I had to get back into the dense and dark jungle that was my crappy first draft. It was a dump of stories that had been knocking around in the cobweb-infested corners of my mind.
Memoirist Dani Shapiro says that theme is another word for obsession. From what I understand, all her books are meditations on the toxic effect of family secrets. My obsession is in showing how unchanneled female creative energy is the deadliest poison known to relationships.
I’d have to give it a month as suggested by my mentor before I’d face that monster of a first draft.
Raw, wild, in need of understanding, attention, and lots and lots of editing before it could be introduced to other people like publishers, my first draft threatened to be as unruly as a toddler.
Did I have it in me to give it the structure it needed to grow into something that would be pleasant and useful to my fellow humans?
My brother’s ex-fiancé Emily had entered my life three Christmases ago. She woke up a part of me that I thought I’d left behind in my 20s. Maybe we all have this part that skips classes in our major to watch Andy Warhol films and listen to Dead Kennedys albums.
She was a woman with raven hair, ruby lips and sparks flew from her fingertips, very much like the Eagles’ Witchy Woman.
“I’m wearing green this year. It represents vibrancy, nature and the heart chakra.” I’d told her. I wanted to reveal to her the source of the power I felt within me when I’d given myself the green light to go for it, to go out and sell my gift for stringing together words.
She looked deep into my eyes. She made me feel as though what I’d said was wise and not the childlike ramblings of a wanna-be writer.
“Do you have a colour that brings you power?” I asked sensing that she must have a story for why her nails are always the same shade of red.
“Yes, red. I’ve always adored red ever since I saw Marina Abramovic, the performance artist, talk about how eating red fruits and having red around her helps her revive and bounce back from illnesses.”
There were many things whispered behind her back by the other women I knew and she stirred many emotions within me. She was a narcissist, not smart enough for a proper university, a weakling, sickly, a suck-up, an energy vampire, and she didn’t bring anything to the table.
I’m sure those words were uttered about me too by other women throughout my life including my own mum.
I too had been a weakling, preferring to stay in a dreamlike state under the warm covers of my bed rather than to face the days well into my thirties. I too spent many hours in front of the mirror lifting up my nose, widening my eyes, puffing out my lips to become the idealised face and yes even though I had straight A’s in high school, I had to make do with a commuter university because I didn’t want to be a financial burden on my parents and I sucked up to popular kids and bosses to win their favour so I might bask in their limelight and I drained the energy out of many a relationship, much like the maligned succubus, those mythical women stealing men’s vitality.
It was no wonder that Emily pushed buttons in all the females around the table which we gathered at every Christmas. With her otherworldly looks and insecurities, she was like a projected hologram of the dark feminine energy we all possess within us.
Emily gave me power by paying me attention when my own mother hadn’t. She accepted my writing gift. With Emily’s eyes on my blog articles, I felt I was worthy of someone’s time and she was the inspiration to start writing my book. Much like me, Emily had a difficult relationship with her own mother who didn’t seem to value Emily’s creativity. All of her brothers had become artists but she somehow struggled in expressing herself. She spoke in a soft voice but made a deep impact on me.
I’d tell my mum that I’d written something and she’d ask me why I bothered. Why was I wasting my time writing? Shouldn’t I leave the writing to talented authors? Why wasn’t I be cleaning the house and taking care of my husband and children instead of all this writing I was doing? And really, a boring, ordinary person like me, what had I lived through that was worth writing about?
That Christmas when I met Emily for the first time, she explained to me why we celebrate Christ.
“He accepted that Judas would betray him. When Judas kissed him on the cheek, Jesus knew he was signaling to the Romans that he was the man to be crucified. This is why we celebrate him.”
I didn’t get the sense that anyone else in my Australian family understood Christ despite celebrating his birth every year. They certainly had faith though. If it weren’t for this strong belief in each other we wouldn’t be coming together around my mother-in-law’s table nearly every week for a number of years.
In contrast, my original family lives continents apart. Mum in Istanbul, dad in the DC, brother in Brisbane with Emily at the time and I in Sydney.
The Mother of All Unwanted Gifts, the book that is destined to be my savior (no pressure, right?) is a tale of three Christmases lived with intention which transformed an old and stubborn family curse of blocked creative energy to a gift. Through establishing a regular writing practice, I regained a sense of connection with myself, my people who come together around the Christmas table, and with the presents they chose to share with me.
