Monday, November 23, 2009

Secret Anniversaries
Of the Heart

'The holiest of all holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence and apart, the secret anniversaries of the heart.'
--the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. If you'd care to share anything at all about your secret anniversaries, we'd love to hear about them.


At 10:39 AM, Blogger Kim said...

I can only speak for anniversaries that have been shared. I have two dear friends who are Viet Nam veterans.

They both remember exactly the day they went.

Sept. 7 and Dec. 5. I never forget their days because they chose to share their stories with me (a few years ago when we seemed to be repeating our national mistakes from that era, I sought to interview some vets)...

They shared their stories, and their pain. But repeatedly they remembered the day it all started.

I ask your readers to also remember almost 40 years ago, two then teenage boys went to fight a war that made no sense. They've never forgotten the day they had to go. That says something, doesn't it John?

Does history repeat itself?

I didn't mean to make this political insomuch as I meant to say we remember dates for strong reasons. Those are two dates I always send my friends notes, thanking them for doing what never made sense, but what needed to be done.

At 10:48 AM, Blogger Kass said...

I was all set to write about my secret anniversary, but now that I've read Kim's post, it has taken the wind out of my sails. To stand as a witness to someone else's story (and pain) is the stuff of heroes. So, you are a hero too, Kim.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That is indeed a wonderful story Kim (or should I say Fresh Green Kim, her new Twitter handle) shared, for which I thank her. But please come back whenever you're ready and share yours also, Kass. We'd love to hear it.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Kass said...

New Year's Day, 2007 is my secret anniversary. It is the day I began living my own life. The day I ended ONCE AND FOR ALL AND FOREVER a very abusive relationship. It was the culmination of years of co-dependent behavior. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. I'm 61 and see the road brightly and clearly before me. Hallelujah!

At 11:00 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Thanks for sharing that! You truly have much to be thankful for this week, as every week.

At 5:15 AM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

Anniversaries are powerful events for all of us, but not everyone pays attention to them.

I find the synchronicity of certain dates fascinating, like the fact that my father died on 27 February 1982 in Australia, while his first daughter died at five months of age in Holland on the same day, 27 February, but nearly forty years earlier in 1945, during the Honger winter of the second world war.

I always had a sense that he chose this day on which to die. He never spoke to me about the death of this daughter, but I'm sure it was etched into his unconscious.

Averil Earnshaw, an Australian writer and child psychiatrist, writes about what she calls 'family time', the way in which certain events, unprocessed by parents in one generation are passed along to the next generation, along a time continuum. Anniversaries feature heavily in her analysis. Some of her findings seem uncanny and bear witness to the notion that history does tend to repeat itself.

At 6:22 AM, Blogger Kim said...

Elisabeth, I wrote a post about that earlier this year when my niece was born on the anniversary of my grandfather's death.

At 6:49 AM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Kim. I have left a message on your blog and thanks John for facilitating such cross fertilisation.

I think that blogs are a bit like families. Patterns emerge. I'm fascinated by the number of times old names pop up in comments elsewhere and new names soon become familiar ones.

At 6:58 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Elisabeth, I know that Earnshaw idea you mention will be incredibly resonant for many, as it is for me. It's yet another example of how writing can be enriched when you have an entire professional tradition to draw from, as you do with psychology. And for American readers, you have the additional well of all things Australian, which we find endlessly appealing, as evidenced by the steady stream of Australian actors who become embedded in Hollywood. We're so lucky to have you in our reading family, as we'll now be in yours.

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Well, but then it wouldn't be a secret, would it?


At 10:42 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Touche, Art. You'll note I didn't share any of mine, for the same reason. Maybe women are just more comfortable with public confessions than guys. If so, shame on us.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Kim said...

Just to clarify, I didn't exactly share MY personal anniversaries, only those of folks I know.

Others include: the birthday of my first love, the day I met him, etc... embarassingly enough, for years, his birthday had been my email password, only because I had this weird need to never forget the first time I loved. I'm sure my spouse wouldn't have appreciated the reasoning behind my then password.

