At the Glen Park library returning a David Sedaris audio book (Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls — his father’s abuse so friggin’ horrific, I thought David was joking at first. He wasn’t.), I asked the librarian for the strangely titled Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, the one I saw on my friend, Eileen’s table.
I like it when books “jump off the shelf” at me. In the way that Julie Barton’s dog, Bunker, chose her (in her brilliant and deeply moving Dog Medicine). I like to be chosen by a book. But lately no books had jumped. Until Ms. Oliphant.
Eleanor Oliphant is a novel, but reads memoir. I told Eileen I got the book. She hadn’t heard of it. But then, who recommended it? I asked. She didn’t know.
Initially I was bored with Eleanor. Her weirdness, her judgements about others, her empty life. I almost gave up on her. That would have been a big mistake.
I want to tell you. Get this book. And hang in. Maybe you won’t relate to it; I don’t know. But it knocked me off a cliff.
Feeling knocked off a cliff was vastly more interesting than free-floating in the not-knowing I’d been doing this summer.
At 71, I don’t know why I still have to figure things out. Someone said we probably have to figure things out our whole life. Dang!
For seven years I did some psychological-spiritual figuring-out in a program called Diamond Heart. I stopped about eight years ago after, in a short space of time, I had a falling out with each of the three teachers that taught our little band of — I don’t know — maybe 70 or 80 mind explorers.
One teacher tried to convince me I could trust the universe. I tried to explain to her why trust was not even close to what I felt. She was clearly frustrated that I wasn’t accepting her too-pat answers to my questions. At last she summed up — you have a long way to go. It felt condescending, dismissive, and awful. I was pissed, but instead of saying that (ie, trusting myself!) I shut up and sat down. I had been taught and learned well how not to trust my own bullshit meter, how not to know my truth, let alone speak it. Anyway, it’s not always safe to call bullshit; sometimes you can make matters worse. Especially when you’re a child. But habits gets learned, and stay beyond their usefulness or welcome. You know this, right? And frankly? Speaking truth to power can be dangerous even as an adult.
Recently my sister and I were having a seemingly loving visit with Mom when Mom decided to announce to my sister — in front of me — that my sister is the perfect, the preferred child. It was the first time I’d heard her verbalize this explicitly, but far from the first time she had communicated it to me. Her words caught me off guard. I didn’t have time to raise a defensive arm, or do an Aikido side-step maneuver; the blow landed a direct hit. I worked really really hard all summer to save her life (I exaggerate Not.) and make sure she was treated with respect and kindness by her caregivers. I thought I’d done a really good job. Witness the results! (see pics from my last post). God knows, I tried. At first I was speechless, overcome with feelings — hurt, anger. I’m trying to add forgiveness into the mix.
We all have or had mothers. I’m one too. It is the hardest job to do well. Mistakes get made.
As Eleanor Oliphant would say, “I’m merely stating the facts. People don’t like these facts, but I can’t help that. If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because… FINE is what you say.
I guess I just wanted to say that Eleanor Oliphant and I are completely fine. Umm, well, maybe not completely. But… fine. Kind of. Yes. It’s a slow process peeling off layers of good-girl nice, and numb, and silent.
In the meantime, there are ten thousand distractions, joys, and sorrows.
Beside, we have a supreme court nominee to help defeat, a planet to attempt saving, a November election to win, and kidnapped children still to rescue from GOP-Trump terrorist incarceration.
There are gardens to weed, beauty to discern, and photos to take. There are friends to visit. A first vacation in 3 years to go on. A daughter.
I’ve been calling a lot of bullshit lately. It’s risky. I know that. But it feels somewhat liberating to use my voice to speak truth (at least my truth) to power, whether that power is a corrupt government or my amazingly powerful 98 year old mother. And then there’s the BS of my own self-judging mind. How often I get blind-sided by it!
I’m just sayin’. The book is due back at the library tomorrow. I’ll drop it off on my way to the Climate March.
I’d love to hear from you about — Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine — after you read it.