Thursday, June 4, 2015

Persephone's Return


            
You will ask:

Did she go willingly or was she taken?  The story goes, at least the one version we’ve all heard, the one we tell and retell, that she was kidnapped… that the maiden Persephone was out in a field picking flowers, narcissus blooms as it is told, when the earth opened up and she fell into a pit, led into the Underworld by Hades, the King of the Dead and forced to stay there against her will.

Déméter, by Jean Arp
    
Did I say she was raped?  That’s part of the story too and that her mother, Demeter,  so sad and distraught by her daughter’s disappearance, takes to her bed after searching the four corners of the earth and stops doing her work as Goddess of the Harvest plunging the earth into famine. So desperate is the plight of the hungry mortals that they call upon Zeus to intercede, who sends Hermes into Hades to bring Persephone back to her mother.    

Ah – but then there is the little issue of the pomegranate seeds.  Does Hades trick her?  Does she swallow them voluntarily?   Whatever the case, because of the seeds, she's bound to Hades always and cannot leave for good.   She must return each year after her stay with her mother.

           
So the story goes that she is reunited with her mother who is happy again and does her job making the crops grow and flowers bloom and it is spring when her daughter is with her but when Persephone returns to Hades as she must, Demeter is sad again and winter falls upon the earth.

And that is why we have the seasons – which is how the story of Demeter and Persephone was taught to me in elementary school and how I taught it too, for thirty five years.

But this story means so much more than that.  To reduce this powerful myth to a simple explanation of the seasons is to miss the deeper meanings, mysteries and archetypes embedded here.  There are those who believe that the myth of Demeter and Persephone is as pertinent to female psychological development as the myth of Oedipus is to the male.  

And then there are the Elusinean Mysteries --- scared religious rituals based on this powerful story of mother and daughter,  famine and fertility, life and death  --- that were enacted in ancient Greece for 2,000 years and were deemed so holy that they remained secret – making it impossible for us today to ever understand the true nature of what this myth meant to those who experienced it as a living practice.

On Saturday May 30, I held a writing retreat for post menopausal, post career, and post child-rearing women at my home. There were 13 of us in all.   I called the retreat “Persephone’s Return” and together, through looking at the myth of Demeter and Persephone, we asked ourselves  - What can it look like to be sixty years old and go down deep into the Underworld to recover the girl we once were  -- that girl, who at adolescence, had fallen into the cracks of our unconscious minds in order for our adult personas to emerge.
with Diane Waff and Cozette Ferron


Persephone left as a maiden but she returned to her mother not as the innocent girl who’d left her but as Queen of the Dead – the psychopomp, who because of those pomegranate seeds,  could travel between the land of the living and the dead and have knowledge of the underworld known only to Hades and the dead themselves.  


What happened to those lost girls who went underground and dwelt  in the shadows of our lives all these years, who may have been raped, though one wonders whose story that is -  her mother’s perhaps?  Maybe Persephone was curious, or rebellious, seeing Hades as the ultimate bad boy,  an easy way to rebel against her possessive and over-protective mother.  Or maybe she was Lolita. You remember her. Young. Buzzing with life.  Feeling the power of her sexuality.

What do our own Persephones know?

When I was twelve, I had a dream.  I was baby sitting for a young neighbor.  We were walking hand in hand. Then the rain began.  It was a hard rain, and soon water was flowing in the streets.  The little girl began to shrink.  To my horror, she got smaller and smaller until she slipped from my twelve year old hand and floated down the sewer.

A Persephone dream if there ever was one.

Last week, after three years of trying to write and revise a screenplay,  I completed it.   In the story, a seventeen year old girl falls in love with a bad boy.  This bad boy leads her into another realm – the world of heroin.  There is a scene in the screenplay where boys are gathered in a cheap hotel room and they are shooting up.  Blood is splattered on the white walls,  needles are dangling from veins in thin bruised arms as the boys  moan and masturbate. 

Our heroine has entered Hell.

