Wednesday Wisdom: Uncertainty

On Monday morning, I woke up feeling energized and ambitious so I went for a run. It was short. A change of pace in my week, I hadn’t run in years, ever since it had proved challenging to my joints after giving birth to Kid A, (yes, a reference to Radiohead) but I ran with the mindset that nobody was judging me: I was slow and a little knock-kneed and, because of my life, a little nostalgic.

Now, eighteen years after giving birth to my first daughter, I am feeling uncertain as she is about to leave the house for college and begin a life of her own. I’m afraid of what the household will become without her, afraid of who I will be to the world—this woman with one less role visible to my friends and acquaintances of an identity I had sacrificed a career to become.

Stripped of this identity, who am I? The uncertainty is crushing. To be known as a mother is a privilege in which one doesn’t anticipate loss, but loss is a mother’s playground, an interpretation of growth and change weakened by the fear of feeling incomplete.

I am sad and I am grateful: grateful for being there to see her first smile, her first steps, her first tumble, and the many more that would follow. She was ambitious and alive and it was exhausting to keep her safe. In fact, keeping her safe was my career, but now I must retire.

Where do I put my energy? Where do I put my worry? It would be crazy-making to worry about her and I trust I have done my job well enough to forsake the helpless act of fearing the worst.

I must move forward. So it is here, in these words, on the page, where my identity finds me. It is here where a map to understanding my own emotions makes sense of the confusion. In two days, I will be a different parent, a different spouse, a different writer. I will be an identity both old and new, wisened, and free. Isn’t that the point life makes over and over? That freedom still possesses sacrifice and uncertainty? That we must continually move forward because it is the only direction to go?

‘Wonderland’ by Jaume Plensa, Calgary, Alberta

Beautiful words on parenting: The Last Time

Wednesday Wisdom: Family Ghosts

Many gaps exist in my family story. In trying to piece together my parents’ younger years for my memoir, I am befuddled by the complexity of mistaken timelines and the absence of information. One example that surprised me was the fact that I had always believed my mother was twenty-three when I was born. I have done the math. She was twenty-four.

What difference does this make? A lot. The mind relies on every bit of information as one navigates the world. My stories have built me and I process life through the filter of my understanding. Finding an error in what I have believed to be true means I must recalibrate my truth to a different and unfamiliar understanding. Seeing things differently forces me to step back and question my own beliefs and preconceived notions of how I fit into the world.

With more gaps than I had previously realized, I have to question how much I know my family. As I’m seeing it now, it seems to be very little. The more I delve into photos and years and events, the more wary I become of my relationship to the people who raised me. Certainly, if I don’t know a lot about them, then there must also be a lot they don’t know about me. It is evident to me now that many of my childhood struggles circulated around the feeling of ghosted by family.

Writing is a process of discovery. We write to learn about ourselves, but finding the truest meaning of ourselves also means discovering the truest meaning in our relationships. Merging into this territory is dangerous, difficult work. Now, I am able to do this because I have a strong support network which has taken years and courage to build. My husband and the world of creativity are the backbone of my emotional health. It has taken commitment to my own well-being and letting go of previous truths to undergo this process, and I am so grateful to have people to hold me up when I want to crumble. My fortitude has grown with the belief that my story matters, because even with loneliness, no person’s story exists in isolation.

Perhaps I was called to writing because I never felt understood. Or, maybe I always wanted to be known on a deeper level. Humans need connection. Like so many of us, all of us, in fact, the layers of identity are deep and tragic and uncertain. Loneliness is a trap we can release if we take the initiative to identify what we seek. Generating creative work provides meaning in an otherwise shallow life and illuminates our blind spots. Still, I am realizing that the gaps in my family story were never there to be filled, but to be examined. It’s through the existence of an incomplete that I see myself more clearly as my parent’s daughter. Stubborn. Hard-pressed to finish what I start. I’m finding my connection to them as I write. Present or not, they are here with me.

My paternal grandfather, Robert Wallace. A grandfather I never knew.

Wednesday Wisdom: Success

When I began writing my memoir, the question most often asked was if it would be published.

In the beginning, I was adamant. Yes! Why else would I write? It was like asking if I intended to eat the plate of food in front of me at the dinner table. I was ravenous for indulgence.

Another year went by. I wrote as consistently as I ate. Writing was part of the day, something to sustain me. It gave me a voice and a safe place to reveal my fears and I grew less afraid of what I might discover about myself. Some days brought feasts of time and some days, a snack, but overall, a reliable practice built trust between my voice and my story. I honored the time I had carved out of the day for myself and my intentions softened. I was no longer anxious about life’s uncertainties or the book’s completion. Writing is like coq-au-vin. It needs time to absorb the flavors.

