Magic in the Emerging: Memory Mining with my Eyes Closed


In my dreams of Pittsburgh these days, I am always lost.

Night after night, I wander the same streets and have some variation of the same experience.  Inevitably, I’m lost.  Invariably, I search—always trying to find my way back to my parent’s house on the north side of town.

The reason for these dreams is obvious.  In writing a memoir, I sift.  I sort.  I wade through a slog of memories, attempting to build some sense of meaning.

Clearly, this writing isn’t easy.  In fact, it may be the hardest work I’ve ever undertaken.

Sure, psychotherapy was tough.  Bipolar disorder, an ongoing struggle.  But this?  This is a creature of another kind.

The dive is deep.  The water, cold and dark.  The journey, one I take alone.

I feel a sense of urgency to complete the project and wonder at how the story is unfolding, revealing itself, sometimes in slips and slivers, other times in larger chunks.

And sometimes this sense of wonder compounds the feeling of urgency, making me believe this writing task is one that needs doing soon—needs doing now.

My partner Sara says I put this pressure on myself—that I don’t need to finish in any particular time frame—that I can choose—that I can set my own pace.

But my experience is otherwise.

In my mind this story has a life and time-table of its own—is a being in its own right—one that wants—one that grows—one that demands my doing in the short term.

And, surprisingly, the more I write, the more the urgency grows.  It doesn’t diminish, as I’d expect.

It seems there’s an energy behind this telling—something that fuels it—something outside of me and what I want or feel.

I do its bidding.  I obey.  I write.

And still I wake up having spent the night lost on Pittsburgh streets.

Alone.

But at least the wonder keeps me company in the process.  At least I have a sense of amazement that the more I write, the more I get.  The more I remember.  I hadn’t anticipated that.

I’m surprised that this story lives and breathes in me—demanding that I tend and honor its process.

I’m surprised how it forces me to see in new ways, especially in the dark—how I’m learning to adjust my eyes to the dimming—to this inevitable loss of light.

magic marker on paper

Finding my way in the dark demands a singular way of seeing—a willingness—a steadfast commitment to accept whatever vision or version of myself the darkness itself demands, whoever it says I am—whether I like her or not.

And walking with my eyes closed is every bit as difficult as you might imagine, since in some ways the need to guess becomes a guide—the hint, the squint, a substitute for sight.

a-mazing (magic marker on paper)

But actually seeing in the dark—finding your way through the thick underbrush of who you thought you were and who you actually are?

digging in the dark (magic marker on paper)

There’s magic in that mining—magic in that miracle of making and being made, magic in memoir emerging.

Note:  If you are new to my blog, you might like to know that I am writing a memoir and blogging about growing up in an organized crime family.  (This post, though not about the mafia specifically, is part of that series.)  To read one of my mafia-related memoir posts,”Kids Make the Best Bookies,” click here.  If you are interested in reading any of my protected posts, please email me at kownroom@yahoo.com  or let me know in the comments below, and I will gladly share the password with you.

66 thoughts on “Magic in the Emerging: Memory Mining with my Eyes Closed

  1. “the more I write, the more I get.”

    Powerful!

    Just remember … you are the writer AND the editor. Not everything you discover you are required to share … unless you wish to, of course 🙂

    MJ

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    • Yes, I understand. And what I’m learning about myself is less damning than it is distressing. Plus, I was just a child responding as best I could to difficulties beyond my control. I don’t blame myself–and will aim for as much honest disclosure as possible. But I appreciate your reminder.

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  2. Kathy,

    Good morning! My first response here on your blog… Yes I recall you mentioning your are writing a memoir of your life raised in organized crime. I than recalled a man I met while living in up state New Year who was in the process to write about his life a child of a father in the “family” in Boston. Hmm?

    Yet as I read this piece this morning, I was pulled back to yesterday evening and the reading of the Fourth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous which starts with the phrase “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” and goes on to state Creation gave us instincts for a purpose. Without them we wouldn’t be complete human beings.”

    I find your search through the mist of the past courageous, facing the darkness, walking through the caves of some real and some mythic is so part of our awaken.

    Magic is in your words, in this blog itself, the fact of writing in such a public forum, shining a light in and on those memories will allow you to see and know who you were and who you are becoming.

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    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Jeff. I think AA offers a lot of valuable insights in its Big Book. And I think there is definitely a spiritual dimension to my journey–the need for a “fearlesss moral inventory.”

