Saturday, September 28, 2013

What AM I Running From? Part 2: The Next Revelation

A couple days ago I went to see some local herbalists. I have been feeling worse and worse, and when I saw them at the Tuesday market, Elizabeth looked worriedly at me and said, “You look exhausted.”

“I feel awful,” I said, and almost collapsed crying in her arms.

I’m not very good at admitting that I need help. In fact, it’s not all that strange that I made it to this point before I reached out: in the last week I’ve been to three doctors, had 2 rounds of blood tests done and have now spent two hours with two wonderful women who offer natural remedies, all in the week that I canceled every plan I had because I can barely stand up without getting dizzy.
Anyway. I am tired, and I went to Elizabeth and Diane because the first set of antibiotics the doctors gave me for an eye infection didn’t work; next I thought they had misdiagnosed a bladder infection (I’ve had enough to know that I don’t have the symptoms) and the second round of antibiotic eye drops didn’t seem to be working either.

We got through my 10 page medical questionnaire, looked back at my history of antibiotic use, candida issues, general overall health problems and lab results and it seemed clear to them that 1) my immune system is shot from too many antibiotics, hence the ear infections, sore throat, cough and pink eye in both eyes in the last two months that will not heal 2) I am dragging ass because of a thyroid issue and adrenal system exhaustion and 3) I’m physically suffering from emotionally working through a lifetime’s worth of bad habits, defense mechanisms and fear.

We talked for a long time. They applauded what I was already doing for myself – I’ve been religious about the candida diet for a month now, plus in general I know enough to be eating and drinking a lot of the right sort of things to help myself – and it somehow came up that I have a copper IUD.

“You should take it out,” said Diane.

“I can’t believe they still are putting those into people. The toxicity is definitely not helping your system,” said Elizabeth.

I’ve had the IUD for three years. Before I had the IUD, I really and truly had nightmares of being a single mother living in a one-room shack, trying to comfort a baby, thinking to myself “Oh my God, this is real, this is not a dream and I cannot wake up,” and having no idea who the father was, let alone how to get support from him.

Since I’ve had the IUD, I haven’t had a single dream like that. I also recently heard a horrible story about an illegal abortion in a third world country that did not allow them, and after all the research about being on hormonal birth control for too long and how it can increase your chance of cancer, the IUD seemed to be a good option when I got it: no more nightmares, no worries about needing Plan B, the effects of long term hormonal birth control, broken condoms or even thinking about abortions or the emotional repercussions of having one.

Let’s be honest here, shall we? I am not sexually active enough that these are even THAT big of a deal, but when you travel as much as I do, finding yourself in rural areas in Catholic countries, the last thing you want to worry about is whether the resources available to you if you make a bad decision in the States are too far away to help you now.

At any rate, we discussed my peace of mind, other options, and the general state of my health and how it could be helped by my poor body not having to deal with yet another foreign object.
And then I went home, exhausted, loaded myself up with the tinctures they gave me and went to bed.

At 6 a.m. the house alarm went off. I’m house sitting and had been warned this would happen for often no good reason, which is what this was. Nevertheless, nothing scares the bejesus out of you like being woken out of a dead sleep…or a good dream, like the one I had been having, but didn’t remember until later.

At 3 p.m. that same day I laid down on the couch and suddenly it came back to me: the dream I had been having when the alarm went off for no good reason. I was looking at a little girl with chubby cheeks, and she was looking up at me over the edge of a countertop. She was my daughter.
In the dream, I was totally and completely content, and she was beautiful. I remember thinking in the dream that I was surprised I didn’t have a boy (a psychic coworker in a previous job I had predicted I would have a boy) but otherwise I just watched myself be totally content and interact with this wonderful little girl that was mine.

At 3 p.m., this memory of the dream set off huge alarm bells, internal this time but just as piercing as the house alarm had been at 6 a.m. Despite my exhaustion, I suddenly wanted to leap up off the couch and find the nearest sugar (which, due to the candida cluster in my gut, I cannot eat if I want any chance of getting better anytime soon); I thought about if there was any alcohol in the house (ditto for alcohol); I got a huge knot in the middle of my chest and found myself close to crying.

I stopped and looked at all this. What was this feeling, and where had it come from? It was not the dream itself that had caused the panic, but the thought that came with it: this could be my life. I could be looking at my future: I could be happy.

Something screamed NO! and tried to shut a door. The panic grew worse. Then it came to me: if I had it, it could be taken away.

This is so cliché it’s almost embarrassing. It is such a heard-of realization to have that I have thought about it many times before and always dismissed it. Nah, that’s not me; I'm not afraid of any of that shit. I am introspective enough I would know, I thought: if I was afraid of letting others get close because if they got close that meant I would be torn apart if I lost them, I would know it by now.

But I didn’t. Not in the way that hit me then. It was like realizing I had only lived in half a house, completely ignoring and unaware of the wall that blocked me off from all the best parts, and then suddenly one day I walked straight into it and panicked at the thought that once I started incorporating all the things that were on the other side, I would never be the same again.

And that’s true. And suddenly, I also know it’s true that I have purposely lived in a way that kept me cut off because it was easiest, best, because it hurt the least. This is separate from my need for alone time and quiet; there are plenty of people who have that AND have other people in their lives. This is separate from the many friends I have, but it does have to do with how much I am willing to open up to them. This has been something that was kept separate from me, because the realization that I was holding myself hostage was too much to bear.

Another realization on top of this one toppled onto me, and it rolled me right off the couch to cry on the floor in a ball. It was my grandmother. Somehow it became clear that I had gotten this idea from her death. I was 14, and Nana went in for a fairly low-risk surgery to remove a small cancerous spot on her lung – she had already survived having 70 percent of her liver removed due to cancer, for crying out loud – got an infection in the hospital and died.

And I still miss her. I was her first grandchild, and I was special to her. She’s the first one I ever remember baking with; some of my most treasured possessions are her recipes, several of which I have memorized, two of which I put in both of my cookbooks; in fact, one of those cookbooks is dedicated to her.

I don’t remember being especially devastated when she died, but it seems this idea may have stemmed from there: the idea that all you love dearly will eventually be lost to you, and therefore it’s best not to love dearly at all. That, and a lesson learned through her that cemented that idea: two weeks after my uncle, my grandmother’s first born, graduated college, he was racing a car on a track, lost control, regained it and was on his way back into the race when he turned his head to look behind him and was decapitated by a guy-wire.

I don’t mean to be dramatic, but that is truly what happened. I have heard the story countless times from my dad, who tells it without much emotion – he was 16 at the time – but each and every time, unbidden, I have thought of my grandmother, and the pain of losing the first child you ever poured your heart into, before his time and at the prime of his life, in a nightmarish and unexpected way.

So you see, invisible audience? Somehow it was hardwired into me: somehow and some way I began to associate the best kind of connection, intimacy and love with the inevitable pain of loss, before the intimacy was even there.

When I look back on the people I have let myself be close to, specifically the men I have dated, I have always been thankful that they chose to leave me, because ultimately and in hindsight it was clear that they weren’t right for me. At the same time, I never saw any other options besides them: it’s not like men have been beating down the doors to date me my whole life. What I never really considered, however, was that perhaps I didn’t even see them: that they weren’t even on my radar, that I wasn’t on theirs, either, because something in them picked up on “deeply and unconsciously emotionally unavailable” and just moved on without a thought, and I intuited “is someone I deserve and will be happy with; could eventually crush me to lose” and unconsciously turned away.

Jesus this is exhausting. I cried loudly and hard for over an hour, mostly on the floor, when I had this revelation. And then I got into a bathtub with a cup of naturally sweetened hot chocolate and laid there until the water went cold.

To be honest, invisible audience, I have to wonder if this is powerful or interesting to anyone but me; if you've gotten to the point that I have, where you wonder why you're still reading, because it seems the layers will never end and the cascading tears will never stop. I wonder at my need to write out loud, and whether it will always feel this way.

I wonder all that, and yet I know that writing out loud is the answer for me; even if all the traffic on my blog is spam traffic, even if it seems redundant and ridiculous to write this out into the internet when it's part of an important internal process, it feels important nonetheless. And therefore, if you've made it this far, I will simply thank you for reading, and I will keep writing all the same...for my own peace of mind, my own needs, and my own capability to process what I keep dredging up from the depths. Maybe what I write is helpful to you, but most importantly, know that the fact that you're reading this, whether you ever reveal yourself or not, is important to me.

Love and revelatory kisses,

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Release: A Poem

Hello invisible audience,

I'm not feeling well. I've been sick, and it's taking a long time to get better. Nevertheless, it has become clear to me that it's time to show an even deeper part of myself here and hope that this is a safe place to do so -- to face the fear that I have discovered I always unconsciously feel. I fear that the world I live in is not actually safe for me, and I want to choose to live in it fully anyway.

In her TED talk, Brené Brown talks about the power of vulnerability: to open up to others to create a connection, and how the root word of courage is coeur: the French word for heart. To act courageously is to act from the heart, and move forward despite the fear.

I am not physically threatened. There is no one threatening to punish me in any way for what I do or don't do (well, within reason). And yet somewhere deep in there, there has always been a fear that if I truly show who I really am, no one will get it, like me or accept me. It is only in realizing how deep this fear goes that I have realized how inauthentic I truly am when I operate from this idea: that I present only the parts of myself that seem palatable, instead of all of me: all of my geeky, caring, cheesy and sensitive nature. 

I write poetry. I have since I was really young, but I rarely share it. I've been writing more of it lately, and some of it is howling in grief and pain, but much more of it is simply howling: it's loud, insistent, and tired of playing the responsible girl that lives by the rules, letting myself be held back and diminished by some idea I learned somewhere that I should be seen and not heard.

Despite the fact that I feel physically diminished at the moment, laid flat by a series of maladies, I recently found myself doing a papier mache project that perhaps is the physical embodiment of this poem. She's not an award winner, but she's mine nonetheless, and her heart is out there in the air where anyone can see it...just like the me I'm trying to be.

So here's a poem for the week that I wrote a couple weeks ago. If you like it, well then, that's great. If you don't like it or don't get it, well then, tough shit. Please keep your thoughts to yourself, or at least don't share them with me.


By Morgan Fraser

I am violent and vibrant in my glory:
The blind see only muted greens and docile smiles,
while within I have burst into flame.
It will not be long before I do not belong
it will not be long before the flame seizes the air I give it
and with a
ignites the dry crackling tinder that is my past
It will not be long before the grief and sorrow
I have shouldered
feed the flame and turn to ash
as I am consumed finally by a blood-red heat:
a heart-led fire
its sound becoming deafening in my ears
as it builds to bonfire heights
and my dreams are carried skyward in the smoke, where they belong.

My arms raise to the full moon
to the stars, pale in comparison
the wind biting and invigorating
as I howl as loudly as I can
No longer the trapped wounded wolf
that has considered gnawing its own leg off to escape,
albeit forever maimed, to freedom
but the warrior with her war cry,
who has finally unleashed all the restraints put upon her,
shed her burdens, picked up her glistening blade
and cut deeply into her own chest,
to expose that beautiful beating heart to the air
so that she
and finally others, too
can hear that its rhythm
matches the waves that beat against the shore
because they are the same rhythm, you see:
the one brought about by the silver pull of the moon.

Love and rythmic kisses,

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Living between the lines

Last summer I lived at an ashram that served mostly vegan or vegetarian fare. I worked a lot in the kitchen, and befriended one of the cooks, a woman named Lee who had a knack for pushing peoples’ buttons.
One morning she sauntered up to me and said quietly, “I got some. You wanna do it tomorrow?”
My eyes lit up.
“We’ll come in early, before anyone else is up. Don’t. Tell. ANYONE.”
The next morning there were three of us in the kitchen. The sun wasn’t up, no one was really around, and there we were, breaking all sorts of rules by cooking wholly for ourselves and an item that was not usually on the menu: BACON.
In fact this was the morning that I wrote my bacon haiku, still by far (in my personal opinion) the best haiku I’ve ever written:

We sort of got in trouble for this. Well, Lee did; no one said anything to me, presumably because she was the one who worked for them and therefore was responsible for not pulling all of us to the dark side (the pork side?).

It wasn’t necessarily the frying of fatty pork that did it (although a vegan walked into the kitchen at one point and said, “Oh, something smells good, no wait, no it doesn’t, it smells like burning pig flesh.”) it was using the kitchen for our own personal meal. If everyone did that, there would be havoc, plus surely there was some sort of liability in cooking for yourself without permission: what if I had been badly burned by that delicious pork fat I was so craving?

Anyway. I went along with the plan because Lee was my friend and because I was really craving some meat. The whole time, though, I was on edge. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I knew it wouldn’t go over well, and I was afraid of breaking the rules. Not because I thought we’d be kicked out for something like this, but because my specialty in life is always performing well and impressing people when the expectations are clear.

Don’t tell my math teacher, but in high school math was one of my favorite subjects. I hated the material, but Mr. Reed was very clear about his expectations. He very clearly stated what would help you in his class and how to get ahead, whether you did well on the tests or not. Therefore, despite the fact that it was the subject that I understood the least, I had one of the highest grades because he had clearly laid out the guidelines of how to do that: show up before school for help; if he assigned the even numbered problems, do the odds for extra credit. Keep your old tests and the corrections and you can use them on the final at the end of the semester.

It was the same in college. It has always been that way: tell me what I’m supposed to do and what you expect of me, regardless of whether I like it or am comfortable with it, and I will excel.

I could write an epic piece on why this is so; how it’s actually a defense mechanism, and how I always felt the safest following those expectations because I am afraid of conflict and am actually noticed less if I’m doing everything right. Well, maybe not noticed less, but in trouble less.

And yet anyone who knows me knows that’s not completely the case. I agreed to Operation Bacon, after all; I drank in high school despite the athletic code; I speed on back roads and here I am, in Panama, trying to break out of a paradigm that I haven’t felt like I’ve wanted to be in for quite awhile, but whose rules are very succinct and clear.

Regardless of whether or not I’m living by the rules, living outside of them makes me really uncomfortable. I do it anyway because some deeper, more visceral part of me craves something unimaginable, something not defined by pre-written lines of rules or code, but I am uncomfortable nonetheless when I’m not sure where my decisions will get me because no one has written the rule book for it yet.

It throws me for a loop when it doesn’t work the way I’ve been told it should. Eat well, exercise and take care of yourself, and you will be healthy. Jesus, I wish. I am recovering from a cough, a sore throat, an ear infection and candida, a chronic health issue I have where there is too much evil, devil yeast (technical term) in my intestinal tract and to kill it I must abstain from sugars of all types or anything that can be turned into sugar: all carbohydrates, dairy products, vinegars, root vegetables, fruit and alcohol. Despite my diet of meat, greens and nuts, I haven’t been feeling much better, and here’s where the problem lies: I’ve been doing everything right, and it’s not turning out the way I want it to; the way I’ve been told it’s supposed to.

Know how I know? Because I found myself exhausted, awake in the middle of the night and uncomfortable, and the paradigm I grew up in told me that I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and buck the f@#$ up. Instead, I let myself cry at the injustice of it all: of having to take better care of myself than others have to, of just wanting someone to take care of me sometimes, and, between 9/11, Barbara’s death on 9/12 and my birthday, not wanting to be alone to face this by myself.

And you know how I knew I had fallen out of the paradigm? Because I couldn’t think of a word that described the justifiable wailing cry of someone who is legitimately and justifiably fed up and needs to express it. That word doesn’t exist in the idea that I grew up in. We have all these words for whining, complaining, self-pity, but where’s the word for how you honestly feel when you’ve been kicked around, despite all your best efforts to the contrary?

And that’s when I need to live between the lines, invisible audience: when the words I want aren’t there, and the idea I’m going for can’t be described in a single, solitary term. It’s when context is most important, because describing the context is all I have to go on. It’s not just about creating my own path, it’s about writing my own vocabulary for what I’m experiencing, because the vocabulary hasn’t been there before, at least not for me.

I guess that’s what my book is about, ultimately. It’s about trying to write something between the lines of what I’ve always understood my life should be. It’s what this blog is about: finding myself outside of the rules and the expectations; finding the real, legitimate, hard-to-describe-in-solitary-terms, me.

Love and between-the-lines kisses

Saturday, September 7, 2013

To Barbara, A Year After Your Death

Dear Barbara,

It has been nearly a year since you died, on September 12, one day after the anniversary of 9/11, and five days before my 31st birthday.
The day before you died, I made a meal for the ashram where we were both staying: squash enchiladas, a variation on the sweet potato enchilada recipe that I made up myself, and that I have served at various times in my life to convey community, comfort, and thanks. I made this meal for the ashram on the edge of the beautiful Kootenay Lake because I was about to leave, and I wanted to show my thanks that they had provided what I needed when I needed it: a place to rest after what had been a really tough year.
And then, in one single hour on a clear night, it became tougher still. I stood next to you as you struggled to breathe, willing the time to pass and also to stand still; willing the ambulance to hurry and simultaneously willing your throat to stop closing up in response to something you ate.
You knew you had severe food allergies; we all knew you did. There was nothing we or you could pinpoint that would have set them off, but it had happened all the same. I was the one standing next to you when you went unconscious; I told you weren’t alone as you gasped for air, and I told the people running in and out of the room trying to help that all you wanted was to breathe; that really there was nothing else that would make you comfortable as we hoped and prayed the ambulance would make it in time.
It didn’t.
In the days following your death, we talked in many groups and instances about you; about how you had already touched people with your gentleness and life; how you were so glad to be there, and how somehow you must have known; that you must have been ready to go on some level.
I listened to peoples’ opinions of this, and I stayed silent, even as tears slid down my face. The truth in that room with you was much different; never in those 45 minutes I spent mostly alone with you did you ever look like you were ready. You fought for every breath you could, and your fight for survival has stayed with me, even now.
It is something I had always wondered at: humanity’s struggle to survive; the desire to cheat death, when it is not actually possible: ultimately, it is a game none of us will win.
When others said afterward that your death reminded them how precious life I was, I nodded in understanding, but that was not the message I took from you. Instead I felt that what you had offered me was voice. At one point, you could not tell anyone that all you wanted was to breathe – not a blanket, not an oxygen mask – and when I seemingly read your mind and conveyed that, you gave me a look that momentarily did stop that clock.
I thought your message to me was that I could be a voice; that I was meant to help others by saying things that they could not say themselves. I thought I was destined to write a book that would facilitate others’ journeys; I thought my role was to take what I had learned and put it out there so that other people could gain strength and wisdom from it.
It is a year later, and I am something like 5,000 miles away from the ashram on Kootenay Lake. I am currently writing that book – editing it now, actually – in Panama, where I fled after realizing that whatever comfort I had hoped to find at home was not ultimately what I was looking for; that the people there that I thought needed my help were not only not interested and didn’t need my help, but that in trying to help them, I was ignoring myself.
It is only now, Barbara, that I think I really understand what our short time together was about. At first I thought I was the one that gave you something larger, something that I dearly wish every person could have: someone to stand next to them at the hour of their death and tell them that they are not alone. The gift you gave to me, however, was tenfold the comfort I gave to you: when I thought you were telling me to be another’s voice, you were telling me that I needed to find my own: that ultimately I was the one who needed saving; I was the one who needed to be heard, and I was the only one who could hear me.
It’s taken a whole year to figure out how deeply my own voice has been buried; how sunk in the mire I had lost my own needs. The book that was once meant to give others strength has instead given me strength: the holes I have wished to fill for others are being filled here, for me, with my own revelations and healing tears.
I am not sure if I’m in a different place than I would have been if you and I had never met, but I do know this: that I am a better person for what you gave to me, and what I gave to you.

Rest in peace, my friend,

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Metamorphosis of the Rock Hard Bitch

In college, one of my roommates watched me blink back tears as I struggled to figure out why I hadn’t heard from the man I was dating – now I know it was my own fault, and in trying to get his attention I had inadvertently ended our relationship – and said in wonder, “Could it be, Morgan, that you’re not near as tough as you always make out yourself to be?"

