Will Someone Please Turn on the Lights? Part II

If you have Retinitis Pigmentosa you’ll understand this. Yesterday evening as we were getting ready for bed I asked my husband, “Where’s Bailey?” I scanned the room. Our Cavalier Spaniel is always right there with us at bedtime.

I looked right at my husband, already in bed. “Where is Bailey?” I repeated. He smiled, knowingly. “She’s right here.” And she was. She actually was right on the bed beside my husband, maybe three feet away from me.

It’s funny. With my limited visual field I make efforts to scan in a methodical manner, but still I miss huge areas. In the moment I truly think I have covered the entire space.

I blame my brain. The brain is expecting normal visual fields, and if that were the case I would have seen my sweet Bailey. It unwittingly fills in the gaps, but not accurately. After all, the brain is receiving only a small percentage (less than 20% in my case) of a normal viewing area. In this case, it filled in the entire space with the rest of the bedspread, minus the dog.

Sometimes the brain fills in something else entirely. When I was still working as a therapist, I would spend most of the hour looking directly at the client speaking to me. Suddenly I would be surprised to notice a bookshelf or draperies, seemingly out of the corner of my eye. Seemingly, since I really cannot see anything out of the corner of my eye. I had to glance in that direction just to confirm that there was no such thing on that wall. My brain had put it there.

Two Loved Children

“You need to claim the events in your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.” Florida Scott-Maxwell

In my exhuberance I was confident I could handle what had been described as the most difficult and most important job, that of raising a child. A daughter, a newborn baby girl lay in my arms. My pregnancy had been marked by severe complications, yet we both made it. I now stared at her perfect, pink face with its tiny bow mouth. I had no doubt about my ability to parent. I knew that because she was so intensely loved, she would grow and develop in predictable ways. And she did.

Five years later we adopted a baby boy. Again, my capacity to love was surely sufficient. Yet this child did not respond in predictable ways to our abundant nurturing. He puzzled us. He was labeled a slow learner, did not talk until age 3. More labels when he started school. Then destructive behaviors, stealing. Acting out his frustrations they said. But we could do this. We channeled him into successes. He was beautiful and wonderful and loving. And defiant. We could not control this child. But we loved him.

He died last April of a drug overdose. Some close friends in an effort to console me said things like, “You couldn’t have done any more than you did.” Or, “You were such good parents.” Then, to shore up their claim, they would point to our daughter.

But what I know is that neither one of my children is a testament to my parenting, or to the amount of love and nurturance they received. To think that I controlled either of them is an illusion. Perhaps I had more opportunities to make mistakes with my son. Did I do everything I could? I’ll always be plagued with that question. What I must claim is that I raised two children. I loved them both.

First Day of School

Clutched in my hand was a handkerchief tied in a knot around my lunch money, a quarter and a dime. My father walked into the school with me. Did he hold my hand? I don’t remember. I was frightened I know. Most children had their mothers with them. My mother was home with my younger sisters, ages 3 years and 1 month.

The school was a red brick building, two stories tall. My first-grade classroom was in the basement. My father led me down the stairs and scanned the numbered classrooms. Miss Conover stood at the door, smiling at the children as we walked in. I recall her hair being a reddish blond color and in a page boy. My father said goodbye to me and left.

Trying to put myself back in that time I conjure up the smell of the lined paper we used to learn to write. There were rows of heavy lines and a dotted line in between. Lower case letters generally only went to the dotted line. Our pencils were large, easy for small, uncoordinated fingers to manipulate, I suppose. I picture wooden desks, with a seat attached. The desk surface was on hinges and we stored our school supplies inside. On top of the desk was an inkwell. We never used the inkwells. Must have been used in earlier years.

I remember feeling a great deal of apprehension about going to the cafeteria on that first day and handing my money to who? Would I know? Would I know how to get my food? Maybe I was nervous about what might be served and whether I would like it. Would I be forced to eat something I didn’t like?

While I don’t remember how paying for the lunch was resolved, I do remember that one thing on my tray was a small light green plastic bowl with canned peaches in it. I didn’t know what it was and was afraid to try it. Miss Conover came over and asked why I hadn’t eaten them. I did try a bite and I think I liked it.

