Healing Through Writing

After hearing some of my story, a woman said to me, “Do you think writing saved you?”

I was looking out the window at the blue sky, avoiding her overstuffed office. Books, photos, and nic-nacs lined the dark wood shelves behind her and a lamp sat, too bright and hot, to one side. She was tall and thin, model like in her own way, and she looked at me earnestly, waiting for a response.

When I turned to her, she answered the question for me. “I think writing saved you.”

Ah, there it was.

Writing did help me toggle to the clearer side of sanity. Believing in something larger than my tiny distressed corner of the world helped me get through some very dark times. The ever present feeling that I had something to add to the world secured me from suicidal tendencies.

Some time ago, I thought to write an autobiography. My writing partner has lived a long life. Her stories rich in detail, tempered with the spiritual, and filled with agonies of another time and another kind. She said she’d write her own but for fear that’d she’d hurt people.

Hurting others is not my intention. Those who pinned my pain are are long gone in both their minds and mine. They don’t read me and they exist only as fodder for stories. Writing is how I survived my world. Now, the others are just players in my story, antagonist, foil, etc.

Bits and pieces of my memoir have been published here and there. Some as fiction. Some not. Sometimes, it’s all shaken up to create something new and wonderful – like how ashes are used in bricks to build a city.

Writing it all out – getting it all out – says it’s real – this happened. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be published. It has to be outside of our bodies, not locked into our psyches.

Too many pains in our bodies, tangles in our thinking, are caused from the unspoken past.

Closure comes in many forms. Sometimes just getting it out from inside of us is enough to begin the healing.

*

*

One of my favorite stories – an early piece that I was thinking about as I walked my dogs in the chilled morning air.

It begins:

BEFORE MY MOTHER drank herself to death, I knew her as a gentle creature who fed wild squirrels from her hand.  On the back patio at mid-day, she’d stand very still, calm, peanuts laced in the fingertips of her outstretched hand. The squirrel, a female, her babies came later, approached with caution, across the railing, onto the windowsill, grab the nut, run to the other side of the patio where the squirrel peeled back the shell, ate the meat, then returned for another and another. For a while, the squirrels became my mother’s greatest pleasure.

Success Stories

I didn’t grow up with a lot of positive role models. There were not many (if any) people in our neighborhood who were looked up to as success stories.

I can see my neighbors, even now, from the concrete steps of our four unit blond brick building on S*** Avenue in Collinwood. Across the street, Francis. She had Lucille Ball red hair and sat on her porch from 9am to 9pm, beer in hand. Next door, a single mother who worked at a bar and brought work home with her – in all sorts of ways. Next to her, a retired old man who sat across from Francis with his own beer in hand. His wife, Goldie, was a sweet woman whose toes twisted around one another, feet mangled, she said from twenty years of high heeled waitressing. On the other side, a retired railroad worker, no patio, so he sat in his kitchen hand wrapped around a cold beer.

There were bars on every corner. T & M’s could be seen from the porch. Strangers and neighbors stumbling out with the music pouring onto the street.

The teenagers went to high school, married the boyfriends who beat them, and set up house on the next block. A few got away, I’m sure. But I can list many more who died young or ended up in prison. My teenage crushes are dead now. One was shot in the head, the other crushed under the wheels of a truck. I never got into drugs, thought those who smoked and drank acted silly, stupidly, dangerously. Girlfriends recall tales of waking up half naked, uncertain if anything happened. That wasn’t the memory – or lack of memory – I wanted.

Mostly, I felt limited. I felt outcast. I didn’t seem to belong with any particular crowd or group or gang. I wanted something more, something different, and I didn’t know where to turn. Getting out and getting away seemed the only answer for me. I didn’t know what might meet me beyond the borders of the familiar, but there was no safety and no options in the familiar.

Someone once said – it was very brave of you to travel across country on your own and start over alone. I hadn’t considered it was “brave.” I’d believed it was my only choice, my only chance. She offered, the world is a dangerous place for a young woman to do such a thing. Sometimes home is a dangerous place. Limiting yourself is dangerous. Not fulfilling your potential is dangerous. Living a life in which you’re completely unhappy is dangerous. Sometimes, saving yourself, however scary the unknown is, is your only choice.

 

Your Journal is Important, Especially Now

journaling

Journaling allows us to process our daily lives. It helps us see patterns that we are taking part in physically and mentally, and most importantly it allows release.

 

Don’t hold back in journaling. These are your private thoughts and they need voicing and validation. No one ever needs to read them – or you can turn them into a creative efforts.  Some of my students have begun painting, writing, or even baking to express their creative outlets.

 

During this time, my writer friends and I are journaling to keep track of an important time in history. Maybe these will be records of human thoughts and feelings during a very difficult time in our society – much like The Diary of Anne Frank.

 

Some are doing dream journals as well.

 

In a few years, this will be forgotten, swept under the rug, or rebranded. Our society, our children, and our grandchildren’s grandchildren will need real life, first person examples of what was happening internally and externally.

