Find Good Everywhere

This month we continue to focus on the topic of growth here at Heart of the Matter and this post is another in my short series about writing my mother’s story in my upcoming book, “Surviving Sue”. 

Thank you to those of you who’ve asked about maintaining the motivation to write.  In this post I’ll pull back the curtain to let you know what (and who) kept me moving forward as I wrote about my mom’s complicated life. 

The title of this post, “Find Good Everywhere” is a snippet pulled and paraphrased from this Ralph Waldo Emerson quote:

The measure of mental health is the disposition to find good everywhere.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My disposition? Seeking the sunny side is a natural intention for me.  I’m a guarded optimist in that way, a seeker of light.  I’ve been accused of being ill-informed or hopelessly unaware in my pursuit of hope and while I don’t mind the labels, on occasion I’ve detected a glimmer of envy underneath the taunts. 

Pain brings perspective, I say, and while I choose not to dwell on the bumpy bits I’ve experienced, I’ve spent a sufficient amount of time examining them.  Enough to give them their due…and then shoo them to the sidelines. 

Writing about my mother’s life has helped me do just that.  It’s taken nearly eight years for me to find the solid ground from which to write.  I found every “sign” you can imagine to retreat; some pretty plausible (“I don’t want to air dirty, stinky family laundry”; “I don’t want to disrespect the dead”; “I don’t want to relive the wounds”).

Who could challenge those feelings?  Not a soul.  But when I began to contrive reasons to avoid writing, some of the blockades were of my own making (“I’m not good enough to write a whole book – textbooks and doctoral dissertations don’t count”; “No one will care, nor benefit from the twisty tale about mom/Sue”; “I don’t have the stamina or commitment…I’ll start AND I’ll fail”).  Those petulant inner critics.  Dang it – they were loud and became a chorus at times.

A few close friends knew my backstory…and my mom’s…often remarking that I was relatively “sane” (giggle, giggle) for someone who….um…. experienced….so much.  I’d hear the comments – intended to be complimentary about what a big heart I had…despite my circumstances.  How did I have room to help others given my own trail of tears?  I’d nod and acknowledge the commentary, but I knew the truth. Compassion accrued over time. Yep.  Even toward my mom.  Goodness was there.  Cloaked by her own pain.   

The quote from Emerson speaks to me but so do the blunt directives from Anne Lamott.  I’ve clutched her book “Bird by Bird”, reading and re-reading it since it was first published in 1994 – feeling the hug in her plainspoken advice.  My original copy looks as if it’s been to battle.  (I think it has…but I’m not going to follow that detour right now.) My original copy is dog-eared, faded, annotated… and adorned by a few coffee stains.  Truthfully, maybe one or two smudges could be Cheeto fingerprints. 😉

Here are a few of the nuggets from “Bird by Bird” that stick with me, still, some twenty-eight years after my first reading.  Maybe one or two will inspire you?  I tried to whittle it down and just couldn’t:

…this is another reason to write:  people need us, to mirror for them and for each other without distortion – not to look around and say, ‘Look at ourselves, you idiots!’ but to say ‘This is who we are’. (page 217)

…when you get serious you will be dealing with the one thing you’ve been avoiding all along – your wounds.  (page 217)

Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave.  They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. (page 13)

Remember that you own what happened to you.  If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point at you, while a chilling voice thundered, “We told you not to tell.” (page 5)

…with your fingers poised over the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind – a scene, a locale, a character, whatever – and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.  (page 6)

…telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat.  (page 3)

When my friends Bruce and Wynne weighed in, reading my upcoming book “Surviving Sue” with gusto, I wanted to dismiss their praise at first.  They’re my buddies, I thought.  So, I poked them to be sure the manuscript was worthy (you know why…I was suspicious that they were only being kind.  Just like my publisher.  Just like my editor).  When I realized they’d both done deep reading AND they had only thoughtful, ‘book blurb’ worthy input I was humbled. Humbled times a zillion.

