Trying so hard to carry that weight

Please note: I have similar thoughts as Roxane Gay regarding trigger warnings. You can read her thoughts on the topic here.  At any rate, this note can probably be considered a trigger warning.

Today I walked home from Park Slope to Flatbush after visiting the dentist. (Ugh, a visit I put off much too long…) Along the way I passed a cute little brunchy restaurant – probably passed a couple dozen, actually, given the neighborhood. But two servers stood outside this one, a man and a woman. The woman was talking rapidly, her voice and body tense. “And then he said to me, ‘You’ve worked here how long, and you still don’t know the menu?’ Which was completely not necessary – I’ve been trying so hard…” Her voice, taut and frustrated a moment before, flooded with the sound of tears at trying so hard, syllables growing liquid and tremulous and vulnerable. The man said something to comfort her, and she calmed herself before they went back inside.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the invisibility of suffering.

Some of this has been prompted by Emma Sulkowicz. Emma is a student at my alma mater; maybe you’ve seen her on the news. Emma was raped on campus by a classmate accused of rape by two other students. All charges against him were dismissed. Emma, along with other students, filed a Title IX complaint earlier this year regarding the university’s alleged mishandling of their sexual assault cases. In the meantime, Emma carries her mattress with her everywhere she goes, part protest, part performance art, and a visible reminder of the more intangible burden of sexual assault she is forced to carry.

I’ve seen Emma several times, and each time I am struck by the absolute ordinariness of her movement around campus. She is not drawing attention to herself; she is not trying to draw a crowd. She simply is going from one place to another, making her way through others doing the same. Always, I have seen her with a companion (a different one each time), helping her carry the mattress. A statement is being made in that act, but if I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was just two friends struggling to move some furniture.

Emma’s act makes visible what was previously unseen and undiscussed – in other words, what was easily dismissed. How strong of her, in so many ways, and how brave, to remind everyone – friends and strangers alike – every single day, of the presence of her assault and her unresolved case. Of their weight on her. Of the way they shape how she lives her life. The first time I saw her in person was when it really hit me that she was the only person on that street whose burden was visible. Of course, that didn’t make any other passerby’s burden less real.

How differently would I judge people if I could see the mattresses they carried? How differently, if they didn’t have to swallow their words and go back inside to wait tables?

There are things I haven’t liked about myself lately – ways in which I have been distant or needy or angry or all of the above. Sometimes, of course, such emotions are justified. Sometimes though, they are a way of shouting at someone Can’t you see how long I’ve been carrying this thing?! when I can’t say it directly.

Most living things cannot survive too long without light, else they grow deformed. And there are some experiences which, if not brought to light, will fester and grow deformed within you. I am thinking tonight about Emma and her mattress, and the server and her friend – how scary it is for one’s suffering to be known, to be shared with another. How scary and how necessary. Please, talk to someone if you are hurting.

Summer ends, and we wonder where we are.

Hello, readers; hello, friends.

I have borrowed my title today from Dar Williams, with whom I associate a lot of hazy, undefined teenage feelings, appropriate to end of summer and to transitions generally. School is back in session, although having graduated in May, this does not affect me directly. I’ll pretend it does, though, and will write up a little homework assignment for your reading pleasure: What Did I Do On My Summer Vacation?

I’ve been quiet of late, at least online publicly. In my day-to-day life, though, I was constantly busy. Having graduated, there was now ample free time to catch up with friends I’d been out of touch with: squeezing a social life in between full-time work and school is not always possible. I took care of projects and chores that had been left hanging in the scramble to wrap up my last undergraduate semester. In August, I took some savings and traveled to Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin, and London, to travel through the UK and Ireland with friends who live there. (It was wonderful, although all too short!) I’m volunteering with the People’s Climate March taking place here in New York on September 21st. (There are events happening globally Sept. 20-21, and I definitely encourage you to check it out! There are a lot of people passionate about climate change, social justice, and their children’s futures getting involved.)

And of course – I wrote. I published a number of pieces earlier this year on the topics that mean the most to me. Climate change, of course. Some experimenting with fiction. And memoir pieces dealing with the legacy of estrangement – a topic I felt honored to be able to bring to light and dialogue with many brilliant readers.

I’ve still been writing. I’ve also, at times, given myself some space from the need to write and to publish ASAP, whether here or elsewhere. My friend and writing mentor Liza Monroy posted this article “On Not Writing” on her Facebook feed recently. It helped me understand a lot of why I needed to give myself some space after the success of my initial pieces about estrangement.

