"Conform, go crazy, or become an artist." I have a rubber stamp declaring those words, and they pretty much delineate my life. Conforming was the thing to do when I was raised, in the fifties. Even my mother, who spent her days painting animal portraits at an easel in the corner of the kitchen, tried to conform via housecleaning, bridge parties, and a new outfit every spring. My father, who was born into a British-mannered Protestant family in southern Ireland, emigrated to America as a young man and idolized the "melting pot" because at last he fit in. Once in a rare while he recited "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" or told a tale of a leprechaun, but most of the time he was an earnest naturalized American who expected exemplary behavior of his children. My mother was a charming Pollyanna who would not entertain negative sentiments in herself or anyone around her. As their only girl and the baby of the family, I was coddled, yet hardly ever got a chance to be other than excruciatingly good.
My "conform" phase lasted right into adulthood. When I was thirteen, my parents bought a small motel near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and I spent most of my teen years helping them make beds and clean rooms. I did not date until I went to college -- Gettysburg College, all of seven miles from home. it was the height of the sixties, and I grew my hair long, but eschewed pot, protests, and "happenings." Instead, I married a preacher's son who was himself conforming by studying for the ministry. Within a few years I was Rev. Springer's wife, complete with offspringers, living in a country parsonage in southern York County, PA.
Here beginneth the "go crazy" phase.
Because I had never been allowed any negative emotions, I began to hear "voices" in my head. First they whispered "divorce" (not permissible), and later they hissed "suicide". They scared me silly. I couldn't sleep; images of knives and torture floated in front of my eyes even during the daytime; something roared like an animal inside my ears; my wrists hurt; I saw blood seeping out of the walls; panic jolted me like a cattle goad out of nowhere. Is it necessary to add that I was clinically depressed? The doctor gave me Valium and sent me to a shrink. The shrink took me off the Valium and told me I had a problem with anger. (No duh.) The next doctor zombied me on the numbing antidepressants which were available at that time. The next shrink said I had an adjustment problem. And so on, for several years, during which I somehow managed to stay alive, take care of my kids, handle the vagaries of my husband, sew clothing and grow vegetables to get by financially, cook, can preserves, show up at church, do mounds of laundry and publish "The White Hart" and "The Silver Sun"--yet not one of the doctors of shrinks ever suggested that I might be a strong person, let alone a writer. All of them were intent on "helping" poor little me "adjust" to being a housewife, mother, and pastor's wife.
Eventually I became resigned to the fact (as I perceived it) that I was an evil, sinful person with horrible things going on inside my head, and I stopped trying to fix me. I stopped going to doctors or therapists. Somehow I found courage--or desperation--to stop trying to conform or adjust or live a role.
"I am going to start taking an hour or two first thing in the morning to do my writing," I said to my husband.
"Fine," he said. He had reached the point where he would agree with whatever to humor the neurotic wife; to him it was just another of my brain farts. But to me it was the most important sentence I ever spoke. With that statement I stopped being a housewife who sometimes stole time to write, and I started being a writer.
Conform, go crazy--or become an artist.
By becoming a writer--by becoming who I truly was--I became well.
It was so simple. Although it did take years, of course; it takes a long time for good things to grow. Trees. Books. Me. Odd thing about books; they not only nourish growth but show it happening. In "The Black Beast, The Golden Swan" and many other of my early novels, you can see me dealing with the yang/yin nature of good and evil, struggling to accept my own shadow. In "Chains of Gold" and "The Hex Witch of Seldom" I start writing as a woman, no longer identifying only with male main characters. In a number of children's books I come to terms with my own childhood. And in "Apocalypse"--whoa, what a fierce, dark fantasy novel, the first thing I wrote after my income from writing enabled my husband to leave the ministry. I hadn't thought of myself as repressed when I was a pastor's wife, but obviously something broke loose when I shed that role. "Larque on the Wing"--whoa again, another breakthrough book that spiraled straight out of my muddled middle-aged psyche and took me places I'd never dreamed were in me.
It's been a long time since those days when I thought I was an evil person. I know better now, and I love and trust me even to the extent of writing "Fair Peril"--a more perilous novel than I knew at the time, interfacing all too closely with my life. Written two years before the fact, it foresees my husband's infidelity and my divorce. The most painful irony I've ever faced is that once I gained my selfhood, I lost my lifelong partner. He had supported me through episodes that would have sent most men screaming and running, but once I became well and strong, he transferred his loyalty to a skinny, neurotic waif all to similar to the young woman I once was. After supporting him through twenty-seven years of stinky socks, automotive yearnings, miscellaneous foibles, and the career change that put him where she could cry on his shoulder, I found this a bit hard to take. But I wouldn't go back to being Ms. Pitiful. Not for anything.
Now married to a rather remarkable second husband, after living 46 years in Pennsylvania I moved in 2007 to the Florida panhandle, where I spent a year living in a small apartment above the aforementioned husband's hangar in an exceedingly rural (swamps, egrets, snakes and alligators) airport. Now we have a real house about a mile from the airport on higher ground featuring tremendously tall longleaf pine trees with rattlesnakes and scorpions underneath them. Life is an adventure and I mean that sincerely.