What’s My Story?

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

Plug-In To Knowledge

While traveling home from a writing conference this weekend, I stupidly packed my laptop charging brick in checked baggage. Little did I think about the unpredictability of travel. My departing flight was delayed, which would arrive too late in Chicago for me to make my transfer flight home to Missoula. I was rerouted. I had a five hour layover in Chicago, and nearly three hours in Denver. Yikes. It would be a long day.

In the Chicago airport, I bought a new cord to charge my laptop from the USB outlets at the charging stations. But, the outlets didn’t work. They were loose and overused, and couldn’t hold the cord in their pithy grip. I plugged my phone charger cube into an electrical outlet, then the USB cord. Still, no luck. I took a photo and sent it to my husband. He called me right away. “You have to use the laptop charger,” he said. “You can’t charge a laptop with a phone charger.”

I sensed his bafflement at my idiocy. I felt angry, deprived of knowledge. I had never heard this Rule of Chargers, and in revenge, I went back to Concourse C to buy a charging brick. They didn’t have one, and I was sent back, again, to Concourse B. I found the right charging brick at airport prices, and bought it, because it was the only way I’d be able to write during the long day ahead of me. And because, in my writing, I had a purpose.

Much of my memoir writing centers around trauma. I wish I didn’t feel so passionate about this subject because it is HARD. But by exposing my trauma, I’ve learned the greatest reward comes from others who have reached out, because they too, have experienced great pain. The wrong company holds great rejection. The right company holds great solace for trauma survivors.

During my writing conference, through a serendipitous force field that happens when writers unite to support each other, I unraveled a mystery that had been hiding beneath the surface of my writing. In my memoir, knowledge plays the monster under the bed. It is a scary concept, knowing too much about pain, knowing how pain manifests into other behaviors, knowing I had already survived what scared me most. The monster I’ve been trying to deny was my own rejection of everything I am capable of knowing. Gah! Let me say that again in a way that you can relate. When we shortchange ourselves, especially from self-knowledge, we deny our potential.

Mentally, I have beaten myself up a lot. It happened with the charger. It happened with my trauma. It still happens: with my writing, my social skills, my cooking. While riding the elevator down from the 15th floor at the writing conference, I was struck by a greater impact. Self-beratement was a conditioning I learned from growing up female, and this echoed throughout my life by countless voices who personified the monster under the bed. During my emergence into knowing my trauma, dismissal of my experience felt exacerbated. Speaking about it was hard, making it feel real and terrifying and too big to overcome. Still, I spoke about it, poorly, because I was angry and enraged, and empathy was not readily given. I was looking for solace, but solace was hard to find.

Over a lifetime, we acquire knowledge in bits and pieces, and memoir writing relies on every parceled bit of knowledge to form a cohesive strand about ONE THING. Memoir asks “What do I know that others don’t know they already know?” Typically, we want to avoid what we already know. That hard thing. We worry it’s too big, too hard, too painful. Before we even begin to think for ourselves and claim what we know, bias already has power over us. It victimizes. It berates and diminishes. It rejects. But the scarier thing is: It controls us. It shapes our worldview. It clouds our reality.

In the company of writers this past weekend, I felt as if I had plugged into myself. I recognized the bias of my trauma began with my own denial of its severity. “It’s not that bad.” “No, I’m fine.” But what hurts us, hurts others. My bias dismissed the severity of my experience, which meant that by way of association I also dismissed the severity of others’ trauma.

Trauma bias is pervasive. It has roots in combat, where men have dictated what and how we respond to trauma by way of war veterans afflicted with PTSD. Statistically, women are diagnosed with PTSD over twice the rate as men, with the most leading cause due to sexual assault, followed by child abuse and neglect, then domestic abuse or the sudden loss of a loved one. Despite this, women have received the message that their trauma is insignificant, unimportant, and less impactful than the trauma of men. This belief, based on repetitive messaging, hurts relationships, families, communities, and society. It hurts hearts. Every son and daughter intuits a sense of merit based on gender, which as adults, perpetuates opposition, and/or denies men from the context of the world their wives and daughters live in, and denies women from validation. By failing to expose the severity of female trauma, we are failing to provide a context in which we develop the empathy we need to support and heal each other.


I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Here’s a heartwarming video on bias.

World Book Day

This Friday is WORLD BOOK DAY. To celebrate authors, I’m giving away five pre-ordered copies of The Stone Sister by Caroline Patterson. I will notify five recipients by email. Readers of my blog are already registered. If you would like to be in on the action, sign up for my blog here, or in that little box to the right.

Spanning the mid to late 20th century and set in the Elkhorn Valley of southwestern Montana, THE STONE SISTER is told from three points of view–a father’s, a nurse’s, and a sister’s. Together they tell the unforgettable story of a child’s birth, disappearance, and finally discovery in a home for “backward children.” Robert Carter, a newly married man just back from World War II, struggles with his and his wife’s decision to entrust the care of their disabled child to an institution and “move on” with family life. Louise Gustafson, a Midwestern nurse who starts over with a new life in the West, finds herself caring for a child everyone else has abandoned. And Elizabeth Carter, a young journalist, uncovers the family secret of her lost sister as she struggles with starting a family of her own.

