The loss of identity through cancer, brain injury, travel, art, food, sex, wilderness and family,

and our journey to discover what lies beyond who we think we are.

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Andrea Scher

I fell in love with a necklace of beautiful gems my friend Laurie Wagner wore to a writer’s retreat, and when I asked her where she found such exquisite colors, she led me to Andrea Scher. Soon after, I began reading Superhero Journal, and digging the musings of this creativity teacher.

When I made a list of who I’d like to interview for Wondering Who You Are, and its new focus on identity transformations in people’s lives, Andrea was amongst the first. When I invited her to share, I had no idea that she’d tell such an honest, vulnerable story of her life.

Don’t miss both parts of this piece on finding the truth through trials that lead past our histories and into humility.

Andrea Scher is an artist, online workshop teacher + big believer in the transformative power of creativity. Through her e-courses Superhero Photo and Mondo Beyondo, Andrea inspires us all to live authentic, colorful and creative lives. Best known as the author of the award-winning blog Superhero Journal, she is passionate about the sweet spot where creativity and personal growth intersect. Andrea lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two sons. Visit her at http://www.superherolife.com

Posted at 2:16pm and tagged with: identity, motherhood, anxiety,.

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Trey Gunn Talks Identity Over Barbecue and Bluegrass

I met my friend Trey at the Humpday party SIFF threw for Lynn Shelton. I was too shy to approach him, but my friend Julia walked right up and said ‘hi’, so I followed. Within the next while, Trey and I started to meet to talk. Every Friday, over a meal, usually some kind of Southern food one of us craves — he’s from Texas, I’m from Kentucky — we’d take an hour or two to see what was happening in our creative lives.

As someone new to my artistic career, Trey helps me understand parts of the process about which I might not be aware, and he’s always been astute, clear and damn funny. He helps me take myself less seriously. And he’s not afraid of the spicy sauce. If you don’t know his music, check him out here.

Here’s Part One.

Posted at 5:14pm and tagged with: trey gunn, king crimson, music, texas, identity,.

Christa Parravani

In 2013, I read the remarkably honest memoir Her, and I knew that I had to find a way to have a conversation with this writer. I wanted to talk about telling someone’s life who is no longer present, the same experience I was having in writing about my husband’s loss of identity. Soon after, I invited Christa to be on a panel about the subject for the Association of Writers and Writer’s Programs conference, held in Seattle last week. We had a full-house of appreciative writers, who learned much about writing what you’re desperate to know. In the process, I discovered how warm, generous and thoughtful this woman is. Here’s our interview.

What is the most significant identity change that you experienced in your life?

My identical twin sister Cara died nearly eight years ago. That event came at me with the power of a hundred earthquakes. She hadn’t been well, not ill, but addicted to drugs, and suffering immensely from an identity shattering rape. I hadn’t been prepared to lose her even though I had feared for some time that I might; the families and loved ones of addicts understand that dread all too well. The impact of losing my twin was immediate: I looked in the mirror and saw her staring back at me. I laughed and heard her. I was a reminder to everyone who knew us both that Cara was gone. I was a shadow of myself. I was in a full-blown identity crisis.

Identical twins are born with a friend at their sides; I certainly was. There was an easy joy in sharing my life with Cara, the kind of love that took the pressure off. But we were also fiercely competitive and harsh with one another. There was very little room inside of our relationship for me to explore who I wanted to be outside of it. The drama of losing a twin is severe and life changing, identity changing. I had to figure out who I was without my twin. We were that enmeshed. Though I have learned through my grief that people are constantly changing. Becoming a mother has certainly shown me that. Every day with a two year old is as rooted in routine as it is in change. I have observed myself trying to become the kind of mother she needs. That woman is vastly different than the one who writes, or certainly the one who grieved. I try to remain in the moment with my daughter and not get too lost in my head. It’s a kind of meditation I needed. Now, because of that, because of my daughter, I am certain that we are shaped as we live and not as we’ve lived.

Did you cause it, or did it happen to you?

There was a freedom in Cara’s death that was hard for me to admit for many years. And now, my ability to pull myself out of utter despair from her death, it has defined me more than anything else ever has in my life, more than being a twin ever did. That never ceases to surprise me.

What revelations happened in its wake?

We all live our lives with constant shifts, from moment to moment, somewhat blind to the events that will make us. We expect the deaths of those we love to change us but we can’t know how. Births. Friendships. Illnesses. Dashed hopes and fulfilled dreams. The weight of any one of these things can be enormous. There’s no telling how they’ll be digested.

Posted at 4:15pm and tagged with: christa parravani, her, twins, mother, daughter, identity, addiction,.

Christa Parravani

In 2013, I read the remarkably honest memoir Her, and I knew that I had to find a way to have a conversation with this writer. I wanted to talk about telling someone’s life who is no longer present, the same experience I was having in writing about my husband’s loss of identity. Soon after, I invited Christa to be on a panel about the subject for the Association of Writers and Writer’s Programs conference, held in Seattle last week. We had a full-house of appreciative writers, who learned much about writing what you’re desperate to know. In the process, I discovered how warm, generous and thoughtful this woman is. Here’s our interview.

