Ariel Leve: ‘I was the parent and my mother was the child’
The journalist grew up on New York’s Upper East Side with her mother, a celebrated poet who partied with Andy Warhol and Saul Bellow. Now she’s lifting the lid on a deeply unhappy childhood (WOW WOW WOW to that Jon Ronson)
It drives people nuts. But when you’ve been on the receiving end of gaslighting, a compulsion for accuracy can be a survival mechanism. Before you read my book, had you heard the term ‘gaslighting’?” I had: gaslighting means, “To manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.”
Leve says that even while writing the book, she wasn’t sure she’d actually publish it. I’m glad she did, because it is riveting and evokes with clarity the emotional turmoil of being subjected to the constant needs of a narcissistic parent. I’m sure it will help other people in similar circumstances. But then there is her mother, who is still alive….
“I’m not panicking you, am I?” I ask. “When you leave the restaurant, are you going to dwell on this part of the interview?”
“I’m a dweller,” she says. (She had therapy to rewire her brain. It is called EMDR… wow!)
NEW BLOG:::: Want to be an eye witness: email me: firstname.lastname@example.org (writers\photogs are invited from across the planet blogosphere to post photos… you can be a contributor or send me a link to your post)
By Lara Trace (former editor of the Pequot Times 1999-2004)
It happened years ago… but I can still feel myself outside the Pequot Museum on a bench and the wind is really blowing and John is speaking about his album, and latest tour.
I knew I’d have to read what he said a few times after I listened to the tape I made. John Trudell was deep, so deep, with level upon level of meaning in both his spoken words and lyrics. I’d hear him, then I’d process more after a second or third listen… I can’t forget what he said about power and responsibility – you’ll read what he said in this interview. With the next presidential election whirling around us, it’s hard not to feel powerless. But we are not powerless.
You all know John was an great actor. He was unforgettable in the movie THUNDERHEART. (Top Photo.) I was lucky to interview him more than once. (I spoke with him at the Honor the Earth powwow in 1999 in Wisconsin.) John had a fiery spirit yet he was also fragile. I felt good energy all around him; his strength was palpable. After he lost his family, everyone wondered how he’d survive that, even years later. I don’t know how any human could survive intact after your entire family was killed by a house fire. John did. John mourned deeply and soared above loss.
From my notes, I was glad when Trudell explained how belief (as in religion belief) takes the place of thinking. I jotted in my notes, “Don’t believe – THINK. We put a whole lot of energy into HOPE and BELIEF and that energy falls into a void and disappears…. You BELIEVE so you don’t have to think…… You HOPE so you don’t have to truly act – it’s a sedation (drug). Nothing changes, religion is brainwashing the consciousness of people desperate to believe…. this just puts the mind in a prison…
“Violence, terror and traumas has defeated tribal belief systems from tribal Europe thru today… and then the traumatized blame themselves….. and the beast continues to get bigger. The answer is NON-COOPERATION and a clear thinking human being….” Trudell didn’t waste any words.
The story I’d heard about Trudell (more than once) was he could walk into a group of angry white ranchers full of their prejudice about Indian people and they’d all walk out of the room with their arms over each others shoulders. That was John.
Here’s what I wrote up back in 2000…
Trudell kicks off Pequot Museum concert series
Poet, activist, prophet, American Indian Movement (AIM) founder, actor and recording artist John Trudell (Santee), made a concert stop with his band Bad Dog, at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in May (2000).
Trudell uses words as medicine, so his political and poetic abilities created the new album Blue Indians, on Dangerous Discs records, released in 1999, his ninth album, produced by Jackson Browne.
“I called the album Blue Indians because there is a kind of spiritual and cultural genocide perpetrated on everyone that is poor in this country,” Trudell said. “The advance of technology has put all of us on a kind of reservation. These are the people who can’t educate their children, or afford health care. They’ve been robbed of life, which is what happened to Native people, so in that context, we’re all Indians.”
