Friday, December 30, 2011

Torment and Imagination: A Gateway to Creativity or Madness?

In the story, Emily handles her torment and abuse by escaping into her imagination. Her life is fraught with difficulties and every day she has to navigate around an abusive and sadistic father. Her world is difficult to bear, so she creates a world that is woven in happiness and suits her kind nature. Emily spends a lot of time drawing and writing, and creating her own bearable world as a shield to the world she has to face whenever her father is around. Emily is, by nature, a sensitive person which compounds the impact that abuse has on her. It follows a natural transition that Emily's nature is in direct contrast to her father's abusive nature and would result in the use of her imagination to protect her from harm. This begs the question, if Emily lived in a happy environment with loving parents - would her imagination flourish? If adversity fuels the imagination and creativity - how far can it reach before it crosses over into madness?

In Pages in the Wind, there is a passage in the beginning of the book that illustrates how her imagination rescues her from the torment of her father:

"It was a typical sunny day and Emily got up early before the rest of the family, and quickly dressed and walked quietly to the front porch. This was a special time of day for her. The house was silent and the world was quiet. All she could hear were the thoughts within her own mind, uninterrupted by the terrifying shouting of her father. She would sit on the porch, her favorite place and the place where Reid would always wait for her. She would have a pencil and a tablet with her during these quiet times, for Emily loved to draw. She would always draw the same thing - faces of girls. She was talented at drawing and could capture an imaginary girl in her mind, draw her face as she imagined it, and fantasize an entire life around the picture. For hours she would sketch, not missing a detail of who this girl was. She would imagine what kind of life this girl lived, and the people that surrounded the imaginary girl's life. She would draw for hours, lost in her rapid and endless imagination, until her fantasy world was interrupted by the terrifying sound of her father's voice."

So - I wonder, where will this imagination lead? Surely Emily would rather live in her imaginary world as opposed to the wicked world imposed by her father. If the mind creates thoughts and perceptions - which world is real? Will her imagined world collide with her real world? What is the impact of prolonged trauma on the young mind?

What do you think?

Friday, December 9, 2011


It's a whisper, not a shout.   As the young mind develops, his beliefs align with what is right in front of him.  He believes what his parent or guardian tells him, because he hasn't been exposed to other ideas and accepts what the apparent all-knowing adult tells him.  Unfortunately, as in Emily's case in Pages in the Wind, her belief system is flawed and harmful to her self esteem.  As she develops, and is exposed to other people, her belief system is challenged.  It is confusing, but in that confusion there is an opening.  It is in the form of a whisper, something said that is in direct opposition to what she has been taught to believe, and an important seed is planted.  After a simple game at the park, her friend Reid makes a casual comment about her father, which calls into question what she has believed for ten years.

I walked slowly up the stairs to my front porch, pretending to go inside so I could watch Reid when he turned around.  Somehow I thought that I could figure out what he meant by watching him walk home.  My mind was as cloudy as the June gloom of morning, but I wanted to understand what he meant.  Something was said that was significant but I didn’t know what it was.  Reid opened a door that had never been opened in my mind.  I wasn’t sure what door it was, but as I opened the door to my house I knew that it was important and held an element of truth that I had never dared think about.

Whispers that challenge flawed thinking or beliefs can be life-changing, especially if the whisper comes early.  Of course, in the case of extreme abuse, we wish that we could elevate the whisper to a shout.  Still, if a whisper can open a closed door ever so slightly - it can let in the light.  In the light, there is hope.  For Emily, the hope is that the whisper will provide enough light to challenge years of flawed thinking and a damaged self image.

I wonder, have you ever listened to a whisper that made a difference in your life?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Role of Authority and Charisma - with Thoughts about the Penn State Scandal

As I have worked with character development, the personalities of the characters have changed little; but in thinking about how they look through the lens of a child - they have.

As children, our parents are infallible. This likely accounts for why it takes so long for severely abused children to be recognized, and removed from their dismal environment. If you add charm and charisma to the mix, the child sees the abuser through the lens of how he interacts with others as well as how they view him. Unfortunately, the end result in the mind of a child is the belief that there must something wrong with them.

If I take this out of the family circle, and broaden this hypothesis to other important figures in a child's life, the same rule applies. I'm thinking of all the victims at Penn State. It must have been confusing to see a renowned and charismatic figure in the realm of heightened authority, and wonder why this well-respected person picked him to abuse.

The abuser is not always the boogie man waiting in the bushes. If he was, "telling" would be so much easier. When the abuser is an elevated figure, a person in authority and an admired person - it compounds the confusion and the damage digs deeper into the child's psyche. This is the situation in Pages in the Wind. Emily's father is a dynamic figure, admired and respected by many, and his attributes are outwardly apparent. Emily is always in the audience, seeing his charismatic behavior in action.

