Monday, February 3, 2014
After retiring from teaching for thirty years, I decided to work on my memoirs. How can I do this when I'm so unworthy, so ill prepared, so inexperienced in writing? I need to leave something to my descendents to know that I existed when I'm gone. Where do I begin and how do I make my experiences meaningful, when I believed my life was not that interesting? Who wants to read about me and what will I expose myself to? Will I be ridiculed, disliked, or thought of in a distasteful manner? I will be vulnerable and I did not like that idea. Some say it's like standing nude in front of a mirror or letting others see you do so. Especially if you publish for the public.
So, I procrastinated for a year or two and did some research into my geneology. I had a few ancestors to find information on so that I could join our local DAR. My grandmother's cousin joined years ago so all I had to do was to hook up with her work by showing a connection from my generation through my mother's, grandmother's, and her mother's and grandmother's records all the way to our DAR patriot who participated in the U.S. Revolution. Thank god for the internet and I could obtain census records and a few other articles of information. Then I had to obtain marriage or death records that demonstrated marriages between the spouses or that they existed. I even discovered my grandmother's cousin in Pearsall, who at the age of 8o, was still ranching, riding a horse and living as others in our distant family did generations before. I called her and she sent me a copy of the 1910 DAR paper that her aunt used to join the patriotic organization over a century before.
It took longer than I anticipated, but I learned a lot about my ancestors who bravely pioneered in Texas. I learned my great, great grandfather, John Alonzo Edwards, led a trail drive from Palo Pinto County, west of Ft. Worth to Oregon in the late 1800's. His wife, Harriet, my grandmother's grandmother stayed behind with small children waiting for his return. Her extended family was helpful, I'm sure. But there were reports of frequent Indian raids with killings of white settlers and the kidnapping of children. She must have been brave, scared and fearful for her life and her babies. Her husband did not return for two years from the distant trail drive. I found a copy of a handwritten card from Harriet to her sister describing the children's well being. These stories made me reflect on my mother's courageous activities, who as a young mother, worked as Rosie the Riveter during World War II and later left her husband and moved a state away with her young daughters to start a new life. I gradually began to reflect on other events and realized I needed to get them written. Maybe, I could think of stories in my life that I wanted my children and grandchildren to know. Get on with it Janine and start telling your stories, I told myself.
Ana Castillo visited the University of Houston in Victoria a few years ago and lectured about her stories and her writing. I found her beautiful and smart. Later, I googled her name and discovered she was to give a workshop on Writng Memoirs in San Antonio, Texas.http://anacastillo.com/docs/09sanantonio.pdf I made plans to go right away. Ana was an insightful coach who asked us what we were waiting for. Who was the voice telling us we couldn't do it? If we could, identify the source, put the source in a box and toss it out of the way.
I had a friend who wrote on a blog and I decided to do that. A whole new world opened when I began to read blogs. I decided my blog would be mostly my memoirs or others whom I knew. The first few posts were small. I told one story about my Rosie the Riveter Mom and I had a response from two women who had done research in that area and also had a blog, "Women's Memoirs" on Linkedin. http://womensmemoirs.comThey gave me some helpful pointers. Gradually, I lost most of my inhibitions and began to expose myself with my vulnerable posts. I told myself that if my mother and grandmothers took risks I could too and I would give it a shot. I didn't have to worry about Indians raiding my ranchito. The more I thought about my life experiences the more posts I wrote. When the feedback was positive, it boosted my courage to write more. Surprisingly, some whom I thought would encourage me never said a word or recognized what I was doing. I didn't let it bother me. That was the vulnerability to which I exposed myself.
My friend, Diana, told me about a social worker lecturer, Brene Brown, on Ted Talk on the internet. http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.htmlAfter watching her speak on how vulnerability is part of our psychological growth, "It is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change," I realized that this is what Ana was telling us. They both were saying that we shouldn't listen to the negative talk that exists in our head. Or that we were afraid of receiving.
Like my fore bearers, I decided to purposefully make myself vulnerable and begin a new experience. I would begin by looking at past events that were meaningful to me and generally tell it like it was and how I worked through my problems of the past. That would be a true legacy for my children and grandchildren and I would be able to profit from it myself, as I stood nude for all to see.