Inspiration, my book, Owning It!

The Undoing of Yourself.

December 2, 2012

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. ― Joseph Campbell

My original ancestors must have been beautiful.

I have traced of them, healed scars, visible only after being pointed out. And I don’t usually point them out, just so you know. There’s one on my neck, however, that I am pointing out to you. A red line that looks like a hickey until you look closer and ask. I was 16 when I had it removed and the last thing I remember is them asking me Do you have a boyfriend? I didn’t at the time and I thought This is not working! The anesthesia is not working and I am going to feel when they cut into me and

That was that. I woke up and the lump that I had ignored for years was gone and along with it the diseased lymph node that had been living in my neck for as long as I could remember, and, which I ignored profusely until a guy I was (sort of) dating, that way you “date” when you are 15 and 16, wrapped his arm around my shoulder and touched my neck. He asked me what it was which made it real. Until then, I could pretend it was my imagination but as soon as he said Baby, what is that lump on your neck? I went into a panic. I am going to die. Oh my God, am I going to die?

The way we can ignore something and let it silently torture us and not until another points it out do we acknowledge the realness of it. I am making this up. This is not real.

This is not happening.

There’s also less visible ones like the one on my head where the point of an iron came down after my cousin bit me in the thigh. I didn’t feel it until I saw the iron lying on the floor next to me, on top of all the dirty laundry. Then I got scared and cried and thought I was going to die with all the blood on the leggings and underwear and socks.

I remember riding on the back of a bus, going from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where I had a fellowship at Bucknell University, to Philadelphia where my boyfriend would pick me up with my own car. I had lent him my car because I wouldn’t need it for the month I was at my fellowship but sitting on the back of that empty bus I wished for my sweet car. If I’d had one wish it would have been to have my little grey Volkswagen Fox so I wouldn’t be so swallowed by the night pressing its black body into the morning in those towns. I could tune in to the road or the traffic or nothingness but there on the back of the bus I saw how darkness never let up, just kept pressing down. The buildings so used to that darkness that any light made them cringe and sink further in. They would turn their tar faces from the sky and droop bloated toward their floors. I saw myself in them and couldn’t stand it. The ride felt like it was 17 hours. I hated those buildings.

I sat on the back of that bus and thought of my ancestors and of my Bubby and my father. And Shetland ponies. How they’d been trained to trudge in coal mines, through dark damp spaces, weight on their small backs, taking fast uneven paces and how they’d been used to it. I imagined the sound of their steps. (What else was I to do on that million hour bus ride?) Hooves hitting hard ground and how they must have sounded like the tongues of sewing machines, clicking to my mother, keeping her company as she worked all night in basements, the television on mute. My mother with pins in her mouth, fingers pinching the fabric in place.

I thought about what coal mining could do for me as I sat on the back of that bus, not being able to drive or change the radio station. What else could I do?

The lift, descent of a hammer, breaking open dark parts of the earth, splitting what’s solid. Cracking. The pattern of days. Falling into one another the way all things without change tend to.

The original ancestor of these ponies gradually grew over centuries, changed forms over and over, emerging from swamps to enter coal mines. Like him, I could adapt to living in muck I thought. To traveling and feeding in marshes and swamplands.

I could get used to anything. 

And I have.

(Ask me what it’s like to have gotten used to hearing loss.)

I too have changed forms. Emerged from dark wet tunnels, basements, buses.

Capable of all kinds of change.

My ancestors were short and stocky, at least on my father’ side, and I see parts of me when I look at old photos. My hands are thick and I notice this more often than I care to admit as I am adjusting someone in my yoga class, in savasana, my hand over their heart. How can I have such ugly hands? until I feel the person’s chest heave remining me of my task at hand which is simply to be here, be here now. Be the net. Be the love. No one cares if you have fat little hands or long hand-model fingers in this moment. Be here now.

My ancestors knew me as I rode on the back of that bus all those years ago, perhaps even rode along with me, a few rows ahead. Just as they know me now. They have built me and formed with me with discarded pieces of heartache and hardship and love and geography and food.

My grandfather on my mother’s side (the only one I have ever met) is obsessed with our genealogy, making maps and taking trips to town to visit the Native American Tribal Center. He is a proud Native American and I always sort of scoffed at his pride. Ok, we are related to Pocahontas. Okay, Pop I would say as a teenager.

