy pool of people for every young person needs to be widened. Once, I was at a staff meeting at the private elementary school I worked at. The topic of the meeting was student health protocols. We talked about asthma, Epi-pens, seizures, diabetes, concussions, broken arms. We named names in confidence and protection of this sensitive information, but discussed these cases openly as it related to our ability to help these kids. I asked if there are children with mental health diagnoses we should know about. I was met with a glare from my middle manager, a ring of silence.
“That kind of thing is usually only shared with the school counselor,” said the director.
“And only if the parent chooses to share it.”
So, a parent’s social fear increases a child’s social fear, and the terror of stigma is passed on from parent to child. And that kind of thing, with all the stigma already implied in the manager’s voice, persists.
This is all incredibly stupid and isolates people, making the condition itself even worse. People with diabetes or cancer don’t get the same treatment. Depression, anxiety, PTSD; all these thrive on silence, isolation and shame. At the very least, all the adult professionals responsible for a child’s wellbeing, including teachers and childcare workers, should be entrusted with this information and taught what to do with it, how to appropriately protect it, and how to understand and take care of the child who has it, no differently than a child with severe asthma or a broken bone. It helps enormously to know what a kid is going through: whether their inappropriate behavior is merely a cranky growth phase for a kid, or if there’s something more serious underneath, such as depression, trauma or the death of a loved one.
Some of the same stigma follows diseases such as AIDS. Treat all blood as if it’s contaminated, says the protocol. I worry that this is ultimately bad for humanity, to suspect that all blood is awful and dirty and carrying contagious death. It would be better to have compassion on those who certifiably have a blood-borne pathogen, treating them with respect and the care they need, but openly, so that we do not live with the terror of our own human blood.
I’ve worked in after-school childcare programs that deal with these things. I was siting with a second grade girl and a first grade boy one day, coloring pictures together. I commented on how pretty those flowery paper decorations are on the wall, the ones we pulled out of the leftover bin in the supplies closet. The little boy said, somberly,
“Those are from A’s dad’s memorial.”
“What?!” was my response. “Did he die?”
Both kids looked at me like I was an idiot who hadn’t heard.
“We all stood in a circle to sing and remember him,” said the little girl.
Apparently everyone knew except me. A was a fifth grade boy at the time who who was a regular in the after-school program. He had been misbehaving only a little, but I noticed many other adults coming by to tenderly ask him how he is doing. The program director hugged his mother. I wondered what happened, but figured that if it was my business, someone would tell me. But it turns out it sure was my business. I had missed a mere email relaying the news –really, a damn email announcing the death of a parent we all knew. I found out from two small children what I should’ve heard verbally from my adult colleagues. Good thing I didn’t say, “Hey, A, is your dad picking you up today?” –totally not knowing why that would devastate him. It was part of my job to interact with the parents at pick-up time and get the kids signed in and out. This was something I needed to know.
… … …
A younger relative of mine, when she was sixteen, went through a terrible episode of self harm and depression. I remember that I had called and emailed her to just ask how things are going, wanting to hear her voice. I had no knowledge of what she was going through. She had been hospitalized, the whole psychiatric works, and I didn’t know. Her mom had to clear the house of all objects my young relative could hurt herself with. It turned out her parents were also getting a divorce at the time, further breaking my family apart, and I didn’t know about it.
This, a family, isn’t some legalistic place of employment, but a paper-free biological web of relationships, of deeply personal memories, bound by ancestors and land. The human family should be there for its own more than any other human social unit in the world.
I pulled the truth out of my reluctant uncle, spilling the beans, and my grandmother, thwarting this life-threatening silencing.
“But I was trying to protect her privacy,” he said.
Yeah, I thought, and you’re also protecting the growth of her silence, shame and isolation while your at it.
And maybe my young relative did, at age sixteen, want all this to be kept a secret, but that didn’t make it the wise thing to do. Luckily, this story concludes well for her sake: she’s come far from those days and, last I knew, is doing extraordinarily better as a young graduate of high school confidently heading to college. I’m enormously proud of her, and relived that she was supported. And I still miss my family, the few who are left, more than I can say.
