Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Journaling In Safety And Sharing

Writing workshops through the Women's Writing Circle offer safety, confidentiality and sharing ... a chance to let down our hair while honoring our desire to write and create.

Many of us are under enormous stress and pressure; feelings put on paper help minimize anxiety. We realize, too, through the themes expressed in our writing and read in the Circle that we are not alone.
I felt very fortunate this past weekend to co-teach our journaling workshop with Kathleen Pooler, http://krpooler.com/  retired nurse practitioner, memoir writer and inspiring teacher.  Kathy arrived from upstate New York to share her knowledge with us.
This week Kathy wrote: "It was truly an honor and a pleasure to meet you all in person and share the day with you. Thank you so much for your warm welcome and heartfelt sharing. I appreciate how much I learned from all of you in the workshop, as well as how much fun I had!"

At our workshop, "Journaling: A Voyage of Self-Discovery," Kathy taught us:
  • Establish a habit and commit on a daily basis to writing in your journal.
  • Make a space where you can write and relax without interruption.
  • Give yourself credit for writing in your journal. It takes commitment and courage.
  • Realize that the "roadmap" of your story may take time to reveal itself.
  • Give yourself unconditional acceptance and honor your desire to write.
  • Write without an eye toward your inner critic.  A journal is your safe place, a repository for thoughts. A journal is for your eyes only.
  • Realize that medical science has proven that journaling helps you become a healthier person and improves your immune system.
  • Journal vignettes often point the way to a larger narrative and can be incorporated into a future memoir project.

"Magic" is possible when we gather together, light the candle, and begin our journey in an intimate setting that stimulates and ignites reflection and creativity. 

On a "soul card" at the end of our day,  a workshop participant wrote:  "I brought with me a reluctance to write about a particular topic. It was the generosity of the other writers to share their painful tales that brought down the shield.  I'll take away a lot of good information and tools for journaling . . . and I'll carry with me the generosity of all these women."

For me, personally, I brought my love of writing . . . I took away invaluable writing techniques for tapping into thoughts and feelings, without which the "heart" of any story cannot be told.  Thank you, Kathy!
What about you?  Do you have a group of writers in your neighborhood or community where you can share and work on your writing? 

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Novel Waits, But For Now . . . Poetry Is Muse

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. ~Robert Frost

Our About the Author series continues with Sharon Keys Gray.

“I AM NOT A POET!” I told myself.  Those words resounded in my mind with decisive emphasis on not.  Recalling that as a child in grade school nothing caused me to panic more than receiving a homework assignment to write a poem, confirmed this to be fact.  I, who had earned straight ‘A’s in English grammar and also won the class spelling bee, became completely paralyzed when asked to attempt to compose a poem. 
I remember the hollow unsupported sensation in my stomach on hearing the assignment; like standing in an elevator that drops so fast that it feels like your stomach is still at a previous floor while the rest of your body has fallen away somewhere below.
My eyes would grow round and wide as quarters, then my gaze would drop to the floor in accession to defeat.  Nonetheless, I’d spend hours staring at an empty page in my composition book, pencil poised in hand in hope that some phrase, some snippet might leap to mind that I could capture before it was lost to me.  It never did.  I accepted this as divine revelation that a poet I was not destined to be.
I did experience success in high school, however, crafting creative writing pieces and writing essays.  Consequently, over the years I retained the notion that someday at my leisure I would write a novel.  One evening a couple of years ago, the idea resurfaced and I decided the time to begin to write had come; but how to start?  It occurred to me that there might be others like me in the area who were perhaps meeting and honing their craft.  So, I surfed the Web to see what was available and there I found the Women’s Writing Circle.  There was a meeting scheduled the very next Saturday and I sent an email confirming that I would attend. 
Nervous and shy at first, I shrunk into my chair to observe the meeting.  But the ladies of the Circle were so warm and encouraging that I soon came out of hiding.  I’d brought a piece that I’d written and shared it with the group.  To my pleasure I received both genuine praise and kind suggestions on how I could make the piece more powerful.  Such a happy discovery was the Women’s Writing Circle for me! 
I believe it was the ladies of the Circle who slew the demon that suppressed my ability to write poetry.  For it was not long after starting to meet with the group that my first poem drifted to consciousness as I lay sleeping one night.  And, when I read that poem to them, saying that I am not a poet, their resounding reply . . . “OH YES YOU ARE!”
I have three poems featured in the Slants Of Light anthology.  “Alone In My Sunshine Room” was inspired by my thoughts and reflections as I sat in a sunny room of my house.    The poem called “A Glance” was inspired by the view out of a window on a snowy day.  The elegy “When Death Comes Late” flowed from thoughts of an aging family member’s perspective on life.  Although still intent on writing that novel, I am happy to have a poetry muse as my companion.

