About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

Living inside it

The research for “It’s Nobody’s Fault” kicks over a lot of rocks. While I really dislike it when somebody says with the best of intent, “It sounds like you are working through a lot of issues,” there is truth to that. Still, most of my life has been intensely private. It is horribly uncomfortable putting any of this out there.

But my goal is not personal. The goal is to provide a key for those with Adult Attachment Disorder, or those in a relationship with that person, to unlock the door or just create a window, so the oppressive neediness, the chaos of “crazy-making” is lessened,  the serenity of Jeff’s “it lasts as long as it lasts” visible, if not within reach. Because that makes all of life better.

“…because healthy functioning of the attachment system facilitates relaxed and confident engagement in non-attachment activities, it contributes to the broadening of a person’s perspectives and skills, as well as the actualization of his or her unique potentialities.” (Mikulincer, Mario (2007-05-14). Attachment in Adulthood (Kindle Locations 887-888). Guilford Press. Kindle Edition.)

The opposite is also true. My friend Greg would describe his unhealthy attachment system as causing anxiety, making it hard to engage in non-attachment activities, limiting his perspectives and skills, and difficult to actualize his unique potentialities.

I talked a day or so ago to a woman who is an Anxious, one of the first I have met since starting this project. She has had a very, very difficult time with serious consequences from her attachment behaviors.

AAD is not trivial, it impact is not limited to the realm of romantic relationships. It spreads like a stain through everything. But I have to be very careful not to look at too much through this lens, nor let this small project get out of control.

Stupid love songs

My friend Greg does not like it when I say relationships between certain types of people can be “toxic;” some people may never have the person of their “dreams;” there isn’t always enough time to “fix” something; it might not be worth the effort.

“I want to believe that with enough work, enough understanding, enough knowledge, we can overcome problems in any relationship if there is love,” he said.

I would like to believe that too. But I have come to accept that sometimes the effort is counterproductive. When my tendency is to chase and resolve, my partner may just want a damn break. It is her right to have that break. Even if she is avoiding. Even if avoiding makes me want to try harder. Which makes her want to run faster. Etc.

What I was trying to say was not that it is always hopeless, but trying harder at what has not worked (except temporarily) in the past is unlikely to get us where we want to be.

We can’t change the response pattern of our partner through an act of our own will. All we can do is communicate. If she doesn’t see a problem in the relationship except how I behave, she gets to feel that way, regardless of how it makes me feel. Even if she doesn’t want to talk about it. She isn’t “wrong.”

“ ‘This isn’t working for me’ is different than saying ‘You’re not doing your part,’ ” an acquaintance pointed out the other day.

I was also trying to say to Greg there is a woman out there who may be “accessible, responsive, and engaged.” A partner as he defines it. Wanting that is not wrong, either.

It might be we have to look for her rather than think we can, or have the right to, make the one we want to be with want to want us. We have to be realistic about how much we put into it, how much time we have, what we expect in return.

We have to stop doing things because we are afraid of losing what we are driving away.

More comments on “Chalice”

Comments are arriving from readers of “Chalice” as we approach the end of April. This continues to be a very valuable process.

There will be more rewriting than I’d hoped, and not at the ending, where I expected to put in the work. For the most part, readers  affirm the conclusion of the novel. I was worried it would feel contrived. While there is still some tweaking, I am satisfied and reader response has been rewarding.

But several thoughtful people were so put off by the beginning that they did not believe a relationship could develop between the two characters. The irony is that this was intentional on my part.

I created an immediate conflict between the two to get a reader to invest and to display a difference in values. That was the “hook.”  I  think it is possible to start a friendship with a disagreement that can move to deeper discussion as people get to know one another. We enter relationships for many reasons, which is a major theme of the book.

But several readers reacted to this in a visceral way. If I want them to get past the first 70 pages, they need reasons besides an intellectual exercise. Several suggestions have been made, from an opening external crisis to simply toning down the personality. Perhaps more description of the allure will work.

We’ll see what the bookseller has to say, and there are other comments still to come in.

Losers in a new world

There are always losers. That’s what the uncle of the two boys who set bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon called them: “losers.”

The uncle, also from Chechnya, also a Muslim, is a winner, and a man who loves the opportunity that America has given him and his family. His is ashamed of his nephews, what they have done to Americans, to Muslims, to Chechens.

