We think of leaving home as a single event, the one day in our life when we finally take the world onto our shoulders and close the door on home. In the future, trips back home will be visits only and we will enter the place of our birth, our parental homes as guests only. We might still hold a key to the door, we might have visitors’ rights but that is all they are: the rights of a visitor not of an inhabitant.
When I think of leaving home I think of the day towards the end of the summer holidays after my first year at university when I decided along with my younger sister and a school friend to move out of home and share a house together. I cashed in my Commonwealth scholarship for a cadetship that bound me for two years to the Health department at the completion of my degree. My sister and her friend from school were both on studentships and bound to the Education department to work as teachers for two years at the completion of their degrees. When we pooled our resources we had enough money to pay the rent, to pay for other expenses and transport. We would survive.
‘You must leave during the daytime,’ my mother said. ‘When your father is not around.’
I had seen it before, my father’s rage when my older brothers left home, when my older sister left home, that they should dare to take their beds with them.
‘It’s my furniture,’ my father said. ‘It belongs in this house.’
The ten kilometers or so that spanned our two homes, the old and the new, may not seem such a distance to others who have left home by traveling overseas or through interstate travel, but for me it marked a void, the void between myself and my father. We did not say goodbye to him as we stood on the nature strip watching the small rental truck we had hired to carry our few possessions, including our two single beds, away.
We sneaked off in the middle of the day while he was away at work. He could not have suspected that his second and third daughters had finally decided to take themselves away. We were no longer within our father’s grip. He could no longer threaten or hurt us anymore.
Perhaps it is this failure to say goodbye that has left me with the odd feeling of never leaving home. Besides it was not the first time we had taken off without my father’s knowledge. There had been other flights from home, both day and night. The times when we went with our mother to stay with relatives, aunts and uncles for only for a few days, when our father was lost on a bender and dangerous. And there were times when we stayed with our older now married brother who had children of his own and a wife who resented our presence. What else could we do? We were homeless.
Then there was the time when my oldest brother had issued an edict to my mother that we younger children should be removed from her care so that she and my father could ‘sort things out’. It is easy to say that the arrangement my brother made to have us stay with a Dutch foster family in Camberwell broke down, as if it all happened in the blink of an eye. It did not. It took time, three months of mutual misunderstandings.
I was turning sixteen at the time. We moved from foster care with the Dutch family to live with the nuns and our fellow students at Boarding school. We moved from day scholars into boarders overnight and like other boarders in convent schools we made many trips to and from home.
Why do I lose momentum here? What happens to my mind such that I cannot keep to one train of thought, such that I find myself distracted, wanting to give up, wanting to move elsewhere, anywhere but here at this keyboard at the computer struggling to put down words on the page that might tell a story of leaving home.
Now I have left home on the page and I do not know where to go. Lynn Freed says that when you are writing you must not think. You must listen. Listen. I do not listen so much as I see. I trawl my mind for images for memories, pictures come to me and people occupy these pictures and they say things to one another but I can scarcely hear them. Their words fade in much the way the Dutch language of my mother tongue has faded from my memory.
Listen. The wind is howling through the trees. It is hot and a storm is brewing. You can see a hint of it in the build up of clouds, white and clean, with crisp outlines. They hang low to the ground, so low that from the second storey of this Writer’s House I can almost reach out to touch them. Were I to touch them would they burst?
Listen. There are birds chortling in the distance and insects chittering. The wind has dropped and for a moment I can believe the storm has passed. It is like this writing, these storms of emotion that well up in me as I type, but as Lynn Freed argues, emotions as honest and real as they may be, do not translate into truth on the page.
I am caught between two voices, as much as I am caught between two activities, as much as I am caught between two worlds. One voice tells me to go into a scene with all the sensuous detail, write from your eye, paint a picture, get into the picture, get into the life of that picture now in the here and now. The other voice says, no, write as a reflection about a past moment. Do not look into your mind, but listen.
Can I hear my father calling to me? I cannot remember the sound of his voice, only as an idea, not an experience. What am I doing back here again, always back here. My father/myself. Why?
It is not fair. I must leave home. I must find another home, another place where he does not feature. Is it his voice in my head that tells me over and over again that I am worthless? Stop this now. Write. Write into the pain. Write into the memories. Write into the rage.