Sharon Keys Gray grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Philadelphia and is proud to say that she is successful product of the Philadelphia Public School System.  “My teachers saw potential in me,” says Sharon.  “They encouraged me and nurtured my talents, and I am forever grateful to them.”  Sharon has made her career in Information Technology and works for a large financial institution.  “I continue to enjoy my career,” she says, “but I feel compelled to write, which perhaps is a calling to a second career.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Leila Summers, author of "It Rains In February" - What Inspired My Memoir

This is the second in a series of occasional guest posts by authors and writers from around the world.

I asked Leila Summers if she would write what inspired her lovely memoir, It Rains In February. I had read the book last year and was touched by her story and her risk-taking in writing her pain and loss. This week Leila wrote me: "I want to thank you for this opportunity. Being that the anniversary of my husband’s suicide is this weekend, I think that this was a very good process for me to do. I sat down tonight to begin my blog post, and found that it was easier than I expected, as I just wrote from my heart."

I have always been a natural storyteller. My outlet was entertaining friends with stories over wine or coffee. A friend once joked that she found it fascinating that I could tell a 30-minute tale about going to the store and she actually found it interesting to listen to. People asked me why I didn't write my stories down, but I would only shake my head and chuckle, "I am not a writer."

You see, my husband was the writer. He, his sister, and most of his friends were artists, musicians, writers, or other creatives. I was the wife, the mother, and the friend. A person who could be just as happy entertaining someone with my stories at a party, as I could be sitting at home watching a film with my family. Somewhere along the way, I lost my ability to believe that I could still be anything or anyone I wanted. I had chosen my life, and my life was to be a good wife, a great mother and a valuable friend. And, I was happy. Then one day, everything changed.

On February 1, 2006, my husband, Stuart, arrived home from work and unexpectedly confessed his love for another woman. A married woman whose children were friends with my children. I thought there must be some mistake, a misunderstanding, or perhaps, he was having a midlife crisis. But Stuart spiraled down into depression, becoming obsessed with this other woman, and my perfect life began to unravel along with his sanity. I spent the following year torn between my own heartache and trying to save him. Every day I treaded lightly, juggling work, children, tears, and threats of suicide.

During this year, I kept a journal. I poured my heart onto the pages because there was nowhere else to empty it. I had to be the strong one for my husband, and for my two little girls. And so, I stopped being a storyteller for a while. I withdrew from most of my friends. I was needed at home. I had to try and keep it together, to make it okay, to save a life.

On February 24, 2007, I got the dreaded call. Stuart was dead. His father said, "It's over." But it wasn't over, for me, or for any of us. I was a widow at the age of thirty-seven, with two young daughters, aged six and four.

A month or so later, I picked up my journal and dared to read through it again. All the pain from the past year was there, as well as all Stuart's letters. I decided to type up the illegible tear-stained pages so that my children would one day have a record of the story behind their father's suicide. As I began to type, more words flooded out and the story expanded until I realized that I had the skeleton of a book.

Four years went by as I worked for hours every night, the story growing and evolving as I filled in all the spaces. Writing became a part of my healing process. There were many times that I wanted to forget the idea of publishing, but something kept spurring me on. It was as if the telling of my story was as important as putting it out there for the entire world to read. Only after my book was published, and I was forced to officially call myself a writer, did I discover that another part of the process was to find myself.

Stories race around my head all day, every day. They always did. I wake up writing and I go to bed writing. I wonder now, how I managed before writing. What did I do with all these ideas? Perhaps my world had simply become too tapered, and there weren't as many spaces for my dreams. I know now, that I didn't believe in myself. I didn't know that there was so much more to discover. I thought I was happy because I never questioned it. But my happiness was challenged in ways that I never imagined possible for my life, and in that churning, that profound and utter devastation and grief, I began a new journey, one of self-discovery. One in which I now find myself, a writer.

Leila Summers lives in a tiny country village in South Africa with her two daughters and entourage of pets. She spends her days reading, writing and dreaming. Leila has just started writing her second book, which she hopes to publish in early 2014.

Monday, February 18, 2013

'Strengthening My Voice As a Poet'

Poetry isn't a profession.  It's a way of life.  It's an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that. ~ Mary Oliver

Our About the Authors series continues with Harriet Singer.