The two boys were also very different. It is hard to understand how the younger one followed his older brother into terrorism. The last few months had been tough on him, too, but we don’t yet have a good idea of cause and effect, whether his implosion as a student and citizen was the cause or result of his taking the path to hell.

Their father, too, who returned to Chechnya, who says his boys didn’t do this, who says they were framed: How did that father contribute to the tragedy of lives lost, those of his own sons and of those they murdered and maimed? Or is he yet another victim?

This was not an act by Muslims, not an act by Chechens. This was an act by misguided young men like Timothy McVey, who blew up that building in Oklahoma. And there may be no cure for that in a free society, in any society. It may be biology, genes programmed to create cannon fodder; it may be chaos. But we should not rush to fix something that may have no fix, especially when the solution destroys what we are trying to protect.

Hopefully the man in the cowboy hat who saved the life of the young man who helped solve the crime will find meaning… the loss of his own two sons lessened by what his heroism accomplished. Nothing can bring peace, but perhaps his pain can be reduced for  a few minutes each day.

There is much to think about the amazing accomplishment for law enforcement, too, in a world that is changing faster than anyone could have imagined.

Wind

The wind started blowing hard at about 2:30 a.m. My sleep is off anyway but the wind makes the steel barn groan; mountain-facing windows flex and distort reflection like disappointment of the self-absorbed; juniper and pine lean and twist to resist what feels like a threatening.

Can’t write. Too little sleep, current project too dry for the energy I can bring to the task, wind breaks flow of thought. Pay bills, I suppose, get taxes in the mail before I motor over the hill. Stop halfway at Rosie’s to get an oatmeal raisin cookie and refill the coffee. Daughter Sabitri made me stop at Rosie’s for the lemon poppy seed scone, daughter K.C. likes their hot chocolate and the macandcheese.

Portland if I can get a deal on a hotel, it’s the end of razor clam season at the coast and I’ll find a meal of them someplace downtown, then meander down to Powell’s for a browse.

Port Townsend to hunker down for a few days, real popcorn and digital projection with great sound at the small movie theater, stay at the lovingly restored Palace Hotel, see if I can get a solid draft done on the new project.

Should check movie schedules and music venues before I go but I just want to go, I’ve denned up here for too long, growling at the door. The week after would work too but I want to go, wanted to for some time.

The proprietor of Phoenix Rising Book Store in Port Townsend, flashbacks from San Francisco of decades ago, is back from India. Her large poodle Sumadhur is recently gone and I could hear sadness tussle with acceptance in even her written words, something of each we can share.

She is New York direct, she owns a bookstore, had offered to read my manuscript and is about halfway through. She does not know me nor owe me so I want to sit there for a couple of hours and find out what she thinks about it.

Friend of a friend knows Somebody

Chalice may be sitting on the desk of a big-deal publisher’s Somebody. I’d sent a copy to a “friend of a friend who knows Somebody,” because friend’s friend did preliminary reading for Somebody and said she would look at it.

Like the other 10 hard copies I sent off for feedback (with about 10 in electronic form), the spiral binding was for reader convenience and it was printed two pages on each side of each sheet to save paper.

Yesterday my friend got a call from his friend that she had sent it on to Somebody who said the submission was not even formatted to standards available online, but Somebody would read the first ¼ and give it to one of her readers who would read the whole thing.

Chagrin mixed with appreciation mixed with a modicum of “…but if I had known…” tempered by “… should I have assumed…?” I guess work pushed even in the direction of traditional publishing channels should have been formatted to traditional standards.

As we were walking his dogs through the manzanita near the river talking mostly about his divorce, my friend asked how I will feel if Somebody says Chalice is crap. My answer was sloppy, involving art and ego and opinions and the market place. All true, but only pointing at the nexus.

Which is that Chalice is not crap and knowing this gives me serenity. It is vastly improved from where it started and there is room for improvement still. I am doing my best and soon it will be done.

Chalice may not be for everybody, but it is not crap. And the opinion of one Somebody doesn’t change that, though of course I hope she likes it. 

Choosing our choices*

Sometimes we’re lucky and get to choose between two good alternatives. Sometimes we’re unlucky and have to choose the better of two bad ones. We can probably figure these out, given our values and enough time.

