I am in the midst of an emotional maelstrom. It’s “supposed” to be gone by now. As my sister told me many years ago at Christmas, “It’s been over a year since Mom died. Time to let it go.” Well, I didn’t. Grief has its own timetable. It means different things to different people, and for different reasons. No one knows what you’re going through, or what you need, but you. You have to be your biggest advocate.
But most folk have a take on what I should do, or feel, in order “to move on”. I don’t need fixing. I need to feel what continues to course through me. My dog died six months ago. My soul is howling.
One friend suggested that eventually I’d get “beyond it” but this didn’t sit well with me. I don’t want to get “beyond” it, nor do I believe it possible to. Pain is not a speed bump you roll over and then leave behind, like road kill. It is a part of you. Everything you experience in life becomes a part of you, the good, the bad, and the ugly. When you lose someone, the loss is not a wound that simply scabs over, and when that scab drops off, the pain, too, is gone. It’s there in your blood. The love, the loss, the grief and despair all flow in your veins, and get cycled through your heart. Over time, new experiences enter your life, and the pain can take a backseat to other, happier feelings. But the grief genome can always be accessed, like a recessive gene. It’s there. All you need is another inciting event to activate the virus and manifest an outbreak.
Like a fever, grief must run its course. It is purgative and purifying as it does so. If you don’t stanch the flow.
I explained to my friend that processing grief for me is like digestion. One needs to sit with one’s emotions. Chew them, mull them over, and yes, swallow. Taste the bitter. I, for one, cannot pretend there is not a gaping emotional crevasse at my core. Despite the smiles, laughs and joys that I have harbored since my latest loss, the caldera remains freely accessible, the lava still hot. Old Faithful simmers below the surface until she blows, once again.
All around me there is massive change. Friends are moving, having babies. I remain within my still point, the world spinning around me. Spinning within me. I read an intriguing mantra, “The Universe is inside me. And I am inside the universe”. My change is internal, not visible to the eye, like the massive glacier hidden beneath the surface of the visible one. Mountains move, within.
We all suffer losses in a lifetime, some more than others. Some life stories are more heavily weighted toward levity, frivolity and pleasure, others toward brooding, either with or without dark experiences to support them. I once dated a very depressed fellow, a songwriter, and after reading some of his lyrics and knowing a bit about his life a friend of mine commented, “I don’t get it. What’s he got to be miserable about?”
You can be sour about anything, or happy about anything. Even in the face of death and despair, it is possible to create peace, love, and joy. To what extent, and when, is up to you. My chiropractor and acupuncturist understand this, for emotions manifest in the energy body, as well as in the physical form. They take their toll. There’s no question that happiness enhances healing, and that laughter is the best medicine. But their presence cannot be forced. They must be approached and embraced in the right way, as with a wild animal. If it’s done right, an ecstatic union can be formed. For now, I still dance with occasional despair. I remain a Dog Widow.
But, student of Self that I am, I will wonder, am I digesting this experience, allowing the feelings in their many iterations to arise and bubble up to the surface, or, like a cow, am I chewing my cud? Endlessly going over turf which has already been tread, like a broken record?
Well, the fact is, I experienced a more than casual sampling of sickness and death in my youth, and those devastating losses have informed who I am. And who I’ve chosen to be. I feel deeply. You cannot feel the good without also allowing the bad. We have a full spectrum of emotions. And yes, we can learn how to play them like a symphony, hopefully gravitating to the happier emotions over time. But you don't paint rainbows by throwing out black, gray and brown. You must know those shadows. And how to use them. That is full spectrum living. That is being a master artist.
Rather than replace my amazing dog, and my lovely cat who died shortly before, I choose to suck it up and stick it out. Animals have been my family, my comfort, for decades, ameliorating the loss of family. Now I bask in my solitude. Feel it, for good and for bad, for there is grandness in it, too. I’m not running away from the pain, or denying the splendor. I’ll not detract from my healing with rebound canine/feline relationships. It would diminish the lesson, which for me is, “What is it to be, by yourself, alone?”
And yet, something has had to keep me busy, and to keep me from going insane. The day my dog died a check arrived in the mail for my latest creative endeavor, one which has taken off in rather stunning fashion. Recording audio books. The check from the world’s biggest audio book company failed to cheer me in any measure, but only highlighted the contradictory and bittersweet nature of life, the yin with the yang, the good with the bad.
But the arrival of the check at that time was symbolic. It was my new wellspring. And I was the source.
I spin yarns. I weave tales. I bring characters, tales and realms unknown to life. Like Rumpelstilskin, I spin prodigious quantities of straw into gold while villages sleep. I am a storyteller. I talk seven days up to 18 hours (on and off). I do not talk on the phone. I rarely leave my house. Like Scheherazade in “A Thousand and One Nights” I am talking to save my life. By losing myself in others’ tales, I am healing my own.
