Thursday, September 1, 2011

CAN ELEPHANT GIRLS FLY? Reflections Inspired by Jane Devin's Memoir

CAUTION: SPOILER ALERT!


Jane Devin and I have orbited one another’s outer blogosphere since I started blogging in 2008. Her writing and the issues she tackles give me pause.  I started reading her memoir, “Elephant Girl”, a few days ago and was immediately captivated.  In the first five pages, I wondered who Clyde was, and within seven, I was shocked, uncomfortable and completely locked in.  Half way through, I was summarizing it for Leslie, who asked “what’s happening?” every time I picked it up.  So, I read passages out loud frequently.

I know Jane as well as you can know anyone on the internet.  She is full of strong opinions, launches fearless dissertations on heavy duty topics, and is outgoing about her disdain of faith based spirituality or new age mysticism.  Crazy parents, brutality, and the cycle of poverty are rendered personal by her blogposts, but it never occurred to me that most of what she wrote was based on first-hand experience.  I thought perhaps she was an expert on the topic of childhood sexual abuse.  I was shocked and heartbroken to read the truth.

I am impressed by Jane’s willingness to be transparent.  In her book, she reveals innermost fears, insecurities, and hopes.  She owns them despite their crushing weight, and then spends considerable time expressing frustration and even despondency when life goes awry.  Perhaps she exercises her demons this way, which is what I do in my artwork from time to time.  Jane writes that more than anything she is afraid to lose her strength, the ability to bear that enormous burden without breaking.  She acknowledges constantly stretched thresholds of stress.  In fact, that is what the title “Elephant Girl” is about; remaining unbroken in the face of relentless adversity.

In my perspective, seen through a lens of both faith-based spirituality and new age mysticism, Jane is the quintessential Aries woman.  She is fiercely independent, but also needful, highly opinionated but still impressionable, outspoken yet suffering from either a case of uniquely horrible timing or being completely tongue tied at the worse possible moments.  This duality is a spot on Aries quality.  My daughter is an Aries, and I’ve had numerous close friends of the same sign.  They can be brilliant, self-possessed and insufferable, but more than anything they must live their truth. Who they are can by no means be compromised.   To do so would have dire personal consequences.  In a world where people pick and choose their delusion du jour, this is problematic.

In her book, Jane rails against bad things happening to those innocents lying in the path of destruction.  I can’t escape the suspicion that they (we) are pawns in some ridiculous Asgardian game of chess.  Somewhere out there, I’m convinced, the gods are laughing at our misfortune.  Perhaps that’s why I cling to my beliefs the way I do.  Personally defined ideals of reincarnation, karma, and the benefits of maintaining a positive attitude are infinitely better than the alternative, which to me is simply unacceptable.   I spent young adulthood completely pissed off because I wasn’t strong enough to deal with sadness.  I wasn’t ready to peer into that bottomless pit.  Jane, on the other hand, puts on night goggles to take a long, piercing look at the darkness, and then writes about what she finds there.

MJ's behavior in the book has me thinking about mothers.  My mother was neglectful and finally completely absent, but I know mothers who suffered from grave mental illness.  So what was MJ?  I just don't know, but I find myself pondering the gulf between mental illness and sociopathic behavior.  Mental illness by definition implies something broken that can be repaired.  Sociopaths (not autistic or handicapped individuals) have remorseless fits of violence against others for no particular reason.  The propensity for cruelty is etched within them.  Some people are born without sight or a limb and others without a conscience or empathy.  Sociopaths function well in the framework of society and have enough on the ball to be secretive about their behavior.  Think of Scott Peterson, who I’m certain is thriving in prison.  Concurrently, one of the first symptoms of true mental illness is a loss of perspective, the inability to view how your behavior is perceived by others.  Sociopaths know they are different and cover themselves up in order to satisfy predatory needs.

One might ascertain that the elephant is Jane’s spiritual animal or totem. She dreams about them, empathizes with them, and they often appear to her in the mundane world.  In the Hindu culture, the elephant God Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, and I have no doubt plenty of obstacles were removed in the publishing of this memoir. 

Growing up, I was more cheetah than elephant.  I was born in the year of the tiger. I seemed prone to sudden fits of activity, followed by necessary rest.  I was capable of extended hissy fits, but also a great, rumbling type of purring.  I was burdened with claws that wouldn’t retract, and I had an awful lot of personal baggage, not unlike a cheetah dragging it’s freshly killed gazelle up a tree.  I’m glad I didn’t have a child before I was ready, because I’m quite selfish.  If I had a baby in my early 20’s, I worry I would have repeated my mother’s magic disappearing act instead of learning about compassion and nurturing from my family.  Truth to tell, I’ve always been restless.  Now, approaching fifty, I feel more like a dragon.  I am bristly, hot headed, prone to grand flights of fancy, but no longer burdened so I am capable of flight.  I have confronted and come to terms with my sadness. However, in a world that is almost too painful to endure, I am willingly tethered to Leslie like a balloon. She holds my ribbon, and her earthbound energy keeps me from floating away. 

Despite having spent much of her life feeling inferior, inadequate or somehow to blame, I believe Jane found her worthiness.  Finding mine is what saved me.  Perhaps the lengthy struggle with pernicious anemia, being gravely ill for so long, caused Unworthy Jane’s demise.  Maybe the Jane who was repeatedly snagged in the web of careless people was sloughed off like dead skin, the seeds of self-loathing planted by perilous childhood snakes, lightning bolts and shadow burned away, leaving only rich fertile soil where Genuine Jane could then grow. 

And grow she did. 

Jane emerged decisively as the woman who put the blood, sweat and tears into this memoir, which is no small feat. Only someone with the strength of an elephant could pull that off.

Somewhere along the way, the bell rang and Jane earned her wings.  Emerging like a phoenix from the ashes of pernicious anemia and plans of suicide, she hit the road to prove that Elephant girls really can fly.

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Purchase the Kindle version here.
Purchase the paperback book on Amazon here.
Learn how you can support Jane's book tour here.
"Like" Jane's memoir here.
Visit Jane's website here.
Follow Jane on Twitter here.
The illustrations above are mine, all rights reserved.

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There is no doubt ... Elephant girls can fly.

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