Exploring Personal Narrative

house on Cape Cod MA
Back side of family house in 2012

In the summer of 2012 I went back to my parents home on Cape Cod to help them deal with the landscaping that had grown up over the 26 years they’ve owned the house. They live in the main part of the house, and have created two studio apartments for bed and breakfast and a two bedroom apartment they rent out. It’s a lot to take care of. Especially with all the grass and gardens that go all the way around the house.

When it is time to move on?

Living in an old house is a commitment. They bought the house in disrepair and have slowly replaced all the systems and added the rental units. They have poured their heart and soul into it. Being the dutiful 50 something daughter, I started talking with them about when they thought it would be time to downsize. I could tell they’d been talking and thinking about it a lot. I could tell it was not simple. There is a lot of emotional investment. I felt it too. This house has been at the center of a transformation in our lives.

House as character

house on Cape Cod in 1800's
House back in the 1800 when it was built

We have some information about the history of the house. We know the names of everyone who has owned it. This is a photo from the late 1800’s. The main part of the front still looks similar, but there have been a number of additions over the years.

Cape Cod MA house in 1986
My Dad standing at the side of the house 1986

This is the house just before my parents purchased it. My Dad said he bought it because it had good bones. Everything else needed to be repaired or replaced. It was a mess. My Dad is a carpenter, my mother is an amazing gardener. My Dad builds or remodels the family houses, my mother builds gardens around them and does a lot of the interior work. It’s just always been that way. The house/garden combo become another family member.

 Awakening my interest in personal narrative

There is a lot more to the story about this house. As the conversations unfolded, my interest in capturing some of the story about why it is so important to us awakened. It started with the house, but opened into how and why we ended up landing there. It started me on a path to explore a significant and painful time in my past that started me on a spiritual and healing path. I spent the fall of 2012 writing down pieces and parts of the story.

Narrative isn’t the same as technical writing

My first drafts were not just bad, they were awful. I discovered this by starting to take memoir writing classes. I knew nothing about narrative. It’s going to be a long learning process. Now I’ve got to the point where I know just how far from where I want to be I am. I continue to work on it, but it is still really hard.

Painting the stories

I paint more easily than write. I’ve been working on a series of paintings about these stories. They aren’t illustrations. It was when I started this series of paintings as large watercolors that I realized I needed to switch media to get what I wanted to express.

Process over time

Since I have to learn how to write narrative and to paint in oil, it’s going to be a while for this project to unfold. I’ve been working on it continuously, but just starting to feel there are small pieces I can share. One thing I do know, personal narrative is vulnerable and intense to explore. On the other hand, the deep reflection is offering another level in the transformation that began so many years ago. I hope you’ll walk with me as it unfolds.