Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Friday, February 15, 2013

More Feelings Than Will Fit Here

In which I wrestle with the too large feelings of my returning 19 year old soul part. A crisis of identity ensues as I follow the trail of self revelations into the jungles of, what a writing colleague once called, Dangerous Writing, i.e. stuff you had no intention of revealing.

I first realized that my emotional terrain had undergone a makeover during our family TV night watching a documentary segment about the bombing of Hiroshima. Granted it did have Oliver Stone's liberal, muckraking spin on it, but none of this information was new to me. I had long come to the conclusion that Hiroshima should never have happened, but I had never felt this way about American imperialism before; had never taken it so personally. And now I just wanted to double over and cry. I felt my sensibilities shifting in alarmingly unstable ways. Where was this going? My normally dispassionate writer's voice was at risk. 

Writing was how I discovered the truth of the world. But what truth would I find if I was awash in emotion? Being dispassionate, when describing whatever environmental or political catastrophe was at hand was the way I kept us all calm in the hopes of nurturing solutions. Being cool was also the mark of my Buddhist upbringing. It was in the Thai language teaching me to keep a "cool heart". Not to mention the self-deprecating wit that was required by my British heritage and my own casual affect to ensure nobody knew for certain what I really cared about. 

In the States, the whole problem, as I saw it, was too much emotion, too much passionate, reactive, knee jerk energy going off half cocked. Being cool, I believed, was how we would get through whatever befell us. It was why meditation had become such a sought after skill for Americans.

Now, not only was my coolness breaking up, my writing goals were being left by the wayside; nutrition books from the library piling up. My returning 19 year old soul part had memories to impart that I had long ago put into deep storage. I had been on a winning streak, distilling scads of information people had actually found useful and now I just wanted to run through the personal jungle of autobiography. What good would that be to my readers?

In this dark night of the soul, late on a Saturday night, I posted my sentiments of doubt to my Facebook page. Immediately I had the support of a colleague and three others I didn't know were reading my work also hit the "like" button. I posed some questions. Old friends came on board to help discuss my dilemma. One, my first lover (such a gift to have this witness from my adolescence), assured me that my autobiographical writing and shamanic pieces were the richest and most interesting work I produced, for she cared not for my posts on composting toilets. 

Taking Risks With Mere Humans

My 19 year old cared about one thing only—the love of women followed by kissing them. She had had an early start, having come out to herself at fourteen, long before most others realized it was a possibility. One might ask why so precocious. In part it was coming from a heritage that saw these choices not as choices, but as fate, karma from another life likely as a man. 

Also a factor was finding a sympathetic heart, the aforementioned first lover. We spent four years of high school mutually shepherding each other through our many crushes and obsessions, modeling ourselves after the life of George Sand per a PBS biopic, for there were no contemporary models at the time, just these literary figures flanked on one side by Oscar Wilde and on the other by Virginia Wolf. 

And in the shelter of our private girls' school, we were protected from the challenges and energy of the presence of boys. They were of so little importance in this school that aimed to make leaders of women. We could clearly see from the little contact we had with them (through the corresponding boys' school), that girls were by far, superior in intelligence. 

And lastly, we were also both writers and fearless in our search for interesting material. She embodied the other gender via fiction and I stuck largely to the searing truth of autobiography. Thus left to create a world through literary works we were not really of our time. It being the '70s this was probably just as well. Only the flickers of an emerging gay liberation movement seeped into our consciousness and bolstered our exploration of a limited physicality marked by kisses. Adolescence was very intense; we could make love to air.

By the time this 19 year old arrived at College V, she had already loved or been in love with at least five different girls and kissed one. By the time she left, she had interested and kissed at least five more women, every one of them straight. At least at the time.

If you think about it, the skill set required to do this was quite remarkable. To intrigue, interest and offer one's peers the opportunity to try something they had never tried before, which was also taboo. And to do it without trampling on anybody's sensibilities. This was a skill filled with the nuances of listening for the slightest hint of interest. And in turn a nuanced use of language reflecting back that interest. A perspective offered of complete appreciation, not as one to be possessed, but as one to be adored and honored. Kissed in the most languid way; bristle free softness as our cheeks brushed together. The only out-lesbian at a party, I was the alternative, the path less chosen.

