The Return (Alice in Wonderland Syndrome)

A gulf of understanding opens wide between me and my partner, and soon after, I fall into the rare, but familiar Return of something I’ve carried with me since I was a little girl.

Previous encounters with this phenomena, over a lifetime, combined with consciousness work and the support of a loving spouse (and healing practitioners), have left me more and more curious and less and less terrified.

For the very first time, I stay, without turning away.

My husband is beside me, under the covers, but he feels miles away or alternately so close that I am smothered by his presence.

I deepen into the strong witness that I’ve cultivated over years of therapy and bodywork and yoga and meditation.

I begin to narrate my experience. To remind myself that I am not alone. That I am the witness, not the experience itself.

“Should I call for help?” my husband asks, panicked.

“Shhhh,” I reply. “I’m trying to stay with this. I have to stay with this if I’m going back to West Point.”

I am so, so small, I tell him, and so, so far, far away—down a narrowing tunnel, crouched alone, like the night after the fire, when I hid in the cement crawl space under the stairs and trembled with the realization that a little boy could be left alone, that his family, even his mother and father, even his sisters, even his brother who first rescued him, could burn, so close to my house, not far away, on the television set, in a black and white place called Viet Nam.

And now, I am so, so large, I tell my husband, filling up all the space around me. Like the Ghost of Christmas Present from the Muppets Christmas Carol—a jolly giant who overtakes the tiny room in which he arrives, laughing, with no memory of anything past.

This large presence is like a fireworks display, which fans out above in wonder, and then expands, larger and larger, until it falls, ominously toward me before fading into the sky.

Or the time I had the fever. Two different times. Once in the summer at my grandparents house, in the master bedroom, under the covers of their bed–a bed which grew larger and larger–entombed by the roar of air condition and the blood pulsing in my head–while the black and white television set, across the room, grew tinier and tinier as it moved further and further away.

And then again, in Colorado, when I was older, and the shelves from the storage room moved toward my bunk bed and away again. Back and forth, back and forth.

“I can’t tell where you end and I begin,” I tell my husband. “Or if there is any me at all.”

“It’s your calmness that’s frightening,” my husband says.

“I am really afraid,” I say. “But I have to stay with this, and I can’t if I have to worry about you.”

What is this largness I feel? I ask. It’s like I’m a big thumb. Like those images of that weird-looking little guy with the big thumb.

“Do you know what I’m talking about?” I ask my husband.

“I don’t,” he says.

“It starts with an H, like humulougous or something. It has to do with the brain or nerve endings.”

“You’re making me nervous,” he says.

“It’s a real thing. I saw it in a yoga book. I’m like that big thumb right now.”

No, no, actually I’m more like a boulder, I say.

Actually, it’s not all of me.
It’s just my head.
It’s my head that’s so huge.

It’s so heavy.

I can barely lift it.

Like cement.

Like the crawl space in Colorado after the fire.

My head is so full and so large and so… numb. The family that burned. Viet Nam. The movies of the world ending. The Bible stories. The Devil.

“This is how I felt when I got the news,” I say. “About the accident. Apocalypse.”

“When someone dies,” I continue, “Someone who is that close to you, someone who means that much to your life, it’s like the world as you know it ends.

“I’m so sorry,” my husband says. “Are you alright?”

“My head is pulsing right now,” I say. “I think it’s a good thing. It’s not so big.”

“Good,” my husband says.

“I’m in the plane. In the back seat. My dad is crying in front of me. The carpet is brown.”

“You’ve never shared this before,” my husband says.

My head is softening, I say. It’s beginning to settle down.

I can hear the sound of the engine in my head. It’s all around me. Everywhere.

I can’t feel a thing.


(Of note: This piece was written a handful of years ago in connection to a work of memoir I’ve been developing. I’ve posted the piece now upon discovering that it apparently describes something called Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AWS) or Todd’s Syndrome in the hope that my experience and exploration of it might help shed greater understanding.)

Letter to Inner Writer

Dear Inner Writer (aka. Bigger Self):

I have so much fun with you, and yet I worry about validity, income and… hurting others.

Even 5 years distance from the That’s My Daddy piece, and I’ve lost the edge that delivered that work.

Of course, my first work of memoir, 19, is a primary source, so that itself is very different, but how do I stay authentic without hurting others?

And what if the work isn’t meaningful enough to be read by tons of others?

Because THIS is the reach that I WANT.

I know, I know. The work is of value to me, no matter what, but can’t I want (and have) BOTH!



