Sunday, June 21, 2015
I grew up with a diaphanous father who floated above me like a caption bubble saying, “?”.
He was a romantic rumor, a previous chapter in my mother’s book of life, leaving behind no photos for his three little girls to frame and fawn over. There would be no frame hugging in this family. No searching his dark eyes for our own, or comparing the curve of our noses to his; no joy of discovering a trace of ourselves in his image, thus… answering our desperate curiosity. The only evidence of his existence was our existence.
My dad was an old movie reel flickering in my mind, with imaginary memories, conjured by a credulous child, intoxicated with prime time fathers, and aching for paternal adoration.
I was always comparing my invisible father to the other girls’ dads, which never worked out well for me. I suffered like an amputee with an inflamed phantom limb… finding no possible way to soothe it.
I felt that I had been gypped by life; everybody that I knew had two parents, but I only had one. I assumed that I was somehow to blame for my father’s absence, after all I was little girl number three, and in my little girl mind I thought that he was tired of daughters. I envisioned him throwing his arms up in defeat when I was born, and tromping off to find another family where he could have his very own little boy. Of course all of this was nonsense, but the actual reasons for him leaving were incredibly complicated; certainly nothing a mere child could possibly comprehend.
Father’s Day continues to be a holiday that I view from afar, like witnessing the customs of a foreign country. There is still an empty seat at the head of my childhood table, and a little girl waiting wistfully by the darkened window. She knows that he isn’t returning, but she’s found nothing else that could take his place.
Appreciate every moment that you have with your dad. Hug him, tell him you love him, and do nice things for him, for there are many children, both old and young, who have never experienced a fathers’ love and the joy and security that it offers.
For those of you who have known the void of a fatherless childhood, my message to you is this: Accept the vacancy in your heart as part of yourself; offer it honor and appreciation. You are the incredible person that you are, because of that vacuum. You have had to find your identity independent of a father’s influence. You have had to be brave and resilient during hard times, when a strong hand wasn’t there to guide you…or hold you.
Be proud of who you are, and of the family that you have…that coalition of love that worked doubly hard in order to fill in the gap left by your father. And remember, love is love, whether it comes from a male or a female, it doesn't matter because it comes from one source and will never leave you or be depleted. Love holds all things together.
This is a re-run of an old post, dedicated to those who never got to celebrate this day.
Sunday, May 31, 2015
I’ve always considered seeing a cardinal to be a good omen. When I watch one blaze across the sky in holy flames I feel I’ve been chosen to view the sacred. They were also my mom’s favorite bird, which endears them to me forever. I remember her calling the females, Lucy Lipstick, because of their bright orange beaks, which still makes me giggle. Since her passing, 17 years ago, I always think of, Ma when I see a cardinal.
This week my aunt needed to head north due to a death in the family and asked me to dog/house sit while she was away. Death has a way of equalizing life, causing priorities to slip effortlessly into place. I quickly packed up and headed out to the car. Once there, Jack, a feral cat that we feed, stopped by for his daily meal. My husband, Mike unlocked the car for me and then headed back to the trailer for some cat food. I waited in the hot car, leaving the door open to allow some air flow.
In spite of the sad occasion, I was looking forward to my stay at aunties; after all, there would be space, something severely lacking in the trailer, plus I’d have a pool, privacy, and two of my favorite dog people to keep me company. I was lost in thought when a dreadful thud called me back to the car. It was one of those moments when my head and my eyes couldn’t agree on what they were seeing. There was a rusty fluttering of helplessness, and then a shiver. It was Lucy. Soaring through our driveway she had hit my car window. Jack appeared from the bush, keen-eyed and crouching. I turned away, unable to wrap my head around the situation. Injured Lucy was no match for Jack.
I carried the heavy of this scene around in my belly all day, trying to grasp its meaning…but it was useless. So I self-medicated with brie and cherries, as I moved into auntie’s house.
About 7:00 pm the phone rang. It was a man’s voice, sounding as far away as Mozambique, and very official.
“I’m looking for a, Leah Griffith. Is this she?”
I usually host a mini version of 20 questions before admitting who I am, but after the cardinal killing I was totally off my game.
“Yes. This is she.”