But there is a trap in this seeming simplicity: What if the values of our choices change as soon as we make them? Experiments have proven humans fear losing something about twice as much as we desire getting the same thing. We value what we might lose at $10, though we’d be willing to pay only $5 to acquire it. A great explanation is detailed in Thinking, Fast and Slow by Dr. Daniel Kahneman.

Baby arrived and Parent, a very successful Lawyer, took a year away from Firm to raise Baby. But Firm wants Lawyer back, or will find a replacement. So Parent faces a dilemma: Return to work and become Great Provider, or stay at home and be Great Parent? That’s a choice between two good alternatives, but we could also state it as the better of two bad ones: Losing Career or Losing Baby.

These are equal in fact but not to our emotions, where Losing Career costs twice the value of being a Great Provider, and Losing Baby costs twice the benefit of being Great Parent. And as soon as a decision is made, the path not taken becomes a loss.

Lawyer decides to be a Great Parent. As soon as that decision is made, the positive alternative of being a Great Provider is instantly viewed as Losing Career, and the cost doubles. What seemed to be the right decision seems very wrong. “I just wasted law school! I made a mistake!

“Okay, I haven’t told the Firm to flush my career. I will keep the job, buy the greatest nanny, and we’ll take great enriching vacations.” But the moment Parent makes that decision, not being Great Parent is suddenly seen as Losing Baby, with twice the cost. “Baby won’t bond! What if the Nanny is abusive!? I made a mistake!

“Okay, I haven’t hired the nanny. I will be a Great Parent.” But immediately the Good Provider alternative not chosen snaps into Losing Career. Cost doubles. “Wait! Where will the money come from for…?” And the dance goes on.

I imagine the doorway out of this maze is faith: we did the best we could, it will all work out, nothing is perfect, or for those so inclined, God will provide. But that kind of faith may be learned before language, and very hard to acquire.

And some will always find an interpretation, whatever the outcome of whatever choice, that validates their fear. Making it even worse next time trying to grapple with the uncertainty of doing the right thing or choosing the best of bad choices.

*(Thank you Shawn Coyne, writing at Steven Pressfield Online, for the inspiration).

Reader Feedback

Choosing the style “epistolary novel” for Chalice brings some interesting responses, some positive, some negative. They may break down by age and sex and whether a reader has done any online dating.

One reader, who I respect very much, said he kept trying to read the letters as if they were dialogue and wanted to say “people don’t talk like this.”

While on the phone as we discussed this, I pointed out that his original letter to me about the book was quite well crafted. “I spent a lot of time on that,” he said, and immediately conceded that I “had him.” (He then went on to make some excellent points, with examples, of language he would change.)

Another reader, also male and my age, very much likes the direct exposure to the characters granted by using their own words and delusions to describe who they are (and are not!).

Two different women have said the early and easy intimacy is much more common and believable in the current world of electronic dating, email, etc. and they like the structure if not the characters.

It may turn out that Chalice is not for everybody, obvious a long time ago. It may require a different type of attention. I do hope it has value for readers who don’t know the story.

In the mean time, it is fascinating and rewarding to watch the direction of the final draft drop into focus.

Giving You Good-bye


It is so perfect, this moving on.
He will give you now what I would not,
You could not, for all our same page, find in me,
What you needed, asked for, begged, pleaded, there to be.
All I can give you now is good-bye, and this, please don’t write,
Don’t phone, let me give you that, this ending for your new beginning,
All your love, your lips your smiles and fingertips and warm cashmere words,
Give all to him, hold nothing back for this memory, oh my god My Love, good-bye.

Interesting people

There has been an unexpected benefit to my decision of having a group of “readers” review the manuscript for Chalice.

Several people I asked to read the book said “You should ask so-and-so, they read all the time. They know books and would give you really good feed back.” So I did.

And what these “strangers” have had to say has been difficult to hear and encouraging — in other words, exactly what I wanted.

Enjoying the language but people don’t talk like that; I love the fact that it is so well-thought out; I can’t get past thinking of it as dialogue; great job presenting conflicting values; maybe there should be a more dramatic event in the first 30 pages that allows them to open up to each other more quickly; I really dislike one of the main characters by page 7… ”

Informative perspective and often page specific. Immensely valuable.

Even better, these “strangers” are interesting, funny, thoughtful, direct and engaged in what is important to them: Music. Cars. Books. Wonderful people I would not have “met” if not for this process.