Lost after a miscarriage, I was floating in a sea of grief that felt trivial and yet was impacting my day-to-day life on unexpected levels. I’d go to my Pilates class, meet a woman whose due date was close to what mine was supposed to have been, and I’d be overcome with an odd rage/sadness monster from deep inside. I didn’t like this bottle of heavy emotion I was carrying, and yet there I was. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t know how to set it free. Having been unsure if I wanted to start a family, the miscarriage I had at 7 weeks woke me to the fact that I very much wanted a baby and I wanted that baby. I knew I could very likely get pregnant again, but the loss felt tragic on an epic level. I turned to my old friend: writing. Getting my story out in fine detail helped release it from my body. It was no longer trapped in my fascia and now lived on paper. I edited it thoroughly and workshopped it with my writing group and then, when the essay got picked up by a magazine publisher, I felt a sense of joy. My essay, “The Goody Bag,” arrived in my mailbox in an issue of Mom Writer’s Literary Magazine the same week my daughter was born. The whole process had come full circle and matured into a beautiful experience. My pain was now a story that lived on its own, no longer trapped in my being and begging to be born. Writing “The Goody Bag” healed me.
I had a unique childhood. When I describe it to others, they often ask, “Where’s that book?!” I’ve been overwhelmed by the idea of how to properly capture my childhood. I’m nearly 50 and reflecting on details from when I was 12 feels on par with trying to tap a dry well. But this spring I decided to give it a try anyway, knowing the story is worth telling, whatever I can squeeze out.
In the early ’80s my family made a huge decision to move from our seaside East Coast town in New Jersey to an intentional community in the cornfields of Illinois. This community was a closed society where I was educated and lived for my middle-school years. Stelle existed somewhere on the spectrum of cult/commune, without really being either. It was more conservative than you would think: Girls had to wear skirts to school, and the community kicked out the leader soon after I arrived, so that blew the cult angle. We were kind of post-cult, an experiment in the possibility of building utopia. Spoiler alert: Utopia doesn’t work.
So where to start my story? How to tell others about Stelle as seen through a pre-teen’s eyes? Well, I thought, starting at the beginning of the story is probably best.
How had my family made this decision to move? In writing about my New Jersey years, describing the thread of my life and how we switched homes frequently in my early childhood, led to a fascinating epiphany about how I see the concept of home. In another post, I’ll describe that in fuller detail. For now, I’m riffing on the ideas that where I am from, where I was born, where I spent most of my life, and where I live now are all very different questions with answers that involve New Jersey, Illinois, and Colorado.
Through memoir writing I also realized that our family Great Dane had to die for us to be able to move. Stelle didn’t allow dogs at that time, and after a week visiting the community, our family had decided to move. Rocky slipped on the ice and took a fall from which he would never recover. A lightning bolt of big-magic knowing told me he knew he couldn’t join us, and that he had to die for us to be able to go. Write it off as woo-woo nonsense if you like, but this knowing was so intense I couldn’t share the story for weeks without crying; the energy of that insight infused me with hard wisdom.
Through the writing I made the connection that in mid-childhood, I switched religions. I went from a non-practicing Jewish family to attending Hebrew School for two years (yet still not practicing at home) and then I left Judaism behind when we immersed ourselves in Stelle and its spiritual teachings. I don’t know many people who switch religions midway through childhood. Through this little bit of writing, I’m piecing together a bigger understanding of who I am and why I am. And I’m only on Chapter Two.
So now I’m sharing this advice with my clients, especially those who have an interest in writing: Write your memoir. Tell your stories. It’s therapeutic but it also can connect the dots much like therapy, maybe even more so. Through writing, patterns emerge that were there, waiting to be discovered.
Unsure of your life purpose? Write. Stymied by a job search that feels elusive and unguided? Write. Write for yourself in a sloppy journal without fancy language. Write to heal, not to publish. Write your stories of what you wanted to be as a kid. Write your stories of how you got to where you are today. Write about the problems in life you want to solve. What are your natural talents in the world? Write your heart out and maybe it will give your head insight as to where to go next. We’re all here to learn, to grow, and we do that through interacting with others. What’s your unique spin that helps the rest of us grow? Turn to the keyboard and a blank page or a journal and a pen and let your intuition talk. I bet it has a lot to say.