Forget your audience. Forget that anyone is ever going to read this stuff. Forget that you are writing for anyone but yourself. If you want to spend page after page pondering the nature of your relationship with you father then do it. If you want to write in the present tense about memories that feel as alive today as they did then, do it. If you want to write about the past, about your mother, about your family, about anyone or anything, then do it.
Stop this voice in your head that is forever telling you off, that is forever comparing you to the person nearby who is bound to be a better writer or a worse one. It matters not. Forget the others, forget them all, these brothers and sisters in your head who are forever demonstrating to you simply by their presence that you are no good relative to them; that your claims for space are invalid; that you have no right to be heard; to speak; to say the things you say.
If you want your fingers to fly across the keyboard in this manic and mad way, writing words again and again that have no reader in their sights; that in no way consider the needs of your reader, then do it.
You are free. You are like a bird. Fly. You have left home. You can write. Stop telling yourself what to do, what not to do. Stop looking for others to do the same. Stop this chorus of demands.
Exhaust yourself, throw yourself into the well of memory and imagination and find some point of entry from where you can get some comfort.
This writing is no comfort; fingers clicking on the keyboard are no comfort. You must have something to say. Say it.
Peter Bishop from Varuna says to write out of ‘doubts and loves’. Where do we put the hate? Is not hate on a continuum with the love? The ones we love are the ones we hate, beginning with our parents.
When I first read William Gaddis’s words quote in the Sunday Age in an article by Don Watson I knew that these words were important for me.
‘The best writing worth reading comes like suicide from outrage or revenge.’
It is not the first time I have been in a creative hole as deep as this. It is not the first time that I have sat alone at my writing desk wishing for something to come to me, some thread, some thought, some feeling or image that I might follow, but it is no less painful.
I ache all over with the refusal. My mind will not give it up. My mind will not let the words flow, will not let me arrive at some point where I can think, ah ha I have it. I know now what I am writing about. I know now what this book is about. I can proceed.
I start again and again, so many false starts so many attempts to move beyond this desperate feeling of not knowing what I am doing.
And the audience whom I tried to send away only five minutes ago is back again, my parents and siblings in the front row alongside my conscience. They say to me again, in a chorus, what are you on about? We don’t want to know this. Tell us a story instead and make it good. Make it interesting.
But if I start to tell a story, I am sure I will be in trouble with someone. That someone will tap me on the shoulder and say ‘what gives you the right?’
Enough, already we know this. Any writer worth her salt knows this, so why go on and on.
54 thoughts on “Leaving Home”
Breathing gives us the right. And in going on and on, eventually we stumble headlong once again into our own voices… and we sing or scream our story's song, according to the day, the mood, the story or the song.
And thank you for sharing this particular hour or half hour or WHATEVER time it took for you to apply fingers to keyboard and fly your circuitous music to this particular writer's eyes.
So there. I guess I told you!
From another writer, taking her time to find her own music to get to the root of her own story. If ever a writer was taking the meandering path of memoir to get there, this one is. I have started my other blog to help me keep my present grounded here, as I explore how to share in this publicly private forum, what I barely allow me to share with myself!
Your writing … well. Thank you for it.
Elisabeth, what a potent piece of writing! This was so well worth waiting for. I am getting to know the story of your life journey a bit better and we have some common threads in our tapestries. I'm going to have to comment on this one in pieces. It's too huge for one attempt to say everything.
I feel that parents and their children play at a game of "stay"/"go away" when it's time for leave-taking. In my family there were all manner of dynamics surrounding it. We even changed roles sometimes, the three of us. But whether I was being held back by a dog collar or a velvet glove at any given moment, I was being held back in SOME way. I think it was inevitable that I finally got away with an audible tearing of the flesh. I've never found it easy to go back.
I was struck by the rage you express. No wonder you made the connection with me when I wrote of hurling fireballs and screaming in the desert. You're that angry! And the anger DOES contain enough energy to force us to create.
I, too, was removed from the family home as a young teen, but with no siblings to go with me. I count it among three assaults in my life I've had little ability to come to terms with. It's as painful and raw as the day I was driven away, not wanted there for at least awhile.
I can't say I like what your post stirred up in me today, but I can say I like how you did it (your writing). I like that your writing takes you like a boat riding the current. I understand that style. That's how it is for me, too.
Elizabeth, this is the clearest and most detailed process of writing memoir I have ever read. You have managed to put forth a process that is difficult, painful and frought with dangers. I'm awed at what you have described. I'm humbled at how well you put your thoughts down.
