Monday, December 5, 2011

Deciphering the Siren: Premature Gifts, Luminaries, and Transformative Blogging

Detail from Mermaid, Howard Pyle
Jung’s wife, Emma, wrote that as a symbol, the mermaid wants to "entangle" us in "real relationships." She drags the man underwater not always to drown him, but sometimes to bathe him in the waters of life. Mermaids: Nymphs of the Sea, Aurum Press,  Text by Theodore Gachot, Photography by Leah Demchick

I crept away early on Sunday, needing time away.

Startling, the pain of leaving my youngest child behind, his sweet, sweat-tufted hair, as he lay in his comforter. Last night as we fell asleep, he said he wanted to make me an early birthday present (months away), could I guess what letter it started with…You don’t have to tell me, I said, but stopped, overcome by his absolute need to cinch the giving in case something were to eclipse it…He blurts, it starts with f…no…I mean r…Roses!

I kiss his cheek as I’d promised, whisper, I’m going, but not loud enough to wake him, I know better. I climb the ladder to my daughter’s loft bed, her kitten batting at my ankles in a plea for wet food since I’m the feeder of all creatures under our roof. This kiss elicits a sleepy, bye mom. Last, the big bed, where husband, middle child, and the Husky snore, paws and shins churned in the electric blanket. I linger with a fraction of regret, listening to the familiar sheen of breathing I so love, a shield for my childhood’s fear of the dark.

I’m only driving an hour away to meet a friend to talk poetry over coffee—yet I hesitate again...wish to burrow down, drift back to sleep, rise late in the morning and walk the dog, leashed, so she doesn’t trigger the ferals up the trunks of the redwoods as will be their fate when my husband leaves the door ajar for the dog to come and go. To stay, grind the coffee beans, compose slow emails between scrambling eggs…But if I don’t get away, the other half of me suffers.

Under the supernaturally gorgeous 7 am skies full of gunmetal clouds, the black pavement of the road sparkles, slick, split by the yellow divider line mimicking the tangerine gold of the leaves as the muted grey of a mottled pair of white horses in the mist and the dark tributaries of the oaks fringed with velvet moss hurtle past. A slight rain descends; I’m near tears, confused by an ancient fear of losing children mingled with the urge to stop, get out, and ride one of the horses into the hills.

Likely the grief’s more triggered by this brilliance of nature and the fact that I’m a two-step away from summer’s cornucopia of nested stress. Events in my thirteen year-old marriage took most of my attention, though, the degree to which I’ve been devastated by implied actions on my husband’s part--the responsibility for my reaction--rests solely with me. A state of truce graces me for now, thanks to the net of helpers mirroring back to me ways I might better appreciate what I have, strive to place things in context, become a better person.

The need for privacy, though, extinguished any desire to write here with my usual candor. In the meantime, I’ve taken a fiendish delight in deciphering the siren: reading about mermaids, mermen, Emma Jung, in my attempts to explore the volatile/vulnerable conditions the bound circle marriage attempts to make of our desires and attractions. How we transform when we run out of air and storm the sea’s surface, claim our stake in the living, forced by circumstance to choose to be here. Through such trials comes the gift of incarnating more deeply, or at least that’s what I decided.

But let me also acknowledge the luminaries…like the dear couple, both Taiko drummers, inviting my family to a gathering the very day after my husband and I had it out (unbeknownst to them, of course). We left our house, the air heavy with the prior nights’ accusations and revelations, to drive out into the country to a home high on a hill overlooking Mt. Tamalpais. Legs planted in the vibrant green grass, our friends, married as long as my husband and I, took their position on either side of an oblong drum.

She with her long black red tinged hair, arms windmilling in gentle but powerful circles, knees turning in tandem as she poised to strike the drum. Her husband, with legs in warrior stance, connecting in slow, fierce strikes on the opposite side, the deep amber of his voice matching her softer but equally firm arc of song. In the background, our sons circled the lawn, hunting geckos in the stones rimming the hill, my daughter sprawled between my husband and I on the damp grass.

Though unable to set aside its sense of broken trust, the other half of my heart blossomed with possibility. Here, I translated, pure, from our friends, is what a couple in love is capable of creating. In the wake of their secure and fearless drumming, I took refuge from my worst fears about our marriage.

