Tag Archives: psychology

Mommy’s Got Talent

As seen on the Huffington Post

For 13 years I had one consistent role and I performed it well. It’s been my primary area of expertise and with it I have molded social groups and inspired movers, shakers, and decision makers. I’ve given sustenance to the thirsty, hungry, sick, needy and taught the illiterate to read and write. I’ve served as professor emeritus in the fields of Comparative Religion, English, Earth Science, Physics, Chemistry, Music, Ethics, Political Science, Economics, Architecture and others. Without me, there are small civilizations that wouldn’t have thrived. Ok, one very small civilization. Comprised of two people, a king, and a queen. The king has spent these years ruling other civilizations by day. The queen has stayed at home, ruling the one of which I write. And the civilization has thrived in every way the queen hoped in health, wealth, and wisdom.

Until she quit her day job and became a businesswoman.

The civilization, as you have surmised, is my family. The queen is me. The king, my husband. While it’s a woman’s liberated “civilization,” it’s fairly traditional. My husband has been the bread-winner. I’ve stayed home with the kids. Both of us happily so. I love creating teaching opportunities with my children, doing art projects, gardening, cooking, playing games, reading. I’ve been that mother at the kitchen counter with her kids on chairs next to her, hulling strawberries for jam to can for Christmas gifts. I’ve spent hours singing them folks songs, their fingers taking rides on mine as we crawl up and down the piano keys. It’s been what you might call, “an enviable life” in the house of my motherhood. I’ve been deeply grateful for the choice to be at home with my children and it’s fed me like nothing else.

I’m also a writer. I’ve been writing since college, and so I entered motherhood knowing my craft, working during their naps, freelancing to help with family costs, and indulging my greatest personal passion: novel writing. I’ve written many novels over the years — not all good ones; many of them exercises in learning. So while my kids learned to walk, talk, eat, cut paper, use glue… I grew as a writer. All-the-while, I had a dream: to get a book published. To have readers. To speak at bookstores and in libraries across America. To write something that would help people in the same spirit of my motherhood. Only this dream was about my journey, not theirs.

I believed this was a healthy thing to teach my children, when they were old enough to wonder what I was doing in my office. “Mommies and daddies have lives of their own and that’s a good thing.” I’d put my hand on their chests and say, “I’m always here in your heart. No matter what.” And put their hands on mine and say, “And you are always in my heart.” Their knowing nods told me they understood.

Still, after a publishing rejection, I’d say, bittersweet, “Thank God I’m not published yet. How could I justify leaving my kids when they’re so young?” But deep down I was conflicted. I wanted that dream to come true with all of that heart that lived in them and lived in me. It was an inner war I fought every day.

And then in 2009, I got a book deal and everything changed. I had to rethink my motherhood. Suddenly deadlines had me seat-belted to my office chair for long hours, breaking only for meals. Homemade sauces percolating on the stove were forgotten for, yes, Stouffer’s frozen lasagna. A who-are-you-and-what-did-you-do-with-my-mother was in order, and I got it in eyeball rolls, dramatic exits, and out-of-the-blue crying fits. But the truth is that dream or no dream, a change in my husband’s career meant that we desperately needed the money. And this was what presented itself in the way of livelihood. I had his total support and my children’s blessing, so they said.

But then the travel began and I became a second-class citizen in my own home. I’d return, haggard after 12, cross-country, back-to-back events in 10 days, and the kids would ignore me. Suddenly it was “Dad, I need you to sign this for school,” and “Dad, where are my cleats?”

I liked that he was such a presence in their daily lives. I didn’t like that I wasn’t.

So I hired a therapist. “You need to tell them this is what career success looks like for now. Things are different. They’re still safe. You still love them. Children are manipulators. You’ve done nothing wrong.” But it didn’t feel that way. I felt that I had done something very wrong. And maybe it was because of the mother I’d been all those years.

Would they have been better off in day care? More well-adjusted, flexible, less reliant on a mother who eagerly pushed them on the swing of life; answered every why-is-the-sky-blue question. Maybe Legos don’t count as Architecture, and lemonade stands don’t speak much for Economics, nor Chutes and Ladders for Physics, nor bedtime discussions about God for World Religion, nor patching up playground-politics-gone-amuck in the way of Ethics. Maybe those efforts feel like a slap in the face when the creator of them is out the door again with her roller bag and a plane to catch.