BUT I also recall exact day I met my now spouse, the day he proposed and the day we decided to start a family. Calendars are how we mark our time, so it's only natural that some days within the 365 block of squares stand out.

C'mon John, share one with your readers. Dare ya...

At 11:29 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Good for you, Kim, for flushing me out, as I knew someone would by my noting my own silence (that's a peculiarly old school male subterfuge, isn't it?).

The first one that comes to mind is far more prosaic than any yet mentioned--December 15th, the date on which I landed a huge engagement some years ago that really set the early foundations of my being able to make a real go at making a living as a commercial web copywriter, one that would pay the bills while also allowing me to continue to do some pure journalism (though not as much as I would like) & feed this blog with its ever-growing international audience & mentor & encourage other writers & speak for free regularly & take part in a long list of professional and networking activities that keep me in contact with so many amazing, life-changing people.

All that, in turn, set the foundations for a budding complementary practice as a writing coach and editorial consultant. Each brick in the emerging edifice helps support all the rest of the structure, and that engagement with a large Fortune 500 company halfway across the country set in motion many other bricks.

Anyway, I never forget the day on which I got the news--just 10 days before Christmas--that I'd need to clear my schedule almost immediately for two to three months and be available around the clock for endless travel, consultation, interviews and writing, my own version of a kind of Marine boot camp for web copywriting that has made every other project since seem like a walk in the part, relatively speaking.

So I say prosaic only in the sense that while it's less tied to an obviously personal and emotional event, it was still just as vitally important to me, since it helped put in place the cross-subsidization that allows me to do the things that most animate me and represent the core of my life's work.

Now aren't you sorry you asked, Kim? Give more time, I would have edited this down to a shorter post, but you know the old Twain saying: "sorry I sent you such a long letter, I didn't have time to send you a short one."

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Kim said...

Ah, John, no I am glad you shared. Holding the most deeply personal stories close the the vest is neither a male nor female thing, I suspect.

It's a writer thing. We can write about the world, about others and about life, but our personal humility keeps us from telling too much about ourselves.

For then we go from observer to participant. Perish the thought.

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

It's not that I'm unwilling to tell some of my secrets, it's just that I'm not willing to deal with the inevitable judgmentalism that follows. The truth is, I have a million secret memories, some of them transformed into my writing, poems, music, and visual art. It's hard to date them. There are significant days of the year for me, of course, tied to ritual and memory. But everyone can talk about Xmas memories. There's a lot of things I choose not to reveal, not because I care what people think about them, but because I don't want to talk about them.

That sounds a lot more evasive than I meant it to.

At 2:19 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

This thread has gotten even deeper and more interesting than I might have anticipated, even knowing as I did that it might strike some chords with others, since it did with me (that universality of experience thing).

That's an awfully savvy observation, Kim. I think you're right about that, though I still reserve the right to argue there's some gender differences on this. Boys are schooled by society and the playground not to show any chinks in our armor, lest the more predatory seize on them (which is another way of saying what Art alludes to as judgmentalism). When you get older, you learn that much of that behavior in others is driven not by anything about you, but by others' own insecurities. But by then, the behaviors are learned and partially locked in. They need to be unlearned, which isn't always so easy.

But I'll grant you that going from observer to participant is a major leap. I always used to say and think that essay writing is the hardest form of writing (it came up in the context of writing a column about my kids and family life for a few years, until a couple years ago), and how it took me 20 years as a writer to begin mastering the craft of essay. When I made that observation, I was thinking solely of the technical hurdles of crafting essays. But you've given me ah aha moment: that the hurdle was at least as much about that jump into self-revelation, which now makes utter sense when I think about it. So thanks for that enlightenment today, Kim, on the eve of Thanksgiving, and of your turkey trot, more about which shortly. Good luck!

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

I love Kim's challenge to you John, and to all our menfolk. Disclose yourself.

I too struggle with writing essays, but not with the self disclosing aspects, more with the business of structure and providing a sufficiently well argued logical strand.