The “spoken word” artist said he didn’t set out to be a poet or writer. After an unspeakable tragedy took the lives of his wife, Tina, their three children and Tina’s mother, back in 1979, he started writing. The fire that killed them was declared an accident by the FBI who declined to investigate. This happened just 12 hours after a group marched to FBI headquarters in Wash. DC, where Trudell delivered an address on the FBI’s war against Native Americans. He burned an American flag in protest of racism and class injustice. To this day, Trudell believes government operatives set the blaze, “It was murder. They were murdered as an act of war.” [READ MORE ABOUT TINA]
After 1971, Native men and women formed the national American Indian Movement, in response to the horrific conditions on reservations and the many unsolved murders. Trudell served as National AIM Chairman from 1973-79. During that time the FBI compiled a 17,000 page file (covering Trudell’s activities from 1969-80).
Of some 60 pages obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, describing Trudell as a major threat to national security, the memo said, “Extremely eloquent – therefore extremely dangerous.”
Writing has helped Trudell keep some sanity and continue to survive. In 1981, he published a book of poetry “Living in Reality” and by 1982 combined music and poetry, with the help of his musician friends Jackson Browne and future collaborator Jesse Ed Davis, a Kiowa from Oklahoma.
When asked how he deals with anger, Trudell told one reviewer, “I look at it as healthy. It’s like sadness. There’s a reason we’re given certain feelings. I think anger is necessary to our survival and reality, but now we live in a technology reality where people are programmed not to accept their anger. I think we can use it as fuel for clarity, focus and accomplishment. Anger doesn’t have to be a distorting experience.”
In May, the band played songs from the album Blue Indians, while Trudell spoke his poetic lyrics. About promoting the album, he said later, “We don’t tour like other bands. We hit the road sometimes for a week, or several weeks. It’s more practical for us.”
In concert, Trudell referred to humans as being mined, like resources, such as minerals, and reminded us we are indeed composed of the earth’s materials. After the concert, he explained the effects of mining humans, “The feeling of powerlessness that this society has, I think is a result of mining humans because the people do feel powerless. I think no clear, coherent thinking people, would accept as normal the conditions that they have to accept. So, the only reason I can see that people would accept the inequities, are because they feel powerless to deal with them. The powerlessness may disguise itself as rage, or racial hatred, or sexism, it may disguise itself in many ways, but basically the common thread is a feeling of powerlessness among the people.
“That means all the aggressive attitudes basically get internalized. I think that’s the obvious result of being mined as an individual. If they are being real with themselves, no pretending, no justification or rationalization, how many people feel that they have any real power?
“How many people feel powerless to deal with situations put in their life? It’s got to do with perceptional reality. If you use our intelligence as clearly and coherently as we can, I think we’d understand that we are not necessarily powerless. But we don’t know how to relate to power, or recognize it, therefore we don’t know how to exercise it.”
And, Trudell said we can’t accept this idea of being mined because we can’t recognize it or see it.
“We’re not taught about our personal relationship to power. We’re not taught about our relationship to the Great Spirit. Recognizing power is what you have to do. When you recognize it, you exercise it.
“You can’t take back what they have already taken but you can stop the taking of your power, once you recognize it.”
On the importance of prayer, John said he prays for balance. “Prayer is often a misused word. There are people who pray for things to make them happy so I don’t know if they’re really praying. Then there are people who pray for the welfare of others. Some people don’t pray so much for their own individualized ego, but understand that prayer is a way of thinking in harmony with the Creator. Praying is a way of participating with the Creator.
“Prayer that is based upon thought and feeling, then that prayer is participating. Prayer that is based upon need and emotion, that prayer is not participating in a synchronized manner, because it’s based on the ego’s need and emotion.”
“Responsibility is the way to fulfillment, when one recognizes and exercises their responsibility, this is how one is to be free. It’s a way of reconnecting with power for us as humans.”
On his own life, Trudell said, “I see as clearly as I can. The objective is for me to be as real to myself as I can possibly be. The more real I can be to myself, the more real maybe I can be to other people. It’s a challenge.”