In all my career dreams, I never imagined I’d lose my power in this little civilization. Or that I’d fail it. And no matter how many hugs I give, or muffins I make, or soccer games I drive eight hours in both directions to support… I can’t seem to redeem myself. Maybe it’s because they’ve had to swallow a sudden bitter pill: their mother is a human being with dreams and needs and talent. Didn’t they know this? Did I sell them a myth in Band-aids and bedtime stories? Did I omit the fact that dreams-come-true sometimes take you far from home? Why must I be the first to break their hearts?

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, Huffington Post Blog Pieces, Motherhood, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

Bullies Posing as Adults (coming to a neighborhood near you…)


as seen in the Huffington Post
If you ask a kid these days what’s the number one issue they hear about in school, they’ll usually say, “bullying.” Then they might follow it with the school acronym. Around here it’s: P.R.I.D.E. (personal responsibility is a daily expectation.) It’s spoken over the PA by the principal, the whole school shaking with his thunderous, authoritative, almost militaristic voice. He speaks, the kids listen. The parents are appreciative. They don’t remember this even being on the charts in their school systems growing up. In fact, if we were bullied, we were taught to hide it. We’d done something to deserve it. Shame on us. These days, it seems like schools have an awareness toward interpersonal relations that is far more evolved than what it was not so long ago. Think of all the playground scenes from movies of yore with kids picking on each other, huge brawls breaking out, a school marm sending the wrong kid home with his book-bag to his Grapes of Wrath homefront, a rabid dog, a father on the front porch with a bottle of moonshine. Heck, even Opey got bullied on the Andy Griffith Show. In those days you hid it, or you got even. Which meant you probably got sent home again.

Now the kids are taught to report bullying as if they’ve witnessed a drug deal. There are serious repercussions. They even have bullying classes, wherein they’re taught to take a stand for themselves by saying, “That’s not appropriate,” then tell a teacher. They’re taught to diminish it by using humor, “Wow– THAT felt really good. Thanks for the compliment,” and then tell a teacher. Or ignore it, and then tell a teacher.

I recently taught a fifth grade class and added this to the bullying issue: “Just remember,” I said, “even if someone says something really mean, no one can actually make you mad or cry or feel guilty. Our emotions are always our choice. There’s no such thing as an emotional victim. Not that pain isn’t real. And if someone hits you, well that’s another story. You can’t control a bloody nose. But emotionally, it’s different.”

I’ve been crossing the country sharing this message with people who often seem like this is new news. I like to say, “What if someone told you that emotions are your choice when you were ten years old? Wouldn’t you have lived your life differently?” The heads nod.

Webster’s defines a victim as such:
n. 1. A living being sacrificed to some deity, or in the performance of a religious rite; a creature immolated, or made an offering of.

2. A person or thing destroyed or sacrificed in the pursuit of an object, or in gratification of a passion; as, a victim to jealousy, lust, or ambition.

3. A person or living creature destroyed by, or suffering grievous injury from, another, from fortune or from accident; as, the victim of a defaulter; the victim of a railroad accident.

So nowhere does ol’ Noah talk about choice. He seems to imply that “grievous injury” is both emotional and physical, as in being slain on an altar, or being jealous, lustful, ambitious. But nowhere does this definition come with choice. I’d like to take a look at this for a moment. Here’s the context:

Recently, I was at a baseball game. The coaches were adults. The players were in middle school. In this sporting system, it is up to the coaches of the opposing team to name the MVP for their competing team. I think this is a grand idea. What a good way to show the players that we can be opposing forces and also supportive at the end of the competition. That people can be your champion even if they are “the enemy” because there’s no REAL enemy in sports. It’s a game. The human spirit is above such small-mindedness. The human spirit is ultimately about the positive, yes? Right? Right?

And when the coach from the other team announced the home team’s MVP, he said, knowing full well that all the players were boys, “Let’s give it to the girl on first base.” And all the kids from both teams laughed and some people in the stands too, and that kid, whose hair tis true, was a bit on the longish surfer side of things, went to receive his MVP medal with a look of dismay and embarrassment in his face.

This is a kid who lets things like this roll right off him. Who makes a point to see the glass half full. Who happens to like his hair a little long. But if it was a rule to have it short, he’d happily comply. He’s not trying to make a point, after all. It’s just a matter of preference. It’s a free country, isn’t it? But that look of dismay came from real pain.  Because when you’re a kid, and an ADULT slams you one, it’s confusing.  You didn’t know that adults could be bullies.  That’s not being spoken over the school PA system…

Think about it:  how is this different than saying, “Give it to the fat kid on first base.” Or the “faggot.” And what if the kid ran more on the sensitive side of things? What then?

