This cross-stitch was on the wall in the dining room of my childhood home. Mom hung it at a height – intentionally or not, I cannot say – where I would see it at every meal. It was just over my dad’s right shoulder, and I read it every time I saw it
Kwit Cher Belli Akin. Quit Your Belly-Aching. Quit Complaining.
The translation was instantaneous.
I don’t know if Mom stitched this piece herself – I expect she did – but I can surmise why she hung it there, though I never thought to ask. “No whining” was a regular refrain in our house. My parents taught us early that a casual and constant lament that was accompanied by a certain nasal tone was not the way to what we needed or wanted.
I imagine Mom learned early not to complain. She was raised by two of the neediest people I have ever known: my grandmother, who was by any standard today very unwell mentally, and my grandfather, who was a womanizing patriarch who never met a stranger except for perhaps his own children. I loved both of my grandparents dearly, and I didn’t know their foibles as a child . . . but that is one of the consequences of having the people we love with us when we know better – well, we know them better, too.
So that my mom learned early not to complain, well, I can understand that. There wasn’t room for her needs in that house, of that I am sure.
As a highly sensitive person and a verbal processor, I talk through my pain a lot. I’m not looking for solutions or sometimes even comfort. Mostly, I’m looking to understand my own experience and feelings and to be heard.I’m super-conscientious about becoming a burden to people, and yet, I really, really need to speak out, well, everything to feel balanced and well. I imagine I was a difficult chid to parent. . .
And here, then, is where writing has saved me. It has given me a place to complain, a space in which I can lament and rage and weep. It has given me wide, open fields in which I can pour my joy and my sorrow in whatever measure they come. . . I can belly-ache all I’d like on the page.
Writing is my life-saving, life-giving practice.
The stories I love best, the writing that speaks most to me is the work that is as vulnerable as it can be without expecting me to attend to the people on those pages. In these pieces, I can see the author or the protagonist open herself up so that I can witness the suffering and the steps toward healing. Too little vulnerability, and I feel distant. Too little healing, and I feel dumped on.
Maybe that, then, is the difference between honest lament and whining. Maybe the steps toward healing, the willingness to be vulnerable about our own culpability, maybe that’s where the belly-aching stops and the truth-telling begins.
So when I write, that first draft is a bleeding, a release of all the sorrow or frustration, all the giddiness or the glory I feel. But the revision, the revision is when I find the honest study of my own responsibility. There, I pray, I tell stories that draw people in so that they can see themselves in the story and not feel overrun by pain. It’s the tailoring of sackcloth into pajamas.
Dad is cleaning out his house and brought by a bunch of things, including a number of cross-stitch works that Mom made. I’m going to hang the Kwitcherbelliakin piece on the wall in our dining room, as a reminder to myself that I need space for lament, and that the page listens and listens well . . . and that it takes more crafting for people to do the same.
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