When Norma and Paul and I got on the phone in May 2013 to continue the Sibling Discovery Project, our slated topic was home. I had prepared a quick, visual poem:
My chosen place to be is home … that safe place of comfort …
where I know and am known … and can be completely me …
The previous month, when we pulled this topic from the bag of prompts, we shared some eye-opening discussion.
Paul has only had four or five places to call home, and all within a small radius of three townships around our hometown of Geneseo, Illinois. I’ve lived only in Illinois, but in quite a few homes, having moved from Geneseo to DeKalb to several Chicago suburbs. Norma has lived in six states.
So when someone asks, “Where are you from?” Paul’s response requires little thought. Given that I’ve now been away from Geneseo longer than I lived there, I say Chicago. Actually, I have never lived in Chicago, but this is easier than explaining the several western suburbs where I have held residence. And I identify with Chicago; it’s my town. Norma says she was raised in Illinois but will live out her days in Virginia.
Today, Paul and I both live with a spouse and children, while Norma lives alone.
These are facts. Not eye openers. But here it comes.
Once we left our parents’ nest, we sisters never returned home. In fact, returning was not an option. Mom told Norma this outright (refer to second-to-last paragraph in our discussion about feed). For me, it was understood, based on my aging parents’ financial and health circumstances. I needed to get out and make my own way; they had their hands full.
Paul’s experience was different. He came back. He left. He came back again.
Our parents are both gone now, so we can’t ask them why—or even if—they offered him different options.
But even the previous generation of Terpening women (our father’s sisters) went away and didn’t come back, while Dad and his brother did; they lived and died in Geneseo. If Paul never got the “you’re on your own” speech, did our dad and our uncle? Was it part of our family culture to send the women away and keep the men close?
Suffice it to say, this was a challenging conversation for the three of us siblings. I am certain Paul had ever noticed this difference before. And when it came up in our conversation, it caught him off guard.
* * *
So when we met the next month to discuss home, we found ourselves at a dead end. No, not really. Let’s make that a fork in the road.
As soon as we were all on the phone, Paul said he didn’t want to talk about home.
“I have my idea of what home is, and you guys have said that you were sent to find your home elsewhere,” he said. “That got conflicting. So I don’t want to talk about it. Plus, I’m chomping at the bit to move on to the next thing.”
* * *
Time out: It’s amazing and fortuitous, really, that home didn’t surface sooner in the Sibling Discovery Project. We draw the prompts at random from a zip-top bag. Imagine if we had hit this roadblock months ago, before our artist-sibling relationships had matured.
* * *
Truly, we three have very different interpretations of home. And yet today, as artists and parents and members of community, we all have places where work and family/home have become one and the same. We all like home, and we like being able to work when we are at home. And we recognize that this may be an uncommon reality.
Our shared interests are far stronger than this strange dissonance in our upbringing. The three of us have become powerful accountability partners for one another’s artistry, and we want that to continue.
So, what is the next thing?
Although we still have the word alphabet left in our zip-top bag of prompts (maybe we’ll return to that later), we agreed to a new focus for the Sibling Discovery Project. We haven’t yet found a great label for what’s to come, but we’re all interested in some form of mining our resources to take our artistry to the next level.
* * *
Paul talked about his penchant for collecting wood. “I have all these blocks and chunks. I picked them out for a reason: ‘I could make something out of that.’ Then they just sit there.” He’s ready to dig into that supply and turn his visions into finished work.
And that work could carry great value. Paul recalled when the three of us were together in person last summer, and we visited the WoodCraft shop in the Quad Cities. “I don’t know if you two even noticed, but I bought a 25-cent block of wood that day. And I’ve turned it into three small boxes. One box is complete, and now I’m on the second one and developing the third one. They’re all the same size, but different themes. I’m hoping to make $75 a box.”
Did you get that? He invested 25 cents and stands to make $225. “The raw materials are nothing,” he said. “There’s no potential in the wood. It’s in my artistry.” So Paul is going to dig through those blocks and chunks and hunks he’s collected over the years—each with its own story—and create finished pieces.
* * *
While Paul is digging through raw materials, Norma will be working through her file drawer of designs—some of her own, some of other artists. She wants to reinterpret designs to create new work. “And I like the idea of having you two as sounding board for what I produce and to encourage me to keep doing it,” she told me and Paul.
We can do that! We’ll work together as mentors, encouragers, prodders. We’ll have a monthly show and tell session. We’ll talk it out. Our scheduled discussions will give us structure and time to work things out.
* * *
As for me, I want to finally publish a work from the ideas that sit waiting in my physical and digital files. Poems, essays, blog posts … I have been prolific. And yet I am not published. I need to mine my own material and produce a publish-able work that hangs together. I want to be a published author.
* * *
We all have something waiting for us, and we want to go meet it. We will help each other along the way.