In the story, her father’s been unfaithful and abandoned the family.  Her mother’s taken to her bed – perhaps already knowing that she’s lost her daughter.  And when her daughter fails to return home one summer night,  the mother calls her father  and he comes to the house, lies in wait for her and beats his daughter upon her return for Hell.   He’s not exactly Zeus and she’s not exactly Demeter, though the girl is Persephone, traveling back and forth between the land of the living and the dead,  until in desperation to escape and to save her boyfriend, she offers herself to him.   In his depravity, he turns that offering into a rape.

The pieces don’t line up exactly. 

But that’s not what myths are all about anyway. They aren’t prescriptions or even explanations of things like why we have the seasons.   They are far more mysterious than that – more elusive and more evocative, more fluid and multi-dimensional, like the stories of our lives.

 I began the retreat with a prayer of sorts—a moment set aside to express our gratitude for being  healthy and alive to experience this time of our lives.  Then we paused to remember those who didn’t make it to this point.  We called out the names of the women we’d known and loved who had died too soon and their names remained present with us, their spirits hovering in the room as we grateful post-post-post women recaptured, through writing,  our younger selves and welcomed them home.

We embraced their wounds and listened to their dark, harrowing stories – the ones we could never tell our mothers and the ones our mothers could never bear to hear.


Photo Credit - Simon Mark Smith


Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Good Day to Be [Re]Born


Today is a good day to be born.

I write this in my journal every day for a week as I sit anxiously across from my daughter Ali, who at 40 weeks is more pregnant than she’s ever been.

Ali, at nine months
Her first child, Tyler, was due on May 31, 2012, only he arrived two months early.  Ali called me in Philadelphia from her home in Boston late in March to tell me that she thought she’d peed herself.

“No, No, No, No,”   I said.  Get to the hospital at once.”

And she did.

She called her husband Jason,  and they got into a taxi where her water continued to leak from her body and they admitted her immediately when she arrived at Brigham and Women’s Hospital   a major teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School and one of the best hospitals in the world.  She assured me that she and her baby were in the best of hands.



For eight days, she lay in a hospital bed, trying not to move and letting the baby inside of her grow for as long as possible.  It was important that she remain infection-free.

Her in-laws brought matzo ball soup and roasted chicken to her hospital room on the first night of Passover.   We were having a traditional seder in Philadelphia and Ali participated via cell phone.  We all laughed nervously when Ali recited the first of the Four Questions: “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

The infection came less than two days later, shocking us all.  We had allowed ourselves to feel confident that Ali remain pregnant for the two weeks the doctors were hoping for when they would do a Cesarean section and deliver the baby at 34 weeks.  They’d already given her a shot of steroids to hasten the development of the baby’s lungs.

The phone call came on Sunday evening.  Jason sounded frantic. 

“She’s having the baby now!” They are doing an emergency Cesarean!”

When the nurses had come in to take her temperature that evening, they discovered that she’d developed a fever.  The baby would have to come now.

We packed our bags in silence and got into the car and began the now familiar  journey up the Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, across the Tappen Zee Bridge and through the endless state of Connecticut.  Neither of us said a word, each saying our own silent prayers, afraid to alarm or upset the other. 

The Tappan Zee

Just as we were crossing the Hudson River suspended on the Tappen Zee bridge, the cell phone rang.  It was connected to Blue Tooth and I trembled as I pressed the bottom to connect.

“Hello?”  I heard my daughter’s voice say.  “He’s here.  Tyler was born just an hour ago.  He weighed 4 7 and he’s breathing on his own.





What a world, I thought.  Cell phones in delivery rooms and speakers in cars flying across bridges in the night. 

We stopped in a roadside motel in Connecticut to get some sleep and finish the journey the next day.  We wouldn’t be able to see then until then.

I don’t know when I realized that Tyler was born in Easter Sunday.  We are Jewish after all, but then again, so were Mary and Jesus.

It might have been when we got to the NICU at Brigham and Women’s and saw Tyler for the very first time, looking very much like the fetus he really still was.

The hospital photographer has been there earlier soon after his birth and had taken his picture.  And, like all of the other babies born on Easter Sunday,  they’d dressed him in bunny ears.

