Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hate is a strong word, but...

I hate Vista. I just had to put it out there somewhere. This operating system has made my life considerably more difficult. Everyday I run into a new problem. If you're thinking of purchasing a new PC,think about switching to a MAC.

I also hate Bing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


She'll be alright
just not tonight I let her be.

- Rob Thomas, Her Diamonds

Space in Relationships

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness.
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love.” – Kahlil Gilbran

I think most people have trouble with the task of creating space within togetherness. Taking space for oneself, leaving it for the other, and creating it for the relationship are challenges that we need to make conscious and face head-on. Togetherness should never feel like imprisonment, and love ought not come with shackles… though it often seems this way. I think we need to ask whether love is even the right word if what is being offered comes with restrictions that feel like imprisonment.

Whereas prisons and shackles don’t sound very appealing, the truth is that many of us participate in this way of being together: Parents, children, siblings, romantic partners, and friends. Why is this?

For a great many, fear is the answer (it often is)—Fear of rejection, abandonment, humiliation, and shame. We think we won’t survive such experiences, and so we set-up our relationships—or try to—in a way that we believe will allow us to avoid them. We, understandably, try to protect ourselves from the potential pain. We seem to do this in two related ways.

1. We don’t give the other the space to be fully him or herself.

2. We don’t take the space we need to be wholly our selves (Eric Francis, **

The problem is that in the long run, these strategies only create more pain.

Most of the time this process happens subtly, which makes it all the more insidious, with fear flowing into the relationship unnoticed, underground, and yet pervasively. Working this out would be more simple, for example, if a woman said to her partner: “I’m afraid that I won’t be important to you some day and that you’ll leave me. When you spend time golfing with your friends, I feel my fear strongly and so I want you to stay with me rather than go out golfing.” Instead, this same fear is often acted out more passively and subtly: The woman starts to grow silent whenever her partner talks about going out with friends, and she grows angry when he/she’s on the phone scheduling a tee-time. Her partner notices this but doesn’t understand why. Her partner cannot see her fear.

We can say that because of her fear, the woman is not giving her partner the space needed--space to nurture other friendships and to engage in his/her passion.

Let’s say her partner feels her anger and hurt, even if it’s not explicit. And let’s say this partner then decides to cancel plans with friends. Or maybe the partner gets very angry and starts blaming the woman for all sorts of dissatisfactions in his/her own life. Either way, the partner is now the one not taking space for him/herself, probably because he/she is also afraid. Afraid of not being good enough, afraid that the woman might walk away from the relationship, afraid of being accused of being selfish, or fearful of engaging in life with passion….

As adults, we are responsible for filling up the space of our own lives. Doing so involves recognizing one’s own needs and acting in ways that best allow these needs to be met. Conscious living is about awareness (i.e., recognition) + action (i.e., exercising one’s ability to respond). Fear, again understandably, gets in the way. Fortunately, there is a way out of this: When fear is present we can look for a need within it, and we can recognize that the more intense the fear, the more than need is experienced as a matter of survival.

Let’s go back to the woman: Under her fear is a need for something- perhaps a need to feel important. This need is valid for her. It may even feel like a matter of survival because of some deeply held belief she learned long ago: “I will only be loved if I’m important.” What is problematic is that now, as an adult, she is expecting her partner to take responsibility for this. She relies on her partner to help her to feel important, and she does this unconsciously (meaning without awareness and without her own ability to respond to her need), which ends up feeling a bit like shackles to the partner! As challenging as it might be, it is up to her to feed her own need for a sense of importance, and it is up to her to test out and possibly learn that even when she doesn’t feel important, she is still loved and she can definitely survive.

Going back to the partner: If he/she tries to fill the woman’s need to feel important due also to fear, and in doing so neglects his/her own needs thereby failing to take space for him/herself, resentment is the likely result. The whole situation becomes a vicious cycle and the inability to give or take the space-to-be becomes toxic, poisoning the relationship between partners as well as the relationship that each partner has with him/herself.

