Monday, December 21, 2009

Grooming Kit

I'm exploring intimacy, and part of what it means to be a daughter. One of the ways my brain and body want to discuss it goes like this:

Leigh: Before you existed, I dreamed of you. Wished for you and read books about men cupping both of you from behind. My breasts, mountainous flesh that makes men weak. (Not just the men) And because of you, they wanted me. As though we were connected.

Leigh and Breasts, In unison: But I -- But Leigh would not be groomed.

Breasts: "Leigh was zero parts Lolita. She would not have it. Not her thing."

Leigh and Breasts, In unison: "Fathers are not supposed to fuck their daughters, no matter how old or unrelated they are."

Leigh: Infractions resulted in a back-the-fuck-off reaction. Wouldn't you agree?

Breasts: But they did take no for an answer. Each and every one. At least they did that.

Leigh: And for that I am grateful. But still, because I would not be groomed, there is no proof. There is no rape kit, because there was no rape. Just grooming. Is there a grooming kit?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

brain dump #2: freaky four-eyed foster lizard

a bit more than half an hour this time, sorry.


look at it from a 'knack' perspective. people who seem to have innate abilities, aptitudes or gifts. my gift has been materializing people to help, and lately they seem to appear more easily, the depression isn't a constant fog anymore (keeping me busy with the very basics). So much glimmery light and possibility now. A challenge to choose a path, when I can do whatever I want-in small increments of time. (Hard for a person who likes to dive right in.)

my legacy with money. At 16, I lived with one fostermom whose sole pleasure in life seemed to be shopping, acquiring things. My foster parents bought me a beautiful opal ring in one of those pawnshops they frequented. A dainty opal, center-set in yellow gold, with petite accent diamonds on either side. So very fun, the high of picking out and owning nice things. Seeing it sparkle on my finger. The significance doesn't occur to you at the time. It was pretty and they blew some money. Whatever. Commitment? Whatever. A kind of wedding ring. A symbol of change, of commitment, to signify the event. And yet I don't ever recall that kind of conversation. What of this is pure invention, interpretation? My own projections? I wish I knew. I think I do, and where I don't, I won't lie. Or I won't intentionally lie. Because the records will carry their own weight. Have court documents, with dates. Official things. Fuck.

Pawnshops were the junkyards of the city dwellers, and they housed historical and unusual things, old diamond filligree wedding rings, each with a history of its own, but lined up at a pawnshop, it's common thread, decline. We'd head out to the Killeen area. The dad had a restaurant there, and the mom had a good friend whose family owned and operated a beauty school. She ran it, efficiently, so it seemed, with good student output. She bought a tanning booth, and I would use it, not for tanning but for my psoriasis. The doctor said sun was good for it. For lots of reasons, vitamin D, UV rays etc. I became aware of psoriasis in the 5th grade. Small scaly patches that reacted to regular lotion with a sting that would grow into a mad, flaming red. (stress, internalized stress)

Little patches became big scaly patches on my elbows and knees, my toes. It sucked. Itchy and ugly. I tried so many different things over the years, lotions, salves, medicated tape. Psoriasis and the fog both started in the 5th grade. It was the same year that I realized I was going blind. I had no idea that leaves on trees had just started melting and melding into more globular structures. That I was inching closer to the chalkboard in school. So, by fifth grade (age 10), I was a scaly kid, with big teeth and glasses. Like some kind of foster lizard, from a distant desert. Maybe it was the onset of puberty that set it off, but I didn't start having a period until 7th grade (age 12). What I really think is that foster care put me over the edge. Which means stress. HIgh levels of stress affect our bodies in crazy ways. Autoimmune disorders for example, which psoriasis is. That and my weak ankles. The ligaments in my ankles weren't working properly, maybe it started in the 6th grade? I would be walking along, walking along and phfllt, my ankle would twist, often resulting in a painful sprain. So I was a scaly kid, with big teeth and glasses, and my ankles were constantly giving out on me, AND i loved to read. Just call me granny. The doctor who told me that I had tendonitis (my ankle issue), said, this is a disorder we usually see in the elderly. I can't understand why you would have it. (stress, internalized stress)