When we walked into the NICU, and spotted the picture taped proudly on Tyler’s glass isolette,  the nurse looked at us, then back at the picture, then back at us again and turned a deep shade of red.  Maybe she saw something on the chart about the family’s religion or maybe we just looked very Jewish to her.  Whatever the reason, she began to apologize profusely.

But I couldn’t stop laughing!  This precious new life – this teeny tiny baby with a scrunched up face and a feeding tube in his nostrils looked so beautiful and happy in his bunny ears.  It was so sweet and very very spiritual.
Ali, with Tyler Gerald Jacobs, one week old





This baby, who could have come into the world on ANY day before or after this one, chose (or was chosen by God ) to arrive on Easter Sunday – a day of hope, rebirth, resurrection and faith.


 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * **




The Virgin of Guadalupe, Santa Fe, New Mexico


Two years later,  I found myself in Santa Fe on another Easter Sunday.  I had come there for a six week writing retreat.  Santa Fe is a very Catholic city, and I was feeling very lonely that day,  knowing no other Jews.  The pageantry and the church bells were beautiful but they only underscored my alienation.    






So I got into  my car and drove to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu – a sacred place in the red mountains of New Mexico where Georgia O’Keefe had returned again and again for inspiration from the magnificent landscape. 
Purple Hills by Georgia O'Keefe, Georgia O'Keefe Museum, Santa Fe.


Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico



I had been there several times before, lucky enough to have been chosen to be part of the AROHO writing retreat for women.  And each time I’d been there, I’d had been gifted with visions in the mountains and I’d been inspired to write poetry and new stories. 


Alone, I trekked up to the mesa and turned my eyes towards the huge red formations jutting out from the earth reaching toward the heavens.  I closed my eyes and I prayed for the mountain to ground me.  

And when I opened my eyes, there she was. 

The Madonna


My vision at Ghost Ranch, Sunday April 20, 2014




The shadows had mingled with the rocks’ crevices and the sun had allowed Her image to form with a clock draped over her head and her arms pressed in prayer at her chest.




Just another Jewish girl on Easter Sunday. 


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** 


Today, Easter Sunday 2015, my daughter’s daughter is thirteen days old. 

March 24th  is a good day to be born. Tuesday’s child full of grace.

Only, on March 22nd  as I will helping Ali with her laundry and dishes and caring for Tyler, I felt an itch in my throat.  By March 23rd I was diagnosed with the flu. By March 24th,  I was holed up in a hotel room where I spent the next five days unable to move in total isolation, unable to be there when the doctors had to break my daughter’s water, induce labor and ultimately perform another Cesarean section.

A very new born Shayna





Shayna Ruth Jacobs, weighing a lucky 7 -7 was born at 5:31 in the afternoon.  






And on the night she is born, I have this fevered dream:


Lake Arenal, Costa Rica


I am attending a writing retreat in Costa Rica at a resort on Lake Arenal.  It is lush and green and beautiful. You can see the volcano tickled by clouds in the distance. I am sitting outside my cabin when I hear a noise coming from the distance.  I look up and I see one hundred children, around eight years of age, wearing bathing suits and carrying bath towels moving towards the water.




They are singing:

Cantemos del Cristo
El solo Cristo
El solotario Cristo

Let's sing of the Christ
The only Christ
The lonely Christ

With that, these beautiful children drop their towels, run towards the lake and joyously jump in.

I wake alone, in isolation still, but with a feeling of peace.

My fever has broken.

Today is a good day to be reborn.



Happy Easter and Happy Passover 2015


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How to Love a Ghost: Making Peace with my Long Gone Father

                        When you are estranged from your father, every day is Father's Day. 
                                                                                                                                      
            

           Father’s Day is always rough for people who have had difficult relationships with their fathers.    But this year was particularly difficult for me because of Facebook.
            First, I posted my daily haiku as part of a challenge I had take on January 1st to write a haiku a day for a year.    Here is what I posted.  I called it Father’s Day.

                                 
    

   Petals dripping blood.
   Thorns could not protect the rose
    From he loves me not.

            My post stood out like…  well like drops of blood among flower petals as post after post came through my newsfeed with pictures of daddies with their adoring daughters or fathers being thanked for being role models to their sons.
         
