When Erica challenged me to “put a blog where my mouth was”, I agreed because I wanted to try to speak the truths I felt were missing around me. I agreed because I felt blogging was an opportunity to step into the chasm that opens between writing publicly and failing privately and to try to take an honest look around at the dangling roots and the long shadows. It is why I continually try to poke at the cultural gap between the “yummy” and the “mummy” and it is why I strive to speak honestly about the mess. Above all, it is because I believe we are all connected through our stories.
And yet. Once you tell a story, you draw edges around someone else’s experience. I leave parts of my story untold here because I believe the people who make me the person I am (friend, wife, mother) are entitled to their own versions. I cannot create narratives for them in this space. It feels like trespassing on memories that are not yet fully formed.
So. What I do try to figure out is how to stand with honesty in the gaps and valleys and still find a way to name the things that are true. My hope is that by poking around in the darkness, the chasms other people may also be standing in will feel a little less scary.
I have found myself down there in the shadowy in-between spaces because of grief, because I’ve disappointed myself, because I have felt badly shaken and because it feels too difficult to stand up on the shifting ground, squinting into the future. Sometimes the chasm feels like a good place to hide. (I am not proud of this, but there it is, one of those not-so-pretty things that are best dragged out into the light. Motherhood takes a toll. Sometimes I need a psychological rest from the guilt, the push-pull, the thinning of the self.)
Many people however, settle in amongst the emotional stumps and debris scattered around down there. They have said “poor me” for so long they believe that this is the only version of their story. A great many blame their mothers / upbringing / other people for finding themselves stuck. They won’t fight their way back up nor will they pick up a shovel and dig down for the truth. They get comfortable in their half-way state. Half way between living honestly and yes, sometimes painfully up on the ledges and pathways (publicly) and the truth they don’t want to tell themselves (privately). They get stuck in their story.
Please don’t let me give you the wrong impression. I am not claiming any kind of higher moral ground or emotional intelligence. As I write this post I am reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and asking myself questions for which I do not have good answers.
What I know for sure is that we have to be unafraid of the shovel. Down there where the earth is hard and the light does not always shine there are diamonds and poems, there are hidden streams and jagged rocks, there are dreams and versions we never imagined.
We owe it to ourselves and to our families to try to live meaningfully, thoughtfully, passionately and in a way that respects the other people with whom we are making our life. That means not pointing fingers, not living in a state of poor me-ness. That means regularly and honestly digging in the earth of our own stories and trying to imagine how we want the ending to turn out.
I am from the prickly shelter of chestnut trees and stern stone houses built to weather the cold. I am from Colour TV and square fading baby pictures with dogs and cats and horses in every one.
I am from half way up the mountain with bicycles on the sidewalk and back doors unlocked. I am from dreams of escape beneath a Holly Hobby quilt, from kitchen haircuts and homemade corduroy dresses I secretly loved, from long trips in wood-paneled family wagons to far flung stony shores.
I am from my mother’s ruby geraniums in patio planters and my grandmother’s frowzy generous vegetable garden. I am from sunrooms and manure.
I am from being seen and not heard. I am from polite kisses on both cheeks and nothing difficult said out loud.
I am from a long line of first-born girls. You can count backwards on our names all the way to Wales.
I am from the usual histories of mistakes and secret loves and broken promises. I am from stories I’ll never know. I am from many somethings old, somethings new, somethings borrowed and plenty of blue. No one gave me away. I am none the worse for it.
I am from come out of your room when you have a smile on your face so I went to the barn where I could haul hay and muck in heat and dirt and ride ‘till the wind scrubbed my face free.
I am from the books that have kept me afloat, that take me away and lead me home again. Between their covers I have made quiet chapels.
I am from two kitchens, the one I knew and the one I have made. In both there are dogs underfoot, and all the parties end up there, with the mess and the wine glasses mixed up on the counter. In this one we sing at the table. In this one I summon my mother with cinnamon and applesauce and recipes written in her hand.
I am from military men and resourceful women. I am from battered silver serving spoons wrapped in felt and handed down. I am from pitchforks. I do not know where I am going, but I know I’ll need both.
What stories do you tell your children about where you are from, and what are you trying to communicate when you do? I find myself telling the “you are not so hard done by” stories too often. The “I never got to go out to dinner” lecture, the “do you appreciate how lucky you are?” stories.
There is value in the other ones too, even the difficult ones. So many family stories are lost. I was inspired to explore Where I Am From by reading Schmutzie’s beautiful "Where I Was From When I Was Seven: Bearing Down Upon The Buoy" and Two Busy’s thoughtful "Where I'm From" reflection. If you want to give it a try yourself, the form and original poem are here."