“Your life is your medicine.” Dr. Cassie Huckabee

Only yesterday, I called my adult daughter to ask her to tell me I was an okay writer.

My mother once knitted and donated an entire barnyard full of stuffed animals — a grey horse with glorious mane and mini bridle, a cow with black spots and pink udders, and pigs with soft, felted snouts — to the annual Christmas fair at the Catholic school we attended. I remember the timid pride in her eyes as she lovingly tucked the animals into their special boxes and brought them to the organizers the night before the event.

It was my first year at the school — fifth grade — and the atmosphere of the gymnasium on that Saturday morning was as unsettling on the weekend as it was during the week. The smell of boiling hot dogs and warm popcorn filtered in from the adjacent cafeteria as a cute boy from my grade brushed by. The popular girls stood under the basketball net in their cheerleader uniforms having just come back from an away game, their cheeks rosy with the health that comes from being part of an accepted clan.

I trailed a few steps behind my mother who browsed disinterestedly at the lacy plaques and decorated wooden spoons. Even then I had an aversion to frills and cheap prettiness like my mother. I don’t know if she had ever said a word about such things or if she’d passed it through blood into her children. Just like my mother I sought the knitted animals, hoping if they didn’t sell that they would come back home.

Not a single person said hello to us, and we made no effort either as we wound down the crowded aisles of holiday shoppers. After a pile of “seconds” socks my mother stood still. I came beside her and followed her gaze. There were the animals, bent and thrown about like useless cattle in a muddy feedlot. One of the pigs lay on the floor muddied by someone’s boot. My mother’s face showed no expression whatsoever. After a moment she scooped up the pig, brushed it off quickly and set it down on the table, as if she were ashamed to have anyone see that she had given her heart to this project, before pulling us away to get promised hot dogs. She never made animals again.

My father, a brilliantly funny and smart man, took codeine once before public speaking to ease his anxiety. His thirst was so severe and his mind so benumbed with the drug, he could not connect with his audience and came home in shame.

My poison of choice has been a sort of misguided humanitarianism. I profess to love the world but have real trouble with the individuals. The world does not beat me down, but individuals do and have. Don’t get me wrong, I have many wonderful relationships, but when I’m in poison mode I unwittingly seek the drowning man who in his own panic and self-loathing drags the rescuer into the murky deep.

I think sometimes that one of the reasons some readers express frustration and annoyance when reading about BUCK CRENSHAW in my novels is that he’s so blind to his self-sabotage. Time and again he makes such stupid decisions. He can also be cruel — not the best thing in a lead character. Yet I’m cruel, too, when I feel unloved.

Our genealogy bequeaths us with some pretty annoying habits: silence, explosive anger, neediness, reticence, inability to give an honest compliment or honest criticism. My sister didn’t speak to me for years because she knew that I had married a mess of a man (it had seemed easier than losing a good man’s love). It would have been nice if someone had told me what they were thinking back then.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past. All of us labor in webs spun long before we were born.”

William Faulkner

Since Thanksgiving I’ve been thinking about all this stuff again because as a family for generations we’ve let our hurts define us. I’ve spent years being just like Buck, blind to the patterns that come with being overprotective of self. As a child it makes total sense, but as an adult it dampens out creativity and joy. How many more holiday dinners will I spend racing through a meaningful story because I’m afraid of the response from “my audience”? My family around the table seems so distant in these moments, like the shadows you see when you’re on stage.

I read this a few days ago:

Travel and tell no one,
live a true love story
and tell no one,
people ruin beautiful things.

Kahlil Gilbran

I’m not sure I completely agree but I understand the advice.

As some of you know, we adopted a profoundly traumatized child from foster care. I’m going to be honest and say that part of the reason for me taking her on was to prove that I was a valuable person despite not selling a ton of books. Of course at the time I wasn’t fully aware of my underlying reasons. I did truly want to help her “get better.”

Here’s another truth: she doesn’t want to get better. It’s easier to stay the victim. I understand. It is easier in a way. But it’s terrible. She’s like the living embodiment of all the worst case self-sabatoges. And because of that she becomes quite often extremely unlovable. It makes me think of Buck. It makes me think of me.

Of course there are moments when we are all lovable, when the drama, the noise, the self-doubt, the picking at wounds still can’t shut out the beauty of a human soul. I think all of my Buck Crenshaw stories are treasure hunts. Behind all of his self-protection is a boy who had hoped to be loved but wasn’t. Spolier alert: he finds love.

We have all experienced being unloved at some point. Sometimes we invite it in and sometimes it just crashes into your house like a wayward airplane. We idealize home for the holidays because in that womb we still hope it is safe even if it never has been. We want our little barnyard menagerie to be cuddled. We want our books to be read, our dreams to be understood and for our family to come with a clean slate and endless patience to put up with our egos and idiosyncracies. In short we want to be adored.