      I’m pleased to hear my blog is speaking to you. Actually, I’m thrilled. And I wonder about the man from up-state New York you mention. I’d love to know more about him.

      I appreciate your comment enormously and hope to hear from you again soon! Thanks–big thanks!

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    • It’s interesting that you say this, as Sara mentioned something similar when she read my post this morning–though she thought I, perhaps, ought to write a separate book about the writing process. So happy you would characterize this as “powerful.” Thanks, my friend!

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  3. At the risk of sounding flippant, I just wanted to say that I returned to Pittsburgh for a week a couple years ago after having been away for several years, and I was lost the entire time! I think they rearranged all the roads to get back at us for having moved away.

    Great post, Kathy! The feeling of being lost, whether being physically lost or losing your life “compass,” is scary. As usual you show courage in facing your fears!

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    • How funny, Dana! I haven’t been to Pittsburgh in ages, so I’m glad to know this in the literal sense.

      But, seriously, these dreams have been bizarre, and, of course, the place looks NOTHING like Pittburgh in my dreams–so stange to navigate on such an altered internal landscape.

      Thanks for the comment, my friend. Hope you are doing well!

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      • Perfect! I was thinking, too, that the journey is part of the memoir, wondering if there is a timeline for the storytelling, is there a breaking-off date? Or does it all need to mooosh together to be the cohesive whole?

        Of course, I don’t know the structure of your book…. but your thoughts today made me see the integration of yesterday with today and with the future.

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      • Great question, Laurel. The book I’m working on now will only be about my childhood and will end with my father’s death. However, there will be some element of the present, as well, but mostly as a way of orienting the telling of my story–having a place to anchor it. Then there will be subsequent books–one about my crazy religious days, which will end the termination of my teaching at Oral Roberts University. Then there will be a third about my bipolar disorder–and maybe later one about living in Vietnam and another about living in Haiti.

        Yeah, I know. It’s a lot.

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  4. For some reason while reading your post the lines from one of Neil Young’s songs, *It’s a Dream,* came floating into my head, “It’s only a dream/Just a memory without anywhere to stay…” It’s surprising to me how many of my own dreams are set in my parents’ home, as if I’m still trying to work something out. I remember how exhausting therapy was, too, but you’re saying writing a memoir is harder still. Wishing you all the best as you find your way through this! I appreciate your directness and honesty in the sharing of such a deeply personal struggle.

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    • It’s interesting that you, too, still dream about your parent’s house. I wonder if this happens for other people, as well.

      Don’t get me wrong. Therapy was hell. And the more I think about it, the more I think I might be wrong to say this is harder. Maybe it’s just different. It’s similar to therapy, as I’m forced to deal with much of the same stuff. I think what’s harder is not having a guide–if that makes any sense.

      Thanks for reading, Barbara! Great to hear from you today!

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  5. I often find that I am not writing the words, but rather something is using me as a vessel for the words. And when that happens; as the words pass through the vessel that is me, I gain a deeper understanding of things that I was blind to before. Sometimes the understanding is about me, sometimes about the universe, most often about both. It is as if I have stepped outside of me, and thus see me more clearly. It seems that the process is similar for you, except maybe instead of stepping outside, you go inside. Either way, it makes for a fascinating (if sometimes frightening) journey, but the amazing creation that is produced is well worth it!

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    • Yes, yes, Steve, I have definitely had the experience of feeling like I was channeling. In fact, I used to have it often–these days less so. That’s a mind-f*ck, for sure. This is not that exactly, but I’m not sure how to explain the difference. I guess, when I have experienced the former, I feel no sense of ownership. I know I have not written the words. Yes, “I” take credit for them, but it felt like my mind was not consciously part of the process. I feel very invested in this and have a sense that the words are mine–but painfully so.

      I’m going to have to give this some thought and get back to you on all of this. But I thank you for mentioning it, as I may be able to clarify what this is like in comparison to that–if that makes sense.

      As always, my friend, great comment!

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      • Maybe the flip side of the same coin? Everything has it’s “opposite” The difference may be the going inside instead of outside. If water is running through a pipe, and we are outside, we experience what is happening, but remain dry. However if we are inside the same pipe, we are carried along with the flow, and the view (and results) are quite different, and this time we will not remain dry, or even unscathed. We will experience it fully and at times feel out of control as the current carries us.