We are supposed to protect and empower minors. To hell with their massing embarrassment when real help is on the line. A good adult will know how to meet that feeling of shame with deep honor and respect for the young person, so that they know they do not have to feel ashamed in the first place. They’re not able to help themselves yet. They will thank us in the future.
Recomposed from an original journal entry written September 1st, 2016
It is a risk to talk about the truth of personal experience because we are afraid others will think we are crazy or bad. But the truth is that most other people have quietly felt the same way, and by truth-telling you are liberating not only yourself, but the honesty of human experience.
I still pick at my skin as a coping mechanism in anxiety and grief. I have had hormonal issues since I was a teenager which have given me skin very short of flawless. I have had acne, scarring and male-pattern hair growth that have attacked my ability to feel normally female, much less attractive. This experience has given me great empathy with those who suffer other physical disorders. At age 26, I am starting to get the condition under control, and have had years of expensive and uncomfortable skin treatments administered by professionals that has, luckily, made leeway into solving the aesthetic remains of this pain. I used to pick at my skin constantly, because it helped me feel that I could do something about the feeling of ugliness and undesirability that weighed on me. I still do this to comfort myself. I see that this method of coping is not unlike an alcoholic’s, but is less disruptive to functioning in life. It is a compulsive behavior of self-soothing.
One time, when I was a kid, my mom told me to wear a headband, to get my hair out of my face, to pull it back so other people could see my face. So that I could be a thing being looked at instead of doing the looking. It’s a fucked up thing to tell a kid to do to her hair what will please others, do to her body what will please others, but not herself, don’t please herself because what good is that for a woman, and don’t you want to keep your hair long so you can be pretty for boys? I didn’t want the headband. Later, she told me that men don’t like girls with scraped knees. I thought, Grown men aren’t supposed to like girls at all. I’m still a child! Leave me alone! And even if she had said “boys”, and not “men”, I would’ve said “fuck you”.
I never had a problem with alcohol. Not because I’m good, but because I’m lucky. I’m oriented to cope in other ways, like picking my skin or dancing alone to my own music. I don’t pick my face as much now as I used to. But when I did pick at the skin of my face, it was not only to cope with anxiety and grief, but so that others couldn’t have my face, so that I could keep it for me. I hated the pressure of doing to my face what pleased others without also pleasing myself. Because I am not and have never been the people-pleaser sort, it has never been so for me that what pleases others necessarily brings me pleasure in turn. The two are not intrinsically connected. Now, I don’t pick as much. I was looking for catharsis when I cut my hair three inches long at age twelve. By fourteen, it was shaved. I’d never felt better at that time, because that Borderline wraith who used to be my parent couldn’t control it as an extension of her hyper-sexualized self. I made sure those knees were scraped, too.
My desire and instinct is to do the active looking at males. Beautiful androphilia.
Humans in general have a real problem with controlling people’s bodies for the benefit of the powerful without regard to the lives and experiences of the people living in those bodies. Here, a possible relationship is cut down, where real love and mutual affection could have flourished between humans. This is the foundation of all movements for equality. In anger at the breadth of injustice, it is easy to think that to reach equality there must always be some struggle, but struggle alone only breeds sour animosity. If we pull back the layers we see that anger is a response to a severed relationship, as a teacher of mine once said. Anger is the wrapping for grief in response to human beings not in right relationship with one another as they should. It even goes for two strangers. If somebody cusses you out for accidentally bumping into them, and you feel angry, it is because you rightly expected they treat you with respect, at minimum. Respect and courtesy would have been the right relationship, if even a brief one, passing on the sidewalk. When right relationships become severed, connection is not speedily repaired.
