"I sat down to write a book about pain and
ended up writing a book about love."
~ Linda Hogan ~
The Woman Who Watches Over The World
A Native Memoir
Since beginning to write the book that it has taken me a decade of living my way into to even begin writing, something in me has changed, and changed deeply. It has been such a complete transformation I never saw it coming, only vaguely realized in the last couple of years that it might be happening, and when I read the above quote on the flyleaf of Linda Hogan's book, I nearly wept. Such waves of relief flooded my entire body, a sense of calm, like lying on the beach and letting warm water wash up over you, came over me. This is a place I've needed to get to my whole life long and didn't even know it. I have moved, in my writing and in my life, out of pain and into love.
I will be 54 on April 30 and I have been writing professionally since my early 20's. Other than specific assignments for magazines or newspapers, a great deal of what I've written about dealt with the abuse I suffered as a child, being adopted, and all of the oddities and idiosyncracies that I ended up with, a potpourri of diagnoses that make for an interesting mix and have led to a life that is outside the norm. I wasn't on my pity pot, I wasn't wallowing in pain or self-loathing, I wasn't trying to rid myself of the demons of my childhood, I was honestly using the most natural tool that I had to try to understand.
When I was young there was a lot of "Why me?" and decades of therapy, and just as it is said, "We teach what we need to learn," I became a journal-writing teacher as an adult, after keeping one since I was 9 years old, and for thirty years taught people how to write out their anguish and pain, to tell their stories, through writing. It certainly wasn't all painful things that we wrote about in class or I in my life, but my internal turmoil was so overwhelming that I was filling a large journal a week for several years running. There are hundreds of them in boxes in my attic. I wrote like I breathed. I wrote to save my life. And I wrote several books (that didn't sell, thank God...) that were about these things as well as a couple of novels ending in suicides. As I think back now, it quite unnerves me. And I look at my life today and it is as though the winds of grace swept through my life and my heart started to open, and then, finally, somewhere along the line, I drew a line in the sand, stepped over it, and didn't look back. It was time to move on.
Now I still lead a life that people find peculiar, mostly hermetic, like an anchorite, in a little cottage filled with animals, surrounded by gardens, and filled with books, fibers and fiberwork tools, and old vintage furniture that I bought piece by piece as I stitched together odd bits of this and that to make a patchwork quilt of a life after leaving a marriage nearly 3 decades long. In the wake of that divorce, after the tidal wave swept through my life, inklings of a new kind of life began. It was the beginning of Dragonfly Cottage.
Dragonfly Cottage is both a physical place and a state of mind, a haven, and a refuge. I have lived several places in the near decade since leaving the marriage and all of them have been Dragonfly Cottage, this place most of all. Each new place took me into a deeper dimension of the life I was creating without consciously realizing it, and it was at many junctures agonizing, sometimes paralyzing, and finally the light began streaming in.
I will be moving sometime in the near future into a cottage that I am planning and dreaming about, and that will begin a whole new chapter of my life, but my task now, with the book I am writing, is to record the transformation of a married mother of 3 to a woman alone at midlife, and all of the changes that would take place over these last years to discover who I really am -- not someone's daughter, or someone's wife, or someone's mother, but a woman, in her fifties, a writer and an artist, a woman who has created, little by little, a life she could only have imagined and dreamed about for decades, a life where I no longer have to explain or apologize or hide the rather odd person I seem to be, a life where I can revel in my oddities and idiosyncracies to the point that now I celebrate them as my best qualities in many ways.
And so yes, when I read the quote at the top of this entry from Linda Hogan, tears filled my eyes, but they were tears of joy, and of relief, as I realized that I had turned a corner, in my life and in my writing.
I have known for some long time that I would need to write this book, but I imagined it would be a book filled with pain, of triumph over pain, of survival. Instead, it will be a story of a woman metamorphosing into all that she might be, a book about joy, a book about love, finally, for myself, which is why I took the name Maitri legally, as I've written here before, to honor the Buddhist teaching of maitri, of having loving-kindness and compassion, first for oneself and then for the world around us, and the larger world that I live in, even if from my tiny corner of the world. I took the name to remind myself all the days of my life to love, to always love, to infuse my life and my days with tenderness, and to give to those around me in the ways that I could, from a loving heart, and in the process I created a world in which I could live and do the work of maitri, through my writing, and in person, where I can, all the days of my life.
I am deeply dedicated to this life, just as I am the soft snoring pug lying on my feet under my desk as I write this, my tiny precious 4 year old grandson that I babysat yesterday, my three wonderful children and their partners or spouses who are now like my own, my ex-husband to whom I am still really close, and those that are so near and dear to me that they have become part of my family. My life informs my work, as it does all writer's work, even if they are not writing memoir. Who a writer is, the life that they lived as a child and young adult, the experiences that they have had, and finally the life that they have created, all these things shape our work, even if we are writing fiction. The axiom "Write what you know," is more apt than many writers realize when they are young and want to be "A Writer," and start out to write "The Great American Novel." I remember reading, some long years ago, that you have live a life to have something to write about. I have written all of my life, since very young, but now I know what that means. Our deepest work can only come after living a good long while, after being the Phoenix who crashes and burns and rises again, or the pot, fully formed, but not finished until put in the fire of the kiln to harden the clay. The beautiful glaze we admire came after much hard work, and a long process. So, too, our life and our writing.
Mind, I had those dreams of being a famous writer too when I was 20. I never thought about the life I might create, or who I might become, as long as I was a Writer with a capital "W." Now, the fact that I am a writer, and certainly, I am a writer through and through, is almost incidental to the life that I am creating. My human life. And, as Jean Shinoda Bolen put it so well in an interview for the book, On Women Turning 50, by Cathleen Rountree, "I think of us as spiritual beings on a human path, rather than human beings on a spiritual path." These days I am more concerned about my humanity, about what I might give than what I might receive, of living a full life filled with purpose and meaning. Writing is my vehicle for doing that, but I no longer think of myself as a Writer, but as a woman writing, sharing her life, her thoughts, her heart with the world in order to perhaps reach out and touch another, which can only happen if I concentrate first and foremost on living the best and most loving life that I can. That is my plan. That is what I'm trying to do.
And so now I write the book and it is interesting. It is as if I am looking at the same life but through a kaleidoscope, and a slight turn has given me a whole new array of colors and textures and meaning. I am seeing my life in a whole new way, hence, I am writing a very different book than I had imagined. What a gift that is. I bow to all that is sacred and holy, and say thank you.