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.
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
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

Friday, November 14, 2014

My Recent Journeys: Making Memories Through Time and Space

In the room the memories come and go 
                                                  Talking of Michelangelo

I was in Rome just a few days ago.   I was standing in the center of the Sistine Chapel facing The Last Judgment by Michelangelo where Jesus wears the face of Apollo and Mary the face of Venus and all of the images conflate time and space.

"The first surrealistic painting,"  our guide says.  "Michelangelo was more Dali than Dali"  and I find myself nodding in agreement as I spot St. Bartholomew holding his own flayed skin.  

And while the distinctions between Heaven, Hell and Purgatory are easy to discern, it is much more difficult to construct anything resembling a linear narrative or chronological time.   Thousands of tourists and pilgrims stand, staring skyward in awe, as if Jesus himself is about to pass judgment on us all as the uniformed security guards march among the crowds barking silenzio and breaking the silence.

On the way into the chapel itself is a long long corridor with a huge doomed ceiling covered with brightly covered panels of images depicting stories from the Bible. The stories are from the New Testament with renderings of scary things like the slaughter of the innocents, the stigmata, the crucifixion – image after image that scare me to death because after all, I am Jewish and my mother taught me I’d be beaten by the goyim if they ever caught me in one of their churches and that God would strike me dead if he heard me saying “Jesus Christ.” 

I shudder and look down, but the colors draw my gaze back and and I find that I am reading the world’s largest comic book with panel after  panel of action and movement and story.

I blink and the text of the Gospel appears in dialogue bubbles.

In room after room in this Vatican Museum, there are Roman columns, marble walls and gold magnificence and it is only then that the ruins scattered around this ancient city make any sense at all – the naked crumbling walls of the Colosseum, the remnants of columns from the government buildings where the famed Roman senate met in the Forum  - all scarred by theft and pillage, their grandeur hauled away to the other side of town to Vatican City.

Will I be struck dead for saying this?

The next day, at the Pantheon,  a guide explains how this majestic temple to all of the Roman gods was erected in such a way as to align with the sun so that on June 21, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year, the light of the sun could pass through the exact center of the dome’s opening.    

Two weeks before I had been on another trip,  in another hemisphere,  standing inside the remains of another temple listening to a different guide speaking a different language explain how the windows of two of the scared buildings at Machu Picchu had been designed to line up with precisely with the sun,  so that on December 21, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year in the souther hemisphere, the sun’s light would pass directly through the windows and light up the center of the Temple of the Sun. 

Machu Picchu in October, the  Pantheon in November.   Amazing.  Me  - someone who hadn’t made her first trip abroad until she was well into her forties,  someone who as a girl could only have dreamed of visiting these places she was reading so much about.

I, Marsha Rosenzweig was standing in  the center of sacred edifices in different parts of the globe able to make connections across continent and culture.

Hurtling our bodies through time zones and hemispheres, stepping onto strange soil, hearing languages we can’t comprehend, traveling pulls us up from the roots and shakes us good.    Time and space conflate as people, events and images shake free from the shackles of their context and fly through our psyches like shooting stars or colliding atoms.

On the same trip to Peru where I leaned against walls of Inca temples made from precision cut interlocking stones,  I visit the village of Patacancha high in the Andes.  I am traveling with a group of American women writers and we are there to spend the day among Quechuan woman who will teach us how to weave.  Outside under thatched awnings, in the rain, with their children close beside them,  our young teachers show us how to spin and dye the yarn of the llama,  make a loom out of sticks planted in the ground, wind the warp around the sticks and to weave the weft into colorful fabrics with intricate patterns.   

As we are leaving, we stop by a clinic where the woman go to have their babies. There is no doctor, only one nurse.  Thought brightly painted and clean, it is a stark place with bare walls and no modern technology.  It does not look like a place anyone would want to deliver a child.    I snap pictures of the women and the clinic on my cell phone before departing.

Later when I return to our hotel in Ollantaytambo where, of course, we have wifi, I see on that very same phone a pictures of the ultrasounds that my expectant daughter and daughter in law have sent me -  my grandchildren to be, growing inside of them.

I text my pregnant daughter and send her pictures of the women I met today -  young women who carry their babies on their backs wrapped snuggly in handmade colorful aguayos.  I also send the picture of the clinic.

If I lived here Tyler would have died, she texts. I might have died too.

I know she's right for in that instant I recall the dozens of people and the multitude of machinery that kept my daughter alive after her water broke at 31 weeks, causing an infection which necessitated an emergency Caesarian section where she delivered a tiny little boy who had to spend over a month in the  neonatal intensive care unit.

On the trip to Peru, I brought a guest.  I hadn’t planned on bringing one and I didn’t even know she had stowed away with me until we arrived. She made her presence known in an unexpected way.  It happened at the lodge in Pisac when I was talking with  Page Lambert, a wonderful teacher and beautiful writer and the woman who'd organized the trip.  Page is pretty with long blond hair and wears a cowgirl hat.

"Hey Page,"  I hear myself say giggling.   "You look just like Sally Starr!"

"Who's Sally Starr?" Page asks a little cautiously, wondering if that is a good or bad thing.

"She's this television personality from my childhood who I idolized.  She used to host a Popeye cartoon show after school.  And she was beautiful, just like you."  

"Damn," I said.  "Can you believe that I'm in Peru with my gal Sal?"  

And that’s how she showed herself – my younger self who almost fifty years ago had run to the library to find books about the Incas after reading about Machu Picchu in the yellow “Understanding Latin America” textbook and who devoured book after book of Greek and Roman myths. 

So here’s the thing.  Travelling doesn’t just make new memories, it can transform old ones.  Now and forever more, that girl in Mr. Rose’s 6th grade class in 1963,  or the one a year later in 7th grade studying Roman mythology…  that girl?  The one who asks so many questions and wants to experience so many things?

Looking back at her childhood or forward to the day when her last judgement comes,  she is not just be somebody who wants to visit Machu Picchu or the Pantheon after knowing them only from books.

She is someone who will have been there.