Growing up in that house, no one told Emily that her father was anything but righteous. He was a tall, handsome man with hazel eyes, dark wavy hair, and an infectious grin. His hazel eyes were set off by his tanned skin, which he never allowed to fade. His features were masculine and rugged with high cheekbones, an angular nose, and a square and prominent jaw. He had a style that attracted both men and women. Men were drawn to him, for he enjoyed the camaraderie of other men, and he sought a large audience of men as much as women. Men made him feel important and envied, while women made him feel desirable and sexual. He was comfortable in both large and small gatherings, and moved around the room with an ease and demeanor that would catch the eye of everyone in the room.

He was gregarious and always the first one invited to a party, for his quick wit and engaging presence. An officer in the navy, Captain Jacob Taylor was often called to serve as master of ceremonies at naval functions. Captain Taylor was never hindered by inhibitions, and reveled at being the center of attention without looking foolish or self-serving. His co-workers admired him for his intelligence and imposing demeanor, and his friends gravitated to him for his outgoing personality. It was readily apparent that women found him wildly attractive. He filled up every room that he walked into. His stride was confident, and in his presence you knew that you were with a man that could accomplish whatever he set his mind to do. He had that certain charisma that is hard to explain, but you know it when you see it. It was the way he laughed with his eyes, the way he exuded confidence in every step he took, the way he seasoned his conversation with interesting anecdotes.

I wonder if you have known people in similar environments, or if you relate to the "pull" that charismatic people have in dragging in their prey. Does it, in fact, even reach beyond our childhood and follow us into adulthood? If we witnessed a child being abused by a nameless person, wouldn't we drag them to the nearest cop, after we did our own damage? Would we even have to think about it? Would we wait and go through the proper chain of command, and consider damage control in terms of the abuser?

What are your feelings about it?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Author's Notes

As the book progresses, I have to pause when I think of how each character "looks" as opposed to how they "are." In other words, we so often think that we know people but unless we dig down and really try to understand them - we probably don't know them at all. So much of their life experiences are not shared with us, they are buried deep or saved for a choice few. Unfortunately, some people never chose to share their fears or horrific experiences, they bury them and unfortunately manifest themselves in unhealthy ways.

You won't be able to find Emily unless you look beneath her sweet exterior. There are clues, some subtle and some not-so-subtle. If suffering breeds character, it probably will with Emily. Some characters in the book chose to take a deviant path to the maladies of their lives; their mind goes in that direction for reasons that are not easily understood. Unfortunately, their sociopathic behavior  crashes into innocent lives and changes the course of the innocent - forever.

As an interesting side-note, I recently had the opportunity to confront someone that I know about their bullying. I sat down and really took the time to understand this person, and where this bully-behavior comes from. Among other questions, I asked this person to name five times that someone said something that hurt his feelings. After some thought, he couldn't think of one time. If there really is a "Rockwell Childhood," this person probably scored one. We talked for hours, and as hard as I looked, I found no trauma that would cause him to bully and judge others. The only sure-thing that I was left with was a "lack of empathy." He lacked empathy because somehow he skated his way through life without the emotional pain that would lend itself to understanding the pain of others. This was a surprise to me, as someone that always looks for "cause and effect." In this case, there was no obvious cause, but the result was a lack of empathy toward others - which probably accounted for the bully-behavior. I haven't let go of the belief that there is something deeper hiding there, I just haven't been able to find it. Maybe it really isn't there.

At any rate, this is Emily's journey and how she responds to the horrors that befall her. I wonder how many Emilys are out there - and whether their response to the horrors of life is rooted in DNA or if it something much more mysterious? Are some of the people that enter her life simply lacking in empathy because they have not experienced pain? I still struggle with that possibility. What do you think?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Reality in the Mirror

I haven’t been posting as often, which means that even with my crazy schedule, I have found a few hours every morning to work on this book.  It’s progressing in a more linear fashion, which is probably good although the temptation to skip around is hard to resist.  I’m posting a short passage from Pages in the Wind, which touches on facing reality, and in a later posting, disassociation.  Emily is maturing, and she is beginning to question what is happening to her.  She is starting to realize that something isn’t right.  She feels alone, her beloved grandma is gone and she has been away from Reid for ten years.  After a particularly gruesome incident, she passes herself in the mirror and has a reaction that changes the way she sees herself.