“Viewing the inhabitants of early New England -natives as well as newcomers -through the lens of marriage, this extraordinary book opens up new vistas onto a time and place we thought we knew, and knew well. Ann Marie Plane’s imaginative use of intractable sources gives colonization a human face; through her tales of love (and lust), of loss (and gain), she gives voice to people long silent, bringing these obscure folk not only to light, but also to life. Colonial Intimacies will change the way we think about New England and early America, about the colonizer and the colonized, and about families from the Puritans‘ day to our own.” –James H. Merrell, Lucy Maynard Salmon Professor
of History, Vassar College
“The research behind this book is excellent. Ann Marie Plane demonstrates a great skill in her elucidation of specific court cases. By doing so, she shows us the real tensions that existed within families, and between families and communities, in the different populations of early New England.”-Peter C. Mancall, University of Kansas, author of Deadly Medicine: Indians and Alcohol in Early America
“Plane does a wonderful job of reading closely Indian conversion narratives and court cases for telling hints of how the Puritans transformed Indians into an immoral and inferior subclass residing on the periphery of New England society…This is an innovative and important work, and students of the ethnohistory of early New England will need to have a look.”-Michael Leroy Oberg, SUNY, Geneseo. American Historical Review, December 2001
“In this historiographical context, three genuinely inspired ideas drive Ann Marie Plane’s fascinating study of Native American conjugal relations in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.”-Daniel K. Richter, University of Pennsylvania. Reviews in American History, Vol. 29, No 4, 2001
“Anne Marie Plane’s Colonial Intimacies: Indian Marriage in Early New England offers a treasure of evidence and anecdotes about Native American women’s and family history, reflecting years of dedication to researching a notoriously difficult subject.” -Eric Arnesen, University of Illinois at Chicago, Law and History Review, Fall 2003
Edmund Morgan’s “The Puritan Family” explored the structures of the Puritan social and political elites. John Demos’s “A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in the Plymouth Colony” dug deeper to uncover information about the lower social classes in the early American settlements.
Ann Marie Plane’s “Colonial Intimacies: Indian Marriage in Early New England” expands upon the two previous works by exploring the social, political, legal, and economic interactions between the European settlers and the indigenous population. The author’s sources encompass a broad spectrum of available materials: court records, travel narratives, religious sermons, essays, and census information all contribute greatly to her probing analysis of native family life. All three books taken together provide a multifaceted view of the earliest English settlements in North America. The only element missing from these three works is an environmental history of the early English colonies, and for all I know someone has already written one.
“Colonial Intimacies” claims the English efforts to help the natives adapt to European lifestyles “often strengthened, rather than loosened, the boundaries between people.” To understand how good intentions created divisions, the study seeks to answer several questions about the effects of colonialism on not only the indigenous peoples but the English as well. The author wishes to discover how the arrival of the Puritans changed the Indian culture, and how the Indians reacted to this intrusion. Too, Plane examines whether or not the settlers were successful in imposing their belief systems, principally the English institution of marriage, on the native population. She concludes that the Europeans, despite strenuous efforts in the years immediately following their arrival, failed to completely convert the various tribes to their style of living. What emerged instead after roughly 150 years of colonialism was a weird hybrid of English common law marriage-called spousals-and pre-colonial Indian relationship forms.
According to Plane’s research, traditional Indian marriage and family structure differed significantly from the European structure. The most important aspect of native relationships “were those of clan affiliation and kinship, not conjugal unions.” Moreover, polygyny, or the taking of more than one wife, was a part of indigenous marriage for certain elite tribal members. Wives held more power in Indian relationships, in terms of providing food and tending the land, than they did in the European household. The divorce process was less important for natives than it was for the English. With the arrival of the Puritans, missionaries went to work at once to fundamentally change the concept of Indian marriage and family. Polygyny, the central role of wives, and kinship relationships became sins that only a shift to the nuclear, patriarchal household of English tradition could expunge.
King Philip’s War of 1675-76 led to a tectonic shift in how the Europeans interacted with the locals. The emphasis on creating thousands of native “little commonwealth” families gave way to an almost disinterested concern about what the Indians did with their lives. Some missionaries still toured the praying towns to preach and convert, still instructed the locals on how to pray and worship, but the increasing presence of African American slaves and the rise of a mulatto class saw the English changing their goals. They now turned from seeking religious conversion toward developing a racial caste system replete with all of the inequalities attendant to that type of social organization. Plane argues quite convincingly that the Indians overtly and covertly fought to retain their social status by having their marriage and family customs legally codified in English courts.