I'm trying to write my memoir in my blog lakeviewer-wheniwasyourage. It is no walk in the park.
You leave me feeling to comment or not to comment, if I comment what do I say, that your writing was so powerful I could feel your every emotion, I could picture every screenplay. Or do I say, I couldn't have known such painful background brings forth this wonderful person with such sweet smile that I look forward to visit and to her visits.
And what if I say the wrong thing, but this is not about me. But it is, because you have touched me with your story.
I so appreciate you going on and on. So many of the thoughts you expressed so well about writing I have covered in my journals knowing I was writing just to have whatever it is, make sense in my head.
I really enjoyed this post.
Breathing in – connect.
Breathing out – make things happen.
What a challenge for all the senses you do provide.
There are moments while writing when I feel breathing rather words than air; agree absolute upon the voices inside.
Excuse these "splinter of thoughts", it's close to half past four in the morning.
Please have a wonderful start into the weekend. I shall return and read again and again.
Thanks, Jeanette. It is hard to find a voice and to feel that the ramblings of a tortured mind during the process of writing have some merit.
I look forward to reading your memoir, which you signpost here. I am intrigued.
Leslie, I'm interested that we have common threads in our tapestries. What color and shape I wonder.
I'm interested in the ways that rage can be channeled through writing into something aesthetically pleasing, even beautiful. If I can do it half so well as you, then I'm pleased. thanks for your encouragement.
Thanks, Lakeviewer, it is not easy writing autobiographically. The road is full of pitfalls.
Ocean girl, I'm pleased you resonated with my story. It always helps to feel that I have made a connection.
Anthony, thanks. I imagine the writing process, including the process of exploring your artwork leads through similar unexpected roads.
It's important to follow where they lead, however crazy they might seem from a distance.
Thanks, Robert. It is so late in the night for you to be writing your response to my writing. I'm grateful that you have kept your eyes open long enough to take it in. You must be exhausted. Thank you.
This is such raw and honest writing. I wish I could just let it gush out as compellingly as you do.
This leaving home business with all the different voices in our heads – we can all relate to this. We have all left home, but the voices never leave.
I just got home from packing up things for my Mom to move to an assisted living apartment. After sorting through her stuff, I went into my old room. She still had the same sheets on my bed from when I was 10. The same blanket. It was all so familiar, yet distant and dusty. I can't feel any of the frustration or hurt from how she treated me as a child and teen-ager. All I feel is sad. Her mind is slipping so fast and she realizes it. Sad is more manageable than mad.
The pain and honesty of writing. This was a wonderful post.
Thank you Elisabeth for showing your soft underbelly, I enjoyed your post. I'm sure I left a comment on your last post but must have pressed the wrong button or something, I just wanted to say thanks for popping by my blog and for your encouraging words and I was struck by how many things we have in common, nice.
dear Elisabeth – that was absolutely gripping. You have what it takes.
Bless your heart and
I finally left home to get married, but the phrase leaving home conjures up for me a long process of partial leavings. Fascinating post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
Thanks, Kass. You're so right : sad is much more manageable than mad.
I don't think I'm mad-angry- anymore, not at my parents at least, though I have been.
Nevertheless there are others who take the place of parents for me from time to time.
I try hard to analyze it. I try hard not to react but still something triggers off ancient feelings and the rage boils over again, along with the helplessness and hopelessness of childhood.
Such spells are only fleeting. I'm generally a calm and reasonable person, though perhaps not in my writing. But isn't that one of the joys of writing : to let it rip. Thanks, Kass.
Thank you so much for your king words, Annotated Margins. It's good to be able to acknowledge pain.
And AnnoDyne, with your multiple identities, thank you for your generous comments. They give me hope. Like so many others I fear for the feebleness of my words.
Dave, thanks for your acknowledgment. I admire your writing so much, it's an honour for me to hear that my post resonated for you, and reminded you of the process of 'partial leavings'.
I must ascribe here the notion of leaving home to Lynn Freed whose book on 'Reading Writing and Leaving Home' I recommend.
first , reading , i thought how diferent are our cultures .
here leave home is a torment too , but because is a too paternalist culture , i think we never leave home in Latin cultures , we bring our mothers with us to the new house , hahahah!! or they follows us with food and other "gifts ' that never end . it is a nightmare too .
i left home first with 17 years old , then i went back , left again with 19 . . this is rare here , in Brazil people is used to live with their parents till 24 , 26 years old , and the parents don't like to see the "kids " going away too . it happens because of the economy ( harder to survive ) and the predominat latin culture .
to write ….. is almost a mediunic experience to me , i can't explain .
but is an activity that demands courage , much more than visual art or music . because words are direct . so it is better to face what you want to express or tell .