This aspect I ascribe to my more 'masculine' self, a self that is not as well developed as I'd like, for all sorts of complicated reasons, not least because I'm a woman and brought up by nuns to be 'feminine'.

I'd best be careful here. I don't want to polarise the genders too much in such abstract and false ways. Still I think John's onto something here with his talk of the significance of gender differences.

Thanks for the challenge to think about the issue of time and anniversaries, Kim. I love these trajectories, the way they spill in multiple directions, like a good conversation.

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

Wonderful response, John. See of course you can do it. And isn't it typical, once we start to talk about ourselves, it's hard to stop.

At 6:02 PM, Anonymous krina said...

I thought your response was very "male," John, it was all about your professional life.

You acted like it was some big outpouring of your life's secrets.

Just didn't want you to think all your readers were falling for that misdirection.

At 6:12 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Elisabeth. And yes, Krina, many males (and more than a few females) get downright serious about their "professional life," which is otherwise known as their life's work and livelihoods (not only for them but also for their families). I can think of nothing more important than that. Your ugly little comment (from a first-time commenter, naturally) is a timely reminder of why Art said he'd prefer to keep such subjects to himself. Thanks for bringing his point to life so vividly. But do enjoy your holiday, will you?

At 2:02 AM, Anonymous krina said...

My father was abusive and a workaholic. Many of my silent anniversaries are not happy ones, but ones of anguish. Someone so centered on work -- you seem so warm to your friends here, I was just caught by surprise.

Obviously I have a history of problems understanding men. I am glad I said what I did because you got angry and said what you did. THAT ripped open a vein and you shared more of yourself and it helped me understand more than I ever have how some men might think.

I'm sorry to have offended you. The pen is mightier than the sword and I have been carved up sufficiently for now. I'm really sorry. Didn't you ever look in a window and wish you could visit? A friend told me about your blog and you say such wise and interesting things. I won't write again. You just seemed to be a caring person and I'm sorry. I haven't been called ugly since my father made me feel that way.

I really hope you and your family have a good holiday.

At 5:28 AM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

Oh dear, we seem to have entered muddy waters here. Misunderstandings abound.

I think the reference was not to you, Krina but to your comment, perhaps the one about John's response as 'very male'.

It's so easy to offend one another on line, but I suspect it's not called for here.

My sense, Krina is that John and Art have spoken honestly. As have you.

I find it hard to get things right on line, myself.

This has been a powerful thread. It's touched some raw nerves. To me it says something again about how easy it is to misunderstand one another, all through that medium of the written word.

Whatever you do Krina, it's important to keep writing. The same applies to all of us. It's our only way of communicating here on line. Otherwise all we have is silence.

At 8:36 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Krina, I apologize. Now that you've explained the context, I fully understand where your comment came from, and I should have let it pass without reacting as I did. As Elisabeth says (doesn't she sounds like the kind of psychologist anyone would be lucky to work with?), the ugly word was focused not at you but at the comment itself. And I did make a point of ending with a holiday greeting for a simple reason: because I value every single reader, and doubly so every commenter, as if they were cherished overnight guests in my house.

My sole wish for Thanksgiving has now become that you'll continue to look into this window, and find things that move and inspire you, make you think, and possibly even make you feel a little less alone each day. Please don't stop commenting whenever the spirit moves you. That would be such a loss for everyone else, most of all for me. If you should feel like dropping me an email at the address at the top of this page, I'd love to converse some more, in a private manner.

Either way, I wish you only wonderful things, Krina.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I can make a third-gender argument, if you will, that gay men are more like women in their self-revelation. (And many lesbians seem as reserved as straight men, sometimes.) So while I might partially buy into the male/reserve, female/open, idea of communication styles, I don't fully buy into it, and I know from the school of experience that there are many objections.

What you reveal is also a matter of venue. There are things I might reveal here that I wouldn't elsewhere, and vice versa. Context matters a very great deal—context, and the expectations and responsiveness of one's audience. It's always a risk to be openly naked before a potentially hostile crowd. There is always room for misunderstanding, because people bring their own filters and experiences to a reading. The only way I know to get around that is to assume nothing, have no expectations, and ask rather than assume. Of course, that goes in all directions; it's not a one way street.

