God is the madwoman in the attic.
I'm camped out on the threshold with my journal, camera, and plenty of snacks.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

jettisoning Gifted & Saved

Today was the last day of my Halloween Staycation week. Tomorrow I'm back in the office. Despite being brutally infected with the nastiest cold this side of the apocalypse we still managed to complete some household tasks and to enjoy some playful family time together.

The top of our to do list was purging the apartment and storage unit of excess. If we don't use it then we don't need it, and I can't deal with the clutter. Maybe having these things used to make me feel cozy or secure but now it just feels heavy. I want to feel light and limber. We packed up clothes, baby toys, kitchen utensils, unopened toiletries, magazines... inane odds & ends that I probably brought home in the first place. L filled the bed of a pick-up truck with donations for our local Goodwill. That was the easy part.

While L and N were napping, I sifted through fifteen years' worth of journals. Declared them all junk. When L woke up he took them straight out to the recycling barrels. All those years. All those musty words. Dumped.

Flipping through my former scribbles I recognized two pieces of me that I'm laying down and I'm relieved (light & limber) to see them gone: Gifted & Saved. I'm neither now. I'm pretty sure that I was never either one. But my childhood was dominated by these ideas and so my identity was cast in them. At best, I had strong verbal skills but the rest of my academics weren't anything special. On the other hand, I was steeped in Evangelical Christian religion and culture as a child and earnestly practiced what I was taught.

With each new level of education and development the dissonance rang louder. I stepped out of sync with my academic track in high school, wrestled with spiritual doubt, and questioned the religion's moral code. I was looking through everything I'd been given trying to find something true, something more, something that fit me. And these old journals carried that same struggle through my college major, friendships, partners, first jobs, volunteer work... My father's death was a powerful breaking point where I consciously cast off a lot of who I'd been raised to be but you can't live in the liberation of grief forever. The family reassembled itself. I reassembled myself and the old familiar ideas were still significant.

The two threads of Gifted & Saved, certainly thinner, remained and I traced those wavering lines through these old journals. They show up in how I compare myself to my peers - careers, families, activism, education, aesthetics - it's a long clunky spreadsheet of what I was supposed to be versus who I am today. They show up in my persistent attempts to participate in some kind of Christian community - I randomly bring my son to the Baptist church around the corner & don't forget that Quaker meeting I say I'm going to visit. They show up in the books and articles I read about new theology and alternative interpretations of atonement and Mary and... it goes on and on.

My son's birth, my growing into motherhood, and these recent months of evaluations and therapy for N are a years-long breaking point where chunks of my identity are cracking and falling away. In some places I chip at it and try to shape the changes. Not that an identity is a tidy static "it." At best, the early years after my father's passing showed me the fluidity and phases that are a self and a family. Even so, you can name some of your states and phases along the way. I am not Gifted, I'm ordinary as dirty dishes and a day job. I am not Saved, I love the people who gather at church, I bask in their faith, but the preaching makes me cranky and I don't believe a word of it.

These two words aren't true for me anymore and they aren't true for my little family. They were so important for so long and so I lay them down with respect and even gratitude. Today I need different words to express and to shape who I am. My little family needs words like that. I'm wary of the words that the school system will enter into my son's records. It's time to choose our own words and make them stick as long as they can be true.


Alicia said...

I admire your ability to set things down that are no longer true for you. I struggle with this and am not sure I have reached a balance yet. Thanks for sharing your story.

alexandria said...

Your words are powerful and I can imagine you must feel lighter having gotten rid of the clutter both visible and invisible. I love the idea of giving words to describe ourselves and/or family. Today I also read a blog post about defining ourselves instead of society. I think you might like it: http://www.mocking-bird.org/blog/2010/11/02/i-am-a-sum-of-all-these-parts/

Jenni said...

Alicia ~ it's been a long process for me, one that you've read about, observed, and been a warm welcoming part of ~ thank you.

Alexandria ~ thanks for the link! I read it & it felt like encouragement to choose some new words of enthusiasm and buoyancy for myself & the family. I loved her list of all the things that she is.

Sarah said...

I am humbled by your wisdom.