It’s been a long while since I’ve posted a blog – basically since I returned to a burgled home in October. I posted the Roger Gillespie piece, but it had been written for a long time, and I shared it only because there’s nowhere for it to go. But I’m fond of it – not only as a piece of writing, but as a memory. It’s so real for me; but no one remembers Roger. I’ve asked around. I’m head injured, have PTSD from multiple and varied traumas, and spent too many years of my life dissociated from my experiences, so I sometimes wonder if anything I remembered was real. Try walking around with that kind of relationship with reality. Or, I don’t know…maybe you do, but for your own reasons. Reality is hard. Right? Still, I know this: Roger was real and the scene with the cigarette happened.
The urgency to synchronize my experiences with some kind of objective reality is, in fact, one of the primary reasons I write. Arguably, I could write in a journal and keep it to myself, which I did for a long time. I’ve been a writer for years, but focused on fiction through my 20s. Years ago, in college, I was given a nonfiction writing assignment involving memory. This was the first time I worked with my personal history in a creative way. The response was surprising. I got an A+ on my homework and my teacher called me aside to tell me to write more. To not stop there. That I had important things to say and that I should hone my craft and keep saying it. It would be quite a while more before I heeded this advice, but I never forgot it.
Important things to say. What does that even mean? I’m just some lady, right? Who the hell cares?
Turns out, people care.
Not only that, but it also turns out people find solace, connection, and sometimes hope in what I write. I discovered this slowly, through many different essays or even Facebook posts. And, similarly, I’ve discovered my own hope, comfort, and connection through other people’s personal narratives.
My relationship to reality – which is to say, my relationship with myself – has changed immensely since I first discovered connection through narratives. It has emboldened me to move beyond writing and use my self-story to bond humans together in other ways. A primary example of this is the day, five years ago, when, in the depths of grief about struggles I was having as a single mom, I sent a listserv message to my children’s school that said:
Do you have an emotionally or developmentally a-typical child?
Do you ever hear of a class, event, workshop, or camp that would’ve supported your efforts to parent your child after the fact and feel frustrated that there’s not a one-stop-shop for access to this information?
Do you ever find yourself talking to a group of parents about parenting and find yourself unable to relate or feel unrelated to? Do you feel isolated?
Do you find yourself preemptively explaining your child’s behavior everywhere you go? Are you tired?
Well, you’re not alone!
I’m a parent of (beautiful, amazing, intelligent, hilarious, intense, and brilliant) behaviorally/neurologically a-typical 4th graders and I’m considering starting a support group. If you’d be amenable to this idea and it feels like something that would benefit you and your family, would you let me know?
I was terrified to send that email. I already felt so much shame about “not being a good enough parent” that I truly felt I was putting myself at risk of further shame, this time public. But I sent it anyway, to save my life. That’s no exaggeration. I felt like I was about to go underwater and drown and I’d tried so many other things, which I won’t detail here, and none of them worked. I’d been in therapy for eight years at that point, and I’d also had a few positive experiences with putting memoir writing out into the world, both of which gave me further courage to hit send. Most importantly, though, my love for my sons was so much greater than my shame or fear that I sent it anyway.
Something amazing happened after I sent that email to the listserv at the boys’ school: other parents responded. Yes! They said. Right away, the responses came rolling in, privately. “Yes, I feel isolated.” “Yes, I’m at my wit’s end.” God freaking hell, yes! Within a week, we’d organized our first in-person meet up. Five years later, the core group of us are still meeting monthly. And to this day, sharing our experiences synchronizes an otherwise asynchronous reality, which in turn shores up our relationships with ourselves, which in turn again shores up our relationships with our children. As these things go. As these things always go.
Recently, I changed my background photo on Facebook to this picture:
With this caption:
Remember the women you came from. Remember your ferocity. Our women were tough as fuck, and so are we. If your childhood experience didn’t include strong women, remember that your self-story can be whatever you want it to be. You choose. Depression, chronic pain, debt, poverty, confusion, fear, addiction, mental health issues, calls from creditors – none of these are stronger than you. Immorten Trump isn’t stronger than you. Think I’m talking in hyperboles? Think this is sour grapes? Then I’m not speaking for you. And the resistance will continue in lieu of, but not because of you. Fury Road is a work of fiction, but The Many Mothers is a metaphor that exists in the real world. We’ve come too far to be told we must be weak again. Never again. Carry the seeds with you and plant them in fertile ground wherever you can find it. Be as strong as you can as often as you can. Ask for help. Provide help. Be of service. Fight. And above all, don’t believe the fucking lies that you’re anything less than strong as hell.
It was after posting this that I began thinking once again about why I write. Why I share such personal information so openly. Why I risk ridicule in the search for connection. The answer, as always, is because it matters. Because, now more than ever, a healthy relationship with reality can be do or die. Connection and commiseration are both seeds and fertile ground.
It honestly doesn’t matter to me at all if people who don’t get that or who find no value in memoir writing and storytelling think it’s “nothing more than…” (enter whatever: self-serving, etc.) because we don’t do it for them. We do it for each other. Our connection through truth-telling takes nothing from them, and so I have no personal stake in assuaging whatever anxiety they have.
I’m not here to tear anyone down, only to build each other up.