Footnote to Line 9

Sometimes, when I’m trying to write a larger series of things, I’ll get stuck by something that doesn’t work the way I want it to. Usually, the solution is to fix the thing that isn’t working. But, occasionally, the solution is to toss out what isn’t working and finally get down to what it is that I’m really trying to write.

Line 9 was the latter. The post that finally went up is something that I’ve been trying to write for at least the last four years. It’s personal, it’s still raw, and it’s going to end up significantly revised in the future. But it’s something about me that I’ve carried around and processed for decades.

“We are who we come from,” according to my family. And who I come from has been drilled into me since before I could walk. Family history is paramount, and the process of ingesting it, and digesting it, and retelling it has a lot to do with who I am as a storyteller, and who I am as a person.

I realize that Line 9 is long, even for a print article. Yes, I’ll eventually edit some out, change this, sand off that, add a sentence here or there…but it’s also about being complete. Perhaps too complete at the moment, but everything has to start somewhere.

Think of it as a draft. One of the hardest drafts I’ve ever written.

5 thoughts on “Footnote to Line 9

  1. You know, I disagree with the whole “We are who we come from” thing. (Ooh! I didn’t even swear! Do I get points for that?) Sure, 5 bonus points to you!

    I am not who I come from. I will never be like them. I don’t want to be like them.

    We are what we believe ourselves to be. That’s what makes the cage of expectations so insidious, there’s no lock on the door, we simply choose to remain inside.

    Who you are is what you decide and make of yourself. It’s all up to you. Not me, not them, not that person before or someone down the street. Just you. You and only YOU. Because, after all, you’re the only one who can choose to change yourself and then do so.

    I know what you mean, and we’ve talked about this before, so the context of this comment and my response will be lost on a lot of other people. I’ve watched my dad struggle with his cage my whole life. I’ve seen how he dealt with the mental decline and eventual death of his mother; how he has defined himself in the light of successes that he did build, and successes that he didn’t; and how he has come to terms with siblings that didn’t shoulder the same expectations that he did. Our cages are made of the same stuff, and we both chose similar things at similar times in our lives. I knew my cage before I ever stepped inside, and I’m well aware of it’s dimensions and the thickness of it’s bars.

    That being said, I’m not the 14-year-old kid I was at the end of that post. I have a lot more of this story left to talk about, and many more lines to write.

  2. That’s a better draft than I usually come up with the 2nd or 3rd time around.

    I’ve been at it a couple of times with the edit stick already. There are a couple of sections that are still pretty clunky, but it’s getting there. To be fair, I’d definitely call it a 2nd draft by now though.

    However, I’m commenting here rather than there because I simply disagree with you that we are who we come from. I have never had any interest in the family outside my immediate family (i.e. parents), and they do not seem to have much interest in me. I don’t see how that family, the roots, the ancestors, has formed my life now more than the life I’ve lived so far. My parents, whoever they may be, have influenced my personality in large part by being examples of what I do not want to be. I feel no obligation whatever to live up to the people who gave me my name, and indeed little connection to them.

    And this is something that is wildly different and personal for different people. I come from a large extended family, with a large extended family history, and a large extended web of expectations. I realize that many people, even people who grew up in the same family, didn’t take away the same messages and expectations.

    The cage and the discussion of your father in the above comment’s response – I fail to see what that has to do with his family, or yours.

    The comment above is a bit cryptic, let me just say that I have seen my father rail against his cage, find shelter in his cage, hide in his cage, and grow both terrified and relieved at the realization that someday soon his cage will evaporate when his elderly father closes his eyes forever. My relationship with my father, and the cage (such as it is) that I might inhabit today are vastly different from the cage I was in at the end of that post. Some of that has to do with my journey, and some of it has to do with those who forged my cage.

    It seems to me to have more to do with the expectations placed on men, heads of family, in society in general.

    It also affects an “oldest son” differently than his younger siblings. My uncle was told “Gary will take care of it” before my dad volunteered for Vietnam. My uncle was safe under the “other son” clause as long as he stayed in college. My uncle heard “Gary will take care of it” a lot. So did Gary.

    I know my little brother got different messages than I did. I know he felt fewer constraints in some ways, but the cage for a younger brother is different. I’ve been told he always felt like he had to live up to me…which he struggled with unnecessarily for many years. I don’t claim to understand his perspective, but I don’t belittle it either. We all have cages of one kind or another.

    My own partner feels the weight of those expectations, even as I struggle to be an equal provider to him. Both you and your father seem to have accepted that providing rather than adventure was your role; both of you had the choice to abandon that role and be selfish, and you both chose not to. I find this a choice composed of equal parts integrity, societal expectations, and family, not mostly family.

    My perspectives on integrity and societal expectations were composed entirely of family expectations. What joe-bob thought of me has no baring compared to how my family would feel if joe-bob thought that of me. Not disappointing my family was both the motivator and the core teaching tool for integrity and social mores. Add in the “God is always watching” element and you have my childhood guilt mechanism in a nut-shell.

    Yes, that’s perhaps not the best moral compass. But, it’s the compass that was passed down from generation to generation.

    But I do not know the whole story.

    And I have not yet told the whole story. Perhaps I never shall, though I’m sure I’ll try.

    This post was important to me because I had been dancing around the realizations for years. Even as an adult, I didn’t see any of my father in me. I thought of myself as springing forth either entirely from my mother, or perhaps from some secret tryst with the mail-man. I didn’t look like him, I didn’t identify with him, and I saw nothing about him in myself. I refused to understand him.

    In writing that post, I have come to understand him, and in understanding him, understand myself, far better than I ever expected.

  3. This is one of my favorite songs. I love what you are doing with it on your blog.

    Thanks! It’s one of my favorite songs, and one that I have always connected with as a storyteller. It’s been a fun project to work on so far.

  4. I would also like to weigh in on this “we are/are not who we come from” debate. If during the spring of my senior year in high school my father had not sat on my bed as I cried and told me that I wasn’t going to be allowed to follow my passion for music and theatre at the UW on “his dime”, I most certainly wouldn’t be who I am today. Don’t get me wrong–I still turned out pretty dang good: I’m smart, funny, and have more common sense than most; my mother still says I’m the one she “never has to worry about” (real world implications of THAT statement are a completely separate story altogether).

    I will take this opportunity to remind you that we are all waiting for that story…

    But I think every day about how my life might have been different had I the courage to stand up to my father’s declaration about where my future was going; I will admit, I envy the success of my former classmates who DID have that courage and followed their passions.

    Do I experience the ripple effects of the lack of my parents’ acceptance of me for who I was at a young age? Every day, in every relationship that I have.

    Have I vowed to myself that I will raise my children differently, should I be blessed to have any? Repeatedly.

    Do I love my parents more than anything, and would I do anything for them out of gratitude for the way they raised me, the sacrifices they made for me, and the woman I am today? You better believe it.

    All I want to add here, is that just in case someone misunderstands the post: I love my parents very much, I love my dad VERY much. Writing this taught me some things about him that I’ve not realized, or internalized, or accepted…and from those things some profound things about myself.

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