The court case resulting in the emergence of Indian marriage customs as an accepted legal tenet spotlights one of the book’s greatest strengths, namely native agency in the development of seventeenth and eighteenth century New England. Although the author does not explicitly refer to the concept of agency until the last two or three pages of the book, there is little doubt that the indigenous people still created a viable history under the veneer of colonial occupation. Moreover, native agency influenced the colonists. For instance, the first missionary efforts converted many tribal members to Christianity, but these Puritan teachers were forced to examine their own views when converts asked probing questions about this new religion, or when they pointed out that European families often failed to practice the very things the missionaries preached. The interaction between the two peoples forced Puritans to look deeper into their theology than ever before.
One common result of the wars against the native peoples, since documented by dozens of American historians, was the despotic policies the federal government and settlers imposed upon the vanquished Indians. The government viciously suppressed the Dakota Uprising of 1862, ultimately carrying out the largest mass execution in United States history as well as further solidifying the reservation system after this conflict drew to a close. The later wars on the plains also resulted in the internment of the Lakotas on reservations, a process resulting in a fundamental, damaging transformation from a hunter based society to an agricultural lifestyle that eventually paved the way to policies seeking cultural assimilation. Plane’s book is a revelation because she concludes that the Puritans essentially left the natives to their own devices, in terms of family and marriage, after King Philip’s War. An increase in debt peonage and forced labor counts as one measure of repression, as does selling off Indian children into servitude, both of which the Puritans did after the war. But nowhere do the English march the Indians off to reservations, nor do the settlers attempt a systematic cultural assimilation as seen in later eras of American history. The author might have arrived at a deeper understanding of her topic had she examined this unique phenomenon further.
Since I have ancestry from Jamaica and Grenada, was born in England and lived in Canada and America, I have a tendency to think of the black experience as global. The English are known for their obsessive record keeping and lately they have been using these resources to examine the scope of the empires involvement in the institution of chattel slavery. A database will be available this Wednesday that details how much British slave owners were paid to compensate them for their loss of property. Slaves did not get a farthing and were compelled into indentured slavery scheme that was one step up from slavery. The documents indicate that at least 1/5 one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy.
Current descendants of slave compensation include Prime Minister, David Cameron, former minister Douglas Hogg, authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the new chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette. Other prominent names which feature in the records include scions of one of the nation’s oldest banking families, the Barings, and the second Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, an ancestor of the Queen’s cousin. Some families used the money to invest in the railways and other aspects of the industrial revolution; others bought or maintained their country houses, and some used the money for philanthropy. George Orwell’s great-grandfather, Charles Blair, received £4,442, equal to £3m today, for the 218 slaves he owned.
Good luck on your journeys overseas this week, and congratulations on decisively winning your second term as our president! The first time you won four years ago, most of us couldn’t contain our joy and found ourselves literally in tears over your victory.
This time, it was more like breathing a huge sigh of relief. But, like the smooth guy you are, you scored the highest percentage of the vote of any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson, and you racked up the most votes for a Democratic president in the history of the United States (the only one to receive more votes than you was … you, in ’08!). You are the first Democrat to get more than 50% of the vote twice in a row since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
This was truly another historic election and I would like to take a few minutes of your time to respectfully ask that your second term not resemble your first term.
It’s not that you didn’t get anything done. You got A LOT done. But there are some very huge issues that have been left unresolved and, dammit, we need you to get some fight in you. Wall Street and the uber-rich have been conducting a bloody class war for over 30 years and it’s about time they were stopped.
I know it is not in your nature to be aggressive or confrontational. But, please, Barack – DO NOT listen to the pundits who are telling you to make the “grand compromise” or move to the “center” (FYI – you’re already there). Your fellow citizens have spoken and we have rejected the crazed ideology of this Republican Party and we insist that you forcefully proceed in bringing about profound change that will improve the lives of the 99%. We’re done hoping. We want real change. And, if we can’t get it in the second term of a great and good man like you, then really – what’s the use? Why are we even bothering? Yes, we’re that discouraged and disenchanted.
At your first post-election press conference last Wednesday you were on fire. The way you went all “Taxi Driver” on McCain and company (“You talkin’ to me?”) was so brilliant and breathtaking I had to play it back a dozen times just to maintain the contact high. Jesus, that look – for a second I thought laser beams would be shooting out of your eyes! MORE OF THAT!! PLEASE!!
