First of all, thank you for remembering that the 15th was the anniversary of my father’s death. My blog stats show that a bunch of people stopped in to check on me on Friday to see how I was and to see whether or not I posted anything. I didn’t, but that’s because I was taking a hiatus of sorts from my life here at home.  I’ll tell you an edited version of the story, just so you know why I up and left.

It all started with writer’s block last Friday (the 8th). And, as everyone knows, writer’s block can only be cured by one thing: watching a movie about writer’s block.

I love Netflix, especially its Instant Play feature, and most especially when it gives you access to quirky small-budget British films with a great script, like I Capture the Castle (2003).

Yes, it has Henry Cavill in it, in a small role. He’s the engineer on the train that I took to find this little gem. Anyway, I watched that last Friday while trying to finish making alterations to a writing project that I wasn’t happy with.  I was feeling like the well of creative energy in me had run dry, and I needed ideas. Henry Cavill involved in a story about writing seemed promising. To see some of his scenes, click here and here .

So, I watched the tiny plot (writer with two daughters in the 1930s purchases run-down castle in England hoping it will inspire him to write another successful novel). . .

. . . watched the plot unfold (writer becomes depressed when inspiration does not hit for many years; writer’s family falls into financial trouble; writer becomes an alcoholic and lashes out at wife with a spoon and goes briefly to jail; wife dies from cancer [obviously unrelated to spoon incident]; writer’s alcoholism worsens; his daughters, Cassandra and Rose, raise themselves with very little assistance from their artsy-crazy new stepmother; the daughters come to womanhood and become curious about men, and especially about their gorgeous, loyal, rarely-paid servant, Stephen [played by his hotness, Henry Cavill]). . .

. . . watched the plot come to climax (Cassandra and Rose come into womanhood at the same time new young scions inherit the landlordship of their castle; crazy-artsy stepmother coaches the beautiful Rose into seducing the elder of the pair of wealthy brothers into marriage; Stephen exposes Rose for her fraudulence in her engagement to the coveted Simon, which is broken; the stupid young scion Simon is heartbroken and continues to lust after Rose in spite of his less-intense feelings for Cassandra and her continued interest in him; the castle is once again in danger of being taken from the family without Rose’s advantageous marriage). . .

. . . and reach its conclusion (Cassandra decides the only way to save the whole family is for her to perform a bit of tough love:  lock Daddy-writer up in the castle’s keep until he quits drinking and writes “at least fifty pages. Of anything.”  He is initially angry with her, but he eventually sobers, and, with his freedom on the line, starts writing.  The castle, his identity, and Cassandra’s sanity are saved).

At  the very end of the film, the heroine, Cassandra, reflects on how her father’s novel went from the drivel-phrase he started with, “The cat sits on the mat,”  and how it turned into being a story about a child learning to read, learning the relationship between objects and, hence, between beings, in the world, and how it became a successful novel about self-discovery.  She contemplates the nature of single-syllable words (The. Cat. Sits. On. The. Mat.) and their power to simplify and direct one’s life.  Thus inspired,  Cassandra closes the voice-over narration with a simple line from her journal about the direction of her life: “I love. I have lov’d. I will love.”  The audience hopes that she means she’ll finally get smart and go to Stephen, the boy grew up alongside her and who  truly and selflessly loves her (or at least, I hoped so).

I sat back for awhile and thought of what single-syllable present-past-future tense phrasing I would use to simplify my lifeline. I came up rather empty—or came up with a lot of two-or-three syllable words that didn’t work well in terms of symmetry at all.  So I gave up for the time being.

I then lay in bed that night reading my dad’s favorite counseling primer and psychobabble-sifter, M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978).  And I studied his underlined passages about things like neurosis (which, Peck believes, is any kind of disordered thinking-behavior spiral in which the sufferer feels trapped in a kind of fearful paralysis exacerbated by the sufferer’s knowledge of what she “ought” to do to fix herself without having the strength to do it; hence, anxiety, depression, irrational phobias, and chemical addictions are all forms of neuroses because one knows one needs help to heal), passive-dependent personality disorder (a character-based disorder in which one becomes passively and parasitically attached to another person for validation, personal contentment, fulfillment, the enablement of a comforting habit, etc. A passive-dependent person is unaware of how damaging this relationship is to the autonomy of both parasite and host, and and he cannot see how it stunts his ability to give and receive love in a selfless fashion. Quite simply, passive-dependency is selfishness on over-drive and it stunts spiritual growth for both parties, Peck argues).

The only cure for either problem, according to Peck, is to use love–real love, the costly, effort-ful, and selfless kind– as a motivation to embrace self-discipline: to employ self-motivation,  to delay gratification, to accept responsibility for one’s own actions, and to dedicate oneself to a truth larger than one’s own perception of reality.  This, Peck argues, is the path to spiritual growth, to psychological health, and, ultimately, to fulfillment and meaning in life.  In his argument, he draws examples from great leaders like Gandhi and Buddha and, most especially, Jesus, who took a selfless path and suffered for the sake of truth and freedom for others.  All these leaders had to be strong in themselves before they could be of any real use to the world, and they had to be self-sufficient before they could offer love to others.

