BACK TO SCHOOL
To Go or Not To Go?
By Joan Graham
You’d think I’d be satisfied! After dropping out of high school in the second half of 12th grade, I didn’t go to school for 25 years, other than securing a GED at some point in my 20s. Once I got cracking though, I earned an Associates degree from Cape Cod Community College, a Bachelor’s from Lesley and a Master’s, also from Lesley, definitely not in a rapid progression, and one marked by long gaps. Although now it is much more common to see older students in a class, when I started I was often the only one.
For the last few years, my school bus has been a Greyhound, as I have just earned a certificate in Creative Arts Therapy from The New School in New York. A perpetual student for sure, my tassels hang proudly from the mirror in my car! What’s next?
While “back to school” sends sad shivers through many students, I love the sound of it. My version of back to school anxiety is when I’m not signed up for a class. So what’s next indeed?
At the age of 65 (can that be me I’m talking about?) a Ph.D. is tempting, not as a means to an end, but as a joyful journey in itself. Attempting to be practical, I try to shake the idea of continuing my formal education, but the idea just won’t go away.
At what point do we say we’re too old for something, anything? I opt for never! Whether I’m 70 or 90, or don’t quite get there at all, the anticipation of marching (or hobbling) across a stage to collect my diploma is too delicious to dismiss.
A dear friend (who happens to have a Ph.D.) points out the time, energy and expense I’d have to devote to the pursuit of a degree. She suggests that those resources might be better allocated to other areas of my interest, of which there are many. It is a valid point, but one that could have been made at each stage of my progression. Why stop now?
Although Boston and Cambridge are brimming with educational possibilities, I am drawn to the idea of Antioch New England in Keene, New Hampshire, an area I remember fondly from a year at boarding school nearby. Or, for a completely different experience, the Fielding Institute, which offers distance learning.
What to study is less up in the air than where, or if. Psychology and art continue to share first place and I already know, generally, what I would like to have as a subject for a thesis. Could I research and write about the topic without going to school? Probably, but I know I’d never do it.
If I listen to my enthusiastic heart instead of my practical head, I will someday add another tassel to my collection. In the meantime, I need to take the GRE. Any math tutors out there?
Joan Graham, MA, is a Brewster resident and independent real estate broker. She is a weaver and recently completed a certificate program in creative arts therapy at The New School in New York. She is currently working on a mystery, her first non-fiction. She can be reached at: www.joangrahamrealestate.com
Anatomy of a Divorce
By Sherri Mahoney-Battles
A FRIEND AND HER family used to travel from the Cape where my husband and I had formerly lived to our new home in New Hampshire. Our home was beautiful. A manifestation of everything I had ever dreamed of in a home. A large-fifteen room antique colonial set on an idyllic eight acres of land in the White Mountains. I had lovingly decorated every room. Curtains were painstaking sewn by hand, and my stencils graced the beautiful plaster walls. My friend during one of her visits made the offhand comment that though my home was remarkably clean and beautiful to behold the closets were another thing entirely. Each closet in the home was stuffed from floor to ceiling with junk. I stuffed and stuffed until it was all I could do to get the door closed. Over the years this offhanded comment resonated in my head, and I began clearly began to see the parallels between my closets and the life I was living. This simple statement became a metaphor for my life
My life for all appearances was perfect. I had two adorable daughters, a lovely home, and what most assumed was the perfect marriage. People often commented on how nice it was that my husband and I did so many things together. I rarely even went grocery shopping on my own. I had a small accounting and tax preparation business and worked out of our home. I spent my summers gardening and teaching my daughters to swim; it appeared that I was living the American Dream.
The reality, however, was quite different from the dream my life appeared to be. Moving from the Cape to New Hampshire had been a desperate attempt to save a failing marriage. My husband was drinking again, and he was, I suspected, having an affair with his assistant. Having been his former assistant at a previous job, I knew the signs. He blamed his drinking on the stress of his job, and I foolishly thought a move to a different state would make a difference. Well, you know how the story goes. He kept drinking, the assistant chased him to New Hampshire, and I decided to clean out my closets. Out went thirty years of junk—and the alcoholic.
