Tag Archives: Child

What Voices Do You Listen To?

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My friend, Kathy, writes a wonderful blog as Lake Superior Spirit.

She had posted recently about a mental dialogue, where her “inner voice” was being a bit of a harp, providing her with thoughts of how she should and should not spend her morning. The “universe” gave her the go-ahead to do what she wanted, and what she felt was right.

I know exactly what she means by “universe” though she says the word sometimes sends the wrong message.

I think we all know that deep, resonating, to-the-heart feeling that lets us know we are on the right track…that hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-raising feeling that assures us we have just heard a profound truth…that blessed calm that comes from the alignment of our world. If we’re smart, we pay attention when those feeling occur.

Still, I am skeptical. I wonder, for instance, if youth in Hitler’s Germany felt the hairs on the back of their necks rise up when they heard him speak, and thought – because of it – that they were chosen. I think of the “Son of Sam” killer, and what he did because he thought God told him to. Mass murderers and despots aside, I have given myself some indescribably horrible haircuts when moved by feelings that it was the absolute right thing to do. How could something that felt so right go so very wrong? I don’t know.

In any case, I told Kathy that her “inner voice” sounded a lot like my [trying to be a better person] self and her “universe” much like my [slacker] self. She said they usually had opposite roles, and that she’s learned what to pay attention to. It made me think about what voices I hear, and what I listen to.

There are, of course, many voices running through my head (and I hope I’m not alone as I just realized that, if I don’t have company in this, I have just made myself sound pretty crazy!). Some are hold-overs from my childhood; others come from places of fear or insecurity that I have left mostly behind; some are playful, cynical, judgmental and more.

They fall predominantly into three categories.

Freud called them id, ego and super-ego, I think. Mine may be different in scope than his. To avoid any misunderstanding, or possible lawsuit, I’m calling mine Boss Voice, Adult Voice and Child Voice.

Boss Voice is the one that reasons “because I said so” or “because that’s the way it has always been done”. Boss Voice is rigid; it does not challenge the status quo. Listening to that voice – when it matters – feels like the opposite of listening to the universe. It feels sour and cowardly, bitter and wrong.

Boss Voice rarely affects my life anymore. I challenged rules when I was growing up. I continued questioning as an adult. My daughters challenged me further. Nothing is credible only because it’s always been so. Every idea needs to prove its merit to stand.

My daughters would argue. They would say I am very rigid. They would note that I will not embarrass myself by singing in public. I refuse to be thrown into Lake Michigan or even splashed with its icy cold waters; I insist on taking a full hour and a half to get wet to my navel, if need be. They would cite my clothes-folding techniques as absolute proof of my inflexibility. I can picture them nodding vehemently at this statement.

They are wrong.

I am undoubtedly very particular about how I fold clothes. It is only because, after trial and error, I have learned what works. I don’t like to iron, and it can usually be avoided with proper folding. I also take into consideration the size of the drawer, shelf or cupboard that the items need to fit into. My bath towel folding has evolved over the years from “twice in half from the length, then into thirds with the binding out” to “twice in half from the length, then twice in half from the width, with the binding out” to – presently – “once in half from the length, then into thirds from the width, then in half again lengthwise, binding out”…because that is how they best fit on the shelf. That is not blindly following a rule! That is evolving with necessity and the times! That is Adult!

Adult Voice is the one that knows what needs to be done, and harps incessantly at me until I do it. It wakes me in the middle of the night reminding me of impending deadlines or neglected obligations. It haunts me when I sit down at the computer, or pick up a book or magazine to read. It makes me feel guilty when I choose a leisurely bath over a quick shower, a nap over a brisk walk. It is the scourge of my days…and it is my salvation. I would be lost without it. I would quickly devolve into the slothful, disorganized, scatter-brained 12-year-old that is still a huge part of my personality. Evident, always, in Child Voice.

Petulant, silly, sarcastic and playful, the child in me is at the heart of my creativity, joy and hopefulness. The Child Voice is the one singing loudly to distract me from all the “should”s and “shouldn’t”s in my life. It is saying “what if you don’t?” to everything I think I need to do. It is also the voice that encourages me to ignore the pattern, experiment with the recipe, forget what has already been done and forge my own path. It is both a curse and a blessing.

Sometimes, I look around and know, from the clutter and disorder, that I’ve listened too much to Child Voice. Other times I know, from my sense of despondency, that I have been living too much in only the Adult world. Most times, all of it works. Adult gets me up and cleaning house; Child turns it into a game. Child makes wild messes in the studio; Adult organizes it into art. Adult keeps me on top of my obligations. Child makes obligations fun!

