I spent a very pleasant hour watching Heather Cox Richardson (https://www.facebook.com/heathercoxrichardson) as she talked about Laura Ingalls Wilder and politics. I spent my pandemic learning. It was a way to pass the time but it was also a revolutionary act. I was born the last month of the 1960s. I grew up property of my parents. I grew up when there were no phone numbers on billboards for help if your situation had become intolerable. Many in my family were profoundly mentally ill. My father was a former foster child from the 1940s and I’d guess his foster experience wasn’t a good one based on the family life he provided for me. He was angry beyond all reason and bitter, often telling me he was jealous of me and that he hated me. My mother, bless her heart (see southern translation for “Bless your heart”) was also profoundly mentally ill and the product of a home with massive family violence. She was also a compulsive liar. This was my family. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, learning what I wanted to wasn’t an opportunity I could have. My family chose the education I received and most of it was propaganda stating how lucky I was to have them for a family.
I don’t reminisce much in the public space. I haven’t released my testimony nor really spoken to a lot of people about my life spent with my parents, first as a child then, later, caring for them. I couldn’t work outside the home much because I had PTSD and agoraphobia for many years. I went out only to attend to duties I had to do and then came home. Sounds odd now, to be so eager to come back to a place where I was unhappy.
Ms. Richardson’s video blog touched a place in me because it was based on myths. In the 70s and 80s, every sitcom and program ended on a high note. Problem solved. Happy ending. Aren’t you glad you watched? At the same time, I was exposed to Christian fiction in the private school I attended. I was discouraged from reading anything else since it was secular and therefore considered bad. In fact, I was often told that reading anything other than nonfiction, educational materials was a waste of my time. My childhood education and even to some degree my adult education was controlled by my father who paid for it. While there was always the potential I could go to the authorities and ask for help and report what he did to me, since I had no proof and I legally belonged to him, that might have made my situation much worse.
Fast forward to the present day. I’m fifty years old. My parents are gone. My father’s influence on me is far from ended. I still have PTSD and still experience flashbacks of the things he thought would “teach me” to be a decent human being, or at least be useful to him. The legacy of family violence, I believe, still colors a lot of my decisions. As always, everything in my world relates to my writing. My father didn’t approve of me being an author. He insisted I go to college and just about told me what classes I should take, expecting me to come home each day and tell him what I’d learned. To say this diminished my desire to go would be an understatement. Since I had issues with PTSD even then, staying home and out of sight was usually preferrable to me. But over the subsequent years, I learned that education really was a powerful thing.
The power I have today to choose for myself what I learn and study just really hit me as I was listening to Ms. Richardson’s talk. As my parents, grandparents, and extended family were trying to convince me I really did have the best family life I could ever ask for, I was being strangled with the attempts of all the adults and authority figures in my life to convince me of my place in the world. My father expected me to be someone useful to him because that is the role of a female in society at that time. It was the only role. When my parents started asking for grandchildren, I absolutely refused to marry or have kids.
Now, back to my writing. I wrote books to visually and psychologically process the changes I was going through as I pursued not only education but also self-editing. I was gradually over a long period of time separating myself from my father and what he’d tried to brainwash me with. Now, when I go back to read the books I wrote I see so clearly those same gender assumptions in my work that existed in my life. Myths. Lies, really, but ‘myth’ is a fun word I don’t get to use a lot in real life.
That’s why it’s taking so long to edit and publish successive books. I go through to read the books and now I can see so many more plot possibilities and so much more potential in the characters than I could when I first wrote these books back in the late 1990s. In some respects, Joanna has a lot to do with what I was going through at the time, growing up in a family where her role was always not specified. She was brought up so different than her siblings and felt it even though her family refused to acknowledge it out loud. As time goes by and she’s exposed to other influences, namely the two guards who help her escape and assist her in learning what her potential is, she eclipses them.
Writing Joanna was very liberating for me because I was making a journey on paper I was also making in real life but things are just so much simpler in a storyline than they are in the present moment. I controlled Joanna’s decisions and outcomes while in real life I had no such safety net. It took years for me to see plot lines and possible outcomes which I had never thought could be but now embrace because I can. Studying the differences between the world my father tried to present to me versus the world available to me now really interests me and I look forward to exploring it in other works. In many ways, Joanna’s story is a presentation of how you can be told lies and embrace them only to then learn the truth and start to assimilate that and all the opportunities and realities it represents.
I’m sure I’m not doing this justice when I write it out because it is late and I’m tired (edited before publication. There are still books I read among the Christian Fiction genre all those decades back that I still love to read now but I can see in them the same myths so many young people are proving to be outright lies! I’ll be honest that I never examined a story quite the same way Ms. Richardson examined Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work and related it to the times and the politics of the moment in which it was created. It’s got me excited to pursue my education and to learn more. I’m obsessed with this idea of creating a fiction to sell something which doesn’t exist. Happily ever after doesn’t exist. My father’s family told me that reading fantasy was akin to devil worship. All the while they were telling me how fortunate I was to be be part of their family.