Here are their comments, which will appear on the back cover of “Surviving Sue”:

From the moment Vicki introduces us to Sue, we are captivated.  Fascinated not only with Sue’s character, but how her turbulent persona ironically affects Vicki, Lisa and the others who are nearest and dearest to her. At the same time, we are mesmerized by Vicki’s strength and resilience, her dedication, and the multitude of emotions she expresses as she takes us through this heart-breaking, yet somehow optimistic personal account.  This narrative is so engagingly well written and can teach us so many lessons about family–kudos to Vicki for sharing it with us. 

-Bruce Bohrer, author of “Best Seat in the House:  Diary of a Wrigley Field Usher” and former higher education colleague

The combination of humor and heartbreak in ‘Surviving Sue” unlocks a special chamber for reflection. Dr. Vicki Atkinson offers so many wonderful insights about what life with a complicated character like Sue brings and it’s a rollercoaster of laughter, love, wounding, and redemption. This book is a meaningful journey through the bonds of family, loving difficult people, and how we can heal intergenerationally in order to raise healthy families.

-Wynne Leon, entrepreneur and author of “Finding My Father’s Faith”

Bruce and Wynne’s generous support?  An example, surely, of Emerson’s adage to ‘find the good’, while bringing to life this final gem from Lamott about the urge to write:

Because of the spirit, I say.  Because of the heart.  Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation.  They deepen and widen our sense of life:  they feed the soul.  (page 219)

Writing helps me do just that.  Feed the soul and I’m grateful for the inspiration from Emerson, Lamott, Bruce and Wynne.  Just as I’m grateful to you for your interest in my book. (Coming soon!) 

Vicki 😊

A little more? Take a peek at my post on my personal blog, Victoria Ponders, about my mother’s artistry this morning. You’ll like it. I promise.

Reference: Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

36 thoughts on “Find Good Everywhere

  1. When anyone achieves something worth reading and helps heal herself simultaneously, we can be sure her time was well-spent when she wrote it and that ours will be, too, when we read it. Go forth, Vicki.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ever grateful to you, Dr. Stein, for providing regular doses of wisdom and encouragement – both in your comments and in your beautiful, insightful blog. I love people who make me think…and ponder. Thank you for doing just that! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There is so much I can relate to here, Vicki—from being accused of being a cockeyed optimist with head stuck in sand hiding from reality, to all of the self-created roadblocks about punishing a book, to skepticism regarding compliments, all self-doubt of the highest order. I am going to have to resurrect my copy of Bird by Bird and remind myself about why I write. It is truly an inspiration—and so are you, dear Vicki/Victoria.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It makes me SO happy to know that “Bird by Bird” is a connecting thread between us. My original copy really IS a mess, LOL….and thank you for sharing the notes of recognition in my post, Julia. Those roadblocks and skepticism are a real pain in the patootie! So happy to know I’m not alone. xo! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Patootie? I don’t remember the last time I ever heard anyone use that word (except for moi!). Birds, patooties, roadblocks and skepticism. Good grief, NO, you are most certainly not alone. Thank goodness for kindred traveling companions along this bumpy journey called life!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m giggling! Let’s make ‘patootie’ the word of the day, shall we? We’ll report back and compare notes on how many times we successfully inserted our favorite fun word into other conversations. Hmm…might get me in a little trouble. My fave ‘patootie’ saying is about not giving a rat’s patootie. I’ll need to conjure some less condemnation-like options! 🤣🥰🤣


      3. Pain in the patootie is a fave of mine, and when I feel the need to clean up my act for a certain audience, I’ve been known to substitute patootie for the “A” word, as in rat’s. I’m in—word of the day it is! 😂🤣

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love everything about this, Vicki. “Pain brings perspective” is such a profound truth. Then, the comments about you heart about having a big heart despite your circumstances gave me pause; that’s something I tell my boyfriend often. It must be that the challanges crack us open in ways that good times cannot. Also, the bit in Bruce’s blurb–“heart-breaking, yet somehow optimistic personal account”–had me nodding. Yes, yes, yes, that’s sooo VickI!! I can’t wait to pick up you’re book. 🥰

