The Reinvention of Me: Avocation

A few weeks ago I wrote about living a good life. This post walks closely in hand with that one. I have lots of thoughts swirling on this subject, so please bear with me.

My Family of Origin

I love my family of origin. My parents have always provided for me. They’ve also given me the vital skill of choice. Throughout my childhood, they refrained from setting their dreams for me upon my shoulders. I’m sure they had dreams, but they didn’t make me feel the pressure of them. At the same time, they encouraged me to think in terms of my own personal limitations. For example, yes, I *could* show a lamb for 4-H but then they put me in a pen with one. Or, yes, I could try out for cheerleading but my career depended on my being free with my body in front of others. And, of course I could try basketball but my natural lack of athleticism was a hurdle I’d need to overcome.

On the big stuff, like going to college or being a lawyer, they told me I could do it and they helped me face the hurdles like financial aid. They balanced realism with optimism. They still do.

My Family by Choice

I love my family by choice. As I’ve said before, Husband hasn’t gotten what he bargained out of this marriage. He married a girl on her way to law school, a high achiever. He got a girl who has drifted and lost her way.

Kids, however, are amazing creatures. In their youth, they have unmitigated hope and faith in the people they love. They are so infectiously proud of me that I’ve felt fraudulent and they’ll agree soon enough.

Living One’s Truth

For reasons that are tough to explain, I have failed to live my truth most of my life. I tried to project the image I thought people around me wanted but I continually failed because projections are, by nature, limited. I tried to project an image that did not stand out in any way. And the pressure all came from me, really.

For a long time, I tried to keep my writing alive and also be successful at a ‘real’ career. I tried to compensate for my failure to realize how important certain aspects of my life would be to me. I never anticipated I’d want to be home with my children until after they were here. I assumed I would have a worker-bee job all my life.

I have a friend who I only met after we were both mothers. She worked hard between college and starting a family, because she was clear that she wanted to stay home with her babies. I didn’t plan like that, because I didn’t expect to want to be home.

But I can’t do anything about the decisions I made in the past. I cannot go back and study literature or creative writing or filmmaking instead of history and business and law. The tuition is spent. The loans exist. I cannot go back and carve a super job into my pre-motherhood life so that I would be less financially burdened. I cannot go back and tell Husband that I really wanted a life of art.

As a Christian, I feel that I have been blessed with a number of modest talents. What has not been clear to me is how I am called to use them for the kingdom. Indeed, I think the congregations I’ve experienced avoid the conversations of callings, gifts, and women, let alone the combination of those three. It has been a difficult thing to parse on my own because I feared the ridicule of doing it ‘wrong’.

For all of these intertwined reasons, I failed to live my truth and it played a role in my depression. Depression is a disease process. Like any such process, external and internal factors can impact depression. For a person with diabetes, eating sugar impacts the disease. For me with depression, avoiding figuring this stuff out impacted my depression.

Pursuing an artistic life or a spiritually gifted life or a life of motherhood – these have all seemed like luxuries for those who planned for it, those who followed that path all along. I felt like I could only legitimately pursue those things if I was earning them by doing other things. But I was incapable of doing all of it.

Even though I’ve long believed you can have everything just not at the same time, I was trying to do exactly that. I was trying to have everything at the same time.

Where I Stand

A few weeks ago, I put up my resume and decided to throw myself headlong into the creative life. Old me would feel selfish. New me knows that trying to do all of it at once was selfish and this, this is realistic optimism. I’m not hiding this from any parts of my life and I’m not trying to live more than one life at a time.

I am still grappling with the spiritual aspects of this because I think it’s hard in the faith community of which I am part to cling to spiritual gifts beyond marriage and motherhood and feeding others. I am still struggling with how to create in a productive and stable way. I am still mediating motherhood with creativity.

But I’ve begun.

I am using alchemy to combine my love for motherhood, my spiritual calling, and my creative truth, knowing I may fail spectacularly. That risk is how I know I’ve done more than existed. It’s how I’ll know I lived.

