In order to get to know others you must first know and understand yourself and where you come from.
The Art Therapy professor at C.W. Post presented this challenge to my cousin and her class last week, each of them embarking on the “Family of Origin” project. Little did I realize that my cousin’s homework assignment, which consisted of five questions, would find itself forwarded to my inbox. She also forwarded this same questionnaire to different members of the family asking each of us to answer the five questions listed to the best of our ability. Once we were done answering the questionnaire, we were to send it back to her so that she could analyze the results. Her professor said that the point behind the project is that one could become a better therapist by getting to know oneself and one’s family of origin.
So I approached these five questions last Sunday night with an open mind but assumed it would be pretty basic and straight forward. I mean, over the years I have talked about my family and my ancestors to exhaustion, always with pride, but never did I expect to understand myself through their journey. So, I turned off the television, plopped down on my sofa with the glare of the computer screen staring back at me; icon blinking knowing that I am so used to a blank page…and question #1 waiting for my answer like an impatient child: What are the themes, loyalties, tasks, roles, struggles, demons, and myths that make up your family heritage? In my half-exhausted, kind of stream of consciousness method, I wrote the first things that popped into my head.
I believe the main theme amongst my family is family first. After that, work hard and you will go far in this life. Also, to strive to make a better life for your children and grandchildren through education and following your dreams. My grandparents were European immigrants who traveled to this country with nothing. My Great-Grandfather Panos on my mother’s side was from Cyprus who left everything to start a new life in New York City. My Great-Grandmother Panos was so strong and with two young children, left her family and friends and traveled a long rigorous journey to the United States to reunite with her husband. They lived in a cold water flat and after countless struggles, they still believed in the American dream; starting a new life for their family to give them more opportunities.
On my father’s side, Grandpa Kuch was a Polish immigrant who came to this country and eventually found a job as a window washer. He was able to see my dad graduate from college and then get his Master’s degree. Grandma Kuch died from cancer when my dad was five years old and my dad grew up without a mother but had two older sisters to look up to. I remember I was faced with death for the first time when my dad lost his oldest sister, my Aunt Joan, to cancer. I still remember where I was, sitting in front of the television set at seven-years old, hearing the phone ring and not really understanding what was happening. My dad would tell us that time is precious and that you never know when you will lose those you love. Even at a young age, my dad would tell me and my sisters to never go to bed angry. That was something he always told us; you need to forgive those you love and treasure the time you have with them.
Fourth of July has always been a much celebrated holiday at my parent’s house. When I was young, the whole family would come over for a barbeque and my Aunt Joan would come up from Florida to celebrate with us, some of the best memories I still have of her. My family and I are very patriotic. I recall my sisters and I riding our bikes with my dad around the neighborhood and counting the number of American flags hanging outside our neighbor’s houses. Also how could I forget our annual watching of the movie “1776” which we could quote verbatim as well as singing patriotic songs like “You’re a Grand Old Flag”.
Marriage is something that is very important to my family. My grandparents on my mother’s side were married for 50 plus years and are a testament that marriage can work. You have to work at marriage and I hope to work at my own marriage each and every day, emulating people like my grandparents and my own parents. God willing, I hope to one day celebrate my own 50th wedding anniversary and have my whole family there beside me to celebrate. My Grandpa Panos always said that family is everything and money and things will not buy you happiness. Things are just things, but a family’s love is what will stay with you through every stage of your life.
I stopped typing and began to understand the journey.
The different morals and beliefs of my grandparents and parents really shaped who I became as an individual. While re-reading over my answers, I began to understand the choices I made in my own life. As a writer, you can really use this knowledge and wisdom to understand the types of characters you write about, or the different morals or themes that you bring to the blank page. People always tell me that the author’s voice is interspersed throughout the written work; that the author is a part of the written work in some way, even at a subconscious level. This project of learning more about my family really added to my understanding of why I became a writer and why I feel passionate about what I write about. Family, love, faith are all three themes that repeated multiple times as I answered each of the questions. Those themes do play a vital role in a lot of my short stories and most recently my novel. I began to understand that my parent’s and ancestor’s teachings, values and their own journey did indeed influence and inspire me as an individual. Family, faith and love. Themes in my life that replay over and over again and I pray will continue to play over and over again throughout the course of my life.
What is your story? Answer the following questions and try to be honest with yourself. Sometimes it hurts to write so candidly but there are times when you have to face realities in your own life to really be honest in your writing. So take a chance to catch a glimpse of the story that is you.
Family of Origin Project
1. Historical continuities and changes – What are the themes, loyalties, tasks, roles, struggles, demons, and myths that make up your family heritage?
2. Structure and dynamics of family of origin – What are the family rules regarding power, authority, closeness, individuality, decision-making, relating to outsiders, sexuality?
2a. What are the differentiated roles of parents and siblings?
2b. How are personal boundaries defined?
3. Family evolution – Write how your family adapted and responded to key developmental crisis. Any crisis?
4. Comparative family structures – Compare the structure and processes of your family of origin. How have things changed and how do they remain the same? What has been passed on? What has changed?
5. Anything else that you feel you can share about YOUR VIEW on the family would be much appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to fill this out.