On rewriting our legacies

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In the dream, my daughter is a hostage.

I’m standing at a lectern on a stage at a university I’ve never seen before in my waking life, but I’m there for my thesis defense. The hall is empty — I’m early. I’ve just passed one of my committee members on her way out of the auditorium for a break between presentations, so I know I’m at the right place. But my advisor isn’t there yet.

There’s a rotary phone on the podium, so I dial my advisor’s extension. She answers, and suddenly I can see her on the other end of the line, holding my daughter on her knee with one of T.’s favorite Eric Carle board books. “We’re fine,” she says. “T.’s been taken, but I’m here to protect her until you can get us free.”

“But how do I —”

Click. We disconnect. And before I’m even fully conscious, I know what I have to do. I have to finish the story I started seven years ago, the dream-thesis I was preparing to defend.

*

The real thesis was filed away with my other work from Iowa after my graduation. I wrote it before I had children, when my generation was the terminal one in my family tree. At that time in my writing, I was trying to understand the legacy of my parents’ marriage and its entanglements in my own. The complex power dynamics they navigated in their courtship and early years as husband and wife left their trace on me well before D. and I decided to get married.

I knew I needed our marriage to be different from theirs. And yet, when my admission to Iowa and D.’s dream job offer in Washington forced us to become a long-distance couple, the challenges that emerged between us felt all too familiar to me. I refused to believe that we were destined to repeat my parents’ history, but the more I resisted or tried to repair our conflicts, the more they seemed to entrench themselves — just as my parents’ differences had.

I couldn’t write about all of that, not right away. So the thesis I eventually submitted was barely half of the real story, and until my own piece of the narrative unfolded, it had to remain unfinished.

My dream last month reminded me that the idea of legacy is still at the story’s heart — of my parents’ story and mine, and now that I have my daughter, of mine and hers. Until I find the truth that writing this story will allow me to tell, part of me fears that my legacy to her will be just as burdensome as the one I was given: the example of a marriage that begs so many questions without answers to any of the what-ifs and whys.

My daughter is still very young. The answers I discover as I return to this story may well change before she is old enough to wonder what holds her parents together in spite of what drives them apart — but I want to be ready when she asks. To finish — to rewrite — the story as the dream suggests is to set us both free from my parents’ legacy. At least for now, this is what is at stake.

What is the legacy you hope to leave behind through your writing? How have your dreams given you insight into a project or work-in-progress? Share your thoughts with me by clicking the button below. If you are interested in learning how to work with your dreams to support your creative process, you can also check out this group offering and sign up to be notified when enrollment begins.