“My name is Sgt D. Hall with the San Francisco Bay police dept. Do you know Eric G.?”
“Yes. I just spoke to him Sunday. Has something happened? Is he alright?”
“I have some very bad news ma’am, Mr. G. was found dead in his apartment this afternoon. He was sitting at the kitchen table slumped over a bowl of soup. I suspect it was a heart attack. I’m still here with him now waiting for the medical examiner and it doesn’t appear that there was any struggle. I doubt he suffered.”
Not our Eric…
the genteel giant, and dignified Baltimorean, with Clint Eastwood grit and a Mr. French accent.
the story teller whose hearty laugh was as irresistible as a chocolate bar.
the meticulous journalist who kept a daily account of his life from the age of 18 on, noting the little things with the same reverence as the monumental.
Eric… a sixty something bachelor who offered love, sought kindness, and whose high IQ, and awkward social skills, set him apart from most of humanity, often repelling the very thing he craved the most...female companionship.
Uncle Eric had been a member of our tribe since 94, when he spent three years living with our family, witnessing the reality TV insanity of our lives as we raised teenagers.
I remember he phoned me late one morning, and with his hoity-toity accent, he stated, “I’ve been incarcerated.” It was a silly seat-belt ticket that he had ignored. Being a big man he found seat-belts suffocating and he refused to wear one. Bailing him out was an honor…and hilarious.
Eric loved us all
just as we were.
People willing to do that are rare.
I feel like a bite has been taken out of my soul
because I know
I shall never find another, Eric.
I hung up the phone
fighting for air.
I ‘m still not sure how to wrap my heart around any of this.
I certainly can’t erase it.
Sometimes life whispers
sometimes it sings
And sometimes life simply breaks your heart.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
”you’re too old to change."
"You’ve wasted your life."
Such were my thoughts while living in the box.
It was a tight and toxic environment,
where tainted truths were dished out in little doses.
And why did I ingest all the lies?
Because I was told to,
and I wanted to please them,
and it wasn’t their fault,
or who knows whose,
because the road to every hood and home has been paved with lies since man's first thought.
I kept imagining what it was like outside of the box—maybe peek and catch a glimpse of something new, but the fear that there might be something better out there kept me from looking. After all, what would I do? Nearly everyone I loved lived in the box so I couldn't leave.
I stayed in the box in my twenties, when youth beckoned me “explore”.
I stayed in the box in my thirties, preaching with grave conviction on the apocalyptic consequences awaiting all who abandoned their boxes.
I stayed in the box in my forties, when the days turned stale and life became as unproductive as a dry heave.
Then I turned 50, and I said to myself, “Enough! My life is more than half over and all I’ve seen is the inside of this box.”
In that instant five decades worth of boxy convictions toppled, inspiring me to peek outside of the box.
Yes, I did.
And what did I see?
I saw myself smiling
right back at me.
So I lifted my skirt
and climbed on outside,
where the sun in its brightness
shone as my guide.
I saw paintings and theaters,
dancers and drunks,
buildings and alleyways
sprayed on by punks.
Some things were so frightening,
I wanted to run
straight back to the box
and hide from the sun,
but I knew in my heart
I had something to do,
so I thought till a thought
bubbled up from true-blue.
I could write a book.
and I did.
I wrote one about
my life as a kid.
It took all my breath
to say stuff out loud,
to recycle myself
back into the crowd.
But now I’m connected
to me and to you
to all of the people
in search of true-blue.
And life is much bigger
for it’s being lived
by someone who’s free!
Listen to life.
It is wise.
It is generous.
It is speaking.
Sunday, April 5, 2015
I thought I’d live a bigger life
of sweeping landscapes speeding by,
and neon wonders twinkling bright
against a starless urban sky.
An up-close view of all that is
a searching of the sea and more,
each grain of sand,
each polished shell,
whose chambers whisper to the shore.
I thought I'd climb a castle’s tower,
and punctuate through guarded clouds,
favored with the highest views,
through secret doors concealed from crowds.
All this I’d hoped and much much more,
for words cannot justice give,
the longings of a woman’s heart,
where limits part and hope begins.