Sometimes I still feel agonized in frustration when the stray hairs fall in my face. So I wear bandanas. My mom didn’t wear them. She always wore piles of makeup, which I never do, and it was her shield against all vulnerability which she volleyed on others, on I who was trapped and could not get away because she was looking at me like somebody who wouldn’t or couldn’t stare back with ferocious knowing in my own sight, seeing her horrible, abusive personality disorder. She told me things I shouldn’t have heard at a young age, completely inappropriate things about her stupid personal life and what she thought about men, at a time when female children are in need of joyful empowerment, not stories of predation and victimization. She spoke un-lovingly even of herself, not thinking how parents pass these beliefs onto their children, whether they consciously intend to or not. And she never once apologized, sincerely, without angry blame in her next breath. To this day, she lacks all serious self-awareness. I saw her six months ago and I don’t miss her. I told her by the shape of my back that I do not miss her. I always saw that white wine glass on her nightstand when she lay in bed, complaining before me that TV was her only joy. I remember asking her, when I was a child, if she loves me. She said she loves me but she doesn’t like me, with biting spite in her voice. What the hell is a kid supposed to think when a parent answers that way? She watched Lifetime misogynist terror, mistaking victimizing sensationalism for a worthy use of her spare time. Dante said the gates to hell are locked from the inside. Often, she locked her bedroom door against, and I couldn’t get in to comfort her, not realizing I was trying to be her parent, because I thought it was my job to save her and help her.
Sometimes I dream of female demons, soulless and angry and covered in sharp long nails and makeup, and I never want to wear makeup or fake nails in my life. In my dreams they come to corner me, but I fight them by songs and invocations to Joan of Arc and Artemis, who came to me in my Queer teenage years with their short hair and muscles to defend me and teach me to fight. When I was young they would show me the way through mazes to women who I wanted to be like, who weren’t horrible excuses for empty, angry, promiscuous, addicted, emotionally reckless, abusive, un-nurturing, terrifying self-absorbed moms.
I talked to my counselor; She says that once couples are together for a while, you feel more secure that you can sleep-in without thinking the other person will be too lonely. But she herself has been divorced. I don’t take my relationship with T for granted. Instead I say to him, if its my insecurity that keeps me so devoted to caring about our relationship, then so be it! Maybe there’s good in it. He says he agrees, this is the best possible expression of insecurity, which makes me care more about every precious moment together. “Every moment is precious,” he says, one night when I decide to go with him to fencing practice instead of staying home alone to write. We both feel the same way. Now, when I need to sleep-in, I have him tuck me in lovingly, saying “tuck tuck” with a kiss, that way I know he is alright, and won’t be too lonely.
“Maybe, whatever you’re doing right now is the right thing to do,” says T. To sleep well and long enough, or tend a space or finish a hand-crafting project is a fine way to be together in domestic love.
Grandma dreamed of Great Grandpa. He had Bipolar, what they used to call Manic Depression. I was told that he was put in a hospital for this in the days before better compassion. I wonder what it must have been like for Great Grandma, to see her husband who she loved so much suffer this way. Was she the rock of the family? I have no records from Grandma about it, only that it happened, long ago.
In Grandma’s dream, dreamt in her old age long after her father’s death, she revisited her father. It was his brain she remembers: lit, with electricity, gold-sparkling yellow in coursing beads of dendrite flames in the night of the mind. The current of his brain appeared to her as sparklers traveling in the black of midnight from the base of his cerebellum, back of the neck, top of the spine where the nob of reptilian green evolution wells up in bone-memory of scales turning into to feathers, to fur, and finally to skin, tightened over the rare dome of the prefrontal cortex. Through these places the night-sparkler traveled up around his right ear, a railroad of electric-lit wires between one thought and another. Somebody said they cut the two sides of his brain, left divided from right side to save him. Who did this to him? Why did they think it was right? I only know of the story she told me: it was a breakdown. A loss of stability, while the two watery balancing boards of each inner ear tipped in slow-time, then suddenly spilling into the sea of Psyche. The ship of sanity surrendered, sending its planks overboard into the black waters below. I do not know where the sparkler stopped, but I remember that he was wide-eyed and strange when I, as a small child, met him in his ailing years. But my Great Grandmother still loved him completely.
Walking an hour to a cafe this morning in the clear light of day, sunscreen and hat applied, I realized I was going along without so much pain or heavy depression. I pick a spot in the shade under a tree when I arrive, not minding the faint smell of the garbage cans nearby. So it is. The smell goes away in the breeze. The air is cool to perfection on my skin, life in the sensory world. Wisdom comes from the life of the land and of animal bodies, who do not worry about the past or the future or the endless ghosts which plague the minds of humans. Our human heads are too easily filled with ghosts. I put them aside. It is said to us that we must right down these moments of insight before losing them, but I now know the other side to this fear of forgetting. We humans do not want to lose a part of ourselves, even it is better to keep it no more. Animals do not worry about always remembering. I want to remember their wisdom. They will remember what they need to, and not solely the aversion to trauma. To be happy is good because we hold something worthy inside. I want to always be an animal. The earth will remember the rest, remembering all.