I shut the door, and double-checked to make sure that I had locked it.  Walking to my bed, I caught a glimpse of myself in the bureau mirror.  I wanted to keep walking and pretend that nothing happened, but something inside of me couldn’t.  I usually pushed it away, and pulled out something within me to keep going like nothing happened.  This time, I walked to the mirror without resisting the urge to turn away.  I don’t know if I was just too tired of pretending that I was okay, or if I wanted to face that image in the mirror.  I felt as though all of my resolve to fight to be happy had drained out of me, leaving me tired and alone.  I felt defeated, like a wounded soldier on the battlefield with nothing but dead comrades around him, knowing that there was no one there to rescue him.  I felt like that soldier, half dead but still alive knowing that his wounds were too severe to survive without help.  I was that hopeless soldier, slowly feeling the life drain from my body and knowing that there was no one there to save me.

As gruesome as it sounds, this jolt of reality is an important component to her psyche.  In my next posting, Emily will reach inward to find strength.  A seed will be planted.  How that seed grows will fuel the rest of the story. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Hold Button

Every day when I turn on my computer, or walk through the check-out line at the grocery store, I am bombarded with well-placed gossip magazines about people that I don’t know.  It’s easy to form opinions about these people based on out-of-context pictures and zinger headlines professing truth without merit.  Take this a step closer, how often do we form opinions about people that we think we know? Do we look at their behavior and form opinions too easily? Do we really know what is going on in their lives, in their heads, or how their experiences have caused them to act in a certain way? Can we dig deeper, look closer, or even step back and not judge at all? We see this in Pages in the Wind, as Emily contemplates the meaning behind an irritable exchange with her brother:

I looked down the hall toward Robby’s room, and thought about his irritation this morning.  He snapped at me for no reason, I was just trying to talk to him.  I sat down at the kitchen table and sighed with resentment thinking about how lucky he is.  He has it all, anointed from birth as the flawless son. Robby has everything; he’s the perfect son, the perfect student, the perfect everything.  I continued to stare down the hall, thinking about the way he looked this morning.  Sometimes I see a crack in his armor, a hint of something in his eyes when he doesn’t know I’m looking.  It looks like fear, an emotion I recognize.  I wonder if being perfect puts too much pressure on him.  As I continued to gaze in the direction of his room, I wondered whether Robby tries to be so perfect, or if he just is perfect.  Either way, I feel uneasy for him although I don’t know why.  I suppose I’m just trying to find a small kink in his perfection, so I can get closer to him, and find the brother that I so desperately want him to be.  

There is more to Robby, which will emerge later in the book.  Emily senses it, but only when she steps back and tries to imagine what it is like to be him.  At the point in which she steps back, judgment is placed on hold.  I know in my own life, I struggle to press the hold-button and step back before reacting to what I see on the surface.  It’s not easy, especially in a society of constant commentary.  I wonder, have you ever felt like you were judged too soon, too easily, and how did that make you feel? Conversely, have you ever wished that you had pressed the hold button and withheld judgment?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Writing On Your Own Canvas

That word control. We hear that word a lot. “He is controlling, I have no control, you’re trying to control me.” Control is a word packed with meaning, often subjective. As children, we have little control as our lives are structured based on societal norms and parental rules.  As we mature, our parents loosen the reigns and we are given more freedom to make our own choices and learn from them.  Of course, that is in an optimal world and a nurturing environment.

I wonder what happens if a child grows up in a hyper-controlled environment, and freedom of choice is not afforded to him.  How does that affect him as he matures? We see this in Pages in the Wind, as Emily, on the threshold of adulthood, ponders her future:

I relaxed into the pillows on my bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering how my life would unfold.  This is my new start.  My eyes spanned the walls and noted that they were freshly painted.  It’s a blank canvas, waiting for life, like me.  That is how I feel, like a new canvas waiting to be painted.  I can leave the last seventeen years behind and start over.  What will life draw on my canvas?

It doesn’t occur to Emily that she can draw on her own canvas.  She is so conditioned to life happening to her, instead of creating her own life.  In a sense, the wall represents her inertia.  Think of a wall, an inanimate structure in which people brush against it leaving a mark, a picture is hung leaving a hole.  In time, the wall shows wear all created by life, by others.  That is how Emily sees herself, at least for now.  Emily is creative and she is passionate, traits that do not flourish in an atmosphere of oppression.  Will she break through the wall and write on her own canvas?
Can you relate to this feeling?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Turning Away

From birth, we need interaction to feel alive. We love, we fight, we laugh, we cry. Anger elicits a response and screams “I see you”, and affection does the same. The feeling evoked by a kind word or affectionate touch makes us feel good. In battle, our emotions are heightened and we are fully engaged in the process. But what about the absence of response? How does it feel to reach out to someone and get nothing back? Is anything more damaging than the long road of silence? We see this in Pages in the Wind, as Emily reaches out to her mother to show her artwork, which goes unnoticed:

I waited out of eyes-reach to watch her walk down the hallway to see my picture. The first few times she didn’t notice it, so I continued to wait for her to pass the picture again. An hour or so later, she stopped and looked at the picture. My heart raced, and my spirit soared knowing my life could change. The excitement was overwhelming and I wanted to jump out and shout “I did that!” I stepped out of my hiding place and slowly entered the hallway waiting for mother to praise my drawing. She turned and saw me.

