I am

Returning to Source and Writing Again
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Returning to Source and Writing Again

Write again, they are telling me. You must write, Traci. 

It’s the new theme: writing again.

The past twelve months have been excruciating. I am struggling.

It’s been a year of comings and goings from my life; intermittency like a suddenly thrown grenade blew up my peace of mind. It has been a year of travel, loss, loneliness, bad advice, uncertainty, sadness, emptiness, tough choices, betrayal, humiliation.

It has also been a year of joy: the birth of my beautiful grandson, deepening friendships, richer closeness with my sweet middle daughter. A lot of yoga! Books newly cherished. A beautiful place that has come into my consciousness as a home.

Change is afoot.

Write again, my husband says, as if that will erase everything that has passed between us. His eyes are soft and his voice is loving as he counsels me. Write again. He holds me often throughout the day.

His hands on my shoulders, my arms, my breasts, my belly help me. He is kind. And I am still struggling.

In every moment brims the fullness of the spiritual imperative: We are here to love, to learn, to work, and to play. We are here to choose love over fear.

Why then this heart ache?

For what reason did I come here? I’ve asked myself a thousand times over the last span of time.

What is the imperative that I am mindful of it?

How have I betrayed myself?

I suspect it’s the effort to answer these questions that will heal me. It’s the journey itself that will return me to Source–whatever the destination may be.

 

 

Grateful
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Grateful

I give thanks for my children, my sweet husband, my lovely friends, my overly-gregarious dogs, my home, the books I’ve written and those I’ve read, good reviews that have thrilled me and not-so-good reviews that have taught me, the material resources of my life, the yoga practice that centers me, the spirituality that sustains me.

I am grateful that my beautiful, brilliant, hard-working, wonderful stepdaughter was accepted into medical school! Go Julia!

I am grateful for the extraordinarily generous donors who have given Parvati Press a start in the world, and I’m grateful for the authors who are coming on board with “the Millennium Falcon” of presses–and thanks to the ever inventive Chris for that image! Parvati Press really can outrun Imperial cruisers and make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.

I am grateful for the times I get to travel, and especially I am grateful for the cities of Paris and Venice and Rome. And I love living in NYC so I am grateful for this ineluctable Big Apple.

I am grateful that I get to write books. Being an author is the coolest thing in the whole universe!

I am grateful for my health. I am grateful for those I love and for those who love me, and yes, Gerda, Lori, Michelle, and Jan, I am talking about you. The other ones in the inner circle, you know who you are, and you know that I am thankful to have you in my life.

For the unmet friends, unexperienced love, and unknown blessings that are coming into my life, I give thanks, and I praise the Creator, the great sun at the center, for the fullness of it all.

Grateful

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On Dealing with Mental Illness

My husband Sabin met Robin Williams in the lobby of our building. Sabin came away with respect for the comic. “He’s down-to-earth, a nice guy,” Sabin approved. These are rare words of praise from my laconic husband, who seldom dispenses compliments and who is impressed only by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Robin William’s recent suicide has erupted into a public ferment of discussion about suicide and depression. I worry about copycat suicides, but the new open forum can benefit people who suffer from depression.

I’m a deeply creative person and creativity is linked with depression. I’ve stood at the edge with my toes curled over, staring into the abyss, wishing with every angstrom of my being that I was dissolved into that nothingness. I have been in that place of despair. It feels like there is nothing else. It feels bottomless. I understand, beneath what can be articulated, what Williams felt in the last hours of his life.

I don’t know how I survived some of those experiences. When I emerge from them, I have always felt so ashamed of my “weakness.” It didn’t help that my borderline personality disorder mother and entitled narcissist ex-husband were quick to use my despair as a means of “proving” that I was less than, that I was deficient, even worthless. For them, my depression validated their unkind treatment of me.

One beloved friend wrote recently about her own near misses with suicide. For her, the gun in her mouth failed to go off. I am so grateful that it failed. She is beautiful person, full of grace; the world is richer for her presence in it.

For me, survival might have something to do with my most primordial DNA. Family legend says we have Cherokee blood; DNA testing revealed a preponderance of hitherto-unexpected Ashkenazim genetic markers–such a large percentage of them, in fact, that the genetic testing technician looked at my results and stated, “Oh, you’re Jewish.”

