Have you ever misplaced something? And then months later or maybe years have passed by, and guess what? You can’t remember where you put that treasured item. Then you panic!
On the evening of September 10, 2018, I found myself in a quandary. Husband Bob had left for his weekly Monday night band practice leaving the house empty save Maggie and me. I knew what I wanted/needed to work on…an outline for restructuring my memoir project. But where was that draft I so carefully wrapped in a bundle with beautiful ribbon back in 2016?
I searched high and low all over my sewing room/office shared space. In every nook and cranny. All this searching suited Maggie’s curiosity and the idea she was helping. My investigation took me nowhere. No folder, notebook, box, stack held my priceless (to me) stack of paper.
Frustration and panic set in.
What to do next? A cup of coffee, a good book, and Maggie in my lap. A calming and relaxing combination to ease the mind from my self-imposed stress. Perhaps I would think of someplace I hadn’t searched.
A half an hour or so later I had finished my coffee and put down my Kindle. As I stroked Maggie’s back, I struck upon an idea. Putting Maggie to the floor, I stood up and headed back to my workspace. I began plowing through standing magazine holders. To my surprise and relief, there it was–my beautiful, beribboned, marked up manuscript!
By now, it was time for bed and the next day other things took priority. However, I now know where that manuscript is, and I will try my hardest to remember its location.
Q4U: Have you ever forgotten where you’ve placed a manuscript, essay, or story you’re working on? Or do you have a nicely organized plan for keeping up with unfinished projects? Please share with us below.
What if you woke up one day, living with a family member who had changed into an entirely different person? What if she were an older sibling you had always admired and strived to be like? And what if you were an insecure preteen when it all started? What would that do to your life?
Martha Graham-Waldon’s memoir entitled, Nothing Like Normal: Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia, chronicles the trajectory of her sister’s thirty-year battle with schizophrenia. Two years younger, the author watched her beloved sister descend into madness, nearly pulling the author down with her into a shadowy and baffling black hole of despair.
Nothing Like Normal: Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia by Martha Graham-Waldon Published by Black Opal Books (November 14, 2015) Genre: Memoir/Family Relationships/Mental Health Source: Author Format: Kindle, 278 pages ASIN: B017H5E5S8
FCC Disclosure: Thank you to the author for providing a copy of this book.
In her memoir, Nothing Like Normal: Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia, Martha Graham-Waldon shares the story of her family dealing with an insidious mental health issue. The author was a younger sister who had shared her world with her sister, and then watches her sister’s long battle with schizophrenia. Life changes for both in drastic and intense ways.
Graham-Waldon allows her reader to share in the most intimate of scenes the deterioration of the relationship with her sister and the impact not only on the family, but the greatest struggles clear in the author’s life.
With eloquence and artistry, the author takes us on a journey most of us have not experienced. Or perhaps in our family, the journey has been held secret. In either way, we come away from reading Nothing Like Normal with a birds’ eye view of what a life lived in the midst of the downward spiraling of a victim of schizophrenic experiences, all the while impacting the relationships once held dear.
As a reader and writer of memoir, I appreciated Graham-Waldon’s honesty in her writing of Nothing Like Normal. Writing the truth in a story with such traumatic experiences is not easy. The author accomplishes this well.
I highly recommend this book to those confronting the experience of living with or caring for a family member with mental health issues, specifically schizophrenia. The author’s insights in living with and growing up faced with the dramatic and hurtful changes in her familial relationships are revealing and first-hand.
Meet Martha Graham-Waldon
I am a writer, spiritual entrepreneur and armchair activist who happily resides in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California with my family and a menagerie of pets. My articles have been published locally, internationally and online. I am a winner of the Women’s Memoirs contest for a vignette from my memoir in the eBook Tales of Our Lives. A member of the National Association of Memoir Writers, I love travel, the outdoors, Jazzercise and music. My debut book, the memoir Nothing Like Normal—Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia was published by Black Opal Books on November 14, 2015.
