is a picture always worth…

a thousand words?  Or do the stories we hold onto shape the narrative a lot more?  My Mom always told me that as a newborn I possessed a striking resemblance to Winston Churchill.  I can’t tell from the photo and I don’t actually really care.  I find it funny.  However, I’ve always held it to be the absolute gospel truth.

What other stories of greater consequence have I never questioned that I was told as a child?  

 

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

Prairie beauty. 

There is a unique beauty the prairie possesses. The starkness out here is as rugged as the frontier spirit.  This is a part of the world that would prefer things stay known, steady and traditional. It never does. Shifts occur. 

I’m visiting my family in South Dakota now. I can see both the independence I reveled in as a teenager AND the uncertainty about how the world is changing.  Understanding this duality fosters my curiosity about things unknown. I like that. I’m grateful for both my independence and my deep roots here. 

Life is a puzzle, people are puzzling and sometimes all we can do is keep looking between the cushions or under the couch for the piece we’re missing. 

Let’s all keep seeking understanding and looking for the missing pieces folks. Let’s ask more questions of eachother than lecture. I do believe a little curiosity can change the world or at least your holiday table.  It will be a much shorter drive home from Grandma’s if everyone felt heard and respected. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

sorrow & joy

I’ve experienced deep sorrow this week with the loss of a friend due to a long, painful illness.  Through that process I’ve realized what a unique gift sorrow can be in understanding ourselves and our place in the world.  I know that my friend would’ve been very open to a discussion about this topic—she had an enormous capacity to explore the psychology of the soul.

definition of sorrow

noun sor·row \ˈsär-(ˌ)ō, ˈsȯr-\

  • a feeling of sadness or grief caused especially by the loss of someone or something

  • :  a cause of grief or sadness

definition of joy

noun \ˈjȯi\

  • : a feeling of great happiness

  • : a source or cause of great happiness : something or someone that gives joy to someone

quote lillibridge

Sorrow & Joy I believe exist in the same place in our hearts.  They just feel a helluva lot different.  I feel that both emotions need each other to be fully acknowledged, accepted and better understood.  Thank you for this, my friend.

sorrow and joy lillibridge boardwalk sandwich mass

 

 

 

 

Transformation is my jam.

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In December of 2011 I began work on renovating a studio apartment in Burlington, Vermont.  It was a total mess.  I’ll be posting more photos of the before pictures as I come across them.  I’ve begun looking back at my projects to understand when I’m in my happiest state of mind.  I’ve identified that my HAPPY PLACE is when I’m very singularly focused on one project.  I’m at my best creatively (and emotionally) when I’m working on a deadline and toward a singular goal.

So, first my insight is when I’m fully engaged creatively—I’m happiest.

Then the realization of the tiny deaths I experience creatively when I’m not in the middle of a project.

Now the REFRAME. When I’m not in the middle of big projects, I can—plan, dream, sketch, research and remind myself of what it WILL feel like when I’m fully “in flow” again.  It’s happened many times before.  I’m planning on it happening again soon.

To renovate this apartment I worked alongside a contractor (Joe at Workhorse Construction) from December 2010 through March of 2011.  I learned so much in that short amount of time.  The very first thing I did was all the of the demo work (which might be my second favorite pastime).  Then I called GOT JUNK because I would’ve had to make many many trips down an elevator (this apartment is on the 5th floor with rubbish in wheelbarrows).  I felt so guilty about the guys doing the work that I offered to stay and help.  They assured me that wasn’t necessary.  I tipped them handsomely (it was the holidays and the tip made me feel much better about my lack of rubbish removal involvement).

What was your happiest time of your life?

What made it so?

How can you make some version of that time happen in your life now?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Best,

Lisa

 

an artist’s lament.

artists lament lillibridge

I will forever be seeking to understand the creative brain better. I have to, it’s a matter of survival. With creativity often comes a fair amount of SADNESS. It’s taken me many moons (I’m almost 49) to come to a truce with my own brain, creative process and THE BLUES.

Sadness in creatives is well documented and studied, however, I’ve decided instead of completely accepting this as an undisputed fact that I will seek a REFRAME.

THE BLUES are a part of me that greatly affects how I see the world and make connections in all facets of my life. THE BLUES are not a human flaw or always a part of a bigger mental health problem. They can truly be a gift.


Of course, when these feelings are systemic and debilitating—they need more attention.


Too often in American culture everything is about HAPPINESS, MINDFULNESS and INSTAGRAMMING a life of JOY. Really, all the time? That’s a lot of pressure.

I thought this quote was quite insightful.

“For creatives, this depression is what amplifies motivation to do their work better. It’s not enough to keep doing what you’ve been doing as a creative, you have to do more, and do it well. That’s empowering, if you can make it through the initial dip in energy.” —Tanner Christensen (The link between depression and creativity, and how it can be good for you.) The link is below.

The key is in understanding that energy dip when you are feeling THE BLUES and ruminating—trying to make sense of something. Today is a good example after another, all too common, senseless shooting in America. How can we not ruminate?

http://creativesomething.net/post/55508909341/the-link-between-depression-and-creativity-and

My REFRAME about my own version of THE BLUES is two fold:

—I’m not going to knock THE BLUES back when it comes to my creative work.
I’m going to welcome them with open arms, a cup of tea and a nap if needed.
I’m going to thank THE BLUES for helping me make sense of this complex world
and for giving my work and thoughts more depth.

—I’m CHOOSING to celebrate the fact that I have a lot of creative ideas for projects and try to not get THE BLUES that I can’t possibly manifest them all. After all there’s only 24 hours in the day…damn it!


That is my reframe of THE BLUES and it’s working for me right now.  Perhaps next time you’re feeling THE BLUES creeping in you can give them a hug and ask them what you’re suppose to be paying attention to right now. The answer might surprise you.