Where I Am From: A Tough Girl Memoir (Part 1)


There was a time when           the earth opened wide

asked the sun

“How do you want to burn,

bright one?”

Like a furious yearn

from the inside.


My life story is as ordinary as any. I am from creative thought. I was born there, like everyone else, and I continue to create and experience versions of the same poetic love and fear that conceived of me, that conceived of you. I fully embrace the concept that we are all one; each of us are brilliant lights who separate from the whole in order to create experiences, which demonstrate who we are and who we are not. I believe that we are always in the process of creating, cultivating situations and stories, knowing both exquisite triumph and extraordinary defeat, exploring different versions of ourselves toward discovery of our highest, most natural forms. I trust Neale Donald Walsch’s stellar statement within his book, Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue: “the deepest secret is that life is not a process of discovery, but a process of creation” (Walsch, 20).

I was created by people whose desirous thoughts combusted together, like two chips of the sun colliding just before they hit the earth’s atmosphere, where they burned so quickly and violently that there was nothing left but a gaseous bubble glowing inside the ovaries of a mother who never really wanted me. And when I was born, the energy of my parents’ emotive thoughts lost the power for spoken word; my plump infant body, and my atypically large head became all that glistened of their story together. Their voracious affections overwhelmed them, resulting in the inadvertent conception of my being, but like many other creation stories, fear was as much a part of the creative process.”In the moment fear existed, love could exist as a thing that could be experienced” (Walsch, 24). My story begins where it will inevitably end: sparking chemical rays of light in concert with all states of aliveness, burning in my own phosphorous fear, and whipping along the edges of flammable love. “Because in the end, love is the force that transcends death. All the rest is sounding brass and tinkling cymbals” (West, 27).

I like to think of my life as a collection of scenes culminating into acts, producing an entire Shakespearean play, or epic stories in verse, like The Odyssey or Beowulf, or even the Bible in its elaborate layering of parables and poetry. Stories provide the mode, the landscapes, and tools of discovery for me. During the forward of Jane Taylor McDonnell’s guide to writing memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, Vivian Gornick writes: “In every work of literature there’s a situation and a story;” stories provide a context for “self-discovery and self-definition” (McDonnell, viii). Perceiving life within the scope of this vision helps me to remember and learn who I am (McDonnell, viii). Stories connect the patterns of experience, illuminating the meaning of situational existence.

As described in the writer’s workshop guide, The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair, through imagination, empathy, and discernment, we experience insight and wisdom while we learn vicariously through communication of a person’s story (Baldwin and Linnea, 103). It’s just how I, as an artist, perceive the process of life. And becauseI believe that everyone has survived a significantly impactful situation and “lived to tell the tale,” my eyes turn toward the floor out of disbelief and empathy every time I hear a person say that their life is boring, or “that their own experience isn’t significant enough,” somehow unworthy of being documented or depicted in any artistic way (McDonnell, 14).

The lives of animals, flowers, grass, bees, bare naked babies, all species, all animate and inanimate life, are depicted in story books, academic literature, painted on walls or portraits, vivified through sculpture, photography, and cinema. We are all born from creative thought, experience creative being, are products of passion and imagination, and we exemplify, even if only metaphorically, sometime or another, or always, the conception of love and fear. All lives are representative of universal human experience, history, and knowledge manifested by those primary emotions, and they can be communicated through the powerful medium of story (Baldwin & Linea, 98). No matter which mode of art chosen, each person is a vessel for valuable wisdom. To transfer this knowledge, “a teller needs a listener; a story needs to be ‘caught’ to be complete” (Baldwin & Linnea, 95). We just have to be willing to be a part of the exchange.

If we are willing to look closely at any one person’s experiences, if we take our time to critically examine singular scenes, as if they are ants under a wide lens microscope, building mounds and tunnels, carving out roadways for constructing neighborhoods and villages, carrying their dead back home to the cavernous center, mourning their loss and celebrating the life with funeral processions and displays of affection and grief, traveling in a caravan with bread crumbs for their family and friends, putting food on the table for all to eat, copulating and rearing their young, fighting off predators, like the brown bombardier beetle, and the fat, green blue butterfly caterpillar, growing into themselves and out from the mounds, then the stories of who we are start to connect like reels of film spinning on a projector. Examine any life closely enough and you’ll begin to discover cinema, novels, poetry, plays, Renaissance art on the ceilings of chapels.