The College V women were intrigued by me; and seeing my 19 year old self, in my journey visions, I could see why. Butch, but fine boned. Tight jeans and long hair, not the flannel shirts and overalls favored by the lesbians of the day. An exotic biracial beauty that was, as yet, unclaimed by mainstream media so perhaps also forbidden. An English accent recently polished after a holiday in England.

Road Trip: Take Two

On my road trip down I-5, while puzzling over the motivations of my 10 year old soul part, I had also allowed my 19 year old to run with her feelings uncensored; the spacious landscape effortlessly holding it all. I had no intention of describing any of it, but in the meeting following in which my returning 10 year old had been summoned before my three power animals, Leopard had asked her:

"Was there anyone else involved my darling?" 

"Yes the 19 year old. And she's in love with Lenore!" Arrggh. Busted. Yes it was true. I was a goner. Swept away by this crush.

Lenore was in good company. The last woman I was smitten with was Naomi Klein, author of Shock Doctrine and No Logo. I read all her books, saw her speak twice in one week, recapped both her talks and posted the reports to flickr with pictures I had taken of her at Stanford and Bioneers. As a reward for my devotion she fully prepared me for the disappointment of an Obama presidency.

There was also Christiane Amanpour, the CNN international correspondent. I mean how could  one not? That indefinable accent. The safari outfits. The staccato sense of urgency.

The year before it had been Marlee Matlin who spent a season playing not only a lesbian, but an artist, on The L Word. I wrote her fan letters every other week, took a semester of sign language and learned enough to recap the entire season of The L Word in sign language and send her a videotape of it. She sent me an autographed picture unsolicited which I accepted as one would a certificate of achievement.

But this crush on Lenore was not so neatly dispensed with. It was real in a way I hadn't experienced in nearly 30 years. The pure overwhelm of a 19 year old totally out of her depth. 

"I'm so embarrassed," said the 10 year old who had a keen sense of social disaster.

"Now, my lovely," said Leopard soothingly, "we could hardly expect otherwise of a 19 year old for whom the love of women was the only thing she really believed in." 

"That's true," the 10 year old observed, "and she wouldn't have come back if it weren't for Lenore." There had been tears Lenore had said about fetching this soul part and she had held her, comforted her. Yes it was probably an occupational hazard of soul retrievers, I thought, to have clients fall in love with you. So intimate was the psychic territory. So much emotion allowed once a soul part was returned. Physical contact offered. An entire conversation undertaken in the nuances of our hands sandwiched together. And as she held my gaze I could make love to the air between us; I didn't have to climb into her lap and kiss her though I did want to. The memory of it was enough to fill I-5 to the horizons.

"But we will provide some guidelines," said Leopard putting a gentle stop to this indulgence.

At this point the 19 year old appeared at the edge of the jungle behind the 10 year old. She said nothing in her defense. She just stood there cooly. I looked at the tilt of her head, her expression of self assurance and I could see that she didn't care one wit what she was dragging me through. And another thing I could see; she had no patience for stigma, for the political context of homophobia with which I had been taught to frame my sexuality. Times had changed I realized. We had to stop ghettoizing our love stories. 

I was well acquainted with the pitfalls of crushes on teachers. A gilded cage feeding the ego for the adored; indentured servitude for me, with all the highs and lows of a psychotropic drug. All of it going on way too long. Neither of us able to be ourselves in the other's presence. There was only one safe way out and that was to burn through it—embrace the salt sting of rejection over and over again until we both were freed. 

Caretaker Road Ends

"I'm going to have to write about having a crush on my shamanic counselor," I said to Catherine who was equally familiar with the passage of the crush (a dance teacher comes to mind). "You know, like I had on Naomi Klein and Marlee Matlin." Her expression flickered from potential concern, rapidly coming to rest at good humored understanding.

"You mean being with a Cyborg isn't going to do it for you," she said.

"Well, I was thinking of drawing some designs on your scar," I said entertaining the idea of art as transformative healing. 

"You could draw on my head. Just start with this," she said pointing to the colored blot of concern at the crown of her head. I immediately saw the design potential of this offer. 

Whew. It would be okay. I did not want secrets. Secrets, I knew, created undercurrents of destructive energy. And nothing blocks inspiration faster than secrets. I had kept such a secret once in another relationship; couldn't write a thing for a year; couldn't even tell a joke.