“Emily, do you have your suitcase ready? Dad wants to pack the car; we’re leaving right after lunch.”

I felt my body being pulled downward, like a slow leak from a balloon. Once high and exuberant, releasing the air makes it shrivel to an unrecognizable mass. That is how I felt, like the air was being released from my body and I was being pulled downward. I managed to nod to mother that my suitcase was packed, and headed to the kitchen for one last lunch with Grandma.

When Emily put her artwork up, her hopes were to win the admiration and attention of her mother. The slight was unintentional, but the result was the same. Her mother turning away left her feeling empty and reinforced her feelings of inferiority. One of the most damaging elements of turning away is the silence. Silence walks us down the path to our imagination, which can draw conclusions that are far worse than the intent of the silence. Young Emily continues to draw, but she tucks the artwork in a box and never shares it with her family again. That art will become an important part of this mystery later in the story.

I wonder, do you remember an incident in your life when you felt the sting of silence? How did it make you feel?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Unexpected Insights

Coping skills can be destructive,  but there are times when they can be quite insightful. Finding a positive way to cope in extreme adversity can lead to insights that you could not obtain otherwise. You see this in an excerpt from “Pages in the Wind” as Emily tries to cope with a particularly violent episode with her father. Ordered to help her mother and brother afterward, she struggles to compose herself by transferring her thoughts to memories with her grandmother.

The sound of the clattering plates reminded me  why I was there. I watched Robert bend over and hand plates to mother as she carefully placed them in the dishwasher. They worked in silence, handing the plates to her in steady succession. I thought of helping grandma hang clothes on the clothesline on a warm summer day. The chores were a backdrop to the laughter and joy of being with grandma. It was so effortless, and free. Staring at mother and Robert, I felt a sense of sadness for Robert. Robert never knew grandma like I did. He spent his time with father, going to baseball games and doing the things that boys love, I guess. He’ll never know what it feels like to be still and enjoy the peaceful bliss of spending a warm summer day at Grandma’s house. He’ll never know what it feels like to sit at grandma’s big kitchen table making raison bread, and listening to Grandma’s stories about the old country as we waited for the timer to tell us the bread was done. He’ll never know to wait five minutes for the bread to cool enough so you can spread the butter on the warm bread and watch it melt. He’ll never be able to savor the taste of the sweet bread, and watch grandma smile as we praise our tasty works of art. I felt my body relax in the memory of that cherished time. Composed, I looked at Mom and asked, “Mom, what can I do to help?”

Despite her father’s wrath, Emily’s spirit remains strong. She is able to feel empathy for her brother which seems on the surface implausible, considering she has every reason to resent her brother. They do not share the same childhood, and her father’s constant affection and attention to him is a constant reminder of her father’s hatred of her. Emily is able to superimpose beauty onto the scene in front of her, and wish that her brother could share in the pleasure. Whether she can retain this positive coping mechanism as she matures will be an important factor in her psychological development.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Emily's Warrior

Why do we create superheroes? If we are multi-layered, wonderful yet flawed, sometimes strong and sometimes not, why does Emily need to create a perfect man? If Emily’s father is a narcissistic bastard, can she be protected from him by a nice even-tempered man? Not in Emily’s mind. Emily needs a hero to counteract the brutality of her father. Enter Reid, the best friend, to play the part. Reid has already been cast as her superhero, the antidote to her father. Reid’s strength and admirable qualities are elevated, and his flaws are quickly dismissed. The person that she has created as flawless, noble, and fierce cannot have weakness because that would distort the superhero that she has created to protect her from her father. We see this in a passage from Pages in the Wind, when young Emily daydreams about Reid, and what he will grow up to be:

Reid is waiting for the day that he is taller and stronger than my father, and will tower above him in height and mental acuity. His childlike heroism will be replaced with a fierce resolve to rid me of the terror of my father. He’ll look like one of those Roman warriors, handsome and larger than life, capable of anything and afraid of nothing. Reid will be there for justice, to free me from this prison of pain that father has built around me. He will take him down, yes, but for the sake of justice and the love he feels for me. Reid has been sadly aware of the savage cruelty had I have endured, and he will someday avenge this tyranny, even though I have never uttered a single word to him about my life. He knows. He just knows.

