I am a member of both the Main Line Writer’s Group and the Brandywine Valley Writer’s Group.
contact me or learn more about me at janebutler.org
I grew up on an idyllic private estate near Manhattan with 70,000 acres of trees out the back door. My driven father, a farmer-turned-lawyer, was perpetually busy as manager of the Arden estate. My mother had been an orphan in a boarding house when she and Dad met, both twenty-one. That’s when Dad rescued her since in the end he was the only one to never leave her. Even after having five children, it seemed she could relate to no one but him.
Maybe that’s why emotions were not tolerated in our home, the expression of sadness, anger and joy disallowed. As a result, by the time I reached adulthood knowing how I truly felt about anything was a mystery. Lost in our cloistered world of Arden where feelings had to remain secret and the prospect of developing relationships was hopeless, it seems to me that Mom and Dad unwittingly raised five orphans. After all, a brother joined Scientology and a sister ran away. For me, itchy hives and migraine headaches flourished.
Once I left Arden, I discovered that for a fee there was an individual who would deliberately get to know me, take an interest in anything I had to say, listen, and look me right in the eye. That’s when I took on the nearly impossible task of at last allowing myself to honor my feelings. To love myself first.
That’s when I learned to replace all those trees of Arden with people.
Even though I went to college to become a pharmacist and I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for years, I seem to be a writer at heart.
An excerpt from my memoir about misbehaving as a high school cheerleader on my sixteenth birthday is published in Unclaimed Baggage: Voices of the Main Line Writer’s Group. I won the August 2016 West Chester Story Slam where I stood at a mic in a crowded restaurant and told the story of being lost on the vast estate of my childhood arriving at adulthood unaware of just how lost I was. I also won in January 2014 when I revealed how my son first learned how babies are made. The text of that story was later published in West Chester Story Slam: Selected Stories 2010- 2014.
But I got started thinking of myself as a writer a few years before that, when on a whim, I submitted an essay about the after-school music program my sons attended, to the Philadelphia Inquirer where it was published complete with a picture of my eldest at the keyboards.
For years now I have had a desire to mold stacks of personal journals, all my childhood report cards, and a notebook full of scribbled-on envelopes and napkins into something worth reading. I’ve earned two legitimate degrees, a Bachelor’s of Science in Pharmacy which got me a good job at a pharmaceutical research firm when I was twenty-three, and taught me how to spell words such as ‘hemorrhage’, which comes up in my writing a bit, as well as a Master’s in Health Systems Management. That one helped me get another job in research that led me to contribute to and be responsible for editing a 400-page technical document entitled the “Overall Summary – The Efficacy and Safety of Oral Milrinone in Congestive Heart Failure”, an FDA must-have. I also co-authored a paper in the journal of Clinical Research and Pharmacoepidemiology, entitled, “A Comprehensive Interactive Training Program for Clinical Monitors”. But all of this is ancient history.
More recently I gave myself a made-up degree, an Honorary Doctorate in PseudoPsychology, or something along those lines. Someone with an actual doctorate could probably tell me what to call it. But anyway, I grant this in recognition of my twelve credit-hours of master’s level psychology courses above and beyond my first master’s degree, combined with my twenty-plus years of psychotherapy, the first four of which the therapist termed ‘intensive.’ For a fee, my mentor was obligated by our implied business contract to give me her undivided attention, eye contact included, for fifty minutes every week. Classes were in the tutorial style, there was increasingly more challenging homework, and I conducted extensive research that culminated in the memoir titled, You’ll Get Over It, Jane Ellen.
One Sunday morning at the Quaker Meeting I felt compelled to stand and say this:
“Today my thoughts are on some of the profound changes I have made in my life. A large part of my adulthood has been spent recovering from my childhood. I arrived at adulthood feeling bad about myself, not happy with who I was and recognizing I needed to make changes, but not knowing how to do it. This week I am scheduled to meet with the mothers of preschoolers in Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania to share a message I have about the importance of deliberately engaging with young children. Engaging consciously with children is how you build a relationship with them, how you get to know them and how you learn who they are and what they have to offer the world. I had a calling a few years ago to go do this, to tell mothers that engaging with children when they are small is the way to help them know themselves, to help them see the gifts God has given them, and to help them take advantage of those gifts. I realized at one point in my life that my own parents had failed to do this and that I had arrived on the doorstep of adulthood hating myself and feeling everything I did was wrong and stupid and useless. I ended up in psychotherapy where the Socratic method is used. Socrates used questions as a way to help gain understanding. I asked myself whether I was satisfied with the way I was living my life, whether I liked what I’d done earlier that day, whether I liked my behavior in general, and whether I valued myself. It was a pretty long road and it was a whole lot of work but in the end it had a profound affect on me. When I meet with the mothers of preschoolers I am usually well-received because they want to be reminded of the value in the opportunity they have as parents, because of the fleeting chance we get to help our kids get to know themselves and love themselves.
I guess I wanted to find a way to take a not-so-great childhood and turn it into something else, you know, try to take my experience and use it to make the world a little better.”
Jane, congratulations on sharing your inspiration with others.
It was a brave and bold move to extend your reach via the internet and I’m sure there are many who are proud of you and who appreciate what you share. For those who hear you speak, they may continue to follow and to be inspired.