In the weeks after your first election you celebrated by hiring the Goldman Sachs boys and Wall Street darlings to run our economy. Talk about a buzzkill that I never fully recovered from. Please – not this time. This time take a stand for all the rest of us – and if you do, tens of millions of us will not only have your back, we will swoop down on Congress in a force so large they won’t know what hit them (that’s right, McConnell – you’re on the retirement list we’ve put together for 2014).
BUT – first you have to do the job we elected you to do. You have to take your massive 126-electoral vote margin and just go for it.
Here are my suggestions:
1. DRIVE THE RICH RIGHT OFF THEIR FISCAL CLIFF. The “fiscal cliff” is a ruse, an invention by the Right and the rich, to try and keep their huge tax breaks. On December 31, let ALL the tax cuts expire. Then, on January 1, put forth a bill that restores the tax cuts for 98% of the public. I dare the Republicans to vote against that! They can’t and they won’t. As for the spending cuts, the 2011 agreement states that, for every domestic program dollar the Republicans want to cut, a Pentagon dollar must also be cut. See, you are a genius! No way will the Right vote against the masters of war. And if by some chance they do, you can immediately put forth legislation to restore all the programs we, the majority, approve of. And for God’s sake, man – declare Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid untouchable. They’re not bankrupt or anywhere near it. If the rich paid the same percentage of Social Security tax on their entire income – the same exact rate everyone else pays – then there will suddenly be enough money in Social Security to last til at least the year 2080!
2. END ALL THE WARS NOW. Do not continue the war in Afghanistan (a thoroughly losing proposition if ever there was one) for two full more years! Why should one single more person have to die FOR NO REASON? Stop it. You know it’s wrong. Bin Laden’s dead, al Qaeda is decimated and the Afghans have to work out their own problems. Also, end the drone strikes and other covert military activities you are conducting in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Colombia and God knows where else. You think history is going to remember the United States as a great democracy? No, they’re going to think of us as a nation that became addicted to war. They’ll call us warlords. They’ll say that in the 21st century America was so in need of oil that we’d kill anyone to get it. You know that’s where this is going. This has to stop. Now.
3. END THE DRUG WAR. It is not only an abysmal failure, it has returned us to the days of slavery. We have locked up millions of African-Americans and Latinos and now fund a private prison-industrial complex that makes billions for a few lucky rich people. There are other ways to deal with the drugs that do cause harm – ways built around a sense of decency and compassion. We look like a bunch of sadistic racists. Stop it.
4. DECLARE A MORATORIUM ON HOME FORECLOSURES AND EVICTIONS. Millions of people are facing homelessness because of a crooked system enacted by the major banks and Wall Street firms. Put a pause on this and take 12 months to work out a different way (like, restructuring families’ mortgages to reflect the true worth of their homes).
5. GET MONEY OUT OF POLITICS. You already know this one. The public is sick of it. Now’s the time to act.
6. EXPAND OBAMACARE. Your health care law doesn’t cover everyone. It is a cash cow for the insurance industry. Push for a single-payer system – Medicare for All – and include dentistry and mental health. This is the single biggest thing you could do to reduce the country’s deficit.
7. RESTORE GLASS-STEAGALL. You must put back all the rigid controls on Wall Street that Reagan, Clinton and the Bushes removed – or else we face the possibility of another, much worse, crash. If they break the law, prosecute them the way you currently go after whistleblowers and medical marijuana dispensaries.
8. REDUCE STUDENT LOAN DEBT. No 22-year-old should have to enter the real world already in a virtual debtors’ prison. This is cruel and no other democracy does this like we do. You were right to eliminate the banks as the profit-gouging lenders, but now you have to bring us back to the days when you and I were of college age and a good education cost us little or next to nothing. A few less wars would go a long to way to being able to afford this.
9. FREE BRADLEY MANNING. End the persecution and prosecution of an American hero. Bush and Cheney lied to a nation to convince us to go to war. Manning allegedly hacked the war criminals’ files and then shared them with the American public (and the world) so that we could learn the truth about Iraq and Afghanistan. Our history is full of such people who “break the law” for the greater good of humanity. Army Specialist Bradley Manning deserves a medal, not prison.