The next day, the kid came to his game with short hair. I was sorry for him. I was sorry for the people who laughed. But mostly, I was sorry for that coach. Because he took a situation in which he was given an opportunity to practice grace, to lift up someone who’d done a good job, and recognize him even if he was for a time, considered the opposition. He had an opportunity to make the world a better place just then, and be a living example of kindness, positivity, integrity. But not only did he disregard his charge as role model and responsible adult, he gave a gift and took it away at the same time by trumping praise with judgment. Disapproval. And yes, sexism.

He should have been sent to the principal’s office. Instead I’m sending him to the Huffington Post and to my blog. Because in these here hills, and maybe in yours too, adults can act worse than kids. And I think that in that case, kids have every right to apply what they learn in bullying class, and tell a teacher. And that repercussions follow. And with teenage suicide being what it is, that’s what I mean by repercussions. Coach.

Lighten up, you say? It was just a joke? The world can’t always be fair.

No.  I will not lighten up. 

I’ll say this instead: Grow up. Or maybe in a language you might understand better: Man up. Or in the principal’s resounding voice: FOUR LETTERS…P.R.I.D.E.

But most of all, coach, thank you for giving that kid a teaching opportunity– to practice the pure fact that no one can make him feel bad. If he gets his hair cut, well…as unfortunate as it is that he changed his personal preference based on public humilitiation brought on by adult bullying…his emotions around it are still his choice.

Hopefully you’ll remember that the next time someone calls you an a**hole.

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Quiet


In the video I posted over the weekend, David Foster Wallace talks about how our society doesn’t value the art of being quiet. He says we don’t take an hour to look at a painting; we don’t sit all day with a book. We are uncomfortable with mind challenges in complex music and writing. I agree with him. For some reason, long ago, I smelled this rat and decided to devote a lot of my time to stepping into the discomfort. I sought musicians who were pushing the aesthetic like Stravinsky, Nico and the Velvet Underground, Micheal Nyman…and on the page, Kundera, Calvino, Brautigan. I’d stand in museums and watch installation art-– watched a woman suck her toe for longer than anyone wants to watch another person suck their toe. I loved that Duchamp put a urinal in a museum and called it art. I loved German Expressionism. I liked the grotesque. I sat through the eight hours of Warhol’s Chrysler building movie, Empire–- one continuous shot. I loved Ingmar Berman movies. People called my taste in art and music “weird,” my taste in movies “boring.” I took it as a compliment, denouncing the saccharin pastels of Monet’s water lilies and the living room art people chose to match the upholstery on their couches. I wanted to know what it felt like to step outside the cradle of mainstream society and be in a place of shock, wonder, ugliness, confusion, boredom and thusly, to be wide awake in those places. That’s what I wanted most: to be wide awake.

Along the way, I wrote books and got married and had children and that was extreme enough. I didn’t need to force the issue. Life became full. Self-propelled. And I stopped taking time to look into my awe. Never mind my discomfort. The washboards of life bumped me along and I got used to it. It wasn’t that I was in the cradle, as much as it was that I was going too fast, not pausing enough when wonder struck. I didn’t like that about myself. I wanted that to change.

That’s when I started paying attention to things like breathing, mental pollution, emotional choice, horses, birds. I had these practices ripe and alive in my life for a nice long time.

But in the last few years since the moment I signed a book contract, my life went full throttle. The deliberate act of taking pause seemed like extravagance. Saved for a future rainy day. It felt ornamental. Decadent. Even juvenile. I had a BIG JOB to do. I had planes to catch. I had people to see. I’d leave breathing and birds for later when things calmed down. But that was just a story I was telling myself, because the truth of it is when you kick into high gear like that, there’s a strong possibility that you are afraid of low gear. You’re afraid of that frequency. Who would you be in it? What would the map of your mind look like? Sound like? And dear God, what would you do without any buttons to push? Without your email and messages to check? Without those planes to catch. Uh-oh. You have it bad. How on earth did this happen to you? Two seconds ago, you were happily and hornily watching an eight hour shot of the Chrysler building.

Something had to be done. So, I decided to dare the discomfort again. It looked a lot different than it did in my twenties, however. Here’s what it looked like:

I found a place where my cell phone wouldn’t work, where there was no place to plug in a computer, where there were as few people as possible. I didn’t need it to be gritty or edgy for it to be uncomfortable at this stage of life. In fact, I needed it to be beautiful– as beautiful as yes, Monet’s Giverny. I needed it to play out in the fields of embarrassing riches, in fact. You see, I was so full throttle, that I’d stopped seeing beauty. Worse, I’d stopped stopping for it. It’s one thing to recognize the discomfort in ugliness, but quite another to recognize it in beauty. And to sit quietly with it.

