Mary Pipher, and Why Lately I'm Sitting a Lot

May 30, 2012

Dear Family,

“When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad--and that is my religion.”
--Abe Lincoln



“I know I'm counting right for 'one, two, three, four, five, six, seven'...but after I say 'ten, eleven' I _don't_ know if I'm saying it right!”

“Will hairs grow out of my armpit? Because I don't want them to.”

On a walk in the woods: “Don't worry about me! I'm in charge! Follow me...What we are, is, we're looking for a place to smash this [hickory] nut. ...I'll show you my three-head dandelion! ...I'm tired--not my body part, but my legs.”

“I want there to be places where there is gravity and where there isn't gravity, 'cause then I could go somewhere and float.”

While I'm driving: “Mama, why do you ALWAYS look at the road? ...You can look over there, and I'll tell you when there's a car coming.”

“I'm full to the tippity nippity top!”

“That's not just a pine forest, it's also a flower forest.”

“I don't want anyone to die--just stealers and strangers.”

Running into the house after viewing an impromptu post-bath (in the buff) lightning show: “I'm not scared, but I WANT a TOP!”

“Every time I look in the mirror, I'm surprised by how big I am.”

Tucking him into bed, I ask: Do you want the door open or shut? “...Open, 'cause if there's something funny I wanna hear it!”

Discussing atmospheric haze, and the ways you can see air when looking through a lot of it: “Dada, is the sky blue because you can see the air?”

Leaning over my belly: “I wonder if there's a girl inside you?”


Ben: How can there be forever?
Jem: Is time forever?
Ben: Time HAS to be forever because time always goes by.



Concerning “Farmer Boy,” at the part where Almanzo gets a threatened whipping: “You're never to old not to make mistakes! Even grown ups do.”


One side of a cell phone conversation overheard at the grocery store”

“...So, what's your problem?” The man listens for a minute or two before continuing: “Man, the only person who can fix YOUR problem is GOD!”


What Our Family is Up To These Days:

--Resting our weary selves (Jeff and me), and trying to remember ways to rejuvenate and nourish not ONLY our children.
--Riding bikes through the neighborhood as often and as fast as possible (Jem and Ben).
--Becoming the proud owner of a new helmet (Jem).
--Planting Our Gardens (all of us).
--Giving an informal talk to the Rochester Area Homeschoolers' Association (me), while visiting Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Terry and David and Donna in Prattsburgh (Jeff and the boys).
--Having a beautiful Blessingway (me), organized by friends and neighbors to celebrate the upcoming arrival of this kicking baby in my belly.
--Taking short local hikes and having fun adventures (all of us), and tentatively beginning to realize which activities are more possible and also realistic and fun for our whole family.
--Going on a Mother's Day camping trip with friends, in Herkimer, NY where we hunted for Herkimer Diamonds, had a lot of fun roasting hot dogs over a campfire, and enjoyed sleeping outside for the first time in a long time.
--Visiting our good friends Jenny and Brett and their adorable twin girls, having a chance to tour Northampton, MA, and getting to meet up for lunch with Susannah--all on the same day!
--Spending a great long weekend with Grandma Jan and Grandpa Sal, while also getting to attend Joseph's tenth (!!) birthday party.
--Reading some fun books and watching movies:

“Hugo Cabret”
“The Verdict”
“My Super Ex-Girlfriend” (totally low-brow and really fun)
“Love, Actually”
Penn and Teller's fabulous illusions (various clips on Youtube)
“The Avengers” (actually viewed by Jeff and me _in a theatre_, _together_, _sans children,_ _with friends_--possibly the first time in eight years that we've done anything like this). (The movie was very entertaining, also.)

“You Are Not So Smart”, by David McRaney
“Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms When My Lab Tests are Normal?”, by Datis Kharrazian
“The Autism Revolution”, by Martha Herbert
“Farmer Boy”, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
“God, No!”, by Penn Gillette
“The Great Magic Show”. by PJ Peterson
“The Star of Kazan”, by Eva Ibbotson


When I was fourteen or fifteen, I wrote an article (subsequently published in “Blue Jean” magazine ) concerning Mary Pipher's “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.” This book catapulted Pipher to relative fame and fortune on the NYT Bestseller's list, and felt exceedingly relevant to me at the time.

I hadn't kept up with Pipher's subsequent books until recently, when Lori recommended her latest, which is once again relevant to my life (and very different from “Ophelia”). “Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World” is a straightforward account of Pipher's nervous breakdown and recovery thereafter. Ironically, the trigger for her rising stress level was the fame and constant book touring that arrived on the heels of “Ophelia”'s success. Pipher makes a good point that Too Much Stress does not always come in the form of Terrible or Horrible life events--it can come from events that, even if welcomed or positive or hoped-for, provide more stress than a particular person can handle.

Here are some of the things that Pipher attempts to do along her healing journey:

--Simplify Daily Life, and focus less on self-improvement and more on self-acceptance.
--Arrest “The process of depletion,” and slowly replenish her Self.
--Clear white spaces in her to-do list to see what will unfold.
--Actually take a yoga class after all these years (Pipher discovered it wasn't nearly as scary as she had imagined).
--Rediscover things that brought comfort long-ago-in-life, and to find ways to trigger memories of past good times.
--Find role models: those who have faced adversity while finding pleasurable things to enjoy every day, despite their stressful situations.
--Be realistic about people's (in her case, her parents') failings while still loving them.
--Notice that her deepest pain came from “feeling so damn broken,” and not seeing her own goodness.
--Stop resisting pain, and to look at herself with less judgment and more curiosity.
--Instead of noting “good” and “bad” actions, wonder: what behaviors cause what results?
--Notice that accepting and acknowledging flaws in herself was paradoxically EASIER when focusing on basic-goodness-acceptance instead of self-flagellation.
--Notice that she accepted her baby granddaughter' imperfections and forgave her mistakes. “If Kate is fine just as she is, why can't I be as well?”

