Essay · Memoir

On Near Death Experiences and IANDS

On February 8, 2023, I attended a webinar hosted by International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). This was my first time attending an IANDS webinar. What took me so long? Even if you haven’t experienced a Near-Death Experience (NDE), you will benefit from the depth and breadth of information from IANDS’ forty years of delving into human consciousness at the limits of life and death. It is at those moments that we come face-to-face with essential questions such as “Why are were here?”

I was a member of IANDS in the past, but I had somehow let my subscription lapse. Thankfully, at the beginning of the year, they reached out to me via email to advertise both their 2023 conference in Arlington, VA, and their upcoming webinars.

My most recent visit to France in November 2022 profoundly affected me and I’d been mulling over the meaning of my life’s journey and the role that my two near-death experiences had played in it. I simply would not be alive today without them. And I’m not saying that lightly. So, I took IANDS’ reaching out to me via email as a call to action and did two things:

  • I submitted a proposal for the IANDS conference whose theme is HAS YOUR NDE OR RELATED EXPERIENCE INSPIRED YOU INTO A NEW WAY OF BEING IN THE WORLD? Whether or not my proposal is accepted, I’m grateful to have taken it to heart as the questions that I had to answer helped me formulate what I need to write about.
  • I attended the webinar titled WHY ARE WE HERE? hosted by Janice Holden, EdD, and featuring author Sandi Taranto who wrote Dandelion Child.

I’m grateful to Sandi for sharing her experiences. She suffered horrific abuse in the foster system and has powerful things to say about the meaning of life and the role of her NDEs in her own life. I’m also grateful to her for raising the following three important points:

  • The memory of the NDE doesn’t change, but our interpretation of it does.
  • The problem comes when you describe to others what you experienced during an NDE.
  • The problem is not just one of word inadequacy but resides within the narrative structure.

Thank you to all the people involved in IANDS from the start! I found my tribe!

Photo by Diana Orey on Unsplash

Essay · Memoir

Vision Corrections

My stepmother informed me by email that my father was in critical condition after a fall occasioned by a stroke. He is in his eighties. Sorrow did not overtake me. This is not a Hallmark card.

The week prior to his fall, my father had called me in the middle of the night to hurl raging insults at me. Seriously. Barely hello. I was a monster, evil, the worst piece of this and that, etc., spiked up in hateful expletives — in French.

He doesn’t do that often, not even once a year. The problem was that, on that first night of October 2022 when my cell rang, I felt utterly defenseless. I had been sound asleep, farther into safety than the Atlantic Ocean and the entire North American continent. A daughter made
new by exile. In that state, I had no need for psychological defenses.

Before I could even think of hanging up on him, he had done much damage.

Much like a dictator does, or a recent US president.

Within minutes, my left eye was in pain. I experienced sudden vision loss like when I was four. Or six. I couldn’t remember exactly. I told my optometrist, who told me that the link between trauma and vision was now well-established and who explained that the sight difference between my left and right eyes was now so large that my brain had difficulty balancing the two extremes.

I did not expect that my father would still have the power to damage my body. I pondered what I had written in my essay, Revenge Savings. I decided enough was enough and booked a flight from Los Angeles to Bordeaux.

When I arrived, my father was up and walking about. His wife lifted his shirt to show me that his back was still purplish-black from the fall. I told him that I was losing my vision in my left eye, just like when he was going to make me love me since my mother would not when I was four, or six, no five, maybe, at the time when he and his new wife were getting engaged.

No end-of-life apologies for me but I did not back down. I went for the metaphorical kill. I even managed to, in real-time, point out his reactions. Reactions that “perpetrators of wrongdoing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior,” Reactions which can be summed up as Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.

On the day of my departure, I stopped by his house one last time. My father refused to come out of his bedroom. His enabling wife said that he wasn’t feeling well. She would not allow me into his room out of concern for his health.

Cowardice!

The vision loss in my left has now stabilized. I do hope that this healing sticks.

Essay · Memoir

Secrets of WWII 

I recently visited Secrets of WWII at the Reagan Library There, I explored “over a hundred rare and unique stories and hundreds of artifacts” that were “not even made public until recently.” Particularly touching to me were the panels dedicated to the horses, birds, and dogs who had been forced into the war. What I saw and read, however, felt somewhat removed from my personal life experience until I happened upon a glass case that contained a German helmet and a telephone that the Germans used to communicate.

“They forgot the Waffen SS boots,” my grandmother and I thought. « Les bottes noires des boches, tu les vois ? »

My grandmother Marinette, deceased for three decades, was standing with me by that glass case, asking me, in French, if I could see the black boots. No longer was I standing in the lower level of the Reagan Library in 2022: Marinette and I were both frozen in dread in the cellar of the family live-in store in the early seventies in a remote village of the Auvergne region of France.