When times are dismal, do we look for a fearless warrior? By definition, do both extremes carry similar traits? Are leaders asked to be ruthless, bold, and cunning? Emily needs a hero to combat her villain, but she is unaware that she is creating him. What happens if her superhero leaves? Is she left unarmed? What she doesn’t realize is that the person that left is her. She created him, she breathed him into life. Will she ever see that these super-qualities really belong to her? What then?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Grandma's Hands

We all handle loss differently. It is not easy to know what to say to someone that has suffered loss. The difficulty lies in a fear of saying the wrong thing, or saying something that does not comply with what the bereaved person is feeling. We see this in an excerpt from Pages in the Wind, when Emily tries to understand what people are saying to her after her grandma’s funeral.

I moved slightly to avoid the false mourners, and think about grandma. During my summers at her house, she would walk me to town every day to see the big waterfall at the park. It was a mile-trip, and grandma would hold my hand as we walked. She would say “when I squeeze your hand that is me saying I love you.” That was my grandma. She made the world more bearable in her absence, and more beautiful in her presence.

Not wanting to see the attendants, I closed my eyes. I imagined walking the mile with grandma to the big waterfall. I took one hand and placed it over my other hand. Gently, I squeezed my hand as Grandma did. I shut out the chatter around me and concentrated on Grandma’s face as she walked alongside me. I could hear the gentle rustling of her dress as she walked, and the rhythmic sound of her heels walking in the direction of the park. I felt the warmth of her hand surrounding mine. I felt the gentle squeeze that was her secret signal that she loved me. I was loved by grandma. I sat there for hours, pretending to be asleep so I could feel the gentle squeeze of grandma’s hand. With each squeeze I felt my body relax. Grandma is here. Grandma is here. If I close my eyes she will come to me and signal her love with a gentle squeeze. As long as I can shut out the noise, and close my eyes, grandma will come back to me and I will never have to be alone.

As Emily struggles to find a way to cope with the pain of her grandma’s death, she finds solace in her own way. The pain that she is feeling does not correspond with her surroundings at the memorial, and only intensifies her confusion over how to cope with the loss of her beloved grandma. This is a huge loss for Emily; her grandma was the bridge that she walked on every summer to feel whole and to feel loved. Letting her go means losing that part of herself that made her feel worthwhile. She uses her imagination to bring her grandma back to life, in an effort to stay afloat in a world that is full of despair and loneliness. Can you relate to how Emily is feeling?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Charm and Evil

I am posting this in light of what is going on in our world right now. Charisma can be a destructive force when in the wrong hands...

It is an interesting oxymoron, that charm and evil often exist together. It takes only a short analysis of the notorious villains in history to see that their charismatic skills of persuasion were paramount in victimizing their prey. Bernie Madoff would not have been able to pillage billions from clients without a charming persona and the ability to manipulate investors with a carefully orchestrated image designed to deceive his victims. In Pages in the Wind, Captain Jacob Taylor is able to commit horrendous acts of violence against Emily free of active intervention from anyone.

His charm is illustrated in this passage from Pages in the Wind:

Her father was gregarious and the first one invited to a party, for his quick wit and engaging presence. He was often called on to be the master of ceremonies at naval functions. He was not hindered by inhibitions, and reveled at being the center of attention without looking foolish or self-serving. His co-workers admired him for his intelligence and imposing demeanor, and women found him attractive and seductive. He filled up every room that he walked into. His stride was confident, and in his company you knew that you were in the presence of a man that could have whatever he desired. It was the way he laughed with his eyes, the way he exuded confidence with every step he took, the way he seasoned his conversation with interesting anecdotes.

It must be confusing to young Emily to watch the father that purposefully hurts her to be celebrated by family and friends. She is far too young to discern the difference between the private and public man. She longs for her father's charm to be directed at her. This reinforces the perception that she is hopelessly flawed and unworthy. What will be the long term effect of seeking this approval? Will Emily be drawn to men that are similar to her father? Perhaps more disastrous, will she be prey to men that give her the love and affection that she so desperately needs?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Emily's Poetry - The Hollow Knight

The restraints placed on young Emily’s childhood by her father is eased somewhat by her expressions on paper. Young Emily uses her vivid imagination to draw and create a more palatable world. In the confines of her drawer, she keeps a pad of paper in which to write poetry. Painting and writing releases her frustrations and provides a voice to her pain. She writes freely and without measurement, and then tucks it away without reading it again. What she doesn’t realize is that her writing predicts her future, if she would only look at it. In Pages in the Wind, confused about her relationship with Reid, she wakes up from a dream and grabs the pad to release the anxieties in her heart:

Robed in gilded armor on a throne of flames,
He penetrates the brooding darkness to slay my sorrow,
But then in haste with dread of shame,
He fades into a cloud of sullen tomorrows.
To pay tribute to an honor not due,
And penance not owed,
Without a glimpse of pleasure you flew,
To bless the walls of hollow gold.

