waiting for Oliver

Generally speaking, I write my posts the day before they publish, and schedule them to publish at 7am the next day. I’ll definitely be doing that when it’s time to go to the hospital to await Oliver’s arrival in the world. These last days carry their own worries, but I believe with all my heart that he will get here just fine and we’ll all cry and cry and cry with joy and see that our worries and anxieties — though understandable — were all for nothing. My sweet Katie and Trey, and my sweet little Oliver, a newly constituted family of three. And me, Pete. (People are asking me why he will call me Pete. My beloved grandfather, Big Daddy, called me Pete — my last name at birth was Peters — and that name just means so much love to me. My kids’ dad called me Pete, some of my friends call me Pete, and years ago I realized that I wanted my grandkids to call me Pete because to me it means love, and it circles back to Big Daddy.)

ANYWAY. In earlier versions of my life I made a lot of stuff. I was a weaver, a spinner, I used natural dyes to dye the yarn I spun, I quilted, I tatted, I made bobbin lace, I made all our clothes, I smocked dresses for the girls, I knitted, I made small pieces of furniture, I baked all our bread and made all our jams and generally speaking, if it could be made by hand I made it by hand. Picked around on a banjo, picked around on a guitar. But then I started college, and then grad school, and then very busy jobs, and then I moved to New York and had zero space for the accoutrements of a making life. I kept up with knitting and knitted a bunch of sweaters and scarves and socks, stuff like that, but didn’t do much else.

When Katie was pregnant with Gracie, I made a little quilt for her. As I’d always done, I hand pieced and hand quilted:

I’d never machine quilted a quilt, partly because I take such pleasure in making tiny, perfect stitches. And I love the way hand quilting looks. I was probably 80% finished with Gracie’s quilt when we lost her, and the quilt sits in the top of a closet, unfinished still. I’m going to finish it soon for Katie and Trey.

So the time came to think about Oliver’s quilt, and Katie found a pattern she just loved. It’s very bold and graphic, abstract animals made with the drunkard’s path pattern if you know that one. As always, I hand-pieced the top, including all the sashing strips. I embroidered the little black eyes and noses on the animals, and then it was time to quilt it. Partly because I was running out of time, and partly because of the style of the quilt and blocks, I decided to machine quilt it. I WAS TERRIFIED. I was afraid I’d ruin it, that all the hours I’d put into it would be for nothing, that Oliver wouldn’t have a quilt (at least at the beginning, I could always start over). For this quilt, I thought a meandering free-form style of quilting would be good but I am not a meandering free-form kind of person. I like straight lines, square corners. If you knew how many hours I spent floating in anxiety about screwing up this quilt, you’d pat me on the head and hand me a glass of wine.

My sweet friend Karyn invited me to her house to use her sewing machine, which had what I needed, so off I went with gratitude for her ongoing and deep generosity. The quilting was so much fun, now I want to do that kind of quilting again. You should know — and you’ll see it if you know the first thing about quilting — that I have NO idea what I am doing. I always just teach myself as I go, and there are certain parts of the process that I have no idea how to do so I flounder ahead and do my best. Maybe I’ll take a class.

too lazy to remove the platform around the machine to fix the bobbin. sheesh.
too lazy to remove the platform around the machine to fix the bobbin. sheesh.
those yellow gloves have little knobs of rubber-type stuff that helps me grip the quilt to move it through the machine
those yellow gloves have little knobs of rubber-type stuff that helps me grip the quilt to move it through the machine
and here it is -- a blurry picture because I was holding the phone over my head and trying to shoot straight down to get the whole quilt in the shot
and here it is — a blurry picture because I was holding the phone over my head and trying to shoot straight down to get the whole quilt in the shot
and this little label on the back, For Oliver <3 Love pete.  It makes a little pocket, because little boys love pockets.
and this little label on the back, For Oliver <3  Love pete

And so there it is. My first grandson’s first (made-by-me) quilt. Except for my anxiety about ruining it, every minute of making it was so much fun. The day I quilted it at Karyn’s (Tuesday) (and thank you again, Karyn, for your generosity and for being part of this quilt), I stayed up until 2am to finish it. I had to tie off and hide knots, I had to embroider and attach the label on the back,  and then I had to cut, prepare, sew on, and then hand-finish the binding. So much work and so very many hours spent, each one imagining that little boy, each hour spent with a heart full of love for this rainbow child, this precious boy whose life is going to be drenched in love.

It’s Thursday, it’s nearing the end of March, and today is the first day of Spring. With all my heart, I hope this new season sweeps away the various hardships of our long and hard winter and brings renewal and joy to your life, as it is going to bring to mine. xo

blissless

this picture has nothing to do with anything, but I love it so much!
this picture has nothing to do with anything, but I love it so much! Bliss on a boat off Bali.

It’s been a long cold lonely winter. Little darlin. But you know, it has.  I’ve had stress and anxiety weighing on my heart. The skies were often gray. I dutifully take my little Wellbutrin every single morning. I haven’t exactly felt depressed, but I haven’t felt a whole lot of big joy.

One of my favorite things about being me is my easy experience of joy. It’s not at all uncommon for me to feel bliss — in fact, I can get knocked back by bliss at least once a week, most of the time. For me, that means a heart SO full of joy that I almost cannot hold it, or hold myself; a heart SO full of joy that the edges of everything become indistinct, and I see how it’s all one thing; a heart SO full of joy that I kind of lose words, and am prone to cry at the tiniest little thing — a green leaf, a dead leaf, a breeze, a weed. That’s just a common thing for me, and I am enormously grateful that my software carries that programming. It’s such a gift.

But it’s been such a long time since I felt that. Actually, the last time I felt it was when I was in the river in Sri Lanka bathing that mama elephant. That was such an experience of bliss I completely forgot myself. But since then, I’ve made it through my days, I have been happy, wonderful things have happened, I’ve relished moments with my children, with dear friends. I’ve felt my community all around me, and me a part. I’ve loved my little home. I’ve shared good things and fearful things with all the people who love me, and been so grateful that I have them all.

But I haven’t felt joy, and I definitely haven’t felt bliss. Every morning when I take my antidepressant I think about that. I think that at least I am feeling other good things, at least the black hole is nowhere near me. At least it isn’t dark, even if the skies are dull and gray. But I miss my joy, I miss my bliss.

I’m sure this was a piece of it, but yesterday was a gorgeous and sunny day. Beautiful blue skies, 82 degrees, a little breeze, LOADS of sun. It felt so good on my skin, on my face. The heat soaked into my arms and shoulders and face. And while I was driving down to my friend Karyn’s house, I felt something starting to pulse inside me. I was anxious about whether I’d be able to do the quilting on Oliver’s quilt very well, since it’s free-form and I’m pretty rigid and uptight, and I was afraid I’d ruin the work I’d done. But still, it was sunny and I was happy and something was pulsing inside.

At Karyn’s, she set me up with her great sewing machine and wandered off to do her own thing, and I put a sample piece into the sewing machine — batting and fabric on either side, exactly as the quilt would be — and started sewing. AND IT WAS FUN. And I was doing it, free-form rambling, meandering stitches, loose and wonderful. And the pulsing started pulsing harder inside me. I picked up the quilt, 54″ square, and put it into the machine and took a big breath. As I pressed the pedal, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell started playing from the other room and I was quilting my darling grandson’s quilt and it was sunny and beautiful and Karyn’s home is so lovely and welcoming, and she was in the kitchen hand grinding spices for the wonderful lunch she was making me and the air smelled like spring and not at all like a city and I bounced all the way into bliss. My bliss, my old friend, so long gone.

It’s been a long time since I just had fun like I had doing that quilting. Rigid old me, not-at-all loose me, meandering and not planning anything and having a blast. Listening to banjo music and Karyn puttering around. It was a whole beautiful day, and when I left around 3:30 with my finished quilt and a full tummy and a bag full of vegetables from her garden and eggs from her chickens and her kiss on my cheek, I was so happy I almost couldn’t hold it all.

If you’re in a place where spring hasn’t really arrived yet, where the days are still gray and there’s a chill in the air, boy I feel you. (Well, a Texas version of it.) I hope the blue skies come for you very soon, and the hot sun touches your cheek and the air is sweet and your version of happy and bliss, whatever it is, wells up inside you.

repurposing a word

The other day I was having my wonderful weekly phone call with Marnie. That’s truly a highlight of my week every single week, and we’re good about being sure it happens. We send a note if Saturday isn’t going to work (our usual day) and coordinate another day. On rare occasions we just have to skip a week, and when I’m on vacation we don’t talk on the phone at all. I feel out of whack if we don’t talk regularly. So in this past call, I was telling her about the group of women in my daily life now, how deeply important they are, how I finally feel like I have people I not only could ask for help if I were in trouble, but I would ask for help. That is shocking to me, because I have never been able to do that, ever, but if something happened I would send out a message to them and they would help me, I know it. I love these women, so much.

well, it's usually wine we're drinking...
well, it’s usually wine we’re drinking…

And Marnie said, “I’m so glad you found your coven.” I loved that! I’d like to strip that word of its witchy origins. I’d like to use that word to mean MY WOMEN, my boon companions, the women I can’t imagine my life without, the women I’d call in the middle of the night, the women who would call me in the middle of the night, the women who will encircle any one of us in trouble. The women who will hold the net under each other. The women I need to talk to immediately to share my good news. The women I know will take my side with bad news, the women who will put pretend hexes on anyone who hurts me. Just as I would do for any of them (double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble…..that’s the only fake hex I know, but I can do a mean stink-eye and I’m the queen of the cold shoulder).

Lots of people who read my blog have lived in one place for a long time, and have friends they’ve known and loved for decades. Friends through their marriage(s), through the having baby years, through the hard years of raising kids, through various lives and careers and ups and downs. I don’t really have that, gypsy that I am, although I do keep friends from wherever I move. Judy rocked Will when he was in kindergarten every single day when he went to the clinic with a tummy ache. She knew there wasn’t anything wrong with him except he missed his daddy, who had left, and so she held him and rocked him as long as he needed. That was 1992, and she is still my dearly beloved, even though she lives in Alabama and I live here and we rarely see each other. But she was there when I divorced my kids’ dad, and when I started college, and I was there through some difficult times in her life, and so our bonds just are. They are, and always will be.

Somehow these women, my coven, moved into that stage in such a short time, and I am so so lucky. I can’t explain it. We are all women of substance, thoughtful women, deep thinkers, generous, insightful (and self-reflective), with great big hearts. Most of us are very funny. We’ve all loved so deeply, and we’ve all been terribly hurt, betrayed, shocked by life. We’ve all come to this point in our lives with strength and personal power.

My local coven — Anne, Cyndi, Deanna, Debbie, Dixie, Faith, Karyn, Lynn, Nancy, in alphabetical order — the most amazing women, and my friends. We help each other move; when a washer floods, one offers to come pick up all the wet stuff and wash and dry it and return it; we do things together for fun; we admire each other and respect each other; we have differences, political and spiritual, and we can talk about them and love each other; there is no gap if a bit of time passes and we don’t see each other for one reason or another; there is no competition among us; we will tell each other the truth; we learn a lot from each other; we offer what we have in times of big or small trouble. Tears fill our eyes when something wonderful happens for one of us. Tears fill our eyes when trouble comes to one of us. We have each other’s backs. We encourage each other. We celebrate each other, and not just because we’re always happy for any reason to be together for a good time (though we are). We are all competent, strong women, and that’s a force.

since I'm in Austin, I guess it'd need to be a cowboy hat.
since I’m in Texas, I guess it’d need to be a cowboy hat.

This may be old hat to you, but it isn’t to me. This is a brand new hat. It isn’t that I’ve never had friends . . . I have! Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve had friends. But this is a group of friends and we all know each other and although we don’t all hang out together — there are subgroups — this is my gang. My coven. I’m so glad to be a woman, because I don’t think men typically do this, they don’t get to have this. (I suspect Dixie’s husband Karl is an exception, but then again, he is exceptional.)

