A new friend and I were talking recently about my writing, the types of things that I like to write about and I told him that I write essays, personal essays, memoir-like snapshots and flash fiction. He asked me if I was happy with my childhood, if I liked how I grew up, if I would have changed anything. At the time when he asked and now as I look back and think about it, I thought how very deep and personal of a question that is. Would I go back and change anything if I could? Would I have preferred growing up in another time/life/demographic/race/location/etc?
As an adult, as a writer, and in answer to his question that night in the heat sitting on the ground before an outdoor concert, my answer was and always will be an irrevocable “no.” I would not go back. I would not change anything. I would not trade my life and childhood for any other. I wouldn’t want to have missed growing up with my fair haired and blue eyed sister who knows the “deepest secret that nobody knows.” I wouldn’t want to have missed lying in bed, my eyes adjusting to the dark as my mother leaned over me, singing softly “Johnny Appleseed” and “Colors of the Rainbow.” I can still hear her voice, smell her sweet breath, and feel her eye lashes on my cheek. I wouldn’t change the resourcefulness of my lower-income family who improvised a breaking down on the side of the road by pulling out a guitar and singing and dancing until my father returned from the three mile walk to the nearest mechanic.
I’m sure most would disagree from the outside looking in. But we lived a charmed life. We lived an interesting life. My sister and I lived a life full of love and warmth and hope and encouragement. It was far from perfect, but it was good. We were lucky.
I just read a passage from a book, a book all about how to “free the writer within.” Yes, it sounds hokey. But it is an incredible book and possibly the best gift a friend has ever given me. Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones, states that “It is very important to go home if you want your work to be whole. You don’t have to move in with your parents again and collect a weekly allowance, but you must claim where you come from and look deep into it. Come to honor and embrace it, or at least, accept it.” My thesis, a sixty-two page long project required to earn my masters, dealt completely and exclusively with the idea of “home” and how it had formed me as a writer. And while there is a great deal of honor and respect paid to the experiences I had as a child and young adult, there is a great deal of blame. Like many, I blame a great deal of what and who I am today on what happened to me before. I harbor deep resentment towards many occurrences and people that I encountered and still know today. It isn’t an open resentment, or a very vocal hatred, but rather a quiet undertow that pulls me down into negativity and depression. I use it as a crutch whenever something doesn’t go my way or I find myself unable to accomplish something. I choose to not take responsibility because it is so much easier to shift it to something that happened to me from the age of eight to eighteen. It takes a lot less energy to work and improve the way I do things than to simply point the finger, and throw my hands up saying “Well, I’m this way because of ______.” But I promise, I’m working on it…
However, and in spite of my tendency to blame-shift, I am grateful every day for the way I was raised and the kind of home I come from. Because as lonely as I get sometimes, as unhappy as I am almost daily with the size of my hips and thighs, with the unruly nature of my hair, as hard as it is to live with my unwavering and back-breaking obsession with working and earning and slaving my life away towards the end result of having “enough,” or trying (what feels like daily) to explain and defend my completely abnormal views of marriage and children and conventional family structure, I like who I am. I feel as if most days I am kind. I believe that I make decisions based on reason and ethics. I am polite and respectful. I am generous. I am a good person. And I am convinced that I wouldn’t like myself nearly as much or have as much optimism about my future and the future of this world had it not been for the place and people with which I was raised.
And I think that has been the hardest part about moving to a new city, all alone, without anyone that knows my character or past or accomplishments – I have to prove to everyone I meet that I am someone worth getting to know. And in this city, this growing and boisterous and lively city full of characters from every walk of life, it's a fight to get noticed. It’s a struggle to break into established circles. It feels like the hardest thing in the world to walk into an on-going conversation in which you weren’t invited or included after you have arrived. It is a daily battle to make this place “home.” It is a constant fight against that small but mighty voice in my head telling me that it would all be so much easier to give up, move back, and that it’s alright to fail.
But this choice, this one choice, was all my own. I can’t blame this move on my parents. I can’t point my finger at a boyfriend or a friend or my sister or God or a job when I wonder what it is I am doing here, so far from home. This decision was all mine. So whatever happens, if I fail or I succeed, I will have no one to blame or congratulate but myself. I will earn whatever experiences I have here in this place. And the only thing that I can hope for is to live the next twenty six years like the last, without regret for the ways they were spent, without looking back and wishing I had done differently. When I turn fifty-two, I intend to give the same answer when asked if I would go back if I could.
No, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.