Travel Dreams: What To Pack For a Memoir Research Dream Trip

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RayneFor the past few months I’ve been threatening to pack my bags and fly to Iowa to do research on my birth mother and her family for my memoir and toxic mother book and although you may not consider a 10-hour flight with two lay-overs a dream trip, I guess do.

Well, sort of.

Having never had a reason — other than conception — to be in the Midwest, I’ve been poring over maps and laying plans for a flight into Des Moines and six days visiting my grandparents farm, (even if it’s now a parking lot), my mother’s high school (still there, I checked), the library to look at yearbooks for five siblings, and the county records offices to check property rolls.

Of course no family research trip would be complete without a trip to the local small town newspaper morgue to see what, if anything, put them on the pages.

My adorable and protective husband says that this should be a two-day trip, tops. That nobody in their right mind would spend a week in Iowa. I love my husband. He worries about me, and my state of mind.

But if I’m only going to Iowa once, I need a week. Plus any free time I can use to expand, edit, cry over and rewrite chapters in my first book “Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter.” I might actually get some work done on my new Mac!

Coincidentally, my friend Katherine the historian/librarian invited me to an author talk at a local college by Abraham Verghese, a Stanford doctor of Indian descent who grew up in Ethiopia. You know Katherine, she’s the one who always laughs as me when I confess that I think I have no friends.

cutting for stoneThis best-selling novel, “Cutting for Stone” was the One Book, One Community choice for Marin County this year. It’s kind of neat. Libraries and independent booksellers promote one book for a community read and then there are all sorts of events that link to the book. For example, there have been Ethiopian food nights at restaurants; Indian dancing at community centers.

NPR’s Forum host Michael Krasny was the interviewer and Verghese began to chat about the importance of geography in storytelling. (Which reminded me that one of my favorite authors Mark Arax also emphasizes geography.)

The main characters in Verghese’s book are male twins born to a Carmelite nun and nurse living in Ethiopia. One grows up in one place while the other grows up in an entirely different place and environment.

“Geography is destiny. They told us that in medical school that Freud said that and I thought that was so fascinating,” he said.

Only his medical professor had it wrong. Freud said a lot of wise things but that wasn’t one of his observations. Verghese later learned that it was Napolean who coined the geography is destiny line — and he said it referring to battles.

I could nearly physically feel my thinking shift from this dreamy sort of what if arena when it comes to your birthplace to feeling that understanding how the geography of your life effects you is a worthy battle; a difficult introspective task worth tackling.

As that sank in I wanted to lean over and hug my friend Katherine. She helped put me exactly where the universe needed me to be to plant that thought in my head on the eve of my dream trip. Isn’t the universe amazing?

It was a hot, humid, full house and we were in the second to last row up in the rafters. By the end of the evening most people were fanning themselves with any piece of paper they could find. I think I was feeling warm with excitement that my trip to Iowa is not dopey waste of time; not another exercise in picking at an emotional scab.

No, my dream trip to Iowa is exactly what I need to do now.

I will be packing energy, focus and confidence that I have every right to explore anything I want to that relates to my bloodline. My birth family may have kept me a secret in their tiny town, but you know what? A person is not a secret and I have no secrets to keep for them.

In my life I’ve met a lot of different kinds of people. I’m the only person I know that has never looked into the eyes of another human being to whom they are related by blood. I have relatives in Iowa whether they know it or not and if I can find one – – even if I have to ambush them in a Wal-Mart parking lot – – that encounter could be profound for me. And I have a sneaking suspicion that this trip will grant me even more grace to be profoundly grateful for my very Dickinsonian life.

My departure will take place in mid-May. So when I’m dragging my carry-on aboard the second connection I’m going to tell myself: geography IS destiny — to give myself courage. I think I’m going to need it.

Rayne Wolfe’s dream is to write her first book Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter by the end of 2011. She completed her dream journey May of 2011 on 8WD after a year living her dream. You can find her at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook.

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  • That’s enough of that “no friends” talk, missy. I am your friend, like it or not!!!

  • Nadine

    Thanks Rayne. My very favourite advice on raising children comes from The Prophet from Kahlil Gibran:

    And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”
    And he said:
    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
    You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
    You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
    For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

    I have never read anything better, anything more beautiful. I think the whole book is just a licence to life.

    I think this journey is so hard because I would like approval from my mother. I’m doing all these crazy things “leading her life” in stead of mine, because I want to please her. But she never is and never will be. The grieving process is hard. But I’m looking for new dreams, just like you :-D

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  • Nadine

    I hope you’ll find great things on your trip, and that you’ll be able to look into someone’s eye and see a reflection of yourself…
    Even with your birth mother, the story might have a positive ending. I just have to think of the recent story where Oprah found out she had a sister. It was shame that made her mother refuse to meet her daughter in the past. Who knows you might end up finding another loving family… If not, you still have the knowledge you have created a loving family :-D And that is something no one can take away from you!

    I just had to read some of your stories again, thinking about what I would like to know about the past. My dad, an engineer worked for a Telecom company (GTE at that time) was offered an expat contract in Chicago when I must have been 8 or so. He refused. I’ve never asked why, and me being the expat having lived in several countries, would like to know if it was my mom holding him back. I wanted to be an exchange student when I was 18, to redo the last year of highschool in the US. It was my dream since I was 12. My mom did not want to let me go, because she was afraid I would meet a man and never come back.When I finished my Bachelor studies in June ’87 and got a job offer to work for Club Med in Spain in January ’88, she could not stop me anymore. I was free to go wherever I wanted. And so I did for 14 years. Now I am waiting for my kids to graduate, so I can leave again (I returned to Belgium, my home country after my divorce, which I regret now. But it was to get away from an abusive ex). The fact is that to this day, I still resent the fact that my mom held back on my dream. Because she couldn’t let me go, and still can’t;

    This journey is amazing in that you can find a whole new part of yourself, and even new dreams… I cannot fathom what my mom’s dreams were. To have three daughters with a university diploma and happily married ever after. None of us have a university diploma, because we weren’t interested in studying what she liked. And none of us have a succesful marriage (two divorced, one not so happily married) because there was no happy marriage to mirror from, nor were we taught how to communicate. Now she is putting all her hope in her grandchildren, trying to dictate what they should study and who they should socialize with.

    Cheers to new dreams!

    • Nadine – I love your posts – – always so juicy and detail-filled. You’re right – – these mother’s dreams they press on us – they’re pretty oppressive and unfair. Really, you should have to pass a test and get a license to have kids. That’s what I’m beginning to joke about. Thank you for sharing your story. Check back for posts from Iowa.

  • Katie Eigel, Travel & Wellness coach

    I happen to be a huge Iowa fan! (Big 10 Hawkeye Football first, then the state.) I don’t know much about The Moines, but if you have the chance, you might find inspiration at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City at the University of Iowa. Just talking to people, browsing the library. One of my favorite writing teachers from UC Berkeley came from there. Iowa has produced amazing, decorated writers. The Coralville Marriott even has a vast library of their works. Sorry for the sidetrack, but bravo to you for venturing back to your roots.

    Above all, I would pack an open mind :) I know you will.

  • I look forward to reading about this trip — this final journey on your road to discover “mom toxicity” and whether women would be willing to share their stories. Can you feel how much it has changed? From something that was difficult to fathom to women sharing stories and connecting with their recovering sisters all over the world.