Of course, I can't pretend to say anything meaningful about this struggle that we were allowed to witness,
but being me, trying to write about leaving home would be impossible because I can't really leave…the elements of distress, destruction, are ever with me..
how can you leave such a dangerous father? he's lurking, somewhere, no matter how excellent a home you've been allowed to create for yourself…
and you were leaving to a shared apartment where you didn't have enough to eat — and where, if I understood that blog — you were bulimic, trying to get your mother's attention…the person who might have guarded you against all the danger you and your siblings experienced.. oh, I wish I was read text on a page because I'd add all my own notes…
you are worth your salt!!!
Don't worry ,you're not alone.Most creative people have a deep well of hurt, even hate.And we keep going back to that well and anything can come out of it, even beauty.I liken a lot of my writing to vomit.It's alien to me ,sure I recognise bits in it but it's often bitter and full of bile.Idon't like it,I don't like doing it,nobody likes throwing up, it's deeply unpleasant but you always , always feel a little bit better after you do.
You are a fine writer, a really fine writer unfortunately your past has probably made you so, but you must use the well, you must write to heal, to survive, to by times even be happy.
You haven't left home, after all. Not completely. Maybe that what you're getting at.
Thanks for an arresting piece of writing.
Your blog has got me thinking. I'm struck again by the powerful quest in us to make sense of/make peace with our life stories. TA (and no doubt other psychotherapeutic models) talk of the coherent narrative. The place, not where the why questions are answered, but where the story can be spoken, the elements named. I see you doing a lot of that. I like to see our journey not so much as a route, but as a rolling out of the edges, making a bigger and bigger place to stand. To be able to see, even be curious and tender to the new bits, the new voices. (Easier said than done!) On the rage and vengeance voice, I have loved a song I recently came across by Karine Polwart called 'Sorry' from 'This Earthly Spell'. She's saying with raw eloquence something I know but almost never hear expressed.
It's striking to me Caio, that in your culture perhaps the emphasis on leaving home is that of leaving mother. For me it's been the opposite. I suppose in leaving home I did not feel I left my mother, not entirely, though certainly after I left home my relationship with my father changed dramatically, though of course elements of the past relationship remain forever in the form of memories. thanks, Caio.
You're right of course, Melissa, you can never leave behind the past in the form of memories, especially when those memories have such a shape and force. Thanks for your generous comments. I enjoy writing for people like you, we share a similar sensibility I suspect.
Thanks TFE, it's good to be reminded that I'm not alone.
I find it fascinating the process of re-reading what I have written sometime after the event, only to think did I write this? Could this have been me?
There is a process here, a process of putting oneself on the page and once down on the page, the self that was and the new self on the page seem different somehow and different again from the self to come.
That's what makes it so endlessly fascinating and then of course there are all those many interpretations from readers about their different views of the self that has emerged from the page and the self evoked in them. I hope this is not too long winded.
Thanks Kirek, you're right too about the fact that I have not completely left home nor am i ever likely too. home is such a broad cpncept. Where is it after all?
One of my daughters did her honours thesis on the notion of home by comparing a heritage listed place that was once a slum in the 1800s called Casselden Place here in Melbourne, a doll's house and finally display homes.
It is fascinating project and alerts me to the plethora of possibilities in notions of home, some quite contradictory, idealized and/or denigrated. Thanks, Kirk.
Pam, thank you for your thoughts about our quest, the narrative quest both to leave home and also to create a narrative about our lives that helps us in the process. I think of the story of the three little pigs, its symbolism.
Their's too, as is the case in many fairy tales, is one of leaving home, both leaving home and the creating a new one.
It's a task for all of us and it's important to be able to find ways that help, whether through therapy art, relationships, all forms pf creativity etc etc. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment, Pam .
"Exhaust yourself" – for me the keymoment of the whole entry.
Agree that it might take many times more strength than is needed to break even a stone, to return to memories.
