Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Father and Me - A Writing Prompt for Our Read-Around

Arguably, it is only when we come to terms with our fathers that, as women, we achieve self-realization.

Many of you in the Circle like a monthly writing prompt so here it is:  Write a story where you and your father take center stage.  This could be a snapshot from childhood, or one where you and your father danced together at your wedding - yes, that's me and Dad pictured here - or where you and your dad had a heart-to-heart after he had aged and was frail.  You decide.

Try to give us - the reader/listener - a rich portrayal; one that shows, instead of tells, the relationship and dynamic between you and your father; the way he looked at you, his mannerisms and his dialogue and how this affected you then and, perhaps, years later in how you viewed yourself as a woman and viewed men. 

This is a tough one. As poet and author Maxine Kumin wrote: "The hardest poem I ever wrote was about my father . . . I was terrified of writing it."

As always, if you prefer to bring something else to the Circle, please do that.  This is merely a suggestion, a prompt. 

See you at 9 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 8 at Wellington Square Bookshop in Exton.  As a side note, I will discuss how memoir can transform and heal at a talk and booksigning later that day at the Henrietta Hankin Branch Library in West Vincent Township, Chester County, beginning at 2 p.m.  I would love to have you join me for that or mention it to a friend.  Thank you.

All the best to my Sisters in the Writing Circle,

Monday, December 20, 2010

T'is the Season - Writing As a Way to Ease Anxiety

The holidays elicit the "ghosts of Christmas past,"  those who are no longer with us, but whose presence lingers in all that we are . . . or are not.

I miss my father, but I don't miss his high expectations for me. Yet, I still berate myself for not "achieving" enough. I miss my mother, but not her childlike demands to be taken care of.  Yet, I see in myself  how I sometimes place this burden on my sons.  I miss my husband, but I don't miss cancer invading our home. I know that my determination to avoid trauma and upset is both unrealistic and immature so why don't I accept this?

Holidays come as the year draws to a close. With endings come new beginnings. Reflection on where we have been and where we are going can be anxiety-producing. Writing is a way to mull anxiety and memory and come to terms with them. Writing about certain people (not just dead, but living) is hard work and painful.  Sometimes, I don't want to go there.  So I don't.  Until I am ready to stop marinating.

Yesterday I spoke to a friend who said that after years of psychiatry, she learned that the best psychiatrists  let you draw your own conclusions.  They are not saying, "Don't you see how you keep getting drawn to these same situations and (abusive) people!"  Instead,  a good doctor plants a seed until you say, "Hey, wait a minute. I keep being ensnared because  . . . "  In that moment comes healthy living and caretaking of the soul.

Write why you keep finding yourself in "these situations" and nurture a setting and routine.
  • Start by listing ideas.  
  • Write freestyle - "dump on the page;" don't worry about spelling and grammar.
  • Create a space for yourself.  Close the door, light a scented candle.
  • Give yourself the gift of privacy.  Shut out whatever or whoever wants your attention for an hour.
  • Learn to be alone with your thoughts.
As Louise DeSalvo notes in Writing As a Way of Healing: "A healing narrative links feelings to events. It describes how we felt then and how we feel now.  It compares and contrasts past feelings and current feelings about events.  It charts the similarities or differences in our feelings over time."

This holiday season give yourself permission to embrace your "ghosts" as instructive, rather than destructive. Open your mind to endings and new beginnings.  Let your words lead you back to you.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Finding the Gift in Ourselves

No one determines what stories can be told, but ourselves.  Inherent in writing is the dream of taking control of one's life. The woman who is able to write her life beyond conventional expectation has recognized a gift in herself. 

The stories and the emotions in today's read-around brought laughter and tears - and the exhilarating feeling that comes with risk taking and telling a true and entertaining story.  For aren't we all trying to connect?  Isn't that the joy of storytelling?  Entertainment, captivating our readers, our audience.  And at the same time showing our souls. The audience is you, me, us.

Whether it was about the broken friendship between two women, the longing to hear a mother say "I love you," the bittersweet joy of holding a first grandchild, or the anger at a husband's betrayal, the writing took  flight in this month's read-around, carrying with it a life of its own.

As Diane said, "There are little pieces of my heart I am afraid to open . . . but when we do, we feel better because we take away the power they hold."

Writing can also counterbalance the uncreative, mundane demands of life, help us get in touch with who we are and mine new perspective.  It is the divine connection with family, friends and others.  It is our legacy.

We talked about anger, often taboo in women's literature.  Women should not (cannot) be isolated from what men have always taken for granted . . . expressing aggression and anger in the narrative of their lives.  Women are not encouraged to be anything other than sexually attractive, appealing to men, passive and nurturing of their children . . . an accoutrement, an accessory.

