Just click your heels together three times... Like Dorothy, returning to Wichita, Kansas, where I was born, stirs up unconscious feelings from childhood, both good and bad. I only lived there for the first four years of my life, but it's always been a place I've come back to because my sister, Lynn, has lived there all of her life and she has been the de facto matriarch of the family and surrogate mom/mentor to me throughout my life. Let's just say my mother wasn't up for the role, largely due to her own lack of mothering (my grandmother was a classic Cinderella story, so she, too, missed out on the mother she deserved). So my sisters, Lynn, the oldest, followed by Judy (a year younger than Lynn), and me (born 13 years after Lynn), have been trying to figure out our roles ever since.
We're somewhat like orphans in the storm. We hold each other up, we tear each other down, and in between, we laugh and cry and try our best to tolerate each others' idiosyncrasies. It doesn't always work though. At times, I feel naked and vulnerable to the lightning storm that inevitably ignites whenever we're together. I feel the atmospheric tension build, much like gathering storm clouds just before the dark sky lets loose its barrage of thunder, lightning, rain, and hailstones. And even as it pours down around us, we stand helpless to do anything other than act out our parts, fighting and clamoring for control. But what control do we have in the face of mother nature's fury? The gods truly hold us in their thrall, and, I imagine, at times even laugh at the human comedy that unfolds. If only we could see it that way. The absurdity of the moment--like arguing over whether or not ABBA sucks--is lost. It gets personal, even when you don't want it to.
What is it about returning home to family that brings out these old, often repressed emotions... that pulls us right back into the family trance, inevitable as the force of gravity, it seems. On Tuesday I sat in circle with a group of women in a creative workshop and we shared our deepest wish. The woman next to me, a transplant from England, said that she wished she could get together with her family, who are spread out all over the world, and be happy together. She fantasizes finishing off her basement to accommodate visiting relatives and being able to offer them their own space within her home. She explained that this was largely impossible though, because within five minutes of getting together, wherever they are, they begin bickering and arguing about something. I didn't even need to ask her what they argue about: space, control, acceptance, dominance, submission, who's going to decide what, whose opinion matters more, who's going to win the argument. Later, as we went around the room, she expressed surprise that this even came up for her as a deep desire as she was there to explore her creative yearnings, as we all were. Could there be a link between the desire to be creative in whatever capacity and the desire to feel safe within the cocoon of one's own family, however difficult that may be to achieve in reality?
Being creative means taking risks. You're out on a limb, perhaps trying something you've never tried before, putting your Self out there--"See my baby; I like her; I hope you do, too," being willing to make mistakes, even fail, while you learn and grow. Hmmm... Sounds like what we want from our families, too. That's what safety and security look like. Being able to express yourself without criticism or judgment. Looking for ways to connect to a deeper process that allows the true self to emerge and be seen. That is hard to do if there is a critical parent at large, if expressing yourself invites derision or judgment or condemnation.
If we come from families in which that is the currency, it's hard to step out of it, it's hard to witness, and it's hard to navigate. And it's hard to stop the inner critic, fomented in such families, from getting in the way of the creative process. But then, one might argue, the creative process can be sparked by such unrest as well, as a way to find yourself outside of the family dynamic, as a way to define yourself as separate, unique, and valuable. Ultimately, I think we argue and fight and bicker within families because we can. We hold it all in for the rest of the world, but within our families we let it all out, our primal, raw self. Not that the way we go about it is always good; in fact, it's often savage. But the family is really just a microcosm of the world at large, of life, in general. And what better testing ground for life than the boiling cauldron of the family? It prepares us to take part in the stream of life. Will be strong swimmers or will we drown? How do we navigate the rapids? Are we cautious of the undertow or vulnerable to being pulled down into the whirlpool of the unconscious? Is it a peaceful river or a raging one? Is it flowing or stagnant?
Maybe it's no mistake that my hometown is situated on the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers. One of the major themes of my dreams during my lifetime has been of swimming in a river. Sometimes there are alligators, sometimes snakes, and sometimes I'm floating next to family members and friends, and sometimes I'm alone, searching for a landmark, trying to make it to the other side. And so it seems when it comes to testing our mettle or seeking safe harbor, there truly is no place like home.