The piece compares the mental exercise of writing to that of physical exercise. When working out, overtraining can lead to chronic fatigue and even injury. The message is clear: “Don’t work through the pain; it will only hurt. Give yourself sufficient time to refresh..”

I think this summer was my opportunity to refresh myself in a lot of ways.

And now summer ends, and we wonder where we are. I’ve accomplished my defining goal of the past 4 years by completing my undergraduate degree. I’ve started to think about what comes next in my career. I’ve rested and refreshed myself as I dealt with some of the aftermath of my intense writing exercises – the guilt that writing about my past was a terrible idea; the sustained sorrow of reliving painful memories; the anxiety of figuring of where to take it from here. If I am strong enough to build on this, to continue to explore.

Whether or not I am, I plan to regardless. Look for more here in the coming weeks and months.  And – thank you, for being who you are – for being strong and supportive and funny and struggling and loving and above all you. Many of you reached out to me to see how I was doing – thank you so much for that! I hope you’ve had a good summer, and I’d love to hear more from you. Now, it’s time for me to get back to work.

xo

katie

Reblogs and Q&A!

Hello, HuffPost and Freshly Pressed readers! I’m very honored by the attention I’ve received after publishing Why did this happen? – it was selected as an editor’s pick by Freshly Pressed, and is now reblogged over at HuffPost Women. I’m even more floored by all the feedback I’m getting directly from you guys. Your comments and conversations on the post blow me away with their thoughtfulness and insight, not to mention your strength in getting through similar experiences. I’m so glad to make these posts a place for discussion of a topic that so often goes undiscussed. The decision to protect yourself and your family from a harmful person should not be a forbidden topic, not matter how that person may be related to you.

If that piece resonated with you, you may wish to read my original post, Motherless by Choice, if you haven’t yet done so.  I’ll be doing more writing to explore some of the nuances of estrangement, and will use the same tags for those pieces as I have so far – motherless by choice, estrangement, etc. (A list of tags I’ve used can be found via the menu button at the top of this website.)

In the meantime, however, I want to know what questions you have for me. I’d like to do a Q&A for new readers within the next week or two, as a jumping-off point for further conversation. If you have any questions for me about estrangement, my life, my writing, or related topics, please leave them in the comments on this post or tweet me at @october31st, and I will go through and select some to respond to in a future post.

I hope everyone is having a good week so far. I can’t wait till the end of the week – my sister and cousin are visiting me in NYC for the holiday weekend! ❤ Talk soon, and take care of yourself.

Why did this happen? Estranging myself from my mother.

Why did this happen?

There is no answer to that question.

There are too many answers to that question.

If your childhood was unhappy, if there was someone who hurt you when their role was to protect you, you may never know why it was that way. It may not be possible to reconstruct how their weaknesses and angers and sorrows were weighed, over and over, against their strengths and sense of responsibility and their love for you – and why they all too often came up short. It is dead weight you will carry on your back, in your mind and your heart, without ever seeing it in full. It is dark matter pulling unseen at the stars in your sky.

If you estrange yourself from them, you will grieve this loss for years, like the death of a beloved. Giovanna Calvino, daughter of Italo, spoke of timelessly mourning her father’s death: “For me, at the very best, only four-fifths made it through… The rest of me is trapped in a space-time loop where I am forever reeling from the loss of my father.” Estrangement is the loss of a beloved. You lost who they might have been to you. You will slowly learn to accept that some fraction of yourself will always be fearful, heartbroken and ashamed.

You will be called selfish when you pull yourself away from them in an effort to keep yourself safe, and it will make you feel like everything they said about you was true:

Continue reading “Why did this happen? Estranging myself from my mother.”

How to Predict the Future

How to Predict the Future

I’ve got a new piece up over on The Toast’s Gal Science column this morning about climate change, which aims to unpack some of the jargon you see around this topic. It’s an intimidating topic! It can seem overwhelming to consider the cascading effects our activity is having on the planet. I talk a bit here about how the scientific community has been able to approach it, defining some of the terminology and concepts that have been put in place, and I hope it gives a better understanding of how this problem is being studied, and more importantly, that we can do something about it.

My degree is in sustainable development, which encompasses environmental issues such as this. As I continue to write I imagine there will be a good amount both on estrangement and on issues like this that I’m passionate about, among other topics.

Happy Friday, all!