Because it’s there.
It calls me.
Just as you call me.

Though perhaps the call I hear for success is the call of the annoying, repetitive bird (my ego) rather than the soulful call of the thrush.

But then what about my validity?
Fuck, why does income determine it and how blindly I follow that cultural norm without serious question.

But then what of practicality–of paying bills, making dreams come true, having ease in day to day living.

And what about the big O–OTHERS–the world–where does this fit into my work–how am I contributing?

Yes, in my writing.
Each answer is this.
In my writing.
In my writing.
In my writing.

I remember the words of Kabir…

Wherever I am, that is the entry point.


Click here to circle back to Letter from Inner Writer  🙂

(circa? 2014)

To Thresh, a letter from my inner writer

Today is a day of integration, but first: threshing.

I’m digging through piles of notes, scribbles, letters, notebooks; all in a effort to move forward with THIS BOOK! which is now spanning a third year.

To lighten the load, I’m posting any treasures I find among the rubble so that there is no need to “save” these for later…

This one is a letter that I penned to myself; but I’m not sure that it’s from my self. At least not the lower case self.

Dear Kelly,

Hi. Thanks for spending so much time with me lately. I thought it would never come. I have so much to say–the depth of which you have only begun to tap with your beautiful bursts of attention.

Letting things come.

All aligned with that supple softness that you long to infuse your life.
It is HERE.

Like an underground sea, a depth of presence is required to access me, but once discovered, the way is easily recovered as you know more and more each day.

Yes, I know you are afraid of this bigger piece of writing that I have offered.
Apply the same principle as to the very small:

Let it come.

Find the soft suppleness in even this.

No need to rush, as you’ve finally heard me saying to you.

There is nothing that you need to do that you are not doing.

Truly, wherever you are is the way.

That deep, soulful call of the thrush that you love so much lives inside you too.
It is to be shared. By each who possesses it and the aching need to dance with it and express it.

Kelly, your people are those many who don’t suspect that they have this depth, but you know they do. You’ve always seen the beauty or at least the potential in all–which is what made you such a gifted teacher–and a writer of the people–like Diana, the people’s princess, though you like to think of yourself as a peasant, among peasants, but as one who spends much more time thinking–so that others can sew or cook or tend the gardens–all of which feeds your writing as you know.

And of course, Kelly, there’s your Queen. Your inner queen of grace, beauty and integrity.
We know her well.

She is the jewel that lights the way to our crystal waters–allowing you to be a beacon for others along the way.

And now we’re ready to listen as you have listened to us,

With Love,
Your Inner Writer

(circa: 2014)

(read what I wrote back by clicking here.)


A memoirist and a fiction writer sit down at a picnic table.

There, in the park, high above the valley, they discover that they both have the same recurring dream:

A large wave overtakes them at sea.

(Does everyone have this dream?)

“I got rid of mine,” I say of the nightmare that’s haunted me for years. “One night, I turned to face the wave and it never came back again.”

“Oh, mine isn’t a nightmare,” says the fiction writer. “I just let the wave take me.”

Art as Prayer

Last spring I spent the better half of the month of May (including my wedding anniversary and the holiday weekend) on the Cape with a dog named Buster.

Upstairs, in what was meant to be the empty owner’s quarters, a feisty Venezuelan woman invited me to dinner on the patio or out into her gardens or up to her picture window to sip wine as the sun set over the bay.

I’d come to write and walk the dog along the shore but soon I’d added friendship to what was meant to be a solo sojourn.

On my last evening in the apartment beneath Lisette’s, the cherry blossoms were spent but summer had inched her way forward, sun-kissed our skin from a day at the beach, and my new friend insisted on taking me out to dinner, to a favorite of hers, a place in town called Ihaho.

She did the ordering.

She should have saved the appetizer for last.

One bite of the scallop roll and I wanted to weep or lie down in the booth across from the chef and die.

La petite mort. (Excuse my French.)

The last time I’d tasted something that exquisite was 2012 in a restaurant atop the city of Kobe. An entire table of colleagues, representing every continent around the globe, was silenced after the first bite, our eyes widened toward one another.

Would that I find my way to the kind of excellence that doesn’t make the reader want more.

Salt. Butter. Sugar.
Easy avenues of seduction.

But to write or cook or compose or dance in such a way that one can hardly take another breath, this is prayer.