10. ASK US TO DO SOMETHING. One thing is clear: none of the above is going to happen if you don’t immediately mobilize the 63,500,000 who voted for you (and the other 40 million who are for you but didn’t vote). You can’t go this alone. You need an army of everyday Americans who will fight alongside you to make this a more just and peaceful nation. In your 2008 campaign, you were a pioneer in using social media to win the election. Over 15 million of us gave you our cell numbers or email addresses so you could send us texts and emails telling us what needed to be done to win the election. Then, as soon as you won, it was as if you hit the delete button. We never heard from you again. (Until this past year when you kept texting us to send you $25. Inspiring.) Whoever your internet and social media people were should have been given their own office in the West Wing – and we should have heard from you. Constantly. Need a bill passed? Text us and we will mobilize! The Republicans are filibustering? We can stop them! They won’t approve your choice for Secretary of State? We’ll see about that! You say you were a community organizer. Please – start acting like one.
The next four years can be one of those presidential terms that changed the course of America. I’m sure you will want to be judged on how you stood up for us, restored the middle class, ended the s***ting on the poor and made us a friend to the rest of the world instead of a threat. You can do this. We can do it with you. All that stands in the way is your understandable desire to sing “Kumbaya” with the Republicans. Don’t waste your breath. Their professed love of America is negated by their profound hatred of you. Don’t waste a minute on them. Fix the sad mess we’re in. Go back and read this month’s election results. We’re with you.
It’s your life — but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.
Indeed, this sentiment is at the heart of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous words: “To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”
“The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated.”
“The analogy between the artist and the child is that both live in a world of their own making,” wrote Anaïs Nin in her diary in 1945. Four decades later, 23 years after Sylvia Plath took her own life at the age of 30, Ted Hughes (1930-1998) wrote to their 24-year-old son, Nicholas. The letter, found in Letters of Ted Hughes (public library), is superb in its entirety and a worthy addition to history’s finest fatherly advice, but this particular passage speaking to the beautiful vulnerability of our inner child and its longing to be seen, heard, let loose is an absolutely exquisite articulation of the human condition — don’t let the length and density deter you from absorbing it, for once you do, it’ll saturate every cell of your soul.
When I came to Lake Victoria, it was quite obvious to me that in some of the most important ways you are much more mature than I am. . . . But in many other ways obviously you are still childish — how could you not be, you alone among mankind? It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle. But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them. Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it. So everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet. And if this is the only part of them we meet we’re likely to get a rough time, and to end up making ‘no contact’. But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that armour, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that everybody becomes, in a way, like your own child. It’s an intangible thing. But they too sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child. Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It’s been protected by the efficient armour, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs, it’s never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it’s never properly lived. That’s how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the armour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced. Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful. So there it is. And the sense of itself, in that little being, at its core, is what it always was. But since that artificial secondary self took over the control of life around the age of eight, and relegated the real, vulnerable, supersensitive, suffering self back into its nursery, it has lacked training, this inner prisoner. And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line — unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears. And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive — even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt. And that’s where it calls up its own resources — not artificial aids, picked up outside, but real inner resources, real biological ability to cope, and to turn to account, and to enjoy. That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself. The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.
In 2009, 47-year-old Nicholas hanged himself in his home in Alaska. His sister, Frieda, told the press upon news of his death: “Despite the vagaries that life threw at him, he maintained an almost childlike innocence and enthusiasm for the next project or plan.”
People often tell me that they don’t know what to say when someone experiences a loss. I explain that often times the person experiencing the loss simply needs to talk. You don’t need to say anything; just be there to listen and support the individual. However, most people are still uncomfortable with helping family members, friends, and colleagues cope with loss. This article provides information on understanding loss and tips to be in a better position to help yourself and others work through their own loss.
1. Recognize that we all experience loss and grief at some point in our lives. You might have lost a child, parent, significant other, or pet; went through a divorce; suffered a serious illness, acquired a disability, or became an addict; been burglarized, assaulted, or raped; or suffered some other type of loss. Remember how that loss made you feel and how you wanted people to treat or respond to you as you worked through your loss. The memory of your experience, and what worked or didn’t work for you, can aid you in helping others to work through their own loss.
2. Try not to compare your loss to another person’s loss, as you don’t know how it feels to be in their shoes. Even though their loss may not seem as significant as the loss you have experienced, that doesn’t make their loss any less in their eyes. They need to process their personal loss in a way that works best for them. It may not be the same process that you used or are using, so be careful to avoid comparisons and, hence, judgment.
