Today I am pleased to join Gwen Plano on her blog, From Sorrow to Joy–Perfect Love. Last week Gwen visited me, and now I have the privilege of visiting Gwen. I hope you’ll come over and read my post and take a look around Gwen’s blog.
Silenced Voices of Abused Children
A little spoken of tragedy in our world is the silenced voices of abused children. Voices silenced for a variety of reasons are a hindrance to well-adjusted lives and justice for these children. Their scars are invisible, etched in tiny hearts and minds forever.
I was born in 1946, the first year of Baby Boomers. Our parents adhered to firm rules of 1940s and 1950s etiquette and discipline. Mama and Daddy were firm believers in proper behavior from their offspring.
Some likely familiar phrases heard on a regular basis in our home included:
Children should be seen and not heard.
Children should not speak unless spoken to.
Children should stand when an adult enters or leaves a room.
Children will not talk back or sass their parents or other adults.
Children will not begin a conversation with an adult; always wait for the adult to start the conversation.
These are only a few of the rules laid down for children in our family and culture to follow. Some of these often heard rules instruct children to be silent in certain situations involving adults. These instructions lay a perfect foundation for silencing children who are victims of abuse.
The result of that re-reading and analysis on my part is this post. Granted there are more than two views on the healing benefit of writing memoir, but here I share only two with you, mine and Jill Smolowe’s.
In her post, which I strongly encourage you to read, Smolowe points to a question that comes to many of us who write memoir, “Did you find writing the book cathartic?” There are multiple answers to this question depending upon whom is answering. For Smolowe, who obviously gave much thought to the inquiry, it was a matter of defining her message and it’s value for her readers:
But before I can make the commitment to breaching my own privacy and spending considerable time revisiting a painful chapter in my life, I need clarity on two points: What is the lens through which I will tell my story? What is my message, the bit of hard-earned wisdom that I aim to share? For me, finding the answers to those questions requires detachment and emotional distance from the events.
Smolowe continues in the next paragraph:
As a result, I do not find the writing of a memoir cathartic. Nor do I approach the task with a hope or expectation that the process will heal me. Instead, what propels me is my belief that there is a book missing from the shelves—one that would have been helpful to me in my time of turmoil, one that I hope may now be of use to others.
For Smolowe, detaching from the painful events is accomplished through journalling:
That’s not to say that writing can’t be therapeutic. When I want to alleviate tension, stress or upset, I regurgitate my experiences into a journal. Raw and unfiltered, these entries provide an outlet to vent. Sometimes that act of writing helps to calm my roiling emotions. Sometimes the writing even serves, yes, a cathartic function.
For me, the work of memoir writing is selecting, culling, honing, shaping, rewriting. Rewriting. Ruthlessly chopping. Rewriting once more. The driver is my intellect, not my emotions. Catharsis? For that, my journal will have to suffice.
Before I continue, I want to underscore my respect for Smolowe’s choice in her handling of this particular theme. Her decision to write without baring her emotions will likely be more helpful to her readers.
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And this is where our paths diverge. Where Smolowe and I differ is in the relevant theme behind our writing.
Smolowe is dealing with unbelievable loss in her life and the emotions following them. Her writing is predicated on the hope of helping others cope under similar circumstances, but she is careful and, rightly so, not to characterize her writing with the emotional weight of her own losses. I applaud Smolowe for this consideration. And I understand and respect the detachment in her writing.
On the other hand, I am writing my memoir around a theme of a different type of loss–the loss of my inner child’s voice during childhood abuses. In order to voice the still raw pain and confusion from childhood abuses handed out by my mother until I moved across the country in 1983, I began to feel a tremendous sense of freedom as I worked at my writing.
While drafting my memoir, I am at last allowed to have a voice and say what my young heart and mind experienced some six decades ago. Had I spoken at the time of these abuses, punishments would have been harsher and the imprint would have left deeper scars. I remained quiet and still, never fighting back.
Now, as I write, including letters to my mother after her death in 2001, I experience unimaginable release from some of those scars and pains. It has been extremely cathartic for me to feel the unbinding of emotions as the words flow.