There are technical aspects to this work that are very tricky. A good microphone picks up all sorts of minute noises. If you’re not sufficiently hydrated, a dry mouth creates strange sound effects. So I drink. Cups of water and cups of tea. Consequently, frequent trips to the bathroom ensue. As well, the stomach demands a fair bit of attention, always ready for its close-up. It makes surprise appearances during a tale, piping up when it’s empty, when it’s full, or when it’s just in the mood to say “hi!” It is a recurring character during recording sessions, one which must continuously be hauled off the stage, a shepherd’s crook around its neck as it squawks for attention.
Then, there’s the “neighborhood” to take into account. I do not have a soundproof studio. I live in an apartment building in New York City. I have effectively, and assiduously crafted a “sound-reduced” work environment. There are delicious stretches of silence interrupted by coughs, bangs, raps, doors slamming, cabinets squeaking, horns blaring, sirens wailing, children shrieking, vacuums roaring, garbage disposals grating, showers running, toilets flushing, loud parties in full swing, blaring TVs, vegetables chopping, beds creaking, piano lessons pounding, opera singers belting, a renovation down the hall (I thought the sound was from upstairs) a renovation downstairs (sounded like it was in my apartment) high speed drilling, and, even, a wood saw hacking. There’s the lady above who insists on wearing high heels and my next-door neighbors who maintain the aural acoustics of a bus station. I am an expert of sorts at interpreting the array of sounds, which emanate from all six directions. It’s a veritable audio soup. I’ve yet to determine what creates the sound of a bowling ball rolling across a wooden floor, directly above my head. Unless, of course, it’s just that.
When there are patches of silence I bask in them. Revel in them. Bathe in them. Record them and most important, record in them. “Room tone” is an essential part of the recording process, as actual silence, a total void, before or after speech is an audio no-no. There are relative levels of silence. I have become a connoisseur of them, and after a particularly good silent patch, I will play it back and sigh. “Ah. Now, that was good silence!” I amass primo pieces of silence to replace noisy patches (between spoken phrases) where intruders from the above referenced list have rudely inserted themselves. All audio bric-a-brac must be edited out.
My life is comprised of sound and silence.
Occasionally, I will leave my home to take a tap class. This is a nice, noisy way to get out my yah yahs and express with my feet instead of my face.
For the record, I don’t read fiction. Not since Tolkien and whatever books were required in high school, I’ve not gravitated toward the imagined. As a metaphysician, I find the teachings of the subtler realms fantastical enough.
But here I am, reading romance novels. Aloud. It’s rather humorous. And quite enjoyable. I lose myself in the sugary fantasies like every other romance reader. But it doesn’t stop there. I do sci-fi and fantasy. Dragon books. Witch books. Vampire books. Outer space romance. Non-fiction texts on ADHD, aphasia, getting pregnant, and having babies. I was offered a contract to narrate a primer for women on masturbation. Can you guess how I celebrated booking that gig?
Historical romance on the Oregon Trail! Family romance collections (watch the whole family get engaged, girl by girl!) My characters perform magic in the woods, talk to animals, ride dragons, trek cross country, and survive sexual slavery during World War II. It’s a big world out there. There are a lot of stories to tell.
Sometimes I’m not quite sure what I’m getting into. When I audition, there’s just a short excerpt. Then I get the whole book and go “uh oh”. I’ve narrated some fairly steamy sexual scenes (I told my dog to cover her ears) but I’m not interested in erotica or violence. You can keep the dark stuff. Mystery, intrigue, magic, yes. My witches are all White, my vampires fun loving and romantic (never murderous).
I have always attracted the perfect content and authors, people I’ve never spoken to but know somewhat intimately from our email correspondence and reading their books. That’s the law of attraction in action. I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve recorded.
Even as my external universe receded, my internal universe went and had itself a Big Bang. I explore new galaxies daily.
Did you know that indigenous prostitutes during the Korean War were called “Juicy Girls”? Yes, they served “juice” to the GIs, but that’s not all they served up. American girls and women currently wear “Juicy” garb to proclaim their luscious sexiness. But more to the point…their asses read, “Whore”. They may have no idea, but I don’t doubt the manufacturer did.
In this day and age of self-publishing, anyone can be an author. Which means I will encounter poorly written and edited tomes. I may start an audition but if I hit “his man parts hardened” you can hear me roll my eyes as I speak…then sputter to a stop. I kill the recording. If I’m not into what I’m saying, neither will the listener.
Having done a fair number of romances by now, I’ve grown accustomed to some of the less inspired formulas, middle of the road, fairly unimaginative drivel. Everyone has perfect bodies in romance land. That’s a given. They all wear designer labels and very high heels. Hair and makeup are always impeccable.
I stopped recording once; plain lost my mind and ranted at length, foaming at the mouth (much to my dog’s consternation) after recording the end of a yet another romantic dinner date. It ended with tiramisu. They all ended with tiramisu. Didn’t matter the book or the author. One could say I took issue because I strongly dislike tiramisu. It is a mushy, useless baby food, a soggy finale to what should be a sophisticated meal. One could assume I was irritated by the lack, yet again, of originality in stamping out these cookie cutter romances. One could even argue it was possible that the person recording this romance, a woman who rarely left her lair, was jealous that she wasn’t on a romantic date with a man with firm thighs and a dimpled smile, hair rakishly falling into his sapphire blue eyes, as his hand grazed his broad, stubble shadowed jawline.