How do we step out of this cycle? Because it is fueled by fear, the way out must contain a great deal of compassion. Each partner must be compassionate with him/herself and with the other. Compassion allows us to see through the defenses to the fear, just as seeing through to the fear allows compassion to flow. Compassion does not mean giving up one’s own space! We cannot have true compassion for another unless we also have it for ourselves, which literally means coming together with our own passions. Stated another way, this means filling out the space of our own short lives, which further requires tolerating the fear, guilt, or shame—of others and ourselves—that may arise as a result. Therapy can help both the process of increased awareness as well as that of tolerating the resulting feelings that can at first be difficult when one begins to live more consciously.

** The notion of giving another space is influenced by Object Relations Theory and D.W. Winnicott’s notion of a holding environment (1960). The idea of taking space is attributed to Eric Francis, whom I have heard speak about this concept in personal communication and various pieces of writing.

Cest la vie

Feeling stuck in life continues. I've tried every way out of the box I know how, to no avail. Today I ended a rather brief course of therapy with a therapist who basically agreed that I'm between a rock and a hard place. My hope was that he would help me to see through myself... that we'd uncover an insight I was missing that would unlock something, would unblock the dam, would allow me to start feeling alive again. He confirmed that there was no such key.

So I'm trying to accept that this is just my life. It's hard. To believe, that is. I just can't understand that the universe would want me to give up my dreams. It feels cruel to me. I'm a Pisces- "I believe." The motto of the fishes.

I know people talk about getting to the place of giving up completely; of having nothing left to loose; and that something opens up from there. Today, I have no hope of this.

I write to have a record, to get it out, to in some way try to connect with something other than myself.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Grief, Beauty, and Spaces

“It is in dialogue with pain that many beautiful things acquire their value. Acquaintance with grief turns out to be one of the more unusual prerequisites of architectural appreciation. We might, quite aside from all other requirements, need to be a little sad before buildings can properly touch us.” Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

The 20th century, German philosopher, Martin Heidegger wrote a great deal about the way in which things gather world. An early 18th century home gathers a very different world than does a 1970’s ranch. White Rock, New Mexico allows for a different kind of world than does Miami, Florida. And an ashtray gathers a different kind of world than does a pin-cushion. I imagine an ashtray and think of a darkly-lit jazz club or of journalists meeting deadlines late into the night. A pin-cushion, in contrast, conjures up images of an older world, when women worked at home mending the clothing of husbands and children—a world of grandmothers and those older 18th century homes that are so different from those of the mid-late 20th century.

The idea of things gathering world is a Vestal concept—different spaces, structures, and things allow a certain character of world to come into being just as they preclude other worlds from taking shape. I wonder if this is where grief finds its place in architectural appreciation: In grasping the beauty of one way of being we simultaneously mourn the preclusion of others. And in mourning what is not, we can appreciate the unique and special character of what is.

The tears that accompany grief and sadness help to clear us out, like a river running through us. The experience of grief allows us to let go of possibilities that we once held on to, and herein lays both its pain and its gift. When we truly experience the sadness of what no longer is, or of what will never be, we clear space for something new to open up; and in this space lies an appreciation for how special and impermanent this next something is. This is a space of true vulnerability, of being open to what is and to what is yet to come, even as we carry the pain of what is no longer and even as we know the pain of one day needing to let go again.

It is this space of vulnerability that allows one to appreciate art; for art is very much about letting go of possibilities. A painter must choose one form over another; a songwriter needs to let go of certain words; and an architect only has so many corners to work within and a finite number of buildings to design.

I read the quote above on a day when I was sad and immediately understood. It inspired me to sit by a building I love, and I began to feel grateful for the sadness I was experiencing. I was reminded that every one of our feelings has a place, a purpose, and a beauty that can be discovered if we only enter into them. I allowed the beauty of the building to sink in, mingle with the grief, and create a sweetness that I could not have predicted nor experienced had I not let the river of sadness doing its clearing. Here’s to tears, to letting go, and to the capacity to be touched by a building.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Weeping Walls

I've been ignoring my blog, instead focused on some work projects and a memoir in progress. Here is an excerpt from that, written about the time in my life when my husband and I bought our first home (the "It" that starts the excerpt), which I hated:

