Tag Archives: writing

Our Beautiful Buried Selves

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how submerged I felt growing up – the fact that I was gay but not ready to be out, that my father had a secret job we never talked about (he was in the CIA), and the trauma of losing my mother to breast cancer in my junior year. It all left me numb and lost. I had a huge backlog of feelings that I needed to get to but no idea how to get to them. When I look back on this submerged girl self, I see someone waiting to heal, waiting to find the shore of wholeness. A few years into college, I started to see a therapist, someone who helped me learn the strange language of naming feelings and understanding myself. As I get ready to go to my high school reunion, I know it may feel strange to be back at the place I felt so lost. As l step onto campus with its manicured lawns, I’ll think of  the girl who labored beneath her mask of “everything is fine.” She got past this mask eventually, got to her real feelings and named them, but she is the one who got me through those hard times and who got me to the beauty and gift of now. In fact, I use her strength and fortitude everyday. And everyday I’m grateful.

Finishing

For the past 12 years, I’ve been writing a book about secrets – my spy dad’s and mine. Every day that I wrote, I was immersed in feelings. Love. Sadness. Fear. Lots of that. But I just kept doing it – kept sitting with memories, doubts, and questions. I had so many questions. About my dad and the CIA, about coups and dictatorships and a million other things. I researched, traveled, interviewed people (including my dad), and wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. The pile of journals in this photo represents just a fraction of the pages I filled. This project feels like a lifetime. It engulfed me in a crazy mix of uncertainty and hope, and it made my father extraordinarily real to me, realer even than growing up, when I would find him eating Doritos and watching SNL. Now the book is done and I am at a loss. You could call it “letting go” or “transitioning” but I don’t know what it is or what to call it. I just know that I’m going through it. Still, I marvel that I did it – wrote into material that took me through my mother’s death again and again, took me into my fears about speaking out and breaking the spy family code of silence, and took me through so much human sadness. My own and the world’s. But what stuns me most is the way writing became its own path and how the path it created led me to healing. It is what I hoped for but was never sure of when I started 12 years ago. I am finally here – wherever here is. It feels like a miracle. The starting and the finishing. And everything in between.

Finishing

For the past 12 years, I’ve been writing a book about secrets – my spy dad’s and mine. Every day that I wrote, I was immersed in feelings. Love. Sadness. Fear. Lots of that. But I just kept doing it – kept sitting with memories, doubts, and questions. I had so many questions. About my dad and the CIA, about coups and dictatorships and a million other things. I researched, traveled, interviewed people (including my dad), and wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. The pile of journals in this photo represents just a fraction of the pages I filled. This project feels like a lifetime. It engulfed me in a crazy mix of uncertainty and hope, and it made my father extraordinarily real to me, realer even than growing up, when I would find him eating Doritos and watching SNL. Now the book is done and I am at a loss. You could call it “letting go” or “transitioning” but I don’t know what it is or what to call it. I just know that I’m going through it. Still, I marvel that I did it – wrote into material that took me through my mother’s death again and again, took me into my fears about speaking out and breaking the spy family code of silence, and took me through so much human sadness. My own and the world’s. But what stuns me most is the way writing became its own path and how the path it created led me to healing. It is what I hoped for but was never sure of when I started 12 years ago. I am finally here – wherever here is. It feels like a miracle. The starting and the finishing. And everything in between.

Don’t Say That

old inscription on a typewriter

I became a writer inside the clean pages of a journal. Over and over, I wrote whatever I needed to say. Each word freed me – whether it was a tangled emotion, intractable problem, or intense joy. I was uncensored. Writing became the path to understanding my life, and so I followed wherever it led. There was little risk because nothing I wrote was read by anyone. It was simple.

Is self-censorship sometimes the right thing to do?

Publishing and writing for an audience, on the other hand, brought me into complex questions. What if speaking my truth caused someone else to feel exposed or unsafe? I’ve grappled with this dilemma in many essays, some I’ve published and some I’ve decided not to. Each decision required my weighing the costs of self censorship against the cost of honoring the needs of others.

It’s a riddle more than a decision.

Personally, I believe writers need to tell their stories. I’ve published my words when others told me not to but when I thought it was the right thing to do. In some of these difficult situations, it worked out. More than this, it brought healing to myself and the other person. But there have been other times too, times I’ve stopped myself and listened to the internal voice that said, Don’t publish that. I don’t have any easy relationship with this voice. It’s a familiar voice. As a lesbian and as the daughter of a spy, I hear it often, both internally and externally. The voices that silence are everywhere. But writers are trouble makers and truth tellers in the best sense of the word. In the stirring, thought provoking, healing, bringing-up-what-needs-to-be said, kind of way.

What is a writer’s responsibility?

So how can artists and writers, especially those who write non-fiction, be responsible to our own creativity and selves and at the same time be responsible and compassionate about those included in our work? What is a writer’s responsibility? Honestly, it feels like an unsolvable riddle to me. Sometimes silence is the right thing. Other times not. Maybe the best we can do is to stay conscious, to ask questions, and to hold onto a sense of compassion for ourselves and those included in our work. The trick is to lean into this compassion until it lights the way forward. Maybe solving the riddle isn’t really the point.

Maybe compassion is.