Tag Archives: teenagers

Breaking Point: #4

I am hosting an end-of-winter series featuring stories from the trenches of pain.  My hope is that in sharing these breaking points, we will feel less alone.  Thank you all for your bravery.  You are helping the world to heal.  To participate and for more info go here.

yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Elizabeth Gaucher at Esse Diem

“The Regret Story”

Alice was a beautiful young girl at a 4-H camp where I was a counselor one summer. She and her brother were both campers that week, and even back then I recognized in them a fragility under their good looks and strong sibling bond. Alice was needy, and shy, and desperately wanted to be liked, but she did weird things. She clung to her brother when other kids wanted her to socialize with them, and she carried a baby doll everywhere she went. She slept with the doll, changed the doll’s clothes, even introduced the doll as her friend.
The other girls were snickering about Alice’s insecurity and rolling their eyes over the baby doll, but I didn’t think there was trouble brewing.
I was wrong.

One morning I heard peals of laughter coming from the community bathroom. “Come in here, Elizabeth, you have to see this. Oh my God, this is hilarious!” I can still see it. My heart is pounding right now as I write this, and I feel sick to my stomach.

I walked into to bathroom to see Alice standing alone, crying, with a circle of girls around her laughing. She was trying to reach something, and the others would not help her. The others had hanged her baby doll naked from a shower curtain, noose around its neck. They tortured and killed the only friend Alice had at camp with the exception of her brother, and then they laughed in her face as she cried for help.

I remember being frozen. It was one of those terrible moments when your mind and your body refuse to connect. It felt like an eternity before I could move or speak. I told everyone but Alice to get out. I reached up to save the doll, and then put it in her arms. I think I told her I was sorry that happened, but I don’t know that I did. My memory is that I wanted the whole thing to go away as quickly as possible.

I could have done more to prevent it from happening. I could have done more to reprimand the girls who did this awful thing. I could have done more to comfort Alice, but I didn’t. I moved on. I wanted it to never have happened, and I acted like it never did.

How I failed Alice is the only thing I define as regret in my life. I knew she needed a friend, someone who would do more than just take the doll down, and that those other girls needed to be held accountable for what they did. When I read about bullying episodes nationwide, I see that others are there, others are aware, but they do not get involved. Why? It is terrifying to witness this kind of psychological violence against another person. If you have never seen it in action, it is hard to understand its power. It isolates and harms the direct victim, and it paralyzes the witness in a cloud of desperation. Talking about it seems to keep it alive.
That’s how it seems, but how it is is that not talking about it keeps it alive. It would be convenient to say, “I know that now,” but I knew that then. I didn’t do what I should have done, and what I knew was required.

I don’t know why this event out of hundreds of life events haunts me the way it does. If there is an afterlife, my vision is that I will encounter a healed and whole Alice, and that she will forgive me.

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Breaking Point: #3

 

I am hosting an end-of-winter series featuring stories from the trenches of pain.  My hope is that in sharing these breaking points, we will feel less alone.  Thank you all for your bravery.  You are helping the world to heal.  To participate and for more info go here.

yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Elin Stebbins Waldal

Two Excerpts from Tornado Warning, A Memoir of Teen Dating Violence and Its Effect on a Woman’s Life

Breaking Point: 

What started it was the picture I drew of myself. I decided to draw a
self-portrait, after I literally stared at my reflection for almost thirty
minutes.

I pulled the mirror off the wall and put it down on the ground and without
really examining myself I just started to draw. It’s when I finished that I was
startled enough to stop, put the paper to the side, and stare.

I hardly recognized myself.

Last fall I checked out one of the cameras from school to try taking
pictures. The one thing I noticed back then was looking through a lens is
really different from just looking. The lens is so small that it forces the one
eye to choose what it sees. Then, with precision, the hand needs to focus the
lens so that the camera actually snaps what you want it to. This is what it was
like for me today looking in the mirror. While I was drawing I was just part of
the reflection but once I put my pencil down and looked at the drawing, then
the captured image all came into focus.

The girl I drew…I don’t know her. She is worn like leather, joyless, spent,
ancient. I forced myself to look at the mirror. The thing of it is…it’s not as
if I am frowning and angry. What is scary is I look vacant, gone, dead.

And that’s when it crept into me…he really can’t kill me…well, he could, but
that’s not what I mean. What I mean is, he actually already has, because he’s
killed my spirit. This is what it means to be alone, really alone…because there
is not a living soul who I can tell.

