I’ve always been fascinated by origins. In college, I double majored in marketing (to make a living) and history (motivated by that fascination).
When I was a kid, my own origins seemed clear enough on my mother’s side since I grew up in the same town her people had lived for a few generations. On my father’s side, “far away” in Chicago, there were so many gaps and distortions and puzzle pieces that didn’t fit together.
As I finished my undergraduate degree and entered grad school, I realized that I didn’t really know nearly as much about even my mother’s family as I had thought. I focused my study on local Kalamazoo history and, ultimately, on my family’s history.
More recently, I’ve been writing my family history blog and trying to find answers to the many questions that arise.
What branch of the family was made homeless by the fire mentioned in a newspaper clipping I found in my grandmother’s papers? (Answer: the George Paake family–and I’ve made an acquaintance of a shirttail relation and been given copies of many family photographs and documents)
What happened to my great-great-grandfather’s sister Jennie when she left Kalamazoo? (Answer: she moved to Seattle with her two adult daughters. A kind stranger’s father found their scrapbook at the nursing home he worked at 20 years ago. After reading my blog, she has now passed that scrapbook on to me so I have beautiful photographs of these women in Seattle)
How many Van Liere siblings were there? (Answer: 8–see photo below)
How many DeSmit siblings? (Answer: I don’t know yet!)
A photograph of Jennie with her daughters from the discovered scrapbook
The VanLiere boys
Surprisingly, people who have found my genealogy blog have shared many photos and enthralling stories of my family.
My very first blog post on Writer Site, “The Study of Faces,” was about my feelings of connection to my ancestors.
While the search for origins in my book has nothing to do with the genealogy I focus on in The Family Kalamazoo, it is also motivated by a curious nature and a search for identity. Issues of inheritance, genetics, and rights to our own stories are part of the subject of origins.
How is it with you? Are you ambivalent or uninterested? Do you care about your origins? Are you obsessed with them?
An important series in my book is curiosity. In fact, the 230,000+ words I’ve written (yes, I know it needs a lot of cutting) and the dream of the book itself would not exist without curiosity–namely, my curiosity.
From the time I started reading Bobbsey Twin books (like Nancy Drew but for younger kids) at age 5, I realized that curiosity was a constant flame inside me. If you aren’t familiar with these old books, the detectives are two sets of twins in one family–Bert and Nan, Freddie and Flossie. This series is so old that I grew up reading the books that belonged to my mother when she was a child.
My Bobbsey Twins collection
As a kid, I practically inhaled all the mystery series books I could get my hands on–mainly from the school and public libraries. Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, the Khaki Girls. On and on.
In my early twenties I read every single Agatha Christie mystery.
Today I still enjoy mysteries, but I also am working on genealogy and my family history blog. The great thing about genealogy is that when the past gives up some of its secrets, it presents the genealogist with many more! The genealogy bloggers I’ve met are incredibly curious people.
All of this has been preparing me for writing my memoir, of course. Only I didn’t know it until recently.
When faced with secrets and unknowns, my recourse is to–well, what else?–PRY.
Are you a curious person? How has your curious or incurious nature affected your life?
Last week I wrote about secrets, the central series or motif of the memoir I’m writing. Sherri, from A View From My Summerhouse, mentioned the destructiveness of secrets and linked it to shame. This resonates with me because I’ve found that shame wells up in my story at every “low elevation,” like water pooling at a sandy beach. In fact, shame seems to drive reactions in my central characters far too often. That’s why it’s one of the 12 series of my book.
I never thought too much about shame until I studied Pia Mellody‘s 8 major emotions:
Then I realized that not only is shame important and that I had been ignoring it, but that it was the creepy emotion. It’s the one that makes me feel . . . creeped out. Humiliation, regret, self-hatred, mortification, embarrassment, I could go on. There are so many words for these feelings. But no matter what, shame makes me feel YUCKY.
You’ve heard of the “it factor” that celebrities with charisma have? Shame has the ICK factor.
As a kid, my shame came mainly from two sources. One was my dad yelling at me where other kids could hear. Sometimes it was just that he was yelling in the house, and they could hear him. Other times it was that he would yell and punish me in front of friends.
The other source was when I felt embarrassed by being singled out or feeling that I was drawing potentially negative attention to myself, such as by wearing the wrong clothes. I hated negative attention and mistrusted positive attention.
Do you have memories about shame? Do they still control your life or not? Do you write about them?