Nah, my literary and culinary standards were at stake.
I did a sci-fi romance where the male protagonist’s initial description referenced how tall and broad he was. A Massive, Manly Alien. I muttered, “He’s probably got a huge, intergalactic dick.” Why, yes he did.
In one romance, the nude, aroused male was (always, ad infinitum) “magnificent” or so his partner iterated, each and every time they got nekkid. Another romance described the guy’s enticing aroma entering the girl’s nostrils and going up her…brain? “ I had to stop recording to take stock of myself.
One author used the same (made-up) word to describe both (one) clitoris and (two) nipples. There’s probably a (made-up) word out there I don’t know about yet that references both elbow and ear. I refrained from informing an author that women may have two breasts, but only one bosom (or rack, for that matter). And that it’s not her “nape”, but “the nape of her neck”.
My collection of auditions and recordings has inspired me to create what I call BAD ROMANCE MAD LIBS. I will start to record something when my bad romance radar is alerted. I’m not sure if it’s an order of tiramisu coming up or an intoxicating scent wafting up someone’s BRAIN, but here goes:
HE APPROACHED, EYEING MY FIRM THIGHS, AND HIS MANLY SCENT WENT UP MY NOSE AND ENTERED MY (BRAIN). I FELT AN ELECTRIC WARMTH TINGLE THROUGH MY BODY, AND DESCEND INTO MY (NUB). RISING FROM HIS FIRM THIGHS, HIS MAN PARTS HARDENED, AND I FELT LOVE IN MY HEART AS MY (NUB) MELTED AND MOISTENED AT THE SIGHT AND SMELL OF HIS (MAGNIFICENCE). HIS GAZE GRAZED MY RACKS, THEN MET MY GAZE AS HE PULLED ME IN AND KISSED MY NAPE (Of the neck! Of the neck! They always leave that out!) HE DEEPENED THE KISS, AND MY BOSOMS TINGLED AS HE STARED AT ME WITH UNBRIDLED PASSION AND RUBBED HIS CHEEK AGAINST MY (VAGINA).
I look at a book cover and judge. One cover was quite suggestive, and seemed to indicate gay porn. I don’t do porn, but the author had invited me to audition, so I checked out the audition excerpt. I couldn’t determine if the protagonists were two girls, two boys, or one of each. I had no idea “who’s zooming who” (or how).
Word by word, sentence by sentence, I sew patches from which quilts are crafted. Chapter by chapter. Day by day. Line by line, I add books to my aural archives. When I get bored with one genre I switch over to another, like switching channels on the TV. From sci-fi to romance to fantasy to campy vampire comedy to the fictionalized account of a real Korean “comfort woman” abducted and enslaved for continual rape by Japanese soldiers in China during World War II. There’s nothing better to help recover from the heaviness of a story like that than recording some light romance. Even with tiramisu.
My life, seemingly barren in ways, is filled with 1001 tales of other people. Other times. Kingdoms where dragons fly and magic is outlawed. I lose myself in these stories but find myself too, headphones on, fingerless gloves warming me (sort of). I bring heroes, heroines and villains to life. I bring me to life as I play act, alone in my room, like an only child on a rainy day.
I am Scheherazade. When my 1001 nights are over, a new era will begin, where I will live the tales, instead of animating them. No tattoos for me, thank you, and no vampires, but romance and adventure will be the order of the day. In the meantime, telling tales enables me to park my grief for a while as I inhabit the emotions of others. I live vicariously through dragons, warriors, and magicians. I even lose myself in well dressed, newly engaged, in-shape, totally successful businesswomen with perfect hair.
So, back to the dragons, swashbucklers, talking trees, tattoo parlors and dreamy brides to be. Nutrition, masturbation and fertility guides. It’s enough to keep me busy, distracted, productive and engaged while I heal and wait for the other life, the “outside” life I’ve long dreamed about to commence, complete with beautiful mate, beautiful home, exciting new location, cats, dogs, good wine, great food, laughs, star-gazing and happy sighs…Why, it sounds just like a romance novel, doesn’t it?
©2014 Valerie Gilbert All Rights Reserved
MEMORIES, DREAMS & DEFLECTIONS: My Odyssey Through Emotional Indigestion is newly out in print, eBook, and audio (recorded by me!)
RAVING VIOLET the book is available in print, e-book and audio (recorded by me!) both books from Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, KOBO, SmashWords, Sony Reader Store, The Book Depository (international print) AllRomanceBooks.com, and Black Opal Books.
Valerie's audiobooks are available through Audible.com and iTunes.
Author Interview http://quietfurybooks.com/bestsellerboundrecommends/getting-to-know-author-valerie-gilbert/
Author Interview http://quietfurybooks.com/bestsellerboundrecommends/getting-to-know-author-valerie-gilbert/