My role as caretaker was coming to an end. Catherine was officially released from further treatment and was to have her port removed. The port was the plastic device that had been surgically inserted under her skin, by her shoulder, for the administering of the chemo drugs. I drove her to the appointment at the Women's cancer center one last time.

On the way home she thanked me for all that I had done to take care of her. I was glad I was able to do it, glad to have the skills that made everything go as well as possible and that I had done it all with a devotion and kindness befitting the circumstances. I could be proud of that.

And because I wasn't the sort who engaged in the tragedy of the disease as others were apt to do, that helped too. It made it that much easier for Catherine to discuss her concerns with me about each new challenge. This too she appreciated. 

All I had really had to do was walk the dogs every morning, feed us all, fetch things and make sure Catherine was okay. Rinse and repeat, all summer then all the rest of the year plus a month. It was a long haul and much of it I'd done in hyper vigilance mode, but there was no where else I wanted to be with so much happening. It gave my life purpose.

"I'll have to find a new purpose for my life," I joked.

And now it was nearly over, just in time for me to take this strange, unplanned journey into the interior of my psyche, a project that was beginning to occupy all my waking hours like a book waiting to be written. 

No Idea Where This Is Going

I had wondered what to do about the history of College V. I could burn every picture from that time, I thought, but that would likely just keep the experience frozen in time. And I would forever wonder what happened to those people. Three had already found me on Facebook though they never mentioned our shared past.

I had already uploaded pictures of each of them, to prepare for the returning memories of my 19 year old self. I wasn't sure how these friends remembered those times. The pictures were good black and white prints shot in natural lighting with my father's old Leica. The photographs showed what I saw, their unique beauty and vulnerability. What wasn't to like? They were thrilled. How young we were. How fresh faced and edgy. Smoking even. We were "just kids" to quote Patti Smith's memoir, but we already had character. 

When I uploaded 9 more pictures from my portfolio to Facebook, it attracted quite a reunion evoking even more memories for my returning 19 year old, but now I had a voice with which to defend myself and to deconstruct my experience. I had opportunity to say things that needed to be said. I gave out random comments of appreciation.  "Dear P___, thank-you for sharing all those babes with me." 

In the weeks of living through more feelings than would fit in the space normally allotted to feelings, I felt like I was going to lose it. Everything evoked about 5 times more feelings than I had ever had before. In the midst of these gripping feelings of desire and over blown emotions at the problems of the world, I came to entertain the notion of sending my 19 year old back to the void. I mean what good was she? I'd actually been happier before. I felt calmer for half a day or so, then regretted even thinking such a thought. She might even have gone already. I had to check.

In a new journey with my counsel of power animals on that same rock, Leopard summoned the 19 year old with her mind. When she came out of the jungle she looked like she had been in a knife fight. Clothes disheveled, scrapes, her cheek cut and bleeding. Did I do that? Leopard jumped off the rock, went to her, rubbed her head against her body and licked the wound clean. 

Yes, the 19 year old said, the memories shared by College V friends had been a little intense, but she had appreciated being defended and had delighted in the comment about the babes. (Women made available by riding on the coattails of a man. Pleasure shared in the relative innocence of the '70s; before sex and death took over.)

I wanted to hear more about where she was going with this, but she wanted to admire Leopard's spots. Leopard obliged her by stretching out full length on the ground. She put her arms around Leopard's neck and buried herself in the lose fur and sobbed. That was for the unobtainable Lenore. Then she recovered and with her hand traced the outline of the spots on Leopard's belly. She was so languid and sensuous, so unhurried, I was required to take in this leisureliness. She looked at me, let me know I'd be sorry if I sent her away for she had a sensibility I couldn't even touch. She took risks, this one, and she didn't even care what the outcome might be.

Leopard beckoned to me to come closer. I stood up on the rock and the 19 year old came to me; I was just tall enough to be eye to eye with her. I stroked her cheek where the cut had been. My hand came away as if through water and I felt a sense of oneness and clarity.

