Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘identity’

From Under Her Feet

An excerpt from the book Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. An interview with Sybil Anderson-Adams.

Adams-AndersonHer life was the picture of success. Her husband was an attorney, they were drawing up plans for their dream home, and she recently quit her teaching job, to spend more time with their three children. Suddenly, the rug was pulled out from under her feet. What started out as a headache in court, turned out to be a leaking aneurysm. In spite of the doctors’ assurances to the contrary, within three weeks Sybil Anderson-Adams husband was dead. Without comprehension or time to have said good-bye, she struggled to survive and make sense of the incomprehensible.

As a result of her desperation and need to find answers, Sybil reached out to her friends, neighbors, doctor and church, and formed a support group for young adults who’s partners had died. The first meeting brought together twenty-five people who’d previously thought they were alone. With her need, and ability to communicate her process and grief to others, she continues to open the door of life for those who thought it had been slammed in their face and locked shut forever.

SYBIL ANDERSON-ADAMS: “When I arrived at the hospital the doctor said, ‘I have some bad news. Your husband stopped breathing.’ I’ll never forget those words. ‘He stopped breathing.’ He finally said, ‘I’m sorry . . . he’s passed away.’ It was then that it hit me . . . like a wosh.  I doubled over . . . just like you see in the movies.

After the shock had subsided, I realized I didn’t know who I was anymore. It was the loss of identity. I was the type of person who always had my entire life planned out. Before Neal died, I’d never really had a traumatic event. I had things all figured and scheduled . . . which, as you know, gives you a sense of control. But I had no control over this one and that was my undoing. I had to decide where I was going; who I was. There was an urgency. I remember going to a counselor and saying, ‘When will I not feel this way? When, when, when?!’ The reality was so strong that I wanted it to be over. I didn’t want to cry anymore.

Then one day, I remember making a decision. it was something one of my kids said. You know, ‘Out of the mouths of babes!’ One of my sons says, ‘If you hadn’t stopped and talked to Dad that one day long ago, you might never had known him or gotten married.’ I said, ‘You know, you’re right.’ And I had this vision where I decided that whatever came up I’d say, ‘Yes!’ That I would do things no matter how hard it was. When my kids had stuff they needed to do . . . cub scouts, swimming . . . I made a decision that no matter what, I wasn’t going to hide at home anymore, I was going to go. And what I found was that doing that made me stronger, even though a lot of the events I attended were absolute disasters! Taking some kind of action made me feel brave. it gave me confidence.

I remember sitting with another friend who was at that same juncture. She said, ‘I hate this. I want to be out of here.’ I felt the same at the time and replied, ‘Yeah, just get me out.’ And that’s one of the reasons I started a support group, and keep it going to this day. I needed those people so bad. They were my reality. If somebody else could make it, so could I.

For awhile I could only live for the day. The future was nonexistent. I’ve met many people throughout the years that say the same thing. They said, ‘Good-bye” in the morning and their spouse was dead by the afternoon. It changed my whole concept of how I look at things. I laugh more often now. We’ve got three teenagers and one in early adolescence. They can make you laugh or cry. If I wasn’t able to laugh once in a while our life would be one miserable hell.

I think all survivors make that decision at some point. You have to decide to live. My kids forced me into it. I’d be in bed with the covers pulled over my head, not wanting to get out, and one of them would come in and say, ‘What’s for breakfast?’ What are you going to do; I couldn’t stay in bed? I had to get up. I was the only one they had left.

We had a saying in our house, ‘Life sucks.’ It was kind of our motto for awhile. The kids would say, ‘Life sucks!’ and I’d look at them and say, ‘Yeah, then what?’ They’d answer, ‘Then you die.’ I’d continue, ‘So, then what are you going to do about it?’ They’d look at me, roll their eyes and say, ‘Come on Mom.’ It’s made them real. They see a different reality then most kids.

Life has become a really interesting place. Neal’s death and where my life has gone since, has added another dimension. God knows I wish it hadn’t happened, but without it I could have lived until I was eighty-five and never discovered this! Life is such a gift, though I’m not thrilled with the way I had to really find this out. I love being in this state of mind. I’m doing things that I never knew I could or would do. There was a point two years after he died when I realized, ‘My God, I can do anything!’ I survived something that at first glance seemed like an endless hole of despair. I didn’t think I’d ever climb out . . . but I did.

More inspiring stories at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

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I Like Writing About Sex

Donna Minkowitz: Growing Up and Writing It All Down
Posted on 15. Dec, 2013 by Sarah Burghauser
From Lambda Literary

Donna-MinkowitzThis past October, former Village Voice contributor and activist journalist Donna Minkowitz released her hot-blooded new memoir, Growing Up Golem (Magnus), about her struggle with the inhibitive physical condition RSI, her injurious family history, and the intimacy of abuse.

In an email exchange with the Lambda Literary award winner, Donna discussed the roles of fantasy, identity, and writing sex in Growing Up Golem.

I’d like to start with a quote from your book: “I have never felt particularly Jewish or lesbian. I identify much more, I say, as a sort of sexy, holy kid on a motorcycle. The kid may be male. He’s an effeminate boy with long hair. I think he has pork remnants on his fingers.”

When I read these lines I began to wonder if you consider your book to be more of a queer memoir? A Jewish memoir? A disability memoir? Or something else entirely? In other words, is there a particular part of your story that you see as the northern star? A theme more naturally fertile or interesting to you as a writer?

