My special guest today is Bodie Parkhurst, author and illustrator. Included in her works are two novels and five picture books, including the painted memoir she describes in today’s post. She designs books for various small presses and formed Magic Dog Press to self-publish her books.
Now I’ll step aside and let Bodie tell you a story.
My Writing Life by Bodie Parkhurst
I started a journal in sixth grade. My sister came into my room one day and saw me at it. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Writing,” I said.
“What are you writing in it?”
“Oh, just what happens in my life and how I feel about it,” I replied.
“Mom’s not going to like that,” she observed.
She had a point. I abandoned the journal in favor of humorous essays, making jokes about the painful things in my life.
Emboldened, I decided to try to write a novel. All went well–for about ten pages. And then the rot set in. My characters annoyed me. They were stupid, vain, lazy, short-sighted, selfish, superstitious. On page eleven I killed them all. Throughout college and graduate school, I tried over and over. I once got to page thirteen before the massacre. That was my record. Though I took naturally to expository writing and typed enormous papers and a Master’s thesis, creative writing projects of any scope greater than short humorous essays were beyond me.
I tried poetry. I gave it up. My poems hurt too much to read. The pain in them shamed me. I wrote articles for newspapers, magazines, and journals. But I gave up creative writing, and I definitely gave up the idea of writing a novel. I thought of all the words and scenes that might go into it, none of which my family, and in particular my parents, would like, and I froze.
Probably I would have remained frozen had I not discovered that a great deal of the family history I had grown up believing was false. The reality I had always taken for granted wasn’t real. I felt like I was lost in a snowstorm, and there was no way home. I forgot my grandfather’s face. My counselor prescribed a journal, to help me sort out what I remembered from what I had been told.
I sat down at my borrowed computer and started writing. My sister’s words came back to haunt me. I looked at what I was writing and realized that my sister was right again; my mother would really not like this. Neither would most of the rest of my family. But by then I had reached a point where I knew had to either be honest about myself, or die. And so I knowingly wrote the words my mother would hate–I wrote the truth about my life.
Writing my life did more than just quite likely save it. It showed me how to follow a story, to see cause and effect, to understand that beneath the day-to-day lies a larger story. When I began writing my life I began drawing it, too. I wound up with a series of paintings paralleling the story I told in my journal.
Making the choice to write the words that would sever most of my family relationships, to follow my own story into the dark, dangerous, and forbidden places, to paint the word and pigment images that hid there, showed me that I could make that journey and survive. Changed, yes, but better. And making pictures.
I want to thank Bodie for being here today. Keeping a journal or writing a memoir are healthy techniques to free us from childhood traumas, or adult traumas for that matter. They also help center our minds and set us on the path to enhanced creativity. Most writers and artists are aware of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I also recommend Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas.