Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Express Yourself

        It’s been a while since I opened the doorway to my own imagination and stood at the entrance facing endless possibilities.

        It’s not like I’ve been idle.  Quite the opposite really.  I’ve been taking a drawing class this summer. 

It is my first studio art class and I am very unnerved every time I have to turn my easel around for the dreaded class critique. 

       “Okay group what do we think of Marsha’s drawing?” the teacher asks and before any one can answer, he says,  “Here we have a very expressive drawing,” or “She’s so expressive,” or “Look at the expression in this figure.”

        Oh yes. I am so expressive. 


       There I go again, expressing my damn self all over the place.



       Lately I have been sitting at my piano for hours expressing myself by playing chord progressions with my left had and trying out different notes with my right.  I have an attraction to diminished and other unresolved chords and recently I’ve become bold enough to add 9ths and even 11ths.  And while my left hand repeats the chord patterns, my right hand experiments, switching keys, going minor and exploring melodic possibilities. 

        I can do this for days until I find myself repeating the same combination of notes and rhythms each time I sit down to play, and a true melody emerges. It is then I know that a new song song has found me.

         I have written five songs in the past four months,  more than I have written in my entire life until this point. Real ones too with key signatures and melodies and bridges and refrains and some of them even have words.


        I am always groping.

        There is always a space between what I am expressing in charcoal,  or notes or words and what I envision.

        My grasp has always been exceeded by my reach.

         Except in my writing.

         It’s not that there aren’t spaces between what I envision and what becomes manifest.  But unlike music and drawing, where I am a novice,  I have spent my entire adult life honing the skills that I need to be my best expressive self in writing.

        Still, at home, I wander from easel to piano  - anywhere but my desk.

        What is it that I am afraid of?  What spaces do I fear to enter?

        Last week,  I read Neil Gaimon’s new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane  and from the moment I finished the prologue, I knew.  

        I want to write like that.

        I want to go where Neil Gaimon goes – to the land of dreams in the fantastical world of childhood, where there is no line between what adults call real and children call magic. 

        I want to go to that place where time is a fabric that can be cut and stitched and stretched and wrapped around stories, with characters that live forever in lands that are populated with dragons who sing arias and monsters who knit sweaters and kings who decree that all children in their kingdoms must learn to fly.

        I want to go inside the pink bedrooms of teen-age girls who wake one morning to find that feathers have erupted from bloody slits that appeared in their shoulder blades overnight and I want to stay there and bear witness to the moment they first take flight.

        I want to stand outside the stone cottage of a lonely old woman whose house is enveloped by honeysuckle and strangled by ivy and listen to the children tell each other tales of how she is a witch who ate her children  over two hundred years ago when they were small and how she is doomed to live out their lifespans, the ones she swallowed, the ones she devoured.

        I want to be among those children as they dare each other to knock on her door on a warm still summer night and I want to see her gnarled hand reach out from behind the crack in the door and yank a boy who seconds ago was filled with bravado as he danced on the witch’s doorstep, but whose eyes now pop in terror as he vanishes inside the house.

        I want to come back to Shayna Mandel, Tiger Mendlebaum and Bobby “Oh Say Can You See?” Olansky and walk with them to that liminal space between childhood and the end of innocence;  between consensus reality and the shimmering world of their own dreams, between the conscious and the unconscious.

        Between faith and fear.

        I want to enter those spaces and when I write,  I want to share with others what I have found there.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Baby Dreams

       My dreams are crawling with babies. Little rug rats, motoring every which way.  

       My dream room resembles an Escher print where babies dressed in pink and blue  ascend and descend surreal staircases and climb up onto the furniture or nestle between the legs of chairs.


       That was last night. A few nights before there were two beautiful babies lying together on a bed, holding hands - one a boy, the other a girl, the same age, he a little bigger than she, both with light brown downy hair, soft round cheeks and wide sparkling eyes. 

         I wouldn't make too much of these dreams except that they are coming after a lifetime of recurring nightmares in which babies in my care die. Some would break into tiny pieces. Others would become crushed beneath the tire of my car. Still others would disappear, slipping from my hand and floating through flooded gutters down the sewer. 

         It's hard to describe the terror one wakes with after such a dream. The throat closes so up so that no scream can enter. The hands clench so tightly that the nails make palms bleed. 


These dreams were particularly difficult to have when I was a young mother ( though the first dream pre-dated the birth of my children). I feared they were prophetic in nature and after each, I would run panic stricken into the children's room, catching my breath as I watched their covers rising and falling.   And there I would stay, back against the wall, until the rhythm of my breathing slowed to match theirs.                                      

      It wasn't until I first retired from teaching after my children were grown  that the first baby made it through the night. Cold, forlorn and neglected, she lay naked on the concrete floor of the garage. 


