Why It Matters… The Deep Saboteurs….

As I get ready for the big event (big for me) this coming Saturday, a book launch for my little memoir about the year I spent teaching English in China as one of the first American foreign experts to have that opportunity, I’ve found myself confronted by very powerful shadows.

The most palpable was that of my artist brother — now dead from alcoholism. He was also an artist and, in our family (meaning my mom) he was THE artist in the family. My work was minimized or mocked, whether it was writing or visual arts. By ridiculing my efforts or ignoring them completely, BOTH of them made sure that I never got “full of” myself. At the same time, they both used me to maintain their lives to a greater or lesser extent depending on how sober each of them might be at any given moment.

My job was to be dependable in case they needed me to enable them, which meant nothing I did could be the most important thing in MY life. My job was to be prepared to shore things up, to listen to them. For neither one was I able, ever, to do anything well or even right. My mother insisted — even after I’d been teaching for nearly 20 years — that I was not a “real” teacher because I didn’t have a degree in education and the students in my classes had a right to expect more. When I shared newsletters from the wilderness park I was instrumental in forming, that had articles I’d written about hiking in that park, my mom said, “I had no idea nature had any meaning to you at all.”

Where was she all my life?

Once, when I was showing some drawings to some of my mom’s friends after Thanksgiving dinner, and one of them said to her, “You must be proud of Martha Ann.”

My mom just turned to me and said, “You did a good job cleaning up the kitchen.” She never looked at the drawings. My mom was a master at making me feel good only when I was helping someone else but even then I could never do really well.

I have dozens of stories to illustrate this in which my mom or brother figure in this way, but there’s no point in relating them here. The point is that these two people still live somewhere in my mind, and in moments like this — when I’m trying very hard to pull things together to do something that is VERY good for me — one of both of them will appear. I know they are not real, I know their power has been defused by death, and yet…

Do we live for our family’s’ approval? I think as children it is very important that approval from them is for the person that we actually ARE. That might be one most important things they can give us. That approval says, “Yes, this is YOU, pursue your talents, refine them, enrich your knowledge, BE yourself.” My mother and brother both seemed to think that to keep me there to function as they needed me to, they had to keep me down, and they conspired to do that. What this says to me tonight of their sense of self-worth is that they knew they had none.

And truly, they did not.

OK, yes, I know I’m 67 years old and my past should be behind me and all that, but the thing is that it isn’t until we push forward toward something we have not pushed for before, or have turned back from in the past even when we wanted it, that we learn a lesson like this.

There are some good songs about this, but maybe not for here (Eminem, “My Mom”). These lines from Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” say it pretty well.

Master of puppets, I’m pulling your strings
Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams
Blinded by me, you can’t see a thing…

What matters is what we do ANYWAY.
Survival is the best revenge.

18 thoughts on “Why It Matters… The Deep Saboteurs….

  1. I can really relate to this. My mother never provided the approval I needed, nor always the shoring up that I occasionally needed. My sister still makes me feel the same way my mother did — no matter how hard I try, I never really feel that she’s a “sister.”I think we don’t get over the feelings that are instilled in childhood — when we most need to be ourselves, those feelings seem to reappear!

    • I’m sorry you can relate to this but I’m also glad you can, if that makes sense. ❤

      Having my brother "show up" in the studio the other day has proven to be a big lesson.

      • It does make sense — a lot of sense. And it’s good to know that i’m not alone in this type of struggle! My sister still lives, although my mother does not — when I am in Santa Barbara, I always try to meet my sister for lunch, and for light conversations. Several times I have wanted to ask her why she’s so angry with me — that would be pointless, and would not move matters forward — but I always have to consider the lesson of that feeling!

        • Yep. I get incredibly angry when a friend tells me about some addict who can’t take care of him/her self and relies on others to do it for them. I go from 0 to 180 in about a second. At the same time I have total respect for addicts who get sober and stay that way. To me they’re heroes. BUT I also wonder why I have to have thoughts about addicts AT ALL???

          My mom had 6 sisters most of whom I knew and some of whom I was very close to. I saw first hand how sister-to-sister relations can be strained and awkward and no one knows why. I applaud your perseverance and wisdom in not pushing it. 🙂

    • P.P.P.S. I visited a factory in Dongguan which was a very rural commune in 1983. In this dark factory — of which they were exceedingly proud — they made plastic bags. After the factory visit, we were escorted to the home of the Party Leader in the town who served us tea and cookies and explained, through our “watcher”, what Dongguan planned for the future. It was NOTHING like this. I don’t think anyone could imagine back then what was going to happen.

      • Yes, it is quite mind boggling. The energy in that place. Its one hour from Hong Kong to Guangzhou now by train. How can the whole “district” not become a supercity, if not tomorrow, then soon.

          • It is much happier than that. “Your China” has not disappeared. The new china is a chequerboard of the old and the new. That’s what I find so endearing about it.

            • That’s very good news. New China really needed to come. “My” China was impoverished, grey, scary, uncertain and very hard for people to live in. There wasn’t even enough for most people to eat. I loved it because it seemed to love me, and it was beautiful, too. In the grey the poverty there was slumbering faith and a love of poetry. ❤

  2. Your mother and mine are probably twins. And my sister right along with them. I moved down here to FL and never looked back. Too painful. Why would I want to relive that? That being said, it stays with me almost every single day. Survival is the best revenge!!

    • I will never understand what such moms and siblings stand to gain by tearing down members of their own family. If they want us to be their servants, aren’t there better ways of earning loyalty? Once I was up in Montana with my Aunt Jo and we drove past the cemetery and she said, “You want to go visit your mom’s grave?”

      I don’t know what expression was on my face when she asked that, but she laughed and said “No, I guess not.” 😀

  3. This resonates deeply. Enjoy your book launch, soak up all the love and joy you earned and deserve because of your creativity and accomplishments. Success and happiness – on your own terms – are indeed the best revenge. Congrats.

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