one of the placements I had was with granny, my bio father's step mom. In the lingo, this is called a relative placement. Though she wasn't related in blood, she was in spirit. Her spirit was tough, but her body was weak. (stress, internalized stress; asthma, diabetes, allergies.) I lived with her for 5th grade and the beginning of 6th. (So, more than 12 months, but I'm not sure how much more. ) With Granny I could not let go. I had to protect her, from me, and so it bubbled out in other ways, forgetfulness, for one. I was such a forgetful kid, I could only focus on what was at hand. and when I was back at my front door at home, when I was supposed to be waiting after school to be picked up, I would remember. oh shit. I did it again. It was not spitefulness, it was just trying to keep up with the tight little sphere around me. Granny didn't realize all kids are challenging at such an age. She thought, that as a veteran 6th grade reading teacher, used to dealing with wacky hormones and attitudes applenty, that she could just 'handle' me. Or so we hoped. I have this vague perception of visiting my bio dad, while I was living with granny that year. She would quiz me when I came home, wanting to know what I had eaten, at his house. I didn't understand that it was insulting to her that my dad would eat steak, while she was subsisting on a teacher's salary, paying off massive debt from her dead doctor husband, and raising me on her own. She was grudgingly supported by most of her family. (They had already given up on me. The apple doesn't fall to far from the tree, they must have thought.) I remember my Uncle Allen telling Granny to save money by recycling the kitchen garbage bags. That we should take the garbage and dump it all in the big outdoor can, returning the plastic bag to the kitchen. Granny, a clean freak, thank god, would not have it. And grumbled about his brand of helpfulness.

In the year between being removed from my father's home, and moving in with granny, I was a stressed out little person, who ranted, raved and broke lamps while living with my first foster family. I was so happy to be with Granny, but it wasn't easy. I knew that I needed to be good because she was fragile. I knew that I had to take care of her too, but bottling all of the anger and confusion, with no place to go? Ticking timebomb, kind of shit. Really. Except I must have been in therapy. Don Johnson was my therapist off and on for so many years. He was often the only constant. But it was a thin thread, that constancy. I want his notes. I need to contact him. I don't remember the therapy as much, because it was a safe place. But I know that it helped, because I'm here today, with a such a beautiful life. I work hard every day to have this beautiful life.

And so, now that I'm safe again, in life, in home, in community, in husband, in children, in dogs, in working, in mothering, in spreading myself everywhere; and being nourished in return. I'm such a freak show, and I have all this crap demanding release. I was a scaly, four-eyed foster lizard. but not anymore. oops, i think I'm missing something from my list of themes, that I'm a success story. It makes me a little sick to hear that nauseating phrase, but it's true.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

brain dump #1, devil inside

Per the challenge 'write for half an hour a day, for seven days'. Instructions: set the timer, write. The timer dings, stop writing, then post. yikes.


brain dump: mad drinking skills. T has mad drinking skills and I'm a lightweight. I should be though, kidney disease and all. wait. back up where's the rest of the writing ritual? I have superthin socks on that fit into my favorite coppery heels. show some respect for your husband. he mustered the troops out the door and over to the rec center so I can work.

It's like this, I'm a mom, with a stay at home budget and life. I want to be satisfied with attempting a well-oiled machine kind of existence, with preparing only the healthiest meals for my beautiful boys, my family. And I do take pleasure in doing those things, so long as they're not the only things.

"Devil inside, devil inside. Every single one of us, a devil inside."

That's my problem. A devil inside. A devil that has zero respect for housewives, despite demonstrated difficulty and mad skills needed to get the job done. I don't want to be anybody's bitch. And yet I'm everyone's bitch. I had no idea that motherhood would make me everyone's bitch. Familial slavery (on bad days). So where does this attitude come from? my dad, who required worship? A man born of his own childhood pain. His mother died when he was a boy. Of polycystic kidney disease (PKD), His father, a doctor, could not save her. Dialysis was brand new, but too late. The bottle became his father's solace, and nature too. Fishing trips. Lot's of fishing in Alaska and then back in Texas, where the local cops would stop him on his swervy drives home. They might have said, "Hey there Dr. Barr, let's get you home. Officer Pete here will drive your car the rest of the way. Nice catch today, Dr. Barr." Maybe grandpa set this man's arm, aftermath of local bar fight or maybe he birthed this man's three sons. The way it was back then, GPs in small towns saw it all. They were the closest medical help, period.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

exploring theme

This is a Lighthouse Writer's Workshop class assignment from 10-27-09.

