I was asked an innocent enough question today that neither the person asking it, nor myself, could have known it would elicit the reaction it did in me later in the day.
A little background context: Recently, started I dabbling in literature exercises. The reason for doing most of them is as cathartic therapy to express and/or release pent-up anxiety or frustrations. Some are just for fun as I decipher some creative manifestations rolling around in this ponderous head of mine. Sometimes the batter that oozes out onto the keyboard resembles a talent.
In this vein of thought, I was asked if I ever considered submitting something I wrote for publication. The answer was a quickly registered “No.” I enjoy writing (my sister would say that I write too much and you may agree by the end of this) and I have for a long time, but I stopped many years ago for a variety of reasons. In fact, creative writing was one of my favorite classes in high school. As I considered this, I wondered why I stopped. Sure, I never had any real interest in pursuing a career in journalism or writing, but I just stopped writing around college. It didn’t help that when I was 17 or 18, I just didn’t see myself in a modern author lifestyle or having any real talent that I could make money from long term. I wanted to become a psychologist because the human cognitive systems and their malfunctions really interested me as I was deciding what to study at college. I was inspired by events in my younger life to learn how to “fix” what was wrong with people’s mental faculties. I later gave that up, but that story is for another time.
The more I thought about it, while driving around some of the most beautiful California countryside the Bay Area has to offer, I remembered why writing as a career was so distasteful to me back then. It still is to some degree even now, if I am honest. The reason is … my father. You may not understand that simple a reason if you don’t know me well. Even if you do, it is neither something that I talk about much nor something I am likely to bring up in most conversations. I am finding lately that I can open up and be more honest about issues with my father though. So I hope you allow me to share more here and continue reading.
I had a very complex relationship with the man that was my father. Lots of people do, so I am not in any way unique in that respect. The reasons why are not unique to me either and really are not worth outlining here. It simply boils down to this: when he died I had no love lost, no tears shed, and I was actually relieved it finally happened. This may sound cold, heartless, and maybe even pathetic. However, you should know that I was very disappointed in and angry with that man. He was very sick and that had a lot to do with why he did everything he did that upset me. He was also killing his heart and liver with alcohol. He had resorted to drinking mouthwash to get his high and this may well have led to his early death at 52.
Yet, he was still my father and I should have been able to look up to him and love him. The problem is he never really found a way to remove himself from the clutches of his mother’s mental illness and family dysfunction. Despite years of therapy, numerous prescription drugs, mental health treatment facilities and friends/family working to help him out, he ended up a lonely corpse that I hated. Those are strong words, but it is the simple truth. His best contribution to my life was serving as an example of what NOT to do.
That being said, the reason I lay it out there is because due to whom he was, to me, I vowed and actively work to avoid doing anything that I associate with him. The list is not really all that long and over the years I have been able to whittle it down so that it doesn’t take over too much of my life. When I come into “contact” with one of these associations though, my immediate and involuntary (self-learned, not naturally instinctual) reaction is to make a 180 away from doing/being that “thing.”
I avoid going anywhere near it, if possible. This is a defense mechanism I use to protect myself because I know most of what troubled him, and not a specific mental illness, could be passed along to me as a learned behavior. It is my belief that in many ways this is what happened to him; learning from his damaged mother. I do not recall exactly when I did it, but I made a very solemn vow to myself that I will NEVER, EVER become my father. I can accept that there are certain similarities, but very key traits I never want to have in my life. I cannot catalog all of them here and I do not think it would help in anyway besides.
Apparently though, writing anything more than what is necessary for an email or work became lost in my subconscious. What you need to know now is what my father did for a living is forever ingrained in my memory as a writer. A technical writer, before he retired, to be precise. So, when he died that is what I remembered him as being. Therefore going into anything relating to writing was verboten. Now, this wasn’t the only reason, but it was a very high priority one at the time.
OK, so now you have the backstory. You may now be asking yourself, “What was the reaction to your friend’s question?” Well, I became very upset. I even started weeping so much I had to pull over, compose myself a bit, and take some time to figure out why this affected me so much. Why now? I’ve never had that kind of reaction to the conflict with my father’s memory. I usually just got tense and determined to stop.
Yet in this case, I suddenly found my perception of my father conflicting with something I enjoy and want to do more. In essence, I was afraid beyond words what it meant for my life. Could I be a writer and not associate it with him? What you would need to understand is that while I am not seriously thinking I can become a novelist or anything, I have really been enjoying writing again. Also, I very much want to find a new occupation soon and, at the time I realized the association, I was considering choices involving more writing. Having this awakening about the association with my father and a possible shift in my life, I was now facing down one of my biggest fears and most serious vows to myself.
I now need to learn whether I can overcome that fear, forgive him (another project in the works), and continue to pursue something that other people see as a talent in me. I do not want to limit my options based on what can possibly be seen as some loose association with my father. The important take-away here for me is: I need to open myself to the possibility that I could at least find a new hobby and not have to walk away from something I might be good at AND enjoy just to spite him. If I do pursue writing further though, I will definitely need a really good editor! (Maura agrees, especially since she gave this a good once over.)
Life-altering epiphany and subsequent impending changes to improve my life aside, there is also the atmosphere surrounding my life that is helping me work through this all.
I need to see talent in me first and doing just that has been another recent realization for me. I apparently fail to be aware there are things in myself that I cannot see that others do. For the introverted and self-aware individual that I believe I am, this is something I fail to comprehend well at all. I believe that I know full well what I am and what I do well. However, recently very good friends have helped me understand I have some blind spots to my abilities and a of lack confidence that I should not maintain.
Final point, it is a very strong trait of mine that I need explore and understand something that is such a fundamental flaw for me to be content. In a way, these revelations all relate back to my current endeavor of learning, growing and being a better all-around person.
Sitting there, you may think that’s just what it means to be an adult. I cannot disagree with you at all.
It’s about time damn it, isn’t it? :-)