Marinette suffered from then-undiagnosed PTSD, the result of her active role in the French Resistance. For her, WWII had never ended, and to hide us both from the Nazis, she would rush me down to the cellar throughout my youth and well into the early eighties. From the diminutive, street-level rectangular window, she could still see the dreaded boots march by the store.

My maternal grandparents Marius and Marinette were both members of the French Resistance. Records about their service are archived in the French Defense Historical Service in Vincennes, near Paris. They had put themselves in grave danger, and many of their friends had died. Marinette’s closest cousin Yvonne, also a Resistance member, had been caught and deported. She miraculously survived Ravensbrück from August 1944 until May 1955. Here is a link to a short story that I wrote about Yvonne https://thecentifictionist.home.blog/2021/05/10/yvonnes-parakeets/

 My maternal grandparents also raised me for the first few years of my life starting in the mid-sixties. Twenty years after the end of WWII, they still lived and worked in the same tailoring shop in the village’s main square by the 12th-century church. Their trusted friends from their time in the Resistance continued to stop by to reminisce around homemade pastries and tart cherry liquor. They told stories high in color in patois Auvergnat, which is a local dialect of the Occitan language, the language of the French peasantry. My grandfather, who hailed from the south of France (an area with a different dialect of Occitan) was not as fluent in patois Auvergnat as his wife and fellow résistants, so he’d switch to his southern-accented French when the actions recounted required words said in rapid-fire.  

My grandmother was especially vocal about les collabos. Those people were either supporting or full members of La Milice, which was a paramilitary organization created in January 1943 by the collaborationist French government to combat la Résistance. Those were people she had also grown up with. They were even more dangerous than les boches, she said, because you were prone to assume that you could trust them, but you could not.

Silent dread set in once their résistant friends left. My grandparents would usually drown themselves in work, then, while I often went up to the attic to scrutinize the remnant of the bleach-resistant blood stains on the unpolished pine floorboards. The attic was where they had hidden wounded résistants and British paratroopers. Tonton Mabrut, head of the resistance for the region and a medical doctor by profession, would sneak in under cover of night to remove exploding bullets from mangled limbs. My grandmother was the one to assist in the operations because my grandfather would faint at the sight of blood.

Once my grandparents retired, they sold the store to move into a brand-new house. Perhaps they hoped that the physical move could make them new also, that it could remove their dread and even the painful parts of the lives that they had lived so far. I took it a step further and moved to America. But dread takes more than relocation to dislodge.

Essay · Memoir

What’s a Monarch Got to Do With It?

Queen Elizabeth II died a few days ago. I am not British and do not like the monarchy as an institution, and yet the queen’s image has been one of the watermarks that has shaped the landscape of my life.

When I was born in France, she was already queen across the Channel. By the time I was a teenager, her son, now king, was already hunting with hounds on horseback, and his mother let him do it. I remember seeing photos in the newspapers and thinking that there was no difference between the English and the French nobility. I liked neither. I did not like hunters, period. For that reason, I also did not like French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, an avid hunter. While still in high school, I concluded that there was no difference between aristocracy and republicanism as both their respective representatives showed off their power by romanticizing ritualized violence against those with limited to no means of defending themselves.

I was myself a misguided romantic when I moved to the USA, however. In middle and high school, when I started learning English as a foreign language, people of the Commonwealth were still called British subjects. I knew with certainty that I would not move anywhere that would require me to become the subject of any queen or king, so I chose the United States of America as my terrain of exile. And to those who tried to oppose my move, I would say that everyone in the USA was naturally good and courageous enough to crush the forces of evil so prevalent in the old world. What’s strange is that I was a good student, one who had already learned in books that I was wrong, and yet I couldn’t stop myself. I had to believe that there was a Good God in the USA.

I’m older now. I’ve traveled out of the old world, and I’ve also traveled out of the new world, both literally and figuratively. Here is the conclusion I have reached:

Is there a monarch out there, anywhere, who can ritualize genuine kindness towards the earth and all its lifeforms? Is there a monarch out there who will steadfastly brandish that torch and keep it lighted as we blow life into our dying earth? To that one, I will bow.

Announcement · Memoir

From “Revenge Savings” to “Breaking the Ties That Bind”

My parents, who split up before my first birthday, hated each other with a passion and disagreed on everything except on one matter of importance: that I should never have been born. My father told me that it would have been better for me. My mother told me that it would have been better for her. I believed them both. It is not that surprising, then, that, around the time of my sixteenth birthday, I became paralyzed and nearly died. I did go to the threshold where you can no longer return to your body, and I stayed there a while pondering my future. I understood that if I kept traveling farther from the hospital room in which I lay, however, my new life would be worse than if I returned to live on as the kid who should never have been born, so I grudgingly reintegrated my quarters. During my out of body trip, I also learned that I was supposed to figure out what I had come to do in life and do it, but I was clueless about how to proceed with my newfound mission.