Early in July of 2017 I visited my homeland region of the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s something gentle to my heart, a mystery why this place keeps calling out to me with such love over such distance, across time and space. The Sierra Nevada mountains of California, I have long held, are what a heaven shall be like when the great celestial places come to settle their love on our small and intimate Earth, it is told, in the life of the world to come. How I love this cathedral range, mountains of gentler snow and light and love.
I journeyed into these mountains of mine for two days, alone with my little car and a quietness in me, on July 6th and 7th. I stayed at extraordinary Mono Hot Springs, where I wish the likes of me could somehow live with my sweet husband, our two cats, and a sure chosen family-community for the rest of our lives. Of course, this magical little town of a dozen-or-so is seasonal, arising out of the glitter-snows of winter for half the year in hotter days of late spring through early autumn. There are real true springs, there: warm, lovely scented (a good smell of the washing and comforting earth!) sulfur springs welling up from the high meadow paradise grounds. It is said the Original Peoples ventured there, the Mono and Miwok and other ancestral, indigenous travelers from over the range. I speak prayers of thanks and friendship to them while I walk, barefoot and lightly clothed in rectangular fabric, the paths of the little mountain meadow hillsides where these springs of warm renewal rise.
Walking this land, this place I love likely more than any other I have tread or even seen depicted by the captured frames of light, my heart jumps in happy greeting at the sight of familiar specie-friends. What a happy revelation to find that the days of searching and studying the knowledge of these plant and animal species truly does create clearer eyes in humans who go walking int heir homelands. At various times in this visit to the Sierras I was, at turns, lovesick in my heart for feeling, at once, such a great love for this place yet missing my husband and our two little cats back in my current home of the Puget Sound. I wanted, with longing, that all my loves would be gathered together –as we hope for in heaven. No wonder that the images I have dreamt of my original family resurrected to life is of our meeting in these Sierra Nevada mountains.
And here, friends, I speak your names once more, a litany of love and homecoming, of belonging to the profound and sacred heart-comfort of this place. I recorded your good names in a notepad to remember you, that I should not forget I have seen you again. I shall see you again.
Western Juniper – Juniper occidentalis
Douglas Fir – Pseutotsuga menziesii
Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa
Jeffrey Pine – Pinus jeffreyi
Western White Pine – Pinus monticola
White Alder – Alnus incana
California Bay Laurel – Umbellularia californica
(Up and down the way through Oregon:) – Interior Live Oak – Quercus wislienii
Mountain Dogwood – Cornus nuttallii
Oregon Grape – Berberis aquifolium
Poison Oak – Toxicodendron diversilobum
White Stem Raspberry – Rubus leucodermis
Thimbleberry – Rubus parvifolus
A Gooseberry Unknown
Manzanita (Greenleaf, likely)
also Pinemat, Whiteleaf
Bracken Fern (whom I thought was Lady Fern, mistooken)
Pteridium aquilinum variation. pubescens. Rounded lobes.
Lady Ferm pattern: little tufts along her spine,
Athyrium falpestre var. americanum
Lupine – type? Who, among so many names.
Miner’s Lettuce – Claytonia perfoliata
Paintbrush – Applegate’s, Indian? – Castilleja applegatei species.
Jepson’s Pea –a brilliant pink of hearts! – Lathyrus jepsonii
Gay Penstemon, happy, joyful – Penstemon laetus! –Laudete!
Animals, Animalia, Kingdom
– the Ones through Whom God looks out through all eyes.
Golden Buprestid, a Beetle of Brilliance
Sierran Blue-winged Grasshopper
“Northern & Boreal Bluet”, Common Blue Damselfly – Enallagma cyathigerum
and female var. E. boreale
Western Fence Lizard! Blue-Belly!