It came on me at 3 a.m. one Thursday morning. A partial poem was swirling around in my head like a television jingle that wouldn't let go. The only way to go back to sleep was to get up and write it down.

That was three years ago. I had never written poetry before; didn’t even read it. But suddenly I had to put words on paper even though I had no idea what I was doing. I felt driven to learn more about writing poems.

The first workshop I attended was for an entire weekend led by a well-known published poet. To this day I have no idea what possessed me to enroll. The other participants had been writing for years. Years!!

Some of them had been published in literary journals and magazines as well as on-line. Then there was me with five months of attempting to write something meaningful. Needless to say, I felt totally intimidated. But the verses kept coming. I needed help. I tried adult education classes without success. The other members in the classes did not have the same commitment to writing that I was developing. For them this was something they dabbled in; a casual hobby. For me writing was becoming an essential part of my being.

I looked into writers’ groups in the area. Meetings always seemed to be at the wrong time, wrong day, miles away. Just when I was despairing of ever finding a group, I received an email with a link to the Women’s Writing Circle. Meetings were twice a month Saturday mornings, fifteen minutes from my house. I could do this! My first meeting convinced me I was in the right place. I found a group of women writers ready to tell their story, each in her own way. It was a safe and supportive environment in which to read my work and strengthen my voice as a poet.

Until I joined the Circle very few people had read or heard my words. Attending the read-arounds gave me the courage to share my work. I also started telling friends and family that I write poetry. So when I had the opportunity to be part of the anthology I jumped in with both feet. (And a case of nerves.)

Three of my poems are in Slants of Light. "My Mother Never Told Me" was a phrase that popped into my head while I was driving. By now I was familiar with the symptoms so I knew it was the start of a poem. My initial reaction was surprise. I thought all that “mother stuff” had been resolved years ago. As the poem evolved I realized this wasn’t about blame but rather the recognition of all I have experienced and learned. My mother never would have found peace in silence, or looked to nature for wisdom. I now understand my mother’s path was very different from my own.

As a hospice volunteer I have seen wonderful people die much too young. The poem "Some Day…Soon" speaks to this. I used to see my life as stretching out like a weaving of colors and patterns that went on forever. It doesn’t. It can’t. Some day is now.

The third poem in the anthology is the recent situation of writing to a deadline. I never had to write to a deadline. Up until now, I had the luxury of writing and revising as long as I wanted. Sitting in front of the computer forcing words that aren’t there is devastating. "My Lost Art" examines the panic that I felt.
Working on Slants of Light has been challenging and exhilarating. I feel honored to be a part of this compilation of stories and poems.

Fifteen women speak;
A creative collection
infused with our souls.”

Harriet Singer was born and raised in New York City. She lived and worked in Ann Arbor, Michigan for many years before moving back East in 2007. Harriet is an Energy Healer and volunteers with a local hospice. Slants of Light is her first publication and she hopes it's not her last.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Memoir Healed A Broken Heart

John and me on our wedding day.
Whenever people ask why I wrote my memoir, Again In a Heartbeat, my answer is the same.  If my story helps one person going through a similar journey, then I have done my job as a writer. 

Yet, truth be told, it is much more complex - and simple -  than that.

I also wrote about my husband, John Cavalieri, because I wanted to relive my days with him and hold him close again. Writing this memoir was truly a journey of the heart - my heart had been broken.  It came to life again by writing his story and mine.

Writing offers us the very special privilege of revisiting the past and making sense of it.  It also serves as a beacon of light for what is happening now and what is to come.  A memoir writing teacher of mine once said: "Memory itself is a combination of perception and selection which creates a 'truth' of its own." 
This is how I felt after writing Again In a Heartbeat.  I had finally found - 13 years after John's death - the pieces of my story with John that made so much fall into place  . . . including the wonderful discovery that the love of a good man had made me a better and more confident woman. 

Ours wasn't a perfect marriage - like any marriage - it had ups and downs. Then cancer tested us almost beyond human endurance.  Yet we had a special bond and alchemy that neither disease nor death could destroy. 

As John wrote about me in his memoir, Cancer Versus Honor:

"Susan was the missing piece to my personality.  Where I was cautious, she was carefree.  Where I was lacking in knowledge, she had the answers.  We seemed to complement each other in every way.  But, most of all, I think that we genuinely liked each other.  All that she asked of me was acceptance and support.  I was able to provide those traits in abundance.  And so out of this grew our love.  As my wife said to me a year after we were married,  'You are the only man in my life who has always been there for me.  That's why I love you.'"