I know without a doubt what I’ll say in my gratitude email when it arrives later this afternoon. I am grateful for Katie and Oliver being so healthy; I am grateful for Marnie who makes such an effort to be a regular part of my life, still; and I am so thoroughly and deeply grateful for my coven. My gang. My deeply wonderful and dear friends, who enrich my life and who touch my heart, and allow me to touch theirs.

As I’m writing this, I think about all my other friends — hugely important friends, those of you here and there, many also in Austin, and in far-flung places, friends who add to my life and enrich it, friends I love with all my heart, friends I consider to be my sister, friends who make me laugh and laugh and cry with me, friends who would comfort me in trouble and who celebrate with me when good things happen, and allow me to do the same. I love you all. You also have held the net, and cried with me, and I count you with deep gratitude. And you may feel lucky, but I have to say that I am the luckier one.

21st century date

The other day my husband, who is feeling lonesome for me a whole lot right now since I’m not going to see him until mid-May, suggested that we have another Skype date, like we did on Valentine’s Day. He’s an hour ahead of me, which meant ending my day’s plans a little earlier than I’d planned, but I’m so glad we did that.

date
that’s him in his kitchen on the laptop over my shoulder.

We got online together on Skype at 4:30 my time, 5:30 his, and talked for a bit, caught up with each other like you’d do when you come home from work. Shared stories, checked in. Then I took my laptop into my kitchen, and he trained his camera into his kitchen, and we started cooking together. We’d decided to make salmon, rice, and asparagus. My kitchen is very small, a galley kitchen, so whatever I’m doing, wherever I go, I’m squarely on his giant monitor. So we cooked, piddled, talked to each other, asked how the other was doing the salmon (I put herbes de Provence on mine and baked it, and he put cayenne on his and broiled it). We made jasmine rice. We made our asparagus, and then sprinkled grated parmigiana reggiano on it for the final hot flourish — really so good with the asparagus. I moved my laptop to my dining table, he reoriented his camera, and we sat to eat together. We were facing each other directly, so we’d look up and look at each other, we showed each other our plates, we talked and talked and talked.

After we put away the food and put the dishes away, I moved my laptop into my bedroom and he set up his movie, and we stretched out and watched a movie together — Short Term 12, really beautiful (and the SXSW winner last year). Watching a movie together is very tricky, because we have to start it at exactly the same moment or I hear his and he hears mine and the lag makes it impossible. It took us a couple of tries, but we got it synced. We could talk about the movie, or ask each other questions; the only thing we couldn’t do was rub each other’s feet, which is what we usually do when we watch movies together.

The movie touched on a lot of things that resonated with me, so we talked about it for a while after it ended, and then he said, “hey, do you want some rice pudding?” That’s so him. So back to the kitchen we went to make rice pudding. While it was cooling, we were talking about our vacation, and he started telling me about some map apps he found that download the entire map into the phone. So we sat there, each holding our phones, downloading apps and playing with them and talking about it. Once in a while he’d hold his phone up to the camera to show me something, and I’d do the same. When our pudding was cool, we brought cups of it back to our laptops and ate and compared the recipes we used (we decided mine was better, but probably because it contained a Parker egg, that gorgeously luscious deep gold yolk….). We talked more about our vacation. We talked about the bad thing in the background. We talked about Oliver, and Katie. We talked about death; he is taking a meditation class that focuses on impermanence, and they are assigned to meditate on death. Finally, around 1am, I was too sleepy — and it was 2am for him. We’d hung out together for 8.5 hours, easily, happily. We talked, we cooked, we ate, we watched a movie, we laughed, we got scared, I cried.

He’s flying in very late the evening of Friday April 4, and heading home extremely early Monday, April 6, so he can meet Oliver, and so we can be together in person a little bit. It’s a long gap from early February to Mid-May, which is how long I’m here in Austin, so we’ll have to squeeze in a lot of time in those two little days. He always holds my hand when we go anywhere at all, and he sleeps tucked against my back all night, and he rubs my feet after dinner. As wonderful as Skype is, as wonderful as technology can make a long-distance relationship, it can’t allow those things.