The early months after our separation were exhilarating. After spending the previous ten years balancing the needs of a manic alcoholic, it was refreshing to finally be able to focus on my business, my children and myself. I started taking yoga classes. My mother remarked that the house had never looked better. Indeed, the relationship had consumed so much of my energy that I now found myself brimming with a newfound energy and creativity. I had spent years covering up the flaws in my marriage and I now reveled in the fact that the weight of this deceit was lifted from my shoulders.
This time was also fraught with loss. I mourned the loss of my seemingly perfect life, and our divorce was bitter and costly. The beautiful home was sold, and my daughters and I moved back to Cape Cod where I still maintained an accounting practice. I read every book on divorce that I could find, and yet I still couldn’t seem to extricate from my entanglement with my ex-husband. Even though our divorce was finalized in December of 1996, we were still in and out of court for three more years. My legal fees totaled close to $50,000. My ex-husband refused to pay child support, stating that he would rather be unemployed than pay me one cent. My efforts to collect child support were heroic, and I was encouraged by friends, family and my therapist to pursue him in court. My supporters were all optimistic that the legal system would hold him accountable. Finally, the court ordered him to get counseling for alcoholism and when he refused, a guardian was appointed to analyze our case.
The report written by the guardian provided information that changed my life. My ex-husband, the guardian reported, had a narcisstic personality disorder. Armed with this information, I read everything I could get my hands on about narcisstic personality disorders. Narcissists require a constant source of narcissist supply. Our continued legal battles did nothing more than provide this supply. The diagnosis enabled me to see our marriage in a new light, and I realized that a large reason for my
Sherri feeding her piglets.
sense of relief at our separation was that I had been his source of narcisstic supply for so many years. Ironically, what many people had taken for closeness in our relationship was his compulsive jealousy and controlling behavior. When we were married I was not allowed to go places or do things without him, and he punished me when I did something like wear a piece of clothing he felt was too provocative. Further study revealed that in order to truly separate from this narcissist I would need to stop providing him with a source of supply. I needed to stop engaging with him.
"Once I was able to conquer my fear
of being alone and the feeling that I
needed to be taken care of, I found
that I was indeed capable."
Thus began another chapter in my life when I began to accept the fact that only by not needing anything from this man would I every truly be free of him. I took this energy that had been focused on court battles and used it instead to grow my accounting practice. The fight went out of me. What was negative energy became positive energy. Once I was able to conquer my fear of being alone and the feeling that I needed to be taken care of, I found that I was indeed capable. My accounting practice flourished, I bought a home of my own, and I found that my experiences added a layer of insight that enhanced the relationships I had with my clients.
A Harry Chapin song rolls through my head. “ All my life’s a circle. Seasons spinning around again; the years keep rolling by.” After my divorce, my friend and I wrote out a list of requirements for my future mate. We called it the “Application to Date Sherri Mahoney.” Eleven years ago my current husband filled out the application and passed the test. Relationships are never easy, but therapy has made us both better people. My daughters are almost grown. One is a sophomore in college, the other a junior in high school. I watch them as they step out into the world and start relationships of their own.I wonder what paths their lives will take them down.
Sherri's Randall Lineback cattl. a rare breed of heritage cattle.
Three years ago we moved to Westport, MA, and started a farm. Our spare time is spent growing vegetables, making bread, cheese and soap, and caring for the animals that live on the farm. There is a serenity and calmness in these animals that keeps us grounded. I maintain an office on the Cape, but spend most of my days working from a small office in our home. I love our beautiful home, but it’s the closets that are a sight to behold.
Sherri Mahoney-Battles of Taxing Matters has offices in Orleans and Westport, MA. She specializes in income tax preparation for small business owners www.taxingmatters.com.
She lives on a farm in Westport with her husband and two daughters.
Above left: Sherri and her daughters, Meg and Casey Mahoney, in their barn.
Sherri's horse Ginger and her filly, Dakota.
"We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better."
— J. K. Rowling