As there is a tree next to our garden and usually there are blossoms on the ground in front of the door, I do count them while leaving home and during the following hours, try to find a word, a name or a thought with the amount of blossoms found.
A Sunday filled with "spring like colour" for you.
Thanks again, Robert. I exhaust myself with this and you do too by the sound of things with your late nights.
Writers write and it becomes such a preoccupation. Writers cannot but write. And sometimes we get to places that surprise us, but often times we stay on the surface however hard we might try.
I love the idea of you counting all those blossoms while looking for a word, a name or a thought to describe it.
Thanks for your good wishes.
Maybe the knowing we are gone isn't really how we do perceive it but how it seems we should perceive it.
My mother and sister and I fought constantly. We were insensitive, she wasn't well mentally and we couldn't handle it. My sister and I moved out within a month of each other. The toilet backed up and flooded most of the hallway so the house hardly felt like a house by the time I left because the carpet was torn out and the landlord refused to fix it.
It has only taken a year for me to see the friends I live with now as a sort of family.
Your transition away from home sounds pretty ghastly too, Liosis. It's good that you have found a new family with your housemates. There are many different homes we can inhabit in one lifetime. Thanks.
I have been thinking about the whole leaving process for over three years now, Lis. It is central to my current novel which will be called, Left. It is not an especially autobiographical work but it draws heavily on my own experiences of leaving, having left and being left. Leaving is not simply a physical act and I wonder since you are drawn to the past so much whether you have fully left. I, on the other hand, rarely think about home, the other word you want us to think about here. I’ve used the word about a number of houses and flats, flats primarily, over the years but I’m not even sure where Carrie and I live now is ‘home’. I could move out tomorrow and I know within a very short time I’d have stopped thinking about the place. It’s not that ‘home’ will always be the house I grew up in, that’s not the case. I clearly am not attached to places in the same way other people are. And I would suggest that extends to things and people too.
I left home three times. Twice I returned to sleep in the same room I had grown up in and even the same bed; only the mattress was new. They say it’s never the same when you go back. I would suggest that depends on how much of you is left in the house when you moved out the first time. I may not have been sentimentally attached to the house but I had very little difficulty moving back. In many respects it was good to be back but the simple fact is, until my father died I couldn’t grow up and become a man. That I was physically removed from his house had very little to do with it.
Now the guy sitting here typing to you is all that is left. That isn’t meant to sound as sad as it does but I have to acknowledge the fact that I am not the same person I was twenty or thirty years ago and that I’ve left aspects of me along the way. A part of me left my parents’ home when I was nineteen but it was not enough to make it on its own. Over the years I’ve learned to make do with less. I am now motherless and fatherless. Once I defined myself in relations to these two but now I am the father.
What I have discovered in trying to write this book is that the source material I had expected to be able to draw from is closed off to me. I’ve left childhood behind in more ways than one. It’s not that I don’t remember places we went and things we did but I’ve lost an emotional connection to them. When I sit down to write I also feel I am staring into a creative well. Ask me to write about anything else and I’ll rattle off 800 words like this without thinking about it. I have no problems writing and neither do you. Is the problem that you’re not writing what you expected or hoped to be able to write? If you have nothing to say then it won’t take long to say it.
The easy answer when it comes to why you keep being drawn back to haunt your own memories is that you have unresolved issues. Does that mean all of mine have been resolved? No, far from it. I learned enough and it’s a wise man who knows when enough is enough. Every day I have a day more past to explore. I have lived longer apart from my father than with him even if his influence did extend farther than I would have liked.
You will never please all of the people all of the time. It’s hard enough to please any of the people any of the time. Pleasing yourself is next to impossible. You are not writing to some abstract audience. You are writing to an individual, albeit a nameless, faceless individual. If I thought for one moment I was writing to a group I’d end up giving a lecture not writing a story.
This post may not be what you set out to write. Welcome to the world of writing. But you know damn well that it’s rare to sit down and write what you want to. The words take on a life of their own and we simply do our best to keep them in check. This turned into a performance. What you were trying to write about was lost almost. We were so taken by watching you describe the process and people love to be involved intimately like this.
I'd love to hear the rest of your story about leaving home. What happens after you drive off? I'm listening, dear Elizabeth; no doubt, others are too.
How brave to drive off. Your mother was an abetter.