 

I teach topics that deal with slavery, suffrage, native American relocation stories. We read first person accounts. These allow my students to understand critical happenings in our society not from our history books who are written by the victors or the historians recording political acts, but by the people who went through and dealt with racism, oppression, and death our history has reaped on individuals.

 

Journaling seems more important now than it ever has before.

 

It can be anything you want it to be, look like anything you want it to look like. Let it be private and burn it later. Or share it.

What Did You Do?

writing5

I read an article which stated, there’s no need to feel you have to be productive at this time.

WHAT? Then wtf are we going to do?

I heartily disagree. I think during this time we need to set goals. We need to focus on something to keep us sane!

When this is over, I want to have something to show for it.

When this is over, in another month? another two months? giving us a total of 3 months or more alone in our homes, do we walk out with nothing to show but our muffin tops the size of three tiered wedding cakes?

I’m not telling you not to feel stress. I’m not telling you not to stress eat. I am saying – set a goal and focus on something positive while we’re doing the best we can to survive the pandemic.

This is hard. I get it. We’re scared. If you want to stuff your face full of maple bacon donuts, I’m totally with you. If you have a bad day and want to curl yourself into a ball under your flannel sheets and cuddle your cat – that was my Saturday. I’m not superwoman. I’m not asking you to do anything I’m not doing myself.

When someone asks me, what did you do during the pandemic? I want to say I accomplished something.

I’m setting goals.insi

I’m in the process of another draft – hopefully the final – of my novel. I want to finish that.

I have two fully drafted novellas that need work – those are next.

I signed up to take two classes. I may take more.

I painted my patio. No shit. It’s nearly finished.

I’m going to have a hell of a lot of rooted clippings – plant speak.

My yard will look amazing – well, for a week or so after the pandemic ends, then the weeds will be back.

I’ve written two new poems. I think I’ll start reading poetry live.

I have a live online reading scheduled for April 24th, if you’re interested.

If you’ve gotten this far, I’m planning on offering a free writing class to whoever wants to share some writing. I may recruit other writers to offer their opinions. I think we should workshop too.

So – speaking from the future – what did you do during the pandemic?

 

 

KUDOS and LOVE

to those who are serving,

police, fire, grocery clerks, doctors, nurses, volunteers.

You are my HEROES!

 

Old Disasters, New Meaning.

The night was black; there was no moon to guide us when we woke up to sound of the earth roaring, the feel of concrete slamming up then down.

Dogs barked and whimpered, car alarms bleated and died out. Then there was silence.

It’d been my first major earthquake.

We pawed our way through the dark hall over broken glass picture frames to find our children, our shoes, the doorway.

In the 1994 earthquake, I lost almost everything. We lived on the second floor of a nice apartment about a mile away from the Reseda Boulevard epicenter where (I believe) 23 people lost their lives.

Everyone in our building got out alive. But the building was destroyed, gas hissed into the alley and we had to flee.

I walked away from that disaster with my daughters. At the time, I didn’t care about all the material things.

All of the “stuff” we had seemed so worthless. And as we rebuilt, I didn’t replace all the junk we had. I didn’t have a mixer or a microwave. I didn’t fill the kitchen with “good plates” and every day plates. My cabinets remained near empty for many years. Slowly, they have been filled with occasionally used items nestled next to the well used necessities. I have things I don’t need. Pretties collected that I’d resisted for so long fill small places here and there.

And here we are again – on the brink of another disaster. And I say – I do not care about all of these things I have collected. I care about my family, my friends, students, neighbors.

My first year psych teacher said to me – before that 1994 Northridge earthquake – “The only real thing of value is meaningful human relationships.” I have always held that close.

We should dismiss our first world concerns of malls, cars, and money. We can put aside our overly independent natures and our me first attitudes. We can do what it takes to make certain that those we love, families and strangers, survive this.

We know what we need to do. We’ve done it before.

Hold on to those you love, even if they are far away right now. Nothing else matters.

 

1994 Earthquake

Plagues and Pandemics throughout History

 

Writing in the Time of Cholera

journalA number of people have mentioned the book Love in the time of Cholera to me lately. Ron Terranova, fellow writer and Poe lover, reminded me Shakespeare had a very fertile writing period during The Black Plague.

My writer and critique friend, Jo Rousseau, said she’s keeping a journal and thought many people should. It would be interesting, she said, to see the pandemic from different points of view.

There are people who are having trouble focusing on writing. I have to admit, I was one of them.

While others are saying they’ve never gotten more done. Perhaps they are in the minority? Or maybe they write well under pressure?

Just the day before Jo mentioned the journal, I started keeping my own. I’ve been plagued by disturbing dreams.

Our lives are changing, but not forever. We will come out of this, we will get through this, and I, personally, want to have something to show for it.

I started listing the things I’m accomplishing every day. I’ve added some other things, pandemic jokes and memes. Someone else is writing down the use of language, such as “social distancing”, and how those words are changing and shaping our understanding of society. It’ll be interesting how this comes to use after the pandemic.