Pipher wonders: When did everything become “life and death”? And vows to rediscover humor. And she appreciates her husband, Jim, for being “simply there,” allowing her to trust that she would not be alone.

Some of the quotes from “Seeking Peace” that I liked the most:

--”We all have within us the capacity not only to heal from crises but also to turn our sorrow into something new and strong.”
--”For all people, regardless of the crisis, the cure is always growth.”
--“We may experience post-traumatic stress reactions, but we are beginning a process of post-traumatic growth syndrome.”
--”When I viewed my situation in psychological terms, I felt damaged. When I read Buddhist texts, I felt compassion toward myself and other people. I could view all my experiences as lessons in waking up.”
--One day, Pipher sees a bumper sticker: “...'Having a good time. Wish I were here.' That could have been coined for me.”
--One night during a long string of hotel visits, Pipher wakes up and confusedly searches for the bathroom. Getting lost in the closet instead, she begins to get sleepily angry at Jim, for apparently blocking the door with his coat and shoes. “This ridiculous experience is not unlike our process of growth. We keep pushing and pushing to get some place, and then we stop and notice where we are. This awareness allows us to change course. We can shift our path and at least orient toward the right door.”
--”The journey toward a more examined life nearly always begins with pain.”
--”I gave myself permission to join my fellow humans who don't arise from their beds smiling.”
--”On my best days, I can see myself with the eyes of someone who loves me and wants me to be happy.”
--”We all secretly suspect we are freaks, uniquely burdened and especially crazy. Yet this doesn't mean we can't find our place on earth and come to feel loved and welcomed here.”
--”The opposite of despair is not a surcease of despair. (Sorrows are all around us.) Rather, its opposite is an explosion of liveliness and joy.”


Recently, if someone asks me how I am, I tend to say, “I'm taking things minute-by-minute!” Which feels both accurate and also more honest than saying “Good!” or “Bad!”, because sometimes it seems like things are really only as good or bad as I have the energy to discover at any particular moment.

Having many hours of childcare each week is providing me with a chance to sit on my butt on the couch in a way that I have never done during the past eight years (or maybe ever, given that even pre-Ben, I still tended to have a hard time sitting down very much). And while I ponder life, GAPS, the universe, the upcoming birth of our baby, and everything else, I am resting myself and reducing my stress in a way that is pretty new to me. Sloooowly, over the past two months, I am actually more inclined to judge my situation as “good!” when asked. Sometimes I even say it right out, and skip the honestly complicated answer.

The other day, I ran into a woman whom we vaguely know, who was also doing some grocery shopping. It was a day that was pretty Good overall, even despite Ben's recent tantrum and various other stresses. Yes, “good” was definitely coming out ahead of “bad” in the Polls, so when the woman greeted me, I was mostly humming and shopping, feeling grateful for my remaining intact body systems, for the baby who is sending healthy kicks to my ribs all day long, that the kids were with a wonderful babysitter, that I had recently kissed my sweet husband (who had whispered a very sweet (though very unrepeatable) nothing into my ear), and that Scientific Studies Show that Humans are Better Able to Handle Stress when they're wildly in love with a long-term partner [see below]... All in all, I was feeling Good--and so “Good! How are you?” is what I answered when this acquantance asked me how I was doing.

And then began an interrogation, as she looked down at my bulging belly. “What a trooper!” the woman said sympathetically, apropos of nothing insinuated by me having said “good!”. “Is everything going okay?”

“Oh, well...yeah, I'm doing Good,” I repeated, “thanks.”

But the woman had more questions. “So, how many months are you?” When I told her, she clucked sympathetically. “So, is the baby doing okay?”

“Um....yeah,” I said, “the baby seems to be doing great!”

But this near-stranger was still probing, seemingly trying to find different answers, maybe the opposite of “good.”

“So, everything's going okay?” she tried again.

“Yeah,” I repeated, “it's going Good!”

And so it went, for a couple more uncomfortable minutes. It was getting so strange, this unrelenting concern and sympathy, despite me feeling so Good, that I was starting to maybe feel Bad after all. This woman and I hadn't spoken in many months, so it was very unlikely that she would know about my Nervous Breakthrough in any case. But she kept asking pointed questions, apparently hoping to discover _anything_ that wasn't Good.

“...So, has the pregnancy been totally smooth?” the woman asked finally.

And at this point, exasperated, I gave in. “Actually, no,” I said, “not smooth at all, since you're asking!”

I looked at her, and she looked at me while doing her sympathetic clucking, and I was immediately annoyed at myself for saying even this much, since it felt like the opposite of a therapeutic complaint--more like a not-necessarily-true-at-the-moment and somewhat forced admission. The truth is, some days you actually have to hunt specifically for the Bad, even if you've recently had a recent nervous breakthrough.


More reasons to be hopeful: as I mentioned, humans appear to better handle stress when they are in love with a long-term lover! These blog posts reinforce the potential benefits of adoring your partner:…


I hope that you are all having a great week! Or at least a week with a few great moments interspersed.