THE STONE SISTER explores the power of family secrets and society’s evolving definitions of “normal”–as it pertains to family, medicine, and social structure. The novel sheds light on the beginnings of the disability justice movement as it follows one family’s journey to reckon with a painful past. Incredibly, the novel is based on Caroline Patterson’s personal story. As an adult, she discovered she had an older sister with Down syndrome who had been written out of her family history. In fact, that sister’s name was also Caroline Patterson.

I’m excited to share this work with you when it’s available. In the meantime, enjoy WORLD BOOK DAY!!!

April: National Child Abuse Prevention Month

This content may dredge up difficult emotions. Please read with care.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. As an advocate for youth integrity, I strive to illuminate the impact of child abuse to the self and to society. Recent news articles have revealed, yet again, the toll of psychological damage and its destructive effects on safety—either to the self or to the public.

It came as no surprise to me to learn that the shooter convicted of killing ten people in Boulder had been a victim of bullying. Bullying counts as abuse, especially when it becomes pervasive and is extolled by anyone older than the victim. Some households discount the severity of bullying, diminishing it by placing blame on the victim. Common phrases surrounding diminishment include: You’re too sensitive. You need to toughen up. It was just a joke. Get over it. You have to forgive them.

The very act of diminishment serves to propagate further neglect of the problem by denying the victim’s reality. This is where trouble doubles down and turns adversity into trauma. When a child feels overwhelmed by their reality, the brain will resort to its psychological tools for survival. Self-deception is a reflex of traumatic experience, armor to protect the ego from collapsing into despair. A multitude of avenues exist for a person to steel away from their truth. One can live a fallacy for a lifetime, finding a million excuses to avoid their pain, perhaps killing others in an act of Displacement.

A great book for the lay-person about self-deception is Hide and Seek, by Neel Burton. In brief chapters, the author breaks down the primary modes of self-deceptive behaviors that the Self employs to diffuse difficult emotions. The purpose of the book is to supply the reader with knowledge in which to address their own bad behavior, to curtail negative social interactions, and to ultimately live in truth. As the author says, “Ours is a dirty business.”

Returning to child abuse, I became deeply concerned when a recent article revealed the decrease of child abuse reported during the pandemic. Typically, teachers and school staff are primary observers of children during the school day. Due to at-home learning, it is conceivable that even more children will suffer abuse at home. In this case, the irony of ensuring children’s safety is hardly laughable. Household stress is a common factor in child abuse cases, and with many parents struggling, it gives rise to the idea that our future generation will struggle from long-term psychological damage, simply due to unhealthy household environments. We as a society have to remember not to rely on statistics and numbers, but to apply them to the reality of a context. When we see the bigger picture, we have a more accurate view of the dire need for help. Let us remember to recognize victims as the most important members of society.

What can we do?

Personal missions to become involved in governmental processes remain an immediate call-to-action. Where you focus your intention is up to you: gun control, child protective services, or mental health advocacy are important routes for public safety. Self-awareness and parental education will empower the Self with tools to retrain reactions into responses.

Child safety begins with parents who live in truth. I will continue to maintain hope that the human desire for connection and compassion will overpower the violence and vitriol exposed during this time of adversity. I will continue to advocate for victims of all abuses. If you’re struggling, please seek help today by calling a professional. If you need help doing this, I’m here for you.

Let us celebrate the Easter weekend with hope for the future. Let us live individually in truth so we can live together in peace.

Wednesday Wisdom: Silence

It has been quite a while since I’ve visited my blog, and I’ve missed it. To me, it is like an old sweater—warm, no frills—waiting to be used when I need it. Now, it is sweater weather and nearly the end of the year, so what better time is there to put on the old thing?

This has been a year of friction and unpredictable circumstances. On top of external forces, our college-aged daughter has been living at home more than away, our dog has developed a bone tumor, and my husband and I are preparing our youngest daughter for college. We are both dreading and anticipating the quiet remainder of our lives as empty-nesters. We hope to travel as much as possible.

It has been a year of witnessing human behavior when faced with fear, discomfort, and loss. It has been an eye-opening experience to witness the spectrum of emotions toward mortality. Letting go is hard, especially when losing a loved one feels like an attack. And yet, it is supposed to be hard. We are adapted to do hard things.

My goal for the upcoming year is to do the next hardest thing on my writing journey. Querying my work-in-progress will be the first step in taking a bold leap into publishing. Whereas this step sounds routine and mundane, the act of placing a work of creativity from my hands into the hands of others is not one I take lightly. It requires a commitment of letting go, of losing control, of losing the story I’ve held inside for nearly fifty years. It requires trusting that my truth matters more to a collection of others than it does to me. It is an act of selflessness to allow strangers inside my world, to risk being put on the chopping block, to set myself up for criticism and the harshest judgment of humanity: shame.

So here we are, back to the source of this year’s vitriol. Will people ever evolve from relying on shame to relying on compassion? Will we outgrow criticism and practice empathy? My answers are yes, and yes, as long as we allow all voices to be heard. Silencing is an act of dominance, a misperception of strength in the patriarchal belief system to which our values are assigned at birth.

This is my story. This is the story for many. We are lost voices looking for a break in the wall. It is there, we are here, looking for each other.

I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and the brightest light of hope in the new year.