It just wasn’t my dream home, which I had found several weeks prior—a mustard-yellow, 18th century dilapidated colonial, with a modern kitchen and upstairs master suite, both recently added on. Lar’s version of the story also includes something about the furnace being referred to as “a monster” and a memory of being in this historic home with its seller’s realtor during one of the showings. As she and he stood in one of the upstairs bedrooms original to the house watching rain seep through closed windows, the realtor desperately pleaded to an invisible other that she “would not lose this house.” Apparently, there was some question about whether the home was sellable at all. (Lar would later tell me that the bank wouldn’t give us a mortgage for this home, reasoning that it was worth much less than the asking price.) None of the practical, financial details left their impression upon me, though, and they couldn’t distract me from those things that did matter. I found the leaky windows charming. I loved that this was a home in need of care and repair. My poetic and melancholic heart melted at the thought of weeping walls—a term from the lingo of the construction and home repair industry that describes condensation on the walls of a basement, for example, which can result from a host of factors and might be expected when the basement dates back to the 18th century. Most of all, I loved its juxtaposition of opposites: The intimacy of the small rooms—made more endearing by low ceilings and creaky floors—opened-up to a large kitchen with glass doors running the length of an entire wall and leading to the backyard deck. This was a home appropriate to the complex range of human moods, needs, and experiences—including my much desired need to, every once in a while, escape it all.
It was from behind the kitchen’s glass wall that I caught my first glimpse of the sanctuary: A two-story, oversized barn sitting proudly on the property.
When Lar and I stepped out the kitchen door and onto the deck, only yards away from the barn, I felt a familiar, even if infrequent, warm, tingling sensation spread across my chest and down into my gut. An understated smile, which seemed to give birth to itself, crept across my face and told me that I was home. Lar started to walk with the realtor ahead of me—around the yard and into the barn, I think, probably seeing dollar signs being flushed down a toilet in his mind’s eye—as I stood, still, starring, taking-in the barn from a distance. Here was the potential studio I had always wanted. I wasn’t an artist or a writer, but I dreamed of an art studio or a writing space nonetheless. After a childhood full of shared bedrooms, and sometimes even shared beds, I craved a space of my own, a getaway, a sanctuary. The warmth of my solar plexus morphed into goose bumps that spread down my arms. A sacred space to support my need to escape, recharge, and maybe even dream. In childhood it was my dresser, always impeccably arranged (and which I have kept all these years), that served as my sacred place. The barn, of course, was quite a bit larger than the dresser, and although it felt like home I knew somewhere deep within me that it would not be. I chose not to go in. And when Lar came out, we wrapped-up our tour, thanked the realtor, and left.
Many years later I’m still not exactly sure why I chose not to go into my would-be-sanctuary. That part of me that disallowed dreams knew it would have been an impractical purchase. The house was a real fixer-upper that neither Lar nor I had the talent for (an enormous understatement). Yes, I had a vision. I saw potential. And to me, precisely because I could have played a part in realizing its greatness, it was a dream home... and dreams aren’t real, I thought. So we walked away, and as I faded out Lar continued the search for a more practical home. The non-descript floral-papered home that we eventually bought was just that.

Friday, June 5, 2009

In the face of disappointment...

I've been working with a new therapist for a few weeks now. I've been painting my most accurate picture of my life- where I've come from and where I am now, and he's been constructing his own hypotheses about how to help. Yesterday he told me that he thought I was probably searching for something that one can get only in childhood, from one's primary caregiver, and that basically I missed my chance when I turned about six years old. In other words, there is a lack that will always be there. A sense of meaningless that can never be fully healed. That the best I can do is to grieve. Not that the grief will transform anything-- which as a Scorpio rising is of course what I'm after-, only shrink the pain a bit, allowing me to "put it on a shelf" so that I might be able to salvage something from the rest of my life.

Needless to say, I was disappointed and thought how such disappointment is in many ways the mark of my life. Not that I experience disappointment often. I don't. I don't allow myself to get my hopes up; to want; to desire something enough that it's lack of obtainment would translate into diappointment. I have learned to cut this off, for the most part. Every once in a while, though, my desire rears its head and I find myself back in that place of disappointment, and the humiliation that comes with it.