I hardly tell myself. He must feel me slipping because he has asked me a
million and one times if I really understand he won’t live without me.

Now that I know I am dead, how can I care about his life? After all, he is
the creator of what I see staring vacantly back at me.

I had to stop. I found a small blanket in the hall closet and covered the
mirror. Then I had to leave my room. I was trembling. I walked to the kitchen
and grabbed a snack, then I mechanically went into the living room and sat down
by the huge window that looks down the Mianus River. I drank in the view…all
the deciduous trees are bare naked. And that’s when it hit me with full force.
All those beautiful trees, they shed everything that makes them gorgeous and
they endure the long harsh New England winter and then just when people almost
give up hope, they sprout their tiny little buds. A month or so later they have
leaves; some have flowers too.

I am 19 and I am the tree. I am almost unrecognizable, yet underneath the
twigs and sticks and bark there is a strength. I can feel this strength. I
don’t want to be dead among the living. That tree would no sooner refuse to
sprout then fall over if I pushed it. Maybe….at the core….maybe I am still
here.

So I got up and went back to my room, pulled away the blanket, and sat back
down and again gazed into the mirror. My eyes are green…somewhere in the pool
of black squarely centered in all that green is a path back to me. If I stare
at it long enough maybe just maybe I can see deep inside and find my core, my
strength, my light, my spirit. It’s winter but sure as day will turn to night,
spring will come.

“I am alive….I am alive…I am me and I am alive.”

 

On Healing:

“New questions skip through my bloodstream like a pebble on still water. Do we really “get over” wrongs that have been done to us? How do we know we are healed? The diameter of the rings created by the stone grows wider in my blood lake. I can almost see the ripple beneath my skin. Maybe “healed” isn’t the objective. What if it is “healing”—as in ongoing, like the ocean in a constant ebb and flow? The rolling of the waves begins to settle over me, giving way to a more lucid view of the past that has shaped me. It is as if introspection serves as a ceremonial ablution and through that ritual the choke hold of shame is rinsed clean and makes room for me to see that I am not a victim. I am a survivor but there is more. I need to thrive, share, prevent. I can no longer stay quiet in this world. I have a voice and I feel it reverberate off my internal walls, making its slow climb upward until its melody can be heard all around.”

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Tina Fey: A Prayer for her Daughter

This bit of writing brilliance by Tina Fey had me laughing and crying at the same time.  I think that’s the definition, in fact, of what writers want to achieve on the page.  May you, then, laugh cry.  At the end of this prayer, I have added my own:

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half and stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes and not have to wear high heels.

What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers and the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.

“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.

Amen.

From her new book.

…and now a word from me on this terrifying subject:

Laura Munson here, Lord.  I’m with Tina.  And heck, Tina’s got babies.  I’ve got a fifteen year old, and I can tell You (well You already know this, but for what it’s worth) I’ve been called a lot worse than a Bitch in front of Hollister.  And that’s AFTER I went against everything I believe in and bought her the hundred dollar jeans and the sweatshirt with the word HOLLISTER across it and braved the foul piped-in perfume and the drum-beat-amuk hip hop and got busted looking too long at the ten foot sixteen year old’s abs on the wall.  By her.  But Lord, here is where I know that I must forgive…because in all honesty, I’m sure I’m a pain in her ass.  I mean, how many other mothers out there make their daughters read up on the history of Hollister, and Abercrombie too, to see what their corporate ethics read like before they go around being walking billboards for slave labor in India, for instance?  I probably deserve what she called me.  Just like I deserved all those Necker Booters Tina’s talking about– shit leaking from neck to boots.  I mean afterall, I DID whack her in the cheek that time she bit my nipple with alligator force in one of our placid nursing sessions on the front porch swing.  So the neighbors probably saw.  And I did once bite her on the cheek when she screamed in my ear, back arched, for some reason I can’t remember but I think it had to do with throwing my cell ph0ne into the toilet.  Heck, at least I didn’t shake her.  All I did was give her a little mother bear nip on those cheeks I love so to kiss.  It’s her fault that she bruises like that and that she had to miss nursery school the next day due to the mouth shaped indigo on her face.  Isn’t it?