Shirley and Bill Rosenzweig, 1949
        
So I shed some tears yesterday for Bill Rosenzweig born in 1926, died in 1997,  who met my mother Shirley Perlstein in 1947,  married her in 1949, had their first child,  a daughter ( me ) in 1952, another in 1954, a son in 1956 and left his family for another woman in 1963, November 1963 to be exact, the week before Kennedy was assassinated and his children watched in horror as the country’s falling apart mirrored their family’s demise.
More terrible things happened than I want to say.  Betrayals. Beatings.  Blame and recriminations.  Erasure. 
            

          This is all old territory for me.  I have walked it so long and so many times that my feet have worn trenches in the ground of time I have remained stuck in the past.
            Something shook a little though yesterday.  A friend of mine had written one of those lovely Facebook tributes to his father – a kind, loving, spiritual man who died way too young when my friend was only nineteen.     
            And I told him that what he’d written was so heartfelt and beautiful.
            “I know you will be reunited with him in the afterlife,”  I said hoping to comfort him.
            And he said,  “So will you Marsha.  You will see your father there too.”
            What happens between an estranged parent and a child in the afterlife?
            Now there was a question I could wrap my head around. 
            So I did what I always do when I have question.  

            I googled it.
            


        
        I wanted to know, would we be the same age or would we be ageless with no bodies, only our spirits?  Would we be as we were in life – distant and unable to cross the distance between us?  Would he still be stubborn?  Would I still be surly?  Would he be sorry for the time he refused to sit next to my mother at my Bat Mitzvah even after I begged him to so we would look like a normal family to my friends?  Would I be sorry that I kept my promise to him – the one I had screamed at him the last time he’d hit me that he’d never see his grandchildren?  Would he be sorry that his wife had barred me from his funeral and  did not include my name in his obituary? Would I be sorry that I told him when I was fifteen that he wasn’t a real man?

            Questions begetting questions. 

            So I kept googling.  And among the links that appeared was a site written by a Christian minister for parents of estranged adult children – written with the heart and spirit of the estranged parent in mind, offering solace, sympathy and suggestions for if not healing the rift between parent and child, at least assuaging the wound caused by separation, regardless of the cause.
          
        My mother used to tell me that my father adored me and that I was his favorite child.  This was never said to me in a comforting way.  It was more of an accusation.  And it only made me feel worse.  How could his love for me have turned so far the other way?
           

             In Jungian analysis,  when you come upon a place of deep psychological complex and conflict,  one is taught to engage in active imagination where you place yourself in a scene in your mind, bring in the person you need to talk to and then let the conversation happen.
            I did that yesterday.   At first I saw myself as a little girl playing catch with my daddy.  And then the scene opened up into an entire scenario for a play a screenplay or novel.
           
http://nation.wikia.com/wiki/King_Arthur_II_of_Lovia
There is a man who has written letters to his estranged daughter every week for twenty years.   And when he dies, his step son finds these missives, and after realizing what they are, stacks them inside a cardboard box, addresses the box to the old man’s daughter and drops the package off at the post office. 

            Adrienne Rich has written,  “Invent what you desire.”
            I can write this, I think. 
            Maybe I don’t have to wait until the afterlife to reconnect with my Daddy.

Bill Rosenzweig. US Army 1945

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Watching the Superbowl: Deflated Balls and Domestic Violence



There was a very special commercial sponsored by the NFL during the Superbowl XLIX.  It was a public service announcement against domestic violence.  It was a pretty chilling spot and it was very effective too.  Only thing is, not that many people saw it.

It aired right before the halftime show, immediately following Seattle's touchdown with 2 seconds left in the second quarter that left everyone I was watching the game with screaming for joy or in disgust, depending on which team they were rooting for. 

But I saw it. 

I even heard it, moving close to the television making sure not to miss a word.  I didn't get the full effect until later when I viewed it again on YouTube - the controlled voice of a woman pretending to order a pizza while calling 911 - the physical evidence of a violent rampage in the house,  furniture overturned, items strewn.  The dispatcher realizes that the woman is in trouble and tells her an officer is on the way.  The commercial ends with the following graphic:



Before viewers could have a chance to process what we'd just seen, a new graphic appeared on the screen - a cartoon of a blue face on a ball ( get it? blue ball??) which says in a very snide and snarky way,  "I heard that guy's BALLS were deflated!" 