The most important takeaway from this post, I hope, is that you are the master of your memoir writing journey. In the event that I have left the impression that writing a memoir is always healing, I want to clear the air: The healing benefit that some find in writing memoir is not necessarily the same for all. As mentioned above, it is dependent on your chosen theme.
Bottom line: Each life story is different because each life is lived differently. Each life is lived in a different environment, a different place, a different time, with different experiences.
You know the reason behind your writing. Write your truth. Write the story that you know.
I am honored to be with Sue Mitchell at An Untold Story sharing a portion of my story. I do hope you’ll follow me over to Sue’s blog to read the rest.Note: As Sue and I discussed this guest post and using an excerpt from my work-in-progress, I expressed thoughts about a memoir I had just read. In that life story, the writer’s experiences somewhat paralleled my own. The author’s words opened up new avenues of thought and reflection I’d never expected to experience. I’m writing my story hoping to touch others so that they too may begin to think, reflect and heal.
Living with Fear
Young children scare easily—a tough tone, a sharp reprimand, an exasperated glance, a peeved scowl will do it. Little signs of rejection— you don’t have to hit young children to hurt them—cut very deeply. ~ James L. Hymes, Jr.
For a child, living in fear has to be one of the worst emotional states to find in one’s environment. Living isn’t living when it’s done in fear of something or someone. And that’s how life was in my childhood home.
Fear was an everyday occurrence. Not the fear of physical harm. Instead, the fear of words, another’s emotions gone wild, punishment, the unexpected. A child is supposed to be happy, carefree. This is impossible under a cloud of fear. Like waiting for the thunder to roll, the clouds to burst open, then drenching, chilling rain falling on you.
a: an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger
b (1): an instance of this emotion (2): a state marked by this emotion.
Imagine living with these feelings day in, day out. Never knowing what to expect. Always on guard for that moment when tensions rise, tempers flare and you become the focus of anger and temperament.
July 3, 2012
I wonder if you remember anything special about cherry Jell-O. Probably you remember making it quite often. After all, it was Brad’s favorite!
BUT do you remember an afternoon when the worst thing that could have happened to a mother happened to you?
Lovingly, I’m sure, you had prepared another of those “humongous” pans of cherry Jell-O. And you had carefully placed it in the refrigerator to do that gelling thing it was so clever at doing.
I don’t remember where you had gone after that, but little eyes were watching and big ears were listening. As soon as they had perceived you were nowhere near the kitchen, Brad went to work.
Despite the fact that he was just passed three years old, he had somehow managed to learn how to reach up far enough to open the refrigerator door. His eyes spied that pan of Jell-O, and Brad was going to have some. And onto the floor it went!
As always, the minute you heard a crashing sound you were right there to see what one of us had done. And there it was — red Jell-O all over your kitchen floor!
Today I am visiting with Susan Weidener at her blog, Women’s Writing Circle. I do hope you will join us for a discussion of hope and fear and what makes them inseparable as emotions. Come on over!
“Hope and fear are inseparable. There is no hope
without fear, nor any fear without hope.” ~ François de La Rochefoucauld
(French memoirist, 1613-1680)
What strange companions these two emotions are. Hope presents all we see as positive, and fear just the opposite showing all we believe negative. And yet, they are inseparable.
As a child growing up, I knew fear. My mother disciplined using fear in the form of verbal and emotional abuses. One of my greatest anxieties arose from the thought I might displease her. I knew too well the result of her displeasure. Because I hoped to please her, I never gave up trying despite fearing the reward for possibly failing.
Today I’m visiting with Susan Rowland at her blog, Journal with Sue. I was honored when Susan invited me to answer some interview questions about writing through pain. In writing memoir, some of us find our writing dredges up painful memories and thus, we must write through our resurrected pain.
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1) How do you as a writer deal with hurt or trauma?
Susan, this is a good question. I thought when I started writing that the childhood hurts and trauma would not still be fresh enough to be bothersome. Was I ever wrong!
With each word, sentence or paragraph, I felt myself cringing at some of the memories dredged up with my writing. I began slowly because of the recalled pain and soon realized I needed to find a way to cope with these resurgent memories.
One fortunate occurrence for me was the forgiveness I felt for my mother shortly before her death. There were multiple reasons for this forgiveness, none of which were verbal between us. Yet to share them here would give away an essential part of my memoir.