The What’s Up

Happy holidays to all my friends near and far!

December is nearing an end and the New Year is right around the corner, meaning transitions, new outlooks, and new opportunities. As a writer, I have been lurking in the background for quite some time, reading and thinking about how to write, or more truthfully, why to write. Sometimes, the meaning behind the motive is the most perplexing giant to tame, and years can go by with that giant remaining a shadow over the entire process.

View of the Mediterranean Sea from the Château de Roquebrune, France

November provided me with a much needed reprieve when my husband and I travelled to France and Italy, ending our vacation with a visit to our daughter in Florence during her semester abroad. With distance from home, and in the heart of foreign spaces, I was able to re-envision who I am, what I hold dear, and where my weak links falter. A stubborn son-of-a-gun, I have a hard time letting go of my perception of things. I like to call this The Narrative of Death. Holding onto a story so tightly that it strangles our own well-being is typically an indication that we need to evaluate our own psyche.

I carried The Narrative of Death for decades. I was not smart enough, capable enough, dependable enough, worthy enough, brave enough. Looking back, I held some important values at the heart of myself. Society, however, didn’t feed me the line about finding meaning in these values. Society wanted me to erase myself, be thin, beautiful, compliant, and readily convinced of my own unworthiness. If you didn’t already know, society has a very powerful Narrative of Death against women, and the LGBTQ+ community, and people in BIPOC communities, and anyone who falls outside the mold of white male.

Emotional deaths are just as traumatic as physical deaths. Relationships forged by an erasure are impossibly hard to navigate because obedience to a power over the Self forces an individual to lose sight of her own heart values. In this same way, my writing has lead me astray more than once, taking my creativity into a dark cave where I couldn’t see the wall just ahead of me until I smacked into it, stumbled backward, and rerouted myself.

This is to say, I have a relationship to my writing that feels as spiritually significant to me as my human relationships. At the risk of sounding morbid, death has rooted itself as the context of my writing. Flathead County, where I was raised, has experienced eight suicides in the past sixteen months, only one of them from outside the school district I had attended as a teen. It is one of our nation’s hot spots for suicide deaths. This is relevant to me as two of my high school friends took their own lives, and suicidal ideation was also a shadow lurking over my own life as a teen.

Anyone is capable of being pushed over the edge by The Narrative of Death. I persevered as a girl, and feel fortunate to live my life outside of this shadow. To spin away from this subject, let me assure you this context adds heft to my writing, and this heft gives me pleasure in that I have a foothold of meaning and purpose to my writing that previously remained elusive. One step further is the only way to proceed.

I’m taking more steps next year. At the end of January, I have signed up for a Proposal Critique class led by a professional literary agent. A proposal is a book’s marketing face, the shine and polish of a project’s desirability to attract a publishing company’s commitment. Because money seems reductive to the purpose of my writing, I like to think of currency in the form of readership, those in my sphere of intelligent and beautiful humans like yourselves who are committed to the value of my work. I applaud your presence and attentiveness in ways you’ll never know. You absolutely make the difference in a publishing company’s decision to accept my work, but more than that, you are keeping a literary world alive.

The polarity of life and death now is a daily context. Empathy is an urgent need, crucial for survival of the body, but also for the collective spirit of the mind. I thank you for your minds and wish you joy and safety in this world that feels so violent and dangerous. It is people like yourselves that truly make a difference.

Love, Barbie

Wednesday Wisdom: Identity

Often, our childhood conditioned us with negative messages sent from well-intentioned parents, relatives, teachers, siblings, friends, and acquaintances. Immersed in the world with small bodies and minds, we absorbed the unseen coda via behaviors and patterns that garnered repetitive responses.

“Be quiet” was a common command that came from adults in nearly every arena. Sometimes, it was delivered as a reminder, but most often, as an order.

As an adult, I’m aware how the delivery of our words provides the meaning. I can’t remember the last time somebody verbally told me to be quiet, but usually I’m present enough to follow social cues. Being present is awareness of the setting, tone, and expectations in a given situation. Failure to respond at an appropriate level results in social deviance, or the lack of conforming to social norms.

This lack of conformity implies that the person is seeking attention. A child. I know now that we are all children in the process of growing up for a lifetime. Our unmet emotional needs portrayed by our social skills evolve and change to the breadth of our experiences. Remaining sheltered and holding onto an identity does nothing for maturity.

When I began writing memoir, I had to release myself from the inner child who felt afraid. My childhood years sent me the message of incessant threat, a factor delivered by many people, adults and children alike, who failed to see their own behaviors as hurtful, and myself, who practiced self-destructive behavior as a response to depression. Moving beyond my child-self was an excruciating process, done with therapy and intensive self-care, until my parent-self earned the trust of the inner child.

Often, we are afraid of the world when it is ourselves that we fear. In order to trust ourselves, we must display the emotional and physical attention we would offer our own children. The first rule in medical practice is Do No Harm. Self-talk and toxic energies are often the most destructive barriers to our wellness. Meditation and limiting my exposure to toxic people have improved the quality of my life, and writing has offered me a safe place to voice my experience.

Many avenues exist for finding inner harmony. Former identities don’t have to define us for a lifetime, and we are free to pursue the person we want to be. Respect comes naturally to those with authentic personalities and who have braved the waters of self-reflection with honesty. Change is hard, but it is our adult responsibility to carve away the set-in-stone ideas that hold us, and our children, from achieving our greatest potential. We are more powerful than we know.