The Reinvention of Me: Acknowledging My Ignorance

Here is a little poem I wrote during a long drive in an RV with my parents, my siblings, and my brother’s family. We were on our way to a funeral. The poem was my way of working through what I felt, which at the time might best be named wistfulness – a word bearing repeating in these lines. Working my way through all I felt – well, that’s taken quite a while longer.


 

Beyond the Lost Bridge

A man walks through the room as through life,
A gun slinging cowboy from yesterday’s West,
Daring anyone to come too close,
Stoically seated on life’s porch,
Allowing, willing, life to pass – unnoticed,
Whispering sweet pipe tobacco encircling.
Burned bridges stand ashen,
Distant in the moonlight of the journey.
Man’s legacy shattered, scattered by the wind,
By time, by long unbound family ties.
Hard life. Hard breath. Hard man at last
Casts wistful mind
On the unsaid, the undone,
The bridges burned
By many fires of a stubborn will.
Hard death. Hard breath. Legacy found.
Joined to memorialize a journey completed.
Wistful, wandering thoughts racing,
Echoing the loss of a chance,
Reflecting the loss of a bridge.


 

This is, of course, how I felt, how I wanted him to feel in that time. It’s taken time and some surprising conversations with another who knew him far longer and far better for me to realize that I don’t at all know how he felt in life, let alone death.

Everett.Web
When I see my grandfather’s face, I recognize Middling’s ears and my nephew’s nose and love echos

 

I never knew where I stood with him. I never knew him at all. The visuals in this poem are the only things I feel sure were real. Even those are a young girl’s remembering and classifying: John Wayne with a pipe on a porch on a hill in Kentucky.

Over the years, I never spent more than a few weeks in Kentucky, and even fewer that I recall. Sometimes my heart pines for that place the way it pines for all of childhood.

One time, when I had a law office in a company, I thought I had gone mad. I could smell pipe tobacco. It transported me to that porch, to that place, to my people. It turned out to be vanilla rooibos tea – and I still swear it smells like vanilla pipe tobacco.

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On a hill at the foot of a hill in Kentucky

 

I do not wish for more time with him, however awful that may read. I wish for more understanding of him. I wish I had known him in a way I wish he would have allowed. I wish that I understood why he was who he was and how that trickled through the family. I wish that I had had the tools to interact with him in a meaningful way – I was, after all, an adult when he died.

Picture-416.KY.WebOn the top of a higher hill in Kentucky, we buried him. Many of us walked the steep incline, and I think we had it better than those in a vehicle. The day was hot. The dirt was piled high and dark, so unlike the red clay of my home. It was a job for the menfolk – filling the grave with dirt after the niceties were complete. But I would not leave. I needed to bury him. I needed to know that I took part in his grave, even if I had no part in his life.

He was not particularly mean to me. He certainly never abused me. His relationships with others are for them to parse (or not); I know only a tiny fraction.

Sometimes there are gaps in relationships and we don’t know how to process the gap so we see it like the negative space of shadow and think it must be bad. What rests in the gap between me and my grandfather is not bad but blank.

For, lo, these many years, I believed I would need to confront his memory and forgive him. As it happens, forgiveness isn’t what I needed at all. Sometimes there are gaps in relationships and we don’t know how to process the gap so we see it like the negative space of shadow and think it must be bad. What rests in the gap between me and my grandfather is not bad but blank. And there is as much opportunity for me to fill it as there is for me to fill that gap between myself and other, even ancient, ancestors. He is my ancestor. I can and should relate to him that way: curiously, occasionally, healthfully.

It allows me to hear new stories of him with new ears. The only thing I know now is that he was a man with more complexity than I credited him. So I’ll not imprint on others’ memories of him. I’ll not contradict stories of his love or his life. I am forever grateful he had both, love and life. And that must suffice.