Today, I decided not to let myself fall into the depression that was waiting for me. Instead, I put on my favorite, barely-there, mini-dress; red heals; drove around too fast with music playing too loudly; went to the book store to buy more music to play too loudly and some books on architecture; & then bought a cup of coffee with extra sugar to bring back to my office where I'm also listening to music, writing, and enjoying a bit of a sugar high. The meaningless is humming very softly in the background, but I'm not paying it any attention... not today, anyway.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Memories, Passions, & Questions

I recently wrote something about the nature of memory as related to our life stories. My memories of watching The Brady Brunch are probably a case in point of how we remember things in the context of our ever-evolving narratives.

I remember the show being on all the time, day and night, on all channels. I don’t think I necessarily even liked the show, but I now remember it as a quintessential reflection of my childhood, at least as far as TV programs went. I also remember being drawn to Mike Brady’s drafting table, though I’m not sure this is an accurate memory either. I’m drawn to these tables now, and my fascination conjures up images of the home office at the Brady residence, with its gorgeous (notice how the feeling tone colors the memory) drafting table placed on the wall opposite the office door. The camera angle, according to my mental pictures, placed itself at the far end of the drafting table (where a wall should have been) so as to capture the moment when one of the six kids or Carol or Alice- though rarely Alice, if I remember correctly- would come through the door, interrupting Mike, who never seemed to mind.

Now, as an adult 30 or more years later, I remember loving the drafting table. Somewhere in my own foggy 12th House realm, I also have the sense of loving the beauty of the work of the architect, though I’m sure I didn’t know what an architect was, or what he (she) did, then. I’m one of those people who see beauty in order, spirituality in precision, God in geometry. Maybe it was the protractor and compass used by Mike Brady that stirred my passions. It may be, also, that those passions were never stirred back then—that my adult mind has created those perceptions based on what I have felt only long after those daily episodes of The Brady Brunch.

The drafting table: It’s sort of like my version of a baby grand piano. Some people who don’t play piano choose to put a baby grand in their living rooms as an essential part of the d├ęcor. My dream-home fantasy includes a beautiful drafting table (I found the perfect one once in a Northhampton furniture store which is no longer there) strategically placed so as to be the center of the design without calling too much attention to itself, like a well-placed tattoo. I love it as a paradigmatic artistic tool. Yet, whereas an easel might accomplish some of the same symbolism, it is the drafting table I want, leading me to believe it is more than just its representation of art and creativity. Maybe it’s the precision of the lines- drawn on the drafting table- in relationship to one another and the overall design. Or the beauty of those angles, which can easily be misspelled angels, that ultimately work together to create a home, for example. And the seeming orderliness of it all. Very different from the messy finger-painting that can take place on an easel, especially in the mind of a child. The messiness also appeals to a part of me, but the orderliness holds something a touch more sacred, for me anyway.

I’m sure I didn’t think of my dream home when I took geometry, but it’s tempting to remember those classes as though I did. I’m pretty sure the first time I ever dreamt of the art of architecture as having any relevance to me was about eight years ago when I started to watch Inside the Actor’s Studio (a program quite different from The Brady Bunch) with James Lipton’s famous show-ending questions that include, as number 8, “What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?” I have several answers to this question, but the first to come to mind is always architecture. Here are the other nine questions, for the sake of fun self-reflection and self-knowledge. It’s also fun to revisit these questions every now and again, and to witness how your answers shift, or not. My answers for today are also listed below.
1. What is your favorite word? Penultimate
2. What is your least favorite word? White-trash
3. What turns you on? Muddy, dark leather work boots & the scent of fresh sweat, preferably combined
4. What turns you off? Whining
5. What sound do you love? The voice of Eddy Vedder
6. What sound do you hate? Overly noisy restaurants, especially the clanging of dishware combined with a harsh cacophony of voices
7. What is your favorite curse word? F—k, used appropriately
8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? In addition to an architect, I’d like to be a professional Muse
9. What profession would you not like to do? Anything involving a 9-5 schedule
10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? Thank-you.