Contact form, translations, and some thoughts on forgiveness

Hello all! I had a wonderful and extremely busy weekend, with both a favorite cousin and a dear friend in town, and am just now getting back into the swing of things here.

First and foremost, I wanted to note that I have added a contact form on the About page of this site. Inquiries sent there will be routed to my email. Please note: this form is primarily intended for media and business inquiries. I will make every effort to respond to other messages, but I cannot guarantee a response, given the volume of messages I have been receiving and limited time. As ever, though, your comments and tweets are deeply inspiring to me; thank you so much for choosing to share your thoughts and experiences with me.


 

Over the past week, I’ve twice woken up to mysterious emails in languages I sadly neither speak nor write – Portuguese and German. A quick trip to Google Translate informed me that translated versions of “Motherless by Choice” were appearing on Brasil Post (link) and Huffington Post Deutschland (link). I feel very fortunate to be able to share my writing across different languages and cultures, so thank you very much to the staff of both publications!


 

As I said above: thank you for all your comments and tweets! I mentioned in my interview that no one wants to choose to be motherless; I certainly didn’t want to be. It’s inspiring to read about how those among you who have had similar experiences have manage to grow and find strength and love elsewhere. The vast majority of comments have been positive, but there are a few which call me out for supposedly spreading a message of hate and lack of forgiveness. I am expanding this discussion into a new piece of writing I hope to share in the near future, but for now, let me say this: 

As I have said throughout, I do not hate my mother. I do not wish anything bad upon her, and writing this piece was not revenge toward her, but catharsis for me. I have specifically chosen not to name her and to give as few identifying details about her as possible. Her last name is different than mine, which helps with that. What I want more than anything for my mother is for her to live a happy and peaceful life, however she chooses to define it. It will just not be a life that overlaps with mine, because from childhood through my mid-twenties, whenever we did come into contact, those interactions gave rise to abnormal, unhealthy levels of pain and stress. People do not change simply because we wish they would, or because (as in my case) we bend over backward trying our best to accommodate their behavior, until we are too twisted to function healthily. Sometimes, as much as we don’t want to, we have to let go.

Please know that to be motherless is to be grieving a loss, whether death or estrangement. Commenter Kathleen Blair put it beautifully a few days ago: “The hole will always be there and you will not fill it because it cannot be filled by anything other than a mother’s unconditional love, which you are fully entitled to, which your mother owed to you, and which you were cheated out of.” You are not happy when you choose to be motherless because of your trauma. You are just choosing to survive a terrible injury, bravely.

My Interview About Being Motherless By Choice On HuffPost Live

Yesterday morning I spoke with Caitlyn Becker on HuffPost Live’s “What’s Trending” segment about being motherless by choice. You can watch the interview in the video embedded at the bottom of the original HP post here. “What’s Trending” covers the stories capturing their readers’ attention. Thank you so much to everyone at HuffPost for giving me this platform!

I’ve been so moved by all your responses coming in here and on Twitter, and at how quickly this conversation developed. I knew I wanted to give voice to this experience too many people go through, and the turbulent and ambiguous emotions it causes in us to choose to be motherless. I especially wanted to write it now because I’ve been fortunate enough to build a better life for myself, and to know others that have done so in their own ways.

I write on a variety of topics, but I plan to continue writing about this in some way. It means a lot to me to be able to connect with others in the same boat, and hopefully let them know they’re not alone.

On a much more prosaic level: I have a day job, so I’m not always able to make updates as quickly as I’d like, but I hope to make a few revisions to this site very soon. Stay tuned! And thank you.

“Motherless by Choice” up at HuffPost!

“Motherless by Choice” up at HuffPost!

HuffPost Women asked recently to share my piece “Motherless by Choice” with their readership, and I was more than happy to do so. The post went live this morning, and my phone has been buzzing nonstop with notifications since then! Welcome, new readers, and thank you so much for all your comments. I’m very moved by your thoughtful responses, and sympathetic with those of you who have been through similar experiences, and glad it was able to resonate with you in some way.

I chose to share my story because there is not a lot of writing out there about this highly significant and emotional experience that affects so many people. It is not something that is easy to write about without rage and grief coloring your words, but I wanted to make that effort. Reading or writing about something deeply affecting you can be a good way to help work through it; at least this is my experience, and a major motivation for me in sharing it with others. While some might question sharing something so private and personal, it was a decision that was many years in the making, and was not made lightly.

I’ll have a less personal piece up at The Toast in the near future, and more to come soon; thanks for stopping by! Be well.