Dislodging the Boulder

SpRiNg doesn’t come at all and then comes all at once, and the world is, for a moment, like a painting, into which you’d like to jump, Mary Poppin’s style, but if you blink, it is all gone, just like Bert’s sidewalk art in the London rain, and this is why, as the earth awakens, I practice awakening too, a challenge in my sluggish state, heavy with snow & rain & mud, and thus I begin in the shower, as if it’s my very first one, marveling at how the water streams out of the faucet at any temperature I’d like, enveloping my body like a womb, birthing me into another day anew.

May I be grateful.

May I notice.

May I get out of my own #%^@! way.

“Dislodge that one crucial boulder,” writes Hiro Boga, and sometimes, actually often, that boulder is me.

This morning I woke thinking about Jesus entombed after the crucifixion, sensing into myself as a guard at the mouth of the cave. As the boulder itself. Refusing to move. Protecting what is inside, when what is inside is ready to come out.

I have been an overzealous guard of my writing, that work of memoir that I’ve kept private, protected, for several years.

It was at one time necessary, wise, compassionate, and so I appreciate the tenacity of my inner soldier, however extreme.

But yesterday, she was especially courageous, not in guarding, but in stepping aside, releasing the gift to a group of women who will read it and respond around a table in a week’s time.

Any mother knows my vulnerability in this. That first time that you put your newborn, infant, toddler, preschooler, kindergartener in someone else’s care.

There is a lot of talk about trust, but the truth is that even though I carefully, consciously, intuitively chose this time, this teacher, this place, my act of courage is as much about desperation; this is what finally dislodged the boulder which blocked the path forward.

May it be so.

From 63 to 36 degrees, may SpRinG rock toward awakening on the land and in our lives, and in hearts across this nation.

“What would it be like to live without anxiety about non-perfection?” asks Tara Brach. This is my personal & global meditation.

May we allow for imperfection but insist on forward motion.

May we lean into the voices of women, the three Mary’s who stood at the Cross, and at the cave, and to whom the Divine appeared Resurrected, and within whom he was conceived, delivered and nurtured.

May we recognize women as the life-givers, intimately interwoven with Creation, bleeding each month with the moon, or as is true for silver-haired women like me and those who no longer or never did bleed, storing the wise blood inside to make medicine for the tribe, as the hawk cries and the peepers sing and the grasses green, and the Earth turns toward its fertile peak, May Day, Beltane, the cross-quarter day of SpRiNg.

Truck Driver

I wish I wanted to be a truck driver. There are so many truck driving jobs and the pay seems good. Also, it would be poetic to become a truck drive given that I’m broke because I’ve devoted so much time to crafting a memoir about an accident with a truck.

Alas, I’m almost certain that I won’t become a truck driver, but it would be cool to say: “Fuck you Fear & Tragedy, I’m the driver now!”

Which come to think of it, is pretty much what writing is all about.
Without the regular paycheck.


I can trace the lineage as far back as my great-great-grandfather and his daughter and her husband, followed by their son and his son, both surgeons.

“Born to Cut,” says the t-shirt in the old photograph of my father on his 40th birthday.

Like them, I sometimes think of myself as a healer, wielding the pen instead of the knife, but this month, I find myself dissecting instead of crafting, cutting into pieces each of the previous drafts of the body of work I began 7 winters ago.

More than a dozen bodies are lined up in this way, some fully formed, others swiftly abandoned, and I’ve read that this many drafts is a sure sign of doom.

Like the organs stored in separate containers on the shelves of the morgue where I worked the summer I was 16, I am sorting parts by date or theme or person or place, like the plane accident that resulted in the jars that I looked toward each afternoon as I rinsed formaldehyde from surgical tissue at the sink, occasionally coming across a thyroid or a prostate, a fetus or a breast.

Cutting into the work like this makes me uncertain. Am I a murderer, a madman, a mortician? Or am I a doctor, a an artist, an artisan?

After the physician cuts, the lab tech dissects, preparing a specimen for testing–benign or malignant?

I’d like to think that no such test exists for art, but I’d also like to think that I might find myself, as my ancestors did, mastering craft in service to a higher calling.

Her House

Up with the sun squinting through the trees,
then out on the road heading east
as the light rises over frozen lakes and ponds
and further still above marshland and waterway,
until, at the hour of my birth—
that first separation of mother from child
and child from womb—
I arrive—
at the great expanse of the sea,
feeling beside her bitter, jagged coast,
grief and homecoming, clarity and release,
while suddenly understanding:

I will dwell in her house, forever, forever and ever.
As it was in the Beginning,
is now and ever shall be.
World without end.