It’s funny how things come full circle. I find myself returning to the beginning with this blog. I named it “Stories I Tell Myself,” because I wanted to explore the narrative of my life. I began writing almost five years ago with the belief that we all tell a story about ourselves; we curate or shape our memories to fit that tale. We look for recurrent themes – incidents that reinforce our preconceived ideas that we are lucky (or unlucky), or lazy or hard-headed or mischievous. Those identities were likely assigned to us when we were very young. Much of it communicated by stories our parents told us about what kind of baby/child we were.
I wanted to look at the stories I’ve been telling myself, in part to see if I could break free of them. I wanted to change the narrative; I wanted to change the running commentary in my head. When I thought about my childhood, I felt sad. Not dramatically sad the way it is for some who have endured unspeakable trauma. Rather mine is tinged with melancholy: I was a little girl with her face pressed against the window imagining everyone she saw was happier, more carefree, more popular.
Over these five years, the exploration has led to some tangents. I spent time examining how Gary and I melded our distinct Jewish-American histories into our own family. After writing many blog posts on that topic, I worked on a book to weave that story together. I have mostly put that aside but will likely come back to it. I explored my experience with race relations, which is another thread of my life experience. I posted a number of essays around that theme. I continue to delve into this because I think there is something to share about race and ethnicity based on growing up in Canarsie (Brooklyn) in that time (the late ‘60s-early ‘70s), but then I was diverted by the coronavirus (not literally, I have been fortunate to avoid falling ill). But I felt overwhelmed by the stress of the pandemic and needed to write about my experience of it and this political moment. In sum, in the last four and a half years I have been all over the place.
And now, I think I have returned to the beginning. After examining these different threads, I realize that some of the story I told myself is true, but some of it isn’t. I think that is a positive discovery on two levels: the process of examination has been healthy and rewarding; and understanding that my interpretation of events was just that – my interpretation – is liberating.
I didn’t have any earth-shaking revelations. I didn’t uncover some long-buried family lie, or some truth I hid from myself. I found small variations in how things happened, different perspectives on behaviors and that resulted in a shift. I come away with more compassion for myself.
An important aspect of the process has been sharing the stories and getting feedback. I’ve shared pieces I’ve written in different settings – on the blog, of course, but also in workshops and several writing groups. The feedback has shed new light on these stories.
One comment that I heard more than once when I shared pieces that recounted experiences with my Nana and Zada (my maternal grandparents) was how warm and loving my family was, how lucky I was to have that. I thought, when I wrote those stories, that the overriding theme was my loneliness and anxiety. That was there, too, but objective readers picked up on something else. Something that was there, but I had not given enough weight. Getting that feedback has shifted how those memories sit in my gut. I have not changed the past, but I have begun to change how I feel about it. I think that will be the story of my book.
7 thoughts on “Full Circle”
It is so interesting to understand the same set of facts in a new way. It is so wonderful to come to realize the blessings we have. You have more blessings than you may have recognized. I have many blessings but especially one particular blessing who writes a blog.
Welcome to the world of the lucky people.
Thank you. I do feel blessed much of the time. I always feel fortunate to have you.
I cannot articulate how much or specifically why I love this post so much, but I do.
No need to articulate. I’m just glad you do! Thank you.
I think that the best thing about becoming an adult is that we can remake ourselves and become the person that we wanted to be when we were kids but maybe could not be due to parental constraints. Like you as a kid looking out, I never wanted to live in the City. I wanted to live on a farm. My farm may not be the sprawling one with green fields that I might have wanted, but I have managed to come pretty close to my ideal with horses outside my door and a house full of dogs. I think that growing up is an environment that might not have been exactly what we wanted helped us to shape our conception of what we wanted our lives to be and gave us the impetus to reach for it. Sort of like every job that I took and decided was not for me helped me to find a career that I love. I spin the lonely times in a NYC apartment as fostering my imagination of what could be. Much as your time fostered your hopes and dreams for what you wanted.
Thank you for sharing that perspective – so interesting. I will think about that. For me, I have tended to think of where I am in my life as less a product of my intentions – especially the ones I had as a little girl where I was given to pie-in-the-sky dreams (an Olympic athlete, cure cancer, become Barbara Walters…). But it is a good point. I totally agree about the jobs – each one you have as a young person teaches you what you want and more importantly what you don’t. I always knew you loved horses, but had not realized that living on a farm was your dream. I’m happy that you have achieved the life you wanted for yourself (I’m sure it isn’t quite that simple, but in its essential elements). Thanks for commenting.