Back in ordinary reality, I caught up with my 19 year-old self as she was calculating how much time it would take to become a shamanic practitioner. Which, I realized, would require a whole different marketing approach. "But I'm a really good organizer," I said, "why rob the world of such talent?" People were always going to need help throwing out stuff, along with processing all the emotional baggage stuff came with. This took an enormous amount of persuasive talent.

As if in answer to my query, I got an e-mail from a new organizer, a young, single mom. "I am a total admirer of your work" she said. She told me she was eager to help me promote the conference I was bringing to fruition. "Just tell me how high to jump." Ha. I so saw myself. I asked my new acolyte what body of work she was talking about. "All of it," she said, "you have such a unique style and manner. I love it. You immediately put me at ease. I'm sure your clients feel the same way."

Huh, I thought, putting people at ease was a good quality to have in my work. This revelation snapped me back to my senses, reducing my crush to a kind of dog like devotion that I could live with.  

In the ensuing days as I grew more comfortable in my skin and as I spent time among friends I trusted, I realized that my ability to express myself had become much more efficient. I simply connected so much better with my feelings. I no longer had to strategize the impact of what I might say. I felt I was taking much more risks, but that part of me didn't care. I was a better fighter than I'd ever been, with the twin forces of 10 year-old fierceness and this new frankness. I could also speak from the heart in a way that I did not have to second guess. It was as if I'd just discovered the concept. Speaking from the heart was exactly the quality I would want a leader to have. There was no going back now.

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Thursday, February 07, 2013

House Retrieval

In the ongoing saga of my rental housing adventure I reclaim my house from another set of failed renters and learn how to do my own shamanic space clearing ceremony with help from my power animal.

The gate was open as I drove up to the mini compound within which our two rental houses were situated one behind the other. I had been in contact with Eliseo who lived in the back house with his family. He had kindly called to let me know that someone had broken in a window in the front house, the cheap vinyl one in the door that opened to the back yard. Someone had also cut the metal tongue of the latch on the padlocked garage door. We needed to get people in here ASAP.

Inside I found the house a mess. Despite my agent having said the departing tenant left the house clean, it was not clean by my estimate at all. Mail littered the floor, the bathroom hadn't been cleaned probably since his girlfriend left. There was stuff left in all the cabinets, hangars in the closets and the garage was a man-cave of beer bottles, cigarette butts and empty boxes. 

I was just glad I hadn't had to evict him as I had Mike before him. Mike took advantage of five months of free rent until the day the sheriff came. (Two months of back rent owed plus three months to get through the eviction process.) Mike's story, to the end, was that he was a victim of his wife who had stolen his disability money and disappeared with their only son leaving him an emotional wreck. 

"What did she do with all the money?" I asked him.

"I have no idea," he said. He was a master at telling me exactly what I wanted to hear every time I called up to see if he had packed up and was moving out. In fact throughout our relationship, he had fed me line after line about what his values were and what he believed in. Over time I could see that, not only did he barely live up to this picture of himself, but he operated within a very limited comfort zone tied to this neighborhood. I chose to believe in him because I felt so comforted that he was taking care of everything and he was so skilled at property maintenance that things worked out to my benefit as far as the house was concerned.

I had little experience of men, so I felt compelled to seek advice. I asked a client who was in the middle of divorcing a husband. She had often been very astute with her insights.

"Are men required by society to be reassuring?" I asked.

"No," she said, "it is their intention to be reassuring. There is a difference." 

"But, then they do exactly what they want," I pointed out. 

"That is also their intention", she replied. Hah.

I had to play along because I knew I had nothing to hold Mike to his word, not even a cleaning deposit. We hadn't asked for one because he was working for us. The rental contract was hardly worth the copy paper it was printed on, because Mike lived under the radar, working freelance on a cash only basis, changing his name regularly to escape any creditors. Only when I had gotten him off the property could I allow myself to tell him I wasn't fooled. I called him on his phone, which he wasn't answering and left him a message about the things he had left undone.

"I know who you are now," I said, unmasking, with this tone of authority, every last unfulfilled promise he had ever laid on me. It was the most satisfying thing I had ever said to him.

Two months later, when I was going through the shed, I found a file box with a file full of notes he wrote to his wife about how they had gambled the rent money away in Vegas, as well as his complaints about their waning sex life and hints of a boyfriend she was set to leave him for. This was such a startlingly different picture of the situation, I was relieved that it had nothing to do with me. There was nothing I had done to deserve how they had treated me. I was confident that Mike knew this about himself too and I no longer feared him.