As a man who likes to write, as a gay man who likes to write who no longer has any interest in using the name-card "poet" or "writer," I can certainly attest that I have often revealed a great deal about myself. LOL Over on my own blog(s), and website, there's a great deal more self-revealing writing than you might expect from a man, generally. And I know this to be common from gay men; hence my opening comments here.

And yet. And yet. There are things I won't reveal, that are too close to my heart to reveal in a public forum. To close friends, certainly, but not to the public. (This remains a public venue, no matter how intimate we might come to feel about it.)

And there are some things about my sexuality and experience and spirituality and experience that I've never revealed, simply because, well, they're nobody's damn business. We all have some of those. And to be honest, I don't have so high an opinion of myself that I imagine that anybody would actually be interested in some of those things. LOL They're pretty boring, but they;re mine.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

There's a another side to all this, too.

One of my own teacher/mentor/guides, Dr. Caroline Myss, a terrific Chicago writer and speaker on personal development matters, invented a word some years to describe how many people use the power they get from their genuinely-horrifying biographical experiences to try to control situations. Caroline calls it a "woundology." I've found this word to be very useful at times. In my own experience, I remember a person who used his wounds to control a safe-space men's weekend workshop by speaking from within his wounds (child abuse) whenever he felt uncomfortable, effectively shutting down the process, and making it impossible for any other man to actually share from his heart. I've noticed in similar situations that some participants in such seminars will use their insecurities to make sure that safe-space never happens for anyone else, either, by constantly saying they never feel safe enough to share of themselves, either. (cf. Dr. Caroline Myss, "Why People Don't Heal, and How They Can" and "Anatomy of the Spirit")

Caroline is not the first to point out, and I agree with her BTW, that many of us have come to equate sharing intimate details about ourselves as being sharing our wounds. Practically the first things we tell each other about, upon being introduced, is our past histories of being wounded. As Caroline puts it, many of us now bond through our wounds, rather than our joys. I suffer, you suffer, let's be friends.

We seem to live in a culture of addiction, with the underlying belief that "everyone is dysfunctional in one way or another." Or that everything can be turned into an addiction (or obsession) if taken too far. The whole cultural discourse has shifted towards assuming that intimacy means sharing our wounds. Addiction is one of the principal wounds that people bond through.

So what secrets we want to reveal, paging Mr. Longfellow, plays into this. What secrets did we assume we wanted to reveal, or not? Were they moments of suffering? or of ecstasy?

I have many moments of ecstasy that I don't want to share publicly (except perhaps obliquely in a poem), simply because sharing them dilutes their power in my memory. So, I might share some—in fact I have, and will continue to do so (many of my poems are records of visionary experiences). And I still will keep back a few, for my own sake. Some things are meant to REMAIN secret.

It's another aspect of the cultural assumptions now, a tendency made explicit by blogging and Twitter, that everyone must share everything about themselves all the time. It's as though we've taken the concept of the (Orwellian, totalitarian) Surveillance Culture and turned it around, and turned it on ourselves, and made it into the Reveal Culture. We share everything publicly. Rightly or wrongly, we have become a culture of Too Much Information, and we give away our most intimate details as a way of connecting with others on the internet. The Panoptikon has come into actual being, it's no longer just a theoretical concept, and it's name is Facebook.

Of course, most of the sharing that goes on in such venues is pretty shallow. People still keep their real secrets, must of which circumnavigate our relationships with each other.

So the signal-to-noise is very low. Lots of noise from which one has to sort out the signal. Which gives the impression that we're all sharing our intimate selves, when in fact, we're concealing them in plain sight. Too much to sort through, so it's easy to hide behind that screen of everybody else's secrets revealed.

For myself, I had a pretty good childhood; a few traumatic moments, as does every childhood, but nothing so horrible that I've never been able to overcome it. I have more challenges to deal with, right now, to be honest.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...


