Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Authentic living is only fair


There's nothing like a death, divorce or incarceration to shake out family secrets.

Relatives near and far, start asking questions to help grieve, plan memorials, arrange travel, obtain lawyers. Secrets come out during family shake-ups, and usually people finally start to tell stories.

All of the unpleasant events I just mentioned just occurred in my family. Consequently, I've been hearing so many family secrets that I'm feeling as shaken as a James Bond martini.

It is rare to find out a wonderful family secret such as Uncle Joe secretly donating millions to feed the poor.

Secrets are usually things like: eating disorders, excessive drinking or drug use, sexual abuse, greed, theft, lies and affairs. Most of these problems are based in a fear of people knowing who they really are or a fear of not being enough.

We could save ourselves a lot of heartache by being authentic and not keeping secrets. Airbrushed supermodels should be treated as harshly as steroid users. The outcome is the same - a status upgrade with a secret unnatural advantage.

If media icons would step down from their pedestals, there wouldn't be big sudden death shake-ups like Michael Jackson, who wouldn't reveal he had insomnia. Now his dancers are heartbroken, his concerts canceled, his children orphaned.

What if Tiger Woods had admitted he wasn't ready for commitment? Then the public would still get to watch Tiger play golf, be a good role model and date multiple women.

My uncle of 25 years had an affair with the bakery girl and took out secret loans when she started blackmailing him. He confessed to my aunt before the other woman could tell her.

What if my uncle would have noticed the attraction to "hot buns" as a sign of his shaky marriage which upon inspection would have ended or improved? Either way, he would have found happiness in authenticity.

(For the record, my uncle and the other woman eventually married despite learning about her extensive criminal history. It was annulled several days later when he woke up and discovered his new bride and another man had robbed him. The police at the station, tired of policing their relationship, refused to test his coffee he claimed she had poisoned.)

Play a game if you want. Pick a scandal, any scandal, and try and find the happy authentic outcome: John Edwards, Ted Haggard, Barry Bonds, Papa Pilgrim ... .

Storyteller Bill Harley recently came to town and stressed the power of telling our stories to the young. The oral passing of cultural history has all but been squeezed out by excessive media entertainment. We need to tell unflattering stories, too, so kids don't compare themselves to an illusion.

I'm guilty of attempting to show only good photos of myself. There aren't photos of me crying after not making the cheerleading squad, yet these are the stories that must be told.

Gov. Sean Parnell stated he'll take on domestic violence and child abuse in Alaska, which is twice the national average. The first public discussion meeting was standing room only. By exposing these family secrets, they lose power and can be replaced with a constructive force. SEARHC in Sitka understands this and has announced it's bringing back the talking circle for health.

With some of us in Juneau living far away from family, we have to get creative to have a family talking circle. I was writing in a coffee shop when my mom video skyped me with family news. I had a virtual coffee date with my mom, and when I went for the creamer she chatted with other patrons, a surreal talking head sitting on the table. I had a conference call with relatives in different cities.

If you won't live authentically for yourself, do it for your family so they have a chance to be happy. By the way, if you would like to talk to my mom, we are there Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

• Courtney Nelson is a Juneau resident breaking it down with sassy, sensible truths. She can be reached at nelsonfamily@acsalaska.net">nelsonfamily@acsalaska.net.

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