Tuesday, October 18, 2011

snake skin struggles

I had a quaint and homey kind of tale to tell. It was going to start with Cowgirl cooking us her first big girl dinner using a recipe from the kids cookbook we gave her for her birthday. So I am going to apologize up front because this story is going to go awry. But first, the homey part:

I told Cowgirl to pick out some recipes for her meal and I would buy the ingredients. She settled on chicken fingers and frozen fruit pops for dessert. Her chair was pulled over to the counter, the measuring cups and spoons all set out. I was sous-chef and she a diminutive Gordon Ramsey. Yes, I got a tongue thrashing for screwing up the dipping sauce (the Husband informing me that "salad dressing" is code for mayonnaise); she enjoyed wielding the rolling pin (crushing cheese crackers for a shake n' bake coating), dipping the chicken into buttermilk and shaking everything up in a zip lock baggie. I don't eat chicken, so I didn't get to sample the flavors although she tempted me by disclosing "the special ingredient is Love!" The fruit pops (watermelon, raspberries and lemon juice) were the clear favorite of the night. "Next time, let's make MORE!" she proclaimed.

When I bought the cookbook I was knowingly recreating a memory from my childhood. One of the many things the Husband and I have in common is we both loved our Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls.

I still draw upon it when I have leftover pizza sauce and I make myself english muffin pizzas (which called for American Cheese - a flavor combination that immediately takes me back - gulp - 40 years!)

I was also thinking about the first meal I cooked for my family out of that cookbook: Mad Hatter Meatballs. At the time it felt like a pivotal moment, as if preparing dinner was a statement about my contribution as an individual, that I was no longer a mere child. I was very serious about that meal and wanted it wow my family.

And then, right before my meatballs were to be served, I learned my brother was not staying for dinner. I was devastated. I remember I hid in my parent's bathroom and I cried. I am not and never have been a pretty crier. My face gets all red and blotchy, snot pours out of my nose and these effects seem to linger on long after the emotional storm has passed. So before coming out of the bathroom and facing my family I did what became my habit: I covered my emotions. I actually took talc powder (scented!) and blotted my entire face in the hope of masking the red blotches.

My brother came up to me and asked me if I minded him going out and yes, again I buried my feelings and told him I didn't care. As I type this, I realize what I was really saying then (and for years to come) was I don't matter. My feelings, my desires, my emotions are not important, are not worth voicing and certainly not deserving of asking another person to consider or respect. (To be fair, my brother is 8 1/2 years older than me and at that time was almost out of high school and busy in his life; we had not had much time together and we didn't really know each other at all, so he had no clue as to what was going on and I chose not to communicate this with him.)

My brother did ask "what's all over your face?" I quickly lied and told him it was flour from cooking. I marvel now at how adept I was already at subterfuge.

Why this story has returned to me in full emotional color is not clear to me. I have been thinking about how sad it is that at an early age I was already hiding my feelings away, as if they were something to be ashamed of; as if they were somehow wrong and unacceptable. I do not know where I learned I did not have the right to ask for my wants or needs to be considered.

I guess I still hide how I feel. Which maybe is scary because people do think of me as an "emotionally liberated" person. But there is still much I tuck away, poke under the carpet, bury in the backyard.

Right now I am going through an unexpected dark patch. It may be the change in weather. I love Autumn but am aware of the effects of less sunlight upon my inner landscape. But I know there is more. As I drove home yesterday I had the realization that what I am feeling is what Anais Nin meant when she wrote "And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." This emotional discomfort, this sense of being tightly squeezed has become increasingly intolerable and it is forcing me to change, to move, to ... well ... grow.

According to Sun Bear my birth season is ruled by snake. This is how I feel: like a snake caught between growing a new skin but still lumbering around in an old, tight, restrictive casing. I don't know what that expansive new skin will feel like - I only know right now I feel stuck and am struggling but that somehow the struggle is my sign that things are okay. I just have to hang on. And wriggle a lot.

This post helped me immensely today. Borrowing from it these words of Pablo Neruda:

"All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song - but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny."

