Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why Dating Didn't Work

Last week I wrote a story that illustrated I wasn’t a total wimp when younger. I could—when push came to shove—speak up for myself. As the psychiatrist in St. Paul said many years later, “Dee, you have the deepest sense of survival of anyone I’ve ever worked with.” I think I felt my survival being threatened by that first Dayton psychiatrist. He set up roadblocks to my surviving in a new environment.
         As I indicated at the end of that posting, I soon found a second psychiatrist. I want to tell you about that experience, but before doing so, I need to share with you my life outside work those first months after I left the convent.

The Loretto Guild

         This past April I described the Loretto Guild where I lived for the first few months of 1967. While there, I met four young women who became friends. Like me, they worked in downtown Dayton. Unlike me they hadn’t been in the convent, so they were younger than I—all in their early twenties. But in the ways of the world they were so much more sophisticated and knowledgeable.         
         These four women—all different just as the women in the convent had been—helped me settle into the life of a single young woman in a bustling city. I have such good memories of our laughter each night when we went out to local restaurants for supper or settled in the lounge of the Loretto to watch television and gab.

“Dance at Bougival” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

         With them I went to the local dances sponsored by the Catholic Church in a Dayton auditorium. It was there I met two men in their thirties who asked me out on dates. Hesitant, shy, awkward—I was all of these and more. Inarticulate often, I was inept at carrying on a conversation with a man. I still carried with me the fear of the neighbor who’d molested me for three months in fifth grade. (Click here and here if you’d like to read that story.)
         Since I was ten, that fear had pervaded my entire response to men. It—and the acne I’d had in my teens and twenties—had been the reason I’d done so little dating in high school and college. Now I had to move beyond that fear and accept dates with these men and . . . let them kiss me goodnight after a movie or supper. Yet I so feared that one of them would clutch my breast or move his hand up my thigh.
         Here I was, thirty-one years old, no longer ten. I’d studied psychology in college. I’d been in the convent where, especially in Omaha, I’d learned to be resolute when faced with difficult situations.

A 1966 Volkswagen Beetle.

         But in the darkness of a car on a residential street at eleven at night, I lost my certainty that I could say no if one of these men tried to go beyond where I felt comfortable. And so, when one of them would pull up at the curb before the residence where I was living, I’d clutch my purse and say, “Thank you,” while hurriedly opening the car door. I’d almost run up the sidewalk to the residence door, behind which safety beckoned.
         As you must already suspect, the men gave up on me. My conversation was forced. My response to sexual overtures was awkward. My confidence in myself was nil. I must have been—I’m quite sure of this—a dismal date!
         So I stopped going to the dances. I stopped dating. And instead I went to night school to learn more about literature. I could hide in a book.

All photographs from Wikipedia except for the Loretto Guild, which is from the Dayton Library Postcard Collection.            

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Unexpected and Unexplained Wrath

Today we are back in Dayton, Ohio, in March 1967. I’ve returned from Washington, D. C., where I visited a friend earlier in the month. She had helped me understand that I needed professional help.
         I know now—after sessions with two psychiatrists in Dayton, one in New Hampshire, and a psychiatrist and counselor in Minnesota, and after having two spiritual directors—that I had deep-seated problems unconnected with the convent. The convent simply exacerbated my fear of betrayal and my belief that I was both unlovable and worthless.
         My friend had searched for and found a Roman Catholic psychiatrist who, she thought, might understand nuns; who might appreciate their answering a call to the religious life and, hopefully, their answering their own inner call to leave that life.
         Several of you in the past have commented on my memory. And it’s true that I have a good one. Often I can remember the whole of a conversation because since first engaging in it, I’ve often repeated it to myself. But with this psychiatrist all I can remember is the content of what he said and my response.
         I entered his office with some trepidation. At that time seeing a psychiatrist was something rich people did. People who wanted Freudian analysis. I wasn’t rich and I knew nothing of Freud.
         Also, at that time, most people I knew believed that psychiatrists treated truly “crazy” people. “Loonies.” Those who’d “gone off the deep end.” Or “around the bend.” Those who babbled inanities.
         None of those descriptions fit me I thought.
         Or did they?
         I was hallucinating—and had done so for many months—three separate aspects of myself: Anna, Dolores, and Dodo. One persisted in berating me; one assured me I was doing the best I could; the third would have, in the 1990s, taken as her mantra, “Don’t worry; be happy.”
         They entered the doctor’s office with me. Each immediately chose a corner. Each kept commenting as I recounted my convent experiences and stammered the muddled reasons why I’d left. Each had something to say as I waded through a quagmire of emotions: Grief. Regret. Shame. Guilt. Contrition. And yes, relief.
         The psychiatrist’s response? Contempt. He ranted about how God calls a person to be a nun. How I’d made final vows. Vows for life. And I’d tossed them aside.
         My memory is of him spewing forth all the dislike he had for me because I’d dared to toss aside my vows and leave the convent.