Three score and ten—little more,
the gods have counted out our days,
pursued by dragons spewing fire,
and warmed by love’s contented blaze.
The best of years now lag behind,
when muscles answered each demand,
and clear minds snapped with fresh ideas,
ready with a perfect hand.
But now the needle’s eye has closed,
the hand unsteady takes its time,
The castle on the hill afar,
stands flawless in my shrouded mind.
And what remains
is mine to own,
the gold, the dross, the love, the dire;
the journey inward has outrun,
the swiftest feet to temple’s spire.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Laine Cunningham, author, professional editor, and winner of five international awards for fiction and nonfiction, took the time to interview me about the writing of my novel, Cosette's Tribe. It turned out to be an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks so much for making me feel so at home, Laine.
Please find the interview below. I hope you enjoy the exchange.
LC: Leah Griffith is the award-winning author of Cosette’s Tribe (review here). She joins us today for a few questions about her writing process, her books, and her inspiration.
LC: When did you begin writing?
LG: I was in my late teens when I began writing. I felt a push within, something deep and soulful trying to find a mode of expression. In the early years my writing took on more of a spiritual nature. This type of writing has always helped me to remember how to breathe. In my twenties I began writing short stories and essays.
My mother was an avid reader, and shared her love for great literature with us children. When she was carrying me, she was reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable`s, and fell in love with young Cosette. Consequently she chose that as my middle name. As a kid I hated the name but after reading Les Miserable`s myself, I became proud to have the name and delighted to name my protagonist Cosette.
LC: Cosette's Tribe is somewhat autobiographical. What drew you to writing about certain times in your life?
LG: I’ve always felt the urge to write about my life in hopes that I could recycle my pain and use it to help others. This sort of powerful exchange helps me to remain a victor rather than a victim.
My life so far can be divided into three parts. Early childhood, ages 1-4: these were the magical years before the first sexual assault took place. During that phase I felt connected to unconditional love, and still possessed the lighthearted twirl of being a little girl. Ages 4-14 were a belly crawl through impossible situations. These were the years of abuse, where shame kept me isolated from “…everything nice.”
And 12 through today: these have been the messy years…and the best of years. It has been a time of getting up and getting up and getting up again, and feeling the generous healing power of my fall downs. These have been the years of sunny ah-has and moody reflections, illuminating all that I believe in and discovering that my little girl dreams could still be found optimistically tucked between bravery and forgiveness.
LC: Tell us about the second book you’re working on.
LG: My latest novel is a continuation of Cosette’s Tribe. In book two, we find 14 year-old Cosette still living at home with her mother and sexually abusive stepfather Ken. Although Cosette was able to put an end to Ken’s advances a couple of years before, she now faces his vindictive side where Ken’s main form of entertainment is how to make Cosette suffer for rejecting him. Cosette continues to search for purpose as she follows a pale stream of hope into the future.
Cosette’s mother remains clueless about the past sexual abuse and spends most of her time playing referee between Cosette and Ken. But Cosette has more sinister foes to face; enemies of her own making, for the escape route she chooses from her unhappy childhood could shatter her young life in an instant.
I’m aiming for a launch of book two (still untitled) in the spring of 2016.
LC: What do you hope readers experience while reading your books? What do you hope they take away?
LG: It took me years to find the courage to write Cosette’s Tribe because of the personal nature of the story. Presenting my novel as a work of fiction created a cushion for me, providing just enough space between myself and the story, which was sorely needed. My hope was that my words would inspire readers to get back up after they’ve been knocked down, no matter what their struggles are. I want to encourage readers to trust life and embrace their own stories, perhaps discovering that it takes a certain amount of light to cast a shadow, and ironically, it’s that light which moves us beyond our pain.
As a woman I found creating this work incredibly empowering. It helped to move me from the space of a silent victim into the place of a vocal victor. It’s a mighty feeling to take part in one’s own redemption…to be your own hero.
LC: Connect with Leah on Facebook.
LC: Tell us about any awards or honors you’ve received as an author. What did those honors mean to you as an artist?