I had since learned to use a rental contract that would better protect me (one I adapted from what the eviction lawyers offered). I now understood how each clause of it was designed to give me authority to prevent the many scenarios I had put up with. I would not settle for tenants who did not have, at minimum a bank account, and who cared somewhat about their credit rating. (No one ever had terrific credit. If they did they could buy a house.) I also came to understand that being able to pull the eviction trigger was all I had to guard against becoming a doormat and loosing control of the property. I was seasoned now; I would never wait so long before taking action again, in fact I had a late fee. And I had used much firmer language with our departing tenant who was dragging his heels to the final hour. Renting low income housing, I realized, was as much about coaching people to good behavior as it was about property maintenance.

Sweeping Out

I moved about in this world revealing as little about myself as possible, especially anything that might indicate money. My shabby little Honda wagon was perfect camouflage. And I always came in my work clothes of a recognized working class style, carpenter pants, a denim work shirt and old shoes. And if anybody asked, I was doing this as an enterprise financed by a partner who had secured a loan for which we were likely underwater, but we would still do the right thing by keeping the place maintained, unlike every other landlord in town. I could feel good about that and about keeping two manageable little houses from the brink of decay. And with the new plumbing, put in last year, it was backed up from the brink even further. Our financial advisor sanctioned it as a viable cash flow though he thought it was crazy that it was so far away. I liked going there though; it was another world. It reminded me of that other compound of simple houses with complex relationship; the one where my ten year old self had, in her own way, ruled the roost.

I set about with a broom and started to sweep the place out. I found old family photos in the hall cupboard. The kind you don't want to go missing. I put them into my car for safekeeping. That night I wrote an e-mail to the departing girlfriend telling her about the mess I had found, how mad I had been at both her ex and my agent and if she might possibly be able to come back to the house and help me clean it, as she had once offered, despite my asking at the last minute and it being Sunday and all. 

As I thought over my words, I realized that I would not have used any emotional language before and I attributed that to the sensibilities of my returning 19 year old soul part. 

Sunday morning I went out to breakfast at the IHOP (nothing but chains here on Hospitality Lane); had four fried eggs, two bacon strips, two sausages, a tiny bit of hash browns. I also ate the ball of butter in the middle of the stack of pancakes. 

As I was leaving I got a call from the girlfriend. She would be over in an hour. She was eager to see what a mess her ex had left, and would spend the day reassuring herself that she had done the right thing in leaving his lame ass. I knew it would be cathartic for her. And the old family photos turned out to be hers. I was glad for that and she was good company as she happily shared her insights.

She cleaned all day, while I reinstalled the window sash and replaced the latch on the garage with a bigger one. I also visited Eliseo's family, crossing through the gate between the two yards; access granted to me just as it had been when I was a child, to all parts of the compound. They were having their weekly family barbecue with a dining room table set up in the garage. I was charmed by this. It reminded me of the outdoor eating arrangements of my Thai home. Eliseo's brother-in-law, who had his own landscaping business and had cleared the seven foot weeds for me, came to talk to me and we discussed further how he might smooth out the backyard where Mike had left the hole where his pool had been. I hadn't shopped around for a gardner; I liked to keep things in the family. I had already asked if they knew anybody who would rent the front house, but no leads had surfaced in their Hispanic community.

House Clearing

Eliseo told me Leroy, the neighbor across the street had been asking about the house for some relatives of his. He offered to walk me over and introduce me to him. Leroy's house was the smallest in the neighborhood set in the middle of a yard that seemed huge by contrast. I had seen him about and he had always been very polite—an African American man. We rang the doorbell and opened the door when we heard him beckoning us to. Leroy hoisted himself off the couch smiling at us. After I shook his hand, he said that the house I was trying to rent was cursed.

"NOW you tell me," I said laughing. I knew exactly what he was talking about as he mentioned how each couple who went in there came out broken up and before I had bought the place it was even worse. 

"Don't worry," I reassured him, "I will perform an operation," I said, tracing the shape of a window in the air. Eliseo laughed at this. "No really", I said, "I will call in a priest and do an exorcism". They both laughed even more.