Sculpture by John Flaxman: The Fury of Athamas.

         I listened, my eyes tear-filled. After fifty minutes he barked that he’d see me the following week at the same time. My three counterparts and I left the room.
         The next week, as I remember, was the same. He cloaked me in shame, insisted I was a miserable failure.
         He commanded me to admit my mistake. Return to the convent. Do penance. Try to placate God who must be so displeased with my tossing aside His gift of vocation.
         I can remember the import of what he said, but not his exact words. I see him snarling at me. Angry. Disgusted.
         I returned to my room at the Loretto Guild and began to center myself in Presence. And as I did, I found a wellspring of peace within me.
         The next week I returned to his office. My three tag-a-longs and I walked in. He invited me to sit. I didn’t. Instead, I stood and told him the truth as I saw it: He did not believe nuns should leave the convent. He was biased. Acting on that bias was unhelpful and unprofessional. He was a sorry example of a person whose job description should have included listening with an open heart and mind. Objectively, but compassionately.   
         Then I turned around, left his office, and found another psychiatrist. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

An Update on Agent's Request

Hello on this final Thursday of July. I’ve been away from reading blogs and posting on this on-line memoir for a whole month. Today, I’d simply like to share with you what I’ve been doing.
         As you know, in late June an agent expressed interest in seeing three of my manuscripts: the Palestine novel, the cat fantasy gift book, and the convent memoir. The first and second manuscripts are completed and I sent them as attachments in late June.
         The convent memoir, however, is a work in progress. So for the first two weeks of July, I continued to write stories for it. I then sent the agent a partial that presents an introductory arc of those eight and one-half years plus stories about the novitiate and my first two and one-half years in the scholasticate—so four years of my convent life.

Dad, Mom, and me as a postulant in 1958.

         I’m pleased with the partial. I asked a friend, who used to be in the convent, to read it. After she read the 37,000 words of this submission, she e-mailed and said the following:

I just finished reading the opening part of your memoir and it is very moving and interesting and so well written. I think this is going to be a "best seller" because you are setting the record straight about why we entered and why we left. 

Your writing is clear and focused and your examples are wonderful. 

Sister Madonna and the Good Samaritan analogy was right on about how we are good Samaritans to others and others have been our own good Samaritans, binding up our wounds. 

It is wonderful and I would not change a word of it if I were a copy editor!!!

Of course, this review pleased me mightily. She later sent another e-mail with her final thoughts on the partial: “Dee, It was like I was reading my own years in the convent.  I could relate to everything. Keep on writing.” Her words are just what I need right now to continue and complete this memoir.
         I’ve gotten no farther than the partial because after those first two weeks of July, I flew away for a vacation with friends. I’m home now and recuperating from vacationing. You all know how that is.
         Next week I hope to begin reading your blogs again. If there are any postings that you especially want me to read, please let me know via a comment or an e-mail.
         Next week also, I’ll continue posting on my life after the convent. I want to share with you my three sessions with the psychiatrist who catapulted me into feminism.
        Finally today, I want to thank you for all your encouraging thoughts, visualizations, vibes, and prayers for me as I work on the convent memoir and as I await word from the agent. I haven't heard yet, but I continue to be hopeful that she will choose to represent my writing. Please do continue to send me your support for I can feel it as if it were, as the song says, "the wind beneath my wings." Peace.

The photograph of the red kite was taken by James Barker for FreeDigitalPhotos.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Please Keep My Writing in Your Thoughts

Hello All,
Good news! Last Friday I sent a New York agent an e-mail query about a cat fantasy gift book. It’s part of a proposed trilogy I’ve been working on for a while. At the end of the query I gave the URL for this on-line memoir.

Friday evening the agent responded, saying she was enchanted by the gift book sample I’d pasted into the query and by my blog postings. She also said that she liked historical fiction. At the end of her e-mail, she invited me to call her.