My mission today is to get Oliver’s quilt pin-basted so I can quilt it on Tuesday. I’m meeting some girlfriends later today to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, which will be fun — especially since I’m going with them. I hope you have a wonderful Sunday, whatever you do! It’s kind of gross here in Austin, muggy and overcast, heavy clouds, and the wind is going to fly in around 1. Not my favorite kind of Sunday, but then again, any Sunday I am alive is a good Sunday. 🙂

when did the kids take over?

"You kids get off of my lawn!" (and yeah, that's Mick Jagger)
“You kids get off of my lawn!” (and yeah, that’s Mick Jagger)

At the risk of sounding like a crabby old woman — I’m not, honestly — I do wonder when all the kids started taking over the world. It’s always a little disconcerting to see an airplane pilot who looks like he’s just out of college, or a 12-year-old (looking) cop. Sometimes I laugh.

And then there is the cohort of little kids who are all BFFs — Jimmy Fallon and his buddy Justin Timberlake, Seth Myers. To me it often looks like the young ‘uns are playing “talk show.” Don’t get me wrong, I adore Jimmy Fallon and am so glad Jay Leno is out of there, it’s just that it looks like the kids have taken over everything.

When I’m standing in line at the grocery store and staring at the magazines/rags on display, usually I have NO idea who anyone is on the covers, so it’s hard to get really worked up about why she and her boyfriend are breaking! up!

It isn’t that I’m unhappy about this [at all!], it’s just that I’m so bewildered by it. How are they old enough to be doing all these things? Where are all the people my age who surely have deep and rich experience? And who are those little kids on the magazine covers and why in the world is it news if they break up? 🙂

It’s a weird world. People are famous just for being famous. It’s news (in my world, anyway) that now there’s a system to let you read a whole novel in just a few minutes. Most of us feel hopeless about our country — from every direction — and don’t see how to change it. I recently watched a documentary on PBS called The Sixties and was kind of staggered by the overwhelming assault on the political world by regular people — kids, largely, but not entirely. I mean, I knew that of course, I knew that kids protested the Vietnam War, fought for civil rights, I knew all that stuff, but watching it gave me a different sense of it, partly because I despair over how things are now. I once had an idea that it needs to be women my age who band together and fight en masse, like the young people did in the 60s. We women are not having it, we kind of don’t give a shit about propriety, and we’re all kind of pissed off and often sweaty. The other day I read that the generation stupidly called “millennials” votes like MAD. I hope so. Y’all save us. Maybe the kids really need to take over the whole game — get into politics! — because we have and are making a royal mess of things.

I hope your Saturday is whatever you need it to be — productive, relaxing, a bit of both! xo

more on writing and therapy

I actually had glasses exactly like these! Wore them all the time, loved them. Wish I could have another pair.....
I actually had glasses exactly like these! Wore them all the time, loved them. Wish I could have another pair…..

Yesterday a good friend mentioned a technique she’d heard about involving rewriting your personal history with rose-colored glasses. As I went to reply to her Facebook comment, my mind started whizzing so many thoughts about it I became paralyzed and unable to leave a simple response. When she mentioned it, I realized I’d heard of it before, but my efforts to Google it didn’t pull up anything useful. I think it might be at least similar to the idea of writing a new ending — or maybe just exploring your history and reframing it. Instead of “I have suffered with depression for 10 years,” maybe “I have learned how to live with depression.”

If I assume the goal is to feel better right now, there might be two routes:

1) to reframe what happened in the past
2) to imagine a more positive present or future

Through my life, I’ve grappled with the first option. All along, even in the immediate aftermath, I wondered how different I might feel if I were able to tell a different story about what happened to me when I was growing up. I believed it would make me feel very different than I felt, and I desperately wanted to tell a different story. After years and years of work, I was finally able to see the other possible story I had to tell, which is one of brilliant survival, perseverance, creativity, wow look at that, what a great story. But in the midst of those years and years of work, I couldn’t even see other stories, even as I wanted to and even as I tried so hard I nearly blew out my mind and heart. And I wrote and wrote and wrote about it, too.