But Leroy had reminded me that I would not leave without doing my own brand of space clearing. I wrote down for him my phone number and the $950 rent I was asking on the house, plus $500 for deposit. Then I crossed back over to the empty house. Satisfied that the house was clean and the floors mopped I stood in the middle of the front bedroom. I had not been able to get any sage, so I would have to do without. First I clapped my hands in all the corners using sound to break up the stuck energy. I did this in all the rooms. Then I stood in the middle of the living room, closed my eyes and called for Mongoose.

I had met a woman in England, two years ago, on the tour of sacred sites with all the mystics. She had seen me put my hat over my face and journey at the site of the sacred waters of Cerne, when the German shaman had shown up and offered to drum for us. At lunch, in the pub, she sat next to me in an amiable way and asked me a few questions to determine what caliber of mystic I was. When I told her I worked with hoarders it prompted her to ask if I did space clearings and she had urged me to do so. Later she described her technique to the group. She simply asked St. Michael to send down the Hoover with which she would vacuum whatever space she was concerned with, especially all those old theaters where she plied her trade as an actress. It needed it, she explained, because of all the emotional energy thrown into the space from the enacted drama of a play. Especially into those high ceilings.

So I reminded Mongoose of this conversation and asked him to send me an equivalent to her Hoover. Suddenly over his head a creature hovered in the room with us, his broad wings above me. This, said Mongoose, was the Hoover Pelican. Okay, I thought, I can work with him. And so I walked the room in a spiral from the center going out to the walls, holding the Hoover Pelican in my mind as he sucked up all the dingy energy from the room into his large bill. We went from room to room, bathroom, living room and kitchen repeating the exercise until I got to the kitchen door and he flew off towards the ocean. 

"You know", I thought to myself, "this reminds me a lot of the shamanic extraction workshop" and so I was satisfied that I had done it.

I'm a good landlord, I said to the universe feeling better inside the now freshly Hoovered house, the afternoon sun streaming in the window. There must be good tenants out there who would be pleased to have such a house and such a fine landlord, I said. All you have to do is match us up, I reminded these Forces of Good. They didn't really need reminding because that's what they do best, maneuver people around until they get hooked up and get what they need from each other. They just needed to be asked. I would be patient and wait, keeping the faith that it would work out. 

I left the blinds open in back so thieves could see there was nothing to steal. I left the garage unlocked for the same reason. I closed the gate, after I backed my car out, and locked it closed with the padlock.

The day I drove up down the I-5, I answered calls from my ad in the paper. One of those callers checked out the house and called back later in the week. I felt comfortable with her straight forward presentation. She and her fiance both had jobs they wanted to be closer to and relatives in the area. They had been together a long time and their landlord would be sorry to see them go. They loved the house; it was charming and the workbench in the garage was perfect for his upholstery projects. Their rent would be the same as where they were living now. 

My agent reported that they were nice and seemed to be hippies, she said laughing her valley girl laugh. Hippies with upholstery skills. I was liking this more. He did upholstery for a living, mostly for hotels. She was a caretaker and also had a house cleaning business. Their references checked out. One of the references, a landlord, was very chatty. Asked me how I was doing with my rentals. He said he had been pretty lucky, but added "you sure won't hold on to any religion being in this business". I laughed. 

"Or maybe you get religion being in this business," I said. Yes, my faith in humans had been trashed three times now, but my spiritual strength had been fortified, along with my leadership skills.

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Monday, February 04, 2013

Road Trip

In which I ponder what qualifies a 10 year old soul part from Thailand to jump in on a Norwegian Sami solstice ceremony.

Road Trip

The drive down the dead straight I-5 was so monotonous that it usually took an audio book, a bag of jugee fruits and a nap to manage the three hours spent on it, but this time I just sat with my own thoughts undistracted by my now habitual checking in to Facebook, that had become my entire social life since Catherine became housebound during her chemo treatment. 

I had left her in her brother's care, though she was so tired, this being only a week out from her last treatment, that she near passed out at breakfast two days running. That morning she felt confident that she was only fatigued and not seriously ill so I was able to take my leave after a rush of last minute chores.