1. read the rest of Stop-Time by Frank Conroy

2. complete theme exercise started in class
(15 minutes, writing every single theme Foster Princess could possibly be.)

coming of age
influence and escape of books (like oh god it's me Margaret)
privilege of place and race (whiteness) in the system/entitlement
what we hold onto vs letting go
transition framework (endings,neutral zone, new beginnings)
father complex/oedipal
surviving his god complex
middle class to middle class, and rags to riches
outsider, wanting in-
finding family
finding place
belonging- and being picky about it
fitting in/chameleon/shapeshifter/true core
anger as fuel
gospel of me: what is truth? what are records? bias? perspective? labels
leaving who, in whose wake?
cinderella story (I did have an evil step mother, and at least one evil step sister)
labels- how we use them and transform them: manipulative to strategist
secrets that we keep
the guides/people that raised me (mothers, fathers, grandparents, staff, siblings)
portals into the craziness
escape routes
control- what you can and cant control (survival mechanisms)/loss of control
depression in children
time- when is it a slow crawl/when its too fast to even record/passage and different speeds
born at the wrong time,
nourishment-emotional and physical
INTIMACY- emotional and physical (sexuality)
innocence regained
unbecoming evil
cleansing/making space
the culture of foster care

Now, highlight the ones with the most energy, (just 2 or three) and write a paragraph about each.


blogging intimidates me. I write on a daily basis, and yet I want to censor things before I post them. which begs the question: What is blogging exactly? An online journal? Sure. But with some boundaries? Because in my journal, it all hangs out. And that, honestly, seems a bit much.

Bottom line, perfection is the enemy, perfection is the enemy- certainly at this stage. So, a friend of mine challenged me to a half hour per day, for seven days fix. (seven working days...) Meaning set the timer, write. The timer dings, stop writing, then post. that scares the shit out of me. which means I should probably do it. Until then, here is a quote we edited out of Flux: Life After Foster Care, the imperfect yet groovy new book, just published by FCAA. This would have been in the bio family chapter. It's one of a few juicy bits (written by and about me) that were a little inflammatory for the final version.

I ended up in foster care, in part, because my father is a small-time Christian cult leader. Sounds crazy to say, but it's true. Cult leader types don't make the best dads, they're far too busy preaching, healing and having sex (aka: tending to the flock). At some point my dad decided that I was evil, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't quite beat it out of me (the evil). Foster care happened. Nine years and more than 20 placements weren't great, but it could've been worse. I called him every few years, to see if his phone number had changed. To listen to his voice. When I turned 18, he still thought I was evil, harming everything I touched; nine years and nothing much had changed.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Contain-her Art

Container Art. Containment Art. Whatever it is, the symbolism is clear. I've been collecting containers, all shapes and sizes, for a very long time.

See the little wooden box, next to the pig? It was the first. My bio dad made it, in his garage workshop, in a suburb of Austin, Texas. He gave it to me when I was seven (ish). An apology-gift that arrived while I was dusting the lion's feet. He bent down, peered under the dining room table and held it out in his hand. A silent offering, with the hint of an entreating look.

I've been holding onto that box for thirty years. It still contains his apology, and his touch.

So, finally, I understand that it's time to unpack all of the bits and pieces that I've been lugging around, literally, and fit them to the appropriate container. Containers that represent experiences, people, places, families. Containers that represent different chapters in my life. Examining what I've held onto, my version of a record, will surely reveal some of what I'm supposed to be writing.

writing shoes...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rituals for Writing- Watch out Mister Rogers

A celebration is in order. I've known for a long time now that I need an opening and closing ritual for writing. Something to get me started, and something to bring me back. Lighting a candle is nice, but somehow, for writing Foster Princess, it's not enough. Not complicated enough or meaningful enough. So, I realized today that I do have a ritual. It started just yesterday, but when the shoe fits... call it a ritual.

I have this fabulous pair of sling-back, mildly-platform, tasteful-but-sassy, copper colored shoes. A buckle at the toe, compliments of Timeri. And I slipped them on yesterday, while feeling lonely, and needing to settle down and write. Hans had taken the boys to the rec center for a swim- leaving me 'to work'. Anyway, I slipped them on, and immediately I realized that I had to prop them up on my desk, and take a picture.

I've been telling my sweet Hans that I wear heels, per his request, but I don't think he believes me, and so, photographic proof was in order. I left that picture as last taken on the camera, hoping he would pick it up and notice, but he didn't. So later, I showed it to him. He approved.

So, this morning, the shoes beckoned. They were sitting beside my uncomfortable, and terribly un-ergonomic work station, in their own coppery glow. I sat down and slipped them on. Propped my feet up and snapped a picture-with my cell phone this time, and sent it to Hans. Voila. Writing has begun.

Watch out Mister Rogers. I love a comfy sweater, and slippers too, but somehow, for now, only heels will do.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

first day of residential treatment

This is a sample of some older material that I'm organizing into the new structure of Foster Princess. It needs lots of work, but what doesn't?

