It’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with Valley Haggard when you read this quote on her “About Me” page from her website:
I backed into [writing], after my more ambitious dreams – to be a saint or at least a wonderful wife and mother – didn’t pan out. -Phyllis Theroux
The post below (shared with permission) is a fresh and exciting take on writing about identity, origin, and “place.”
“This particular piece of writing comes from an exercise in a creative nonfiction class I’m teaching, the title borrowed from the poem, “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon. It does seem to open up some interesting doors.”
For those developing an Essay on Childhood, consider how this writer defines place in her fluid reflections: She is “from” people, from relationships, from illness and health, from stories and landscapes and emotions.
Visit Valley’s website to view the original posting, as well as to learn more about the organization she founded, Richmond Young Writers. Valley offers writing classes in the Richmond, VA, area, as well as editing and consulting services for fiction and nonfiction manuscripts.
Valley Haggard: Where I’m From
I am from the little lady with the big baby. The little lady who carved us naked out of clay, she on her back, arms open, me sprawled fat and barely born across her belly.
I am from the man who was a boy with a foot so long they said he looked like an “L” with hands, I’ve discovered, mine will never grow into.
I’m from Jewish anarchists and Methodist peacekeepers, garden gnomes and Denmark, Boris and Margaret, Whilhelmina and Ray, the Pale- that stretch of land between Poland and Russia.
I’m from a little house with a big backyard in the noble heritage of the near West End in a corner of the world called Tuckahoe, a name I’ve heard means “Little Potato.”
I am from short and tall, late and early, passive aggressive and just aggressive, tongues that long to whip and to kiss. I am from a grated oil burning floor heater and metal ducts snaking forced heat through holes in the wall, couches found in alleys, lampshades made by hand, food stamps, thrift stores, love first rate, never used before.
I am from pastel and oil, acrylic and watercolor, pencil and ink, wood and ruler, hammer and nail, chisel, chainsaw, miter, drill, screw.
I am from Mr. Rogers and Bob Marley, Uncle Wiggly and The Rainbow Goblins, The Monkey King and Thumbelina.
I am from a marriage and a divorce, love and its opposite, the familiar clang of the world at its end and at its beginning, splitting apart and then reformed, broken and whole, the consistency of two people working out their distances across town and across a river and across a home and across a little girl.
I am from blooming fig trees and hacked down dogwoods, watermelon rinds, black licorice sticks, mugs of Folgers shot through with honey and hot milk.
I am from a house full of art and cats and paint and dishes piled in the sink, addiction treated and untreated, words in sentences, stories in books, love kept and love given in such abundance it takes all of me to remember.
Image credit: E. Gaucher, April 17, 2011
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I enjoyed this essay! It evokes the complex and contradictory nature of person’s identity (or identities) and origins.
So glad you liked it! I found it so honest and as you say, so refreshing in its “willingness” to embrace seemingly oppositional components of who we are.
I’ve often used this same poem by George Ella Lyons to start my memoir writing workshops, usually with great success. Something about telling where you’re from helps a writer get started. I love this one and it makes me want to write another one of my own. That’s the cool thing about this writing exercise–each time you do it, you get something entirely different! Thanks!