Oh Elisabeth so many struggles on your path which you are able to express so very well. It must be therapeutic to go through the passage of time and write and work through the issues. I've worked in a childres home for many years, where children lived permanently or moved on to foster care. I was always surprised how well they did seeing what they went through but I guess they carry a lot inside, wanted to come out one day. There is a lot of courage involved.
My biggest break was not to move out but to move to another country. I got a lot of resistance but I am glad I took that step.
I think you are a great writer and
you can only grow in this.
Very honest writing. Reading through your post I can feel your pain, your distress and a bit of bitterness, which is ok, feelings must be allowed to be.
I also have sad memories of my childhood, growing up with a dysfunctional family wasn’t easy at all. It took me years to overcome my sorrows and learn to love myself. But today I’m thankful to whatever happened to me then, because thanks to that I’m who I’m today.
I believe that the people that make us suffer the most are our best teachers and great spirits who agreed to play that role, so we could decide who we want to be.
I haven’t talked to my mother and father for more than a year, I do love them very much, but when I’m with them I become someone I don’t like, so we are better off going separate ways.
I have been resisting the idea of writing about my past but after reading your post I may go for the it.
Thank you very much for sharing such personal post.
Hi Jim. Thanks. I love your responses. They’re so generous and well considered.
Clearly our experiences have been different, so many variables: I’m female you’re male; I’m sixth in line in a sibship of nine, you’re the oldest of three. You live in Scotland. I was born in Australia. I’m older than you, not by much, but perhaps that makes a difference, too. I could go on, but I won’t.
The thing I’m puzzling over is your comment about my inability to leave the past behind, all of which I agree is true. But I’ve yet to meet the person who can actually leave the past behind.
To me the past is akin to our roots – the past since we were born our direct roots, our ancestry more like the soil in which our roots are embedded.
We may not think much about our past. We may not feel a need or desire to worry at it the way I do, but it’s there nevertheless and unless we get Alzheimer’s or some other invasive brain damage that leaves us unable to access our memories, they’re always there even if we pay them no attention at all.
I’ll bet they crop up in some shape or form in your fiction. Maybe your emotional investment is not there in your childhood memories per se, but maybe they come indirectly in the form of your fiction, at one remove. Still I suspect they're there, your memories, your past.
For all of that I agree with you about writing to a nameless, faceless individual, more often than not myself. Writing to a group is worrisome; there are so many variables. It’s hard enough writing to myself with all my multiple perspectives.
Writing is just plain tough, but it’s also wonderful, and I wouldn’t be without it for quids.
Thanks again, Jim.
Thanks, Mim. There are many installments, some written, some not.
I'm not big on strict chronology, so please bear with me. The story might evolve in hiccups. But it will evolve. It already has.
Marja, your step migrating to Australia would have to be one of the bravest steps any of us can take. I admire anyone who can do it. I lived with the pain of my mother's migration here. funny i never think to include my father's pain, but migration is unsettling. It is a massive version of 'leaving home'. Thanks Marja.
Thanks Gabi. If you can bear to write about your memories, good and bad, I recommend it. Not necessarily for other people to read even on your blog, unless it feels okay.
I don't write as therapy. I write because I could not do otherwise, but I think writing is therapeutic, if that makes sense.
Writing brings out different versions of ourselves. It can lead to an internal dialogue, all of which can be good practice for later external dialogues with others.
Maybe then you might find ways of talking to your parents without becoming someone you don't like.
Go for it and thanks again for your kind words, Gabi.
It’s only in recent years that I’ve had real problems with my memory, Lis. Before that it was as good as the next guy’s but like the next guy if you don’t use something it will grow flabby. I agree totally that my memories of the past will be substantially intact and they are a record of events that have helped form who I am but I don’t seem to have this need to explore them constantly to try and root out the ‘Rosebud’ moment as if knowing when I stepped left and should’ve stepped right will make living with who I’ve become any easier.
My wife is continually telling me stories about her childhood. “When I was a little girl…” she’ll start and I’ll do a mock groan and not only her childhood but her children’s and her parents’ and I never do. If pressed, if asked a direct question, I can usually provide an answer – I remember my first day at Primary School, my first day at Secondary School, my first kiss – but I don’t feel the need to relive those memories, to live in the past. That doesn’t mean I don’t find other people’s pasts endlessly entertaining and informative – yours is not the only site I follow where the author’s primary focus is on autobiography – but I’m bored with mine. I'm not beyond mentioning something that happened to me years ago to illustrate a point but I don't get into storytelling. I am introspective, yes, always have been, still am, but my interest is the now. If I was an artist I’d be constantly painting self-portraits but what artist paints self-portraits of themselves when they were wee? They move on. I’ve moved on.
