I tried desperately to write more about my personal journey last week, but I just couldn’t manage to get it out. Some things were still too deep to be articulated. But after a week of continued meditation on my Halloween crafts, I think I’m to a place where I can express some of the personal symbolism. In a sense, I created a haunted house out of internal pain, picking decorations that held personal horrors in addition to general horror.
This is where the journey began, gently bringing myself to a meditative place with symbols of death and the underworld.
There’s something haunting about abandoned places that echoes my own fear of abandonment. That sense of something having been there, now gone, can be overwhelming. What isn’t there is just as haunting as what is there. And the attempt to sterilize and cover up the abandonment makes it even worse.
Although I still play the violin, I can’t bring myself to play this violin. It’s haunted with too much from the past. As my grandfather’s violin, it comes attached with all the expectations and dreams of my family. Even though violin wasn’t what I wanted to make a career out of, it was what they expected my career to entail. It went with me to Bob Jones University, where it picked up the negative energy of my teachers as they told me I might as well quit if I didn’t enjoy playing Mozart and that I was one of those people who just didn’t have what it takes to play. I think I shed more tears over that violin than anything else during my three years in that hell. And though I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of what I was choosing, the day I told my parents that I didn’t want to study violin anymore because I wasn’t interested in clinging to a safety net, I abandoned more than just their dreams and my hopes for graduating from BJU. It began my exodus from fundamentalism, but it was also the day I stopped abandoning myself.
This next one is complex. Originally I started creating this vampire scarecrow baby simply because I find babies slightly scary. They really are the closest to actual vampires that we have, living off the bodily fluids of another—that is after they’ve lived inside someone for 9 months like some sort of alien parasite. If some women find that idea appealing, that’s great. I find it repulsive.
But I soon realized that this particular doll was so much more than just an expression of my aversion to children. The dress was made by my dad to put in my hope chest. It symbolizes yet another area where I fail to live up to my parents’ hopes as well as the expectations of fundamentalism. Fundamentalist Christianity is not a nice place to women. This is essentially the extent of their “role” in so many teachings, and in that sense, I think children do more than just suck on their mothers—they suck the life away from them. Children are the chains that I as a Christian woman was taught to want, even when I didn’t want them.
Moving away from the living room, we enter the kitchen, which I transformed into a torture chamber and apothecary. The tools of the trade are all there for slicing and dicing. A shrunken head hangs drying from a hook. And closer to Halloween, the pumpkin will be receiving a lobotomy. The instruction book propped open is actually a Bible.
I can’t think of a more effective weapon within fundamentalism than brainwashing. First you scare someone shitless, then you convince them that the only way to be safe is by cutting themselves off from their thoughts and emotions. Once you have them mindlessly following you, you can shape their behavior into whatever you want. And fundamentalist Christianity is an expert at this.
Just for good measure, check out this video for how accurate the shrunken head symbol is.
Perhaps the most cathartic of all my creative enterprises was the desecration of family pictures. This is the one that felt the most taboo and the one that I wanted to hide, thus the one that I needed the most. It’s easy to acknowledge that BJU left emotional scars. It’s easy to see the loss and feel the anger towards the institutional abuse inherent in fundamentalism. What’s harder is allowing myself that much honesty with my family.
I have a feeling that desecrating my “ancestors” is taboo, even during Halloween. And I certainly didn’t start out with the idea of turning a family album into a blasphemous display. Part of me was horrified. Here I was tapping into and revealing something in me that made me uncomfortable, which really was the whole point of the underworld journey, right? Facing my shadow side, letting go of shame, letting something I was afraid of come to the surface.
Family pictures often look so happy, even if the family is so dysfunctional, the only time they ever stop trying to destroy each other is while the flash is going off. But underneath every happy smile, there’s always problems—problems that it’s natural for families to want to hide from the memory-making. And for some families, it probably runs deeper, with more sinister problems than others. But society tells us to pretend that families are happy, safe, blessed places. We’re not supposed to talk about or show that they’re not.
I’ve got pretty select friends with whom I’ll discuss family problems, but for the most part, I succumb to the pressure of the photograph—the pressure to pretend that there are no problems when presenting a face to the world. I hadn’t even realized how deeply I was denying some of the anger towards my family until I began destroying pictures. There’s a lot that happened—a lot that was said—as I dug my way out of fundamentalism. There’s a lot that is left unsaid now after having come out as bi. We talk, but the conversations are about as real as the smiles. We’re so busy pretending things are okay that we can’t even get to the point of making them okay.
As with all Underworld journeys, the point isn’t to go down into the depths and stay. There’s a journey back up to the world, back to life. And I’m definitely on the upward swing. I’ve learned things about myself that I hadn’t yet realized. I’ve reminded myself of lessons it’s easy to forget about during the bloom of spring. But more than anything, I’ve discovered that life, even the painful parts (and yes even death as part of life) is beautiful and worth living.