Fast forward eight months or so, and my nickname had become Rock Hard Bitch amongst my fellow American exchange students in Spain, not because I was a rock hard bitch, but because all of them were surprised to learn how caring and sensitive I was underneath the rock hard exterior I showed when I first met someone – the rock hard bitch they had all originally thought me to be.

Anyone who knows me well knows what bullshit this first impression is; anyone who’s known me since childhood has likely exclaimed, perhaps more than once, “Geez, Morgan, you’re so sensitive.”
At some point, I started to make up for my sensitivity by presenting a less sensitive front: one that was rock hard, unreachable, impenetrable, invulnerable. As was the case in Spain especially, when I was as out of my element as I had ever been, I threw up those walls to protect myself and to get through the daily motions of trying to be understood and understand in an accent I was unfamiliar with, in a language I was not all that comfortable with yet, in a foreign country that was far away from the one where I had grown up – the one whose psyche had just been rocked by a terrorist attack. I was terrified, and I didn’t know anyone, so I did the only thing I knew how to do: I hid within myself and faked a confidence I didn’t feel. 

It was not the first time I’d been called something similar to a rock hard bitch, and it would not be the last. I always found the label amusing, because it was so obviously NOT me that I found no reason to be offended. I was even proud, because it meant that it was working: that I was presenting the strong person I had always wanted to be instead of the terrified unlovable child that I always felt like inside.

It’s been years since I’ve been called Rock Hard Bitch. In the past four years or so, I’ve been working hard on being able to show a more vulnerable side of myself; instead of needing to find reasons to bring others down or pick them apart to justify my own actions, I’ve been working on accepting my own humanity and the humanity of others. I have been trying to remember that perfectionism is the opposite of being human, and that perfectionism is a goal I should not strive for because it will mean striving away from the amazing subjective and varied existence of actually being a human. I have been working on this, and yet it seems that I still have a long way to go.

I gave my unfinished manuscript to a friend to read. This is a person I have shared many things with, whom I feel I have opened up to and often shown a vulnerable side to; this person is also a regular reader of my blog. When he gave me his feedback, he told me that – among many other wonderful things he had to say about my writing, things that gave me the strength to continue on when I had been vacillating on whether I should finish the damn thing at all – my book showed a vulnerable side of myself that he had never seen: the cracks, he said, in my otherwise well-put-together exterior.
Oh God, invisible audience. What have I done? What have I done by channeling that Rock Hard Bitch persona for so long that she still stands between me and my friends; my life; the person I am striving to be? 

Every day life feels very personal, very too close for comfort, very raw and terrifying to some extent. I do not walk around fearing a physical attack, but I do find that I walk around with earphones in so I can’t hear the whistles of the construction workers, I separate myself from many people whose needs feel like much more than I can bear, and I find myself spending time alone because it feels better than spending time with others that leave me feeling depleted. All this, and yet it is no longer a case of needing to be angry at those people; I do not blame them anymore for what they need from me, I have simply realized that I don’t have to give to those people and that it’s best to be away from that need. At the same time, I’ve been working on being more honest with those that I do value: showing that vulnerable side that causes me to burst into tears at the drop of a hat, because sometimes that’s just what I need to do. It’s presenting the gooey sensitive side of me and hoping to be understood, but not being attached to that actually being the case; instead, just knowing that the act of showing myself is important, not necessarily to others, but to me. 

It seems, however, that I am still a work in progress; that often I am terrified enough to throw up a wall and stand behind it without even realizing it’s there. It seems that even here on my blog I am not showing myself in all my full humanity, and you know what? It’s true. It’s true because my book IS much more vulnerable, otherwise I wouldn’t have struggled as much as I have in whether or not I should publish it. I say this before it is even done, and yet I find that NOT writing is worse: trying to hide that vulnerable part of me ultimately feels like a personal betrayal. And I can’t do it anymore, invisible audience. I can’t deny me any longer. The Rock Hard Bitch is tired of doing her job: tired of standing between me and the rest of the world. Although there is definitely still a use for her – not everyone or every situation is safe to be vulnerable with or in, after all – she is tired of working so hard with no time off. And I’m tired of letting her. So here’s to progress, and baby steps. Here’s to humanity, in all its imperfect and vulnerable glory.

Love and not-so-rock-hard kisses