‘Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining’ ~ Anne Lamott
Before I was born, my dad was a lighthouse keeper. But he committed the ultimate sin of falling asleep and letting the light go out and, whilst he was lucky to get away with it, my dad resigned after this on the grounds that the job was “too sociable”. Yet although he resigned and joined the civil service, he did not quit; because my dad believed his true calling was “to shine a light on human thought”. So instead of keeping a watch above the sea, he simply went underground and installed a large garden shed (the kind most people’s dads use to keep power tools and lawnmowers!) in the damp, chalky basement of my childhood home. There, by the light of a paraffin lamp, he wrote night after night trying to shine his light: his mission, to save the world from the false lights being beamed out across the shores of our collective conscious, threatening to lure humanity onto perilous rocks.
My dad threw everything into his mission. It consumed him. And over the years he became more and more insular, angry and disillusioned with what he saw as his failure to make a difference and to be heard. He asked me to help a few times with writing various books, but I couldn’t cope with the rage that increasingly fuelled his creative endeavours and instead withdrew, feeling guilty for not helping him. Not surprisingly, his mission ultimately wrecked my parents marriage.
In 2002, after four and a half years, my first marriage also ended as I realised that, like my dad, I’d let my light go out. I had been unhappy for a long time and had reached a point where I hated myself. I knew this because I lived with an ongoing running commentary playing in the background of my mind telling me that I was a horrible person and there was something wrong with me. That was until one Saturday afternoon, just before my thirty-first birthday, when I had a revelatory insight as I sat looking out of the window into the garden. OMG, I said out loud, that’s it … I’m in the wrong life! I am in the wrong bloody life!!! I was never supposed to be here. No wonder I hate myself, I’m not me anymore. Somehow, somewhere, the me that I used to like once, got lost. It seemed in that moment as if I were literally seeing things with new eyes, that the colours of the trees and the sky had suddenly switched to high definition and, after years of denying my own feelings, the insight came with such arresting clarity that I knew with absolute conviction I had to leave. And so two days later, I left.
This triggered my first mini breakdown/awakening. It manifested in a sudden explosion of manic energy as my mind and body went into overdrive and creative ideas erupted in a continuous flow that I could barely keep up with, as I drew mindmap after mindmap, making wild leaps of imagination and associations between seemingly unconnected things I’d seen, read, and heard. It lasted for two weeks during which time I lost a stone in weight and barely slept. By day I walked around in a state of altered consciousness in a semi dream-like state and by night, when I did manage to snatch some sleep, my dreams were so vivid and intense that I felt I was awake. Curiously, in the midst of this eruption, I became obsessed with trying to make sense of my dad’s life and within a few months he had morphed in my mind into an imaginary character called The Keeper In The Basement and my mission was born: I would (finally) help my dad shine his light by writing a novel about his life.
Looking back now I think at an unconscious level I believed that understanding my dad would somehow help me to find the self that I’d lost and, in a wonderful twist of irony, my life increasingly became a reflection of my dad’s, as I too became obsessed with my mission.
And so nine years passed until, on the weekend of my 40th birthday, disillusioned, overwhelmed by my own sense of failure, and with my career and second marriage on the rocks, I hired a cottage and wept for two days before finally deciding to let go of the story, sending it on its way with my best wishes.
I spent the next four years getting my life back, which eventually led me to Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability. From her research, I learned that our vulnerability is also the birthplace of our creativity and this was life changing. I realised that all this time, I had been trying to rescue my dad but had never stopped to own my story, an insight that ultimately inspired me to start over again, this time with the story of the Lighthouse Keepers Daughter. So this blog is a part of my continuing process of creative recovery. It is helping me to turn my light back on.
Since I published my first post, I have experienced an attack of what Brene Brown calls the “shame gremlins”, those tapes that play saying Who do you think you are? After initially being upset and unsettled by this, I returned to this beautiful quote by Anne Lamott that a dear friend recently sent me by way of answer … I am just me I said and I am enough. And I am just standing here, shining. That is all. Love LHKD xxx