You first heard about Penny in my shameless teaser about her. As I was putting this post together, I stumbled while writing the headline. Penny Rose Mixhau on Being a Widow? Being a Wife? Being a Witch? Being a Woman? (Hey, wait! That’s a lot of “W”s!!!). Penny Rose Mixhau: The “x” is silent… good thing SHE isn’t? Penny Rose Mixhau: The coolest woman I know? Well, she is! What you see, is what I finally settled upon… and it fits.
Penny is a creator… and that’s where our story (hers and mine) begins in earnest. She created an online community and I was a villager there, along with a few hundred others. The community grew, as did I!
To be among Penny (and her people) is to be among those who want only the best for you … and they are willing to fight for it. Their “weapon” of choice? Compassion, paired with ethics. I was privileged to move beyond “they” and into “we”… WE want the best for you. I can truly say that Penny is a part of the entire reason I created this blog! *Goosebumps* <<< Truth, right there!
Sometimes, I still call her “P” as we did in the village days. “P” as in Philosopher who is also Powerful, Protective, Persistent, Piercing and sometimes, Provocative. Not Perfect. She would fly up here and scold me if I used that P-word. Have I thought it? Heck, yeah! But it would be an unfair characterization… because she is, most of all, Profoundly human. (You see I got that other P in there, right?)
As a guide and healer, what have you found most beneficial to those who are suffering?
My perspective on this has evolved over the years. I’ve survived many significant losses through my life – from my parents’ divorce when I was 10 (and the subsequent loss of half my family for several years) to the deaths of a child, parent, close friends and other relatives. In my thirties and forties I lost important relationships to betrayal and divorce.
Through most of that I would have said support and compassion are the most beneficial. Validation. To some extent I might still say something similar. But with the death of my husband in 2017 and continuing to process what we euphemistically call “complicated grief” I have a somewhat different perspective. I think one of the most powerful things we can do to support people who are suffering is to see them. Really see them without letting ourselves get in the way.
We see people through our own lens of who we are, what we want, and how we think things should be. Out of our compassion and caring we want those who are suffering to feel better – but that desire is, if we are honest with ourselves, often colored by our own discomfort with pain, loss, grief, betrayal, death, illness… With our kind words and acts we try to improve something for them – to change something so we can feel better about our dear ones feeling better.
Maybe that’s okay sometimes. Maybe it’s okay all the time. But I think we can do better than okay. I think if we can come to the idea of support and caring with a blank slate, or at least a quiet state free of expectations, and simply allow our beloveds who are in pain to be seen in all their complexity we can create and hold space for healing. We’re not wounded or weak, strong or stoic, determined or unsure. Frightened or courageous, weeping or joyful, focused or lost. We are, oh so often, all of those things sometimes all in the same hour. In a world that moves too fast, demanding two dimensional, safe, tidy versions of reality, what a gift it would be to allow each other the luxury of being seen as fully complex beings.
Please share how art (in its many forms) has helped to move you through your own losses and grief.
As a child I hid inside books. I read obsessively, far above my grade level, beginning in about second grade. I lost myself in the happy homes of my early heroes – Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, the March family in Little Women followed by all Louisa May Alcott’s other characters over the years. I fell in love with the way words could wind together, in an always new, unique, dance, to pull us in, make us laugh, cry, or stay awake far into the wee hours turning “just one more page.”
In 5th grade I was illegally home schooled (a story for another day). We read McGuffey Readers and then were required to write the equivalent of a mini book report on the week’s essay. I didn’t enjoy it. It probably wasn’t until I was in high school that I found writing to be an enjoyable outlet. Today writing is certainly the most powerful outlet I have for processing traumatic events. It’s not necessarily the most enjoyable – the act of getting events and emotions out of my head and onto (the digitial equivalent of ) paper is hard, hard work more often than it is fun.
Music and paint, on the other hand, are more like my happy places. I sing in a choir a couple of times a year for the sheer joy of singing. It is possibly the only thing I do solely for me. And the paint…well the paint seems to burst out of me with an exuberance I can’t control. I can get lost in painting the way I used to get lost in books when I was younger. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had every intention of painting a rooms some nice, quietly elegant, color. And then before I know it there are Moroccan designs in shades no one is ever going to call quiet. I don’t really know how it happens.
My latest architectural love (after decades of drooling over Victorians) is the stark, clean, lines of mid century modernism. Glass, concrete, straight lined wood cabinetry, Brady Bunch stairs, minimalism. About once a month I think I should paint over all my wild designs and create that look here – and then I look around at all the glorious color and I can’t do it. The minute it was all sedate and clean I’d be at the discarded paint aisle picking out orange and teal – guaranteed.
I think the most powerful thing about art, for me, is being endlessly in awe of the great well of creativity in humankind. All the songs. All the books. All the sculpture and paint. The great structures. The perfect few words in a tweet that make you laugh out loud. Taking joy in the creativity of others feeds my own and reminds me that we are all on this journey together. For me, that is healing.
Your late husband (Brian) was a Scientologist, which played a huge role in his illness and ultimately, his death. Is that a fair statement and what role has Scientology played in your life since his passing?