One problem, and I definitely know this from my graduate research, is that the more I wrote and talked about it the more concrete and solidified the story became, until I could essentially disconnect and think about anything else while the story came out of my mouth or fingers. I could make a mental grocery list while my mouth told the story; it became rote and fixed. And of course the fixedness of it kept me from getting somewhere else with it. We know that the more we tell our story differently (and our research focused on pronouns, emotion words, and the small words, articles, a an the) from one time to the next, the better our outcomes. And of course the degree and extent of trauma have to be considered in the mix too; if the worst thing that happened to you was the untimely death of your dog, your work will be qualitatively different than if you were held hostage and raped for years and were constantly afraid you would be killed, like those girls in Ohio held hostage by Ariel Castro. It just will be.

I do suspect that writing — with some help and guidance — might help you find a different story inside the one you tell. I don’t know that for sure, because we never tested it (at least when I was still in graduate school and involved in that research). Perhaps there’s something about a person who does that automatically that helps them get somewhere faster, and ‘forcing’ someone to do that, who wouldn’t otherwise do it, is a failed enterprise. It’s an interesting question.

The other possibility for writing a new ending is the one that confuses me, although perhaps it confuses me because I see all the brilliance in my life. Maybe it would be different if I tried to write a new ending during one of the periods I was in the dark hole, grappling with the monsters. Although at those times, I couldn’t even see if there was any light above the hole, much less imagine a different ending. Since it’s all a continuous stream, today is my ending, and tomorrow will be my ending too, and the next day. Each of the days I’ve lived since I left my original family has been the new ending, and even the terrible ones were connected seamlessly in time to earlier periods which had been better.

I think of the psychological concept of chunking, which refers to how we understand when something begins and when it ends in order to determine causality. People chunk things to their own benefit, quite often; if I am having a fight with someone I am likely to feel like I was just there minding my own business and the person antagonized me or picked the fight, or something. And so I start it right there, BANG. He started it. That’s where the chunk begins, that’s how I explain what happened after that. But he might have been responding to something I did a bit earlier, so he starts the chunk right there with what I’d done. Countries in conflict do that too — look at Israel and Palestine, such different stories about the start of the trouble, about the instances of ongoing retaliation. When you’re trying to write a new ending, it’s a question of where you draw the line at the other end, because the beginning of the chunk might be clear — it was the way you were wronged. But how do you know where to draw the end? Every day is the ending.

And that relates to my sense of the mystery of my own life, and perhaps you feel the same way. When I think of the various ways I have imagined my life going over all these years, I don’t think any of them came to fruition, whether they were ‘good’ things or ‘bad.’ And when I look at how my life has actually gone, absolutely none of it was how I thought my life would go. Even when I started college, and graduate school, I started believing wholeheartedly that I would not get the chance to finish them, that my life would get hit by some kind of big bomb and I would have to quit. Yesterday I was talking to a very dear friend about where we find ourselves right now, and that we never thought we’d be here. She never thought she’d be living where she is, doing the things she is doing (though I for one am so grateful she lives where she does!!). I never dreamed I’d live in Austin again. I never dreamed I’d work for myself. I never dreamed I’d get paid to read. I never dreamed I’d go to the kind of conference I’m going to this summer. I never ever dreamed I would love living alone the way I do. I never dreamed I’d travel the world the way I do. (I also never dreamed the bad thing that is happening in the background. UGH.) Never dreamed or imagined one little bit of it.

Maybe I am just so passively oriented toward my life and others are more ambitious, more decisive and goal-directed. I’ve kind of followed my life where it led because I didn’t have a sense of agency. But still, I find myself constantly surprised by how my life is turning out. This is not at all an ending I’d have written with my rose-colored glasses, nor are any of the other versions of my happy ending. And yet they are my happy endings.

Perhaps the answer to writing a new and happy ending is not to be too specific. Not “I will get paid to read” but instead “I will be free of the guilt/shame/sorrow.” Maybe simply “I will find a way to be happy with myself/my life.” I just don’t know, I’m missing something. I hope to get to talk to my friend about it since she knows more than I do.