My prayer, God, is I guess…really more of a confession and a call for absolution.  I haven’t always been the best mother.  Yes, I cut those grapes.  And yes I lovingly cleaned those Necker Booters.  And sang with her every night and talked about You and the moon and the cosmos and wonder and awe and the infinite possibilities of who she was and who she can become…but I fucked up too.  A lot.  And now she’s fifteen, and she’s taller than I am and has elegant sentence structure and the fire to match my own.  I taught her only too well in this regard.  I tell her that she’s a natural for Speech and Debate.  She says she’s shy.  I can tell You:  she isn’t shy.  Not around her mother anyway.  So really, I guess, this is a prayer for myself.  Tina, I’ve got the baton in my hand and I’m out here in front of you.  Here to say that when you win that next Emmy or write that next bestselling book or write, direct, and star in a movie, she’s gonna find a way to reduce your deserved pride into dust.  She’ll say things to you like, “it’s not like you solved world peace or anything.  It’s not like you got Bin Laden.”  She’ll be standing at your door while you’re on a conference call with the top guns of NBC pitching them a new pilot in your home office with the Do Not Disturb sign on your closed door, and she’ll fling open the door with a piece of Nutella-slathered toast and say, loudly, “you can’t even remember dog food or milk?  Or butter?” and then slam the door shut, so that she sort of derails your pitch:  you’re not pitching a comedy this time– it’s a drama, afterall, about the prayers of mothers for their babies.  All that hope.  You’re taking a break from comedy, in fact.  Or are you. 

I pray then, Lord, for a sense of humor when I ask her to apply her biceps to putting the hot tub cover back on since my back is out.  And she says, “What’s your problem– it’s so light!”  And then from the kitchen sink I watch as she struggles with it (even though she’s stronger than I am because I gave up my gym membership so she could keep in shape all winter for soccer– while I sit in the rain and snow hours upon hours…on the soccer sidelines…not improving anything but my already flabby ass) and when she finally gets the hot tub cover on, she marches in and says, “God!  Why do you have to take the whole cover off?  Why can’t you just open it half way.  Like DAD!”  Please, in that case, God, (and do You notice how often she mentions You like You have some sort of alliance with her I don’t know about!  DO You???) remind me to not mention that my back is currently out as I spent the day weeding the garden since she complained, “God (see what I mean), our house is so disgusting I’m embarassed to have friends over!”  Please grant me the knowledge that this is just her job, this violent fledging.  She has to fledge.  It’s scary growing up and deep inside her, she knows it.  She’s about to go out in the world and get much worse than a flick or even a bite to the cheek.  She’s going to get the ass-slapping of her life, and it’s going to burn and bleed and crust over and break open and ooze and get Staf infected and lay her up for days on end in bed.  And she knows…I won’t be there to share whatever wisdom I may posess and love and stroke her hair and rub her back.  She’ll be very very far away from home.

So now, the prayer is for both of us.  May we both bleed just a little less than You prescribe.  May our dreams come alive without always having to learn the hard way.  May our pain be used for greatness.  May we posess a knowing faith in ourselves even when everybody else claims we aren’t good enough. May we remember to take walks in the rain.  Hours in bed with a good book.  And Advil when absolutely necessary.  Thank you, then, God…for Advil. 

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Gratitude on Ice: A Montana Lesson (ode to a crampon)

I’m going to bullet-point the last hour of my life, just for shits and giggles. Mostly the former.

• 10:00 Depart house to drive teenaged daughter to bus for state-wide speaking competition. Discuss adrenaline and how you can utilize it when on stage.

• 10:02 Experience how adrenaline can help you if your truck doesn’t want to go right when encountering Zamboni-ready vertical driveway, decides to continue toward cliff, inspires you to consider yelling, “Bail!”

• 10:03 Experience gratitude for icy snow bank.

• 10:05 Console freaking-out daughter who doesn’t want to miss bus, never mind what almost just happened to truck, mother, and said teen.

• 10:06 Call neighbor and beg for ride to town. Begin descent.

• 10:06-10:16 Slide, fall, slide, fall. Decide to take the rest on ass. Hope truck won’t disengage with snow bank and careen down on top of you. Slide to side of driveway. Try to walk in snow bank where there’s traction. Punch through snow and almost knock knee cap off. Go back to ice on ass. Slide. Yell at dogs who think it’s a game. Try to stand up. Fall. Yell at daughter who is yelling “hurry up!” as you’re sitting on ice, crying like a baby. (Daughter has somehow navigated the whole thing in Converse sneakers with a roller bag behind her, all whilst on cell phone.) Rue the fact that you failed to put crampons on your boots.

