Hillbilly Elegy & interior geography

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHumans are an intricate system of bones, nerves, blood and memories.  We all have a unique internal map that shaped us.  Interior geography is the exploration of our inner world and the hardwired routes from our childhoods that guide our dispositions and chosen paths.  Exploring our interior geography honors the wisdom we possess from our journey and provides an opportunity to discover new territories we want to explore, but haven’t quite found a path toward yet.

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Hillbilly Elegy is all about J. D. Vance’s interior geography. In this brave memoir about growing up in a poor American Appalachian town, Vance shares the heartbreak of constant childhood disruption and the deep love of the people who were rooting for his success.  He tries to write without judgement and this allows him some generosity (and a little distance) to try to understand the people and the landscaped that shaped him.  To me this book was an invitation to look back at my childhood and take a look at my interior geography—both the chosen paths I’m proud of and the well worn paths I now need to block access to going forward.

My husband, Jeff and I listened to “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance over Christmas.  The author is the reader which lends a certain intimacy to the audible version.  Here are a few thoughts that surfaced for me.

1.  I think a lot of us can recognize “Hillbilly” qualities in our upbringing regardless of our social class. Even though I was raised relatively affluent in a small, South Dakota farm town I can easily relate to many of the themes J. D. Vance references in this memoir.  As we listened to the book, Jeff observed that it could’ve been titled: Reactive or Judgemental Household Elegy—I would guess that most of us grew up with some judgement in our homes.  “Hillbilly” in the title might make you think it will be hard to relate to.  It’s not.  J. D.’s honesty about his childhood—poverty, abuse, clan loyalty, secrets, addiction and his family’s response to all of it are profound.

I was also struck by the way we tend to identify poverty only in financial terms. I believe a poverty of the mind can manifest in ways that deeply affect our lives too. J. D. Vance describes this as well as he does financial poverty. When social, cultural, political or religious views challenge our ability to see the bigger picture of things around us—outside influences are perceived as threatening and we’re left with even less understanding of our differences.  I’m optimistic that if we focus more on our similarities we will be more unified.

Like the author, I’m trying to not be judgemental here and look through a more sociological lens.  I know I’m guilty at times of not seeking more understanding of the world around me.  For heaven’s sake, I’m a liberal and I live in Vermont. I get it.  If you’re familiar with the Hunger Games series, I’ve been joking that Vermont is like living in District 12.  I’m willing to admit that I’m living in a bubble and Hillbilly Elegy helped burst it a little bit.

By examining our childhoods, we can gain some insight and are given an opportunity for self-correction if necessary.  This brings me to the second reason this book was so important to me and well-timed.

2. The shadow side of our personality traits.  I’ve always been really proud of my independent spirit.  It’s my nature and was well-honed during my childhood.  I had a lot of freedom growing up in a small town in South Dakota and it allowed me to exist “under the radar” in a sense. My whole adult life I thought it served me quite well.  However, while listening to this book, as my tears flowed, I realized that my fierce independence has not always been an asset to my parenting or my marriage. memories-lisa-lillibridge-burke-south-dakotaAny perceived threat (big or small) to my independence or sovereign self can set me off—my own reactivity or judgement.  That’s the shadow side of my independence and it ain’t pretty.  Here’s the upside; now that I’ve recognized this in myself, well shit, I can’t unsee it now.

Thank you J. D. Vance, oh and Jeff too.

This insight gives me an opportunity to take a moment and see if what’s being asked of me is truly a threat to my independent, sovereign self (probably not) and I can try to respond like a grown-up and not be reactive. I’m writing this for me, for accountability regarding something I’ve learned and cannot unlearn now.  J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy gave me a little more courage to write about my life and for that I’m grateful.

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FROM GOODREADS  “From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history.” 

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27161156-hillbilly-elegy

dreaming of spaciousness…

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Above is my original painting.  It was in a show at a restaurant that used to be downtown Burlington, Smokejacks.  The light was low so I designed this series to show up in the soft light.  This piece also was also in a show at the Herrick Elevator in South Dakota.

I thought I could stretch the life of this painting by playing with it and layering the moon.  The farmhouse and flora in these images are photographs I shot around Burke, South Dakota.  I guess as the snow falls in Vermont I’m dreaming of a quiet and spacious rural landscape.

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wonder • insignificance • rest

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Seek wonder—it is everywhere.

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I am quite insignificant in the scheme of the world.

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Rest is a sign of strength and self-preservation.

Here’s to all the things I didn’t get done for Christmas…

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Every year I have such grand intentions of how I’m going to show my love to my family and friends and every year I fall a short of my intentions and beat myself up a bit.  I’m no longer going to miss out on the little moments of the season because of things I DIDN’T GET DONE.  That’s bullshit.

This year, I’m forgiving, no celebrating myself for all of the great ideas I’ve had and didn’t accomplish.  It’s those little moments with our loved ones, people in line at the coffee shop, grocery store or our bartenders for that matter that make the holiday special anyway.  I’m going to be jolly and generous like Santa out in the world, that just sounds fun, right?

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So now it’s December 19th and I’m putting one package in the mail for a very special little girl who will more thrilled than anyone on my list to receive a package.   I will tell the people in my life I love them and not think twice about what I didn’t get done.  Tonight, a Christmas lights drive with my family and spaghetti at our favorite family joint.

Have a very Merry Christmas and be ridiculously kind to yourself this year.

ever have a bad brain day?

I was reminded today of something from my children’s early education days.

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That was fine when my kids were developing a sense of how to behave around other kids and caring teachers were asking them to give language to their feelings. However, as adults that’s not nearly enough of a “gut check” on the huge amount of messages coming our way all day, every day.  Our bodies give us so much information…heart rate, muscle pain, hunger, thirst, fatigue, shaking hands, sweating and so much more.  I know at least for me, the more I notice, well, the more I notice. 

And once you notice, you can’t NOT NOTICE.

Terribly well written, I know.  If we were talking in person that might make way more sense to you.  OK, I’ll try a little harder…

On one hand it’s a good quick question to keep in mind?  Does this feel “yucky” to me? However, yucky alone requires deeper exploration as grown-ups.  Is my body trying to tell me something my mind wants to override or disregard?

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My mind wants to override messages the rest of my system is sending constantly.

Sometimes I have to tell my brain to step out of the room.  Because it says some utterly crazy bullshit sometimes.  I’ve had a quickening heart rate in a situation recently and I took notice.  When I listened, I realized that what was required of me was courage, not medical attention.  I know I’ll tell my body to leave me the hell alone and let my brain take the wheel again, but now that I’ve noticed…well, you know, I can’t NOT NOTICE.

Positive Psychology teacher/author, Tal Ben-Shahar teaches that sometimes we’re having a “bad brain” day.  It’s simply offline.  Makes sense, right?  Just like having a bad: hair, back, skin, belly, knee, wrist, neck etc. day—we should gives ourselves permission to recognize that we can indeed have a bad brain day.  It’s just sending some false data today and if that’s the case, listening to our bodies instead can be the balance our system requires.

If I want to improve my listening skills with other people, I have to at least try to give myself the same courtesy every once in a while.  That means I have to listen more.  Talk less.  It’s 1:24 am and my body is telling me it’s time for bed.  Goodnight folks.

Why we need to question everything

This form of psychological abuse typically plays out like so: The gaslighter states something false with such intensity and conviction that whoever is on the receiving end is confused and begins to doubt their own perspective.

The term comes from a 1938 play called Gaslight, in which a husband drives his wife crazy by secretly altering things in her house and making her question her grip on reality.

the elements & fading beauty

 

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“The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.”
― Louisa May Alcott

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When my flowers are on their last leg I put them outside on my front porch.  They’re visible then from my living room and I like seeing how the elements affect their beauty.  It’s gotten cold here in Burlington, VT and yet, as they fade, the flowers take on a certain strength of character in their inevitable demise.  It seems like an appropriate metaphor about life to keep in mind.  Chin up folks…we can’t stop what’s coming, but we can stand as tall as possible for as long as possible.

when wanderlust whispers…

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