We connected this past Tuesday evening. Over the weekend and on Monday and Tuesday I worked to polish my historical-fiction manuscript. When we spoke Tuesday evening, the agent asked to see three manuscripts:

·      the entire cat manuscript
·      the historical novel The Reluctant Spy
·      the convent memoir on which I’ve been working.

Yesterday—Wednesday—I sent her the first two manuscripts. Now I need to get a partial of the memoir in good shape. To do that, I need to copy all my convent postings and paste them into one document. Then I’ll add any necessary transition. I’m going to attempt getting this partial completed before I take two weeks off in July.

The manuscript will be a partial because I’ve posted only the novitiate and the scholasticate stories. I need to write about the four years of being professed and I won’t get that writing done for several weeks.

This means, of course, that I won’t be reading blogs or posting for a while. I know you all understand and are rooting for me. Thank you.

When I return to posting, I’ll pick up the Dayton story and share with you my three meetings with the psychiatrist whom Sister Mary Dennis found for me back in March 1967. He really catapulted me into feminism.

Between now and later in July please take care. Be gracious to yourselves. While you’re doing that, I’ll be writing and simply enjoying this event of having an agent express interest in my work.

Please surround my daily writing with your best thoughts, visualizations, vibes, and prayers—whatever you do when you are hoping that something good will manifest itself in a friend’s life.
Thank you.

Of course, the agent needs to read examples of my writing before offering me a contract to sign. So perhaps you can visualize her reading and being amused or intrigued or inspired by what I write and then offering me a contract. And then, how about visualizing me signing one!


Photographs from Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Help with Taking Baby Steps

Several comments last week asked what statement of mine Sister Mary Dennis quoted on that March Sunday back in 1967. I have only a vague recollection that I’d said something about higher education; something that she felt was “patronizing.”

I can remember being confused when she’d quoted to me what I’d said. I didn’t see how I’d been smug. But clearly that was how she saw the exchange I’d had with her friends.

By 1967 I had a bachelor’s degree in English with minors in mathematics, history, and philosophy. That degree had been conferred on me when I graduated from Mount Saint Scholastic College in May 1958, right before entering the convent next door.

While in the convent I’d spent four summers taking classes at the Mount so as to become certified in Kansas and Nebraska for teaching.

The following three summers I’d gone away to study for two master’s degrees. I spent one summer at Marquette in Wisconsin taking English courses. For two summers I studied Benedictine spirituality at St. John’s University in Minnesota. However, I left the convent before completing either degree.

So in March 1967, when I spoke with those women who were studying for doctorates, I can’t imagine what I said that would have been condescending. There were far ahead of me educationally and arrogance had always been abhorrent to me. But I can vaguely remember Sister Mary Dennis saying something about how what I’d said disparaged their family background and roots.

That didn’t make sense to me. She quoted me and yet the import of what I’d said eluded me. What I remember are foggy tendrils gliding ominously into the labyrinth of my brain. Suddenly, then, I  fell apart—as I explained last week.

At some deep level, my anguish touched Sister Mary Dennis. Immediately and instinctively, she put her arm around my waist and led me over to a nearby bench where we sat together. I continued to sob uncontrollably.

She didn’t try to persuade me to stop crying. She simply waited, holding my hand. Gently.

The Child’s Bath by Mary Cassatt

Finally, I began taking deep, gulping breaths. My tears waned to a simple trickle. It was then my friend spoke.

“What’s this about, Dee?” she asked. “This seems out of proportion to what I said to you.”

I was unable to explain because I truly didn’t understand why I was crying. I just knew fear consumed me. Fear of what? I didn’t know. Several years passed before, with help, I unblocked the memory of when I was five and felt abandoned.

“I don’t know what’s wrong, Mary. I’m just so afraid. I don’t know why.”

“Has this happened before?

“This is the first time I’ve cried since the day I left the convent.”

“I’m worried about you,” she said. “Worried you might be in the midst of a breakdown.”

I looked at the concern on her face and simply nodded. I felt like a baby, crawling into a new idea. Unable to walk independently. “What do I do?” I asked. I trusted she knew and could tell me.

“I think you need to see a psychiatrist.”


“No, back in Dayton.”

“I don’t know how to find one.” I remember gazing at her, sure that she’d know. Sure that she knew so much that I’d never know.

“You go back to Dayton and I’ll ask around and I’ll find someone there.”

Child in a Straw Hat by Mary Cassatt

That’s what happened. The following week I received a letter in which she gave me the name of a Dayton psychiatrist. Next week I’ll share with you what happened when he and I met.

Photographs and paintings from Wikipedia.