Santos Dolls take their name from the Spanish word for Saint. In the 17th century, these dolls became popular. They were originally carved by priests as a tribute to a saint. They embodied a virtue or a quality that you wanted to bring into your life. They were used for in-home altars. If a small village didn’t have a priest, the in-home altar with the Santos Doll sufficed. Also, during times of war, especially in the 1700’s and 1800’s when people were unable to travel to church, their development flourished.
Julie Ann Lee taught a class on making Santos Dolls. Her dolls are more authentic with crackly faces to make them appear antique. I veered off course to make my own meaningful dolls. I enjoyed creating these little dolls so much that I decided to make several. They are not strictly Santos Dolls. This was where my creative impulse lead me. A ballerina with red galoshes for instance. A mermaid queen. A woman with a purple dress. And the androgynous figure with a magenta jacket. What’s it all mean?
Carl Jung would certainly have something to say about these figures who emerged from my own subconscious. None of these dolls was planned. For me, they were a very intuitively guided process. Entering into that place of being guided, is somewhat like being in a shared dream…you and your creation in communion.
You witness your daily life experiences on the pages of your journal. You share your reflections, fears, hopes and dreams. Your feelings of the moment. Your encounters, reactions and more. This journal is not only a confidante, it is the keeper of your records. As a journalist, you follow yourself around with pen and pad writing down the details of your experience(s) firsthand! You describe place, person, thing, incident, occasion, a vista, your own feelings, reactions, goofiness. You write down dialogue and phrases caught on the wind in a cafe. You really don’t skimp on writing down these details. They could be useful in your blog, a book, an essay, a poem, whatever.
Your powers of recall are amazing. But what you recall is typically a feeling or an image, sometimes a smell. You don’t remember the specific details, the exact feeling, the precise colors, your immediate reaction or the words of a conversation or your thought process. As was noted in an earlier blog, it is through the image details that your writing rises out of the ordinary into the authentic and believable. Writers paint word pictures. Therein lies the gold in your well-kept journals.
Excerpt from an earlier journal…
“Once you lose the ability to speak, you really appreciate it,” my father slurred following a stroke. (Having been a girl and woman without a voice for most of my life, I thought but didn’t say–tell me about it)
He tried to recite a poem Elegy in a Country Churchyard. I couldn’t understand a single word of it!
My mother wore his yellow bathrobe, his watch on her wrist. His wallet was in the bathrobe pocket with two medications that he was taking. Like a high-schooler wearing her boyfriend’s lettered sweater.
When the doctor mentioned the question of life supports, her face screwed up as she tried not to cry.
I wouldn’t have remembered these details had I not written them in my journal. As a writer, have you mined the gold in your journals?
As a writer witnessing your own family roots, there is always material available to you. Of course, you are treading on sensitive ground when you write about your family, your history. Personally, it taps into your own unconscious triggers and ties. If this is something you are writing for publication, then you risk offending a family member.
Honestly, I don’t know how to get around this “Catch-22“. I need to write about where I’ve come from as part of my healing process, my journey back to myself. And I’ve done so extensively in my journals and especially through my poetry. Some of these poems have been published or widely shared. While they are not intended to offend anyone, I cannot predict how a family member is going to react. My candid writing, could trigger a sibling or other relative. There are laws in place around libel (written form of defamation of character). If you are seriously considering publishing anything that could defame another person, it would be wise for you to consult a libel attorney for clarity. Fine lines here.
Writers sometimes use camouflage (changing names, places, exact circumstances) in order to tell a story. In the film, Deconstructing Harry, Woody Allen plays a novelist who uses his friends’ lives as fodder for his writing. He is haunted by his friends’ reactions to this very blatant exposure.
All of that said, when I’m authentic in telling my story, the reader connects seeing that I’ve gone through something similar or at least identifiable to him/her. I’ve made myself vulnerable to my readers. Discretion and compassion go a long way in helping you decide upon how you choose to write about your familial connections.
If you choose not to publish anything about your family, it is still important to do the work of excavating your own past. Why? Basically because it is through this excavation process that you will bond with the forces that make for good depth writing. When writing is honest and evocative to the reader, it is usually because the writer has a personal grasp of human foibles, emotions and psychology. Your family, your ancestry is your personal learning ground. It is through these ties and connections that you have learned about yourself and become who you are.
Inheritance I am a child
of every story told
echo through my cells.
pumps my heart
to nature’s cycles
–breath exchanged with trees.
recycled fragments of ancestors–
Great Grandma Nell, Grandmother Louise.
the skeleton of HIS-story
from which I was
I am daughter of my mother, Severina
who was daughter of her mother, Anna.
meek rolls in fleshy woman’s form
whom I looked to
shame and oppression.
I am a blessed child
able to probe deeper
than their times allowed
tapping into the ancient stories formed
before women fell from grace.
How do you approach this Catch-22? Do you write about your family history with the intention of publication? Do you write only for yourself in order not to offend family members? Do you tell a family story while disguising the exact characters & events? Or, do you choose not to go into this territory? Take some time to consider this for yourself.
When diving into family history, set a healthy boundary for yourself. If you’re too tender don’t go there. When you decide you’re ready to navigate this territory, have support in place. Respect where you are at.