Beyond all the free things being offered to keep us safe and sane, free yoga classes, free workouts, free virtual tours of national parks and art museums, there are a number of other things to keep us busy.

It’ll help us all to accept that, for a little while, we need to stay home and find alternative ways to sail through our days. 90186249_1912526478878981_330678285262389248_o

I urge all writers to keep a journal. Not to focus on writing to publish, but a personal historical account for your children, your grandchildren, or for the future. How will this time be remembered? Consider how we think of the Plague and The Flu Epidemic of 1918. What do you know about it? Do you know any people, any stories, any personal or family accounts of the day to day life? Encourage your children to keep journals too – in the future, compare them.

Journaling has helped me get back to writing.

Stay well. Stay healthy. Be safe.

Much love and appreciation.

Crying

People feel all sorts of ways about crying. I feel it’s cathartic, sometimes needed. Sometimes I worry our world is headed in a different direction. My new story explores a world that feels differently.

Let me know what you think. The Crier on Kindle.

crier cover1

The Likability of Unlikable Characters

I wonder if the new fad to make unlikable characters because people like them a myth.

I like detective stories, mysteries, among the other things I read. But in the last six months, I think I’ve read far too many stories with these types of characters:

The bad guy who kills other bad guys. Hasn’t this become a cliche? Or have I stumbled upon a pile of similar motifs?

The good guy spends his nights in cheap motels with young prostitutes doing blow. But, you know, he has a heart of gold because he doesn’t actually sleep with the ho; he just talks to them. At one point, it seems, he’s up for three days strung out on coke and coffee and is still able to critically analyze a scene and glean more than the other officers.

My suspension of disbelief has been suspended.

Why am I reading this book?

It’s richly detailed – in parts. It had a good enough beginning to get me interested. Also, I like to finish a book.

But I’m at the point, now, that I’m considering abandoning it. Too many issues for me to keep reading.

The characters names are similar or the same to well known famous book-to-movie characters. It makes it hard for me to picture anyone else but Tom Hanks.

Writing is hard. Originality is challenging.

Some people believe there are only so many stories. They are just told in different ways. But they have to be told in fresh, believable, even likeable ways.

I will read some books with unlikeable characters. But I have to like someone!

Opinions welcomed, please.

 

 

 

 

 

The Idea Farm

The idea farm is a creation – where we keep all of our ideas planted, waiting for the spring.

airplantfarm

PLANT:

There’s a time for the planting – every day, every minute, every conversation, every silence. But pick and choose. My favorite place to get ideas is from overheard snippets of conversations, words and lines heard in passing or overheard in a coffee shop. Sometimes, it’s just a word someone throws out that sticks. It might be an image. Someone posted a photo and it was eerie, strangely haunting to my strange little perception. I have notebooks, torn papers, lists of ideas. And the ideas do come to live when they’re ready.

FERTILIZE:

To keep the idea farm going, we need to keep it fresh. New ideas coming, water flowing, fertilizer tossed around. Water is connected, according to Freud, to our unconscious. Taking a bath before bed is a great way to feed your muse. Fertilize – remember to go back, reread, add a word or two, subtract a word or two, think about it before you go to bed, when you first wake up. Something will bloom. Sometimes it blooms prematurely and I’m up at 3am writing like a madwoman. But it works. I wrote a number of poems and short stories struck by a fever of words and rhythm.  Of Strays and Exes and The Gold Tooth were written under one of those spells.

HARVEST:

When the time is right, you write. You’ll pluck that idea out of the ground and start massaging it into what it was meant to be. Eddy was on a list. It sat there for quite some time waiting for me to be brave enough to pull it out, confident enough to put the words to paper, and strong enough to show it to others. So many more stories came like that – waiting for just the right time, ripe from the time and the fertilizer and ready to burst forth.

 

Much love and luck.

Be The Calm…

storm

Many of us are remaining calm and being kind to one another. Some are terrified. The media, of course, focuses on the negative. Although I’ve seen that change in the last day as well, wherein the media, at least KTLA, is focusing on those who are doing good and helping one another.

As we all hunker down for this storm to pass, and it will pass, we need to know that we will all be okay. We are a society that takes care of one another. No one will go hungry, no one will go without toilet paper.

Personally, I stocked up on chocolate. If there’s going to be problem, I don’t want to be without the good stuff.

I have even been stressed – and I rarely get stressed. So I’ve been doing yoga in the morning and meditating at night and trying to stay away from the constant panic inducing updates.

I wanted to offer everyone some links to free yoga and meditation.  Youtube is always good, but these are a little more specific.

fceaf4b7105c93ac1d15e0157d7cbbf136e31bf7c0224e5102a2becd50627cc4.0

YogaJournal has free short meditations for beginners.

And there are a number of free yoga websites, collected here.

 

Stay calm, stay well, and be kind.