First Day
Corina was bald. Not chemo-patient bald, but male-pattern-baldness-bald; as though a tidy, even line was drawn around her skull, temple to temple, separating shiny, tan skin from thick, brown hair. She looked like miniature monk in training, minus the brown robe. Her dark lashless eyes looked me over and then away as I brought my bags into the room and set them on the bed. She was dressed in a nightgown, a baggy, long-sleeved purple thing and laceless fake Keds, washed and bleached so many times the rubber had separated from canvass, in more places that not. The pale yellow room smelled of Windex and musty feet.

Corina was my first roommate at Settlement Club Home, a residential treatment facility for kids, ages ten to seventeen. The day I arrived, Nelson Cottage was on shutdown. Shutdown is group punishment for a variety of bad behaviors, and none of the residents are exempt, not even the new ones. Shutdown means no one is allowed to talk, listen to music, leave their half of the bed room, or wear clothes tempting enough to run away in. You eat meals in your room and ask permission to use the restroom. Excluding books, all of your possessions are locked away. Reading and school work are allowed. Therapy is allowed. Staring at walls and sleeping are also allowed. For those who don't like to read, or silently plot escape, it's a boredom fest.

With my back to Corina, I stripped down to bra and panties and pulled a nightgown over my head. She was looking at me again; evaluating me and the clothes now spilling out of my bag. I finished changing and then we watched as my things were locked into a closet. The click of the dead bolt, the jingle of keys. Two locked closets, side by side. One full length mirror bolted to the wall. Twin beds in opposite corners, two desks and two short book shelves back to back, dividing the room. One narrow shaft of light illuminating my new home.

Alone with Corina, I sat on the edge of my bed, gently bounced and then pulled back the covers. If I fall asleep, maybe I'll wake up some place else. As my head hit the lone, flat pillow, a piercing screech snapped me back up.

“Corina! No talking allowed! You know that,” yelled a voice from down the hall.

That was talking? I looked over at Corina, her shoulders and head visible above the desk. Her naked eyes blinked back at me, staring.

There she is, my new roommate. A skinny, bald bird in this new freak zoo.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

my motivation? put it down, so I can let it go

This essay is called Form 4885, which I wrote while filling out forms to request my case records from my time in foster care. A version of this will soon be published in Flux: Life after Foster Care.


Form 4885. Submit to Family and Protective Services, Legal Unit, Austin, Texas. Note, the one-page, request for records reads, Videotapes of abuse victims cannot be released.

Unless a clacking, grinding Polaroid counts, I don't recall any videotaping. What I do recall is sitting with a social worker in her crowded mess of an office, and on the round Formica table, squeezed in beside her desk, I saw the edge of a picture peeking out of a folder. A mostly naked picture of me.

Form 4885 doesn't mention pictures, but I want copies of those too. My record dates back 29 years, and I'm told that such an old record, if it still exists, will be in micro-fiche form. So pictures, if they exist, will be grainy black and white reproductions. Bruises in shades of gray, instead of deep purples fading into blue, green and iridescent yellow.

Form 4885 requires the Approximate time period for events- and I want the entire record. 1980 through 1990 is what I write on the form. When I think about Form 4885, the form which will result in records, the records that will surely arrive in a file box or possibly three, my throat tightens. Sometimes it threatens to close. I want the records, but I don't want the records. I want the answers, but the answers will result in more questions. More questions and more anger.

One question hovers, the badge-of-honor question. How many placements did I have? Or is it, how many times did I move? One foster mother told me that she counted 21. OK. But 21 what? I know that the foster homes, emergency shelters, adoptive homes, kinship care, respite care, hospital stay, residential treatment center and the group home all count. But somehow I lost count.

Questions aside, I want a chronology of my life. I want to put it down so I can let it go. I'm driven to share it, the all of it, just as I'm driven towards Form 4885. The form which will render a box, a box full of what many other people have written. The box of the gospel according to Patricia, or Karen or the blond woman whose husband died of brain cancer, or Ernestine the Catholic, or the quiet, dark-haired guy that took me out for ice cream in his brown, beat-up, two-door truck, or Judy - who I still know to this day. I remember the names of four social workers. I remember the actions of more. Their notes add up to their truth. I have the gospel of me.

Leigh Ecke, alumna, age 36, CO, 9 years in care

Monday, September 28, 2009

my goal? a shitty first draft

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft."
-Anne Lamott

It's that simple. My goal is a shitty first draft. One year from now, a shitty first draft.

what I have so far:
1. a title- Foster Princess
2. a solid outline
3. old material-scenes and some exposition, spanning all time periods and placements in my life; I'm now organizing this material into the new structure.
4. concepts and beginnings of two parallel art projects to help understand and organize the chaos- as I go.
5. external structure- a writing class starting in two weeks: which means deadlines (, and this blog
6. two short term goals- draft one chapter by Oct 13th, the first day of my upcoming class and blog twice a week.
7. a mid-range project goal- one year from now (September 29, 2010) a shitty first draft of Foster Princess.

