How I pulled myself out of the Trash

When I was a little girl I found an aspirin bottle in the trash, I wasn’t digging for it or anything, it was right there on the surface, calling my name. The glasswork was beautiful, it’s faceted surface glittered in the sun, I was so excited to put flowers in it. Little did I know what I was setting in motion through that one action… I had earned myself a reputation and with that reputation a title, “Garbage Collector”. There was even a song that went with it that still rings in my ears today, “Monica is a garbage collector, a garbage collector she is”. The song was simple, direct, no frills, perfect for its intended purpose of shaming me to my core. As an adult with more perspective on life I have come to understand that the writer of the song and the people who sang it had just been trying to fit in, they were wounded and were projecting that pain onto me. I have even had meaningful and healing conversations with the writer as an adult which was especially important since it happened to be that she was my mother.

Yes, my mother was the shamer and my sister part of the choir. When I finally confronted my mom years later singing the song back to her she profusely apologized and felt genuine remorse. My mother explained to me how she herself had collected trash as a girl and that her own mother had also shamed her for it. My mom’s father had been a tinkerer and inventor. He would take whatever was on hand (often trash) and transform it to serve his vision. My grandfather was the inventor of the bread bag closure tab, you know those ones that you see on most of the bags in stores worldwide. When I tell people that story people always say “well you must be rich!” I would love to say that was the case, however, my grandfather was an inventor not a business man so the story was limited to our family table and to those in and around the small town of Wenatchee Washington where my mother grew up. My grandfather invented the tabs for the apple industry and they were being used locally when a business man visited the town of Wenatchee years later and literally took the idea back home with him. If you look on Wikipedia you can still read the story about how the idea “suddenly” came to the man on a business trip to Wenatchee Washington and how he even cut up his own credit card on the airplane to create it. We didn’t find the story out on Wikipedia though, as fate would have it, my mom met the grandson of the “inventor” who was running a booth at a produce industry trade show. My mom was attending the show promoting her own washable produce bags, a reusable net bag that she had invented by using recycled tulle fabric from a garage sale. My mom approached the booth and informed the grandson that her father had invented those tabs, she had watched him do it. The man retorted that his grandfather had thought of the concept while on a trip to Wenatchee Washington. My mom replied “my dad was from Wenatchee Washingon” ….conversation over.

I don’t blame the man, I think he truly believed what his grandfather had told him, something most of us are guilty of. Believing what you think about who you are can be extremely painful, I speak from firsthand experience on that one. If it’s a positive story it can bring you esteem, a negative one can lead to such self criticism that generations that follow take that same shame upon their own shoulders. Grandmothers shame daughters, mothers write songs and sisters continue to shame in turn. I am 42 years old and have spent a lifetime unraveling this legacy of shame.

Today I myself am a trash artist, a songwriter and a story teller. I take what others have labeled unworthy and I reframe it, I re-assemble it , I redefine it, I wear it and share it… the art and most important, the message. I make jewelry out of coffee grounds that I call “grounds for peace” and I make bouquets out of apple box trays that are intended to convey to the person holding them a knowing that they are worthy and wonderful. I teach others to do with themselves just what I do with trash…. to redefine themselves, re-assemble themselves, to never let others tell them that they are not worthy and that it’s not possible for them. My work is constantly broadening my horizons and expanding my vision of what is possible.

In This moment of writing, I now hear my own message stronger than ever before, the familiar tune is still ringing in my head but now with a different tone….I embrace the message, I sing my own song and invite you to sing along …. “Monica is a garbage collector, a garbage collector she is!

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