LG: Cosette’s Tribe is a self-published work, which means that it’s up to me to market and sell my precious story. Although I’m a bit shy and I should probably push a lot harder with the marketing of my novel, Cosette’s Tribe is not without awards and honors. Cosette’s Tribe was the first place winner of the 2011 Laine Cunningham, New Novel Award present by The Blotter Magazine. As a new author this was thrilling for me. After all, this wasn’t family and friends praising me, it was my peers, and it meant the world to me, as did the fat check and prizes they gave me.
Cosette’s Tribe took first place for both Best Novel and Mainstream Fiction in the 2013 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBooks Awards. Cosette’s Tribe was also chosen by Florida Weekly’s book reviewer Phil Jason as one of his favorites for 2012. Of course my biggest reward has been the overwhelmingly positive response from my readers.
LC: Find Leah’s book trailer and website at www.leahgriffith.com.
LC: Cosette is told from an intimate viewpoint of a young girl. How did this present challenges to your prose? How did you overcome those challenges?
LG: The language I chose to use while writing Cosette’s Tribe was a challenge. I had to “Be the kid” in order to write the kid. I kept things simple using the pure language of childhood when creating metaphors and expressions. Sometimes it became very difficult when describing scenes of a sexual nature, requiring me to enter and feel the darkness of a situation anew.
Writing Cosette’s Tribe was a work of bravery requiring me to look at my childhood with both eyes open. This is how I discovered the light in my childhood, which was there all along. I just never noticed it because of the trauma I endured. It was the surprise of seeing this happy light that kept me writing, and it is this same generous light that I hope to share with my readers.
LC: Describe your writing space.
LG: My writing space is wherever I can open my laptop and type. I wrote most of Cosette’s Tribe on an ancient IBM laptop facing a blank wall at work. Today, I write from half a tiny booth in my kitchen. My husband Mike uses the other half to run his online business. Our booth is the only working space in the 350 square-foot trailer that we share with Duchess, our tiny dog. I also do my artwork from the booth. Virginia Woolfe would be appalled.
Friday, February 13, 2015
I was directed to write a love letter to myself by my wildly loving friend, J Clement Wall. My initial thought was “how romantic, a love letter to Leah”. But then I felt the unction of resistance, that inner speed bump, which slows down forward motion, and I knew that I wouldn’t write the letter because it required a generous portion of bigness toward one’s self that I was pretty sure I didn’t possess. So I put off the assignment indefinitely.
As it turns out, I have a stack of untouched assignments issued by homespun sages, and as much as I admire these gentle troubadours, I sometimes feel a bit of intimidation by their bright-eyed bullet lists containing the secrets of life from the lates and the greats. I’m cynical of their pastel outlooks, such Monet hearts, and then there’s mine, mucked up and muddy from all my fall downs, tramping along with my broken toe cursing louder than a northern gale, measuring myself against all that isn’t me and feeling the small of it.
It’s the familiar cycle of self abandonment
that I move in and out of
and it hurts more than the toe, or the stretch and yawn into each long day, because I’m not really here. I’m not anywhere. I’m tucked away within the folds of forgetfulness, waiting for the courage to fly back to myself.
So, I’ve decided to go ahead and write that love letter because I could really use one right now, and with Valentine’s Day nearing I figured what a perfect set up for me-mance.
Yes, this is for me.
So here goes.
My Dearest Self,
First I’d like to say that I feel I owe you an enormous apology. I’m sorry for abandoning you when you were a little girl and that you've had to struggle with this self-abandonment issue your entire life. I underestimated the powerful connection between you and you--that big U within. I left you fluttering like a baby moth, banging into the low glow of this shabby world, and injuring your delicate wings. My looking away cost you your ability to fly, and forced you to walk barefoot across the dirty asphalt of your childhood. I wish I could have remembered who you were back then, but the pain was real, and the darkness of the journey unexpected.
You were a real hero (although you didn’t realize it). No matter how many times you got knocked down, you found a way to get back onto your feet. You faced the unlovely with an open heart, and even forgave the ones with weapons. You remained kind, which is the best type of miracle of all, offering what little you had to those who had less. If only you had offered the same generous love to yourself. I see now that it was your mother’s gift for alchemy that helped to cultivate your richness of soul. She was also a hero, but like you, she never learned to spread her wings.
