I’m going to intersperse this post with random photo’s of my work, to allieviate the very personal writing… all will be revealed…..later!
The post I’d mused over for days, and then ‘lost’, was a serious one…prompted by all the heartbreaking stories that are emerging in Ireland, of how dreadfully women and children were treated in the Catholic Mother and Baby homes, Orphanages and the Magdalene Laundries, in the not too distant past here.
These had brought up emotions from my own story, and although my story is not nearly so bad, I wrote about how early loss and separation can have a lifelong impact . Life can only be lived going forwards, but maybe understanding the patterns can only come with advancing age and 20/20 hindsight….and can bring a deeper level of sadness….
It’s NOT as if I sit around consciously thinking about the past!…but it comes unbidden into my head in flashes of memory….in dreams….me alone as a child, me alone as a single parent, alone in Mexico, Honduras, Portugal, Kirkcudbright, Jura, London, Norfolk and Liverpool, me alone in a community of 25 adults!….the memories flash in…of always feeling alone….always an Outsider.
The difficult thing to consider in hindsight is how far my internalised ‘Outsider’, ‘Not Good Enough’ feelings may have unconsciously contributed to the paths I trod. I’ve lived in groups, worked in groups, even started up some groups myself, but never felt totally accepted. I have no blueprint for HOW to belong…
Meanwhile, I seem to have antennae for other damaged souls…I know the deep value in empathy, and the discomfort of other’s sympathies.
I have a great capacity to ‘lose’ myself in work. Or rather, I did have. Maybe if I can write through the feelings I’ve blocked and smothered for decades, maybe then I can return to creative work?
Isn’t it wonderful when words are “given” to you just when you need them? I call it Chance Triumphant. A few days back I saw a wonderful piece of writing ,
‘Lies you were told about Grief’, by Alison Nappi, which quoted one of my favourite writers:
“What if we never ‘get over’ certain deaths, or our childhoods? What if the idea that we should have by now, or will, is a great palace lie? What if we’re not supposed to? What if it takes a life time…?”
~ Anne Lamott
(The whole, brilliant article is here: http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=b8e53c620300ae88791163048&id=2a470a789b ).
And a quote from Maya Angelou:
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. “
I know from what I’ve read from other adoptees, that it’s quite common to feel an exaggerated need to be known…to be understood….and to have never felt that you belong anywhere. But also to have a “secret” side….that you have to keep buried…deep. That can be a road to obsessions and addictions……more later! Is that why I’ve kept so much shtuff? To say “I WAS here, I DID do things with my life…”, trying to prove that I have some worth here? An insecure self-esteem….which is not to say that I don’t have an over inflated ego about some of my work! The lack of confidence and fear of rejection got me striving for perfection…a damnable thing to live with!
A digression…I wrote that I’d explain the inclusion of photo’s …it’s the fragile self-esteem versus the inflated ego! I’ve never been good at “selling myself” or my work….I’m happiest making work for the love of it, for people not for money, which I’m quite useless at. Perfectionism can be a curse…stemming from wanting to be above and beyond criticism…endlessly needing approval…and however good a piece of work may turn out, I’m forever driven to ‘prove’ myself over and over again.
Or I was. I’m tired now.
So, Yes, these photo’s are me wanting to paint a complete picture… wanting to be accepted. Or rather, me wanting to paint the “Good” picture first, before writing of darker things, exposing the soft and muddy underbelly!
There’s a great book, by Nancy Newton Verrier, called The Primal Wound. In it she talks about how even a newborn baby, without words and concepts, can still FEEL loss, abandonment, bereavement…that the bonding process is when a baby puts touch, warmth, smell and sustenance to the voice it has heard in the womb. This leads to a seamless continuity, and a secure foundation for the ego to develop. If the baby or small child is separated from the mother the feelings can be internalised…with no words or concepts to process them….and so they are laid deep down in the psyche. Every time one feels insecure, or slighted, abandoned or shamed, it takes you straight back to that deep well of “It must be my fault.”
In my thirties I saw a great therapist, who asked me “Weren’t you angry with your parents for dying?”. I was incredulous, how could I be angry with them? She said “Charlie, you were two and a bit years old when your mother died, and a year later your father died too….you must have been a very angry young child”. Well, anger was an emotion that was utterly frowned upon in my new adopted family. (But of course, it came out in more covert ways.) And to make it even stranger to try and fit in, I had to learn to speak the Queen’s English, not the broad Mancunian that had surrounded me up until then. With anger so frowned upon, I saw my anger as shameful…if not positively dangerous…had my anger as a Terrible Two year old, driven my family away? Could my anger make the sky fall in? And when anger gets suppressed, it can manifest in depression, low self esteem, shame…..and, very rarely, a feisty, rebellious two year old, shouting “Feck the lot of youse!” But I can’t even shout.
I believe another reaction at such a young age, to parents dying, is that you might feel anger at losing the first, but losing the second and three elder sisters you might well think “It must be MY fault”. Internalising Anger, internalising Shame.
To quote Oscar Wilde: ”To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
I have a distant half memory of a witticism from Noel Coward; someone was commenting at the (possibly drunken) grief of a man who’d lost his father, Noel’s reply was along the lines of “It must be so hard to be an orphan….at 70 years old!”
I learnt early on to be embarrassed, if not horrified by sympathy…and can remember saying at Primary School “Yes, I’m adopted, but I’m fine!”. Wanting to run with the pack, wanting to be the same, but unconsciously feeling “less than.” Always an outsider. And driven by a need to be accepted, to be beyond criticism…striving for perfection, a damnable road to travel.
I’m not sure if folk who had happy and secure early years could imagine the rootlessness….the insecurity of adoptees? The feelings of inferiority, of shame, of never being good enough.
There again, I’ll never forget a situation where I was on my way back from a Demo against Nuclear submarines in Holy Loch. We were five women, one girl and my dog, and we got stranded in a Ford Estate, in a snowstorm for about seven hours. There was a marked difference between the reactions of the three mothers in the car and the two single women…one of whom really got on my nerves. (There’s a whole story about that night, but I’ll not tell it here, now!) So when we finally got back I went to a friends house, and was sounding off about the woman who’d riled me….the friend I was telling launched into equally disparaging comments about her, to which I guiltily thought I should redress the balance, and said “Well, she DID have a fucked up childhood”, to which my friend said “Charlie! We ALL had fucked up childhoods!”. Some truth in that alright!
This blog is more than enough for folk to trawl through, and so I’ll end this post with a photo of a piece I carved some years back….I was talking with a friend this morning about Chance Triumphant……this piece was one of the first I exhibited in the RHA in Dublin. If my memory serves me correctly, it was bought by a couple who had had a stillborn child….
Offered here in memory of all the Lost babies…the stillbirths, the ones torn so harshly from their poor young mothers, the ones who died from institutional neglect and were buried with no sign that they had ever been here….and for those who can Never Forget.