What voices do you listen to?

Family Ties

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I received a fat bundle of papers in the mail last week, from my mother’s cousin, Marilyn.

I met Marilyn – along with two other cousins I didn’t know existed – at my mother’s funeral.

According to my sister, Brenda, Mom was not hiding these relatives from us (or, as I wondered, hiding us from the relatives). She says we were probably just not interested. Or we have forgotten.

I don’t know.

If I forgot, then I certainly thoroughly forgot, because I have absolutely no knowledge or memory of Marilyn or the other two cousins.

Anyway, Marilyn has been working on a family history.

I am interested.

She is willing to share all the information she has. From me, she would like the names of my mother’s children, with dates, birthplaces, names of husbands and wives, children and grandchildren.

She had asked Mom for this information, she told me, but my mother was a busy woman.

It turns out, Marilyn had first spoken to my mother about it in 1961, at my grandmother’s funeral.

Here she was – 50 years later – at another funeral, with the same request.

I’m happy to know this doggedly persistent and extremely patient woman is my relative!

I’d love to see those qualities in my own personality!

So far, no.

In any case, I am trying to fulfill her request for names and dates and latest generations. Already 18 months has passed since the day I assured her I’d get right on it.

I’m still tangled in the details of whether to type (a long, slow process for me!) or write out the information. I’m going over options on how to format it so that it’s understandable. I’m trying to¬† remember to pin my sisters down on the birth-dates and places of their grandchildren. Marriage dates…divorce information…step-children and their children…before I know it, another 50 years will have gone by!

And there will be Marilyn, kindly telling my children what a busy woman I was.

Though it’s taking me awhile to get the information together, I’ve wasted no time in going through the bundle Marilyn sent to me.

It’s fascinating to read!

Beyond Marilyn and the other two cousins, I had dozens of relatives living close to where I grew up. Some names sound vaguely familiar, but I don’t remember them beyond that. I had no idea that my grandfather had brothers and sisters that lived well into my adulthood!

I’ve gotten to know my great-great grandfather, Joseph. A small time thief, Civil War veteran, “opium eater and hard drinker”, Joseph defended himself in a couple legal matters, so his words were transcribed and saved in court records.

“In the first place I acknowledge that I did wrong in doing what I did, but I was entirely ignorant of the crime attached […] I did not think about it as much at the time as I did afterwards.”

“I am a man of no learning at all. I have a large family. I have always worked hard for a living. I never refused to obey an order given to me. I have always done my duty. I have tried to do what I could to put down this rebellion.[…] All I have to say is to ask as far as is consistent with judgement and principle, what mercy you can give me in this case.”

My great-great grandmother Sarah, Joseph’s wife, applied to the government for a Widow’s Pension, and later appealed the decision.

“I am 62 years of age, occupation: housekeeper, post office. I am the widow of Joseph W. Carpenter, who served as a private in Company “A”, 6th Michigan Infantry from March ’62 til March ’65, and then being sick and unable to work, enlisted about April ’65 in Company “A”, 8th Michigan Infantry and was again discharged in April ’66.”

Sarah wasn’t asking for much. She acknowledges that seven of her eight children were over the age of sixteen at the time of her husband’s death in 1874. Only little Nora was home, and seven years old. It appears that Sarah raised her family without aid from the government, and only started looking into it in 1889, possibly as a means of survival in her old age. She assures the court that she was legally married, that Joseph was her only husband, and that she has not “cohabitated with any man as his wife since his death.”

“Prior to my husband’s enlistment he was called as sound a man as there was in the community […] he was not sick at all ’til after his army service.”

“My husband used to doctor himself a great deal.”

It feels strange to read what other have to say about them, in these court transcripts.

“He was a very intemperate man and would dissipate whenever he had money, but in those times men would drink without being considered intemperate.”

“His habits both before and after the service were of the very worst. He was a drunkard […} and I fail to see how by any possible theory his habits can be eliminated in considering the cause of his death.”

“He was not a steady man […], but was considered a good worker when he did work, but he was rather of an indolent disposition.”

“They were in a destitute condition and doctors did not like to go and see him.”

“I have known his widow all of these years […]. She is considered a woman of good character. She has no home or means of support.”

The claim was denied.

I find myself – by turns – impressed, embarrassed by and defensive of these people that lived so long ago.

Obviously, they are family!