Tag Archives: perseveration

The Fan Stays Off

Seeds there

Virulent shoots hamper process

ingrates they throw everything into chaos,

disruptive and noisy I shout the same thought

weeding out the bad from the stillness.

Whispering calm directives – keep it cool, Emma –

but the thrashing divas hold the spotlight and won’t exit without a fight.


Timing is crucial.

Nobody can help bring order to the bothersome braying

that brutish tyrant who won’t allow others the time or space.

Patience is needed.

I am here

sometimes insistently so

but there is so much more to discover.


“Just Being Funny”

Last week Soma and Emma discussed different proverbs.  Soma explained that one of the proverbs was about how a new person can be very enthusiastic upon getting a new job, eager to prove their worth they do a great deal, but as time goes on they lose some of their enthusiasm and do not do as much.  Emma then wrote, “It is like a new husband.”

When Soma asked her to say more, Emma wrote, “Just being funny.”

And she was.  Really funny.  In fact, I burst out laughing.   One of the great things about someone who says the unexpected is that it often is very funny, and that she also intended to be so, makes it all the more joyful.  (There is nothing more upsetting and hurtful to the other person than laughing at something that strikes you as funny, only to realize the person speaking did not intend or mean to be funny.)

I cannot anticipate what Emma will write.  The way she phrases ideas and thoughts, even questions are unexpected.  I am biased, I know, but I see her way with words as one of her many, many talents.  The beautiful and unexpected way in which she will phrase a thought or express a feeling fills me with emotion. I am in eager anticipation and gratitude for every word she writes.  I sit and watch her and am mesmerized.  There are few things I enjoy doing as much, truthfully.

At the moment Emma’s two favorite songs are Clint Eastwood by the group Gorillaz and Cage the Elephant’s Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked.  Like me, when Emma likes a song she will play it over and over and over.  When I was a teenager I wore out record albums (yup, that’s how old I am) from playing the same favored song repeatedly, causing the album to get scratched from my insistence that only the one or two songs be played and not the record in its entirety.  Dancing to those favorite songs is an added bonus.  Emma loves to dance and so do I, something my husband loves doing as well.  Listening to music requires no speech; no words need to be exchanged.  Given how hard Emma must work to write her thoughts, it is nice to do something we all love, that isn’t hard work.

Yesterday Emma and I were discussing death, something Emma speaks about regularly in repetitious utterances about various pets and people who have died.  We have talked about death before, but this time Emma wrote a sentence that I couldn’t make sense of.  It was at the end of a 40 minute session, so I figured she was tired and we’d come back to it later.  Since our time was up, I left the sheet of paper with Emma’s sentence on it, on the table.  This morning, just before I left for work, I reread the sentence.

“Hysterical rant on death is assuring story, but does nothing to understand reality of story.”

And I began to wonder whether her spoken phrases, “Bertie died, Bertie has to be careful.  Yeah, Bertie got old.  Bertie lay down and went to sleep.  Bertie died…” about my very old cat who was seventeen when he finally died, is a kind of calming self talk.  Perhaps a way to make the unknown less frightening and yet she still knows that even in trying to soothe her fears, the repetitive talk does nothing to help her understand.

So this afternoon, I will ask her and afterward we will listen to Gorillaz and Cage the Elephant and dance.

Dancing ~ 2012

Dancing ~ 2012

When the Words Don’t Match

The other night Em woke up at around 2:00AM crying.  She kept saying the same words over and over.  It was a kind of script, about an indoor playground that I used to take both children to when they were toddlers.  It is a playground that has been closed for more than six years.  “Mommy has to look.  Daddy has to find new Sydney playground.  The tickets are broken.  Mommy has to fix it.  Oh.  You want to go to new Sydney playground!”

Do not try to translate this.  Lean into the emotion, what is she telling you?  Forget the actual words, the individual words are less important, it’s the emotion, it’s the intent… 

This is what I’ve been taught.  I’ve paraphrased the exact words my friend Ibby actually used, but it captures the general idea of what she has reminded me of more than once.  It’s an important concept and one that I didn’t readily understand at first.  In fact our initial conversation went something like this –

Ibby:  Do you speak another language?

Me:  What?  No.  I barely speak English.  Do I need to learn another language?  If you tell me I need to learn Russian to help me understand, I’m on it.

Ibby:  (I imagine Ibby took a deep, calming breath before continuing)  No.  You do not need to learn Russian.  But you need to feel the words instead of trying to do a word for word translation.

Me:  Feel the words?  Mind began to race, a panicky feeling overtook my body. I don’t know what that means!  What does that mean?

And so Ibby patiently tried to explain that by getting lost in the exact meaning of the words I was missing the emotions being expressed.

With this in mind, I went back to Emma’s bedroom with her.  Very distressed, she continued to repeat the script and then suddenly veered off to an unrelated, yet another, unattainable, desire.  “I want to go to Martha’s Vineyard.  Not binyard, v, v, v, vineyard.  Mommy I want to go to Martha’s Vineyard.  No baby.  We can’t go to Martha’s Vineyard, it’s too cold.  I want to go to Martha’s Vineyard.”