     This new crop of dreams delights and bedazzles.  The dreaming "I" leans against the wall watching the scene unfold, just as the physical "I" once did while holding vigil over my sleeping children.  

     Only here, I feel no fear. Only gratitude and joy.

"Marsha Reborn" by Tobi Zion
 I have written much in recent years about the phenomenon of rebirth that can occur for some women in our post menopausal years. Freed from the obligation to carry life, a woman's so called "barren"  womb can become the the place where we gestate ourselves. 

     Those babies frolicking through my psyche represent all of the possibilities for creative expression happening for me now and the generative life that can be mine in the coming years - decades even - if I am blessed with good health and a clear, sharp mind. 
     So much of my writing the past four years has been about the painful process of transformation. I have written about the despair of losing one's footing, one persona, one's shape in the world.  My writing has been filled with images of tunnels, basements, dark    corridors and death. 

     But something is changing. Something has changed.  Appearing now are butterflies and girls who grow wings from bloody slits in their shoulders, women who rise from the dead, victims of uxoricide, angry Liliths returning to haunt their murderous husbands and suffocating them in their sleep.  I write of a twelve year old girl who hunts for words and a twelve yearold boy who wanders in his wagon, naming and claiming his neighborhood streets, and still another strange, small and nearly blind boy who rides a unicycle while juggling for his life.

     My babies. In pink and blue.  The fruit of my womb's imagination. 

     The gestation is over. 

    The babies are alive.

    Here and calling to be written.

"Relativity"  by M.C. Escher

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Souls in the NICU

      There are souls in the NICU.  I have felt them. They are large and they are loud.  Sitting in a tweed chair in a glass and metal lobby, I wait for my turn to enter. Visitors are limited. One parent plus one other relative at a time.

     I have a notebook with me. I always do. But no words come.  None has ever come on this subject.  Not until now, thirteen months after my grandson Tyler was born to my daughter by emergency C-section two months before his time.  The bun was not ready to come out of the oven.

     My hand draws figures. They are ghost-like and ephemeral. They have oval heads with large almond eyes black and deep as rabbit holes. Amorphous bodies with long rubbery limbs.

     I fill page after page with these aliens, each slightly different, all somewhat the same.

    There are souls in the NICU and they are large, though the human they hover over are small.  Smaller even than newborn puppies or kittens.

     About a decade ago, Heidiles Als, a psychologist at Harvard University discovered that there was a connection between later learning problems and premature birth.  These tiny creatures born before their time did not have the chance for their nervous systems to develop.  The bright lights and noise in the busy hospital setting short circuited their neurological pathways and caused permanent disturbances.

     By the time Tyler was born two months early, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School,  the standard operating procedures of the neo natal intensive care unit included soft voices and dim lights, minimal stimulation and a womb like atmosphere for all of the babies.

    Little bodies with tubes and electrodes protruding from their transparent skin rolled into a fetal position, each in a private temperature-controlled space capsule.  

     Entering, I wonder, what is the mind-body-soul connection?  

     Jung writes of daimons,  the emissaries between man and God,  guides who usher us from the nether world to this one and back again.   Some believe that the daimon is our very will to be born, an urge so strong that it brings the unlikely pairing of THIS father, together with THIS mother to make THIS unique person the daimon knows it must become.

     Once we are shepherded into this world, our daimons become quiet, harder to know.  But here, in the NICU, they stay close, hovering over the tiny beings who are so helpless they cannot even breathe, suck and swallow at the same time.

     Feeders and growers. That's what these babies are called. 

     The nurses are so clever now. They trick the babies into sucking by inserting a pacifier between their tiny lips while their mothers' pumped breast milk is funneled through a tube in their noses, dripping the nourishment down into their throats.

    Each new mother sits in her own corner of the NICU, not talking to any other.  Each pretends not to hear the other’s bad news. A breathing spell.  A hemorrhage.  A stroke.  They do not console each other. They do not commiserate. They pull in tighter,  peer more intently into their  baby’s isolette, and mutely mouth whatever prayer finds its way to their lips.

     Once a day, the baby can come out, but only for a short time. Kangaroo time, the nurses say, as they lay the tiny child tubes and all,  naked onto his mother’s chest. 

     My sweet daughter.  

     Her little marsupial.

     There are souls in the NICU. Spirits and daimons.
     Some will stay and some will go.

     There was a glint in Tyler’s eye.

     I felt his soul in the NICU and it was strong and joyful and a bit mischievous.  

     Just like the toddler he is today. 

    Just like the man he will one day become. 

My grandson Tyler, soon after his birth and one year later.