Telling My Story – A Mandala

Tell My Story ©2016 Bo Mackison

Tell My Story ©2016 Bo Mackison

Tell my story.

I’ve been writing a lot. Stories that feel “too hard, too messy” to write anywhere other than my private, password-protected journal. Just yesterday, I reached a tipping point where it now feels important to give my story the dignity of being seen in the light, not kept hidden in the darkness.

More often than not I want to diminish my story. But in diminishing my story, I keep myself in a dark cage, silenced. I reinforce “my story is not allowed.” “I am not allowed to speak.” “I am not seen.”

The above mandala? It was part of my process of allowing, of sharing, of being. For every “x” I marked on the mandala, I spoke aloud the words “my story needs telling.”

And so I… tell my story.


I woke up this morning unsure of where I was. I grappled with my bed sheets for a minute trying to remember. Oh. Pillow. Mattress. Early morning light shining through the window. Gracie breathing at the foot of my bed. My bed. All safe. All sound.

And though I know this to be true, that I am safe and sound in my bed, I am not convinced.

Moments before I did not feel safe nor sound. Suspended in that half-awake half-asleep threshold, in a gray state of floating semi-consciousness. Where reality and fantasy mix. Where truth is mist and swirl. Where my foot searches for a place to step that does not shift into nothingness.

In my dream, I am trapped in a small stone hut on the outskirts of a metropolis. I could see through a ground level slit in the door. There were people, tall buildings, streets clogged with traffic in the just beyond. I had no voice. I tried to call out to the passers-by, to the taxi drivers, to a crowd of children feeding birds near a rainbow-lit fountain. No one could see me, huddled on a concrete floor. No one could hear me, my voice silenced. I tried to write a message on the floor of the hut, convinced all I needed to do was write my name. Until I realized that I was writing with my blood.

Half awake, I struggling with the twisted bed sheets. Then I was fully awake and on the verge of panic.

There is a lot of noise in the world right now. Nationally, the presidential election, only 19 days away, is in the headlines 24/7. Closer to home, I am adjusting to elder care, responsibilities that do not play into my strengths. In my home, I am working through relational issues. None of these are easy. I might call them triggers, but triggers are getting a lot of pushback in the news. Media headlines imply they are an over-reaction, that we should all just grow up as a society and be strong enough to handle the unpleasantries in life. Triggers be damned.

Recently Donald Trump made clear (to me) his reputation as an abuser. In one of his many verbal diatribes, he called out Senator John McCain as suspect, claiming he was “only a war hero” because “he was captured.” Trump insinuated that the very act of being captured by the enemy was a sign of weakness. Trump is a trigger.

Trump also claimed that returning veterans who are “strong” do not get PTSD, but “others can’t handle it.” It is the victim’s fault for getting captured, for not being strong enough. For not rising over impossible hurdles. It is the victim’s fault.

When my youngest daughter was a senior at the University of Wisconsin, a student group had a rally on the quad. A few students erected several bamboo cages on a grassy space in the middle of campus and “lived” in these cages for 24 hours. It was their way of calling attention to still-unaccounted-for POWs from the Viet Nam Era.

The cages were constructed of bamboo sticks, maybe 3 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet, the size of a large dog kennel.

We had made plans to meet for lunch across the street from the quad. We had a thirty-minute wait at our window table for pizza, so we watched some of the POW activities. When our food finally arrived, I was no longer hungry. I was having trouble enough simply breathing.

Putting these pieces together — my panic upon waking, a dream where I am trapped in a small hut, my only way of communication writing my name in blood, the blaming of victims for their weaknesses in response to trauma, the cages of torture and imprisonment — makes me want to deny there is any connection between the horrors of war and the horrors of child abuse.

Isn’t it better to minimize, to accept the blame, to deny triggers?

I hear voices from my childhood. “Don’t make a big deal out of nothing?” “Don’t tell. No one will believe you.” “It’s your fault.”

And a half century later, I am ready to say, “No. That was a big deal. I get to tell my story. It was never my fault. I believe me… and maybe others will, too.”

Writing Your Life Story Part 4: Why Write Your Story?