So I have thought to myself that my ancestors were marched down the Trail of Tears, and they were burned up in pogroms. I am the dregs of not one but two genocides. I think it has left a residue of something inside me that keeps going and going and going.

In the bleakest moments of depression, I felt like an infinite can of gray paint had spilled out everywhere, onto everything. It coated everything so thickly and airlessly that there was no light or color anywhere. It is an unbearable, unyielding oppression of spirit.

When I am out of that state, I can imagine how my grappling with the gray paint must have been hard on the people around me. I can empathize with the difficulties they experienced through me.

Unfortunately for me, until the last decade, many people closest to me were so filled with malice that they took satisfaction in my depression. I hope Robin Williams didn’t have those kind of people around him. My life is different now, I have been working on my boundaries. I don’t keep malicious people around me anymore.

Life is better when I have kind-hearted people around me.

Malice is itself a mental illness. Unlike depression, people who live in that state of malice see the impact they make on the people around them–and they enjoy hurting other people. From my own reading and research, they tend to be borderlines and narcissists.

I am dealing now in a legal forum with a borderline who is way off the reservation. She’s also a sociopathic liar. I’ve written in other posts how she went crazy when I made a business decision she didn’t like. She sent dozens of caustic, threatening, obscenity-filled emails; after impersonating me online, she impersonated an attorney to me, signing his name and legal credentials to a threatening email; she tried to extort thousands of dollars from me and my husband by threatening malicious litigation; she pretended she had contacted a dear friend of mine and he had given up some dirt on me; she fraudulently stopped payment on checks, one to me and one to a third party; she left vitriolic voicemails that I may upload into youtube so that other people unfortunate enough to deal with her know how truly deranged she is.

My dear friend wrote me, matter-of-factly, that contrary to what she’d written, he’d never spoken to her nor heard her name before I forwarded her email to him. “Good luck,” my friend wrote, “she sounds like a looney tune.”

But this psychotic woman is far more than a goofy looney tune. She’s mentally ill in a way that hurts other people and enjoys doing so. I watched her be vitriolic and abusive toward other women, before she unloaded onto me. She turns on women regularly. I also watched her craven seduction of every man in her purview. Her conversation was filled with statements about how other women were jealous of her and how every man wanted to sleep with her.

Why didn’t I wise up sooner to the extent of this psycho’s cruelty and insanity?

Partly because this psycho can appear normal and she knows how to flatter people.

Partly because I have a blind spot when it comes to borderlines, thanks to my mother.

Partly because it’s hard for me to impute malice to people. I just don’t get it. I want to live with integrity and to act with kindness and generosity toward people. Note: I don’t succeed every minute of every day, but this is my stated intention. I do not take pleasure in the suffering of other people.

So sometimes I don’t see what’s staring me in the face, whether it’s a borderline’s obvious psychotic imbalance as she bullies people, especially women, or the malicious, invasive obsession of an ex stalking my blog, visiting my blog site every day from wherever he is, sometimes several times a day.

I need to grow out of my naivete.

There’s the mental illness turned inward, that hurts the self. There’s the mental illness turned outward, hurting other people. Many books claim that the latter is a defense against the former, that people lash out with malice because of the pain of the rot at their own core.

Perhaps. Recently a healer with whom I am working defined “evil” for me: “It’s the conscious decision to harm another human being.”

It’s necessary to be wary, to be mindful, of this evil, whether it’s evil turned inward or turned outward.

For the evil turned inward, I’ve developed a series of strategies that help me. Regular exercise, for one. I have made a commitment to practicing yoga every day, and it’s not just because I’m vain and want a nice-looking body–though that’s part of it. Another reason is because yoga is the single best negative-pattern interrupt I’ve encountered in my 51 years. I go to the gym several times a week for cardiovascular exercise. I’ve worked on myself in psychotherapy and I receive spiritual healings. I’m filling my life with friends who have loving hearts, friends who laugh with me. I meditate. I chant mantras. I pray. Oh, yes, I pray every day.

I’ve trained myself to look in the mirror and say, “I love you and you are beautiful and worthy. You are a wonderful person.” This exercise in self-appreciation and self-love was the hardest thing I’ve ever accomplished in my life. It was much harder than going to Yale and Columbia from a modest, turmoil-filled family where no one had ever attended college.