This is, of course, not a criticism of those, like yourself, who choose not to. It just feels a little OCDy to me. Why, when I leave the house do I check if I have my keys a dozen times? I don’t know but I do. Once should be sufficient. I have a past – check – it’s not going anywhere so why keep rechecking?
What a potent piece. You have the right to tell the story because it is YOUR story. Don't give up.
Wow. Words escape me.
I sat down to do this very thing the other day. I know exactly what this feels like. And you could not have said it more clearly. Passionate, and full of angst. Great writing.
Thanks again, Jim, for qualifying your earlier comment.
Is this focus on memory and autobiography gender based, perhaps to some extent? At least that's the case in my family.
My mother talked about her past incessantly, my father was mute. I have strong memories of asking him questions but he was evasive,whereas my mother could talk for hours.
I drew the conclusion from this as a child that my father's childhood was unhappy, while my mother's was the opposite, which I think to some extent was true.
One last thought from me: although I write about the past I don't think I'm locked in it. I am very much a creature of the present, too much so I sometimes think, though I like to day dream about the future.
I think that every time I remember the past I remember it anew. I reconstruct it.
I'm aware of this often. My memories change. They fade. Some become more pronounced while others seem to disappear altogether, until something happens, my mother or one of my siblings jolt them awake again.
Thanks Jane. I'm grateful for your support and your reminder that it is my story and therefore mine to tell. It helps to be reminded at times.
Thanks, too, Nancy. I cringed inside when I put this post up, just a little, for fear of how it might be received. You never know how these things will go. It's a lottery.
I think it’s hard to avoid gender here, Lis; women are naturally chattier than men and I suspect this is true the world over. I don’t recall my mother talking excessively about the past in fact on her deathbed she started talking about living on a farm, something I never knew she ever did. My dad was happy enough to talk about his past to the extent that we wanted to listen. I don’t recall his childhood being especially unhappy. Both were dirt poor and came from big families. I know my dad was preoccupied with the fact that his kids would never go without the way he had.
I never imagined you were locked in the past, not for a second. I do think you place a higher value on preserving it than I do. One might liken writing about it to artificial respiration, keeping it alive, whereas I’m quite content to let it die at its own pace without using extraordinary means to keep it in living memory. I am the same with things. I don’t think I still own anything from before I was a teenager, photos excepted, but even the photos are in a storage box in a bedroom cupboard never looked at. For some reason, and I know I’m not alone in this, it feels especially wrong to throw out photos. I remember when my mum died, my brother, my sister and I sat and divvied up my parents’ photos, pictures of relatives we’d never met nor ever would and every one found a home.
I have no words for how beautiful and hauntingly similar this post is to my own experiences.
Just to say, from the bottom of my overwhelmed heart and wet eyes –
Elisabeth, One of my favorite writers, most of whose books were memoirs disguised as fiction, wrote this:
"If you don't say what you want, what's the sense of writing?" —Jack Kerouac
This post is up there with the best, and seems to be to say what you want it to in the end.
The obvious embedded irony here is that you write wonderfully and evocatively about how you're currently unable to write. The upshot is I think you should give yourself credit for the sublime writing you're producing here on this blog.
you have the right to write if you claim it. and i say speak up, because you never know who needs to hear you at any given moment.
Your words are precious like diamonds. Your past experience has informed your writing very well. I can only judge it by what you write on your blog, but it's enough guidance for me. This is more than just a post, this is almost like an exercise in collective memory in itself and yet the peculiarity of it (leaving home at midday so that your father can't see you) is what renders your column a beautiful balance. Many thanks for such magical words. I'm still in the audience and want to read the story to the end.
Greetings from London.
Thanks again Jim. I looked at some of the artists on Dave's Spics and Specs video to hear about their perspectives on art. Beautiful stuff.
I think it is Anthony McColl who says that 'art is a protest against mortality'. That resonates for me.
I suspect much of our storytelling including the autobiographical is a protest against death.
Thanks, Phoenix. I'm so taken by your post today, about the unkindesses we can encounter in the blogosphere.
They are such a contrast to all the good will that exists.
This reminsds me of another artist's comment, again on the video that Dave shows on his blog, A quote from Meredith Monk: 'most artists work out of love.'