I was headed down to LA and then to San Bernardino to clean up our rental property after yet another set of failed renters. This time it had only taken less than a year for the couple in question to fall apart. He turned abusive; she left him and I was left holding the bag for half the rent. I gave him two months for the price of one to get us through the holidays and he had kept his word about leaving. A good space clearing was clearly in order I could see.

On the I-5 my thoughts turned to the confident, take-charge 10 year old soul part who had, it seemed, been the one who replaced me in the solstice ceremony, thus leaving me with no memory of it. A 10 year old who is already trained to appear before royal patronage was perfectly capable of representing the Spirit of the Dark, I surmised. I had, after all, called her the Queen of the Dark in an update to Facebook.

Appearing before Thai royalty was a skill that my Khun Ya (as I called my Thai grandmother) had trained into me from the age of five. I knew how to use the language of honorifics and how to properly bow from the floor to any figure who required this level of respect. She took every opportunity to present me to as many high ranking figures as she had access to and by the time I was ten had taken me to the Prime Minister's house where I amused him by declaring, very politely, that his dark house reminded me of Dracula's. 

At age five it was the children's annual fashion show event that would command an audience with mid-level royalty at the palace across the street from our compound. For that happening, my entire kindergarten class had been recruited. (I was attending a tiny private school that Khun Ya had approved before my mother rescued me from her high society ambitions.) We went in pairs holding hands down the raised catwalk. The next year I was to walk the catwalk by myself like a real grown-up model.

A solo performance was serious stuff for a 6 year old at a royal garden party. In the one rehearsal before the show, I was shown how to pause and make the turn at each of the two corners of the walkway, foot placed at an angle to show off the dress. I was very excited about those turns.

It was a substantial walk on the raised catwalk through a sea of admiring eyes from all the tables set around the garden, their white tablecloths gleaming. The event lit for the evening with numerous footlights. But at the last minute, half an hour before the show was to start my Khun Ya introduced me to a VIP, the daughter of the ambassador to France. 

She had with her, her two daughters in matching outfits. I could see that the trendy European styling, involving vinyl vests with pockets and ruffled shirts underneath, outclassed my more traditional pink, little-girl dress. 

Her eldest would very much like to be in the fashion show, she told me. Would I mind taking her with me? I could see my Khun Ya smiling with pride at the very idea that I would be asked. It became imperative that I say yes though I felt it was totally unfair, seeing as this girl who was maybe four, had not even been to the rehearsal. And she would know nothing about the pause in those marvelous turns. Not to mention that our outfits did not even go together. But take her I did.

So Near Yet So Far

The first question I had, once I had confirmed that I had indeed made it to the Solstice Ceremony and likely participated in it, was if I had fulfilled my obligation to represent the Queen of the Dark and, in turn, my obligations to Lenore. 

"Did it go as planned?" I asked Lenore before I knew that my ten year old missing soul part had hijacked my role in it. I so wanted to ask more, but I couldn't seem to.

"Yes," she said without any further elaboration.

One of the few things I thought I remembered from the solstice ceremony was the lighting in the ceremonial hall, low near our feet. Now that I knew who had done the ceremony, I wondered, affectionately, if there were any turns involved in my ten year old's embodying of the Spirit of the Dark.

There was another more pressing question I had of my ten year old soul part. She had been in my orbit for a long time now and yet had not reintegrated, nor had she wanted to. Usually missing soul parts are scattered to far off parts of the spiritual kingdom. Lenore had told me that the reason that soul parts are found so close to oneself is because of work already done that has brought the soul part closer to home. 

And I had worked hard to reintegrate this 10 year old. It had taken me five years of writing my memoir Diamonds In My Pocket to make this happen. By the end of that first draft I felt as if the book had created me and told me who I was. So much of the emotional life that I had lost when I no longer spoke Thai regularly, had been duly translated and stored in that book. As had my extended family and the support it had offered me.

I was also struck by the words I had used in the dramatic climax of the book as I came to realize, when we moved into our new home in the States, "that houses did not come with people". 

"I wanted to stamp and scream into eternity," I wrote of my response to the utter emptiness of my new life. That was what my ten year old had been reacting to. And so she had. Stamped off into the spirit world. Curious the use of the word "eternity". 

This grief stricken loneliness, I would later learn, was typical of Third Culture Kids. The phenomena of unrecognized grief had spawned a whole new niche of psychological study, as more children were included in a globalized economy of mobile families.

