Another Part of the Backstory

By Judith E. Vida

In November of 2008 at the IFPE conference in Boston, I had a sense that Edie Boxer’s paper and my own were two parts of a larger conversation, so I suggested to her that we find a way to present them again, side by side.  At the time, I was envisioning a series of small private meetings to convene some colleagues who are not only open but eager to explore all the backstories of the work we do, especially the personal ones, and this could be one of those meetings. I had already tentatively scheduled the first in connection with an ongoing collaboration of mine with Gershon J. Molad of Tel Aviv. Edie had participated in Gersh’s and my first Autobiographical Dialogue Seminar in Los Angeles in 2002, and she had returned to some of the advanced sessions that he and I have conducted annually. It was the previous year’s session that had triggered Edie’s dissociated memory of her lost brother.

It was also that previous year’s session that took place three days after my mother’s funeral and two weeks after my brother-in-law’s death … which was three weeks before I sat down to write What’s Missing? What’s Missing? was due in early March for the catalog of an art exhibition in October; I presented it as a free-standing paper in San Francisco in April, and again at IFPE in November, all in 2008.  All through that year, I couldn’t feel how tightly packed were these losses amidst the events. I could only write in an e-mail, as Edie quotes, “…life does and will go on, not in denial of loss but in embracing it, using loss to enlarge sensibilities and experience … [to reach] a shift of perspective [to make] loss part of life and of living and learning.” I can recognize more than “a bit of” dissociation in this now, but I would have denied it then. As the time grew close earlier this year to the scheduled seminar renewal, I could feel myself recoil. I could feel the too-muchness carried over from the previous year. I could feel it; and I could tell that I needed room and time to do nothing but feel: unbounded room, unstructured time, no predetermined end-point. Gersh and I canceled the seminar.

But when it came to scheduling a separate seminar for Edie and me – even as I contemplated the warmth of presenting our papers along with more of our backstories, and then our stories both written and spoken would mingle with the backstories of those who had come to hear us, and we would all talk and listen and probably weep a little – I realized I couldn’t do that either, for it would require a room with a door, a clock that ticked, the need to be a specific somewhere; that would be too hard for me just now. Edie’s relating of being with Jay is such a fine clear rendering of how, though they are separate and distinct, his work is her work and hers is his. Edie’s story with Jay is the same as mine with writing What’s Missing? and with the work that I do in my consulting room. It is the same not in the “what” of the details but in how the details reverberate, concentrically in motion and curling inward as everything connects. But we can’t experience how everything connects until there is enough room and time. (At least, I can’t.) We can’t tap into how it feels as everything connects until it is safe enough, and for that there must be company, not only good company, but the right company (what we usually call “a good fit”).

Edie is the right company. And Steve Kuchuck, such a kind and helpful presence in this new online journal of IFPE, is the right company too, as are the members of the IFPE community who welcome this kind of writing. Edie’s and my exploration of these bridges between our papers opens us further into generative company. Most valuable for me has been the extended time for these two papers to sit together, all the while preconsciously churning inside us. When I finally took in Edie’s experience of connection with me and with my words of trying to locate the difficulty with my dead mother, I was shaken. Each time I discover afresh that the space around my unmetabolizable and nonnegotiable tie to my mother is no longer airless, I am shaken. Each time that I am able to draw a deep breath, I am a little surprised.

What I’ve written so far is only part of my bridge; the warm heart of it turned up in this e-mail I sent to Edie:  I read your words just now. They make me cry. Crying is what I need to do. A lot of crying. Even more important than anything I could write. Perhaps these tears are the words.

So this has become a demonstration of how sometimes we can reach where we need to be when there is room and time and a mutual openness to one another. Thank you, Edie. Thank you, Steve. Thank you, IFPE.

Judith E. Vida is a Past President of IFPE. Her longstanding commingled interests include Sándor Ferenczi, contemporary art (with her husband, Stuart Spence), and The Autobiographical Dialogue as concept and practice, developed with Gershon J. Molad.

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