I recently saw an ad for another Hollywood remake of one of my childhood favorites, Little Women. I read the book when I was twelve years old and immediately identified with the character Jo, the writer in the family. As I’ve grown older I’ve also identified with Jo’s sister, Amy, an artist, who struggles when she realizes that she has talent but maybe not “genius,” which she craves. It’s one thing to know who you are and quite another to be able to live, or make a living, as who you are—particularly in the artistic professions. But the conflict of juggling personal identity and a profession isn’t limited to creative pursuits; my husband may have been a doctor if he’d been given the opportunity and education early on. He and I both fell victim to the struggle between personal desire and doing what tradition expected of us.
While that is true of some men, women have been historically subdued and pressured by society to place family ahead of personal pursuits. Even though America is currently progressing toward gender equality and broadening definitions and acceptance of what constitutes “family,” some of us are still trying to break the restrictions that exist in our own minds, as we break out of traditional roles.
I was just learning how to become a writer when I fell for a sailor and we began traveling for his career. Even though my husband always encouraged my writing and creative pursuits, I couldn’t give myself permission to pursue something of my own while my husband launched into other careers after retiring from the military. I held myself back from taking my passions seriously.
When I unexpectedly became a mother, in the midst of cross country moves, I embraced the role of wife and mother to the exclusion of all else. I couldn’t figure out how to balance career and family, and I’ve always wondered if insisting on moving my young family “back home” to the South, where these traditions seem to be a part of the soil, was the right move. I guess I’ll never know, but for now, I can only go forward. Perhaps after twenty-four years of me telling my daughter that she can become anything she wants to be, I finally believe it for myself. Regardless of having a successful career…I am a writer. Poetry is how I first expressed that passion, so it feels “full circle” to share the story of my journey in that format. Please enjoy.
On Leaving the Great Northwest
Somewhere between my daughter’s cries, And moving van tires, I lost myself— Only to come peeking out at times: A week in a playwriting class, Huddled under a quilt tent reading, Sitting in writer’s sacred circles, Holding hands with my life’s love, After pushing my shredded knees To look down upon the glaciated ancients: Half Dome.
Time away could coax me out, So could music, My daughter singing, sharing New artists or my love finding Videos of past greats in their prime. But I’d stilled that inspiration, Inserting white noise into Anxiety riddled decades. My headphones were misplaced Along with “my muchness.” I was Alice fallen through some funhouse looking glass. Alone.
In this 20 year spiral away from myself, I had libraries full of intent, A mind pregnant with story, Yet mired in despair at how the seasons had changed me. I was the Amazon become Sahara; Thirsting for Spirit, exhausted of heart. I was offered a month’s reprieve: A place to expunge, examine and regrow; Time to regather me at the origin, Where the separation occurred. Now stand in stunned ironic realization That the losing of myself began With the decision to move Back home.