• 10:16 Arrive at base camp and flat terrain. Decide to pick up pace past .01 miles per hour.

• 10:17 Fall and hurt wrist. Daughter yells, “Hurry up! We’re gonna miss the bus!” (She’s usually a peach, I swear.)

• 10:20 Neighbors within view.

• 10:21 Wave at them and fall. Hurt other wrist. Cry. Get yelled at again.

• 10:22 Scramble to get to neighbor’s van so to give daughter kiss and hug, look her in the eye and say, “You’re going to do great. Just remember, people want you to do well. They’re on your side.” And hear in return, “I know. You’ve told me that about a thousand times.” Reveal soaking wet backside to neighbors. Get looks of pity.

• 10:22 Watch as they drive off on icy roads with your daughter. Cry some more because you will miss her and plus you’re scared for her life because she’ll be on a school bus navigating brutally icy roads for the next five hours. Pray the driver has been screened.

• 10:23 Sigh, let go, and realize that you are totally screwed. There’s no going back up that driveway. There’s no cutting up the ridge—the snow is too punchy and impossible. You’re going to have to walk to the end of the road—at least it’s flat, and hope that your neighbor’s road is better, and that there is hard packed snow up in the woods with decent deer trails to follow home.

• 10:24 Stop and soak up the sun, so rare this time of year. Try to find humor in all this. Wonder why you don’t have Triple A anymore. Berate yourself for being irresponsible.

• 10:27 Road gains altitude. Fall.

• 10:28 Call golden retriever. He comes. Grab his collar and say “Let’s go.” He gets behind you, as if he thinks you’re going to pull him. Curse the fact that you don’t have claws, never mind crampons.

• 10:30 Stop and realize: it might be a long time before you get home. Even though, as the crow flies, you’re only about a hundred yards away from it. Try to be open to the lesson. Ya gotta be honest—you’re not. Realize your back is tweaked and your butt is ice and your left knee is bruised.

• 10:30-10:40 Decide to take it step by step. Get five feet forward, lose traction, slide backward. You look like you are learning how to surf– hands way out in front of you– butt hanging way out behind you. You are glad you live in rural America.

• 10:40 A crow dive bombs and you see a very recent deer kill up ahead—right in the middle of your neighbor’s driveway. There are blood and guts everywhere. And iced paw prints like those ceramic hand prints you did as a kid in art class. They are feline. And big. You realize that this is a mountain lion kill. And now there’s that to think about. Funny though—seems like the least of your worries.

• 10:42 Slip and fall…on top of entrail pile. Now you’re too freaked out to cry. You call your dog who is even freaked out now. You hold on to his collar and get up and make for the snow bank which has flattened out in this section of road and looks like something you could safely navigate.

• 10:42 Take two steps and punch through up to your thigh and grab the wooden fence and feel a bolt of lightning go through you and realize you’ve just grabbed hot wire. “Are you freaking KIDDING ME?” you shout.

• 10:42-11:00 Step, slide, fall, punch your way home. In the woods, you are grateful for packed snow and deer trails and chickadees in the trees and the warm Chinook wind on your face and the sun in your eyes. When you jump across the ice on your front porch step, and your bloody hand wraps itself around the door knob, you want to kiss it you are so grateful to be home. Funny how that door knob will just be a door knob again in a few hours, or however long this gratitude lasts. For now, it’s the loveliest thing you’ve seen in your entire life.

  • 11:01 Call tow truck with smile on face.

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Life List

I was speaking recently to a well-known writer about success. “It’s all about the work,” she said. She then proceeded to list all her accomplishments. Short of a Naional Book Award or a Pulitzer, she’d pretty much achieved “it all.” Multiple published novels and memoirs. Rave review in the New York Times. Stories in the New Yorker, Atlantic, Paris Review, Granta. Regular columns in glossy magazines and major newspapers. Yadoo and McDowell residencies. Teaching gigs in the Ivies. She knows a lot of other writers who have achieved the same accolades as she, check check check check check. And she told me something that breaks my heart, especially for writers, but anyone can relate with what she said: Without that Pulitzer, those writers pine away in levels of self-loathing and criticism. When is it enough? And if they do get that National Book Award or that Pulitzer…will it be enough THEN? It’s all in the books, she said. “Creative ambition is one thing. Career ambition is another.”  You better watch out for the latter.