Always you’ll see a news item involving one or more of these emotions or themes. Racism, hatred, bigotry–it seems they will never go away.
Do you ever wonder why that is? We’ve even stopped watching anything other than the 11 o’clock local news to avoid some of the media coverage.
Friday night we even decided to go out for a change.
WE LOVE HIGH SCHOOL MUSICALS
As luck would have it, something was available we both enjoy. We attended a high school performance of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific, a timeless and beautiful Broadway musical debuted in 1949. Based on James Michener’s book, Tales of the South Pacific, a collection of wartime stories, the musical played a large role in constructing America’s post-war patriotism and deconstructing racial prejudice.
Was this intentional on Michener’s part, or was it something Rodgers & Hammerstein chose to do?
If South Pacific assisted in deconstructing racial prejudice, why then are we experiencing violence all around us, some racially motivated and some not?
AS AN EXAMPLE
The following night, Saturday, a gunman in Kalamazoo, Michigan, shot and/or killed six innocent people in yet another shooting. The ethnicities of the six shooting victims here are unknown to me, but only hatred or mental health issues could drive someone to commit such heinous acts while driving others to their Saturday evening destinations.
BACK TO THE MUSICAL…
Two high school students performed admirably in the roles of Emile de Becque, a French plantation owner on the island, and Lt. Joseph Cable, a young American soldier stationed there temporarily. There is only one problem, or two I suppose:
Emile de Becque has fallen in love with Nellie Forbush, a lively nurse from Arkansas, who is happily considering married life on the island when Emile shares with her he was formerly married. Married to a Polynesian woman, now dead, and the two young children living with him are the result of that marriage. Nellie begins to think about the folks back home in Arkansas. What would they say about her stepchildren and the color of their skin?
Likewise, Lt. Cable, madly in love with Liat, a young Tonkonese girl, begins to think about the consequences of his marriage to a dark-skinned girl when he returns to the U.S. Will his family and friends accept her?
During this sequence, dialogue between Emile and Joe goes as follows:
Emile:What makes [Nellie] talk like that? Why do you have this feeling, you and she? I do not believe it is born in you. I do not believe it.
Joe: It’s not born in you! It happens after you’re born…
And here Joe launches into a song I’d never paid attention to before, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” Here are the lyrics and a YouTube video (John Kerr singing in a 1978 production):
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught from year to year, It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear, You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a different shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate, You’ve got to be carefully taught!
Think about six small words: “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
South Pacific had two love stories in it. They both concern, in a different way, race prejudice.
Later in the interview Hammerstein touches on Nellie Forbush’s reaction to Emile’s revelation about his past. Hammerstein sets up the following quote by describing Nellie’s reaction when she learns Emile is in danger. Suddenly, her feelings change and her priorities shift so their relationship rises to the top. Hammerstein explains it thusly:
What we were saying was that … all this prejudice that we have is something that fades away in the face of something that’s really important.
SIX SMALL WORDS
What resounded with me on hearing this song performed the other night were those six small words. Even though some acts of prejudice occurred in my childhood home surrounding the “help,” I did not learn to own these feelings and opinions. In fact, as I grew older my memories of them turned repugnant.
Hatred, racism and bigotry are not always taught by our use of words. They can be learned by observing our actions.
How often is the man or woman standing a street corner talking to him- or herself stared at by others?
How often in our childhood did we see a neighbor snubbed by another neighbor, maybe one of our parents?
In school, did we watch our teachers to see how they treated other kids? What about in Sunday School or Church?
Did anything happen at home that was unkind or ill-tempered by siblings or your parents?
All of the examples above are simple, teachable moments. Accidentally teachable moments. Not because anyone intended to teach someone else to be unkind, but simply because someone, often a child, saw the act committed.
Did you ever wait to see or hear what kind of punishment the person who mistreated another person received? There was teaching here too. If the person doing the harm didn’t receive punishment, a clear message was sent the behavior was permissible, A-OK.