Ultimately, I believe that this is the antidote to evil: Love. Love from within to the within. Love that starts with the self, and radiates into strong boundaries that keep out the malicious folks. Mature love that accepts that sometimes other people are malicious and must be kept out of the inner sanctum. Love that understands that sometimes evil will have its way.

I know that karma exists. Actions always return. Sometimes karma has a long, long arc, but in the end, evil is balanced.

Wherever Robin Williams is, I pray that he feels the outpouring of other people’s love for him. I pray that it leads him to greater and greater self love. I pray that the evil he did himself is balanced by some extraordinary kindness toward his soul. I pray that when people come to that moment of choosing to harm themselves, that some tiny particle of love comes in to pull them back from the abyss.

BROKEN: Available in September
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BROKEN: Available in September

This novel is dark, gritty, and smutty. It’s also about the power of love and the fact that spirit informs everything.

An early reviewer, one of my favorite readers, got back to me yesterday, writing, “Beautiful and heart-wrenching. I cried like I did at the end of Immortal. I will write my review this week. Thanks for sharing Alia’s story with me early.” I’ll post the review when it goes live.

BROKEN

Thanks again to brilliant Italian painter ROBERTO FERRI for giving me permission to use his gorgeous painting LIBERACE DAL MALE for the cover. Thanks to talented designer Gwyn Snider for turning the image into a breath-taking cover.

Belonging: the either/or/both/and conundrum of Universal and Specific
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Belonging: the either/or/both/and conundrum of Universal and Specific

There’s a chilling moment in The Talented Mr. Ripley movie when wealthy Meredith Logue says, “The truth is, if you’ve had money your entire life, even if you despise it, which we do–agreed?–you’re only truly comfortable around other people who have it and despise it.”

I thought of this quote today at lunch, but not because of wealth. It came to me in the broader sense of similarity and common elements in life, and how we feel most comfortable around people who have undergone similar life-defining experiences.

I met one of my loveliest, most precious friends at our usual spot. We shared and laughed and joked and commiserated and exclaimed on each other’s behalf, as always. Then there were things we said to each other because we could. We both had shitty childhoods and we both have heart-wrenchingly difficult grown kids and we both are exceedingly well educated and we both love BOOKS and writing. Oh, and she has Native American blood, too, same as me.

I looked across the table at her sweet, intelligent face and thought how lucky I am to have her in my life.

There are things I can only say to her, things confided in her alone of all people ever in my life, things I’ve never told husbands or shrinks or other friends. This is so because she has endured things that I have, happenings and feelings that cut deep into the innermost sanctum of the soul. So my friend gets it. She knows what it means to survive and then to heal, and then to go on and lead a rich and imperfect life brimming with love and progress and hurt and joy and tears and laughter and gratitude.

There are other friends with whom I share common bonds. I have two friends who lived military lives, and that’s a specific, defining thing, too. There’s us, and there are civilians. So it’s always a relief to be in the company of my military friends. We understand the tacit assumptions that govern life in the military and we don’t have to explain that particular ground of being to each other. We just know.

I have friends whose lives have been vastly different from mine, and I prize those friends, too. It’s fun to meet and grow close to all sorts–especially for a novelist, who is always looking for characters for her stories. One of the great privileges of being an author married to a famous artist is that we’ve sat down to dinner with billionaires and with broke XXX-movie star underwear models and with everyone in between. Artists travel freely among social castes and classes, which is delicious.

The first time I married, it was into a family whose expectations and understandings of life couldn’t have been further removed from what I grew up with. I raised my older daughters in that culture, and I did so with some success. To this day, it remains one of the sweetest victories of my life that my former Grandfather-in-law, my former mother-in-law’s father, said to me, “Thank you for raising your children Jewish, Traci. I know that wasn’t natural for you, but you’re doing it well.”

I’m paraphrasing because this conversation happened so long ago, many years ago, before this extraordinary and brilliant man died. He was someone with a fascinating life story of his own, and it thrilled me that he understood, he got it, that I had pierced the boundaries of otherness in service to his family and his grandson. I relished my conversations with him even before he thanked me, but after, I felt a special sense of gratitude toward him. He had seen me and he had acknowledged me.