The healing aspects of memoir are holistic and all-encompassing in a community of female writers sharing their lives, unscripted and in living color.  It is a tonic, a gift of good health.

We welcomed two new writers to the Circle, Becky and Susan. We missed Jan and Flo, who were unable to attend, but were with us in spirit.  We heard the exciting news that Pat has finished her memoir and found a publisher.

The Circle is a safety net.  No one is judged or turned away.  There are no expectations, only acceptance.  The gift of the read-around is in ourselves.  It's a celebration. 

Happy Holidays to my Sisters in the Writing Circle.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Listen to Lennon

"Mother you had me, but I never had you."  

As always, I am struck with the memoir of the man in his music.  

Everyone is asking today, "Where were you 30 years ago?"  I was in bed just waking up when my husband John came into the bedroom.  "It's all over the radio. John Lennon has been killed," he said.

Not the Beatles fan I was, although an admirer of his music, John had no idea what import those words carried for me that day.  I think if he had, he might have been more subtle in telling me this news.  Had there ever been a life without the Beatles?  Now that life had ended.

"You know I love you baby please don't go . .."

Fourteen years later I would face another death ... not John Lennon's, but John Cavalieri, my husband, the man who understood me almost better than I understood myself.  "Nobody knows but me.  Who am I?  No one else can see.  Just you and me."

We confront our immortality through the loss of a loved one, whether a musician we never met but idolized, or the man who was husband and soul mate.  In them, we find ourselves and the truth of our stories. In them we see "the wind in the trees, the clouds in the sky."

"I was dreaming of the past and my heart was beating fast."

So instead of grieving today, I listen to Lennon. I almost feel young again - or maybe it is hopeful.  I hear his life, his truth and his courageous efforts to face reality.  Thanks, John.  It was a good ride . . .  and still is.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December Read-Around

The Women's Writing Circle meets at 9 a.m. on Saturday Dec. 11 at Wellington Square Bookshop in Exton.

Come and join a supportive circle of writers.  Whether you are published or unpublished, it doesn't matter.  All you need is a willingness to share your work. Writing is a way to put things in perspective, especially at our read-arounds.  

The writer tells the group what she wants from the group before she reads, whether it is read-back lines or general comment on the piece. The writer can take the 10-minute allotted time to read, comment on where she sees the piece going from here or how she felt when writing it.  Poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, essay, memoir are welcome.

The read-around is a gift we give each other.  It is a chance to get feedback in a supportive, nonjudgmental setting and serves as validation within the group to commit to writing, often as a way to heal and express emotion. We also talk about writing techniques and honing our skills as writers.

Hope to see you there.  Happy Holidays to my Sisters in the Writing Circle.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Expressing Anger - A Woman's Writing Life

Why is it that women are ingrained not to express or show anger?  Is it because society has labeled this as "strident" or unbecoming?  Is it because we are told that men revile "angry" women?  Or is it because the admission of anger - especially in our writing - is one of the scariest things we can do as women?

My feeling is all of the above.  Writing is a scary and lonely endeavor.  When we come to terms with our anger through the written word, it makes us vulnerable. We might be viewed as "acting like a man" - heaven forbid! How dare we write about our desire to be ambitious and have power or have an identity outside of another person?

I spent a lot of time weighing how much anger I wanted to express in my memoir.  In the end, I decided my anger about many things in life could fill a book in itself!  And it may well because I need to write it.  And I'm not talking about cancer or losing the man I loved to an untimely death.

There still exists in women's memoir this pervasive notion that women should be "silent."  We write about our grandmother's recipes, our childhood memories, (usually laden with nostalgia and whimsy), our trips to California ... our nurturing and passive lives. This "storylessness" is endemic to women. Rarely, do we look the "tiger" in the eye.  I am not talking about blaming anger, but, rather, anger at not being allowed to tell the truth of our lives as women.

In Writing a Woman's Life by Carolyn G. Heilbrun, the author notes: "The expression of anger has always been a terrible hurdle in women's personal progress.  Above all, the public and private lives cannot be linked, as in male narratives."

Our memoirs should not be sentimental and passive, but gritty, ambitious and spoken with a voice of  authority about the messages, institutions and impossible expectations we suffer as women. We need to throw aside our guilt and commit to the story without suffering the "slavery of being a girl," as George Eliot put it.

Writing is the scariest undertaking, but it is also the most courageous.  Now we need to throw away the old stereotypes, let it rip and tell it like it is.