What We Keep From Our Selves

I had not been sure what I was going to blog about until about twenty seconds ago. This is because this whole week, something has been gnawing at my subconscious. I’m going to be talking about repressed memories and feelings.

I am participating in a 12-week program called The Artist’s Way. It is a wonderful process for unblocking one’s creativity. It identifies what in your life is preventing you from achieving your full creative potential. Each week there are 10 Tasks. One type of task is what she (Julia Cameron) calls Time-Travel. This implies going through your memories (or imagining your future) to identify sources of our emotional issues (or to motivate us). It can be a very difficult process. This week, the two Time-Travel tasks were:

– imagine yourself at 80 and write your current self a letter; and

– remember yourself at 8 and write your current self a letter.

I wrote the first letter with a little hesitation, but ultimately it flowed smoothly. I began the second letter and stopped when I realised I remember nothing from that age.

Nothing.

I could remember plenty from 10 years old, and 5 and 6 were no trouble. But Grade 3 and Grade 4 completely elude me.

I put it out of my mind. I said, “Okay, clearly I need help remembering” and put it off until I could find my year book. Then I couldn’t find my year book. I started this on Monday morning; we’re now Thursday, and since then my apartment has become much messier, and my shoulders much more tense. Perhaps, these are related.

It must be stated that I was heavily bullied in elementary school. I had what you might call a terrible time. I was very often beat up by multiple people at once. I did not defend myself. I just kept moving. I did not talk about it much with my parents, and certainly not with my teachers. I just kept playing video games, because that was the only world in which I had any control.

I can only imagine myself at the time, developing the survival tactic of completely ignoring everything that happened at school as soon as I left. Storing those awful memories in a vault. Well, I had a look at the vault today with my Mother, when we looked through some school assignments she kept from my entire school experience. Grade 3 was particularly interesting. I found an exercise book with short fiction and poetry I wrote at 8 and 9 years old. Two stories stuck out in particular: one about Santa Claus and one about the Easter Bunny. They are both about horrific monsters, and having to overcome them. As I read them, I laughed; but it quickly dawned on me that these monsters were not invented.

Another thing that stuck out from that collection was an autobiographical paragraph. Quite descriptive, until the line, “…and I hate loosing(sic) friends.” As I write this a particular memory comes up. A wonderful sleepover in which my friend and I stayed up and named all 151 Pokémon. Very soon after, he joined my bullies, and used knowledge gained in that sleepover to ridicule me. No wonder I don’t remember much from that year.

I probably can’t say much more on the subject you don’t already know. I think repressed memories affect the art we make in huge, invisible ways.

Part of me thinks I should be writing a letter to my 8 year old self, instead of the other way around….

Thanks for reading.

-T

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4 thoughts on “What We Keep From Our Selves

  1. Travis, I have some inkling of how difficult it was for you at that age, but the story about your friend who betrayed you is new to me. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. You had such an innocent joy in the things you loved and you were (and are) a very loyal friend, so I can imagine how much it must have hurt. It’s useless to wish that your Dad and I had made different choices about your schooling but I can’t help wondering whether you would have been better off if we had moved you.
    I think it wouldn’t hurt to expand your assignment and write one letter from, and another to, your eight your old self.

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  2. Travis,
    I saw this pop up on my facebook newsfeed and started reading it with the inkling that I knew what was coming, since I went to elementary school with you. And I vividly remember the way you were treated, it was unthinkable and unrelenting, and even harder to understand after I actually got to know you in our teens and found out what an amazing person you are.

    Just the other day I was chopping veggies in my kitchen and was struck by the random memory of Christmas in grade 9 or 10 when you stopped by my house with a wrapped copy of your OWN Led Zeppelin cd because you “didn’t have enough cash to buy a present”. In that moment and in any moment to this day where I remember that, the same feeling of warmth and awe at the kindness of that gesture comes over me.

    Conversely, I vividly remember how you were treated when we were kids. I remember watching in horror so many times as you got beat down physically and emotionally for NO reason whatsoever, other than you were randomly chosen as a scapegoat for everyone’s aggression. I don’t remember if we ever even spoke but in all honesty if we did I doubt they were kind as I too remember succumbing to the groups mentality in a sad attempt to try to fit in. The occasional times I was lightly bullied there scared the hell out of me and kept me quiet and people pleasing. Willingdon was a pretty rough place at times to say the least.

    I can’t imagine the weight of that burden of the past but it’s incredible to see you processing it in such an open, vulnerable and eloquent way. It’s food for thought along my own journey to turn my past inside out. If you’re trying to advance your artistic craft you’re on the right path.
    Kahlil Gibran says, pain breaks the shell that encloses your understanding. You’re an incredible person, thanks for putting these understandings out to the world.

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  3. This is one of the times I feel that words can’t suffice to express what needs to be expressed. I just can’t imagine how hard this must have been. However, you came through it beautifully and courageously, and I think this gave you a bigger soul.

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