The Allen children, left to right, Cathy, Tina, Guy, Carrie, Jim (not pictured Vic and Ross). 1971.
After I finished my novel Earth, I went online and ordered a book from the library, Parenting a Highly Intuitive Child. I did this without remembering doing it, until two days ago when (months after I ordered it), the library emailed to say it was there and to come pick it up.
I didn’t know I was getting the book to parent myself. Word for word the book dealt with the very issues that arose for my protagonist Pearl (and by extension for me, since the novel is semi autobiographical). The ability to see very clearly what everyone else wants to deny, a deep intuitiveness that often bursts into a flaming psychicness for worldy events, a deep and abiding connection to plants and animals — these were the hallmarks of Pearl’s (my) childhood, amongst subsistence farmer parents and relatives who’d long ago quashed these very qualities in themselves.
Of course all children have this, but some have it a great deal more than others and the way people in the environment respond to those gifts affects the child’s life forever.
It is vitally important when writing, memoir or fiction, to enter the psyche of the child and write what she knows, but then to come out of it and process it as an adult. Louise de Salvo in her book Writing as a Way of Healing, makes this point again and again. She feels that writers must integrate the epiphanies from childhood that come up in their novels and memoirs into their adult selves — that this is of almost life or death importance.
Sometimes I work with clients and I’ll show compassion, empathy and understanding for the behavior of an abusive or neglectful parent. This often engenders rage from the client — they scream or bark back: What about ME as a little girl!
Well, of course, as the coach, I’ve just spent months showing my compassion for the writer as a child. Of course! But good writing doesn’t stay in this little girl place. Good writing means we’re the author and we’re the adult, and we have to come out of that childish place, step back, and see that the adults in our stories weren’t just monsters.
They were flawed human beings in deep grief. They deserve our compassion, too. They deserve as much compassion as we give our little girl. Right?
What I’m getting as I write this is this: the writers who rage at compassion for their parents, haven’t found the compassion for themselves. They’re seeking that compassion. It has to begin with them seeing that child as perfect in an imperfect world. Only when that sinks in, can they see their parents as the wounded children they are.
I’ll admit this took about 10 of the last 15 years of writing for me to understand — deep, dark, moody, baggy-eyed years.
I now have a room with pictures of my parents as children. (I put up pictures of myself as a child a long time ago.) I call it my ancestral healing room.
One way to find your way to compassion in your writing for your parents is a Louise Hay exercise introduced to me by Seattle metaphysical counselor extraordinaire, Judith Laxer, www.JudithLaxer.com. She uses the following exercise for Mother’s Day. It comes from the book You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay.
Imagine your mother (or father) as a small child. Really try to picture them. He or she comes up to you. You’re an adult sitting in a chair, and this child approaches you. You ask: What do you need? Listen. It’s not about what this child needs from you (this is especially important if one of your parents relied too heavily too early upon you). It’s just hearing what that child needs from life, or the universe. It’s opening yourself to your parents as real human beings.
You won’t believe what such an understanding can do for your writing — it can take it from a diatribe to a piece of sheer transcendental poetry.
I’m a writing coach. www.artofstorytellingonline.com