As I sat with her listening, I tried to be present, neither lying to her nor adding to her anxiety, just being present and as I did this I felt a flood of recognition.  I realized I do a version of this too, only I call it “spiraling out”.  It happens at odd times, but being tired makes it harder to cope with.  When I think about how I spiral out an image of a pin ball machine comes to mind.  My thoughts are the little metal ball careening around hitting one side, ricocheting off the little bouncy things that make noise while the lights flicker, before shooting off in another direction.  Nothing anyone says helps me.  In fact, often well-intentioned people will make it much, much worse, because my mind is literally looking for things to think about that will create more anxiety.  The only thing that has ever helped me when I get this way is a calm, loving voice gently nudging me down a different path.  It has to be authentic and very, very loving and very, very calm or I become suspicious and even angry.  With this thought in mind I gently said to Em, “Is it okay if I tell you something?”  She nodded her head.

“I get upset too, Em.  Just like you are right now.  And when I do I have thoughts that I can’t stop going around around in my head.”

She sat up and looked directly into my eyes.  “Sometimes when I feel stressed and tired I can’t make the thoughts go away.  Sometimes the same thoughts just keep repeating in my head and I can’t get rid of them.  Daddy calls it spiraling out.  But you know what?  It’s going to be okay.  I’m going to stay with you.  It’s going to be okay.  I promise.  Try to breathe.  Here breathe with me.”  We inhaled together and then exhaled.  “Feel the cool air on your face and the warmth of the blanket on your body.”  I continued in this way, talking to her softly, trying to guide her, trying to make her aware of the present.  These are the things that help me when I’m agitated and feeling overwhelmed and eventually she rested her head on me, leaning her body into me as I spoke to her in a soft voice.

It was during those early morning hours with the two of us sitting together while everyone around us slept that I felt a surge of understanding.  When I get lost in the words that fill my head and when the words don’t match up with the emotions it feels confusing and I become perseverative and spiral out.  I see this now.  In the past I’ve called it anxiety.  I’ve said I’m overwhelmed and tired.  These are good words to describe what I’m feeling, but a more accurate explanation is that when I become fixated on specific thoughts, in my case they are often in the form of fears, I can become so lost in the specifics I lose sight of the emotions.  This has happened my whole life, only it took my daughter to get me to make the connection.  We are not so different, my daughter and I.

An image that calms me – The Manhattan Skyline taken while walking to my studio the other morning

Manhattan Skyline

Zurcher’s Folly

Yesterday I asked Emma, “Do you want to go to the indoor pool?”

To my surprise she answered, “No.”

“Do you want to go for a walk?” I asked.

She said nothing, which could mean she wanted to or it also might mean she didn’t.  It could go either way.

I needed to be more specific.  “Do you want to go to the cabin?”

“Yes!” She replied.  She ran into the mudroom and grabbed a leash, which she attached to my shorts.  There is a history (as there is with almost everything she does) to the leash.  When she was a toddler, she became absolutely terrified of dogs, all dogs.  We would explain to her that the dogs wouldn’t hurt her and anyway they would be on a leash.  The only way she could be convinced to go on a hike was if she could hold the leash.  Over time that led to putting me on a leash and now it is a given that the dogs run freely, but I am on a leash that Emma holds and occasionally tugs on if I am not going quickly enough or conversely, am going too quickly to force me to slow down.  In any event, it works.

Off to the cabin we went, the dogs racing around fighting over various sticks they found along the way and Emma and I leashed together.

The cabin, one room, no hot water, no electricity, a wood burning stove and fireplace, was nick named “Zurcher’s Folly”.  My immediate family built it log by log and at the time, my father, in particular wondered if it would sit unused.   In the 1970’s the ranch had no houses on it, just fields, shrub, irrigation ditches some beaver dams, herds of elk roamed through each winter, bears and coyote took over in the summer.   The only structures were a barn and the ranch house at the edge of the property where a revolving door of people lived in return for taking care of the irrigation ditches, sometimes boarding horses on the land.

Since the cabin was built various family members have slept in it.  During a brief break between colleges I even lived in it for four months, packing my food and water in, sitting out on the deck looking out onto the Rockies and contemplated life.  The cabin has always held a special place in my heart, a place my family built with their own hands and hard work, a place of solitude, removed from everything else.  Unless an airplane flew overhead one would not know what year it was.  We go out to the cabin at least once every time we come to Aspen.  A pilgrimage of sorts, it is a reminder of what is important in life and what we all love about being in this part of the world.

My two children have been going out to the cabin ever since they were born.  So it was with a certain degree of excitement that Emma and I made our way through the grass and fallen trees before rounding the bend and caught our first glimpse of the cabin’s roof.

Emma immediately began to run.  After I’d unlocked the door, she dropped the leash and fell onto a mouse dung covered platform, which serves as one of two beds.  We stayed there for a few hours, me rereading the journal we keep where everyone who has visited the cabin over the past thirty plus years is encouraged to make an entry, and Emma singing and dancing.

On the way home Emma grabbed the leash once again and tugged on it.

“What?” I asked.

“Go to the indoor pool,” Emma said.

“But it’s too late now, Emma.  We have to go home and get dressed for the picnic we’re going to,” I said.

Emma pretended to cry with an exaggerated facial expression.  Sometimes this leads to Emma actually crying, what begins as a kind of joke can soon turn into the real thing.

I began to sing, “We can’t go to the indoor pool.  We’re going to a picnic.”

Emma picked up where I left off, “I want to go to the indoor pool,” she sang, then looked at me.

“We can’t, we can’t, we can’t,” I sang back.

Then Emma sang, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.”

We went on like this making up verses and melodies, sometimes overlapping each other, sometimes stopping mid “verse” until the other picked it up.

“I could hear you two singing all the way up the trail,” Richard said when we eventually returned to the house.

“Wasn’t that great?” I asked.

“She’s doing great, Ariane,” Richard replied.

And he’s right.

She is.