If you are willing to bear witness to any person’s life, you may discover entertainment, something of aesthetic value. Even the waitress who serves you your daily cafe mocha, your priest or gardener or grandma – none of whom has ever given you a reason to suspect that their life has been anything other than normal – everyone has a story that could entice you for a while. The attractive and personable father of three, mailman of my earliest memories, a man that would go out of his way to assure residents were happy and satisfied with their service, was all the while cheating on his wife, “dropping in” on his clients along his delivery route – something I overheard my grandmother and the neighbor lady gossiping about when I was a young girl. All stories have the capacity to fill us with a sense of intrigue, bravery, passion, melancholy, or pain. Even if the protagonist claims her life is too dull or mundane, I believe in Gayle Brandeis’s evocative words from her profoundly inspirational creative writing guide, Fruitflesh: “we (each) have a limitless store of material swirling underneath our own skin” (Brandeis, 7).

Discovering life in others can provoke our senses to emerge from their comas and sing (Brandeis, 4), push the scents and visions of aliveness to the surface, through the cages suffocating our creativity, through our invisible encasements protecting us from the sensations of being alive, and preventing us from awakening to who we really are. Like the contagious yawn, or the catching smile, when we discover another person’s life narrative moving before our eyes, stimulating our thoughts and feelings, we become cognizant of our own animate existence. Our emotions become aroused, our imaginations marry sleepy memories, and our fingers might begin to move slowly across the keyboard of our laptops, over a canvas with a paintbrush, or inside gray, wet clay, naturally and with a focused, controlled urgency that feels unlike any excitement ever experienced before. And if we really concentrate for long enough, a sense of passion and purpose will come over us, as if someone suddenly opened a window to let the Spring air and sunshine inside each of our sentient cells, past our gray veils and poufy coats of fear. We’ll each begin to snap into aliveness: “I am alive. I am doing something. I am being someone. I am going somewhere. I come from someplace. I’ve done so many things. Do you see me? Isn’t it wonderful, who I am?”

And soon, even if we do not equip ourselves with glassblowing torches or paint palettes, we’ll begin to realize that all experiences are created from a perception of synthesized love and fear, and our identities are often defined by what we know of both. Odysseus, Jesus, Robin Hood, even Superman and Wonder Woman, are extraordinary depictions of ordinary people, each developing stories of intense joy and sadness, triumph and defeat. Each of us possesses an endless supply of characters that come through us in response to the core sensations associated with euphoria and despair, passion and rage, ecstasy and misery.

Pick any story, fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, fairy-tale, article in the newspaper, or metaphor on the back of a medical pamphlet, and you will appreciate the existence of both love and fear saturating the words, lines, paragraphs, or chapters. Both Odysseus and Beowulf’s stories are based on intense sensations of love and fear – love in the form of allegiance and loyalty for a nation, king, hero, or a woman; love for war proposed out of a sense of fear; fear of betrayal, fear of failure and loss, fear of losing love from a nation, a king, a hero, or a woman. Each scene can penetrate a reader’s psyche and sympathies, arouse the emotions associated with love and fear from a place inside the body where memories are stored, memories of love and fear, memories so stimulating that their imagination becomes invigorated and begins to manufacture prolific images. The narrative of the reader’s life scenes burgeons, as details of time and place, color and texture, movements and gestures, sound and smell, mood and tone emerge from that marriage between imagination and memory, until finally a captivating and provocative scene replaces a boring chapter of an ordinary person’s life story.

The enigmatic body and mind response, the chemical and electrical intuitive transmissions of our psyches, supersedes present time and earthly place, and is born from empathetic emotions, cognitive associations, connections made through the rainbow wheel of the imagination; the melding in the mind of creative thought and sensitive memory is felt throughout the body. It happens to us when we fully embrace another person’s experience of being alive, or a character’s tale of his epic journey; and it is proof that all of us come from wet film and pulpy paper, saturated in stories demonstrating both love and fear. “Every human thought, and every human action, is based in either love or fear. There is no other human motivation, and all other ideas are but derivatives of these two” (Walsch, 15 – 16).

