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You CAN Go Home Again–Writing Makes you Free

 

When the invitation to join our Enid High School 55th graduating class reunion arrived, at first I tossed it aside. Enid, Oklahoma is a long way from California. It takes a whole day to get there by two planes and a car. Would I really connect with “kids” I knew back in the fifties after all these years?  Then, curiosity–who are these people now? Perhaps I could attend and include a book reading. Is there a bookstore that would host me? A few Google clicks later led me to “A New Chapter Bookstore,” a new bookstore owned by two women who are indeed starting their own new chapter in life by creating a place for people who love books. A phone call set up my path to take my books home. Thank you Becky and Coral! Before I left, I was tempted to cancel several times. Talk to people I knew about all my secrets? So scary. Too revealing. For days before I left, I hoped that I might not have to go. Yet, I knew I had to go. There was something there for me to discover. When I landed in Oklahoma City, the sweet wind caressed me, as it always had, and I began to cry. I was home. This land I loved so much embraced me as I drove to Enid in a long languorous dusk filled with silence, and wheat fields, and the two-toned call of a bird.

Before my reading the next day, I ran into some women who were the popular girls back then, girls I had admired, but now we were all grandmothers and none of that mattered as we warmly greeted each other. We had so much in common being from that place, growing up in a time so different from now. Free of my old shyness, I invited them to my reading. To my happy surprise, they came and compassionately listened to my story, and what I revealed for the first time.

Talking about shame and silence, reading from very personally revealing parts of my books to people who knew me as a child seemed to smooth away the edges of shame I had always carried. There was so much to be ashamed about–my parents were divorced, which was “not done” at the time–they considered it shameful, as did society at the time. My grandmother, who had loved her Chicago life, and who dressed like she was still in Chicago, had traveled to England on ships and brought a flair to any conversation, did not fit into that town, nor did she try to. She was an interesting “character” but no one wants their parental figure to be so different with her fake English accent and put-on airs. Later, I had to hide the darkness inside the house–her beatings, screaming, and rages as she descended into what later I would learn was depression and mental illness. I was related to someone who acted like that? No one could know and no one did know these and other shameful things. Of course, what I didn’t know then is that everyone, every household and child has their secrets. Everyone carries their own burdens,

The edges of reality blurred, the then and the now, as I stood in the bookstore in the town where I grew up, the big sky and breezes anchoring me once more to the place where my bones grew and my mind searched for understanding. At the reading, I faced people I knew and met new people. I talked about my books and my truth. The rules of silence from so long ago dissolved as I spoke, the need to hide and lie to myself and others about who I was had fallen away because I wrote Don’t Call Me Mother and Song of the Plains. Because I wrote what was true, because I visited the past so often in real life, and in my dreams and my writing, I had laid out the stories and they were now resting in my books. These acts of witnessing my young self, coming to understand and forgive my mother and grandmother for the heartache we all shared are part of the gift of memoir writing–a gift first to myself, and later, to others who identify with the story in their own way.

I had to laugh at my own joke–they say that writing a memoir will heal you–which is what I teach every day and for the last two decades. It’s true. I could see that writing had freed me of the energetic old burdens of the past as I drove around the streets of Enid, said hello to the lovely graceful wheat fields, met other classmates, and spoke of my books and my story. I was free as I spread my wings under the big sky, and welcomed a powerful hailstorm and sun that quickly shone afterward, knowing that I had indeed come Home.

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19 thoughts on “You CAN Go Home Again–Writing Makes you Free

    1. Thank you Linda! It was truly one of the things I never thought I would do. But so great to honor my English teachers from Enid in the ’50s who made it possible to write well, read well, and even imagine writing a book!

  1. I love this post, Linda Joy. I imagine that taking your books, and yourself, home to Enid enabled you to own your story in a deeper way than ever before. Kudos to you.

    Coincidentally, in a few days I will return to the place of my childhood home, and the setting for much of my own memoir. While I’m not taking my book home, I do feel stronger every time I set foot there and claim my story and my place there.

    1. Hi John–thank you so much. As you know, there were so many layers of the experience, and it took me this long to even find words! I’m glad you were part of the story! I’m glad to have made new friends at the bookstore.

  2. This is wonderful and gives me courage, because I’m traveling to New York from L.A. to attend my 40th high school reunion in August and will also be hosting an event for Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy the night before. Classmates are arriving early to listen to my presentation. My old dance teacher, who trained me for Juilliard, will be there! Like you did, I feel nervous. Part of me has wanted to back out from the beginning. But another part won’t let me. It’s something I feel compelled to do. Reading about your experience strengthens my resolve. Thank you!

    1. Best of luck to you, Bella! It’s quite a healing and integrative experience, flowing between memory and now, dreams and the book itself! I’m still trying to process everything that happened and will “try” to write further about it. Some of it was beyond words!

  3. Thanks for sharing this Linda. YOu said ‘…they say that writing a memoir will heal you…’ I wonder about this statement almost daily now. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Michelle–where does your wondering lead you? Good luck with your writing.

  4. Thanks, Linda Joy, for being a pioneer in vulnerability and transparency. It’s scary as the dickens, but helps us connect with each other at a deeper level. A medal for bravery is in order for taking it all back home.

    1. Thanks so much, Bob! It was both an act of courage and something deeply important to do–to merge the past and the present in the now!

  5. I love it. Taking ourselves and our books back home. That’s part of the reason I’m coming back to the Bay Area this weekend, walk on campus, bring the energy of my new book back to the places that inspired stories recounted in the memoir. See you soon.

    1. So great Jed that you are exploring place and memory, and the energy that stays with us while we create new paths to explore! Congratulations on your book and I know there are more conversations about this that we should have!

  6. Wow, Linda Joy, you rock lady!
    I’m inspired by your courage to take risks in writing and going back to your roots. Scary.
    In August, I leave for New York for yet another family reunion and then to Greece, my mother’s country.
    So many conflicting emotions about both places.
    Yes, with fear and courage, we take the next step in our writing journey and pray it will all turn out okay.

    1. Thanks so much, Irene. Wow to you too! I’m sure you will continue to learn and explore on these trips and the new knowledge will infuse your work and your presentations!

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