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      • Good God, that’s a brilliant analogy, Steve! How do you come up with these insights, I wonder? Such a powerful explanation–and one I may have to steal–giving you credit of course. Have a great weekend, my friend!

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  6. Beautiful, poetic, and the eye images so powerful.
    You are the master of this process, even if it feel like the story is in control sometimes. It’s a fine line to allow and channel at the same time. Mystics have been doing it for centuries–and most of them would be considered nutty-cuckoo in our day and age. Hmmmmmmmmm.

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    • Okay–you mention channeling, as well. As I said to Steve, I have definitely had that experience. This is similar but a bit different, as well. I have to give this some thought, but this feels more like going to an unfamiliar place inside myself to access the words. But the place is at the same time, intensely familiar. I know that sounds nuts, but it’s both. Almost like these are truths I knew but had forgotten I know.

      Okay, I’ll stop now–lest someone call the men in the white coats. However, I promise this is all insensely sane.

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  7. I know exactly how you feel! I had started writing my first book two years ago. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And I put so much unnecessary pressure on myself that I wound up putting he whole thin on hold. Take your time! Some of he best books take years to write. You are an excellent writer and before you know it your book will be complete!

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    • In a lot of ways, I think we are alike, Nicole. The fact of the matter is, I would love to take my time, but I don’t know how. And, actually, often I get nothing and remain at a standstill despite my desire to move ahead.

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  8. This is why I am reluctant to attempt to write a book, but I’m such a gadfly I’m even reluctant to read a book. Having written a number of terrible screenplays, I know how draining a large project can be and I can only imagine how soul sucking writing a memoir is, especially if it haunts you in your dreams. I’ve always subscribed to the notion that anything worth having or doing should not come easily, and I do think that if you stick with the struggle of telling your story, when you finally finish it, you might have a sense of closure, to use a word that has been grossly overused, but I think you might know what I mean.

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    • Yes, I know exactly what you mean and hope that’s the case, indeed.

      I think it’s cool that you have written screenplays. To me that would be really, really hard. So kudos to you. For me THAT would not only be soul-sucking, it would be soul-exterminating, as well. Glad to know you survived!

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    • Thanks, Christine. I sometimes think that writing about writing is one of the things I do most easily. If I find I don’t have anything to write about, I can always find plenty to say about not having anything to say. Crazy? Perhaps.

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  9. Interesting post. I enjoyed hearing about your creative process. Other writers have mentioned something similar — that the book wants to write itself. I can’t imagine operating on such power and momentum. It must be thrilling in some ways, scary in others.

    I agree with Debra’s comment. This would make a great introduction to your book.

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    • I know, I think Debra’s comment was valuable. It could indeed be part of an introduction. Interesting to hear you agree with that perspective. Actually, several folks have suggested something similar. Great ideas, my friend! Thank God for insightful readers! Thanks, Robin!

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  10. For me, and I mention this in hopes that it may help you, when I have something that I perceive as painful to write, I cannot rest, I cannot stop, I cannot think of anything else, until the words are written on the page. Writing out that pain is a compulsion, not something I control. Just as with the death of my friend recently, I was NOT OKAY until I wrote to her, until I purged everything I was feeling in that one last post. It took me three hours of writing and re-writing and editing before I got the words just right. I couldn’t sleep, and hadn’t slept for two straight days, until it was done. Then I passed out for two hours. I have similar dreams when there are things brewing just below the surface, except I’m lost in a house that just seems to keep growing and growing and I can’t find my way out. Usually, a few days of this dream and a memory, an important perspective, emerges from the fog. Perhaps, you will experience the same. There’s also the option that I am full of poop, too! lol

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    • You are not full of poop! I understand exactly what you are saying, as my experience is very similar. I don’t know why some people feel the compulsion to get it out, while others want to hide from it. I think the thing that’s weird about this is that it stops and starts. It’s there and flowing or there’s nothing–absolutely nothing. Drives me a bit nuts. I know it’s there somewhere, I just can’t get to it. I don’t do patient very well, I’m afraid. Thanks for sharing this, Sista.

      And I truly am sorry about Marianne, Miranda. I know her loss is intensely painful! Hugs to you, my friend!

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  11. So well said, Kathy. I understand the urgency you mentioned. To me, that urgency is your muse coming to you, asking you to pay attention. I’m glad that your hearing her call.
    Be well, friend!

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  12. I think you’re right to follow your instincts. The story wants to be told. I remember how hard you found it to remember at first. And now look at you… writing what you remember opens the floodgates. Let those memories flow!

