The feet of a Bodhisattva-my mother

I’m going to see my mother I decided as I was speaking to a friend on the phone. This may not seem like a big deal to anyone who visits a mother with regularity. For me, it’s mammoth. For decades, I wasn’t able to go at all. Then I could only go with my sister. Then, for a while, only with my intuitive healer as she held my hand. When I became able to go alone I could do it only with my camera in tow. My camera provided me with an extra wall of protection from my feelings.

“You’re too sensitive” my father would tell me when I was a little girl.  “Hannah, you have to control your feelings, don’t let your feelings control you.” he said later when my mother wound up in intensive care at UCLA hospital. My mother is the longest living resident in a home for the aged. Perhaps it would be easier to accept if she ‘d actually been aged when she entered the hospital-like setting thirty-one years ago. She was forty-one years old then and my family had been trying for five years, between rental homes and hired help, to take care of her after she suffered brain damage at age thirty-six. She had left my father for another man. That man abused her to the point of life in a wheelchair. That man, whose name I still can’t say, was no longer in her life.

When my mother entered the home, we had run out of options. I understood her anger. I’d be pissed too if I ended up crippled but the women taking care of her couldn’t handle her explosions. My mother was a passionate brunette from Guatemala who used to dance the Flamenco. My uncle told me men would throw their wallets at her. Today she is incapacitated to the point of not being able to walk, feed or clothe her self.

I pulled off the freeway and into the familiar lot. I just wanted to see her and tell her I loved her.  A wave of emotion came up inside of me and as I backed my car into a parking spot, I realized I couldn’t go in. My eyes were red, the tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt utterly exhausted from the emotion.  Sometimes my emotions overwhelm me and all I can do is crawl into bed, into the fetal position that I sleep in, my way of saying I want back in the womb.  “Mami, some days just bring the feelings back” my friend said to me on the phone that afternoon. Mami is a term of endearment we say in Guatemala. It seems to have stuck with certain friends.

“But why” I asked as if she could give me an answer. “I thought I was doing so much better.”

Her compassion and understanding were exactly what I needed. “Think of physics. Nothing can ever be at the same place at the same time. A spiral. If you start to go around the spiral, you can be right next to where you were but you will never be in the exact place. Does it ever end up at the same place.” Her words were so soothing as I was melting.

I gathered myself enough to walk into the metal doors. I took a deep inhale before I entered as always. Then I take a deep breath to exhale as I walk down the hallway of familiar linoleum floors that look as if they haven’t been changed in thirty one years. The smell hit me as I was buying a little time with my exhale. A combination of old, sick people, disease, disinfectant, dirty skin, age. I poked my head into my mother’s room. I notice the green curtains long ago faded by the sunlight. Three wheelchairs gathered in a corner of the room. A border of pink & blue flowered wallpaper along the top of the wall. A miniature lone Christmas tree on top of a cabinet from one of her room mates. Never mind that it’s April.  My mother was sleeping while a woman in the next bed kept crying and pleading to no one in particular; “Oh, I didn’t do nothing wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. I did everything correct. Please G-d help me up. Please G-d ayudame por favor. Please help me up. I have no shoes on. Nurse, nurse” at which point her cry turned into a wail. To keep from crying myself, I had to pretend I couldn’t hear her.

How has my mother managed to sleep with all the voices, noise, lights, blaring TV? I guess after all these years she’s figured out a way to block it all out. I wish I could say the same for me.  I am sensitive to certain voices, the sound of television commercials bother me, my cell phone ringing sometimes startles me and I have to switch it to vibrate, jack hammers make me cover my ears and run for my front door. I know I sound dramatic. I have exaggerated emotional responses to just about anything.  I have a friend who used to say I was dramatic. She’s right. My brain behaves differently than the average bear’s. Part of the damage that remains for me after watching my mother being abused when I was nine until fourteen; when she landed in intensive care after one night when the beatings went too far. I had pestered my father to bring my mother one of the leather jackets he sold. She liked pretty clothes. That night, a fight ensued between my mother and her second husband. We all have secrets from childhood. My secret for decades was I thought it was my fault she wound up in the hospital.

As the nurse came to help the crying woman up, I turned to my mother in her single bed. Her eyes were closed. She was sleeping quietly. Seemingly careless to our world. She seemed serene. She wasn’t suffering. But I was. My mother taught me forgiveness. I have come down a long road to get to where I no longer judge her as a bad mother. She wasn’t a bad mother. She fell in love with someone else after my father. She listened to her heart, not her head. I’m not different from her. Perhaps that’s why I judged her. I was still judging myself.  I’m not anymore. I love whom I love and I don’t care who judges me.