I thought about the concept of love–and loving–in  all its tenses.  I thought about how long it had been since I had exerted the kind of effort required to actually love (I found that I had done so, frequently, with my friends).  Then I thought about where I’d failed to do so (usually, with my mother). Then I thought about why I failed, and got myself into a neurotic tangle of “oughts” while I pondered the possibility that my Naomi and I had developed a co-dependent relationship that enabled us to exist in a vicious cycle of pain.

Most of my readers think Naomi and I get along pretty well.  We do, sometimes. But then there are the nights when I want to be left alone  to my thoughts and the ghosts of the house, and Naomi, bored and lonely and wanting company, chatters at me incessantly in spite of my moody hints telling her I want to be left alone. Then I get snappish with her because I decide to put my need to think and be alone  above her need to be heard and acknowledged, just like she had put her needs above mine by brushing off my requests for privacy.  We get mad at each other, and, ultimately, we neither one of us get what we want:  Naomi goes off alone and I am left with my thoughts full of Naomi and her sadness rather than the private pains I’d wanted to contemplate and sort out.

Then there are the nights when she escapes totally into her grief, checks out of the rational world, and leaves the responsibility and reality to me.  And for a long time, I supported that; I enabled that. And that was how we existed.  And I began to resent it.  And it became harder and harder for me to really love her and support her in the healthy ways she needed support, with encouraging talk and by growing my own strength and independence as an example to her.  It also became easier for me to enable her in the ways that were destructive, such as simply allowing her to drink and be bitter, and thus letting myself assume a position of noble-sounding martyrdom when she became emotional or incapacitated and needed a savior. This martyrdom allowed me to appear strong to others while justifying my weaknesses as the product of circumstance.  This twisted roleplay became apparent to me upon reflection of the remarks made by friends and relatives who have said to me, “Oh, you’re so good to your poor mother. I can only imagine how hard that must be for you–and with you grieving yourself! [Strong girl!] No wonder you’re having trouble dating/getting out on your own/pursuing your interests in life. [Poor baby!]  You just take care of her and take it easy on yourself.”

Truth is, Naomi and I were both dependent on each other to stay in our safe-but-painful stasis:  Naomi needed me to stay with her so that I could be her company when she was lonely and her solid caretaker when she wanted to leave reality behind, and I needed to stay with Naomi so that I could continue to live in my safe, well-known caretaker identity as the “good daughter” instead of growing into a strange, new identity as an independent adult who could, one day, hopefully, be a caretaker of her own family and a keeper of her own responsibilities and burdens.   I reflected that I had adopted my “good daughter” identity shortly after Naomi herself was diagnosed with cancer in 2002.  That was years ago, when I was fifteen.  It was time to grow up.

I began, in grief counseling, to plan my escape.

Once my counselor recovered from her surprise at my identifying this awful Gordian’s knot of grief and dependency, she agreed that it was time for me to break through the tangles by spreading my wings and flying–very far away.  She suggested that I teach English in China, and thus, get as far away from my home situation as possible.  Something radical like that. Something big–a grand gesture of independence.  It seemed realistic, though: I’d just seen two of my friends off to Shanghai ( and Argentina (, respectively, and I knew I was just as smart and capable as they were.  And strangely, armed with my late father’s own literary advice in the form of his notes in the margins of Dr. Peck’s book, I decided I was even strong enough to do it, and that maybe, I somehow had Dad’s blessing . . .

So I told Naomi what I’d decided. I started to look at paid teach-abroad programs.  And Naomi, terrified for herself, rushed to escape her pain at the fear of abandonment.  She became emotional, and altered her chemical state through a depressant (read: hard liquor)–a classic way, as I saw it, to get me to stay and take care of her.

And I got angry–really, angry.  I snapped, completely snapped: yelling at her, slapping her, telling her I felt like an orphan because she just refused to act like a normal mother when I needed her to be. Told her I hated it when she didn’t fight these feelings, hated it that she just let them have her and that she made excuses to stay helpless.  Dimly, I realized I was hitting some level of darkness in myself and fighting something ugly–fighting what I saw in her that I hated in myself–fighting like an animal in a corner, fighting hard on instinct. Fighting, maybe, at this point, for both our lives.

I was horrified at myself, but once the fight instinct was finished and left me shaking with adrenaline and shock, the flight instinct began. I knew I couldn’t allow us to be trapped in our snare again.  And I was afraid of my own anger at my mother’s weakness. I was afraid of myself.

So I called my brother to come down from his home forty minutes away to help with my mother. Then I threw clothes in a bag and left home–and I didn’t know if I’d ever come back.  That was Sunday night of last week.

*To Be Continued in Part II*