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    • Yes, good point, Terri. Plus, I’m learning a bit more about creative non-fiction and that it’s expected I will fill in the details I forget as best I’d imagine them to have been. This is hugely freeing! Thanks for reading, my friend!

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  13. Oh Kathy, I have been away for what seems like a really long time and yet I am again, immediately, drawn in by your writing. It has such a rhythm that just hooks me somehow…
    I am interested in your references to the diminishing light, the inevitable loss of light, seeing in the dark – do you mean here the dark as in when you are dreaming? Otherwise my question is why is it dark I wonder? I am so interested in metaphors involving light that this probably says more about me than you so please forgive! I am also so interested in your creative process, it has almost a magical quality to it that I find addictive 🙂

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    • How great to hear from you, Penny!

      When I talk about the dark, I’m mostly speaking in metaphoric terms–as in feeling like I’m stumbling blindly about–not able to find my way. However, in some of my dreams of being lost in Pittsburgh, it is literally night. Plus, there’s the sense often of feeling like I’m creating in the midst of deep fog, making it hard to navigate, difficult again to find my way.

      Thanks for these questions, my friend. I had forgotten how wonderful it is to have you reading and inquiring. I love you mind, my dear!

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  14. I like that you are honoring the urgency, the call in the dark. I like that you are not turning away from what the “underworld” requests–what it is sifting forward. Looking forward to seeing what it calls forth in you. Love, Kathy

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  15. Weird…speaking of memory…I have a distinct memory of reading and responding to this post last night (even remember reading Kana’s comment) but can’t find evidence that it was ever written, even under my own pages. Honoring you always for taking this deep dive, for being honest, for looking for the pearl among the closed oyster shells of memory.

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    • Okay, sorry, Kathy. I only have one Spam comment on this post, so the other must have been completely lost. Darn.

      Maybe you should try unsubscribing to my blog and resubscribing to see if that fixes the problem. Just leave a comment that says “test” or something like that, and I will know what you are attempting.

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  16. Gorgeous post, Kathy. I’m just back from a weekend away from the internet, and this was a very haunting post to stumble upon first! I love the artwork and the metaphors you’ve used here. Discovering yourself in the midst of who you thought you were must be an incredible process– frightening, enlightening, challenging, surprising.

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  17. Kathy, late though I am, I wanted to expand a bit on what TaoChild expressed. I’ve found (for myself at least) that when we get to a point in our life where we are finally able to wade through the muck and mire of painful past memories and survive them (versus “losing it” or crumbling completely) we just know (as in “to our core” or “in our soul” … whatever term works for you) we’re ready to deal with it and our emotional/intuitive side is more receptive to the memories.

    I wonder if some of the urgency you feel is that side of you just wanting to “rip off the band-aid” and drag the monsters into the light to dispel their power? Some of that may tie into your dreams too … as a child, the night (dark) can be a scary place and the perceived danger in every noise becomes a monster.

    To me, the worst of our early memories are like that … keeping them hidden in the dark gives them power. But when we drag them out into the light, that power fades and we are able to see that we beat it and survived. That perhaps we gave it some (or all) of the power it had by keeping it hidden.

    By writing your memoir now, I think you are draining the power from the “monsters” of your childhood and regaining your own power in the process. In an energetic sense you are evolving and increasing your own vibration … your writing and your art are to you as my grids are to me. 😉

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    • Yes, there is a sense of wanting to rip off the bandaids. However, I really thought I was past the point of recovering new memories of childhood trauma. I did so much work in therapy for so many years, that now I’m prepared to tell the story. I feel that excavation gives me the foundation on which to work–build–tell. I’m open to new memories, but hadn’t thought there would be more at this last stage of recovery–at least I’d hoped not. Guess we’ll have to see.

      However, you describe perfectly what my experience was like during those years of processing trauma–bringing it out into the light and disarming it in the process. Thanks so much for the reminder! It’s easy to forget.

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      • I’ve found that for me, the processing of the energy surrounding those memories comes in layers. Sort of like peeling an onion. I process a bit, something gets stuck, get things moving again and process some more, something else gets stuck, and so on. It’s a dynamic process that is constantly shifting so there don’t necessarily need to be any new (or deeper) memories but the feeling might be the same. Not sure if that makes any sense or not as it’s a bit complicated to explain what I get from the energies I deal with myself.

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