I get it now though. This privilege of understanding, of unscrewing your limbs and draining your own blood in search of answers and questions. This undoing of yourself to find the us and the we. 

This What has built me? looming every time you react in a way that surprises yourself or breaks your own heart.

In the afternoon of my life ( I am not sure if that is a thing or if I am even there. I may be in the morning or the twilight or the night but I sure like the way it sounds. So.) In the afternoon of my life I realize now why I turned away for so many years.

I did not want to know.

I did not want to understand why a certain sadness found its way into my face in photographs, why I am inexplicably drawn to a certain stories and people and moments in history. Why being Jewish and Native American and all of it felt like one big Who gives a shit as I counted the grapes I would allot myself for the day.

If I knew where I came from I would be accountable. I would have to turn my face upward and take on the challenge. As it stood, I did not want to know so I kept looking down until I was underfoot and broken.

I am not my past.

But I want to know. Were I came from. Whose blood courses through mine? Who in my family was in the Holocaust? Was my grandmother’s brisket really all it was cracked up to be? Does addiction really run in my family?

(Many. I am not sure. Yes and yes.)

I will not be defined by it but I will look upon it as a duty, this privilege, before I let it was away and disappear like it never existed.

My dad and I at the Jersey shore.

My dad and I at the Jersey shore.

You Might Also Like

No Comments

  • Reply yogirookieKate December 2, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Please tell me why you are so…. (there really are no words for what you embody with your words!! It is fucking poetry! At the end of all your stories all I want to do it hug you, and craddle your face and tell you I love you, like only a lover could, but it’s not a lover’s love, more than it’s a universal connection! You are amazing and your words touch me to my core!

  • Reply nancy rattle December 2, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    Dear girl …. I love that you are eternally curious … about yourself and where you’ve come to your current place in the world from … asking “who am I” in any given moment, through sharing your personal experiences … being in the moment, projecting your nowness into the world.
    It’s a big thing, it’s also a very small thing, starting with ‘I am’. You have a special way of sharing this wisdom.

    arms around you from here,


  • Reply nancysilverlake December 2, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    p.s … re: your short stubby hands.   Once upon a time, in the days when nurses actually had time to give bed-time massages, I had very strong, lithesome, large hands …. awarded with many kudos for their massage-ability. It was a gift I could easily share. Regrettably, those days are long gone. I work in an environment where you just sneak it in, if that’s what’s required in the moment. My once large, supple hands are now very arthritic, but I can still do a damn fine massage! But this I do know …. the laying on of hands, simple touch, in many ways, is very important. The sharing of heart and soul can be transmitted through the hands. And no …. I don’t do reiki …. I simply do empathy. I sense you do too. Human touch binds us in all of the important ways … emotional, spiritual and physical. It’s all about reaching out … being available, present …. no matter what kind of offerings you think you are providing. It’s all in the mind and in the transmission of intention. Please …. never fret again about the physical configuration of your hands. You do reach out and you do touch. But you already know this. So … I am simply confirming. x0 nancy  

    Be yourself. Everyone else is taken! Oscar Wilde

    • Reply Eve December 10, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      Sweet!! Thank you very much, Nancy

  • Reply Morgana December 3, 2012 at 9:15 am

    That is so beautiful. Love you, Jen!

  • Reply cloudy with a chance of sarai December 3, 2012 at 9:45 am

    Stunning and heartfelt as always. :o)

  • Reply jamesvincentknowles December 3, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    This observing of self you do, observing & reaching for growth & knowing, done in such a forthright & artistically genuine way, evokes all sorts of warmhearted feelings about where each of us has been & provokes thoughts & strong hearted kindnesses without weakness or meanness & reveals your love for self to be the love you yourself want to give & receive which is at the core of all that matters in the middle of us & we are then, after reading you, a you & a me who are all connected with disparate pasts, yet remain completely & uniquely separate & together despite our different memories. One can almost feel your quiet gentle hand, slippery with some sweet healing oil, brushing on dry bereft skin, a moment of tender love; that one human caring thing that can be felt now, & which can linger forever.

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.