“Your life is your medicine.”

Dr. Cassie Huckabee

What medicine will I choose?

14 responses to ““Your life is your medicine.” Dr. Cassie Huckabee”

    • Hahaha! Thank you. I wasn’t fishing for compliments 🙂 I really appreciate the encouragement though.

      You are so right. God is the only answer. I’m reading St. Francis De Sales right now and he is incredibly human and inspiring. Going after virtue instead of material gain and human praise brings so much peace (when I pursue it). I just keep forgetting!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I feel like I’ve been through the ‘heavy wash cycle’ after reading your post. This time of the year can do that to people. I feel privileged that you let me see all that.
    I’m not sure that ‘god’ is the answer to anything, but let’s not get into that particular fist fight.
    I love the way you write. Much of this piece feels like a challenge.
    The story about your mum was upsetting. I wanted it to turn out to be a triumph, but I knew it was going to end badly — I went to a Catholic school and I saw how they treated my mum.
    The quotes you used are spot on. Somehow, we have to learn to write and travel and love without needing anyone else to know or care — which is a crazy thing to say, because we need people to read what we write. That goes without saying.
    After all this time, I doubt that my books will be widely read, and I’m almost okay with that. I love what I do and that has to be enough.
    My wife has driven up country for the day and my dog is asleep and here I am enjoying what you have written.
    I wonder what you were thinking before you wrote this piece?
    I wonder how you felt after you wrote it?
    I wonder how you feel now that it is out in the world and it now belongs to us.
    Thank you for brightening up my day.
    Terry

    Like

    • Hi Terry! Don’t worry, I’m not a very good evangelist. I left the Catholic Church years ago, tried almost everything else, went back to the Catholic Church, got fed up again with its modernism and finally fully embraced the Latin Mass and old-school Catholicism which brings me back to the sacred. Novus Ordo is dead for me. But I don’t think its my calling to preach to others 🙂

      I go through phases of being almost okay with a small readership too. The hardest part is having no one to talk to about the worlds you create — I don’t think it’s an ego thing really. We do this thing in secret that defines us almost more than anything else and we want our loved ones to get us on that deep level, but asking them to sacrifice hours to dive in is a lot.

      Yet I also understand that no matter how many people enjoy your work and praise it, the feeling never completely goes away — it’s never enough.

      The only thing I’ll say about God is that believing that he calls us to create takes some of the pressure off. Being obedient to the call and letting God take care of who might need or want to experience my work keeps me at least a little grounded.

      I also love the idea of my great-great-great grandchildren getting a glimpse of someone in their family tree. Finding letters from three generations back was a thrill for me.

      Before I wrote this I thought I’d try writing a light piece. LOL.

      What sorts of writing have you been up to lately? I’ve been away for so long!

      And thank you so much for taking the time to encourage me today! I appreciate it so much.
      A

      Liked by 1 person

      • “I go through phases of being almost okay with a small readership too. The hardest part is having no one to talk to about the worlds you create — I don’t think it’s an ego thing really. We do this thing in secret that defines us almost more than anything else and we want our loved ones to get us on that deep level, but asking them to sacrifice hours to dive in is a lot.”
        I have problems with the ‘noone to talk to’ about writing as well. Friends and family know I write, but they don’t understand the process.

        “Yet I also understand that no matter how many people enjoy your work and praise it, the feeling never completely goes away — it’s never enough.”
        When I still had hopes of ‘success’ I tried to define how many copies I needed to sell to feel that success. It’s harder than you think. I remember reading (many years ago) that a person chasing wealth (money) needs to define what ‘enough’ means. I’ve asked many people that question over the years and never had a definitive answer. Whenever people ask me how many books I’ve sold (why do they do that?) I say, ‘not enough’. Weirdly, I sell very few print and ebooks, but quite a few audiobooks. Not sure what that is about, either way, it’s not enough!

        “I also love the idea of my great-great-great grandchildren getting a glimpse of someone in their family tree. Finding letters from three generations back was a thrill for me.”
        I’m with you on this one. I would love to read my ancestors thoughts. I had three male relatives killed in world war one and I wish there were letters I could read. I hope that those who come after me enjoy the stories and the novels and I hope that it gives them an insight into the life I lived.

        “What sorts of writing have you been up to lately?”
        I’m trying to write my way back into form. I’ve been battling ill-health for the last couple of years. I was in a good place before this and I’m trying to regain that form. I’m most comfortable with short stories, so that’s what I’ve been focusing on. I’ve compiled enough stories for a third volume of SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES, so I’m working towards editing and publishing that book.

        I’m glad you ‘decided to come back’ and I hope that you maintain that hunger for writing.
        Terry

        Like

      • I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been unwell. I hope the new year changes that!