As I imagined trying to tell this story of a ten year old in the throes of high society Thailand at a royal garden party and how it might have anything to do with a shamanic solstice ceremony I felt like I was going to blow a fuse. And that was precisely why I had not been able to close the gap with that soul part.

I looked out at the flat fields of fruit trees, bisected by the four lane highway, for solace. No one was going to judge me yet out here. My destination lay dead straight ahead until I reached the mountains. 

The problem I realized now was that I was a Leftist and so was Lenore. That's why I trusted her. But now I was describing a heritage that included royalty for crying out loud. I felt my identity compromised in this new community with Lenore. There was no place in America for a child dedicated to royal patronage. This was the nation that refused to bow to any foreign dignitaries and by the time I grew up I had so rejected the part that couldn't be assimilated that I could find no new allegiances. I could not trust in any formalized system whether it was academic, spiritual or community based. The only people I could really hang with were entrepreneurs, self-made people, traveling tinkers, the circus, Mad Max and Tina Turner, lawless bounty hunters, rebels with and without a cause and the Force. 

Any organization taking itself too seriously I felt compelled to unmask rather than embrace, leaving me ambiguous about where my loyalties lay. Not belonging anywhere was my comfort zone. Enemies becoming unlikely allies when a new situation developed. Friends becoming enemies at any given moment and back again to friends further down the line. It happened all the time. It was mostly an asset this perspective, but it wasn't a path to leadership.

But I did have my power animals now; I believed in their love and loyalty; that they would never harm me. And now that there were three we were a counsel. We could ask that 10 year old what was up with the hijacking thing. I was curious enough to try.

The Counsel

The first opportunity I would have to journey would not be until I arrived at the Best Western in San Bernardino, a block from the Home Depot which I would frequent daily in my role as landlord. No one would disturb me in my hotel room.

Under the call of the drum, I rode Bear the same route into the jungle as before and in the clearing on that flat rock, my three power animals and I assembled ourselves behind Leopard. We gazed quietly at the edge of the jungle until the 10 year old appeared.

"Hello my sweet," said Leopard gently, "we'd like to ask you a question." Leopard's tone let her know that she had not been called because she was in trouble. "Can you tell us, my lovely, why you took on the solstice ceremony?"

"For fun," she said sassily. "And because she called me by a nobility name" she added feeling more explanation was needed. She was referring to the rehearsal interview with the Spirit of the Dark in which I had been called Alicia. In Thai, honorifics and nicknames called out the relationship and the role one is to play with another. At ten I had many names already, including an honorific. 

"And I was owed it," she said, "because I had to share with the ambassador's granddaughter that one time." And I felt again the indignity of my ten year old self having that child swinging around the turns like we were on the playground. I had barely managed to keep her from flying off the catwalk at the second turn.

Leopard spoke again. "But what about your later appearance in the ballet which was presented to the Queen herself. Wasn't that enough?" 

I'd forgotten about that event. It had been a cross cultural collaboration between a Thai dancing company and a ballet troupe, put together by Khun Ya's alumni association. The dream sequence had flipped from one culture's dance art to the other (and from male gender to female gender). And it was realized, at the last minute, that the ballet corps was missing a flag bearer. Khun Ya had provided that flag bearer.

"That was even worse," said the 10 year old. "All I did was stand there and I didn't even have a real costume." Someone had made, for me, a sequined sash to wear over my black ballet leotard and tights. But the real sore point was that I had seen what a pivotal role the flag bearer played in the corresponding Thai sequence. He was splendid leaping about with a huge flag. The 10 year old seemed to take comfort in telling this story and the counsel gave it a respectful moment.

"Did you know my sweet," said Leopard again, "that you would be leaving Amanda without memory of the solstice ceremony?"

"No," said the 10 year old looking at her feet, showing remorse for the first time.

"Was there someone else involved?" said Leopard.

"Yes," she said, "the 19 year old. She wanted her story told."

So the plot thickens. I wasn't sure whether to believe this 10 year old or this pieced together story that she had conveniently confirmed. We humans would rather have any story than none at all. But it was likely true that the 19 year old wanted her story told; everyone wants their story told. And I had denied it to her many times, even quite recently.

What would be the point I had said. What purpose would it serve?

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