I learned that both my parents were wrong: my life was not in error. I also learned that I was supposed to figure out what I had come to do in life and do it. At sixteen, however, I was clueless about how to proceed with my newfound mission. How was I going to learn how to want to remain alive long enough to figure out what I had come to do in life and do it? It would take over a decade to find the answer to my question. “Breaking the Ties That Bind,” my newest creative nonfiction story [Mothership — Talon Review Volume 2 Issue 6], explores that moment when an unexpected, horrifying confrontation with a transgenerational monster becomes the catalyst that allows me to envision the meaning of the rest of my life.

“Breaking the Ties That Bind” started its story life with fewer than three hundred words and was promptly rejected by a couple of magazines that publish short shorts. The story grew to a respectable 1,500 words, but I was still hesitant to send it out to publishers. The subject matter – fighting an intergenerational matrilineal monster – was taboo. But then again, I had already published “Revenge Savings” which is about another taboo subject in Tangled Locks Journal. Since Teresa Berkowitz, the publisher, had steadily boosted my confidence while helping me develop an online presence, I had learned to trust her editorial input. With the help of Teresa’s editorial feedback, “Breaking the Ties That Bind” found a permanent home in Mothership — Volume 3, Issue 6 of The Talon Review.

Much gratitude also to the editorial team at UNF’s The Talon Review. “Breaking the Ties That Bind” found its perfect home!

Announcement · Fiction · Memoir

A Toast to Digestive Health and to a Fantastic Editor

For half a year now, I have been suffering from often painful digestive health problems. I thought that perhaps I had done all the digestion I could do in one lifetime both physically and metaphorically speaking. And yet, to keep on living, I had to keep on digesting, so how would I do that?

One day, the thought occurred to me that I would need to split my digesting into two parts: the French part and the American part. My problem seemed more manageable that way. Here is what I would do: draw two circles in white chalk on a blackboard. The circle to the left would be smaller than the circle to the right because I only had about twenty years of French living versus thirty-five plus years of American living.

I drew the circles from left to right because I had learned to write from left to right and because I had assimilated the arbitrary construct that time traveled from left to right. I would digest my binational living from the oblong area where both circles intersected. With my piece of white chalk, I started highlighting that area of intersection so it would look like a cloud because I felt at ease on planes above clouds and, on land, I did some of my best thinking with no roof above my head.

Almost imperceptibly, I had become the French sixth grader who loved her math class. I barely took the time to notice the inkwells on the neatly arranged wooden desks from which my classmates and I watched our teacher draw shapes and circles and letters and numbers. I had walked up to the blackboard and started drawing my cloud inside the oblong area of the two intersecting circles that symbolized my life. The chalk dust made me sneeze.

My teacher, Monsieur Raoul, had stepped to the side and was waiting for me to finish. I did not get scared when he called me to the blackboard to solve a math problem, but now I was, and I froze. I was too close to the board. I could no longer see the circles for what they represented, and the cloud I was drawing seemed like a ridiculous thing to do in a math class. I was failing the exercise.

Somehow, I retreated forward to the present time, but outside of the larger circle that should have represented my American life. I was back on my couch in the suburbs of Los Angeles with a roof over my head and no clouds in sight. My two dogs were asleep next to me. It became suddenly clear that figuring out what was going on at the intersection of my binational life was a futile exercise, at least for now. Instead, I thought of focusing on the single thread that ran through all my splits at the seams: dogs. My love of my canine family members and their love for me will be the subject of a future post.

2021 was a good year for my published work. For now, I am trying to close the door to the year 2021 as elegantly and productively as I can. During the first week of 2022, I learned that a very short fiction piece I had written last year will be anthologized by Poets’ Choice, an Indian publisher based in Mumbai, but two of the stories I wrote last year are still looking for a home.

Because I have been unusually exhausted for the last few months, I feared that I may not have the energy to keep writing in 2022. That was a depressing thought. I needed help, but I did not know how to articulate the type of help I needed regarding the future of my writing. Thankfully, I did remember how empowering and joyful it had been to work with Teresa Berkowitz, the editor of Tangled Locks Journal, and I reached out to her.

In the fall of 2021, I had the especially good fortune to have my short memoir, “Revenge Savings,” published by Tangled Locks Journal. Teresa is extremely supportive of my writing so I sent her my 2021 unpublished fiction and creative nonfiction for developmental feedback. Tangled Locks Journal has launched services to support writers including developmental editing and promotion.

I have been lucky to study and work with gifted English professors, but Teresa is truly the best editor I have met for both fiction and creative nonfiction, and she also works at baffling speed. Best of all, Teresa once again boosted my confidence. Her detailed feedback is also allowing me to reflect on the type of writing I want to pursue next.

I am welcoming in 2022 with renewed energy and, health permitting, I will be writing a short memoir this year.