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Without My Mother
Becoming Me
Never the Same
Barbara Mikan

Defining Ourselves... such an elusive misnomer. When we lock a conscious grasp onto things we're sure define who we are, convinced they will withstand tests of time, certainty sprouts wings or weaves a cocoon, and once again, loses the race. Discovery is indeed an evolutionary process. Sometimes, it attains revolutionary results. Who we are, though, flows like warm gel, conforming to shapes and sizes that continually enter our sphere of being. In this human state, "never remaining the same" is as certain as it gets.

As artists, we interpret this mystery. It doesn't require genius to illumine how much of life is restricted by temporal and relative components. But it does take insight and a medium to stroke the soul of mankind and to speak to his ever burdened heart. To lead him into the awareness that what he sees through his eyes, and the feelings and sensors which accompany that, comes from a place that is neither temporal or relative. He has soul. And he is eternal.

Transforming Ourselves... then a process. Hair stands on the back of my neck and my upper lip curls every time I hear that word. Creatures of instant gratification, we want what we want, NOW. Transformation denies us instants. It enables us to acquire what we yearn to experience. If peace is our ultimate goal, then that too requires sacrifice. Why it works that way is anyone's guess. Perhaps, it's best left to debates by philosophers and theologians. What needs sacrificed, though, are thoughts and feelings and beliefs that limit who we are to the appearance of what we've been taught. Unfortunately, many restrictions are placed upon us from the time we're born. Throughout our lives, we abide by those restrictions. Some are necessary to live peacefully within society, but others do more damage to our psyche than ever serve to strengthen our character. The "undoing" of these destructive patterns is so necessary if we are to arrive upon the threshold of inner peace. And opening that door and entering that room of wellness is no small step. There, we would not stand without first transforming ourselves.

Self-Portrait with the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Healing Ourselves... then the result of transformation. It involves risks most find hard to fathom, let alone implement. It requires ownership of limits, the courage to step away from what's familiar and the confidence to trust that what's found inside that room will serve to enhance our well-being, even if it at first seems negative. The "appearance" of familiarity is often destructive. It takes honesty to assess each layer as we peel it away. So instinctive in us is this ability to rationalize how we got to be who we are. Rationalization doesn't allow us to face our fears, nor does it dissect them. Any time we define "comfort" as our ability to survive and call that living, something is not right. If we come face-to-face with haunts and fears and do nothing more than tuck them away for safe-keeping, we're delusional. They will return. And the reason they return is to again provide us the opportunity to be honest about how they were created in the first place. In reality, healing is less fearful than maintaining the sturdiness of this crock of lies, which is exactly what fear is. A lie. It behooves every person to shed these layers so peace and understanding can be achieved. Without fear, love thrives.

Enriching Ourselves... then this bittersweet journey of learning to love. I believe that at the core of each of our beings, where the soul lives, is this capacity to love. It's what motivates us never to give up the fight to redeem the intent of our Creator, which is simply to commune with Him and with each other in love. Sounds rather simplistic, but as artists, we know it's humankind who complicates and isolates this simplicity, to disguise it by inventions that hinder self-expression initially grounded in innocence and purity. Success is not measured by anything temporal or relative. It's the state of being who we are. We enrich ourselves if we hold to these truths and use our art as a means to touch the heart of every soul, because we first allowed ourselves this experience. Not motivated by selfishness, we regard our gifts and talents as though they were children, nurturing them and leading them to expressions not limited by fear.

I haven't met too many people who've experienced a graceful childhood. Neither did I. I accumulated many layers that hindered self-expression. Some of them were painfully inflicted. Others were self-imposed.

I came into this world knowing I was different. I used to think I was smarter than the average person, in spite of messages to the contrary, like being adopted, fat, cross-eyed, quiet and the like. But soon, I learned to simply regard "this sight" as a detailed awareness of others and my surroundings. Sadly, I never could be objective about those closest to me, least of all, myself. So, I believed I was nothing more than layers of lies and operated in fear most of my life.