The Astrological Unconscious

What I love about the art of astrology is that it opens up, as opposed to closes down, possibilities and potentialities. As Richard Tarnas writes in Prometheus the Awakener, Astrology is archetypally predictive, not literally so. Likewise, it is archetypally descriptive. That is, Astrology describes essential energies which can take form in a variety of different ways. We might say that Venus is the archetypal energy of Desire, and that this desire (one’s Venus) can show up in matters of love, sexuality, child-rearing, appetite, and creativity. One of the challenges of writing about Astrology, then, is to maintain this openness- the full-of-potential flavor that enriches experience rather than diminishes it. It is with this intention, and caveat, that I write about the 12th House of Astrology- the House that has something to do with what we call the unconscious, though cannot be reduced to this alone.

Some of the keywords associated with the 12th House include: Spirituality, destiny, the past, karma, secrecy, sacrifice, institutions- especially hospitals and prisons, limitation & constraint, freedom (interestingly enough), and the unconscious itself. This paints a picture of a more elusive realm of experience, one that is slippery and hard to grasp yet profoundly influential perhaps, in part, because of its inability to be easily captured.

Let’s start with the unconscious. Does something like this exist, and if so, what is it exactly? It may be helpful to first define the terms as an adjective and adverb rather than a noun. Think of “it” less as a place or a thing or an “it” and more as a description of certain aspects and processes of experience. What is unconscious is outside of our usual awareness. In the same way that breathing is usually happening outside of our awareness, psychological needs, motivations, fears, and goals can influence us even if we are unaware of such influences. This is why an individual can say “I really want x, y, or z” and yet he or she continues to act in ways that seem contrary to the stated desire. The person is not lying. She may truly want what she says she does, and also want something else. If this latter want is outside of her awareness, her life path can seem confusing, frustrating, and outside of her capacity to create it as well.

This is the realm of the 12th House and we can begin to see some of those keywords taking on life. A common experience is the person who says he wants an intimate, romantic relationship yet can’t seem to find someone(s) to share this with. Of course, the experience may be just that. Even the father of the unconscious admitted that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. There could, however, be more to the cigar than meets the eye. There may be a motivation that lies outside of awareness at work here. Maybe our gentleman is desperately afraid of losing some measure of autonomy if he were to enter into a committed relationship of some sort. Perhaps he learned, sometime long ago, that to be in a relationship means tending to the other’s needs and having his own preferences diminished, or even destroyed, in some way. Maybe these messages were so subtle that they settled somewhere outside of awareness (i.e., “in” the unconscious) and are all the more powerful because they are not consciously acknowledged- not because of denial but because he has not yet had the support he needs to see in the dark. And maybe this is a pattern passed on to him by his mother, who shared some of the same fears that likewise remained hidden outside of the light of awareness; and perhaps her father passed this on to her after “inheriting it” from his father and so-on.

Some of the most subtle and unconscious dynamics within our psyches have been passed on through generations and lifetimes.

This realm, which we might call the unconscious or 12th House, is dark, unclear, foggy. It is so subtle and under-the-surface that it is difficult to make contact with. The motivations that are formed in this way, or hang out in the 12th, therefore- and ironically- have great power in our lives, which may be why terms such as destiny and karma and secrecy hang out here.

Precisely because this realm of experience is so powerful, it also points to spirituality, transcendence, and healing. What is hidden and dark and foggy isn’t nonexistent. Rather, such needs, motivations, fears, and dreams break through into awareness in the form of symptoms, fantasies, dreams, and internal conflict. We notice the existence of this realm when in touch with the pain of the longing for an intimate relationship that never seems to happen, for example. If we can then, in such moments, shine a light into this shadowy realm we can bring more of our needs and motivations and fears into awareness. Therapy helps us to do this; so too does art, journaling, and working with dreams.

Shining the light is the first step. Ultimately, we’ll need to examine the full complement of motivations and choose among them, implying the involvement of some sacrifice. We may need to give up others’ approval in order to move toward a desire. We may need to sacrifice one potential path in order to pursue another. Letting go is a huge part of moving through life, moving forward, and creating the life one most wishes to live. This may be why sacrifice shows up in the last house of the zodiac.

Here again is another interesting offering of the 12th: As we sacrifice and let go, as we own up to limitations that are an essential part of being human, as we face the constraints that come with making one choice over another or having those choices made for us, we find freedom. One of the times I felt most free in my own life was a week that I spent confined to a hospital bed. I find this fascinating.

I imagine that the birth chart of Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, reveals an interesting 12th House. His words: “My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self of the chains that shackle the spirit.” The 12th House is that realm where we discover both the shackles and the freedom. As Stravinsky so insightfully points out, they are intimately related.

Going Back to the Start

The devil is in the details. We’ve all heard this saying before and most have some experience of the truth of it. Recently, I’ve been learning how true this is with regard to our life stories. The discipline of writing has been a large part of this realization for me. Of course, participating in therapy- as psychologist and as patient- creates an acute awareness of this truth as well.

Earlier this year, I embarked on the journey of telling—through writing—the story of the past several years of my own life, which have been marked by subtle yet profound shifts and transformations. In doing so, I have been forced to put down on page the details behind the story I’ve been telling myself. In other words, I’ve needed to deconstruct my narrative in order to write it as a story, for a reader. It is one thing to say “My life had been very unfulfilling…” and quite another to show a reader the truth of this. Sometimes, when we put our narratives—usually told at some level of generality—into the details of what we mean by unfulfilling (for example) and how—more exactly—this has showed up in our lives, then we’re left with holes and inconsistencies. “Wow, I’ve been telling myself I was unfulfilled, and yet I remember that conversation with my best friend when I told her how well my life was going.” Or, I remember that things were really miserable, but both my journal and photo albums seem to be full of happy memories. Psychologists and lawyers alike know that memory is not a purely objective process.

Our memories can be tainted or skewed in the other direction as well. “When I first got together with so-and-so, everything was great,” says the woman whose friends tell her how unhappy she seemed to them during the time-period in question. Our distant past can be even more susceptible to narrative interpretation disguised as objective memory. “My aunt was so good to me,” says the guy who has forgotten most of the physical punishment he suffered at her hands. Or a woman remembers that her childhood friends “were so mean to me,” though she is unable to come up with an example of this.

The point is not that our narrative interpretations are untrue. According to my all time favorite Coldplay song, our hearts speak louder than the objectivity of numbers and figures. Our hearts, the seat of our psychological lives, are primary. Chris Martin and I seem to agree:

“I was just guessing at numbers and figures
Pulling [the] puzzles apart
Questions of science, science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart.” – The Scientist, Coldplay

And the narratives we tell ourselves are exceedingly significant for this reason.

The point is that they are, in fact, narratives; and narratives usually begin in generalizations colored by an overall psychological tone that is often not the whole story. Our narrative interpretations do speak loudly to how we have gotten to be where we are at any given time. Deconstructing them—that is, getting down the details and discovering any holes, inconsistencies, & overgeneralizations—helps us to move out of what can become self-fulfilling prophecies and into a more authentic life; meaning, a life we are choosing based on as much awareness as possible. Deconstructing our life-story narratives is essential to the ability to relate more authentically as well. Untangling the details allows more space within which we can meet others, and ourselves, in the present moment & on its terms rather than the terms of the past. If we remember that a sometimes abusive aunt was always good to us, then this leaves a knot within which there is no space for compassion for oneself, for what one endured. Likewise, if we think that life has always just been hard, then we diminish the space that those happier memories need to breathe their equally valid breaths. And if we tell ourselves that people are just out for themselves, then we can miss those exchanges that are sincerely unconditional in their offerings of generosity.

“Tell me your secrets
And ask me your questions,
…Let’s go back to the start.”

The lifelong process of self-awareness can be greatly supported by honesty with oneself, revelation of secrets in appropriate time, & really good questions. Sometimes, it really is helpful to go back to the start- not to rewrite one’s narrative, but to tweak it, elaborate, and stretch oneself—all with the compassion that comes with knowing how hard this can be.