In the past five years, writing has opened my world. I have shared my story with others, who in turn have shared their own hard stories with me. Vulnerability is less threatening when you trust yourself. With writing, I have grown in authenticity, courage, and compassion, and in return, my tribe has grown enormously on social media and in real life. I am grateful for the tenderness that surpasses familiarity, and witnessing strangers in support of strangers is one of the most amazing aspects I have found through memoir writing.

Today, I was honored to be interviewed by Karletta Marie, in Australia, about the importance of sharing our most vulnerable stories. We spoke for an hour and a half. Our conversation was ignited with passion for the experience of renewal that memoir writing provides. Her mission to interview authors and professional writers about their growth stories is an act of compassion. She has witnessed the fear that holds people back and her work provides inspiration with narratives of courage.

But will my book be published?

Yes, although I don’t know when. At this point, it doesn’t matter. My measure of success is no longer a book deal, a monetary figure, or even a hard copy of my work. My goals to connect with others in honest and gritty exposure of fears and truth without guilt or shame was something I hadn’t considered at the onset of my writing journey. My prerogatives have changed. The book will be done some day, but I am successful today.

Seeley Lake, Montana

Wednesday Wisdom: Self-Pity

Self-pity is a Black Hole. Wallowing in it, one becomes more and more imbedded in its vacuum, adhering to the immediacy of its relief.

It is normal to feel good after expressing troubles, when we give a voice to the burdens that complicate our lives. Artists have known this for centuries, allowing their hands and minds to express what the heart wants to say. Musicians, writers, poets, artists, crafts men and women turn their internal worlds outward, transferring anguish into music, pain into poetry, struggle into beauty.

To speak truthfully is to own our power. In shared intimacy, sharing hard stories becomes a way through the pain and anger of trauma. Voiced to confidantes, therapists, and with trusted friends, the hold it has on you weakens, allowing your innate strength to unfold, exposing the beautiful art that is only you.

Without transference through literal or figurative voice, emotional wounds fester and toxify the body. Physical ailments which reveal emotional un-wellness can come in the form of anxiety, fatigue, insomnia. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. We live in a culture of stress and egotistical ideals of accomplishment over meaning, accrual over connection.

Voicing problems is too much when it is not growth-oriented. Self-pity is a form of avoidance. Instead of dealing with the root of the pain and gaining insight of their own character, one feels relief through spilling the toxins of their world onto others. But the relief is temporary. Failing to evaluate one’s participation in painful events only means the problems will arise again and again. The person who employs self-pity cannot see beyond their skin. They exist in their own world of tragedy.

We are not in a true relationship with emotional dumpers. Often, they neglect the emotional needs of others, placing themselves first and foremost on their mission to self-impose. Standing in our power to say no, we are never obligated to meet their needs. Giving voice to our heart, we stand firm in the belief that we are worthy of time and compassion, beyond convenience, beyond the spillage that fails to connect.

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To read: A Song for the Beautifully Useful by Barry Maxwell, my writing group companion and advocate for the homeless. His local heart service is Street Lit, providing literature, writing opportunities, and supplies at the Poverello Center, a shelter for the homeless.

Wednesday Wisdom: Father’s Day

With Father’s Day upon us, I’m inspired to share a bit of tragedy and a bit of grief. And maybe, a bit of wisdom.

Last night I started reading Small Fry, by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the daughter of infamous Apple guru Steve Jobs. She begins her memoir three months before his death, taking items from her father’s house, slipping small things like toothpaste, nail polish, and pillowcases into her purse.

Then, she explains. Before she had a sense of right and wrong, her father denied her as his daughter. At two years old she took a DNA test, and scoring the highest percentage at the time, 94.4%, he still rebuked the fact that he was her father.

Years later, taking things from his house sated her. At the time of his death, his net worth had been recorded at around 10.2 billion dollars.

I have yet to read beyond the first chapter, but the reader is left eager to learn her story, the untold truth of a girl made to feel insignificant by the man whose role as a father was supposed to empower her.

I’m a Lisa. I know the tragedy of a father who could not be happy with daughters. I heard the insults, diminishing me to the ways that boys were better-equipped for conflict, for ‘getting over’ it, and why couldn’t I be grateful for what I had. But girls are not boys, and as soon as the expectations are made for girls to behave like them, the shame begins.

I know now that the wounded are the ones who wound. The ways my father had been abandoned by his own father were left unhealed, probably unacknowledged, probably diminished. And given to me.

Everyone owns the right to access or deny their pain. It is a choice of self-awareness, of compassion, of curiosity, and ultimately, of expression, to address the wounds that fester beneath the surface. We have two options: to confront them or to pass them on to our children.

As a girl, my father was young, girded with fear and the expectation to remain stoic. This didn’t work. The societal pressure for boys to turn down their emotions has a fallout, but we don’t have to adhere to the norms. We can be brave, stand in solidarity with our truth, and practice self-love. And when we accept our own story based on the principles of love over shame, we empower the vulnerable inner child who lost an identity to fear.