There’s a wrong way and there’s The Write Way. The wrong way is to not do it at all, to allow the Inner Critic to silence your voice.
These days, the silencing of voices is the last thing we need. I haven’t blogged since the 2016 election. I was stunned by the results. And then I was angry. And then I allowed myself to go into “overwhelm”, where I couldn’t land on one thing to think about or rant about, let alone write about in any useful way. It seems there is some new injustice being perpetrated every day!
But in order to reclaim my sanity, I gradually stepped back into my writing practice, the very same practice that had pulled me through my son’s suicide and then, six years later, through the horrors of cancer and treatment.
I’ve always journaled when life has shown up in unexpected and challenging ways. Writing allows me to BE with the kaleidoscope of emotions that seems to be part and parcel of being human. Grief, pain, anger, frustration, fear, hatred, guilt, shame…all of it. Writing = me being my own sounding board. When I first take a crack at expressing my SELF on the page, I can be honest and authentic, There is no reason to hold back or censor. I am purging and it is for my eyes only. Embarrassment or shame or self-consciousness doesn’t even enter the picture.
Purging on paper can be extremely therapeutic. Writing can be unburdening. It can be a way to take it out of oneself – the noisy, unprocessed jumble of experience – and put it on the outside where one might be able to be more objective about it. It can be a way of recording one’s reality. It can be a way of making sure the experiences (and their potential lessons) are not lost or forgotten.
The first week I learned of my son’s death I picked up pen and paper and wrote until my body couldn’t take sitting hunched over a notebook any longer. I wrote non-stop. I wrote as I cried; I wrote through meals; I would wake up in the middle of the night and write. When my hand started to cramp from holding the pen, I switched to my laptop. I was maniacal about writing.
I was afraid if I didn’t get everything down, all the memories might begin to fade and I couldn’t bear to forget any part of my son’s experience. The intensity of the emotions might ease. Those initial, irrational reactions might be replaced with more cogent (and more filtered) thinking. I wanted the raw material.
It’s as if I was writing under a deadline. Looking back, I see now it was my way of holding onto my son, of still being with him, of having him near, of keeping him alive in my mind, in my heart, and in my own words.
I thought purging would be enough. It wasn’t. I needed to make meaning of what happened to my son (and to me). This need was just as all-consuming as the purging phase; I couldn’t bear for his life or his death to have been for nothing. I began to ask questions. Mostly, “Why?” Mostly there were no good answers. Mostly it was a list of justifications, all of which – to some extent – feel true.
He must have been so weary of his battle with depression and anxiety. And although he had the tools (therapy, medication, new learned coping behaviors) to manage his cyclical spinning out of control, on his final day (for reasons we who loved him will never know), he failed to use those tools. I imagine he was ashamed and exhausted, and couldn’t bring himself to ask for help…again. His battle with these demons had been going on for years.
Over the ensuing years (he died in 2010), my writing evolved into something more than “getting it all down on paper.” I found myself aiming for understanding, so that I might make some kind of peace with this tragedy. Of course, there is no perfect, permanent peace, but the initial paralyzing pain has softened. I entered into a phase of being able to write and talk about Julian and his life and his death, and my life after his death in a way that I imagined might be helpful for others. Which meant others would be reading my words! Which meant the writing now had to be crafted, not just spewed.
I’m in that crafting phase now. I write regularly by myself and with others. I have a manuscript in its third (or fourth?) iteration, and I still plug away at it, although “plug” makes it sound like a chore, which it’s not, because it is the story of my son and is therefore a labor of love; but it is also writing, so yes, labor is involved.
In addition to continuing to write my own opus, I want very much to be supportive of other writers. There’s a little bit of a pay it forward thing going on for me. During the seven years since Julian died, I have been “held” and taught and encouraged to put my life on the page by three unique and amazing women in the San Francisco Bay Area (Laurie Wagner in Alameda, Eanlai Cronin also in Alameda, and Cynthia Leslie-Bole in Orinda). They have all used the Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) Method in conducting their writing circles. They have sparked an amazing “opening up” for me, so much so that I swear by this method and want to spread the wealth.
The week of March 27, 2017, I am starting a writing circle in my home in Martinez, California. I’m calling this facilitated experience The Write Way. What is a writing circle? In a nutshell: writers (if you write, you are a “writer”!) meet on a regular basis, write together from prompts offered by me, the facilitator, and we share (or choose not to) what we’ve written. Positive (and only positive) feedback is given. These are first drafts, after all, like newborns. They are handled gently and lovingly and the pesky Inner Critic is invited to shut the hell up. This is all part of the Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) method, first introduced by Pat Schneider in her 2003 book, “Writing Alone and With Others.”
Although my son’s death is what triggered my writing on a regular basis, people are inspired to write for all sorts of reasons. My writing circle will not be a “grief group,” although grief, loss, failure, fear…all “shadow” topics will be welcome. Nothing is off limits. Also, this is not therapy, although it has been spontaneously exclaimed in writing circles I have attended, on more than one occasion, that the experience of writing in a group, of sharing, of getting supportive feedback is, and I quote, “better than therapy!”
So if you are in the area, please consider joining me. For more information, email me at: email@example.com. And thank you. Thank you for reading my words. Because when you do, you accompany me on my journey. A connection is created. And THAT–after all is said and done–is why any one of us writes.