As we drove home, my thoughts ranged over the events of the last couple of years, coming to rest on the time, when, like my younger son, I couldn’t wait to give a gift. Late November, still concerned about my husband’s ability to recover from heart surgery, I’d painted him a mug: purple trident on one side, a crown and a heart in its middle, the first initial of his name along the handle, waves curling the cup’s rim, a second, secret heart at the bottom of the cup on the inside. Three weeks before Christmas, I gave it to him, here, I said, I just wanted you to have this now…and he took it…I didn’t say in case you die before Christmas….but I thought it, in fear.

In the rearview mirror, I see my youngest son drifting to sleep, his head resting on my daughter's shoulder. I wonder aloud to my husband, how many a wife, entering marriage, hasn’t felt a bit like the little mermaid, trading her voice for legs? He’s adjusting his sunglasses, the other hand resting on my thigh. I say it more to myself than him, and don’t expect him to answer.

The rest goes on in my head. Mermaid turned land girl or not, as women we continue to plumb the watery, emotional, psychic depth of human possibility. I think backing away from that gift and not voicing its truths would be a great loss in any marriage. Maybe it takes nearly half a century to find one’s voice (my plight anyway, but better late than never). And though the little Mermaid evaporates in the morning to join her sisters in the air, I don’t think the prince has it any easier. Every man, like every woman, has his dark hours to survive.

Detail of Book Cover, Author Theodore Gachot
Image: C.E. Boutibonne, Sirenes, EDIMEDIA
  Which leads me to close on this final meditation, also from the book my husband got for me in our first year of marriage, Mermaids, Nymphs of the Sea: “In tales of human-mermaid romance, the need to return to the water became an emblem of the distance between the sexes that could be bridged only through the cultivation of empathy—the relationship of two disparate parts working as a whole (Theodore Gachot)." May we mutually, male and female, “bathe one another in the waters of life” and fulfill our truer nature as luminaries, all.

One last note:

I’ll be teaching a 4 week course for Story Circle Network in January. I'm indebted to both Barbara Yoder and Marlene Samuels, members of the AROHO Speaks Interview Team, for inspiring me to apply to give on-line teaching a try, and Marlene again, for recommending Story Circle Network. (Here's a slice of their mission statement: "The Story Circle Network is dedicated to helping women share the stories of their lives and to raising public awareness of the importance of women's personal histories").

This marks a much anticipated next step in my plan to create for myself the teaching life I so desire. I would love it if you joined me, or passed this link on to friends, those cautious but curious about blogging as well as those veteran bloggers who want to pause, take stock, recalibrate. Read a detailed course description for Transformative Blogging.


Jeannette said...

I have read it through once slowly. I hopeto read it again in the day light of tomorrow...

Martha said...

Tania, I admire you for writing so honestly and beautifully about marriage. Thank you for that gift.

I remember stumbling across Carolyn Heilbrun's Writing a Woman's Life in the early years of my then young marriage and finding her take on marriage (and the notion of the reinvented marriage in midlife) quite interesting. I particularly liked her observation that "the happiest marriages are not always the best behaved" and that "we must look for its conversations, for its qualities of friendship, above all, for its equality and the equality of the man's and woman's quests."

Also: your blog course looks great - I will spread the word!

Tania Pryputniewicz said...


I love that idea of focusing on the equality of quest for both partners. And the complication? challenge? gift? I think is balancing each partner's need for quest while raising children.

Makes me think the hidden quest is actually the one for balance...

I'll have to pull Heilbrun off my shelf and re-read her; I think that book came into my life before I was married, so I'm sure it'd speak to me in a new way now--thanks for the reminder.

Martha said...

Balancing motherhood, marriage, teaching, and the writing life is a hugely difficult task... Your honesty about that struggle is wonderful. After twenty-three years of marriage and one amazing twenty year old daughter, my husband and I are still trying to figure out the marriage dance. If I/we ever get it figured out, I will let you know:) Meanwhile, I applaud and applaud your own quest for balance.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...


I was hoping you were going to say you had it all figured out now that your daughter is fledged...If you ever felt like putting together a guest post on the marriage/child/quest dilemma, I'd love to host it here--from the "other side" of the writing/parenting/raising children equation where the child/children are launched. No deadline, no pressure. Just a thought.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...


the same offer of course, goes out to you (guest post). I'm casting about for "possible futures," a little reassurance from you veteran writer/mother/spiritual questers I've found kinship with here at Feral Mom, that I can ride all of it out.

Rachel Federman said...

This is beautiful...I too feel that I'm only now "finding my voice". It is so wonderful to read your honest, poetic voice again -- sometimes I forget that there are others like me, always torn, always searching.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

Thanks Rachel--"always torn, always searching" and in good, strong company.