That is a completely accurate statement. Scientology killed my husband. Oh, they didn’t show up at our door and take him out – but they may as well have. Brian died of complications of catatonia, a relatively rare and poorly understood mental illness he had in conjunction with cancer. Scientology denies its members mental health treatment so we sought care too late. And, because he was a Scientologist, we all tiptoed around the severe mental health warning signs for far too long and then even after. There’s more info about all of that in the two Scientology specific interviews I’ve provided links for.
As you know I was never a member of Scientology. I always believed the effects of this toxic organization touched me indirectly, through Brian, in what we could talk about, what was off limits, and to some lesser extent how we allocated money and time. I didn’t really ascribe a direct effect to myself. But now, more than eighteen months since his death, I find shadow similarities to what ex members report: flashbacks, nightmares, generalized anxiety, an uneasy relationship with certain words, and – perhaps most troubling – an altered view of the world in general. The lens through which I navigate the world has shifted. My relationship with spirituality and religion in general has shifted.
What does self-care look like to you?
Sleep! There’s just never enough sleep. More seriously it looks like balance. I have regular conversations with my therapist about the need for balance. I tend to over-commit and over-extend and then find myself crashing. Or I become a hermit and complain of feeling isolated. I am challenged to find ways to create breathing space, enough breathing space, between all the many obligations and activities I jump into.
It also looks like being willing to be visible and vulnerable. With the loss of my partner this is possibly the place where I feel the most destabilized. A big part of self care is figuring out how to create a fulfilling life alone without isolating. I don’t know if we have good role models for this – I know few, if any. That’s my self care goal these days – the life balance of alone but not isolated.
I know you love reading… please share which authors motivate and lift you.
Oh my, there are so many. Louisa May Alcott was my childhood favorite for her stories and the beautiful way in which she told them. As an adult learning about her life – what an amazing woman she was. Born before the Civil War, she supported her family with her writing. She was a feminist and an abolitionist who challenged gender norms of the day. If I spend enough time reading her work I start to speak in that style.
Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series – because I love a good murder thriller. I saw her speak a little more than 10 years ago oddly enough in the same church I now sing in a couple times a year. Funny little world, isn’t it?
Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy. Beautifully woven story of love, magic, high adventure and daily life. The words are beautifully strung together. It remains, to this day, my favorite of the many tellings of Merlin, Arthur, and the dream that was Camelot.
Tom Robbins – what a fantastic storyteller. I’ve never read anyone else who can so expertly interrupt perfectly crafted prose with a sentence or paragraph so poetic it takes your breath away. Amazing. Just amazing.
James Herriot of “All Creatures Great and Small” fame. I remember the first time I read his series I laughed until I cried in some parts and cried until I couldn’t breathe in others. He brought the hills of Yorkshire and the eccentric farmers who lived there to life. The second time reading them I started laughing or crying in advance, the memory of his stories so vivid.
JK Rowling … because… Harry Potter. Because she was a single mom who wrote longhand on a legal pad and who overcome multiple rejections to finally find a home for her stories. And what glorious stories they are. The inspired an entire generation to hide under the covers with book and flashlight long past their designated bedtimes.
HH The Dalai Lama – such a peaceful and thought provoking view of life.
Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners. Utterly and excruciatingly correct. Who knew etiquette could be so deliciously entertaining.
All the ex-Scientologist writers and non-member critics who face retaliation and harassment and still speak out about the abuses of this toxic and dangerous organization. I am in awe of their courage.
Just this little list is an awe inspiring snapshot of the glorious creative inspiration that is all around us.
And finally, every single writer who tells their story. So often people say to me, “I want to write about [fill in the blank] but probably no one wants to read it.” My response is always the same, “Write it! The world needs your story!” Everyone has a story from sci-fi to horror, memoir to mystery, I am in awe of those who put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper and build their tale one word by one word.
Bio and Links:
Penny R Mixhau is a writer of books, essays, curricula, and snarky social media posts. She is enamored of bullet points and parentheses and fails at remaining serious while filling out official forms (such as one might find at the DMV or doctor’s office). Her head is filled with all manner of useless trivia on a multitude of subjects which probably explains why she can’t remember where she left her shoes or keys but makes her a formidable ally in games of … well… useless trivia.
Penny shares her home (which she’s painted to look like a Moroccan boudoir illicitly invaded a medieval castle) with two cats who are always starving (to death) and a fiercely protective tiny dog.
Her work in progress, From Wench to Widow, is a memoir recounting her experience of life with the man she adored and how his involvement with the Church of Scientology infiltrated every aspect of their lives. It is her first novel length work.
Video Interview with Chris Shelton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp7PhAxPgz8
Audio Interview with Chris Crimy part 1 – http://www.blogtalkradio.com/cgshere/2018/05/18/come-get-sum-extra-scientology–penny-mixhau-p1
Audio Interview with Chris Crimy part 2 – http://www.blogtalkradio.com/cgshere/2018/05/25/come-get-sum-extra-scientology–penny-mixhau-p2