Polyvitro Chandelier and Tower

Polyvitro Chandelier and Tower © 2014 Bo Mackison

Friends, family, even strangers ask: “Why should I write down my life story?” “I haven’t anything important to share.” “Who would want to read about my life?”

So . . . why write my life story or memoir?

Different writers have different reasons, but here are a few:

Memoir writing can be therapeutic.

Writing your way through a difficult period of life, or writing about the learning of a challenging life lesson can help put the experience into perspective.

Memoirs provide teaching moments.

A good memoir focuses on an event or series of events that evoke a change in the author — perhaps a change of view, a change of feelings, a change for better (or worse.)

Memoirs provide for personal sharing and keep moments alive.

This sharing need not be for a large audience; the writing may only be written for family members or friends. It is a way of documenting a part of their lives, too. I recalled a poem I recently read that described a moment by a writer as he watched his words being read by another.

A day will come I’ll watch you reading this.
I’ll look up from these words I’m writing now—
this line I’m standing on, I’ll be right here,
alive again. I’ll breathe on you this breath.
~~ excerpt from the poem The One Certain Thing by Peter Cooley

Ask yourself. Why write about your life, your memories?

This makes a great writing prompt. Are you writing to resolve an old issue? Are you writing to share a major shift in your actions or way of thinking? Or like the poet, are you writing your story, even in a small way, for posterity?

Consider writing down your reasons and making it a part of your memoir collection.

Next: Part 5, The Perfect Container

Weaving and Words


Weavings © 2010 Bo Mackison

A popular ritual for welcoming in the New Year- at least in many of the blogging circles that I follow – is to choose a word for the year. This is a word that serves as a focus for the next twelve months, and seems more doable than a slew of New Year’s Resolutions that are forgotten by Leap Day.

Christine Painter in her blog  Abbey of the Arts discusses the choice of a word in depth and asks these two questions.

  • What is your word for the year that contains within it a seed of invitation to cross a new threshold?
  • What word shimmers before you, inviting you to dwell with it until it ripens fully inside of you?

Even though we are a week into 2012, I wanted to post both her questions and my response, first to share, and second, so I have a place where it is safely documented.

Hanging Weavings

Hanging Weavings © 2010 Bo Mackison

My word for 2012 is WEAVING.

When I was choosing a word, I had several ideas. I journaled about the different words, and I found weaving deep with meaning. Since I wrote in concepts and phrases, here’s the journal entry itself instead of trying to sweep that pile of thoughts and words into cohesive paragraphs:

  • Weaving – take the good, the boring, the sad and the happy, the challenges and the gifts — take all and weave them together. And then I end up with a life like an intricate tapestry.
  • Is weaving connected to creativity, to photography? Do I weave a photograph. Like that idea. I take a photo, but the photograph isn’t any photo, it is one where I have added myself to it, I weave myself into all of my photographs, I am a part.
  • Weaving is action. Not sitting while doing nothing. Continued, purposeful action. Sweep the shuttle, pull the beater, tighten the weave, change the treadles, sweep the shuttle, pull the beater, tighten the weave. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. A routine, a rhythm. Living my life with some routine, a rhythm would help pace my days. And calming, the repetition is calming. Add calming activities to my life.
  • But weaving isn’t boring–the pattern is always changing. And life, like weaving, is always changing.
  • Weave fabric. Make something beautiful, functional. And woven fabric is stable, it does not easily get distorted like a knitted or crocheted piece. Make something beautiful and useful from my life. Colorful, artistic, creative. A tapestry?
  • Weaving creates that tapestry. Putting things together, stringing days together, but just one thread at a time, one step at a time. The goal is a finished piece, but mistakes are okay. In all that weaving, but almost impossible to find a misplaced thread. Make a mistake, repair it if you can, make amends if need be, and then keep on going.
  • Weave with ideas. Put ideas together. Weaving is slow. Slow down, give thoughts time enough to turn into workable plans. Might be slow, but you can see the progress if you keep weaving, even doing it slowly.
  • Weaving — a comfort, in the cold or harsh winds, easy to wrap a woven shawl around me for comfort and warmth.
  • Weaving on my path — this kind of journey weaving is never walked on a straight, smooth sidewalk. It requires a weaving in and out, amidst obstacles, with/around people.

WEAVING — a word that will accompany me through this year.