And this is why I couldn’t write a quick response to her Facebook comment. 🙂 It’s a busy Friday for me, breakfast with a friend and lunch with a friend and then a haircut. Spring is making its way here in fits and starts, and I hope today is a start for us all! xo

writing therapy

Hmmm. I’ve got this idea percolating, though I have no idea what to do with it, exactly. The idea was born yesterday, during my bi-monthly writing session with my friend Marian. We meet on Skype every other Wednesday and catch up with each other, then one of us reads something we’ve written, and one of us brings writing prompts. We both try to collect lots of prompts on little slips of paper, so when we pull one out for our session we haven’t already planned what to write. It’s best if it’s impromptu, writing-in-the-moment out of our deep immediacy. We write — to two or three different prompts — and then we alternate reading our responses out loud. Until yesterday, the prompts we both brought were single words.

If you like to write (or maybe just read books about writing) you probably know Natalie Goldberg, author of (among others) Writing Down the Bones. Along with Anne Lamott’s Bird by BirdWriting Down the Bones is one of the most popular writing books. I read it years and years ago and dip into it on occasion. I heard about another book of Goldberg’s focused on memoir, and since I am writing a memoir I thought I’d look into it. It’s called Old Friend From Far Away and it’s much like Bones — some general writing philosophy stuff and a lot of prompts. The prompts are designed to help with memoir, and as I was reading it occurred to me that they would be good to try with Marian. So I collected several and yesterday we had time to write two of them.

When we were doing the reading-aloud bit, we commented on each other’s writing of course, because that’s the broad reason we do it, but the content was personal and so we also talked about that. As always, Marian’s pieces were gorgeous, the work of a poet, with phrases that literally made me gasp as I listened. After we talked about the writing, I asked her a question about the content and as we explored that question and what came of it, all kinds of connections were made, an insight or two revealed. And that led to my idea.

First, I know and believe that writing is therapeutic. My research in graduate school used writing as a way to respond to trauma, and my advisor published a book on the subject. My idea is different from his, which is that writing about a trauma can help you get past it. Instead, my idea is that doing some impromptu personal writing, followed by someone asking questions about it, might be therapeutic and lead people to insight. It wouldn’t be about having the person write separately before coming to the ‘session’ — no sending the topic, having them do planned and careful writing, and then talking about it together. In my own experience, when I do free-flowing non-stopping writing on the spot, things come up that I didn’t plan. For instance, one topic we wrote about yesterday was to ‘write a picture of an elementary school teacher.’ I wrote about Mrs. Worley, my third grade teacher, and as my pen was just moving without stopping a whole memory came out that I had completely forgotten. But also, writing like that allows the censor to shut up because you have to keep the pen going, just write write write. If I’d been given the topic and had all the time I wanted to write a personal essay, I’d probably have written about my second grade teacher Carol Barbaria, who had a pet raccoon. That’s a story I know and have told before, and it has no emotional content to speak of, other than my 7-year-old wonder at seeing a raccoon in the classroom. But the impromptu unplanned writing about Mrs. Worley retrieved a memory of a time an adult told me I had been treated badly, and treated me with such respect and stood up for me. Made classmates apologize and take responsibility for what they’d done to me. And how astonishing that is to me now, in all the ways — that I’d forgotten it, that it happened to me, that there was a time an adult did that for me even though all my focused memories are of the times the adults in my family completely failed to do that. What a gift!

writingSo what if a ‘therapy’ session involved arriving together and being given a prompt that calls for personal memories/reflection, and you write for 10 minutes without stopping, then read it aloud and then you are asked questions. Why did you feel that way in that moment, what does that mean to you now? I think it’s a pretty cool idea! Writing therapy is certainly not new, but all the ways of implementing it are quite different from this idea. I am not a clinical psychologist, but I do know a lot about the Pennebaker paradigm, since he was my advisor. I’m going to think about this some more and then play with the idea of adding another shingle to my income stream. I think this could be meaningful work for me, and meaningful for people who do it with me.

Lots of people who read my blog are writers, though not all do personal writing. Almost everyone who reads my blog is an avid reader. Lots of people keep journals of one form or another (and my blog is a kind of journal, since I try to write every day and I write about and explore personal topics). I’m curious about whether you do personal writing for therapeutic reasons (even therapeutic-lite). If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

Otherwise, happy Thursday, everyone, another week is winding down and we’re another day closer to spring, which is surely going to arrive and stay put one of these days. xo