While in Lakeside at the Artist’s Way Retreat this past fall, we were called upon to reflect on influential people in our lives and how they molded our authentic selves. Our influences begin with our parents. Early on, my father gave me the freedom to dream and the drive to change the world. My mother gave me the need to care for others and the reserve to hold back. Despite struggles with responsibility versus dreams, Paul and I have grown into a loving nurturing of each other, and we are good companions who share a love of nature and travel and pursuit of our individual passions.
There's no doubt that books are among my influences. I first read "Little Women" in the crabapple tree of our parsonage in Akron, and my hunger for books became unrelenting. I was influenced by writer after writer, and in college it was Hemingway (sparing word use) and Woolf (meandering searching) that I villified. I found I was drawn to people who were excessively involved in the journey of life. Robert Tener, poet and professor of Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama, could make me weep with his passionate recitation of 16th century sonnets. Storyteller Alice Hoffman weaves the stories of relationships and connection that are woven into the tapestry that is my view of the world.
My need to connect with others caused me to write my first novel when I was ten; most kids want a TV, but I wanted my own typewriter. David Majesky, a high school Honors English teacher who sometimes stood on his desk and roared at us to write deeply, taught me about paying attention to details in my writing, and so I added to my plot and dialogue all the little details that make up a good yarn. Lloyd Mills, poet and Romanticism scholar, supported me in the writing of my memoir as my senior project at Kent State when I was 21; he likened my work to that of Doctorow and acknowledged my meandering writing as like Virginia Woolf. He helped me find my “voice.” In "Bird by Bird," Anne Lamott wrote, “Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth,” which sums up how I feel about reading and writing; Anne cautions us to take it one bird at a time and get it right, a lesson I take to heart.
Julia Cameron woke my passion and sense of possibility. But before that I was grounded in theology and knowledge through Disciple Bible Study and the spiritual leadership of Reverend Roger Talbott, who made it clear I needed to find my own spiritual haven and feel comfortable with what I chose from the dogma of religious teachings. I add to my life’s collage the long rich relationships and the short friendships where a magical moment was shared and a soul connection made. The people most important on my journey have taught me about companionship, have encouraged me to accept who I am, and believes my path is larger than the small one I’ve chosen. Friends, family, and steady supporters who call upon me to walk or have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine to share moments of our lives are my guiding light. My fellow book discussion group and critique group seekers are the choir behind me as I speak out.
The essence of who I am is a bi-product of reading and writing and the relationships I have had. I love people and connections and have a festering need to share and communicate who I am with the world. I seem destined to be a spontaneous wanderer and explorer with endless creative energy despite low-level dissatisfaction. These things define me, but who am I, really? What is the authentic self? What is my own north star? The authentic self will show me the way and allow me to make the decisions that are truly where I am on my journey. Staying true to who I am, I will always be wise in a God-connected way.
I feel most alive during traveling and exploring opportunities and any event that brings together people in a meaningful and connective soul-fulfilling way. I must live in the moment to be truly me. The moments gather meaning when I am able to reflectively write about the experience later. I draw upon the true self moments and the people who have been part of the meandering journey of life that has made up my own unique self. I am a river digging deep along the bottom and stirring truth to the surface by connecting moments of being and putting them on paper.
I wonder about the authentic selves of others, like that of the stranger next to me on the bus who stares straight ahead having thoughts different from my own as I sit and tap out words on my laptop. I wonder about the man sitting on the park bench holding out a cup, the mother who is overwhelmed with life, the child who endures his parents’ bitterness, and the lonely old woman who waits for her days to end. What inner life do they entertain? What is their authentic self? How do they reach it? In living day by day and hoping for the best. In being in the moment, enlightened, and true to who they are. We all have our different realities and also our own truth.
Each person has an authentic self, a personal design made from a meandering journey through the thickets and fields of the world and relationships. These authentic selves are ours to embrace or resist. I believe many resist their authentic selves and don't truly live as they should. Wanting to live truly, I embrace my authentic self.