I fire off some photos from my camera. Direct, straight, honest, without pretense pictures. I don’t have a modicum of regret about expressing my feelings through my photos. These photos are meant to take me out of my comfort zone.  When I return home to view the pictures I’ve taken, I experience my mother again and I feel my emotions without fear. I was in denial for so long. My photos force me to accept the reality of her right here and now. I wonder when she suffers. I know she remembers so much. That’s why she speaks in her mother tongue of Spanish; she remembers her past. I miss never truly having her in my life. I have the courage to feel all of the sorrow I ran from all those decades. She’s influenced my life in every way but she doesn’t know that which makes me feel an intensified anguish that seems unbearable at times.

My mother doesn’t need a fancy home or clothes or car to feel good. When I brought her a cheeseburger from Fat Burger and I asked her “le gusta?” “Do you like it? “She answered “me encanta.” “I love it.”  She’s so in the moment it hurts because she mirrors back to me that I’m frequently not. She suffered to teach me to forgive her. It took me forty-seven years to meet the intuitive healer who would help me heal my anger at my mother for leaving.  The healer that I love like the mother I never had, a long lost sister and a friend all wrapped up in one. That’s another story.

I looked at her feet. Her toes are permanently bent down in a way that says decades of not walking. Her feet have not been touched, or rubbed or massaged in probably 41 years. I mean really touched, stroked, cared for. You know the way you rub someone’s feet when you really love them. Part of my sadness is I was not able to visit her let alone rub her feet for too long to admit.

I didn’t need to travel around the world to deepen my spirituality. My greatest teacher was in front of me my entire life. I just couldn’t see it was my mother;a true Bodhisattva. She forgave me for not visiting her all those years and she did that without uttering a word. I forgave her for leaving. For me, forgiveness is when you care about the relationship more than your ego.

One of the nurses banged hard into my mother’s bed while trying to help the woman crying in the next bed. My thoughts were interrupted and my mother was awakened. I just shook my head in silence. She can’t even get in solid sleep, I thoughtI watched her open her eyes. I could see she was tired. She looked in front of her, couldn’t see it was me without her glasses, closed her eyes and fell back into sleep. After 31 years of living in that room, in that place that is her home, in that building, I suppose everything must make her tired.

This is my mother. No wonder sometimes I’m tired too.

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The Possibility of Everything

Hope Edelman, best selling author of five books including the New York Times Motherless Daughters read from The Possibility of Everything at Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica. Not expecting to see me there, she greeted me with a warm, open-armed “Hannah” with so much enthusiasm she’s hard to ignore.

Hope’s engrossing, magical memoir takes us on the journey of a pragmatic woman who goes from conventional, traditional beliefs to someone willing to spend a week in Central America to delve into what can’t always be seen by the human eye. She’s a woman open to exploration, discovery, and not staying in the box of what our western culture prescribes. It’s an expressive, beautifully written story where, her marriage strained by a husband working sixteen hours a day launching a dot-com company, we see an honest, observant woman searching for answers. Her passages of reflection helped me to understand a mother driven to do anything to help her daughter.

Edelman’s daughter Maya is having violent outbursts that are being caused by her imaginary friend Dodo. Many mothers would be quick to put their child on medication for temper tantrums. That Edelman was willing to go to another country, be open to another culture to find an unorthodox remedy, which she does, brought tears to my eyes. As someone who has always traveled trying to find questions about who I am, Hope’s story deeply resonated. For anyone who’s tried to find answers about who they are by going outside the box, this book is buried treasure as she goes deeper. She’s self aware, not blaming, probing and questioning everything while sharing her insights on marriage, motherhood and faith. Her book makes you feel as if you are her friend.

She describes her cushy life with a lovely home and a nanny but “Despite the unbridled affluence of the late 1990s, or perhaps because of it, people were deeply dissatisfied. They’d begun the decade as devotees at the altar of secular materialism, only to discover that the tasks of acquiring and the responsibilities of having were a hollow substitute for authentic experience, and they were left feeling unmoored. They had everything they could possibly need and in many cases more, yet they were nonetheless ravaged by ennui. They were clinically depressed”. Hope’s story was more than the story of the adventure of seeking a cure for their daughter. It is the story of a well educated woman that “had it all” but is unfulfilled because she no longer takes part in the modern belief of materialism and the duties of being a good wife.  This is her deep spiritual journey and as we go along on Edelman’s ride we are able to see ourselves, if we’re willing to do so. She shares her private thoughts outloud, which takes a courageous person. Her honesty about her inner conflict, instead of hiding her true self, is what makes this book such a revelatory journey. A vivid description of her feelings was present throughout.