3. Understand the different stages of loss or grief. Helen Kubler Ross wrote a book titled “On Death and Dying.” This book outlines five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. An individual who is dying or has experienced a significant loss is most likely to experience most, if not all, of these stages. Also, there is no set order in which people experience the different stages of grief. The important thing is to understand the emotions and behaviors associated with each stage, which are as follows:
a. Denial – this is when the person denies or rejects the actual loss. To provide an example of this stage and the following four stages, we will use an individual who has been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. In this stage, the individual may deny the seriousness of the situation. They might make statements, such as “It can’t be that serious… I feel fine” or “I’m sure they made a mistake in the diagnosis.” If someone is in denial, acknowledge that this is one of the stages of grief/loss. Allow the individual to work through that stage, unless they get stuck and intervention is needed.
b. Anger – this is when the person moves beyond denial and becomes angry with or at the loss. For example, the individual with terminal cancer may make statements, such as “Why is this happening to me?” or “This isn’t fair!” Being angry at something in which you feel you have no control is common among people. People often need to vent to get it out of their system. Allow the individual sufficient time and space to vent and work through their anger.
c. Bargaining – this is when the person experiences a surge of hope and begins to make bargains. For example, the individual with cancer may make statements, such as “I will do anything to live a few more years” or “I will eat healthy meals and exercise daily, anything to stay alive!” We have all heard people make bargains when faced with a life-threatening situation; it is perfectly normal.
d. Depression – this is when the person is no longer in denial, has worked through their anger, and realizes the futility of bargaining. They sink into a depressed state, not wanting to be around family members or friends. This may be difficult for the individual’s loved ones, but it is a stage that people need to go through.
e. Acceptance – this is when the person understands the seriousness of their situation and is prepared to accept it as best as they can. They may make statements, such as “Don’t worry, it will be okay” or “I’m going to die so let me get my papers in order.” There is not much you can say at this point. It is best to simply support the individual in whatever manner they need.
4. Even if you have not experienced the exact loss that someone is going through, you can still be there to listen to and support them. They are not looking for advice; they are looking for a friend. As they speak, acknowledge their words and emotions by nodding your head and/or making an occasional comment, such as “I can’t understand what you’re going through, but it must be tough… ” or “It’s okay to get it all out; I’m here for you.” People need to feel that they are being heard; it is the most important gift you can give them.
5. If an individual seems to be stuck in the grief cycle, you might suggest that they seek counseling or join a support group, where they can be with others who have experienced a similar loss. You could also share literature or additional resources that might be helpful. Although they may not accept any of your suggestions, at least you have planted the seed for them to know where to go and who to talk to should they need additional support in the future. That may be the best you can do at that time.
Dealing with grief and loss can be tough but if you use your personal experience, avoid making comparisons as to when and how to deal with loss, understand and recognize the five stages of grief/loss, are able to support an individual without giving advice, and share resources with individuals who might need additional support, you will be in a better position to help yourself and others who are experiencing loss.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.
Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream, 1963.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream, 1963.
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.
-Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail
In 2008, The National Endowment for the Arts sat down with Bradbury to talk about his life, literary loves, and how he wrote Fahrenheit 451 for $9.90 by renting a typewriter in UCLA’s basement and using it as the only office he could afford. Particularly powerful is his passionate case for doing what you love, a fine complement to this recent omnibus of insights on finding your purpose.
Books are smart and brilliant and wise. Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life.”
Lone at night, when I was twelve years old, I looked at the planet Mars and I said, ‘Take me home!’ And the planet Mars took me home, and I never came back. So I’ve written every day in the last 75 years. I’ve never stopped writing.
If you know how to read, you have a complete education about life, then you know how to vote within a democracy. But if you don’t know how to read, you don’t know how to decide. That’s the great thing about our country — we’re a democracy of readers, and we should keep it that way.”
I sieved Sontag’s journals for her most poignant, most private meditations on love – candid, vulnerable, hopeful, hopeless – and asked artist extraordinaire Wendy MacNaughton (♥♥♥♥♥) to hand-letter and illustrate them exclusively for Brain Pickings. Enjoy.