Unfortunately, our table is without Emily. My guess is that she lost faith in herself and us and the invisible strings that pull people together sometimes snap.
My brother broke up with Emily nearly a year ago, in a traumatic way when she was at her most vulnerable, visiting our family in Istanbul. I’d been insensitive and added to her pain by writing about the impact of this break-up on me. Me, me, me… That’s all I could think about but you see, I hadn’t realized it a the time but the break-up between my brother and Emily was me reliving my parents’ break-up during a family trip to Turkey when I was 16.
So I’d let the hurt teenager in me take over and she was trying to make sense of it the only way I know how, by writing about it.
Back then, I didn’t have a journaling practice. My blog was the unfiltered cesspool made up of the ups and downs of emotions. Since then, I learned to deal with my emotions in a journal that’s intended for my eyes only. Businesses reconcile their accounts at the end of the day, and I reflect on all the energetic exchanges of the day, where I felt shortchanged, cheated and who I might have ripped off from a genuine and fair interaction. What comes out on the weekly blog article are the hard-earned lessons of the week, which is as sweet as profits for a business and sometimes bitter losses.
More important than anything else in this world to me is the art of growing and deepening my relationship with those people around me. These people understand or are in the process of understanding that they will inevitably be talked about in loving ways in my writing.
I e-mailed Emily and told her that I was wrong to write about her. I would never do it again. I now had a system of journaling. She wrote back saying that she didn’t care about me or my book.
It was clear that our relationship was over for good.
What stung were her words to go and use the energy that I’d just wasted on writing to her to take care of my daughters.
“They will end up as messed up as you and your brother” was her warning. Was I really acting in a way that was hurting all the people around me?
Her response stopped me on my tracks and made me question the whole premise of my book. Should I continue to write it? Was it going to help anyone? Was I selfish? The woman who encouraged me to write in the first place no longer cared and what’s worse she thought I was doing the wrong thing.
Once your core belief in what you’re doing, the way you’re channeling your creativity, is shaken and you start to believe you’re doing more damage than good, that’s when you stop.
How could I go on knowing that my words were hurting people? Was my work as poisonous to the relationships around me as stuck creative energy?
My manuscript felt all alone, unloved and orphaned.
Finding a Mother
Then, thankfully, I opened up and talked about this episode in a private Facebook support group.
“I don’t know if I should keep doing this work. Please help…” I put my hands up in surrender.
That’s when the magic happened.
A lovely woman told me that my words moved her and she wanted to do an Internal Family Systems style therapy session with me as a gift.
With the therapist on my side, we discovered a family system within me made up of a playful three-year-old, the one who looks to her mother for approval before she runs away to her adventures, the mother that lives in a cage which sometimes miraculously becomes a warm and cozy nest to keep her hatchlings happy, healthy and warm, and the man who analyses, labels and writes down everything, who has no time to waste on emotions.
I saw my three-year-old, who looks a whole lot like my cheeky little Lucy, reaching out to Emily and that was a sigh of relief. My creative inner child was only looking for approval from her mum, which she saw in Emily. This made sense as Emily was the first one who ever noticed and nurtured my writing ability, recognizing that my words held a healing effect. It was with the intention to find support that I’d reached out.
I saw that my very own mum was not always supportive or even understanding and this had nothing to do with the quality of my work. I had to forgive her for that and support her in channeling her own creativity if we were to enjoy a healthy mother-daughter relationship after a thirteen-year estrangement.
And Emily’s hold on me had truly ended. I found myself relieved and knowing in my heart of hearts that the way I’d found salvation in words, she would find the thing that connects her to the joys of life. Hurt people hurt people.
So today I look within first and foremost to generate the love or the liquid gold as Glennon Doyle would describe it, to pour to my manuscript and then to others who are creating, who are in flow, who are practicing self-care. Those are the only people who can turn up with the generosity that I need in these early days of nursing an embryonic draft into something with legs.
The artwork for this article belongs to Pixie O’Harris, an artist whose murals grace the walls of hospitals all over Australia to help with the healing process. She was inspired after the birth of her third child in 1939 to bring magic to the bleak hospital walls.
Over to you…
Have you ever had the experience of someone you reached out for support leaving you hanging, or worse, kicking you down? How did you overcome it? Did you find those who supported you?
If you have a creative project that wants to be seen, e-mail me Eda@WritePublishGrow.com