In 1980, when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, this neat little package I called "my life" shattered. I couldn't predict what would happen the next day, let alone plan for a future that seemed oblique and disconcerting. I quit teaching, because I had to, and in 1982, began to use an old Olivetti typewriter and wrote my first book. Convinced it was the "great" American novel, I shared it with a friend, who knew a writer. He called it a great first attempt. My shriveled ego took another blow. Interrupted by periods of tremors and the inability to walk that lasted months at a time, and faced with the reality I couldn't be gainfully employed outside the home, I tried to write again. I even applied to Antioch University and was accepted into their Master's in Creative Writing program. And learned a month later, my husband of eleven years had cheated on me for seven. He was gay.

Another blow. More lies to salve deepening wounds.

Still, I wrote. Now, for rage.

I never earned another degree. Instead, I gave birth to a second child. Eighteen months later, I became very ill for almost a year. Once in remission, though, I stayed well throughout the following year. Then, my father died. Three weeks later, my husband found out he was HIV-positive.

"Shattered" was replaced by a word that doesn't exist in the English language, or in any language, I would imagine. I don't think even my soul understood how to interpret this kind of despair. It is the most bleak, frightening enemy that exists. What made it worse is that my husband lied. He told no one the truth, so he could preserve his well-known status in the community as a highly respected minister. When he started to become ill, he moved us two-hundred miles from our dearest friends to better manage the lie. And the dutiful wife that I was, I followed. I supported him. I fought with him. I begged him to change.

He didn't.

Neither did I.

Eight months after my mother died, he died.

Six months after that, my fourteen-year-old "Daddy's girl" attempted suicide for the sixth time. To my knowledge, it was her first. I told her the truth about her father and what my marriage had been like.

I swore then that I would do whatever it took to heal, and for the sake of my children, create circumstances that would enable them to heal.

Without family, so very alone and far from dear friends, I stripped off one layer at a time, wrestled details as though they were Evil incarnate and discredited the lies each layer held so dear. I divorced myself from everything I once regarded as familiar and safe and began to undo the damage others had done to me. I changed.

That process took a lifetime of delusional thinking and crammed it into seven years of facing all my fears. It took courage. It took work. And it saved my life.

I wrote my life story as a creative memoir and gained representation by a New York agent. Fifteen years is a long time to stick with something as difficult as writing. Mostly, though, what made this story credible enough to be read by several agents is that I learned how to share my truth. And by doing that very risky thing, stroke mankind's soul and speak to his heart, and most lovingly, to my own.

I've lost the race, and sometimes, won. I've run in circles and stepped on newly painted lines. I've hugged a tree and torn off its bark. I've known great sadness and stumbled upon great joy. I grieve enough to contemplate what I don't understand, because I can. I'm an artist. Like you.

And with gifts like ours comes a responsibility not so different from taking out the trash, scraping dirty dishes and changing diapers. These motions are just as necessary to enhance our art as they are to us as functioning adults. But it's the child within who also needs our attention. He/she is the one who sees with wonder the drudgery of existence, who is often most able to whisper the insights we must grasp in order to love ourselves and others. In turn, we become equipped to be successful artists.

So, listen. And learn. Be flexible and open. Reach farther than your arm stretches and incline your ear to wind and rain and rays from the sun. Step aside and allow what you dare to dream to emerge. Be who you were born to become.

And do whatever it takes to dance with the moon.

Barbara Mikan is an agented author of a narrative nonfiction memoir and several mainstream novels. Widowed at the age of forty, she raised one daughter who recently married, showers her twelve-year-old with more hugs than her daughter cares to receive and caters to ten well-fed cats in a turn-of-the-century home in northeast Ohio. She writes professionally, occasionally cooks and too often scoops litter boxes.

Artwork "Self-Portrait with the Immaculate Heart of Mary" by
Visit her web site at

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