Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Moving along

on 2015 November 12

This piece is simply letters to people I visited on my recent driving trip as far as Maine, with a letter to me at the end.

Dear Mother,

joanneI don’t know what to do. Most adults either eventually make peace with their mothers or cut them out entirely. Making that choice frees a person to go forward in her own life. But with me, I’m walking a complex line of trying to keep going between those two poles, not knowing why, and it is so sad and tiresome after all these decades of cold war. I know how to communicate in at least two ways: the polite verbal way I use for strangers, and the quieter emotional way with friends. But within this family I’ve only been able to communicate as with strangers. Everything I’ve ever done is wrong. I can’t imagine the ice melting, not ever; even when you are dying, years from now, I can only imagine you will use your last breath to remind me how wrong I am.

On this short visit, your judgments went to a new level and became an embarassing self-parody. When a six year old asked you (referring to me) “why do you call her a ‘him’?” your answer placed the shame on me instead of admitting to a mistake. Invalidating your own child’s life at every turn is the norm, but this time you made it a project of yours to convince an impressionable young person that my experience of my life is invalid, and only your judgment matters. It should not be a mystery why the visit was so short.

On this trip I saw many people moving forward, even while working out their childhood trauma. They all have their issues, but none seem to be as unable as I am to make the mother inside let go. None have lived so long as I have without picking one way or the other. You actually matter – way too much.


Dear Exeter,

I’m a person who finds fault with anything masquerading as education – most of all, schools. However with you I’m not finding the fault, and this feeling of appreciating and aligning with the values expressed in an elite institutional setting is spooky in a way. For example, a college advisor said “we try to distinguish each student individually” and I perked up because I didn’t know that people who worked for schools could think that way. Normally they want to make everyone indistinguishable. I told Running Deer about you and his immediate response was to be angry that the 1%ers had known, going back to Plato at least, and in 300 years experience with this school, how to make an environment where students remain whole and follow inspiration from within, but despite knowing that, they also ensure that the 99% get schools that lack those environments. But who can I be angry at? In whom does this idea have roots that the masses deserve so much less?

To me Exeter represents the elite and my parents and my failures – see above – so I was prepared to feel oppressed by being there. When I arrived my first thoughts were that I’d be blamed for parking illegally and the penalty for my kind would be harsh, but that didn’t happen.

I was touched by my smallness in relation to how great people can be in an environment that elevates them, especially if they are lucky to have no major disability or mental problems. The kids get up right before class, wear no makeup and modify themselves only minimally to comply with social norms, but otherwise their lives are starkly internal. Inside activity is written on their faces. The whole place rings loudly in contrast to the shallowness of the rest of my life – the Quakers, the autism people, the intellectuals. I became melancholy during some of that visit. Did I have a chance to be that person, or do I still have that chance?

I viewed the other parents from a distance and it evoked the yacht-owning people I see on TV making national policy, yet they were there standing right there, off the TV and unexpectedly in my reality, as if seeing the president casually shopping in Safeway. They were noticeably more polished than the students: their hair is done and they share a self-denigrating style of down-home talk that minimizes the existence of the yachts. I recoiled and looked for shadows but I felt overly visble and alien in my Wal Mart clothes.



Dear Mu,

I guess you will be the daughter my mother always wanted, but be careful with that – see above. Sometimes I don’t know why I talk to you in words, because, unless it’s about kittens, words are a formality. We already know the questions and answers and the intentions and wishes. That might make the internal mother all the more difficult to shake off; even if I’m silent, I still can’t leave, and even if you’re silent, you still reveal.

One mistake I made is assuming you might be as messed up as me, but I’m not seeing it play out. How much are we condemned to repeat generations? I was not healthy enough to be launched from a private school into a career, or do much of anything successful except raise a child, and seeing how alike we are makes me think you’ll continue like me, but when I look for the expected dysfunctional part, it is not showing. I apologize in advance for the any possible YOT (years of therapy – a useful time-saving acronym). Also I apologize for asking someone else how you are doing, because “doing” is code for “stacking up to expectations of achievement”. It could sound like I’m worried about your social development, when in reality I’m worried about mine.

I tell people I’m having empty nest syndrome, but missing you day to day is not the main feeling. The main feeling is the awe at watching you fly away with natural expertise and clarity. There is some grace by which you acquired such wings, as it wasn’t from me. If Exeter launches you far, and you get a nice important job some day and I’m still languishing, maybe you would consider hiring me?


Dear Pixie,

I didn’t know you before but got some back story from your mom: she gave me the tentative impression that you create drama, which raised curiousity and doubt in me. When I saw you it was shocking, as if electric; we couldn’t seem to maintain eye contact but nothing else could happen while I was paying attention, so I had to go away. You went bouncing around with this incredibly full energy, and I just loved you right away. Later I noticed you trying to sometimes slow to the pace of other people. The next morning we managed a little interaction but it still felt dangerously raw somehow. I’m not sure it’s just because we have queerness in common, which doesn’t really explain it to me, but might be a big part of it. I hope I can be part of your life somehow.