There are plenty of things I don't have (like my case records, requested from two entities almost three years ago). But I don't want to focus on that yet.

This blog is the making of Foster Princess from the inside out.
This blog is my boss, insofar as goals made public.
This blog is my antidote to perfectionism, just one of the obstacles between me and my shitty first draft.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

to write, one must read

so what am I reading? heh.

in the midst of:
1. Wonder Boys / Michael Chabon
2. Thing's I've Been Silent About/ Asar Nafisi
3. Don't Sleep, There are Snakes- Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle/ Daniel L. Everett
4. The Writer's Journey/ Christopher Vogler
5. Misty of Chincoteague/ Marguerite Henry (childhood favorite)

Last night I finished:
6. A Little Princess/Frances Hodgson Burnett (childhood favorite)

In the queue:
7. Living to Tell the Tale/Jane Taylor McDonnell
8. Angela's Ashes/ Frank McCourt (time for a reread)
9. Waiting for Snow in Havana/ Carlos Eire
10. The Boxcar Children/Gertrude Chandler Warner (a weird graphic version)
11. The Secret Garden /Frances Hodgson Burnett

What are you reading?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

third person writing exercise: gratitude and the fist

To repeat the words Jackie said to Judy and to Brandon, "I'm having a hard time with closure on this book project because someone's fist is planted firmly up my ass. It's hard debrief or let go with someone's fist rammed up my ass."

No offense to the fisting fans, but what does that mean for Jackie? It means her heart and mind are threaded around and through a book called Flux. (She loves that it rhymes with sucks.) It's the first draft of the first book she's ever written. It's collaborative, it's raw, but it's thoughtful and Jackie thinks it will help. It will help foster kids, and hopefully some foster adults. And the pain is worth it for that reason alone. But fuck. They have to publish the first draft? Not fair that Jackie doesn't get to smooth things out, to polish it. Not fair that someone else has control.

Still, she's trying to reflect on the absolute gift this process has been. A thousand hours toward the 10,000 she needs to complete the apprenticeship. A thousand people, or so it feels, that have saturated Jackie with their stories, their lives. And a thousand opportunities to let go of being alone. Jackie has a long way to go, but at least she's going, and she would do it all over again, the dry-heaving-sobbing 1/on the bathroom floor, 2/on the orange bench beside her chalkboard 3/in her husband's arms, 4/ in her therapists office. She would do it all over again because she's discovered not only that she can write a book, but that she has a husband who believes in her. A husband whose refrain is "How can I help?"

That little-big question, asked over and over again amounts to love. Jackie is loved and she is acknowledging that love by wearing a long-line bra today. It's a training bra, really. Training for a corset. Jackie asked her husband how he wanted to be worshipped, in thanks for his refrain, and he said that he wants Jackie to wear one of three things every day, her choice: 1/ a corset, 2/high-heeled shoes, or 3/ a garter belt with stockings. Every single day. Doing it on special occasions isn't worship, that would be vague compliance or something. Special occasion effort wouldn't be passionate reciprocation of the the daily acts of belief and love.

Passionate reciprocation, or worship, or gratitude or whatever you want to call it, is exactly how Jackie plans to roll. But first, fist removal. It's easier for Jackie to remove the fist, now that she realizes it's her own.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

torturing hans

Army of Me by Bjork. That's the song my ever-patient husband left for me to discover on Amarok this morning.

"If you complain once more, meet an army of me".

I woke him around seven, baby on hip with the words "I still don't like you. Fuck you for not fucking me and fuck you for being me, instead of you. Fuck you".

How's that for a morning greeting? Graceless, with a side of ZERO filter, yet effective. He did breakfast with kids while I dozed. He did laundry. Loads of it. Wash, dry, fold, stack. Emptied the dishwasher. Fed the dogs. Then he cleared out, with kids. To the pool. On the bike. Whoooooosh.

And left me with her lyrics, "if you complain once more, meet an army of me". Fair enough.

Space equals filter repair. Writing equals filter repair. Sprained foot, bruised and swollen, precludes other aspects of filter repair. Note to self: always choose exercise when the body permits, because sweat equals filter repair.

My task here?

1/Figure out my shit, so I can ask for what I need. I know that I need time alone, to recharge and process. Can't get around it. So why not foresee my need for time alone and ask preemptively instead of being an asshole and driving everyone far, far out of my range. My projectiles sting.

2/apologize, and keep my mouth shut (no complaints only compliments) till the filter is back in place.

Good thing I like a challenge.
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