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.”