And that is absolutely all I can recollect about my first day of school.

I know that Miss Conover embarrassed me one day. She was annoyed that I had miscopied something from the board.  She raised her voice in anger and scolded me in front of the class.

At some point during that year, or perhaps the summer after my first-grade year, Miss Conover got married. She no longer taught at our school. My mother heard that she married a millionaire. She came back for a visit one day and wore a full-length fur coat. I didn’t run up to greet her and stroke her coat like some of the other children did. Instead, I became invisible in the back of the room. That wouldn’t be the first time I hid myself in school.

Writing from the Inside Out; How to get it out!

I am a member of Words on Water, a writing group here in the Chesapeake Bay area. It has been an invaluable resource for me. Led by Gwen Mayes (who calls herself a recovering attorney), we often start with a prompt for a free write. Sometimes the writing just flows from me. But on occasion, I am stumped! I am suddenly wordless and can’t seem to find my brain.

One such evening we had all received a different prompt. Mine was “How do you practice self-discipline?” I felt a wave of shame wash over my brain and I went I into wordless mode. I am one of the most undisciplined people I know!  How could I write about this? I sat immobilized while my colleagues put their pens to paper and dove right in.

Then I remembered that often it’s helpful to engage is some motoric task. Even doodling can engage the brain’s right hemisphere and put the left into neutral. Laura Oliver talks about this at length in her marvelous book, The Story Within:  New Insights and Inspiration for Writers. I needed to quiet that left hemisphere with its chatter about my embarrassing lack of discipline, and access some creative spark.

I began by writing one word, circling it until I thought of another, then circling another, and so on.


Here is the free-write that emerged:

Have I ever been disciplined? Never!  I have habits that I perform daily. I brush my teeth twice a day at roughly the same time. I shower every day. Those are well-rehearsed behaviors. They don’t require effort. But perhaps they did at one time?

What have I tried to do in a disciplined fashion? Practice Spanish, learn piano, the ukulele, paint, and write. I dabble in all, but disciplined? No. And my lack of improvement shows that.

But wait! I have a Ph.D. I wrote a thesis and a dissertation. Gosh, that was hard work. I kept at it. That was discipline, right? Or did I persevere to avoid the negative consequences of not finishing?  I couldn’t bear having invested so much and not complete my degree. And I really needed the job I had been offered, contingent upon graduating. It was obligatory.

I walk my dog every day, usually several times a day. That’s an obligation, too. One can’t not walk the dog. And I email my graduate school friend, Holly, almost every day. She is counting on seeing it every morning. An expectation.

So I think it’s accountability that keeps me “disciplined.” If I know someone else expects me to write, paint, practice, exercise, put the leash on and go outdoors, then I’m good to go. On my own, I’m out of control!




To the Sun!

It’s cold outside here in Annapolis. 28 degrees this morning. Bailey, my Cavalier Spaniel, doesn’t seem to mind. She strolls leisurely on our walks, undeterred by the gusts of frigid wind. I long for the sun. I feel a discernible rise in temperature out of the shade. “To the sun,” I tell Bailey, then cajole and drag her in my direction.

I relate to the plants. They bend toward sunshine, availing themselves of the warmth and light pouring down. It feels good to them, too, and so they stretch, reach for the sun. To the sun, Bailey. To the sun!

It is my nature, like the plants, to reach for the warmth and light. Not in the dead heat of summer, but surely on this cold winter’s day. My little dog must understand! To the sun, Bailey. To the sun!

A Valentine Memory

Elmer’s glue. I can smell it now, actually even taste it. I waited my turn to pour some onto a paper plate to carry back to my desk. Also spread across the supply table were red and white construction paper, scissors, white paper doilies. I was in the second grade. Per the teacher’s instructions, we were to bring in a shoe box from home to decorate, with a narrow opening in the lid for our mail slot.

Instead of a shoe box I brought in a heart-shaped box. One that had contained chocolate candies. I remembered spying it in Mother’s closet. Whatever sentiments might have been associated with her gift of chocolates, she willingly gave me the box. My father cut a slit on one side of it with a sharp kitchen knife.