“I still have no idea how it’s possible to believe in the potential of something while simultaneously refusing it the right to exist, but it is.” This is Hope. Not defining people or places with a box. Everything is not.

Hope has written numerous memoirs about being a motherless daughter. Early mother loss left her emotionally crippled and in a continuous state of healing. The loss has made Edelman a mother who will go to any length to be the best mother she can.

Edelman’s honest, self deprecating sense of humor had me laughing out loud in Motherless Daughters and it’s here as well. She doesn’t have to try to be funny. She just is. Where she describes her attempt to figure out what is going on with Maya and says “That’s weird. There’s no entry for imaginary friends”. I can see Edelman down on the carpet, flipping through books to find the answer and I laugh at her candor.

Hope’s ability to not judge is a breath of fresh air. At a three-day writing workshop with Hope earlier this year, I shared with her my deepest secrets and she didn’t bat an eye. I thanked her for not judging me later. Her reply? “Judgment? Pleh. You should see some of the stories that have come my way. I stopped judging anyone long ago.” I wasn’t ready to go deep to write an authentic piece but because of Hope’s accessibility and caring, I now feel free to do so. I feel guided with her as my writing instructor.  She didn’t blink at my request to “Please print out my pages on paper and use a red pen to address all issues”. Early mother loss sometimes produces quirkiness which Hope understands all too well. Falling off buildings was easy compared to being honest about my past. Hope’s accepting me for who I am has taught me not to be scared to write it down.

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Katie Arnoldi’s Point Dume

I went to hear Katie Arnoldi read from her newly published novel, Point DumePoint Dume has themes ranging from the death of the surf culture, human trafficking, the Mexican drug cartel, illegal pot farms on public lands, environmental devastation and obsessive love.  Katie held the audience captive as she read from a paperback copy of her novel with her black eyeglasses,unusual necklace with some type of large stone, big smile and long blonde hair. She looks like the quintessential California girl.

Katie grew up surfing in Malibu Beach, later studied art history and was a Southern California bodybuilder before publishing her first novel, Chemical Pink, a story of how far people can take obsession. Obsession seems to be a key word when describing Katie’s novels. Katie was fascinated with bodybuilders who dedicated themselves to the sport. In Chemical Pink, she describes with precise detail how the lead character’s voice lowers, dealing with the hirsutism which would become unmanageable, even the clitoris growing penis-like hard. The effects of the steroids are irreversible even when the bodybuilders stop.

Her next novel The Wentworths gives us a story of grotesquely warped power and wealth. Too much wealth creates this overprivileged Southern California family. From the narcissistic, abusive mother to the sexually deviant son to the son who analyzes what’s wrong with the rest of his family. The sister seems to be the only one devoid of problems except her daughter is depressed and her son can’t stop stealing.

You can read more about Point Dume on her website. Her book tour began last night with this Book Soup sponsored evening complete with tequila, chips and red and green salsa. I’ve read Katie loves red wine which she had a a few choices of as well.  I can’t drink straight tequila but that’s another story.

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Hope Edelman’s Creative Non Fiction Workshop

I spent the weekend in Hope Edelman’s Creative Non Fiction Memoir workshop. I met Hope in Guatemala at Joyce Maynard’s Write on the Lake Workshop. I immediately was drawn to Hope because of her openness and honesty.  G-d threw us together as we spent the first night in Guatemala bunking on Lake Atitlan.

Hope chose the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica, an Art Deco style built in 1933 with a $2 million facelift to restore it. She provided a fresh fruit platter each morning with pineapple, strawberries, blueberries along with bagels and cream cheese and an assortment of mini muffins. She gifted each of us with a copy of Monica Holloway’s Driving with Dead People and planned a yummy Italian dinner to end the weekend on Sunday night. Not only did she graciously donate one spot in the course but she even made sure parking was included the entire weekend at the hotel.

Hope teaches in a clear, concise way how to first identify your storyline. The Set-Up, the Inciting Incident, Development and Complications, Dramatic High Point and The Resolution.  Once the storyline is developed, she puts everything together in eight parts of how to write in a way that made sense. Everyone has a story. Hope can teach you how to write yours. She kept to her schedule effortlessly (or so it seemed which shows how much work she puts into her teaching) and her attention to details made the workshop memorable.