The temptation is to judge Meredith Logue for her exclusivity, for only embracing other filthy rich people with her genuine, authentic self. But I think that’s too easy. We all go to that place of feeling safest and truest with folks who belong to the same ethnic group or socio-economic category or minority or whatever. We can easily get entrenched in our specifics–that’s a universal experience. It’s when we can hold both our specifics and our universals simultaneously that we transcend our limitations.

So the picture for this blogpost? My husband and daughter laughing at The Three Stooges. Larry, Moe and Curly’s humor has to be one of the most universal experiences going.

 

24 I am’s, with a tip of the hat to Lori
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24 I am’s, with a tip of the hat to Lori

My friend Lori, who is gorgeous and brilliant and inspiring and open-hearted in a way that glows and draws people to her rather inescapably, keeps a heart-felt blog. I love her writing because it’s poignant and soulful and expressive. It flows through the reader. It moves the reader to openness.

I adore Lori because she is wonderful and she is special and she is herself, and because she knows about suffering. It’s something she and I share: rotten childhoods. Other on-going and wrenching difficulties. A sense of the bigness that deep ache can bring to your spirit, if you refuse to allow loss to sour you. An ability to have fun and to laugh from the belly, because there is so much sorrow in life that you must play and giggle and sing and dance every chance you get.
Oh, and she’s part Comanche, so the Cherokee in me feels comfortable around her.
Lori’s blog features an enchanting “about me” page that includes “24 I am’s, in no particular order.” I was perusing her blog this evening, and I wondered, Can I do this?
So here is my list, 24 I am’s, in no particular order:
1. I am a 50 year old mother, wife, friend, and author. Yes, I’ve reached my half-century mark. It’s like falling off a cliff, upward.
2. I am a dedicated practitioner of yoga.
3. I am happy wearing yoga clothes, even when they’re stinky. Lululemon: you rock! Don’t their yoga pants make everyone’s ass look good?
4. I am just as happy wearing a great dress, especially when I feel like I’m pulling it off.
5. I am possessed of creativity, ferocity of spirit, and great friskiness.
6. I am the color turquoise, because it has playfulness and substance, and some deep connection with the heart. Sometimes I am lavender or yellow, or all three at once.
7. I am a novelist. I am always writing a novel. I am a poet, too. I am in my soul essence when I am writing.
8. I am a person who knows about suffering and loss.
9. I am in love with dark chocolate.
10. I am from a background filled with fear, shame, rage, lack, deprivation, violence, and other destructive elements: a background that tried hard to extinguish my light. It failed. My light does take regular maintenance, to be sure, to keep it bright. But I’m still shining.
11. I am an enthusiastic traveller. I carry my passport in my purse in the hopes that TODAY I will get to fly somewhere. I would rather travel than eat, though the two go awfully well together. I have been to England, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Malaysia, India, Thailand, Bali, Mexico, Canada, Hong Kong, and the Caribbean.
12. I am an inveterate ravisher of books. I consume books. When I finish reading a book, I have marked it up, squished down corners, stuck in sticky notes, licked my finger to flip the edges of pages, and invaded it entirely. It wants to take a shower and a nap.
13. I am secretly planning a second career as an art thief. Think about it: art thieves get to wear slinky black cat suits, they get to use the newest, coolest, high-tech gadgets, they get to go into museums when no one else is there, and they get to go home with a painting. How awesome is that?
14. I am a card player.
15. I am grateful. I find time every day to give thanks for the good things and the great people in my life.
16. I am one-third extraterrestrial.
17. I am already planning my next life time. Hello, reincarnation.
18. I am learning. I like challenges, so I always find something to learn.
19. I am questionative. For this word, I must give credit to my gloriously curious little daughter, who invented it to describe herself. And she came by the trait honestly.
20. I am here, committing.
21. I am a dog lover. There are two labs in my life right now who cuddle most deliciously. Each one is 55 pounds of lap puppy.
22. I am convinced that being underestimated is a position of strength.
23. I am willing to laugh with you and I love to do so.
24. I am a person who is generous, who is kind but sometimes not nice, who is playful while being solemn, and who is often misunderstood. Hello, complexity.