This week, in an exercise with Brené Brown, I had to narrow down my values — from a pretty big, extremely inclusive list of words such as compassion, justice, love, connection, fun, friendship, exercise — and I had to narrow it down to just two values.
After a lot of waffling, I chose creativity and family.
These are the things — okay, the values — that get me up in the morning, and make my life worth living. If I couldn’t write at least in my journal I don’t think I’d want to get out of bed at all. I want to keep being this person with a million ideas and never enough time to work them all out. Somehow, I’m invested in being that person, shooting off in every direction like fireworks.
Same with my family. If it weren’t for these three girls, I really don’t know what I would do with myself. Yes, even though I spend way too much time complaining about them, I can’t imagine not being their mom and having exactly them, with all their stuff, their delights and human flaws and obsessions.
The act of choosing those two things switched on a light for me. If family is a core value for me, then maybe that helps explain why my mother’s illness has been so debilitating for my emotional life and progress in every other area. Maybe that’s why the loss of our family farm and the farmhouse and the big family dinners is so…devastating. Why the holidays completely wiped me out this year and left me wanting to curl up in a fetal position and stay there.
Recently, in writing group, a friend talked about the loss of her mother and how she feels, on the one hand, that she has never fully processed this death, and, on the other hand, how she doesn’t want to “go there” anymore. I may be misrepresenting her dilemma (I probably am), but it has really stayed with me, affecting my own thoughts and feelings. So much so that, in the light of this values exercise, I see that it is my dilemma, too. Have I processed mom’s illness, or dad’s death, or the loss of my childhood farm? Am I avoiding “going there”?
Here is where the writing comes in. Or, to go into fully-confessional mode, the not-writing that I’ve been busy about lately.
What I want to remind myself of, is that my childhood is still there. It’s still mine. It’s my story and I own it, imperfectly remembered, fully remembered, whatever it is.
There’s a danger, I’ve been told, in clinging too much to a story. But I think what that means is that we use certain stories, certain versions of them to keep ourselves from having to make forward progress. I know some would-be writers, for instance, who cling to an idea of themselves as blocked. “I just can’t write it.” If it’s so blinking sad not to write it, then why cling to that? It’s like a tattered blankie: “I just can’t.” He hurt me. I’ll never forgive her. I wanted to ____ but I wasn’t allowed to.
A value like family feels more like a big umbrella value with connection, parenting, personal fulfillment, well-being, stewardship, vulnerability…and so forth…beneath it. I feel as though I cheated in choosing it. But there I am, today at least. And now I’ve written something about it.
I know I’m giving myself a pep talk, but if you’ve waded in this far, maybe it’s your pep talk, too. We all have something we haven’t let go of, but stop telling yourself that you can’t let go of it. Use your writing to go there.