I think you deserve lots of chocolate chip cookies.
Martha Bryans said:
Jane, I loved reading this and look forward to learning more! Martha
Thank you, Martha, for looking at this. I notice that a lot of people click on ‘About the Author’ and I thought I’d give them something to read. Jane
I appreciate you sharing your memories, thoughts and feelings. Your willingness to speak with groups is inspiring. I look forward to learning more about your hopes and dreams for the future.
All the best,
Hey Jane i read with interest the message you offered at quaker meeting. i particularly like the part where you speak in terms of calling. you write “i had a calling a few years ago to go do this.” Could you please give us some more details about this event? where did it happen? who else was involved? what else was going on in your life at the same time you sensed this calling? and how, exactly did you sense the calling? what senses were involved (touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight). did any dreams seem relevant at the time? Calling, or vocation, is such a rich and relevant topic I’m eager to read/learn more about your take on the topic.
Thanks for reading and asking about this! I was literally in my bed waking up one morning, hanging around not getting up too fast, when it occurred to me that I was barely conscious of a desire I’d had for some time to go back to my original Mom’s Club and speak to them. When I became pregnant and had kids I discovered a world of women who help each other, a sisterhood of mothers who care a lot about sharing ideas and supporting one another. People wanting to support me was a foreign idea and I loved it. I was forever grateful to this club and to men and women in general who share the struggles of life with each other. (Read my whole book and you’ll see why I was so lost on this point!). So in gratitude I wanted to go back to them and let them know about the things I’ve learned about being a parent. Because I grew up in isolation and in a world full of secrets, and then spent years in psychotherapy understanding that, I am not shy today to speak quite frankly about the truths of my life including things to do with raising kids. I felt compelled in that moment, in my bed, to take steps to live out that desire to go back to the group and share what I know.
I had freed up my life of extraneous obligations so I could figure out what I did want to do with myself. I was working with a psychotherapist to learn how to say yes to what I wanted to do and no to what I didn’t want to do. And in this way I made myself ripe for the ‘calling’ I suppose. Besides that I was learning how to listen to myself better and to hear my own voice. I did that by talking about positive feelings I had during the week and expounding on every detail of those, then indulging in conversation that examined every angle of that positive idea, with the therapist. Over time it helped me learn to recognize more easily the feelings that are authentically mine and not reactions to others’ ideas. I don’t remember any senses being involved besides sight, that being, a glance out the window at the tree that faced the house then. Believe me I could go on with this topic, so you asking all these details is a gold mine for me! I will spare you further facts unless you ask!
thank you for your reply
I am interested in talking about calls and calling because I am trying to stay true to my own sense of calling and it isn’t always easy with the many distractions and obligations of life that take time and energy away from what I consider to be my true vocation. For me, the first challenge was to discern the calling, in an authentic manner, and then a second challenge has been to stay true to the calling even though doing so has taken me in some unexpected directions. A third challenge has been not to lose patience during fallow periods and dry spells. So, I hope that by discussing calls and calling, it will freshen my own sense of call, and strengthen me to move forward with my continued response in the coming year. If in discussing this topic you experience a similar refreshing/renewing sense of your call, then the discussion becomes mutually beneficial.
Don, My experience has been that no matter what you do you cannot get rid of the desire to follow through on whatever it is that drives you, so even the dry spells serve a purpose. I really believe they are periods designed to have your brain catch up with your heart while you walk around the earth doing things that do not particularly look like following your calling. Writing my story has been an example of that. Even though I have tried to talk myself out of it, tried to ignore that I wanted to do it, and then after the fact deny that I have written a whole lot of stories that add up to a book, the whole thing does not go away. I still think about it a lot and want to take it forward despite my best efforts to make it all go away. Telling my story, sharing what I have learned, apparently, that is my calling. The voice in my head calling me just gets louder.
lorinda lende said:
So glad I am reading your blog- it is so emotionally honest and you translate so well the feelings and experiences of a sensitive, deep and thoughtful person that the world’s heavy surf has battered. Despite this, you never lose your vision, and therefore feel compelled to share that vision, of which i am thrilled about because , i get to read it! I only read a few entries, but the Daddy’s little girl struck a chord and also made me choke up for the pain it caused you. Also, I too LOVED the movie “I AM” and sent it on to others. It says so much. I look forward to reading some more, but wanted to spend the little time budgeted for my own interests to encourage you, I look forward to reading the rest and seeing you at the writers group tomorrow!
Thank you for visiting my blog! And thank you for the feedback on my writing. I am anxious to see yours as well. I liked “I Am” so much I keep watching it. It helps me feel connected to the world! So do you, so thank you sincerely for being a friendly face at the writer’s group and for taking the time to remark here. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow night.
Amy Francella said:
Jane–it was great seeing you the other night! Thanks for the advice. Your story is very interesting and I admire your mission to educate parents about there little ones!!–Amy Francella
It was great to see you, too. My aim really is to educate parents about themselves, and to point out the power in their role as parents. And I mean that in the sense that parents have the power to model for their children how to learn next to someone, to not always have all the answers but to be open to being a learner about life together. Because we are ahead of our children chronologically that gives us some authority but not as much as you might think! Thanks for visiting my blog!