What is the most significant identity change that you experienced in your life?

 My identical twin sister Cara died nearly eight years ago. That event came at me with the power of a hundred earthquakes. She hadn’t been well, not ill, but addicted to drugs, and suffering immensely from an identity shattering rape. I hadn’t been prepared to lose her even though I had feared for some time that I might; the families and loved ones of addicts understand that dread all too well. The impact of losing my twin was immediate: I looked in the mirror and saw her staring back at me. I laughed and heard her. I was a reminder to everyone who knew us both that Cara was gone. I was a shadow of myself. I was in a full-blown identity crisis.

Identical twins are born with a friend at their sides; I certainly was. There was an easy joy in sharing my life with Cara, the kind of love that took the pressure off. But we were also fiercely competitive and harsh with one another. There was very little room inside of our relationship for me to explore who I wanted to be outside of it.  The drama of losing a twin is severe and life changing, identity changing. I had to figure out who I was without my twin. We were that enmeshed. Though I have learned through my grief that people are constantly changing. Becoming a mother has certainly shown me that.  Every day with a two year old is as rooted in routine as it is in change. I have observed myself trying to become the kind of mother she needs. That woman is vastly different than the one who writes, or certainly the one who grieved. I try to remain in the moment with my daughter and not get too lost in my head. It’s a kind of meditation I needed. Now, because of that, because of my daughter, I am certain that we are shaped as we live and not as we’ve lived.

Did you cause it, or did it happen to you?

There was a freedom in Cara’s death that was hard for me to admit for many years. And now, my ability to pull myself out of utter despair from her death, it has defined me more than anything else ever has in my life, more than being a twin ever did. That never ceases to surprise me.

What revelations happened in its wake?

We all live our lives with constant shifts, from moment to moment, somewhat blind to the events that will make us. We expect the deaths of those we love to change us but we can’t know how. Births. Friendships. Illnesses. Dashed hopes and fulfilled dreams. The weight of any one of these things can be enormous. There’s no telling how they’ll be digested.
139 plays

Interview With Warren Etheredge

I met Warren when I went to The Film School in Seattle, and discovered that his wit, wisdom and nonjudgmental acceptance was the perfect blend to allow a difficult script to emerge. About a year later, he directed a reading of this work at ACT Theater. In the process, I learned to work with projection, and understand so much more about the word when it leaps off the page into an actor’s imagination.

Warren is my favorite Renaissance Man. He’s done about 3,000 interviews. He hosts The High Bar on PBS, one of the best conversations you’ll ever hear. He teaches wounded warriors and filmmakers young and old, and is a brilliant playwright, speaker and writer.

You’d think I’d be daunted sitting down to have a conversation with him about the identity changes that swept through his life, but he’s one of those guys who makes it so easy to put up your feet, sip a drink, and lean in to hear a story. This recording is not fit for my sound designer son, but I rather like the idea that you get to eavesdrop on a chat we had on this day at a restaurant in Ballard. Don’t miss Part Two below.

Posted at 9:42am and tagged with: identity, memory, relationships,.

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Warren and I order more drinks and get down talking about the impact of an identity change in our lives.

Posted at 9:30am.

In this interview, Laurie asks me questions about my writing process, and we talk about vulnerability and its connection to making sentences. She asks me to read one of my favorite pieces, about the first time I bathed Richard after his surgery for a rare cancer.

Posted at 10:35am and tagged with: Cancer, memory, tbi, memoir, writing,.

Laurie Wagner

I met Laurie at a writer’s retreat. First she stunned me with honest writing that lit out of her and into the room like a firecracker going off under your feet. Then she soothed me with that molasses voice while I chomped M&M’s and wondered how I was going to speak some story for which I felt sure I’d be despised. Laurie talked me through telling some complicated truths in my memoir, and her gentle prodding and smart questions have made a better book. Now I get a chance to ask her what she’s learned about the kind of identity change where things slip away, and leave you with something fresh.

What is the most significant identity change that you experienced in your life?

Hands down, becoming a mother scrambled my identity in the best and worst possible ways.

Living intimately with other people will do that to you – especially if you’re a woman because there’s a way, like it or not, that you’re built to give, to bend, to become, to serve.

You love them, they need you, and part of your super strength as a woman is your capacity to know what is needed and to deliver exactly that. And if you don’t know what’s needed, you’ll figure it out real quick, digging into a part of yourself you didn’t even know existed.