        You have a lot of audible books! WOW! Did you record them yourself? Was it hard or easy? Love to know all about your adventures doing that. Do you have a favorite book/story that you’ve written?

        Liked by 1 person

      • The audiobook stuff was a steep learning curve, but not as steep as learning to self publish. Time moves quickly, and these days, both of those things are a lot easier. I do record the books myself and I use Garageband on an Apple laptop. It’s a bit of fiddling around, but you learn as you go. These days everyone has a podcast so there are lots of tutorials around. My audiobooks go on Author’s Republic and they has a ‘how to’ page.
        As for favourites, that’s a hard one. I love them all (which is bit uncool, I know) but ‘Fly Away Home’ is a sort of favourite because it is based on a story my mum told me about meeting a pilot during WW2. This was a bit before she met my dad. The pilot did not survive. She didn’t tell me all that much, so I made up a life for them both.
        My first novel/novella was about a couple who meet and marry when they are in their forties. I’ve written a few more in that series and a spin off as well. They get a bit steamy as well. It was a special challenge. Writing sex scenes is difficult and not everyone does it well. My wife is the final arbiter of what works and what doesn’t. I enjoy writing about these characters (Sam and Scarlett).
        I recently wrote a novella about and angel who works as a pizza delivery person. That was fun. When I’m feeling better, I publish it.
        Do you have a favourite book that you have written? Do certain characters call out to you and refuse to be finished with?
        Do you struggle with the short form or the long form of writing?
        I had an interesting experience with an editor a few years ago.
        He wrote to me because he noticed my work on a printers website. He offered to edit my next book and gave a very good quote. I had a bit of money at the time so I got him to carve up my manuscript. It was a nerve wracking experience, but I learned heaps — he was very good and gave a lot more than I paid for. If I wasn’t poor I would still be working with him. He’s very busy these days, so I’m happy that his business has kicked on.
        Lovely to talk to another writer. I’m no good at the ‘writer’s group’ thing, though I have tried.
        Terry

        Like

      • When I tell a friend about the main character of my latest novel she wants me to change the outcome of his sad tale but war is sad. I’ve been so interested in the heroic ideal — no greater love than to die for another.

        I love the idea of the pizza delivery person being an angel!

        Having a professional editor finally edit my books was one of the best things I did. It took a while to convince myself that I was worth the money. LOL. But it was great and so much fun.

        My mother said she liked my first book best and I was like — oh no! a one hit wonder! I’ve failed on the five other books in the series. Sob. But I really love all of the characters so much that I’d have a hard time picking a favorite book.

        When I was writing about Buck Crenshaw with his many flaws I was being semi-autobiographical. My editor said I was more like the only sunny character in my series. Haha. He doesn’t know me that well.

        I truly love the character I’m working on now because he’s a real person I can’t wait to meet in heaven. A bunch of weird “signs” have me convinced we have a connection in eternity, but that’s not what the book is about.

        I’m like you. I tried writer’s groups a few times and found them to be more negative versions of alanon meetings and completely unhelpful. A mix of pretentiousness and bitter rivalry with virtual strangers. Bizarre experience every time. Maybe a good leader who steered the group in constructive ways would have made things okay but that wasn’t my experience. I had an embittered writer as my first college professor. I let her abuse (of everyone) keep me from writing for years!

        When you find a writer friend who doesn’t feel the need to compete 24/7 that person is a gem!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Your honesty alone makes you far more than an “okay” writer. Self-knowledge is a frightful burden that few are brave enough to confront and bear, let alone translate into literary form. Love to you and everyone you love: children, husband, dogs and other precious souls.

    Maybe, deep inside, many of us are like your troubled, damaged, angry, self-hating adopted daughter, struggling to reconcile her own truths. I am not a practising Christian, but I have a glimpse of understanding that God and Love – especially the kind of love you have for her – are the same.

    Like

    • Pippa, it’s so nice to see your lovely and mysterious gravatar again. When I finally read the Bible through for the first time I was shocked that it was about really screwed up people and how God loved them despite it all. Jesus, for all the sappy sentiment surrounding him in the modern church, was a lot more personally challenging. You can’t read scripture and not gain at least a little self-awareness. 🙂

      Anyway I think that you are so right about most people struggling along in this life. Our daughter is like : Here you are — look at the pain of the human condition. Can you handle it? Can you see yourself in it? Can you judge my actions but not hate me?

      I think I was drawn back into the church when I was reminded that the great cathedrals weren’t a waste of money or time — they were a response to humanity’s suffering and the transforming power of love, story and beauty. To think that even peasants could stare at the stained glass and for an hour be in a place where heaven and earth mingled together!

      Your posts were so full of that edifying beauty. That’s what drew me to you! Have a wonderful Christmas season!

      A

      Like

Leave a Reply to Adrienne Morris Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: