In 2009, I started a blog called 26-Minute Memoir and started publishing 26-Minute Memoirs--stories that describe the essence of your life written in 26 minutes–from students, friends, blog followers. In my book Writing Is My Drink, I encourage readers to write their own 26-Minute Memoir and send it to me, and they have! Over the next few weeks, I will be posting these writings, starting today with Jackee Holder’s. Please feel free to write one of your own. You can find instructions and links to other 26-Minute Memoirs here: http://writingismydrink.com/26-minutes/.
Life Begins On Paper
by Jackee Holder
I had just completed university. It was a relief. Three years of writing essays that I had very little connection. Sitting in lectures wishing I were invisible. Academia had stunted me. Had placed an even more tough shell around me.
I had done the one thing my parents had been proud of. I was the first in my family of five other siblings to walk the road of academia and enter into university. Ever since childhood my Dad had expressed the importance of education and how education was the gateway to freedom. The truth was I did love learning. From primary school right through to sitting my A Levels I was that student who spent the whole weekend researching her history topics. Creating fantastic covers for her weekend history assignments. But my joy as the student who was proud of her marks was short lived as my joy gave way to shame and embarrassment when only seconds later I could feel the glare of twenty or more pairs of eyes from my school mates piercing into my back. I learned then that showing your passion, excelling did not win you friends and I learned quickly to undersell myself not just in education but also in so many other areas of my life.
I had always felt the outsider. In my family I was the one who escaped to the library and found in it’s building a safe house. I was the one who discovered that there was a world beyond the everyday realities of my home life that I could escape to in books.
On the journey from primary, to secondary school and right through to my first year at university books were a safe harbour for me. I remember my first full-time job and sitting on the 106 bus that I would travel to the tube station on from and to work totally engrossed in Alice Walker’s, The Colour Purple. I recall the moment when I was 18 and my friend said with a look in her eye I think you should read this and handed me a copy of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and my whole world opened when I realized I was not the only human being walking around with the secret.
Almost thirty years later writing still manages to save my life whether it is through other people telling their stories or my own telling through my stories and writing. Books have been the best medicine for my soul.
Even today my writing was activated when noisy neighbours interrupted my sleep in the early hours of the morning. The second day into the New Year I have arrived at that place of knowing that the unavoidable is staring me right in the face. The splinters in my life are growing bigger and becoming wider and I can no longer hide and run from what is wrong and what is out of alignment. When I cannot speak, the pen will speak for me. I must trust, I must have faith and I must be willing to risk. And this was what happened when I went on retreat just after completing university almost thirty years ago.
I had gone away on a counseling retreat in the North of England. It was a gathering of people of colour so it offered me a space where I could be more of myself than I normally am in many spaces that I inhabited at the time.
The moment I arrived through the snowstorm that almost meant the retreat would not happen and entered the steps of the large Mansion House I knew something different was about to happen. About fifty of us gathered in the large drawing room around a huge fire. It was 1986 and I was pregnant with stories and secrets I wanted to give birth to. The load was heavy and it was time to go into labour. Over the course of the next three days what I could not verbalise because the pain was still so raw came out in poem after poem. I wrote about race, about childhood abuse, about searching for my voice, about domestic violence. That weekend no topics were off limit. Since arriving in the corridors of university life I had ceased to express myself in any creative or self-expressive way on the page. That was halted over the course that weekend. The person leading the retreat Barbara Love (I know, that really was her name) opened spaces in every session for me to recite and hear my words. Almost as she sensed the need for me to shed and heal.
For the first time in years I heard myself. I excavated that inner voice that I had silenced. In the faces of my peers I felt seen, no longer invisible, able to retrieve parts of me that had withdrawn from life.
That weekend was the beginning of the great thaw. An awakening, a cracking open of a galvanized shell I had been entrenched in that hidden so much of what was good and wholesome about me. When I couldn’t reach these parts writing did the work, drip-by-drip, word-by-word, line-by-line. It has taken over thirty years to come back home to myself and writing has been the path that has slowly returned me back home.
It has been a long haul. When I could have easily sunken into deeper levels of depression, addictions or self abuse, writing in my journals and notebooks have helped me to not just keep my head above water but slowly over time, often tiny steps at a time I have witnessed a slow path of transformation as I have moved from the state of survival into a more expansive space of thriving. When it did not feel safe to express myself verbally the blank page became my listener, my out of hour’s therapist, and a service for my soul that was open 24 hours of the day.