I’ll present this as a question: When was the last time you spent the better part of a day just sitting on a bench? Not in a city, but in a garden? An empty garden? Not talking. Not messing with your cell phone or laptop? Not taking photographs. Not writing in a journal or reading a book or a newspaper. Nothing blaring in your ears. Just sitting there? Watching. Breathing. It’s hard damn work is what it is. Whatever has become of our society that it’s hard damn work? I want to do that work.

Selfish, you say? Glut. No Pilgrim’s Progress there. Must produce. Must succeed. Must conquer. Must push buttons. That’s the cradle of society really needing you to go back to sleep. Get back on the conveyor belt. Sit on a bench in an empty garden all day? That’s for cats in windowsills. Old people in rocking chairs. But…if you think about it…we do sit in one place for long amounts of time. Watching. Just not flowers blowing in the wind. Not dragonflies. Not a robin with a worm. That story is…well, boring. Isn’t it? We’d rather someone had a gun in their hand or a hand on an ass or an ass in a fast car. And I won’t even get into our current obsession with reality TV. I mean…watching people living? Can we not even bear to watch ourselves live? We’d rather be able to turn the channel. It’s so uncomfortable to not be able to turn the channel–- or get up and walk to a different bench and see how the flowers blow there and if there are different bugs and birds. I’m talking about the art of staying.

Well I did it. I sat on a bench in an empty garden for hours. And I’m telling you: it was one of the hardest things I’ve done in years. I went back the next day and took this photo. I am both proud and haunted by it. Only because I know that there is no bench in my garden. And I’m not sure I’m brave enough to put one there.

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Emotions Are Our Choice!

A year after my book release, I am more and more clear just what my book’s message is and what people appreciate about it.  I wrote an essay for the Divorce section of the Huffington Post today that I think really nails it.  Pass it on if the spirit moves you.  yrs. Laura

Here’s the link!

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Filed under "Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear", A Place For Writers To Share, Huffington Post Blog Pieces, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

Hay House Radio with Dr. Christiane Northrup

I am so absolutely thrilled and honored to be going live with the esteemed and inspiring Dr. Christiane Northrup on her Hay House radio show! 

Wednesday April 6th from 11:00-12:00 EST.  Tune in and give a call if the spirit moves you.  I’ve got a few questions for the good doctor too!  Can’t wait.  Here’s the link!

Here’s what this amazing woman had to say about my book:

“Ever hear about the power of positive thinking?  Ever wonder what it looks like in real life?  Ever run up against some rocky places in your relationship that scare the crap out of you?   If you answered yes, read this book.  Now.  I for one devoured it in 24 hours.  It’s pure real life illumination.” —–Dr. Christiane Northrup, Author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom

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Pressing Ghosts

Maybe some of you have read the beautiful and powerful work of the poet, Hannah Stephenson on her blog thestorialist.blogspot.com.  I have been recently inspired in particular by the below poem.  She writes about something I know well and have spent a lot of time thinking about and writing about:  my inner critic.  Here is how Hannah puts her to words.  Thank you, Hannah.

yrs. Laura

 

Pressing Ghosts

by Hannah Stephenson

One morning, my mind woke up
but my body did not go anywhere.
I summoned my extremities, but
they remained slack against
the mattress. It soon wore off,
like drunkenness. Sleep paralysis,
science explains. Muscle lagging
behind consciousness a bit
more than usual. In folklore’s
jurisdiction, this is known as
a pressing ghost, kanashibari.
The condition of being fastened
with unseen metal, of being held
down by shadow. Don’t get up,
the pressing ghost murmurs above us,
and we don’t. Eventually, they release
us, wheel away into the air like bats.
Your hesitation before unlatching
your guitar, the way you cringe before
bringing your fingers to its strings
if anyone else is with you. Each fear
dripping within you, as water droplets
form at the end of icicles and fall.
This, too, is a pressing ghost. You will
look stupid, one says. Or You can
never finish this. I’ll show you mine:
They will think you are selfish.
The things you make are unremarkable.
How to deal with the spirits of paralysis.
Let us form a strategy. When doubt
presses itself across my chest,
issuing its fine mist of deprecation,
selfishhhh, dullnessss, I will not move
because I cannot, but I will look at it
and answer with this thought:
Even so, I keep creating, I am capable.
I will calmly allow its heaviness
and stand when it goes. It will.

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The Hefner Effect

In the third of a five-part series on love and relationships, Tom Matlack and author Laura Munson debate the question: Why do young women and older men get along so well?