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re so sweet. Thank you, Erin. I think those of us who feel our pain and have carried (or are carrying it) become stronger as a result of sharing…and receiving lovely feedback from friends like you who nod along. I love that. Big hugs to you! 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m laughing about “My original copy looks as if it’s been to battle.” That’s hilarious! What a wonderful journey and I love that you are sharing the HOW – so incredibly critical to go through the process as much as going through the publication. Congratulations on a wonderful, meaningful and healing book – and a great post about it! ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh…I love that you loved “Bird by Bird” so much that your copy got all worn and weary, too! And seriously? Cheetos? Another wacky and fun “Elizabeth/Vicki” connection. I try really hard to avoid them…but there’s nothing quite like a Cheeto if I’m going to fall off the wagon. 🤣💓🤣

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I suspect that every reason you mentioned to write about the pain and struggle and wonder behind your relationship with mom is why I ever so slowly felt the need to begin writing for my kids. They’ve heard stories as adults and until my son specifically asked about a few family members I remember thinking that they likely wouldn’t be interested.

    I claim the writing is for them, and it is because I want them to know who and why an what their history and this mom is, yet even in the short amount of time I have been giving them stories, I’ve realized how much this is for me. Each time I tell and re-tell and add to the stories I learn more about my family, my life and myself. I know there are many folks who cannot or would not choose to embark on this path. I respect them for that. I hold onto the fact that finding and telling these stories will make me stronger, more aware, and yes grow compassion for someone I truly saw as hateful and unworthy for so many years.

    This spoke volumes to me this morning Vicki- “..but I knew the truth. Compassion accrued over time. Yep. Even toward my mom. Goodness was there. Cloaked by her own pain.”

    I can only imagine bits and pieces of your journey in writing, and even more the emotions as your story comes into the world. Thank you for taking this huge step.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deb…a simple thank you for your comment seems so insufficient. Your generosity and thoughtfulness – reflecting on your own situation…with some parallels to mine…touches my heart. I think I traveled the same path as you…wondering if I was writing just for our daughter at times or if there was a purpose deeper, related to healing for me. I think I needed to let the writing unfold so I could figure that out. What a perceptive insight you offer — and I think you’re right. It may not be for everyone but I’m happy to share the bits of motivation that kept me moving. Sending big hugs to you! 🥰


  6. I think a neat thing about your writing is that you let readers into what you’re thinking – the Vicki-isms as you say, the doubt, the questions, and even the optimism. I love as you write that pain brings perspective. When you write about your mother, I find that I feel some sadness for you being in that position, but then I also feel an overwhelming optimism that good can come from tough situations. I hope that makes sense. The end of the day, I say, keep being you! Just as Bird-by-Bird makes the case, you have an important message to get out. Can’t wait to read the book!


    1. Oh goodness. Your comment makes me smile, smile, smile, Brian! And yes – I absolutely believe, given my experience, that good can come from pain…those tough situations are often the universal binding that connects all of us as humans — as ‘works in progress’. Thanks for your enthusiasm and for your support. It means a lot! 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I consider myself an optimist and generally positive person. While I try to find good everywhere, it’s difficult sometimes and I don’t always succeed. The book “Bird By Bird” sounds like an interesting read. It’s amazing that the lessons you learned have stayed with you for so many years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right…sometimes it’s just too hard, no matter how much we try. “Bird by Bird” is one of my favorite books for writers…I think because it felt like Anne Lamott was speaking directly to me, at times! Thank you so much for your lovely comment. 😘

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “We told you not to tell”. Well THAT one resonated… I am a little in awe of your courage to tell this story, Vicki. I love the beautiful book reviews! And I also I loved your self description as a ‘cautious optimist’. You are the perfect example of someone who was given lemons and made lemonade. I look forward to reading your book!!! Bravo…💕💕💕


    1. Oh my! Thank you so much, Patti. I appreciate your kindness because I believe you understand how risky all of this has felt along the way…and kindred souls like you have made it possible for me to be brave. 🥰❤️🥰

      Liked by 1 person

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