SMALL WONDERS:

We write to expose the unexposed.

If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must.

Otherwise, you’ll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you’ve already been in.

Most human beings are dedicated to keeping that one door shut.

Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird”

Have you ever felt like you’ve been living someone else’s life? A life designed for you by your parents, friends and teachers? Maybe your church, your neighborhood or society in general? Have you ever had the urge to do something that would cause those closest to you to wonder aloud, “Huh, I never would have thought that from you?”

Yeah. Me neither.

But, I do know someone who has felt that. And she’s done a little something about it.

Eva Contis rolled into Burbank with her toddler son about eight years ago. The single mom felt like she’d stepped into the lyrics of that Loretta Lynn song where, “The women all look at you like you’re bad and the men all hope you are.” By way of San Francisco, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and parts unknown, she didn’t quite fit in with the nuclear family lifestyle we seem to emanate here (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

When a kindergarten teacher once noticed that her son was acting up, she brought it up to Eva. “Do you have people coming in and out of your house a lot?” the teacher asked.

The stretched and struggling unwed mother responded, “Would you be asking a married mother that?”

By her own account she’s had more jobs than she can remember — from working at Dean Witter to being a cigarette girl; teaching aerobics in Austria to booking gigs for a South American band. She loves her current job as an editor for movies and TV shows. But work has never been what nurtures her soul.

As she’s battled the daily grind that we all face, the recently baptized Catholic has searched for that balm we all need to get from one day to the next. Professional therapy works for some, binge drinking for others. For some maybe it’s spending 80 hours at the office, and still others watching TV to tune out the world. Eva found solace in writing.

Certain things she found she could write about as a single mom from faraway places. So she put these things to paper. When she allowed others to read her thoughts, she found people were grateful to find that someone else was feeling the same way. As more people read, they were inspired to write their own brief memoirs.

So, since misery and happiness both love company, she’s invited us to join her in the asylum of her website www.findyourmyth.com. Perhaps it will save us a little money on therapy or alcohol in the process.

“Finding your myth,” she told me, “is about being who you want to be, and being who you truly are rather than what society tells you to be.”

It’s not a site to rage at the machine or rant blindly. Save that for your friends on Facebook. It is therapy: The process of writing reworks a memory so that it no longer has its emotional charge.

“You bring it into the present, and it hurts. But the more you deal with it in the present, you become a bystander and no longer the victim. Writing offers a way to look at our lives in context.

“I’ve felt like I’ve been on the brink of insanity, and this was a way to let it all out.”

For those who have trouble living up to the perceived standards set by others, Eva can feel your pain. “I’m flying by the seat of my pants, but I’m not apologizing anymore. I haven’t done anything really bad in my life, but I have this guilt.” When I asked what the source of this guilt was, she answered: “That I’m a single parent, unwed, and that I didn’t live up to the myth.”

Through her writing and self reflection she eventually discovered it wasn’t just about the city she lived in or the opinions of others. It was also about self perception, a mythical ideal within us being projected outward.

She’s a bit of a modern day Don Quixote. Doña Quixote if you will. And the windmills that she’s charging are the social conventions that limit us and keep us frightened in the dark.

So she created a little place online for us to commiserate. A place to share what haunts us or gives us joy. If writing isn’t your thing, then read, and know that you’re not alone.

The stereotypes and labels we’ve been living by need to be broken down. Liberal, conservative. Single mother, married man. Working mom, white trash. Good son, beautiful daughter. There are so many versions of ourselves, and we’re all guilty of labeling each other with preconceived (and therefore safe) characterizations. They’re like prison uniforms.

But if the truth were set free and known, we’d probably all find that we’re generally good people and have more in common than we think. The same fears and frustrations, joys and jubilation. We all hurt, suffer, panic, keen and wail. We all smell like dirty feet after a long walk and have bad breath in the morning.

Truth and honesty crave expression. When they go unexpressed these things eat away out our souls and make us scary green ogres inside (and out). You’re in your own castle. Open all the doors, let the breeze blow through and the sun shine in.


 PATRICK CANEDAY is a freelance writer who lives and works in Burbank. He may be reached at patrickcaneday@gmail.com.

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