Way to go NFL, NBC and Cure Auto Insurance, the perpetrator of the blue balls commercial, all coming together to undermine - no MOCK the message against domestic violence.   This is the same NFL with its deplorable record of reacting to the violent behavior of their players, the same fucking NFL that recently conceded that one in THREE players will experience brain trauma from getting their heads bashed weekly in what can only be seen as a dangerously violent blood sport. 

But hey.  At least their balls aren't deflated. 

And if people saw those pre-halftime show commercials at all, I would bet that more remember the snarky blue ball. 

And if they saw it, they probably didn't hear it. 

But who hears about domestic violence anyway, unless someone is killed like Nicole Simpson, or caught on tape being clocked in the head by her future husband like Janay Rice.

Most of the time nobody even knows and much of the time, when I was growing up, at least, it wasn't even considered unusual. 

It fact it wasn't until last night, almost fifty years after my father pummeled me because I had gotten "mouthy" with him did I see myself as a victim of domestic violence. 

I don't even know how to tell this story right now.  I've always told it a particular way, one that made sense for me -- one where I stood up to my father - a small dyspeptic man who had left my mother for another woman,  abandoned his three children and went to court to cut his child support payments - but who still felt he had the right to "discipline" his fourteen year old daughter because she's become "too big for her britches."   And sexual. That too.


He used to hit me often, for all kinds of infractions.  But this one time,  when he came barreling into the house he'd left and demanded respect from me or else, I stood up to him.  I told him he had no right to touch me and that I wasn't his daughter anymore and that infuriated him and I watched the little man's face turn redder and redder as he hit my adolescent body harder and harder. 

I was surprised by the calmness that came over me at the time and I stood my ground and found my voice saying, "Do you feel like a man now?  Hit me again if it makes you feel like a man." 

Which of course made him hit me harder and with more abandon. 

Years later I understood what happened next.  I dissociated.  But at the time,  all I knew was that I felt myself split in two and the part of me that could feel pain, floated to the top of the stairs and watched as the little man hit the girl wearing my clothes several more times, his glasses flying from his face. 

He stood there shaking as he pulled himself away.  He groped around the floor for his glasses and put them on slowly before turning quickly and walking out the door without looking at the pile of clothes on the floor at his feet. 

The phone rang 10, 20, 30? minutes later. When I answered the phone I heard his wife scream,  "What did you do to your father you little bitch??  He came home crying  What did you do???"

To this day I can still smile with satisfaction remembering how I hung up the phone, my own voice echoing in my ears. "Does this make you feel like a man?" 

My father and I became estranged as I became a woman.  He died at age 71 in 1997 of prostate cancer which had spread to other parts of his body.  But before that happened, it spread to his balls. 

The inside of his testicles were surgically removed, and replaced by something resembling styrofoam. 

Deflated balls. 

Brains on fire

Masculinity measured in body blows.

Daddy, do you feel like a man now?  Do you Daddy? 

Seems I knew more than I realized at age fourteen. 

My poor father. Trying so very hard to live up to the expectations of being a man. 


   


 


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tarot or Not Tarot?

I've recently enrolled in an on-line writing course entitled Wheel of Archetypal Selves, through the Story Circle Network and taught by Tania Pryputniewicz.  The course invites the participants to use the Major Arcana of the Tarot to mine our past and current experiences through the lens of specific cards and use the imagery to inspire our writing.   In the coming weeks, I will be posting some of the new writing that I do.   To begin, however,  here's a brief introduction to where I am entering the world of Tarot at the present time. 