MUNSON: I was raised by an “old man.” My father was 50 and gray when I was born. He used words like “davenport,” “filling station,” and “ice box.” His mother was born in the 1800s and she lived in a nursing home in her last years, where we visited her every night. My father would pass by the rooms and look in and say, “That man used to be the CEO of Sears and Roebuck. It’s hell to get old.” But I noticed that those old men loved me. In fact, as my father aged, his friends would occupy my dance card, as it were, at a multi-generational gathering. And I obliged. I wasn’t scared of their liver spots, canes, and quivering voices. I knew that it was hell to get old, and I was happy to walk arm-in-arm with them through the door, or to get them a plate of food so they wouldn’t have to get up off the “davenport.”

And let’s be honest—I knew that I was “giving an old guy a thrill.” I’d heard it in those exact words from plenty of them. They thanked me for things boys my age often missed: simple things like my smile, my thin ankles—and they meant it. As an adult, I wonder why that is. Is it that men never outgrow their need to feel important to a woman, and their own wives and contemporary lady friends have long soured on stoking their egos? Maybe so.

But why would a young girl oblige? What’s in it for her? I think it’s because I knew there was no threat of sex. No threat for a jealous episode with a girlfriend. I knew I didn’t have to prove myself. They liked my ankles and my smile and that was enough. It was a win-win. I watched that win-win all the way to my father’s deathbed, where he flirted with the nurses. I forgave him for it and so did they. Maybe it’s one of life’s secret agreements.

♦◊♦

MATLACK: I concede that true love is ageless, and that an outsider can never know what happens behind closed doors in a marriage. I would never comment on the success or failure of any particular couple, but the societal phenomenon of old guys and young women is worth talking about.

I sometimes think that marriage is like a boxing match. When the sparring partners are well matched, it goes on and on, with blood and guts on the canvas and beauty emerging from the violence of the engagement. When older men marry younger women, the partners have given up on the idea of going head-to-head with their peer in age and in power. The male and female roles are exaggerated into some kind of daddy-daughter dynamic that is somehow more comfortable than trying to slug it out with someone your own age.

When they give in to the Woody Allen “the-heart-wants-what-the-heart-wants” gravitational pull, both parties make a concession.

A younger woman embodies vitality and beauty—and the guy’s power, defined in its rawest form, becomes the central aphrodisiac. Everyone knows where they stand.

I can’t help but be saddened when I see this pattern over and over again among my friends and in the newspapers, because at bottom it points to our collective obsession with superficialities. We worship material wealth and youth. And boobs.

Money and power or teenage-model good looks don’t make anyone happy in the long term—contrary to the consistent message of popular culture.

At the extreme, both the old man and the young woman are stooping to a commercial transaction—prostituting themselves. She’s selling youth, beauty, and sex, and he’s buying it. Whether you’re sleeping with a guy for $100 or $100 million, it’s all the same. Both sides of the trade miss out on something more genuine than sex, and the kids miss out on having a dad—since most of these guys will be in retirement homes (or dead) by the time their children make it to college.

But maybe I am just being a prude. New research shows that this whole thing is about the survival of the race. The practice of older men chasing younger women may contribute to human longevity and the survival of the species.

♦◊♦

MUNSON: I find it interesting that when I read the question, I didn’t read the phrase “get along so well” as having to do with sex or marriage. I thought about it in terms of dynamic. I don’t have any friends who have fit into that societal stereotype, wherein the old man marries the young hot girl with the “boobs.” I think of that scenario as a myth some people might give in to, and I’m not that interested in it. I think we would do better as a society to start shifting away from these myths. I don’t even believe in the male “midlife crisis.” But I do believe that it’s sold to men, from the time they’re kids, that the prize is youth in women and wealth in men. And I do believe in the power of that lie. Let’s tell ourselves a different story, shall we?

Matlack:  Natasha Vargas-Cooper writes in her recent Atlantic article “Hard Core”:  “One of the most punishing realities women face when they reach sexual maturity is that their maturity is (at least to many men) unsexy.”

Yes, I think old men asking young women to dance is one thing– it’s cute and harmless– but that isn’t what’s really going on most of the time.  There is a sexual component.  There are countless old guys married to young women, and many more older men masturbating to images of young women on the web.  I don’t pretend to completely understand it, but I viscerally believe it is a sell out to true love and goodness on both sides.

♦◊♦

Read others in this series: “Great Sex or Fighting Fair?“ and “Looks and Longterm Fidelity.”

♦◊♦

Tom Matlack is the founder of the Good Men Project and one amazingly inspiring guy.  Check out what he has created!

♦◊♦

—Photo by Gizmo2469/photobucket

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Haven: Endings Bring Beginnings

Haven Newsletter January, 2011.

