Will I be received? Will I be understood? In this place, do I belong? Who has not asked themselves these things, often, and urgently? There seems to be no guarantee that we will be given any of these. Still, we search for it. Ways to connect, to safely land, to belong, to hear and be heard - to be met with "original response" (Frost.) Some stories are harder to write than others. Some lives. Perhaps the closest we come to the questions above are those moments of "identification." In 12 step meetings; the nodding of heads, the mmm hmm, I've been there, done that too, felt this way. Our stories are uniquely our own, each with their own inarticulable and burning edge, and yet, there are some basic common themes that run through them all: the lasting effect that our upbringing has on us, the complicated relationship with our parents, the loss of our parents, the loss of our parents while they are still living, the good memories that sustain us, the bad memories that haunt us, the maladaptive coping mechanisms which sometimes work in our favor, sometimes destroy us, and the ways in which all these things shape how we move through the world, navigate conflict, friendships, careers, marriages, setbacks and disappointments, our own children, and the larger universal picture of our lives.
Winnicott has a book aptly titled "Starting from Home." And we do. Where we start from colors everything about our lives, in both good and bad ways. It's no wonder we constantly seek places of belonging and understanding. What we did not get we go off in search of. Or we build for ourselves and others. Home is in the work we create too. The work we share. And yet it's important to admit that perhaps we never completely belong or are understood. To stand in the space of that reality can lead to despair, but also curiosity, creativity, generosity. The times I have caught myself not listening closely enough to a friend as they talk, and I lean in to listen harder. The times when zoning out is as necessary as breathing. We seem to need those moments where we cannot be all there, for someone else or ourselves, as much as we do those moments where we feel more attentive, on call. Michael Eigen says that "we cannot take too much of ourselves." And so, community and belonging and being understood and received never quite feel exactly right. Or rather they never feel perfect. We never "arrive" at these things. There is, of belonging, no destination reached. But we keep searching for it. We are nothing without the search.
Michael Parsons writes that "An important aspect of our identities lies in how we relate to the people we didn't become." When confronted with alternate versions of ourselves, Parsons continues, "some can react only with violent prejudice that breaks down into outright madness, while others seem more able to offer their alternate self a home." It seems that we spend our lives trying to make homes for many different parts of ourselves. How could one home ever do when we are so many? Freud suggested that we repeat painful behaviors in order to master early painful experiences. But he also suggested that creativity served us well as a defense against breakdown. I believe that creativity broadens our emotional horizons and helps us to locate and navigate areas of our experience that we've left unexplored. And I believe that we all have this capacity, although we each nourish it, or fail to, differently.
Thomas Ogden suggests that "what is most fundamental to both poetry and therapy is the effort to enlarge the breadth and depth of what we are able to experience. Both at their best use language in a way that encompasses a full range of human experience - as Jarrell put it - from "the most awful and the most nearly unbearable parts to the most tender, subtle, and loving parts, a distance so great."
"Perhaps the almost irresistible impulse to kill the pain," Ogden continues, "and in so doing kill a part of ourselves, is what is most human about us. We turn to poetry [creativity] in part with the hope of reclaiming - or perhaps experiencing for the very first time - forms of human aliveness that we have foreclosed for ourselves."
And it's not just artists who possess this capacity, Ogden says. We each of us do. "What we make in that process is far less important than the experience of making it." [ibid] Far from infantilizing and reducing what we create, I think this speaks to the fact that the mere act of making something, anything, out of our experiences, traumas, and losses, does much more than merely defend us from breakdown, it broadens the scope of what we can bear, experience and put words to.
As I've spent the past couple of months sitting with the powerful and brave work in this issue, I've been struck by how the questions I began with were implicitly there in each submission and story shared with me. Will I be received? Will I be understood? In this place, do I belong? These are the questions that I myself always have when I send work out. Never do we ask it outright, but, sometimes, don't we? Almost?
It is my hope that the parts of you all in search of your many and varied homes have found a safe place here of "original response" to land, even if for but so brief a moment. And on to the next we all must go, yes, awfully alone in our unique journey towards whatever home we might find or make for ourselves next. Alone, but somehow also not. To speak is to be heard, by someone, somewhere.
Each issue that we have together built here in this place has helped me to grow and enlarge my own emotional horizons. Is it gauche to admit that as an editor I often find myself in tears reading your work? So be it. To me it is one of the greatest gifts of receiving these stories, "identification." Identification and tears and growth and joy. It's an honor to have built this partial, ever shifting home with you all. May you perhaps find here a few rooms unexplored in your own life, and may it bring its own share of curiosity, creativity, and soul-mending. The work is never done, but it's nice to pause every now and again and marvel at just how far we've come.
Until we meet again, friends. Continue your good work.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.