A close friend of mine recently has been assuming that I must have clinical depression, and has been offering very inappropriate advice based on that assumption. Well, I don't. I have had a full plate of really difficult experiences, lately, lots of deaths of family and friends, lots of grief to work through, not to mention a chronic illness to deal with—so I have what you might call situational depression. Which I have a right to work through in my own way, on my own timing and terms—which this friend is unable to comprehend, apparently. She offers good advice, but it's not the right advice at the right time.

All this because she is trying to share what has worked for her, for her own process of overcoming. It's a way of connecting via the mutual wounds. But we're NOT in the same place, right now, and she can't seem to understand that we're not.

Which is the problem with sharing via the wounds. We assume things about each other that might not be appropriate.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Lot of food for thought in these, Art. I like that woundology word. It's appropriate to this moment of the Oprahfication of culture.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

All this is very deep (he says, considering it all during halftime of the traditional Thanksgiving football game).

At 2:37 PM, Anonymous krina said...

I'm sorry you would trouble yourself when you should enjoy your family and friends. Thank you all for weighing in.

I am seethingly, achingly, vacuously, dangerously lonely. I push people away though, and your site gives me distracting and constructive food for thought with intelligent and interesting people.

Thank you.

At 2:43 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You've made my Thanksgiving complete with this comment, Krina. It just somehow felt this venue would never quite have been the same without you. Now I will enjoy my family even more. Have a blessed day.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

You've put it beautifully Art. I couldn't agree more.

It's not helpful to generalise about gender given all the other variations in personality that exist along lots of other dimensions, for instance as you suggest, a more open versus more closed approach etc.

I also agree that context is everything. I made a big mistake once in presenting a particular paper with strong autobiographical components to a professional audience whom I mistakenly imagined would be empathic. Instead some were downright hostile and I'm still dealing with the aftermath a year later.

I have some trouble with reconciling myself to the idea that not everyone views the written word with the same degree of distance as I do.

I never read anything as an absolute fact these days. I recognise that writing is artifice, so much so that there are always multiple perspectives. Truth is something we can only glimpse at, we cant get a firm hold on it and if we think we have, then we're in trouble

Finally, you're right about the blogosphere as a public space, however intimate it might seem.

I'm conscious that I'm conscious of this all the time and despite my love of all things autobiographical, I am wary.

I don't imagine that anyone writes the absolute truth and full bottle on anything. We all have our secrets even from our nearest and dear.

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

I've just scrolled back through the comments and find that I've just responded to Art's comment from way back and since then he's had so much more to say. All very meaningful about 'woundology'. I also read that things are okay again between John and Krina. Thank goodness. All this conversation while I slept.

It's hard for me on the other side of the world. I suspect you guys are all asleep now while for me it's first thing in the morning and I'm getting in a little blogging time before my workday begins.

It's times like this that geographical distance really impacts on me. It's like being part of a long distance phone call, of the old fashioned variety when you're trying to have a conversation in spite of the the time delays and it becomes extremely difficult.

Even so this has been a terrific discussion, turbulent at times, very thoughtful all of the time, as well as measured and passionate, all at once. Thanks.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I've been enjoying this discussion today. it's been perfect for me. It's helped me get that feeling of conviviality one wants on such holidays, to alleviate the more dangerously lonely moments. (All of that was well said, Krina.)

All my plans for Thanksgiving feel through, and whatever other plans I might have developed no one called me back. I'm too sick to travel, and everyone seems to expect that I'm the one who always has to do that work, in order to get together. So I've been alone all day, although once the sun goes down here, all too early, I plan to do some baking, and make myself a small exotic feast anyway. Why not? I love cooking, and I love eating, and tant pis if none of my friends could be bothered about getting together this year.

I just got back in from working a little in the cold, wet garden. I did some stone gardening, finally, that I've wanted to do for about a week. It felt good to get my hands into the dirt. Always very healing to connect to the earthmagic. Now I'm sipping Prince of Wales tea, and warming up my bones again.