Sign up here to get Haven Newsletter delivered to your email doorstep. 

This month I am featuring the author, Susan Pohlman of the beautiful memoir Halfway to Each Other (Guidepostsbooks 2009) which is set in Italy during a time of transformation in her marriage and in herself.

Our Theme:  With Every Ending, There is a Beginning.

Windows by Laura Munson

Part of the beauty of having a published book is meeting other writers who have long been hard at work at your shared craft, swapping stories from what otherwise is a very insular, quiet life– except of course, during book promo. My new friend Susan Pohlman knows all about both. But more than that, she knows what it is to write a memoir about a rough time in her marriage. To have taken the very deliberate journey not only to move her family to Italy for a year in hopes of saving her marriage, but to have written through her pain and discovery in her wonderful memoir: Halfway to Each Other.

We spoke on the phone yesterday for almost two hours, and one of the things which sparked a host of sharing and collective understanding had to do with the notion of endings being beginnings. People ask me all the time how I could possibly not take my husband’s words, “I don’t love you anymore” personally. How I could keep from engaging the drama around those words, and how I could practice empathy and even forgiveness with him. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I’ve learned a lot about myself in this year of interviews and subsequent reflection. Yes, I loved this man. No, I did not believe he truly had run dry of love for me. Yes, I saw this as a crisis of his own soul brought on by years of career failure, fear, and desperation. But there’s another component of this that I have left out of most of my interviews, and which perhaps I’ve only just now landed upon.

In that moment when he made that heartbreaking proclamation, I felt a deep sense of relief.  And even of gratitude.  He had come to the end of something.  And when we come to the end of something, that’s when things happen.  For good or bad.  That’s when there is a window in which change and healing can take place.  Susan and Tim had come to the end of their marriage as they knew it and they took a stand for it by changing their lives– selling their house, surrendering their belongings– going on an epic journey together with their children.  There are people who talk about that sort of drastic move.  And people who actually do it.  They did it, and it provided that window and that healing.

I didn’t want to be with a man who was telling himself inwardly that he didn’t love me anymore. When he spoke it, it gave us that window.  We healed through that time right here in our own home, but it was still a deliberate act he performed in speaking those words.  And a deliberate act on my part to give him the space he needed to work through his crisis.  It might seem cowardly or cruel of him to utter those words, but I never viewed it like that.  He was putting the end to a stage of our marriage that no longer fed him.  And in that act, he found a renewed love.  When I told him that I didn’t buy it—that I really felt this was about his relationship with himself and that he was transferring his own feelings toward himself onto me, he could have said, “Nope.  I don’t care what you think. I’m out of here.”  But he didn’t.  He saw the window.

Where are the endings and beginnings in your life?  Where are the windows and what would happen if you opened them and took in that first breath of transformation?  Please enjoy this insightful essay by Susan Pohlman, and feel free to share your own stories and questions. We will both be here to read and reply. Yrs. Laura

Marriage in Tough Times
Letting go by Susan Pohlman

Writers need other writers. We are called to the same tribe on this lovely planet, scribes who have been given the exquisite burden of capturing the human condition in all of its glories and shames on paper. We can’t help ourselves. Sometimes our stories are thrust into the general consciousness of society, and sometimes they sit quietly in drawers and upon shelves waiting to be summoned.

Our genres connect us. It is a thrill for me to find another writer who is inspired by similar truths. Like hikers who have traversed an unexplored canyon from opposite sides, we have arrived at the same meadow. Sitting down to talk of our journeys is one of the experiences that makes the long hours of pecking away at the computer well worth it.

I had the pleasure of chatting with one such writer, Laura Munson, author of This is Not The Story You Think It Is. What was supposed to be a quick phone call of introduction turned into a lengthy conversation that I will hold close. We shared our experiences of family life and why we chose to fight for our marriages rather than flee when bitter disillusionment came knocking on the door.

I loved her book. I loved that she held firm to her own core. Like the strong mast of a sail boat in a raging storm at sea, she did not break. Though she would endure conversations that no wife wants to hear and rejections that pierced her heart, she understood that there are times when a spouse’s words reflect the pain in his own soul, not hers. She was willing to give her husband time and space and did not internalize that decision as weakness. Rather, such choices exhibit great emotional and spiritual strength and a willingness to surrender to outcomes unknown. The exact qualities that marriage takes sometimes. It is familiar territory.