Her need for escape and fertile imagination fuels daydreams, drawings, and poetry. How far she escapes into her imagination to counteract the effects of a grueling past is crucial to her future. Emily learned at a young age to use her imagination to create the world that matches her spirit. Will she learn to temper this as she matures? Will reality live up to her imagination?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Broken Heart

Break ups are painful. Broken hearts have been the subject of literature, poetry, and music for centuries. A broken heart without the back up of a strong self-image can be devastating. This short passage from Pages in the Wind illustrates how detrimental a break up can be. As Reid ends his relationship with Emily, she feels an emptiness that only her imagination can cope with.

Reid shut the door unceremoniously, without a glance back at me. I slowly dropped to the floor as I felt the oxygen drain from my body. When he closed the door, he took my life with him. It was a life that he no longer wanted, but I gave it to him to keep or discard as he pleased. How strange that I can feel my heart beating inside my chest, when I know it has been shattered. I don’t want to feel this pain. The warm tears running down my face feel like lifeblood flowing from my body. As the tears flowed, I shut my eyes and imagined that the blood-tears were being channeled into a calm and peaceful abyss without the pain of a life without Reid.

This is more than a break up for Emily. Reid was her hero, the dashing prince in her fairy tale that would always have a happy ending. She thought he would be her past, her present, and her future. Now he is gone, and with the sting of a rejection that she did not anticipate. What will the rejection do to her self-esteem? Will she seek another man to fill the void, or will she begin to look inward to find her strength and self-worth? Will Reid come back to Emily, and will this be good for her? How Emily copes with this devastating loss will become paramount to the story. Can you relate to how she feels?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Heaven's Blanket - A Metaphor for Change

I wrote this passage this morning for Emily.  It is a metaphor for change, and for hope.  As Emily watches her first snowfall, she is first mesmorized and then disappointed.  In looking beyond what is front of her, she senses the beauty that the future may hold - if only she has the courage to see it. 

I pulled my chair next to the window to watch the falling snow. The snow looks like tiny dancing flakes floating down from heaven to land softly on earth’s floor to form a smooth white blanket. This is nature’s show sent by God, I thought, to calm with sweet serenity what lies beneath the heavens. I could stay here forever watching the white circlets twist and turn with the wind in the direction of heaven’s blanket.

My peaceful trance was interrupted by Robert and his friends. The boys trampled over heaven’s gift with their heavy galoshes, screaming with delight. They bent down with mittened hands to scoop clumps of heaven’s blanket to toss at one another in joyful play. The white shower continued to fall from heaven, but as it landed, the boys continued their gleeful play to run on heaven’s blanket, distorting the smooth surface. As they continued to run and play, bits of brown earth were tossed on the white blanket and it lost its purity and peaceful beauty. I looked upward to see that the falling snow had lost its tempo, and was going away. I looked out the window, disappointed that my peaceful feeling was gone.

As I started to leave, I moved my eyes to the distant field where no one ever played. The snow had covered the barren field with the glory of heaven’s blanket. The old leafless trees that once stood tired and unimpressive were now fascinating structures covered in white snow ornaments. Each branch reached out with different shapes formed by the virgin snow. I stared at the scene for hours, feeling the peaceful joy of God’s gift. All I needed to do was look up from the trampled scene in front of me, to see the beauty and peaceful bliss that stood untouched in the distance.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Loss of a Lifeline

A child forms his self-image based on what is reflected back to him by his parents, close family members, and a few close friends. His sphere of influence is narrow which elevates their importance to him. A young child lacks the wisdom of time, so when words are spoken about him, he stores it internally as truth. He believes the reflection of himself that is shown to him by the important people in his life. A positive person can be an important buffer in mediating a negative self-image. If the positive person leaves the child’s life, a critical lifeline is lost. We see this in Pages in the Wind, as Emily is forced to move to New York and leave her grandma and best friend behind:

Emily gazed out the window of the big jet as she flew away from her life. The vast tufts of white clouds seemed to float endless without destination, as she few in the direction of a new life. She felt a fluttering sensation invade her chest as she thought of her grandma. The memory of her last vision of Reid leaning stoically against the fence was etched in her mind. She looked at her mother reading a book, and her father pointing out the window and talking to Robert. Emily felt an intense sadness, and as her eyes started to tear, she closed them. She shut down her heart which felt as empty as the seemingly endless sky that took her away from her life.

