Overcoming Disfunction — The Smaller Picture pg240
Colorful companion to my memoir The Incompetent Psychic
I had my gallery open weekends and my parents drove up from Walnut Creek to say hi. I was sitting on the couch with my artist friend Susan. Joan walked in and Roy followed. Joan totally ignored all the art, and made a fuss about the bouquet. She cheerfully explained to Susan, “Mernie got all her flower arranging ability from me.”
After chatting for a bit I escorted Joan and Roy out, suggesting they go around the corner for Szchwan. I walked back in to find Susan crying. I apologized for my father’s grotesque description of his latest medical procedure.
“No, that’s not it. My mom died last year. She made me crazy, but I was just watching the dynamic of you and Joan, and how she ignored what was important, walked right up to the flowers and found a way to credit herself for your talent. This may seem crazy, but it reminded me how much I still miss my mom.”
Not yet appreciating how anyone could miss a bizarre mother, I felt the need to cheer her up. — From Chapter 13
Like everyone else, my upbringing wasn’t ordinary. My parents were weird and I judged them harshly — especially when their inappropriate comments in social settings seemed like a personal attack. It was like they conspired beforehand: ‘How embarrassing can we make this situation for our daughter for our own entertainment?’ Maybe that explains my fascination with Pride and Prejudice.
My mother Joan didn’t make or keep friends. By junior high I wanted to get along in the world. What I had learned wasn’t working, so I carefully observed Joan’s interactions and then monitored all of mine like a lab technician. I had to see if doing the opposite would make me normal. Mom was aggrandizing. I deflected attention away. Mom refused to interact or listen in group settings by taking everyone hostage. I shut up. I eventually imploded and drank heavily for a long time. This is not a recommended strategy for either emotional growth or friendships based on trust. By this point in my gallery with Susan I had been sober for ten years, but I still hadn’t evolved to a place where I could appreciate the more admirable qualities of my parents, or forgive their foibles.
I met a young woman the summer before who was the poster child for mental health. Zoe was my painting assistant at the theater for three musicals. Zoe was brilliant, thoughtful, engaging, highly competent, beautiful and fun. She had just graduated from UC Berkeley. I had never met a unicorn, and spent that summer grilling her about her upbringing to find out how a 22 year old woman got to be that magical and rare. Zoe was an only child with two highly functional parents; one an English professor and the other a civil rights attorney. I asked her more subtle versions of the question, “How did you get to be so fucking great?” She pondered and replied she never felt lied to. She was encouraged to ask questions, and if her parents didn’t know the answer they said so. Then they showed her how to find reliable information from different sources to develop her own conclusions. It was that simple. Being lied to might be the single most damaging thing that can happen to our psyches. It feeds confusion, ignorance, disfunction and aggression. (The day after we finished the last set Zoe was hired by Pixar.)
Yet despite all that, we need to forgive those we love to seek our own peace. We have to find and balance their decent qualities — even if they have to be dead for a while and we have to look really hard. When the scale tips or even wobbles a little in their favor is when anger dissipates and gratitude can finally happen.
A signed copy of Mernie’s memoir is available at www.etsy.com/listing/839838936
Unsigned copies can be ordered wherever books are sold.