Sandpiper (almond orchard, down in the San Joaquin Valley)
Turkey Vultures (different from Condors, the greats)
Mourning Dove, whose song I love, who greets the hot day
and makes her mourning into singing.
Northern Mockingbird, the scout-flapper-flier.
– Do not all these deserve the same love?
American Robin – Turdus migratorius – steady on laws to remind us, to cheer us
Saw somebody with a yellow belly, not sure of his name yet, fine feathers of turmeric.
Stellar’s Jay – his eyebrows stripes of vertical white are different here
than in the Puget Sound. Two light-blue
eyes stripes vertical!
Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis
California Ground Squirrel (distinct white back)
Raven – Corvus corax –
harbinger unto the end
The seasons turn, and we go with the eternal turning. It will not be fought, nor resisted, nor contested. No plea is accepted; into the mouth of the great gaping earth we everyone of us softly go. Autumn, the sign of the unstoppable wheel, alighting in fire the humor of our petty resistance to old age and death –to the very vitality awaiting within the acceptance of old age and death! Here is a holy time of contemplation for facing beautiful harsh reality, Elder of the midnight hour, the silver lines as mountain rock of an ancient’s cold hair. Grandma, guide me. Home of memory, place of my hearth and birth, call me homeward once more. The living World is as it is. Acceptance of this absolute reality without a constant yearning to always change it points the way toward loving reality as a fully dynamic place of living, natural magic in its own right; not as a fallen, temporary or resented state of being.
I am petulantly weary of the dull platitude, “change the world”. The World doesn’t need to be changed. The World is alive and doesn’t need us to save it. It is our human behavior and attitudes that need to change. “Obviously,” you say, but it is not so clearly obvious to those who unthinkingly project the dimness of humanity’s notorious myopia unto the holy life of the The World itself. For even we, small hominid creatures of momentary candlelight, are a flame’ breath in the wind of The World, dying and undying, all our passing cultures themselves being also an homage to the world-wheel we swivel upon.
A long time ago there was a man named John Burroughs, and this is what he said,
It is good that fire should burn, even if it consumes your house; it is good that force should crush, even if it crushes you; it is good that rain should fall, even if it destroys your crops and floods your land. Plagues and pestilences attest to the constancy of natural law. They set us to cleaning our streets and houses and to readjusting our relations to outward nature. Only in a live universe could disease and death prevail. Death is a phase of life, a redistributing of the type. Decay is another kind of growth.
Grandpa, give me joy in my days, in my work, in the labors of my life. Watch over me with pride, where you now live in the shining mountains of the world-without-end. Let my efforts be for good and beautiful endeavors, that I may make our people proud, our land a country of the rightful-hearted, softened by the gentle wisdom of elders and children, and toughened by the versant endurance of ages. May I always run to the roar of the night that is frightful, knowing that within what we fear is the fortitude we most desire. May my existence be a light and a blessing unto the beautiful Dark where I tread. Do not forget me, my ancestors! Sustain me, flame of origin! Remember we who yet way-find through our days in these human shapes, and keep us always in your affectionate embrace. So may it be.
A letter from my great grandmother Helen May Marcel Bellman to my great grandfather Earl Spencer Bellman, 1953
Am just beginning to realize that in less than 2 weeks Iʼll be home! This has been a wonderful, wonderful experience, but rather wearing, and it will feel so good to be safe in your arms again!! Do you want to come to N.Y.C to meet me? Of course the 8 a.m. Sat. is only tentative, so be sure to check with RLM at Idlewild on time. If you like, we could go up to Hartford & stay over Sat. night and on home Sunday. Or if you donʼt want to come to N.Y. I could come on home on the train.
I did get the $33 Tissot watch for Shirley, & am wearing it a while to see if it keeps good time. Itʼs a plain gold-filled case, which I think sheʼll like. Got a darling little Hummel figure at Berchtesgaden. May get more here or when we go back to Germany. Got the 3 grandsons little Austrian beanies in Brusbrucla. Enjoyed your poetry and the “Daffodils”. It seems my absence makes you poetic. Maybe I should stay away longer (??) Seriously, I feel that Scotland would be just too much “icing on the cake” as Iʼm glad to be coming home the 28th.
Lots of love, dearest