Dear Curly,

I’m sorry I’ve been unavailable for the past thiry years. I was busy. I was busy stuffing myself and trying to be someone and earn money and therapize, and assumed that no person like you on what appeared to be a normal trajectory in life could possibly want to relate to me. But look at me now, I’m the one with a minivan and two kids in suburbia. The path we took was not so different after all, maybe because our mothers are not that different and we’re still their kids – see above.

Thanks for being my best friend when we were 8 and on into junior high. I remember how it didn’t matter what we did with our time, which makes for a great friend.



Dear Deer,

I was with you once in a restaurant and I looked in a wall mirror and thought “they are cute” before I even realized it was us! That girl in the mirror was smiling in a way I didn’t know I could, and it’s because of what you open up inside me. You’re the kind of best friend who teaches me about things I didn’t know existed, including parts of me. It doesn’t matter what we do, which reminds me of how it was with my best friend Curly (see above).

I guess we both have lots of limitations and we experience trauma walls constantly in life, but all those walls are more around us and less between us. Thank you for all of this, and for going on part of this trip with me!


Dear Person for whom the correct number of cats is four,

The inspiration from you that seems to be reaching me is your amazingly mature relationship with the “system”, and how you get help with things without making it about anything else. A request for a work accommodation, for example, is just about that, and is not a tragedy or a proof of some larger abstract point. Instead of making points, you seem to be someone who is just making her way around life’s obstacles. A lot of us wrap ourselves up in help being good or bad/dependent, or deserved or undeserved. With you there is never an apology for a fact, and this melts away nonsense that leaves a clearer simpler world somehow. Around you I feel a lot less apologetic about being me, and I think that is why I want to be around you some more.



Dear Mainer,

Sometimes when I’m in a combined state of sad and alert, and the world seems to owe me something or needs to change for me, then at those times investigating and processing down into the problem deeper might only anchor me deeper into it and fail to produce any freedom. But at your place I experienced “self care” (not previously in my vocabulary) – bracketing all the depth and doing something else that is mood-changing, and I saw how this can produce freedom. The hard part is letting the circular depth sail away, and instead attending to a woodpecker or something else in this actual world. It’s like being led by ourselves beyond ourselves.

I also liked laughing with you at the stuff in the store.


Dear Teacher,

You gave me a lot of stuff to think about in 1990. You liked to talk about teaching, relationships, and disability. For example you would get animated about how words and actions in a classroom show the relationships and values in place, and how respectful, reciprocal and empowering relationships can be put into practice. For someone who can feel voiceless, overly accommodating, and taking up no space, you were amazingly confident and driven about your messages. And those lessons were so big that I’m still listening to what you’d say in my mind, and still trying to learn them. It’s 25 years later and we haven’t spent much time together, but I feel I’m coming a bit closer to what you meant, and it’s hard to imagine life without that guiding light all along.

I’m thinking about all the parts of your life and wondering if you need a teacher like yourself to remind you how confident you really are, even when others are routinely overlooking it. I wonder if we can lead ourselves beyond where we are – see above.



Dear Doula,

I’m learning to be ok in a high functioning place like your household, with people who read and know stuff and have community and money and friends and contacts and choices. You are people who might say you “took” a job instead of “found” one, which reveals a wide realm of choice. In the rest of my life I’m somewhere in the range of disabled “problem person” to enigmatic guru, but never anything like what you live. So I feel like an uncomfortable invader, but somehow I am learning to adapt or code-switch enough to feel acceptable. I never know where I’m allowed to sit or when it is ok to talk, since I harbor a core belief that I am less, and by occupying space or speaking I’d be stealing something. I counsel myself that you wouldn’t say such a thing, and with that knowledge I can breathe through the visits in a borderland.

I often wondered what is the ticket to entry to that realm of yours, whether it’s internal or if there is some gatekeeping system. I’ve been to lavish events and growing up I watched my parents entertain “important” people, but those aren’t quite the elements of the realm that I am most jealous of, where you have apparently come to, although the two are often confused in my mind. I think it stems more from the work of prayer and building a life gradually from within, so that the life you show is a product of the life within. You created a houshold that allows for a child to grow up and come out instead of staying locked up – see above – and coming from someone who’s still groping around for the way out, that is so heartwarming to witness!

When I first met you I thought you’d be the person in the room I’d clash the most with, but that clash dissapated almost immediately and you became the person in that room who I connected to the most. Now you’re very sick, having skipped the middle of life and fast forwarded to the last part. I have no idea about social protocols of expressing sorrow and condolences, so I hope it’s ok to skip that. I just know that assuming I outlast you, I will miss you.



Dear Adirondacks A,

Thank you for telling me when I was shining, years ago. I went to a conference where I was non-lonely, and the decompression of having that weight temporarily released had made me shine like a child, and you noticed this from a distance, but didn’t talk to me until a year later. Like the effect of Pixie on me (see above), a moment of not being under wraps can have a lasting effect on the world. It reminds me to stay out of words with people and just stay within energy.

