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: Creativity

I’ve created good writing the past two days, shirking off exercise and other balancing activities that make me a mostly well-rounded individual.

Creativity requires stepping away from the world to dive deep into the needs of the project. Much like a newborn baby, art demands its needs without a language.

It isn’t until you’ve spent hours and hours agonizing over the possibilities that you begin to understand a project’s needs. Sometimes, the writing wants a detail, the color red to call attention to this spot here, or action, an explosive shift in the plot’s direction there.

I know the struggle and joy of being pulled toward my writing. When we burrow into art, we burrow into servitude. The ebb and flow of creative work requires strong communion with our state of being, opening ourselves to a place of potential and possibility, trusting that we’ve created a sacred harbor for self-expression, no matter how limited in time and space, within our immediate world.

Building the sacred harbor takes courage. You might have to push people away, people who bring toxic and negative energies that deplete you. On the other hand, that space will soon be filled with support and respect for the art that only you can make. Giving ourselves permission to feed creative impulses becomes not just a want, but a need, to engage in communion with our emotional and spiritual landscapes. Often, we are afraid to admit these needs, or, we don’t know how, because we haven’t learned the language.

The art will speak for you. I was forty-two when I began to write. When I allowed my voice to fall onto the page, my world transformed from fear to courage, hate to love, shame to pride. It’s never too late to reinvent a lifestyle based on art or to adopt a new way of living in service of your needs. It only takes courage to try.

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.

Wednesday Wisdom: Notre Dame de Paris

I watched with great sadness the videos of Notre Dame burning on Monday, and a part of me crumbled inside when the spire fell.

My first time visiting the cathedral, the sidewalks in Paris were icy and a stiff wind blew off the Seine, freezing my ears in the cold. I was twenty-two years old, in Paris for a month as part of a study abroad program in college. As a French major, I hoped to erase my Americanism and hadn’t brought clothes warm enough for the unusually cold weather: no knit cap, no winter coat.

I reinvented myself in France, peeling away the identifying elements of American tourists: white sneakers (not that I even had any), too much friendliness, loud talking, no French ability. I would not be the Ugly American.

Much of my adult identity catapulted from ten days of solo travel around France before the study program began. Forced to navigate the language, the culture, and the destinations by myself, I was obligated to interact and engage with strangers. I travelled with people I met in youth hostels. I ate meals alone. There was not much money to rely on, and I didn’t yet have a credit card. I budgeted my experiences with the precision of a surgeon, and grew stronger in the process.

I attended Mass at Notre Dame de Paris despite the fact that I was not Catholic. I didn’t understand the rituals. I didn’t understand the Priest, only the words, Notre père, qui est au ciel. Our father, who art in heaven.

I slipped on ice on my way there. A large dark spot on my tights showed where I had fallen. Stupid girl. Isn’t youth most prevalent when we try to be grown up? I fell a lot in college. Up the stairs. In front of crowds. On ice. In Paris.

Twenty-five years later, the falling spire, burning.

Crowds. Paris. Pain.

Loss is everywhere we turn. We lose identity. We lose grace. We lose family, friends, money, health, faith, trust.

Passion is the invisible repair. Passion to love despite the injury. Passion that dares difference. Passion to invite strangers into our world and commune with shared dignity. Passion to rebuild everything that has been lost and broken, and passion to witness an ending with belief in hope.

Wednesday Wisdom: Honor

Nobody has to be important or beautiful to hold significance in the world. We are only as good to others as we are to ourselves. Honor your unique gifts with courage.

A merlin, a rare type of falcon, perched on a tree. (Photo taken by moi )

Here’s an interesting way to honor household objects. The Domestic Apologies

Next week, there will not be a Wednesday Wisdom post. I’ll be in Portland attending AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs), connecting with my tribe.

Love to all of you, Barbie