So I paint, I cry, I despair over creating anything of meaning or worth, of my words and my art mattering. I realized first I must value myself. Really, all this wiggling wriggling discomfort is about that - honoring myself and my experience enough to be present to all that I am and placing it before me, and saying "this does feed me." All of this, a meal to enjoy. A meal to eventually share. Skin and all.

postscript: hello ...it occurred to me later that I have been painting images of Snake Goddess ... and then I found the above journal page from a year ago which seems pretty wise advice to me right now. I wrote this post earlier today and by this evening I've discovered tiny seeds of ideas poking their heads into my consciousness. Ideas that excite me, that suggest open doors and ways to deepen into myself and my life. Go figure, I was busy being distracted by my feelings which allow this new growth to emerge unhindered. A highlight from my day (which somehow captures the whole experience) was me yelling into my cellphone "Spirit World? Are you there?!" Yes, I got a response. (Okay, so I was trying to talk to a friend, the connection was bad, and I was hoping she was at the deli - Spirit World - waiting to meet me.)


  1. Once again you have put beautiful words to feelings I recognize. Feelings I didn't have words for yet. Feelings I barely knew I had until I read and said YES YES YES. "The struggle is my sign that things are okay" - I was recently paying very close attention to a rough patch of my own, and trying see it as a growth opportunity, and find the words to acknowledge that this bad patch was different, this bad patch was growth. "hang on and wriggle a lot". YES! Thanks for bravely sharing your journey. (Plus, I had that same cookbook and forgot all about it until I saw your picture of the cover. Talk about a flashback! It was like stumbling upon a picture of an old friend. I just might have to track down a copy)

  2. Interesting that I popped over today. I think that "hiding your feelings" phenomenon happens more often than we care to admit. The past couple of days, I've been having an email conversation with someone I've been good friends with since college. We are having a bit of a disconnect because I finally tried to share my feelings with her about something that was bothering me about our relationship. We've always had very different approaches to the world--me being far more open to sharing feelings and admitting that yes, in fact, I do need other people in my life, and she always expressing the point that she doesn't NEED anyone else. These notes we've been sharing have made me realize how far apart we've truly grown, simply because she seems to be discounting what I'm feeling...now that I finally expressed it. We do grow and change so much as we grow older, and sometimes that old skin (or in my case, old friendship) certainly doesn't fit anymore, does it?

  3. Hi Lis...thanks for stopping by my blog...and for your comment...Unfortunately, I won't be doing vacation any time soon...I'm too much of a home body to go very often...

    Interesting perspective on your feelings...between hiding and relevance...

  4. oh, the ebb and flow of life. it seems we just get comfortable with what is and then things, or we, change. hang in there and know you are supported with much love. growth is uncomfortable but necessary and the extra room in your new "skin" is going to feel great.

  5. "Go figure, I was busy being distracted by my feelings which allow this new growth to emerge unhindered."

    THIS? I LOVE! YES! EXACTLY!!!! perfect. perfect. perfect!

    let's keep wiggling!!! woo hoo!!

  6. We can all tell you until we are hoarse (horse?) that you matter. That you touch us with your art and your words, your depth and your honesty. And your friendship. But unless you feel worthy of these things they will mean nothing. Snake, huh? And I echo your feelings about the season. For the first time I am, so far, handling it OK. Not spectacularly but OK. I had my crisis at the end of August and the first week of September. For some reason I am able to accept what it "now" this month. (Let's talk again about this next month or, say, December 20th...) I am going to see if that book is still in print, it would make a dandy Christmas present for my son.

  7. Post script: my word verification was "pambi" and the first thing I thought of was "nambi pambi" which is a phrase we used as kids for babyish. How's that for a message from the spirit world?! And I loved the image of you shouting into your cell phone. Such a good laugh!

  8. My dearest Sister Snake-
    I too have been using the words writhe and wriggle to describe my own struggle lately. I went to Petco the other day for dog treats, and stared at the python so long,trying to reconnect with her movements. Alas,Mike has no idea how lucky he was I did not bring her home!!
    Your creative work, your teaching,your mothering, your exploration of your inner life here- all of this matters to the world.

  9. Your post really resonated with me. I too tend to hide my feelings and have been going through a low period right now. The idea of the snake skin is intriguing - to be renewed and grow is possible if we allow it to happen.

  10. Oh now I see why we love each other so, I am sister snake (my birth year also) and in this past retreat in Pixies journey work class the animal that came to meet me was SNAKE and it scared the crap out of me, I am used to tucking things under the carpet also.

    xo sister snake.. we have to skype about Serendipity...