Tarot Cards from the Rider-Waite Deck
I don’t remember when I first became aware of the Tarot.   Maybe when I was an adolescent  around the same time I played with a Ouija board with a friend. Back then, we always wanted to know the future.  Not so much anymore. Today, I'd like to think I can create my future rather than "know" it, as if it were already laid out for me.  Which leads to all kinds of interesting questions about what I might want out of my current study of the Tarot, given my anxiety about divination.   Back then when I was eleven, though, I remember being very curious about my future, so I asked the Ouija board whom I was going to marry.  My fingers trembled as I placed them on the planchette, across from my friend's and we watched in awe as it started to move and spell out a name I can no longer remember. What I DO remember, however,  is that when I asked it if my husband to be would be good looking, it spelled out E-X-T-R-E-M-E-L-Y  -- which made me very very happy until I realized it wasn’t finished and the little planchette had more to say, pointing to the letters U-G-L-Y.  


That about did it for me with the Ouija board back in 1963 or so, though I must confess I just recently bought one at Target during an after-Christmas blow out sale.   It’s still in the box because I can’t get anyone to play with me.



Tarot, however, still held a fascination.  I bought my first deck when I was in my twenties – some kind of fantasy deck that was pretty to look at and I tried to teach myself how to do readings.  Pretty unsuccessfully.    Several years ago when I was in New Orleans at a convention, I had my first reading.  I asked the cards a specific question about a particular person in my life and I don’t remember the exact cards which came up but I do recall that the reader said that this person was an “energy vampire” in my life.  He was right and that along with the fact that I had recently entered
Jungian analysis and was swimming with the archetypes each night in my dreams, re-piqued my interest in the Tarot.  Oh and somewhere around that time I’d developed an interest in Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism after a traveling Kabbalah salesman showed up at my door with a trunk load of Zohars in his beat up Chevy and a sly smile on his face as he said, "When you're ready to learn a teacher will appear. 

Such has been my haphazard experience with the mystical and the arcane. 



Last spring I met Caroline Guss, a local teacher from Ardmore, PA, just outside of Philadelphia and I began studying with her.  We used the Rider-Waite deck and I completed exercises that she’d created for me. Those studies were interrupted by a series of trips I'd been taking, to Italy, Peru and a six week stay in Santa Fe where I had my cards read once again, this time by Elissa Heyman, a spiritual counselor and psychic.  Her reading was astonishingly astute and it confirmed my attraction to the Tarot, not only for its divination powers but primarily for the ways in which the cards with their many symbols and endless possibilities for interpretation could open pathways into my own psyche and feed my hungry muse.

Since beginning this course, it's been tarot tarot everywhere!  Power of suggestion or is there something to this? 



Last night, I was watching a video of Bob Dylan’s "Duquesne Whistle."  And something about the characters in the video felt very Tarot like to me. The young man, in love with love, seemed more Fool-like than foolish and the older man seemed to have some other worldly knowledge.  So I googled, "Dylan and Tarot" and learned that his best known boot-leg album is called Ten of Swords. Now I don’t know if he named it himself because after all it’s a bootleg, but it did get me thinking about and meditating on the ways in which Dylan could have been inspired by major and minor arcana in his songwriting.    Anyone know anything more about this?  

The Ten of Swords
 Card
This morning, I started watching videos of different renditions of the Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof.  (Check out this one in Japanese!!! I have always been intrigued by the universal appeal of this show despite its finely etched specificity;  perhaps it's one of the best examples of the magic that happens at the intersection of the archetypal and personal.  At the play's opening, we see Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichim's colorful character, Tevye, the Dairyman, father of five daughters, struggle to reconcile his traditional beliefs with an impinging modern world while a fiddler perched on a roof is playing in background.   This image of the precarious fiddler appears in other turn of the century Jewish artists' work, most notably Marc Chagall's.  

Fiddler with Ruster - Marc Chagall
The Fiddler -Marc Chagall


As I continued to look at more and more of Chagall's paintings with their recurring imagery, their surrealism and their dream like qualities,  I found myself being invited in to a rich and compelling inner world and the symbol-rich painting began to look as if they could comprise their own unique deck of Tarot cards.   (Further searching lead me to a website that features decks of cards using images inspired by famous artists from Bosch to Dali -- but no Chagall. )  


But don't you think that these would make provocative Tarot cards??    

La Marie - Marc Chagall

 
The Promenade - Marc Chagall


Blendspace- Marc Chagall