Words & Pictures

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Off-Leash Blog: Roaming the Heart's Terrain. Tanya Shaffer’s blog focuses on a variety of topics, including creativity, parenthood, special needs parenthood, writing, and travel.

After the Giddy Plunge

How to describe the beauty and challenge of that day? How high and steep the dune, how fine and bright the sand? How the ocean—no, Lake Michigan (ha, I wrote ocean!)— spread out below us, an impossibly pure colorscape, gradations of aqua, turquoise, teal leading out to a deep true cobalt?

We were at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, in the Northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. We were traversing the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive when we stopped at #9, the Lake Michigan Overlook.


At first I tried to stop D and E from rolling down the nearly vertical dune, fearing they’d lose control, plummet over the edge and disappear. They started rolling anyway, tentatively at first, stopping and starting, looking back. I glanced uncertainly at my husband—I’ll call him H—and he, ever the cautious one, shook his head. I called, half-heartedly, Boys, come back. They ignored me, of course, and I discussed with nearby adults whether it was safe to go down. A couple with toddlers shook their heads and left. But then a man with two young kids, maybe 7 or 8 years old, appeared on the horizon as if by magic.

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Sometimes Lines Are Blurred

As a mother of two boys, one of whom is on the autism spectrum, I experience the stories of the #metoo movement from a multiplicity of perspectives: 

 

As a woman in the world, I’ve had encounters ranging from the frightening (a man locking me in a room with him and pulling out the key) to the sleazy (a professor intimating that he’d sponsor my project if I’d pose nude for his art class) to the merely disgusting (a guy jerking off in front of me in a public park). I’m relieved and cautiously heartened to see the culture finally begin to shift. 

 

As a mom, I take every opportunity to alert my sons – ages 10 and 14 - to sexism and gender discrimination in its many forms – through language, media imagery, externally imposed constructs of masculinity and femininity, etcetera. We’ve discussed consent and the right of each person to decide if, when, and how they want to be touched. 

 

As the mother of a person with autism, however, there’s an aspect of the whole conversation that frightens me. My older son, D, by virtue of his neurological difference, has trouble reading non-verbal social cues. Because of this, I’m terrified that he’ll make some mistake that will get him into trouble.

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The Me Who Stayed

When I was younger, I was judgmental about the use of anti-depressants. I thought that unless you were so depressed that you couldn’t get out of bed, taking anti-depressants was a cop-out, a refusal to engage with your own darkness. When a college friend started taking them, I was disappointed. I thought she was depriving herself of an essential part of the human journey, that facing whatever arose unadulterated was part of what was required to season the soul.

 

I was judgmental about meditation too: I thought it was a waste of precious time that was better spent taking practical, concrete action to make the world a better place.

 

It seems I am doomed to do everything I judge.

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Tell Me A Story

In December of 2016, less than a month after the elections (yes, those elections), I traveled to Taiwan for a production of The Fourth Messenger, the musical I co-wrote with the incandescent singer-songwriter Vienna Teng. It was as bleak a historical moment as I could remember, and I was in deep need of inspiration. Fortunately, I found it.

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Landscape of the Heart

I was born and raised in Kansas, and though I haven’t lived there in more than thirty years, its stretches of wheat and corn are within me still. That’s the thing about where you’re from. Even if, like me, you’re born to Jews and immigrants, who are no more of that place than an olive tree or an arctic fox, you are of that place simply by growing up there. Somehow the soil of the place, the shape of it, takes root inside you and never lets go. 

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