In May of 2003, while hosting a business trip to Italy, my husband and I took a break from entertaining clients and walked along the Ligurian sea where Christopher Columbus had learned to sail as a boy. The elegant beauty of Santa Margherita lulled us into silence as we ambled along, lost in our own thoughts. We had been married eighteen years, had two beautiful children, and a cozy home on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

From the outside, our lives were idyllic, but on the inside we were painfully disconnected and confused. Neither one of us could figure out (and trust me, we tried every avenue known to man) why we had become so miserable and lonely together. I knew that our days were numbered since I had quietly, and with paralyzing despair, hired a lawyer prior to our trip. What I did not know was that a mere five minutes in the future my husband, Tim, would utter the phrase that would open a window for us, and change our lives forever. He stopped, asked me to move my empty gaze from the blue of the sea to the blue of his tear filled eyes and said, “I could live here.”

These four simple words began a gut wrenching, two day conversation that ended with our signatures on a year’s lease to an apartment in Genoa-Nervi. Tim would quit his job, we would sell our house, and move our family to Italy. We would choose to regard our past eighteen years together with reverence even though our emotions were roiling below the surface heated by years of accumulated hurts and disappointments. We would start over. Maintaining the sanctity of our family, we decided, was worth trying. It was irrational, ridiculous, reckless and the best decision of our lives.

Two months later we were living in Italy. Our children, Katie (14) and Matt (11) were doubtful and fearful at first, but as we slowly slipped out of the constraints of our fast-paced Los Angeles lifestyle, we found something far sweeter. We traded in the American Dream for a dream of our own as we slowly realized that our lifestyle in Los Angeles had started, at some unknown point, to work in opposition to the values we held dear. A fine line that we had failed to notice as we ran across it, to-do lists in clenched fists.

By drastically simplifying our lives, struggling to learn a foreign language and navigating our new Italian village lifestyle, we learned what it felt like to be a family again. The challenge put us all back on the same side of the fence. Teamwork and active problem solving in a new culture provided opportunities for intimacy and abundant humor. It was both therapeutic and exhilarating.

We realized that over planning our family’s life had stifled the excitement of discovery. Dawn to midnight schedules that had filled each day extinguished any possibility of happenstance. Letting go of shoulds and musts and adopting an attitude of “let’s see where this takes us” allowed for the rebirth of enchantment and delight, two important elements that feed one’s soul. Adventure became a surprisingly powerful and restorative way of life. It forced us to live in the moment and be present for each other.

The experience was beyond our wildest imaginings and taught me many things. Some are the same truths that Laura and I shared on our phone call. Besides the fact that we both found Italy to be the land of enchantment, we agreed that sometimes beginnings are disguised as endings. That relationships are not a destination but about transformation, and if we choose to see the closing of a chapter for what it is, it doesn’t have to destroy the family.

The ending may be the end of a dream, the end of a career, the end of a lifestyle, or the realization that reality doesn’t quite match what we always thought our lives would look like. And that ending might be messy. It might throw the family off its axis as it hurls tough words and inconvenient truths across the very room where your first child was conceived. But endings end, too. And that’s where the magic can happen if we open our hearts to possibility and unforeseen circumstance that may decide to just lay its beautiful self before us like a furnished apartment overlooking the Ligurian Sea.

Endings and beginnings are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes, especially when the stakes are great and we are deeply hurting, the only thing that keeps us from flipping the coin over is fear. It is important that, as couples, we cultivate courage and embrace the whole of marriage. Appreciating that the good times allow for celebration and the tough times offer unimaginable opportunity for growth.

Susan Pohlman is a freelance writer living in Scottsdale, AZ. Her essays have been published in The Washington Times, Family Digest, The Family, Raising Arizona Kids, Guideposts Magazine, Homelife Magazine, AZ Parenting and Italiannotebook.com.

She has written three, award-winning short films. The Toast received two awards in the 2008 TIVA-DC Peer Awards, and Here,There, and Everywhere received awards in four categories in the 2009 TIVA-DC Peer Awards. The Misadventures of Matilda Mench won best screenplay in the 2010 Baltimore 48 Hour Film Project and the 2010 CINE Golden Eagle Award for best Independent Fiction Short.

Halfway to Each Other is her first book and winner of the relationships category in the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. It has been shortlisted for the Inspy Award.

You can reach Susan at: http://www.susanpohlman.com 

Blog: http://susanhpohlman.wordpress.com/

Twitter @susanpohlman

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What Does it Mean to Let Go?