The tragedy is that over time acts of hatred, racism, and bigotry don’t shrink and disappear. Unfortunately, left alone and without repercussions, they multiply or are taken for granted. This will continue generation to generation if something isn’t done.
To those of you reading this, I hope you will begin to look around and take note of some of the acts of hatred, racism, and bigotry–large or small–you see in your community, workplace, schools and churches, your own family. [ctt title=”Look for ways you can make a difference in silencing hatred, racism, and bigotry today.” tweet=”Look for ways you can make a difference in silencing hatred, racism, and bigotry today. Via @Sherrey_Meyer” coverup=”124vV”]
We must be the change makers. If not, there will be more Kalamazoos, Roseburgs, Sandy Hooks, and Columbines, not to mention mall, theater, and church shootings. Is this what we want? Do we want to leave a legacy of continuing tragedy?
What can we do? Share some ideas about how changes might reshape our country and our world on these issues.
Has your town or your child’s school been the object of a shooting? Share how your area is responding.
In posts here, here, and here, I have written on the topic of writing and its healing benefits. Today I want to share a cautionary tale with you. Something happened in our family two weeks ago today casting a different light, at least for me, on the subject of memories, writing, and healing.
I am a proponent of the healing benefits of writing because I thoughtI had come close to healing from scars and memories of my past related to my mother’s parenting skills and my ex-husband’s similar abuses. I now know this is only partially true.
The incident bringing this understanding to light occurred in our home and involved our eldest child, a son aged 43. Coincidentally, he is the son of my first marriage and later adopted at age 18, at his request, by my second husband. The details of what happened are not important to my post. However, I will say that Bob and I were stunned at their occurrence.
What is important for you to know is that I was alone here with our son when this happened and mid-point through the incident, I felt as though I had time travelled decades backward. My emotions kicked into high gear, and I immediately found myself wanting to put space between the two of us.
As soon as I did, the incident took on the heat of a glass blower’s furnace, and I felt my emotions accelerate into what felt like a nightmare. I could not be living through this again! And yet I felt as if I were staring at my mother and ex-husband rolled into one.
The reaction I was having to our son’s behavior was familiar to me — a tightness in my chest, shallow breathing, a need for air, a need to close myself off from what was happening. As a child, I would run and close my door and lock it when Mama treated me abusively. With my ex-husband, it was a different story; he was bigger and stronger than I and so I rolled into a fetal position and cried.
Finally, I walked to our entry which prompted our son to leave. And then all of my past emotions and feelings came surging forward and out. I cried the next three hours until my husband returned home.
♦ ♦ ♦
What I have learned from this experience is as follows:
Although this incident brought back unhappy and painful memories, my recovery from them has been quicker. For the past two weeks, my husband and I have talked about what happened but less and less each day. Bob has yet to speak to our son about his actions but will in due course.
I realize that my emotions were the result of seeing in action what caused my pain before, and I began taking steps to remove myself — standing up from the kitchen table where we sat, walking step-by-step into our kitchen, and then into our entry. I placed myself at a distance from the person hurting me with his words and emotions.
Initially, I haven’t been able to write here or on my memoir. I realized yesterday I was ready to write again because writing is what brought me far enough to take the steps listed above. This morning the subject of this post came to me, and here I am. Later today I plan to begin work again on rewriting my first draft of my memoir.
Based on all of this, I have learned that yes, writing is a healing agent from whatever pain, abuse, unhappiness or loss we have experienced. However, not all of those memories disappear. They are a part of who we are forever. They make up our being, the person we have become, for we have learned from them. And yes, like in PTSD and other similar emotional situations, there are triggers which precipitate memories surging back quickly.
♦ ♦ ♦
Be cautious as you write to remember we cannot wipe away our memories by writing, but the writing itself with its cathartic nature will teach us how to handle the resurgence of those memories should something or someone trigger them.
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” ∼ Rose Kennedy