You still are my hero.
I need to tell you how much I love you, and even though I sometimes pick on you, and underestimate your talents, I never doubt your ability to do great loving things.
Since you were a child you’ve desired a slow-dance intimacy with life, seeking a love powerful enough to lift you into the heavens where the stars sparkle with joy at the sight of you. My wish for you is the redemption of this divine romance--that you lose your cynicism, and look within, where you will discover that the one who steals your breath away with each kiss is always present…always you.
I wish for you to uncover the treasure of unconditioned authenticity; the putting away of the measuring stick, the better and worse, and see that every inch of you is the perfect “enough”.
I wish for you to step out of the tiny--that box, which was designed by your fears, and realize the dreams that have been nesting in your heart, those golden eggs you’ve been tending for years, are about ready to hatch.
And finally, I wish for you to never forget who you really are…
that you were created from stardust and love
believe the rumors of your greatness--and how much I absolutely adore you.
Happy Valentine’s Day,
Thursday, January 15, 2015
I knew when I saw their burlesque-ish feathers and dirty yellow feet that nothing good could come of me getting too attached to them. Isn’t that like life, to fan something fabulous in front of our faces and then bite us in the arse for getting attached to it? Therefore, I initially kept my distance, sneaking peeks between the palms—watching them strut about my yard, and from time to time skip across my porch, clucking like excited teens on their way to the mall.
I always feel as though I’m being allowed in on a great secret when I sit with nature and it was no different with these hens. Their keen-eyed pecking fascinated me, their proud breasts proof of their badass food fetching skills.
And then the news came that “something” had “gotten” one of our hens. I know, I know, they are not my hens, but the attachment had taken place, and although they didn’t have my last name, they had captured my cautious heart.
The theories weren’t very comforting; “it could have been a python,” the handyman said, leaning against his rake, measuring my reaction. I kept a flat face, refusing to respond to his fear tactics. He resumed raking and speaking, rattling off a shopping list of predators “might have been a panther, coyote, bobcat or even a gator.” My mind examined all the suspects and settled on the python, figuring the death would be quick and clean, but once, Mr. Maintenance showed me the trail of feathers, and the freshly dug hole under the fence, my guess switched to a coyote or a big cat.
After the killing it was hard to watch the 4 hens together without feeling badly about the dead fifth hen. And even though I couldn’t really tell the difference between hen number five and hen number three, the thinning of our flock was causing me to fear for the rest of the girls.
By the end of the week we were down to one lone hen. I was tempted to name her, Lucy because of her brazen presence, plus I figured the name might offer her some protection, after all, other than having a lot of splaining to do to Ricky, Lucy’s life was mostly filled with madcap mayhem, which always ended in laughter, but naming her would have broken the “don’t get attached” rule, so she remained nameless other than ‘The Last Hen’.
I imagined how scary it must have been to be the last hen pecking, knowing that the murderer was hold up someplace close, probably watching her actions and contemplating her thighs.
From the time she had 4 sisters, to her solo scratch across the courtyard, her routine never changed. I’d have been pulling out my feathers with nervousness, but Lucy was calmly enjoying the benefit of being sole scavenger, feasting on the moment, and her newly found freedom, for the owner of the last hen had decided to keep her out of the coop, offering her a running chance from her stalker.
I began feeding her handfuls of hemp hearts. She devoured the fatty treats, while I stood like a statue on the porch, not wanting to disturb the magic that was Lucy.
Then one morning I noticed the silence. Not the silence from no noise, but a stillness that rang so loudly in my heart that it hurt. Writing this I can still feel its weighty presence, a panic of a pause, announcing the truth, that Lucy was gone forever.
So, why did I drag you into my heartache—make you love the wild girls, and root for their survival? I did it because misery loves company, but mostly because love is ALWAYS worth it. I got attached, and I don’t regret it. It was a beautiful honor to share the same courtyard with them, getting to listen to the rolling cackle of their comments, and admire the showgirl strut of those long yellow legs, and although it ended in a tragic blood bath, and I miss them terribly, I will love the next batch of chickens, puppies, children, neighbors, friends, family and of course myself. It’s what I do, for without love, life cannibalizes itself.