I have a piece in the Huffington Post today which is in response to the question I get asked the most when I’m out on book tour: what does it mean to let go? How do you do it? Well, I don’t profess to have the answer, but I do have some strong thoughts about how to get in touch with our pain and to use it. How to reframe pain and restructure our thinking around it. I’ll include an excerpt here, and would love for you to stop by the Huffington Post today to comment. It is such a vast platform and I’d love to share my work there with its wide audience. Your comments will help drive interest to this piece and future pieces I write on my Huffington Post blog. Thanks and may this day feel new and light. yrs. Laura
Read my essay here

Excerpt:
In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, I’ve asked myself a question lately about the human relationship with emotional pain: at what point do we acknowledge the pain in our life and decide to end it?

Is it only when we’ve endured great agony that we see its perils and decide that we don’t want to feel that way anymore? Is it only then that we change our perspective and start to choose happiness?

Or can we arrive at a commitment not to suffer simply by relating with life and its low-grade hardships as part of the whole? As not bad or good. Right or wrong. Just what is.

It saddens me to think that the latter is the exception and not the rule.

For me, it took 14 unpublished books, my father’s death and a near divorce to finally see that happiness is a choice. And one I was hell-bent on making. But it meant that I had to let go of suffering once and for all. And suffering had become my “normal.”

How is this possible — this letting go?

I believe the answer lies in the present moment.

We hear the phrase: live in the moment. But what does this really mean in its practical application? How do we achieve the freedom of choosing to let go of the future and the past and commit to the present moment, when life throws us curveballs and even grenades? How do we not worry or rage or micromanage? (read more)

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Following Up: Techniques for Combating the Inner Critic

I had so many responses about the last HAVEN Newsletter which mused on The Inner Critic with the wonderful therapist and writer Stephanie Baffone, that I asked her to write a follow up blog post. People wanted specifics. And while I have worked hard to become aware of my own inner critic, name her, send her packing or in some cases, love her as the scared child that she is…I’m not a therapist. I remind myself constantly that I created her. So I can teach her to be nice. I like nice people in the real world. Why must I pollute my interior world then? I don’t have to. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

In the following post, Stephanie gives some concrete methods which I hope help. yrs. Laura

From the therapist, Stephanie Baffone
My guest column last week about our inner critics struck such a chord that Laura suggested I follow up to provide some additional hints about how to manage these challenging parts of our personalities.

Laura makes a valid point when she says she is “teaching her [inner critic] heart language.”

In my work as a therapist, I find the most common denominator in those that seek therapy is the longing people have to feel heard. Our inner critics are no exception.

Take a message and other techniques
One exercise I suggest to my clients is to keep a notebook, pad of paper or even smart phone handy. Each time that cranky voice starts yammering, take a message. Remember those pink message pads? Tell your inner critic their input has been noted. As a counterpoint, jot down something that makes you beam with pride. Up against even a modicum of success, the most recalcitrant critical voice slinks away in shame.

Another exercise I used personally and that is now a part of my therapeutic repertoire, comes out of Gestalt Therapy.

Eleven years ago, I was nearing the end of my graduate work and the time came to take the comprehensive exams. In order to graduate, I had to pass, and that spring, my “Debbie Downer,” considered this demanding period open season on doubt. Whenever I cracked open my books to study, she sauntered into the room and pulled up a chair.

One evening while reviewing material with a classmate and friend, it became apparent that any further attempts to study productively would be thwarted by Debbie if I didn’t assuage her.

My girlfriend guided me through the process of describing in detail what Debbie looked like, sounded like and even smelled like. We explored ways to silence her for the coming weeks, so I could study without her intrusive and destructive influences.
On closer examination, it was apparent Debbie and I could not co-exist. I needed to exorcise her. I brought her to life on paper then grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, and tossed her into a brown paper bag that my girlfriend dragged home.
The ritual of physically ridding myself of my inner critic was constructive. I breezed through my studies and aced the comprehensive exams.

Joining others in doubt.
Every now and again, when Debbie lurks in the corners of my psyche, I sit her down and say, “Debbie, do you want to go back to that paper bag?”

When she gets mouthy and responds, “I don’t care,” I use a practice I adopted from Mary Piper, therapist and author of the breakout book “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.” In her memoir, “Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World,” Mary writes about her practice of offering up a prayer for all those who might be feeling the same self-doubt or anxiety she is rather than engage in emotional self-mutilation:

“Prayer is vastly superior to worry. With worry, we are helpless, with prayer, we are interceding. When I am troubled I will say a prayer that asks for relief for myself and for all those who suffer as I do. ‘I pray for all other people who feel anxious and edgy at this moment’….May they be happy and free of suffering.’”

Regardless of which techniques you find helpful in combating your inner critic, the best approach is to be proactive. Be prepared. Put a plan in place. In the meantime, I’m offering a one-way, no-cost exclusive group rate for cantankerous inner critics to a desolate island with no vegetation. Takers?

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