It is just a few days before Christmas 2010. And it is also exactly thirteen years since this remarkable convoluted journey began for me. The first words of the first paragraph of the first chapter of the newly released book, Grandmothers Whisper read.
"The first time I set eyes on 'Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani and heard him speak, it was just after sunrise, Christmas morning, on the Northwestern-most Hawaiian Island of Kaua'i. And hour earlier I had awakened from a compelling dream. Two weeks earlier any thought of a vacation in Hawai'i would have been absurd. I had never in my entire life harbored the slightest desire to see Hawai'i..."
The rest, as is often said, is history. A very personal history indeed. It is this personal history that I share in Grandmothers Whisper, and sharing personal history (via memoir) is a two-edged sword. It welcomes praise and it welcomes criticism like all literature, but memoir invites critique of my life as well. First-person narrative - memoir - is something I have done my entire life. It is how I write and what I write, and still it makes me feel very vulnerable.
On some days, I have wondered if it took me thirteen years to publish Grandmothers Whisper not solely because I was forced to write it while living on beaches, sleeping in cars, doing without most everything that had fed and nurtured me for the first fifty-one years of my life; not only because it has taken all these years to understand what my journey meant.
Sometimes I wonder if it has taken me this long to go public with the story because I knew exactly how exposed this story of mine would make me.
Now it is done. It is out there in a very public way. I am open to every well-meaning and ill-meaning voice that chooses to respond: to my work, and to my self. It is too soon to assess what that will bring. I wish I were not so thin-skinned. I wish I could be a Barack Obama who seems to have developed a powerful inner that allows the outer stuff to stay out.
Here is my truth: I think of myself as a reasonable woman of some intelligence. I think of myself as rational, level-headed, perhaps even skeptical. Around our family dinner table, my sons will attest: when they brought home the knowledge of their childhood and their adolescence, their mother would skewer them with the same journalistic question: "What's your source?" Now my eldest responds to me in the same way. I was teaching them, I thought, discernment - the ability to distinguish between fact and fiction, truth and deception.
I've never in my life been called a "flake," accused of having my head in the clouds or of displaying an over-active imagination. Quite the opposite. So now: there is this book, and this particular book speaks of my immersion into a very spiritual culture. I have heard and I have spoken with dead ancestors...and more. To my vast array of intelligent and respectable friends, I may have abandoned my reputation as one of them. I may have relinquished any claim to having my feet-on-the-ground.
I remember this from Shirley MacLaine's book, "Out on a Limb." She said that she feared going public with her spiritual story because it would open her to criticism. The answer her friend offered her was this: 'You are afraid of public criticism, and you are an actor?"
Well, it applies here. I'm afraid of public criticism and I've written for the public my entire life? So I take the plunge. Really there was no way I could not have. This is, after all, the Hawaiian grandmothers' book. They've been shoving me in this direction for thirteen years. 'Iokepa calls himself an 'obedient mo'opuna' - an obedient grandson.
And me? I'm just a woman, who early on knew that there was really no other way for me to understand my inner world or the world around me if I did not write.