Monica Holloway, author of the critically acclaimed Driving With Dead People and Cowboy & Wills was one of Hope’s writing students not long ago. Hope arranged for Monica as a guest speaker. Dead People paints a picture with surprises of what happens when you stuff down your past. I was laughing out loud line after line. Cowboy and Wills shares the story of a puppy that saved her autisic son. Haven’t read it yet.

If you are fortunate enough to have a writing workshop with Hope Edelman nearby, I highly recommend her. I’ve had fears about writing my story for years. With Hope’s infinite patience, caring and teaching, I am no longer scared to tell my truth.

More “Hope”

I believe in synchronicity (origin of word by Jung) and fate. It’s all part of facing me and my mom.In Guatemala, I shared on my blog that I roomed with Hope Edelman the first night we arrived because the vibe in her room was a bit off.

Watching my mother being abused from ages 9-14 molded part of who I am.Seeing her in intensive care at UCLA with brain damage forever changed me. Meeting someone in graduate school who held my hand as we went to visit my mom helped bring about more change. Finally being able to go visit my mother after decades was another piece of the puzzle. It’s hard to believe now how long it took for me to accept where my mother was and is. My spiritual curriculum if you will.

Meeting Hope Edelman in Guatemala was a gift from G-d.Even though I am a voracious reader somehow her book Motherless Daughters slipped by me. Hope has gifted me with a copy this morning as she ate her single hard boiled egg with a piece of toast and butter and I had a green tea latte with a raisin scone in Topanga Canyon. The cafe is so sweet. Sure beats cookie cutter Starbucks.

I had ordered Motherless Daughters as soon as I returned from Guatemala. I’m going to gift it to my sister and keep the inscribed copy Hope gave me.

I’ve been struggling with a story for years. Trying,in my clumsy way, of getting it down on paper.  But it doesn’t make sense or read well. Hope is doing a creative non fiction writing workshop in Los Angeles April 30- May 2 at the historic Georgian Hotel. Besides being a New York Times best selling author, Hope is authentic, humble, accessible, quirky, non judgmental and kind. Check it out. I’m looking forward.

Hope Edelman, Francesco Sedita, Ann Hood

Hope at Joyce Maynard’s home in Lake Atitlan.

Antigua otra vez

We left Joyce’s home this morning after the last breakfast. 45 minutes on the boat and then the  van drive back to Antigua.Here is her home up on the hill in San Marcos. I recommend her workshop to anyone who wants to write but has fears or has started and stopped.

I’m not in the habit of telling drivers especially when I’m abroad, how to drive. Our driver was about two inches behind a car in front of us. I told him to back off. Not 5oo feet later there were two accidents in the road. One looked like a rear end. Someone else was in a body bag.

In Antigua at a boutique hotel, Casa Encantada. Only 10 rooms.  I love heavy, wooden doors with iron which is at the entrance. Once you are allowed in, there is a garden courtyard. My room has a wrought iron bed, fluffy white sheets.There were little white candles throughout when I came back from dinner.  Check out the courtyard.

Nice walking through the streets of Antigua tonight completely alone.Came upon a procession of men in purple robes singing Ave Maria. I’m attaching two photos of what they carried.

La Cetedral de La Antigua Guatemala at night, & day.

The small purse I carry when I travel had a small hole in it where my change is falling out. I entered a shop and asked a woman sitting on the ground  if she could mend it. She seemed happy about the tip I gave her. Here she is w/my purse.

I’m so tired i can’t keep my eyes open but I’m happy I’m in Antigua and I was able to chat with my niece tonight.

Last day on Lake Atitlan.

I started corresponding with writer Joyce Maynard over a year ago. I wanted to bring a group to Guatemala for a Kundalini Yoga retreat and she has a home here where she lives part of the year. Joyce was so accessible, answering all my questions. I tried to meet her at Lake Atitlan in 2009 but the lake was choppy, it was late in the day so I didn’t cross.

What struck me about Joyce was her humanity, her compassion for the condition of the lake and the children of Guatemala. I knew I would someday take her writing workshop on the lake.

I have finished a week workshop with Joyce and three faculty. I had the gift of Joyce’s thirty-eight years of writing and her passionate teaching. Hope Edelman published author of five books speciality is the effect of early mother loss. Hope added to the mix with her lovely smile. Author Ann Hood, whose essay on losing her daughter has forever touched me. Francesco Sedita was a student at Joyce’s workshop last year. He is the author of Little Miss Popularity and creative director at Penguin Book; children’s division. They’re all fun too!