Children bustled around the classroom, back and forth to the supply table, all busy and intent on the decorating task. Some classmates stopped momentarily at my desk, curious and perhaps even admiring my heart-shaped box. At that age, I was not yet worried about being seen as standing out, having a novel idea. That would come later.

Scraps of paper on the floor, tiny bits of doilies. All of this had to cleaned up before the party. More bustling. We placed our boxes on the table near the teacher’s desk. Mine really stood out there. I thought my finished product was beautiful.

After filling each others’ valentine boxes we each took our own and settled into our desks to open and read the tiny cards. A room mother came in with cupcakes and probably some of those tiny pastel heart candies with “Be My Valentine” on them. Laughter, smiles, lots of talking. I was happy. And I knew when I got home my mother would have baked a heart-shaped cake, yellow with chocolate frosting. It would have 7 candles on it. It was my birthday.




Will Someone Please Turn on the Lights?

I was never afraid of the dark; I just couldn’t see! As a young child I didn’t question my night-blindness. I thought that no one could see after the lights were turned off. Sure, I ran into the bathroom door in the middle of the night on occasion. But didn’t everyone? After the sun went down we turned on lamps (Thank you, Mr. Edison). We turned them off at bedtime. We can see when the lights are on, and when the lights go out, we don’t see. That was my reality.

There weren’t many opportunities to have to navigate at night during childhood. We had to be inside before dark.

Then at age 10, I went to Girl Scout camp, where I slept in a tent with three other girls for two weeks. Each night after dinner and campfire activities we made our way back to our tents in the dark. We all used flashlights, per our instructions.

One day we walked out into the woods. We were each to find two trees about 12 feet apart to which we would attach our hammock. Over the hammock we strung a heavy piece of rope between the two trees, and placed a tarp over that. Our own little pup tent in the air. That was to keep us dry in case it rained.

It did rain. Hard. In the middle of the night I was awakened not by the rain but by one of the counselors. She shook my hammock, pounded on the tarp and called my name. Instead of allowing us to apply our newly learned survival skills and stay in the outdoors (my preference) we had to go back to our tents. I groped for the bare essentials. I found my shoes, then grabbed the duffel bag that supposedly held the rest of my gear. I could not find my flashlight! I tried to keep up with my fellow campers, tramping on the wet ground under a heavy rainfall, using what I could see of their flashlights to find my way. They were hurrying, their lights darting randomly like a bunch of fireflies ahead of me. Still, I could sense the general direction, and tried to stay near their voices.

A counselor walked past me and told me I needed to put on my socks. We were to never be without socks, due to the likelihood of running into snakes, briars, or poison ivy. I just kept walking, afraid that if I were to stop to look for my socks I would fall helplessly behind, out of ear range of the others. I got a few scratches from twigs and low branches, but I finally reached my tent and quickly settled in my bed. I learned that one of my tent mates also had hiked back without a flashlight. “How could you see?” I asked her.

“Oh, I could see okay. Most everyone had on something white.”

Really? I began to realize that my inability to see at night was not typical.

“I couldn’t see anything,” I told them. Only some of your flashlights.

They began testing me, holding things up right in front of my face and asking what I could see. Nothing.

Nothing at all.

To be continued







“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” Carl Jung

I’m inviting you in. We may have more in common than you think. Were you afraid on the first day of school?  Did you have a sibling who was favored?  Did your parents argue in front of you or behind closed doors (which can be scarier)?  Did you ever win a contest? What kind, and what was the prize?  Were you overweight as a child and teased about it? Did you ever steal anything? Are you pursuing your dreams, or have you been sidelined? Do you like to write? (Please say yes!) Are you losing your eyesight? Do you have children? Biological or adopted? I had one of each. My biological child, now an adult, is still living.

After working for the past 28 years as a clinical psychologist I am now writing something other than case notes and psychological reports. I loved my job. I miss my clients and wonder at times how they are doing.

What you will see in my blog are my personal essays. All factual, honest, sometimes raw. A bit egotistical, you say? Yes. But it’s highly likely that we do share some experiences. Just because we’re human. And so something you read here might just hit you in the heart. If so, I hope you will share that with me.

I will share with you the answers to all of the above, and more. Spoiler alert: I stole a parakeet.

We can go through this together, writing from the inside out.