Emily defines herself based on two visions, the vision of her parents, and the vision of grandma and Reid. What has not developed in young Emily’s heart is her own vision of who she is. From birth, she looked into the eyes of her father and saw ugliness, and when she looked into her mother’s eyes she saw indifference. When she is with her grandmother or Reid, she sees an entirely different picture of herself. This is her saving grace, her lifeline. When she looks into their eyes, she sees the person that she wants to be without realizing that this is the person that she is. She is too young to challenge the reflection that she sees when she is with her parents. In losing her Grandma and Reid, she will lose the reflection of herself that she needs to feel worthy. The loss of the positive people in her life is heightened by her negative self-image. In losing her grandma and her best friend, how will young Emily cope with the prolonged abuse of her father, and the indifference of her mother?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Authors Notes - Pain On Hold

It seems like an odd and destructive pattern to put emotional pain on hold. The pain has to go somewhere; sometimes it is channeled to a locked door in our soul only to emerge later, or it is directed to physical pain only to emerge later in a morphed form. As babies, we don’t know how to quash the pain and we cry and scream when we need something. We react until the need is met and it is over. As we age, we are taught to moderate our reactions to our needs in more appropriate ways. That makes sense, but what if we are taught to hide the pain altogether? Years ago I attended a sermon in which the pastor talked poignantly about a busload of students that were killed in a tragic bus accident. He spoke with eloquence to the bereaved audience, and he cried. I approached him after the sermon to express my own feelings and to thank him for the beautiful sermon. He apologized repeatedly for crying during the tribute. I told him that his crying was understandable and moving, but he remained disappointed in himself as he continued to apologize to the parishioners. I walked away wondering who told him that he was not allowed to cry.
We are taught somewhere between infancy and adulthood to place our emotional pain on hold, for the sake of others . This can be seen in a passage from Pages in the Wind, when young Emily takes her last drive to her Grandmother’s house to tell her of the family’s move to New York. Emily buries her emotional pain to avoid the anger that her tears would cause to her father:

The ride to grandma’s house was miserable. Her father smoked cigars and coupled with the car air conditioner, the air was stale and the stench and smoke made her eyes water and burn. She sat in silence as the car pulled into grandma’s driveway. What always seemed a beautiful and inviting sight now had an air of finality and sadness. She fought the feeling for she knew that grandma would be coming out on the porch to greet them. Her mother had told grandma on the phone that they were moving to New York, and knowing that this was the last time that Emily would see her for many years made her eyes well up with tears, and her lip quiver. She bit her lip to stop the trembling, and pulled on her golden hair to redirect her emotions from sadness to physical pain. She knew that her father would be angry if he saw her cry. Grandma finally stepped out onto the porch, her weathered face seemed older without her smile, and Emily pulled her hair harder to stop her tears.

This developing pattern of putting her pain on hold is contrary to Emily’s sensitive nature. How she channels the pain will become an important element in her development as a young woman. I wonder how many of us put our pain on hold for the benefit of others. What is the price of this benefit and is the cost worth the destruction that it does to our emotional well-being?

The pain that we put on hold cannot stay on hold forever. Doesn’t pain need to be released in order to dissipate? If we hold a ten pound rock for five minutes, we can handle that. Hold the rock for an hour and it feels heavier. Hold the rock for a month and it becomes intolerable. At some point, the rock will need to be released because we simply cannot hold the rock forever. It will eventually weigh us down to the point of collapse. How long do you hold the rock of your own emotional pain?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Power of Silence

Silence is one of the most powerful weapons of communication. It may seem like an odd oxymoron to pair silence with the word communication. The weapon of silence is fierce because it leaves your mind to interpret someone’s thoughts. The brain tries to make sense of the silence, but the heart has to feel it. This can be a dangerous interpretation because while the brain tries to understand, the heart wants to feel good. The imagination can figure out a way to make the silence palatable. This can be seen in a passage from Pages in the Wind, as Emily reluctantly tells Reid about her move to New York City:

She knew she had to tell Reid that she was moving, and she didn’t have much time left before it would be too late. Telling him meant that it was real, and she didn’t want to face the reality that she was leaving. She walked along the bank listening to Reid talk about his soccer game, with a blow-by-blow account of the game. She stopped walking and stood still. He was a few steps ahead of her when he noticed that she had stopped.

“Hey, what’s up?” he casually asked.

“I have something to tell you. I’ve been putting it off.” She said.

“What?” he asked.

“I’m moving to New York. My dad was transferred. I don’t want to go but I have no choice.”


“In a week” she looked at Reid to see his reaction. “Can we sit and talk?”

“No” he replied. Emily searched his face surprised at his anger.

“I can’t help it.” She said solemnly.

Reid continued to walk, and she caught up to him, anxious to talk it out. She looked at him and tried to figure out what he was thinking. His neck muscles were pulsating, and his face was flushed. He continued to walk without talking to her. She didn’t know what to do, or if she should say anything. She continued to keep pace with him, waiting for him to talk to her.

