I have spent the past decade unlearning who I was.
You know me as a writer who writes books and blog posts about women and creativity and taboo from personal experience.
I now write in my mother tongue… a strange mish mash of intuitive poetry, practical facts, philosophy, prose, and street speak… peppered with personal stories and the voices of others.
I have had to find this voice… and unlearn all that I had been taught:
- Never speak from your “I”. Use the passive voice.
- Your opinion doesn’t count. Rest your argument on those of the experts, the masters, do not diverge from the status quo… unless you’re somebody.
- Grammar trumps heart. Every time.
- Make a rational, logical argument. Point by point…
- Theory beats practice every time.
- You words can, and will, be judged and graded…against those of others. You can fail.
- You cannot stop when you are done. You must keep writing until you hit your word limit.
- There are acceptable… and unacceptable sources.
- Always bear in mind the marking criteria.
- There is a right answer.
My voice was academic. Philosophical and literary jargon my second language. I wolfed down heavy tomes for breakfast. I had won pretty much every academic prize going from age nine to 22. I had aspirations for life long academia… But I couldn’t square it with my spirit that longed to be free. My urge to see paradigm shifts play out in reality… to help to transmit world changing ideas to real people… not just dissect and analyse them in academic conferences.
This has all been reawoken by an email yesterday from a lecturer at Emory University in the US. He had come across my article in a journal, the one where I, a complete newcomer to the American transcendentalists, having never studied American literature, could see a gaping hole in the traditional understanding of them… and studied and wrote about it as if my life depended on it. It was published in an academic journal and won me the prize for that year.
I just Googled it… it’s been cited all over the place! I felt very proud… and a little sad… seeing another existence gone.
He asked if that article was part of a larger study, and what I had discovered in the mean time. And I found myself apologising for no longer being an academic.
But you see it was a choice – between motherhood… and academic dreams. Between doing my work in the world, as a free agent, and being accountable to an institution…
As far as I could see there were three major stumbling blocks…
First, I wanted to study a subject that barely existed… basically living philosophy, world changing. paradigm shifting… I found it in the US… but couldn’t afford it.
Second, it would take five years. I was 22. I knew I wanted to be a mother. I knew my soul needed me to be a hands on mother. Motherhood was planned for 28 or so… that gave me a year after my PhD to get started in a career that I would then have to abandon for motherhood.
I don’t know of many men who had to go through this much mental wrangling BEFORE abandoning their career dreams. I found a possible alternative, that I could make my own, whilst I was doing my post graduate teacher training at Cambridge… but motherhood intervened directly. And my dear Mr Dreaming Aloud also abandoned his doctoral studies. We chose the reality of family and community, over theory.
And thirdly, even then, I had strong reservations about being in the rarefied, totally rational field of academia. I felt then, as I feel even more strongly now, if change is to happen… these conversations need to be happening in the real world… but the problem is that few in the real world cares about theories…. This is our problem as a world culture. The body and mind have been separated too long. The people with the grass roots knowledge are separate from the theoreticians, researchers and policy makers.
My answer has been to get out of the system and plough my own furrow… to choose both. Creativity AND motherhood. Living AND philosophy. Theory AND heart. My unlearning has, I see, been powered and empowered by motherhood. My unteachers have been my children, their persons and needs which have made me re-think every aspect of my existence – inner and outer, who challenge me every day to live what I believe. To make choices. Who have given urgency to my work.
Stepping aside from the mainstream, accepted and respected cultural spheres and modes of communication immediately makes you niche… and therefore open to ridicule… or being ignored… sidelined. You can be written off as irrelevant… (Mummy blogger makes me want to scream) because you do not belong to the establishment… BUT if I worked inside the establishment… I couldn’t do this work…
So I just wanted to take the opportunity to say, with minimal ego, that what may look, to the outside, to be a hippy mama in a tiny Irish village writing books about periods, is anything but.
I am deadly serious in my intent. To help shift our culture. From the inside out. To integrate the practical and the spiritual in our lives. To integrate body and mind in this work. To do it independent of dogma and institution. To ask hard questions. To open up discussions. In a language we can all speak and understand. In a way which nurtures me… and my family. In my community and the cyber community beyond. In whatever small or large way I can. This is living philosophy.
I may not have a title. Nor the prestige of any institution. I do not speak the language of the respected institutions of our cultures. I speak from the heart, with the mind fully engaged. This has required a vast amount of unlearning. To be able to speak in a voice which others can hear. I give myself permission to say what others may not want me to. To be able to earn a living from this. On my own terms.
I am changing the world from the kitchen table. In the age old tradition of women… but fortunate to be empowered by education and technology… fueled by dreams of a sustainable future culture for our world.