I understand it better now about being animals in the woods who are conscious parts of the eosystem. I felt the wholeness in your place, so much that the two missing trees were noticeable. In New Mexico where the trees have been sadly mismanaged for so long, I feel like I’m doing a massive invasive surgery on a mountain to bring it back to health, and hundreds of trees are gone. When I cut the first fir tree it took effort and a prayer to make me go to that place of violence. Now I’m “there” and there are a thousand more trees to be cut, but I’m not feeling violent since I’m undoing human impact of the past, and believe (skeptically) that a painful surgery can be better than the alternative.

I think of how Jimmy Carter still helps build houses when I see you returning to the land and cleaning out plumbing fixtures; you had a career and success in the big city and traveled the world, and all that was then, and just the water pipe is now. It reminds me that we don’t accumulate in life, or if we try, the weight of what we accumulate brings us to a standstill.




Dear Knitter,

The fact that you eat ratatouille and watch Democracy Now, among other repeated patterns in your life, struck me fairly deep. I wanted to be able to do those things too, and no one is stopping me. It’s not that you made those particular choices that matters, but rather that you make choices constantly and consciously. What a person does all day can be based on drives towards things (which is how you seem to be), or the result of avoiding negatives (as is often is for me). In the negative life it is all about the things I don’t do or can’t do, and I might end up doing nothing or doing what isn’t pulling me because it avoids something else.

You told me some people don’t want you to be happy. I can relate to this as I felt a bit empty compared to your ethereally positive way, and if you were more in a rut I could be artificially helpful and thus more bonded. But of course I don’t really want that; I’d rather figure out how to do what you do.


Dear Person Who Broke Into My Car in Buffalo,

Quick question: why did you take nine of the ten CDs and not take the Dvorak? Are you some sort of classical music snob who has some problem with Dvorak? I really question that choice because he’s a composer that can communicate very subtle and heart-opening things through a string quartet that could maybe help you out, or anyone really.

You were smarter than me about not opening the door from the inside when it had been locked with the button. I tried that very thing the next day by mistake and the alarm went off. The fact that you knew that already and I didn’t means that you pay attention to details. Have you considered pursuing electronics engineering?

I hope you invest the money you earned wisely – good luck.







rachelDear Me,

It’s been easy for me to intellectually create a paradigm of suffering in which people are all the walking wounded and projecting a much higher level of togetherness than they actually feel. If they are wealthy I assume they must be in some inner turmoil thinly painted over. If something is heavily marketed, it must be a bad product. Love is the short period of time before the man shows his true colors. Everything outward is the opposite of the inner truth. My protective paradigm goes on like that, projecting a mess on all of the world.

But on this trip I saw so many lives working, and it became easier to see my limits as mine. The people I saw were moving and I was traveling across the country staying still. Some may have been in more of a rut than others, but I feel like none of them quite have the iced-over incapacity to move or to be whole that I live under. Not everyone looks through the lens of tragedy as I do. I saw a lot of power being wielded – powers like choosing to steer ones life, committing to people, choices in jobs, dating and so on.

I came to understand a pattern of mine recently: I don’t alter my flight to take advantage of updrafts, as migrating birds do constantly, reacting in milliseconds to tiny opportunities around them. I have a baseline of feeling fundamentally invalid, apologetic for using up oxygen, and pushing on with that protective paradigm without noticing the wisps of happiness that are constantly all around us. But when I feel happy, it feels random, as if from nowhere. It is never the result of working, moving, or achieving because one doesn’t have to go anywhere else to find it. Maybe it is found in the millisecond-scale responsive choices that we (like birds) can make.

Some people might relate this to the problem of autistic compensations, where the disability is so shameful that we build a false self who acts out mandatory-feeling social scripts and adopt worldly values, layer upon layer, until we are composed only of compensations. Hence the protective paradigm about how everyone must be doing this.

I have my two ways of communicating (see above) – one for family and strangers, and the other for friends. I slept a night in the room next to someone on this trip, and I fell into my pattern I have with attractive strangers of feeling the intense embarassment of being dorky, aching to get below social exchange value (the autistic compensations), but unable to, so we couldn’t communicate except functionally as strangers.

Yet I still have moments of being able to communicate the other way. When someone’s aura is apparent to me, they may feel exposed since I am seeing into them wordlessly and there is no way to control or refute what gets “said”. But the thing with that kind of communication is that it is always safe because it is only possible to see inside with love, so the communication is the same as compassion. I wonder if those moments are what healthy people do all the time.

In closing, find greatness in smallness, move along in stillness, and speak silently.

One response to “Moving along

  1. ishandanna says:

    I just wrote and tried to send a response to your post and it’s gone because I didn’t have a password (now I do). I hate trying to re-say, re-respond — no longer spontaneously. Still, I want to….. say something.
    Your new post reached me in very deep places, I think because you shared your own with such an open heart. I was so glad I was home when you arrived. I clearly experienced your wholeness (even while acknowledging that wholeness seems like an eternal project). I was happy for you and happy I was getting to experience you in this way. I was sad for you because claiming one’s authenticity brings difficulties and sadness along with inner peace and joy. I am happy and sad remembering and hope we get to meet again.

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