They continued their walk in silence, which made her uncomfortable. Reid always talked to her, no matter what the circumstance. She had to do something.

“Reid?” she strained to see his face but he kept it out of her vision.

Suddenly he sat down, and she was relieved because she knew it was because he wanted to discuss the move. She sat down next to him, and waited for him to talk.

Reid looked out at the lake as if measuring his words and his thoughts. He picked up a stick that was lying on the ground, and tossed it aimlessly. His jaw muscles were still pulsating, and his face was tight as he stared out at the lake. Emily patiently waited at the edge of the lake for him, thinking about how much she loved him and knowing how much he loved her. She sensed that the news of her leaving was devastating, a further testimony to his devotion to her. She pushed the thought of leaving out of her head, and tried to imagine what he was thinking. He found another stick and tossed it in the lake. The silence was painful, as she waited for him to talk. Reid looked annoyed, but she wasn’t sure because he didn’t say anything as he tossed random sticks into the lake. Throwing sticks seemed to be the only way he could express himself. They sat on that bank for an hour, saying nothing. Reid seemed sullen, and as he sat on the dirt he took a stick and absently sketched lines in the dirt. She watched as he formed shapes in the dirt with his stick. She wondered why he didn’t say something, anything. Suddenly, Reid picked up a stick that was particularly heavy and handed it to Emily. She knew what he wanted her to do, and she hurled it as hard as she could into the calm waters causing ripples to form in the glass-like water.

The two friends walked home in silence, and Emily felt the weight of sadness weaken her. Reid turned away and she watched as he slowly walked in the house and shut his door. He didn’t look back at Emily with a smile and a wave as he always did. She walked back to her house with a feeling of emptiness that she feared would never go away. She felt lost without him, and wondered how he would find a way to see her despite the miles between them.

When faced with recurring violence, silence would seem to have little power in Emily’s life. Young Emily needs Reid to be the antidote to her father, and she exalts him to counteract her father’s cruelty. When faced with silence, she uses her imagination to fill the void with thoughts that fit the vision of the perfect profile of the Reid that she has created. Will this propensity to battle the evil in her life with imaginary good lead her to unrealistic expectations and disappointment?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Authors Notes - Holding Your Own Mirror

As the New Year makes its debut, and my life goes through changes – I am reminded how important it is to “hold your own mirror.” It will take stepping away from a situation and taking the time to heal and reflect without the noise and without being usurped by the needs of others. It’s not a path taken easily, but is nevertheless a necessary passage in gaining clarity. In this scene from Pages in the Wind, Emily transitions from optimism to humiliation within a few minutes.

Emily picked a sunny yellow dress out of her closet for church and in anticipation of her grandmother's visit. She brushed her blond curls, and put on her white socks with yellow tulip trim, and shiny patent leather shoes. She rushed into the living room and opened the closet, and grabbed a stool to reach the hatbox on the upper shelf. Picking a hat was ceremonious on Sundays, because as a Catholic she was expected to wear a hat to church. She made a fast pick, aware of the time, and put the straw hat on. She ran back to her room to look in the full length mirror on the back of her door. She was proud of her selection, the sunny yellow dress set off by a stiff petticoat, patent leather shoes, and a straw hat with tiny flowers. The hat framed her delicate face and big round blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and pretty smile. She hoped that her parents would be proud of the way she looked. As a final touch, she slipped on her lacy white gloves, and grabbed her hymnal in time for church. She smiled in the long mirror, proud of her appearance. Her prideful gaze in the mirror was interrupted by the loud and harsh sound of her father's voice.

"Emily, get the hell in here right now!"

She momentarily froze at the sound of her father's obviously angry voice. Aware of his command, she ran toward his voice in the direction of the living room. Her father waved his arms in her direction. She frantically assessed the situation, desperately trying to find the source of his rage.

"Did you leave the hatbox on the chair?" he shouted as he pointed in the direction of the hatbox.

Emily looked hopelessly at the hatbox, which she realized in her haste she had forgotten to put back in the closet. All she could utter was a mournful "yes."

Her father, enraged, grabbed Emily and shook her little body. "You are stupid! Can't you ever do anything right?"

Young Emily has a sensitive and gentle nature, with the capacity for joyous energy. When she looks in the mirror in preparing for a family church outing, her spirit shines through. As she endures the cruelty of her father, her spirit changes. When she finally leaves for church, her reflection is shattered, and she is no longer looking at the radiant child she saw in her mirror earlier. Her father is now holding the mirror, and the beautiful reflection of an innocent child is lost. If Emily passes a mirror again that day, what will she see? Will she look? Would you?