It’s what I’ve known all along. It’s how I’ve been living for the last 17 years out here, tucked into my Montana life, writing books and raising kids. The “prize” I’ve had my eye on is writing the best books I can possibly write. For a while it became about getting them published, but I had to let that go because it was eating me alive. My job was to write the best books I could write, send them to my agent, and let go of the rest. My job was to get back to work writing books. And once I did, that’s when I, in fact, “achieved” that “prize.” I’ve loved that “prize” because I get to have readers. I get to speak to audiences and try to inspire unpublished writers not to give up. And I got paid, which has given me the gift of more writing time.

But I know, that no matter what kind of list I have in my own mind about accolades I’d like to receive for my hard work, that list is secondary to the creative ambition that asks me good questions like, “How can I breathe this character into life?” “How can I imbue this unlikeable character with a humanity so true that the reader will love them despite their mistakes?” “How can I make this book sing?”

This to say that I think there are different kinds of lists in regard to dreams. I think it’s important to have them. I think it’s important to take a dream scan of your wildest ones and write them down. Maybe put that list somewhere like a little altar that you occasionally smile at or nod at or bow to…glad that you have dreams in the first place. But I think, after that, it’s a deep breath and a committment to the work at hand. I believe that with that committment, we move into those dreams. Creating our moment begets more creating, and suddenly we’ve blown through a few items on that list without even “trying.” Check check check. Our intentional living has birthed that dream child.

The difference between wanting and creating is something I wrote about in my memoir. Those dreams were born inside us, and while they often have to do with something outside of us and outside of our control with variables that have to do with other people and other places…we still can begin the arch that lands in the creating of them simply by acknowledging that we’ve dreamed them in the first place. I have my list. I no longer look at it, wanton. Covetous and clinging. I look at it like a character in one of my novels– I can breathe it alive. But that begins right here, in my moment, in me.

This morning, a certain teenaged girl in my life, asked me to print out something for her for school. It was an assignment: 30 thing you want to experience in your life. I of course read the list, smiling and teary. It was so inspiring and raw and real and huge-minded and huge-hearted and yet so much about the creative spirit I know so well that dwells in her bones– that dwells in things she creates every day in our little town in Montana…that I asked her if I could share it here. Give it a read. What do you want for your list? What can you create today that might breathe some of those dreams alive?

Life List
1. Receive certification as a scuba diver and then go to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
2. Become multilingual in French, Italian and German so I can live in Europe without getting the “American” treatment.
3. Ski where no one has ever been
4. Work at a bakery
5. Live in New York City
6. Do something completely humbling
7. Travel in another country after senior year in high school
8. Photograph a sleeping turtle
9. Meet a wild dolphin
10. Make orange juice from oranges I picked from a tree in my backyard
11. Live alone for a while
12. Climb a tree and make a fantastic tree house
13. Go to Columbia University
14. Build an igloo
15. Be completely independent and self sustained
16. Live sea-side, mountain-side, city-side
17. Read all Chronicles of Narnia books
18. Do something that gives me an insane adrenaline rush
19. Become ambidextrous
20. Never lose my love to run
21. Help a family in need
22. Ride on the back of an elephant
23. Live without a cell phone or the internet for as long as I want
24. Drift along in a hot air balloon
25. Learn to be content
26. Swim on the equator
27. Explore the Alaskan coast
28. Visit my Swiss heritage lands
29. Go to every state in the United States
30. Kayak through a river

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New York Times "Lives" Column

On my side of the Rockies: (looking east)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/magazine/25lives-t.html?hpw

This is a dream come true for me. I’ve been dreaming about getting in the back page of the NYT Mag since I was just out of college. I’m currently in a part of Montana which has never seen a NYT, and probably doesn’t care or know the difference, but I will be driving over this same “ribbon of a highway” depicted in my essay this Sunday publication day, and will be privately smiling…and so will provide some visuals. I took these on my way over. Lewis and Clark and me. yrs. Laura

On the other side of the Rockies:




This is what they saw in the distance looking west…can you imagine? And I just drive my Suburban over it, home in time for dinner?


Lots of squashed bugs. Lots of wonder beyond.

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