Please take heart from this.
Thanks for the wonderful quote from Kerouac, Michael and for your kind words. I shall keep on trying, and complaining, though I'm not suffering from post brain surgery.
Thanks, John. This is one elucidation of irony I'd not thought of before.
It's good of you to point it out. I almost believe you, but 'sublime' seems a bit extreme. Thanks anyhow. You are too kind.
Thanks for the encouragement, Nancy. I'll no doubt continue speaking up despite my doubts. It's good to be encouraged, nevertheless.
Thanks for staying in the audience, Cuban. I must say I hate it when someone walks out.
It happens from time to time and I have a dreadful tendency to notice the one or two who walk out and overlook the fact that others stay. Call it wounded narcissism, if you like, but I'm not alone in this I suspect. We are such delicate creatures. Thanks, again.
i'm not even sure what to say except i love this and feel so thankful that you've shared this piece of writing and love and anger and insight. it lets me know that my family isn't the only family who has known trauma and i can't tell you how grateful i am to you for having shared these things and for the courage to talk about process, about writing, about words and inadequacy and fear and hope that one day, maybe, a person can get it right… or at least close to right… a collection of honesty and wisdom and emotion. you are such a diamond. walk tall, my friend.
Oh PLEASE talk about it! Of course I say that. And reading your words led me to a place I had not thought to go. And I'm not sure I have the courage. So I'm going to ask you to go there and maybe I can.
I found myself wanting you to go to your siblings and ask them questions about YOU. Who did they think you were. Who do they think you have become. See what I mean about courage? Because they could not see all of you then, but they could see parts of you that you couldn't see then, good and bad. And maybe, in that seeing, we can find parts of ourselves we somehow need. Or need to let go of.
If this makes any sense at all.
You make me think. Really really think. And that is really something.
And none of the other matters — the "should" or the "should not" of your explorations in print. If you want to do it. You do it.
I am honored to be here.
… because that is over, long gone, finished. Because no one can tell us to be quiet anymore.
You are a brave and courageous woman. I found this all so captivating because of the different cultures and also different home lives. I cannot relate. I will always consider my childhood home my home. My parents are gone but when my sisters and I talk about visiting we say "let's go home". My father was a gentle loving man, both my parents really and a much as I know that some people had difficult parents I cannot apologize for my parents' loving ways but I am sorry that your father seemed like a tyrant. He had such control on your lives as he still does now.
I don't know how one will be able to shake away from that grip and hold. In a way you are doing it now. "What gives you the right?" you ask yourself that. What about asking "What gave him the right?" You were a child and you had no choice. Your only obligation was to be a child and it was your father's obligation to love you and care for you. Having failed that, it is now your right to be free of him. Not only your right, it is your obligation and duty to break the cycle of mental and emotional tyranny. My dear Elisabeth, thank you for sharing with me. I learned from your story. I wish you peace.
Thank you Angela, for your kind words. Your art and even the title of your blog alert me to the quality of your particular struggles and how well you succeed in overcoming whatever hurdles life has put in your way.
Your paintings with their cut off heads and gagged mouths speak eloquently of the experience of being silenced.
At last you and I can now both speak here in our different ways and I revel in getting to know you and your work. Thanks.
Thanks, Glimmer, for giving me permission to speak about the past. Thanks, too, for your encouragement linked to your own desire to speak together without too much censure about our respective pasts through the medium of our respective blogs.
Ces, thanks again to you. You must have been reading for quite some time to get through three of my posts in one sitting. I'm grateful that you have taken the time to do so.
I know there are some who complain about long posts, but it's difficult sometimes when my means of communication is through writing.
I have seized the right to speak and if people are happy to read, then all to the good. No one's forcing them.
It is the thing I love most about the blogosphere: the freedom to decide what you read, to whom you respond and how you communicate your thoughts.
Thanks again, Ces.
I find this subject to be endlessly fascinating – as I think I have said before. And this post is right up there with the very best of them. You have valid points to make and issues to raise and you write well. It was a real joy and an education to read.
Thanks, Dave. If I have said it before, I say it again, I value your comments immensely. You are one of those writing markers against which I measure myself. Your writing is so fine, so thoughtful and so prolific.
Brilliant, honest, extraordinary.
I'm just in awe.
A bit of a belated response here, Beth, but thanks for our comment.