The reader should bear in mind that I’m saying these words at a very particular moment in the book; this is not always how I feel. (In the book, I’m saying those words as a member of a panel on “Jewish Lesbian Writers,” and of course I immediately feel the ways I don’t fit in that box.) Actually, I find I’m feeling both more “Jewish” (in terms of culture, not religion) and more “lesbian” as I get older. As to the rest of your question, the book is all of them and more! It’s also a memoir mixed with Tolkien-style fantasy. It’s impossible to separate the different aspects of it, just as it would be impossible to separate me into the queer Donna, the working-class Donna, the fantasy geek Donna and so on. Which is appropriate, because it’s a book about becoming whole.

When you read your book now, do you still see the Donna Minkowitz in the book as yourself or as a character? How much distance do you have now, or did you have during the writing process, from the “protagonist”?

Someone said about memoir, the writer must know more than the narrator, and the narrator must know more than the character. So there are really three Donnas here, the writer, the narrator (the voice telling the story), and the character (the person described as going through the events in the story).

I needed to have a great deal of distance during the writing process, because I think the whole point of doing a memoir is to really observe yourself and attempt to write about yourself with some insight. That’s only possible if you try to step away and really look at the things you do.

But of course, it’s also me. The Donna in the book does all the things I did, and goes through the same travails.

The sex scenes in the book are very powerful–the writing really stands out in these scenes. Can you talk a little bit about the experience of writing sex, specifically with this character?

I like writing about sex, and in particular, writing about real sexual and sensual experiences. Partly because I think the reality of sexual experiences is often elided in writing into something less ambiguous or ambivalent than sexual experiences often feel. All of the emotions and sensations you may feel at a particular time of having sex – fear, discomfort, and annoyance or anger, as well as excitement, ecstasy, connection and fullness – need to be written about. The other piece of it for me is that I just really like to convey sensual experiences of all kinds through words. I think descriptions of touch and smell can be some of the most lyrical writing there is, and I think they can give memoir more of a concrete base; a base in the physical world.

In reading, it seemed as though a lot of your healing and processing through your abuse happened during the actual writing process. As a reader I felt like I was watching your thoughts unfold before me. In the moment. Did it feel raw writing it? Does it still feel raw now? Or was this the effect of a highly calculated and arranged tone/approach to give readers that illusion?

I would say it’s almost entirely an illusion. I’m glad you felt like you were watching my thoughts unfold before you in real time, but that was definitely an illusion! I worked on the book for eight years, and almost all the events in the book had been over for a long time before I wrote about them. I mean for the book to feel raw – that was my goal. It is almost a book about feeling raw, as though you don’t have a protective outer layer. The main character doesn’t, or at least she starts out that way. One of the many meanings for “golem” in Hebrew is embryo… one of the newest, rawest and most vulnerable things there is. “Golem” also means fool, and it is partly a book about starting out not knowing how to run your own life, and then perhaps gradually learning how.

Read entire interview and much more at Lambda Literary.

Spanking New – A Novel

Unique is often over used in relation to artistic expression and though the concept for this novel is not entirely new (movies like Look Who’s Talking and the first Back To The Future have similar narrators looking at life before they are born), it is no stretch to say this book is indeed a unique work of art and a joy to read.

Spanking New by Clifford Henderson is a story told from an unborn beings perspective (referred to as a “Floating Soul”) about her parents, how she chooses them, her eventual conception and all of the friends and family relationships that are involved in her upcoming life, when she is born into the “Land of Forgetting”. She is a Floating Soul waiting to become a “Me”.

The author’s use of the written word is theatrical (in the best sense) and captures feelings, experiences, thoughts and emotions that readers can identify with in them selves and/or others. As Spanky, which she (who wants to be a he) is often referred to in utero, says, “Words are one of the primary tools you get in the Land of Forgetting.”

We are taken for a sweet ride of language and gender calisthenics’, as we witness the meeting of Spanky’s soon to be parents, Nina and Rick and Nina’s friends Pablo and Dink. The description of Spanky’s conception and differences of yin and yang are hilarious. Once conceived, Spanky identifies her self as an “Anchored Soul” and the drama, humor and questions of identity and gender are intensified and explored individually and collectively.

At one point Spanky, in her observation’s of how some people think and are conditioned in the Land of Forgetting, says, “Maybe her refusal to admit she likes girls has to do with those nasty assumptions and opinions I’ve been warned about. They could for sure make a girl feel like she should like boys.” Rick and Nina’s wedding turn a lot of stereotypes upside down, but doesn’t let go of the prejudice and realities that still exist. In fact, that is one of the strong points of the story. What is accepted as “normal” or “expected” is questioned and often confounding to Spanky, as she awaits her arrival into this strange milieu of “shoulds” and “should nots”. In some respects, it is like an alien from another planet who is on a scouting mission to observe human culture and behavior and can see into our hearts and minds.

Ms. Henderson is a keen observer of what is said and what is unsaid. Conversations between characters are not just seen; they are felt. Spanky tells us what is happening, what may take place and what the person is thinking and feeling behind and underneath the words that are stated and the actions taken. We learn why a situation and reaction is as it is and why people do what they do (or don’t do).

Spanking New is a wonderful story. The birthing scene alone makes it worth reading and took me back to several different births I’ve been privileged to witness. The description of Charlottes (Nina’s Mom) prayer during her daughter’s labor and her conception of the God Charlotte is praying too, is precious. It beautifully describes how much we make God into our image of what we need and perceive at a given moment, as opposed to the other way around.

This is one newly converted fan, who is looking forward to Clifford’s forthcoming book titled Maye’s Request.

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