And I wanted to follow up on what Elizabeth said here:

"I don't imagine that anyone writes the absolute truth and full bottle on anything. We all have our secrets even from our nearest and dear."

I just wanted to add: I think that when I write poetry I tell more truth than I ever do in any other writing. Maybe it's the bard's oath, or some such inner compulsion, but it seems to me that poetry is full of truth. Probably more truth is in poetry than in memoir. I'm working a lot with memoir these days, trying to figure some things about my family history out, and I find that I feel memoir is artifice, as you say, or artificial, because I have to leave so much out. To write a memoir of events leaves out the emotional reality, most of the time. To write what I was feeling can be more non-linear, non-narrative, more TRUE, in a sense, but less absolutely factual.

I definitely reveal more of myself in my poems than in any other kind of writing. (Except, I'll be honest, the absolutely explicit stream-of-memory writing about my sexuality and spirituality that I do fairly often—and which I do not feel it appropriate to reveal in this venue.)

Thank you all for a very stimulating and convivial day, after all. Cheers!

At 6:01 PM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

That's fascinating, Art: The emotional truth of your poetry versus the artifice of your memoir.

I don't write poetry myself, not since I was a child, and certainly then when I was a child I wrote awful poetry that was all artifice.

But I can hear what you're saying. I like to find the emotional truth in my autobiographical writing, though I try not to get too bogged down with facts and gaps. If facts get in the way, I deviate to write from my own memory and imagination.

I'm not so much interested in the factual truth of my experience. I have eight sisters and brothers. We all have different memories of roughly the same experience. Our emotional truths however are all very different.

People argue about these issues ad infinitum. I think in the end it comes down to whatever works for you, for your own emotional truths as opposed to someone else's version of what these should be.

Thanks for keeping up the discussion.

At 9:37 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Conviviality is such a lovely word, which conveys such a lovely feeling. If this conversation made gave you that feeling today it makes me feel supremely happy. A holiday toast to all of you precious folks.

At 11:21 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I baked white chocolate scones while I was making a reduced glaze from the juice of two fresh-squeezed oranges. It takes about two hours to simmer the orange juice down to a thick, gooey glaze.

Then I pan-roasted long strips of breast-meat chicken in olive oil and lemon and spices. When the chicken was cooked through I laid it on a bed of fresh baby spinach over rice. I glazed the chicken strips with the reduced orange sauce, and ate the meal with a couple of glasses of wine.

And that was my feast for the day. I made it for myself, and ate it myself, and felt good about it all. I actually have a bit of that eaten-too-much overstuffed feeling you're supposed to get on Thanksgiving Day. So that feels good. I might have a pie of apple pie with vanilla ice cream before going to bed, later on. Meanwhile, I'm sitting wrapped in blankets with another cup of tea.

And that was my solitary feast. Shared with you, and thus made less solitary, and more convivial.

Thanks again.

At 11:54 PM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

Well, Art, happy Thanksgiving. I'm glad you were able to make a feast for yourself however solitary.

At 8:23 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Elisabeth, you may feel that the time zone differences are a bit of a handicap for you in these conversations, but I can assure you it doesn't seem that way on our end. And I found it interesting that, like my wife, you're one of nine siblings. It helps explain your warmth and advanced people skills.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Alanna Klapp said...

I meant to comment on this post a long time ago, and in the meantime missed this fabulous discussion which I am just now reading. I just wanted to share my own secret anniversaries, but I know in no way can I touch the depth of the discussion that has gone on here. Amazing!

On February 6th, 2002, I quit smoking, and I haven't picked up a cigarette since.

On November 19th, 2000, my husband and I went on our first date. November 19th also happens to be his birthday. I couldn't believe he wanted to take me out on his birthday rather than do anything else. I've been with him every birthday ever since.

So, that's my two cents, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the comments here. John, keep up the good work! You really get people thinking and writing, which is awesome.

At 3:59 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

To the contrary, Alanna, those two are plenty deep and wonderful for me. Thanks for adding yours.


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