Creatively, the associations click through our mental and physical engines when we read Animal Farm by George Orwell. It’s the reason that zoomorphism exists. It allows us to sense real love and wisdom from the senescent boar, Old Major, or become inspired by the spirited and inventive, Snowball, who’s idealism sparked the inquisitiveness of all other less enthusiastic animals on the farm; and fear wells up within us when we read of Napoleon’s depravity – his wicked dictatorship and deliberate cruelty strikes fear and apathy in all readers. Because the stories we hear or read, the art that we experience, simultaneously awakens our sub-consciousness, engages our intuitions, and stirs us to the limits of sensation, we know that we are all born from artistic creation. We can sense the soul’s artistic corporeality.

We create and share our artfulness until our lights, like ripened moss spores, released from their milky brown capsules and transported through currents of air, pass beyond documentation of sentient experience, and back into that place where the present balloons with situations and stories, imaginatively remembered and viscerally experienced. Our mothers and fathers, family and various human influences, animals and trees and mountains surrounded by forever oceans, are born from creativity, and they ooze that knowingness onto our identities, until we recognize ourselves walking whimsically, talking frantically, blowing kisses and punching walls inside our own murals, theatre screens or paragraphs on a white page. If you saw me, you wouldn’t automatically know that my sins and secrets, my battles and my passionate love stories, stories of joy and pain, the stories of who I am, are as valuable and intriguing as Odysseus’s or Joan of Arc’s. And like all other sentient beings, who I am has everything to do with what I learned of both love and fear, as I awoke to consciousness as a small child.

I come from story books and scripts, periods and semi-colons, rhymes and alliteration, academic terminology and journalistic stories accompanied by photographs. I discovered myself there. The real me, the bare naked baby me reconnected with the umbilical cord of all life, the viscera of creative thought, raw imagination, and intuitive experience. In books, and in any writing of English, I discovered the words, definitions, synonyms and antonyms, the narratives for my own life’s stories, because my personal journals are composed of the very experiences I read about. Whether I read about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, from one of my Grandmother’s Life magazines, the architecture of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Encyclopedia Britannica, or Cinderella’s martyred life from the book of fairy tales, I learned that everyone and everything is the proliferation of creative thought, passion, imagination; and sometimes, often times, we lose sight of the purity of our capacity for visionary creation, because we are scared to look for it inside ourselves, be brave enough to peel off some of our colorful layers to show the world someone they don’t expect to see.

We lose that guiltless sense of pleasure experienced when we are inspired by something we see, smell, taste, or by someone who makes us feel alive, because sometimes surviving comes before all those natural things about life. When we discover the absence of love, our sense of fear begins to haunt us, and our narratives begin transforming into one dramatic scene after another. Once we learn of fear, love’s direct opposite, our creative consciousness begins to sleep under layers of invisible sheaths, materialized from our instinctual abilities to survive fear, like George Evans writes in his poem, “A Walk in the Garden of Heaven: A letter to Viet Nam”: “Whatever it is holds us in a spell of wonder when we are children, abandoned me when the war began” (Kingston, 88). Our prewritten stories, who we are, become blurred by armor veiling us from the light of our own lives. Our stories continue moving toward the direction of love, skirting its airy sphere, toward freedom of creative thought and energy, autonomy and redemption, approval and acceptance by others, but fear, out of instinct, keeps us contained within ourselves. We begin to wonder incessantly about how to find love, how to receive love, how to be love, despite the fear bordering our pathways toward full expression of light . There is no childhood inoculation for fear. It afflicts all of us.

Fear causes us to keep secrets from one another. “We all have secrets, fears, anger, and pain hiding somewhere inside our cells” (Brandeis, 80). The secrets become a part of the layers of our identities, which can become so active and lively that they form alternate personas from a symbiosis of the natural matter of our love and creativity, and the extra substances developed out of fear and frustration. From this, our survival personas are conjured into being, and “the masks we construct to protect ourselves can easily trap us, hold us down” (Brandeis, 69). I come from creative thought, but, like you, I’ve slipped on the skins of many different personas. It is our way of fleeing, instead of fighting. Being someone else is sometimes our best shot at coping and surviving. Sometimes, keeping ourselves close and undercover is the only useful creative skill present inside our tool boxes.

Andrea Collins, “Tough Girl”

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