Hope, Francesco, Ann

I sat in a circle of 26 women that came in from all over the U.S. At the top level of Joyce’s house, she has an area that is covered with palm fronds where she taught us about writing memoir and fiction. There are friendships made here that will last a lifetime.

As I left my hotel this morning one of the locals working at the hotel says “cuedese” “Take care of yourself “. I walked the dirt path to Joyce’s house one last day. I am greeted by each person that passes with “Buenos Dias”. There are three little children splashing and bathing by the lake with their father watching.

I can hear the birds singing.  Dogs barking in the background. Women pass in their clothing that is specific to this region. Breakfast is scrambled eggs with mushrooms and cheese, black beans, local white cheese, yogurt, granola, homemade brown tortillas, a platter of strawberries, pineapple, mango, orange, watermelon, a local berry. This morning I smell bread baking, hot mango mini muffins and there are three different homemade jellies. I drink orange juice I saw being squeezed this morning in Joyce’s kitchen.  I look at what Aldous Huxley called the most beautiful lake in the world.

I was enjoying each moment even when I was locked into my bathroom and my toilet handle broke and wouldn’t flush. Then there are always the complainers. You know, the Negative Nellies. Joyce kept saying “You don’t realize you are having fun” and as I get on the boat to head across the lake back to Antigua, I realize she was right.

Lake Atitlan

Getting across the lake once we arrived was an adventure that required infinite patience. Twenty-six women plus one of the assistants, Helmet, who speaks five languages plus another assistant. We bring all the luggage onto this boat.  The waves are so strong that the water is coming through the wooden slats on the dock. I quickly got on the boat staring straight ahead at the lake in front of me. The staring is to keep me from throwing up.

A forty-five minute boat ride to the village of San Marcos. It never rains in February. It’s part of what attracted me last year and this February. The rainy season starts in May. About thirty minutes into the boat ride, we are hit by a massive down pour. Luggage was getting drenched with not only the rain but the spray of the massive waves splashing onto the boat. We get to Joyce Maynard’s home and are greeted by a completely soaked Joyce, surrounded by about fifteen young boys as Joyce says “It never rains in Guatemala in February.” I’m on the second stop for Hotel Paco Real. A young boy who asked if he could take my luggage is carrying mine on his back because the grounds are soaked and muddy. It’s pouring all the way to the hotel as we make our way in the dark. I couldn’t find my mini mag light at home which is odd because I know I keep it in my glove compartment. I could use it now.

I get into my room and head to the bathroom.  The toilet handle breaks off into my hand when I flush as I simultaneously am locked into the bathroom because the door lock is on the outside, not the inside. I’m banging hard on the door, hoping one of the staff will hear me.

I have the privilege of sharing my room with Hope Edelman, whose expertise in writing is women who grow up without mothers. The titles of her books are:  Motherless Daughters, Letters From Motherless Daughter’s, Motherless Mothers, Mother of my Mother and her latest publication, The Possibility of Everything.  She lectures on the long term affects of early mother loss. She has a BA in journalism, an MA in English and an MA in creative non fiction writing. She sees me trying to locate help and asks how my room is. Her room has a dark vibe that even the incense she brought from Belize and her Amethyst won’t remove so I have the honor of the two of us bunking in my “honeymoon suite” room, which has a bed on the top floor as well as the bottom.  Why it’s called the honeymoon suite is beyond both of us. We had a late snack in the hotel restaurant. I had a spicy hot lentil soup and Hope had a plate of veggies.  Hope is lots of fun, super smart and gracious. She thanked me many times for letting her bunk with me. It was nice having a roommate for the first night at the lake.

I am impressed with Joyce Maynard and all the faculty. (Ann Hood, Francesco Sedita, Hope Edelman) Joyce has been writing for thirty-eight years and most importantly, is a kind woman. She recently adopted two sisters from Ethiopia.  Today was the official first day of the writing workshop. We played a game at the end of the night like a writer’s version of American Idol where everyone anonymously gave one full page of their first page of a story.  Only three people’s entire one page was read. Mine made it through a good portion but I got slammed for writing “I literally beat myself up for decades”.  It sounded literal to the judges who don’t know I’m a stunt woman.  Playing down my career didn’t work for me in this case.

The piece I got nice feedback from four writing experts was the non fiction story I started on my mother. I’ll keep going on that story. I’m hoping I can work with Hope Edelman.  I want to get it down on paper for me. I am having so much difficulty with the story I came to work on because it started as a authentic piece and then turned into a travel story so the encouraging feedback tonight was nice. Believe me, 97 % of us are getting shredded so I feel hopeful.