It isn’t always Betty Crocker fun either; it’s exhausting and thankless and you’ll find yourself putting your kids and spouse first; giving them the better piece of chicken, saving the last of the milk or the yogurt so they’ll have something to eat before school, dusting the mold off the sandwich bread and taking a nibble so if it’s going to kill them it’ll kill you first. You’d like to take the last of the coffee for yourself, god knows you need it, and even if you do resent the hell out of your mate for sleeping through the cries or ending up on the couch night after night, you make sure he gets a cup of coffee too because in the end, well, if mothering has changed anything in you, it’s made you less selfish and more compassionate – two traits you probably lacked as you strode the catwalk of your 20’s, focused entirely on who might love YOU and how much and how big THAT love would be. Little did you know that the thing that would touch and change you the most was the way you would learn about love through your capacity to give to others.

Did you cause it, or did it happen to you?

Chose it, looked it straight in the eye, signed on the dotted line, took an oath, smeared it in blood, drank the Kool Aid, screamed, Bring It!

What happened in its wake?

All of the above, and the fun doesn’t stop. While I sometimes fantasize about the life I might have had - - maybe I’d have become more of an artist, maybe I’d have traveled and written more books, maybe I’d…the fact is, once you have them – those kids – you can’t imagine your life without them. I think about that Elizabeth Stone quote, “Making the decision to have a child - - it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside of your body.”

So that’s who you’ve become, that’s who they turned you into - - a vibrating organism that would drop anything if they needed you – and in doing that, you learned something about priorities and the things that mattered – and that saved your life.

Do you imagine changes in your identification as a mother when you don’t have children in your home? What are you feeling into as you sense the upcoming empty nest?

Now, 18 years later, with one daughter gone, husband and I recently separated after 26 years, and the youngest daughter months from leaving home, I’m fairly flabbergast that I’m about to be alone. I honestly didn’t see it coming, felt too young to enter the gates of middle age - and single at that. I keep catching glimpses of my own mother in her mid-50’s; matronly, slightly subdued, more reasonable, less feisty - - and none of it computes for me. It feels - not so much like I’m going to need to re-invent myself for the coming years, but to continue to stay close to what brings me alive - and that’s probably what’s always been the case. The children brought out a kind of aliveness - in my heart mostly. My challenge now is to stay sensitive to what else speaks to me, what wakes me up as a creative person. I will always be mother - but even before that I was artist, writer…and thankfully, that never went away even when I was wiping butts and holding a vomiting teenager over the toilet because they’d had too much to drink. I have always found sustenance in creating things - - little people were part of that creation - - now that they need me less, I turn back to my art table, my lap top, take a deep breath and keep moving forward.

Laurie Wagner is a published writer, artist, and creativity coach who has been making things with her imagination, her hands and her heart for many years. Raising children, writing books and stories, and working with thousands of writers over the years has nurtured her sense of herself as an artist and a teacher, and has helped her to understand what she cares about on the page and off. Besides coaching artists and writers on their projects, Laurie teaches all sorts of creative nonfiction classes online at writers.com, as well as Wild Writing classes at her home in Alameda, California. Laurie also hosts the amazing 27 Powers Traveling Writers Series, which brings the brightest, grooviest, most unusual writers to Alameda to teach.

You can find out more about Laurie and her work at: www.27powers.org.
Telling True Stories - her 5-week online writing course starts on March 3
Santa Cruz poet, Ellen Bass, will be at 27 Powers for an all-day class March 21

(Photo by Andrea Scher)

Posted at 8:41pm and tagged with: mothering, identity, middle age, teenagers,.

Into The Mystic

In 2013 we celebrated Richard being ten years cancer-free. For a decade, we’d been grappling with the identity changes brought on by his brain event. I’d finished writing my book, Wondering Who You Are, about our relationship in the wake of his memory loss. Now it’s time for something completely different.

Throughout this time, in talking with people, we learned that everyone goes through an identity loss. They may be massive transformations like the one Richard experienced. Or perhaps these changes were subtle, the effects only registered as time went on. We asked people we knew, and those we didn’t, how they went through such experiences.

In 2014, we’re interviewing people who’ve had identity shifts. From our friends, to artists, to entrepreneurs, to people on the street, we want to find out what it’s like to have your identity cage rattled. Join us here to meet someone new each week, someone who might be, once again, wondering who they are.

Posted at 6:51pm and tagged with: identity, loss,.

Into The Mystic

In 2013 we celebrated Richard being ten years cancer-free. For a decade, we’d been grappling with the identity changes brought on by his brain event. I’d finished writing my book, Wondering Who You Are, about our relationship in the wake of his memory loss. Now it’s time for something completely different. 

Throughout this time, in talking with people, we learned that everyone goes through an identity loss. They may be massive transformations like the one Richard experienced. Or perhaps these changes were subtle, the effects only registered as time went on. We asked people we knew, and those we didn’t, how they went through such experiences. 

In 2014, we’re interviewing people who’ve had identity shifts. From our friends, to artists, to entrepreneurs, to people on the street, we want to find out what it’s like to have your identity cage rattled. Join us here to meet someone new each week, someone who might be, once again, wondering who they are.