And so I offer to you as I did last Valentine's Day, Again In a Heartbeat, free to Kindle users beginning Saturday, Feb. 16 and running through Monday, Feb. 18. 


I hope you enjoy John's and my story.  For since John was a writer and left behind a 365-page memoir, I had his own words to "listen" to and use in my book.  It often felt as if together, he and I wrote Again In a Heartbeat

Monday, February 11, 2013

Memoir and Accepting The Past

The great courageous act that we must all do, is to have the courage to step out of our history and past so that we can live our dreams.  ~ Oprah Winfrey

Our About the Authors series continues with Diane Yannick who recalls the pain she felt for years after finding out her husband had cheated with her best friend.

There are certain scenes from my life that haunt me in the late hours of the night and try their best to define me. These stories work incredibly hard to hold onto their "real estate" in my brain. They refuse to allow me to release them and move forward with acceptance and forgiveness. They hold on decade after decade. They make me feel fragile and a little bit broken.
One of these life stories is the way my divorce played out. I had no idea that my husband was cheating on me with my best friend. The hints dropped by him and my teaching colleagues didn’t work. I had to be directly told what was going on before I understood; this revelation came, no less, at my 28th birthday party over a lopsided birthday cake and Thunderbird wine. Only then after being confronted by friends and colleagues with the truth could I put the pieces together that had long been staring me in the face.
My humiliation and anger battled in an attempt to destroy me. How could he? I asked this over and over until I had pushed myself into a place of self-pitying despair. Only my young daughter had the power to help me move forward with the tiny bit of grace that I could muster.
So I wrote "Last To Know" for our anthology Slants of Light.  Finally, I could begin to accept my past and learn to embrace the present and future. It took me almost forty years to get to this point but get there I did.
The publication of my story allows me to take back my power. It allows me to stand tall and say, “Here’s a story. It happened just like this. But it doesn’t define who I’ve become.”
For me,  writing this has not been a solitary venture. I have had the support of a group of wonderful women writers in a circle of sharing. Together we mine our lives to discover what makes each of us unique. We laugh and cry. Most of all we hold hands and find our courage. One little story at a time. Believe me, there’s more to come.
Diane is a graduate of the University of Delaware and received her master’s degree in reading education from Salisbury State University in Salisbury, MD. A former language arts teacher and elementary reading specialist for the West Chester Area School District in West Chester, PA, Diane is retired and lives in Chester County with her husband John, their rescued Yorkiepoo, and two cats. She enjoys spending time with her three young grandchildren, working out at the ‘Y’ and writing memoir.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Writing Means Moving Forward

The need to write comes from the need to make sense of one's life and discover one's usefulness.  ~~ John Cheever

We write for many reasons.  We write to heal from pain, we write to share a story larger than any one of us . . . we write to explore and come to terms with a new reality . . . and in doing so, we move forward.  In our About the Author series Edda Pitassi shares how writing eased the pain of an early retirement and led to renewal.  Here is her story.

What inspired me to write my contribution to our anthology, Slants of Light?  I found it difficult to put my answer into words; unsure of why I wrote my particular story …questioning my own rhyme and reason for doing so.
I kept asking myself: What is it about nostalgia and its interlocking theme – memory – that inspires, motivates or challenges us to explore and reflect on the past?
After several attempts, I finally put my finger on the answer:  If I did not tell my story, my characters and their identities would die, as though they never inhabited the earth or this life.  If I didn't write my story, memory would die somewhere between silence and oblivion.  That's why I wrote, “The Zen Art of Peeling Potatoes.”
When I retired, I saw the past receding, like driving a car while constantly checking the rearview mirror prior to changing lanes.  I realized my balancing act of co-worker, friend, working person and wife was forever changed.  A sometimes chaotic but familiar daily timetable of constructing a “face” for the world – going to the office - would no longer fill my days. Fifty years of employment had ended.  I kept thinking . . . the road ahead is much shorter than the road behind.  Look ahead – that is where you must focus.  Subtly at first and then more distinctly, long-ago interests and pursuits that had once engaged my energies resurfaced.  Poking through an old briefcase, I found copies of published articles I had written for local newspapers.  Several scribbles and writing attempts from a creative writing course re-emerged. I felt the tug of one clear and positive dream – a long-held dream – to write and publish a short story.

I kept asking myself – if not now, when?
The Women’s Writing Circle became an entrance into another world:  one that helped distract me from everyday cares…one that helped encourage contemplation…one where I found positive and rewarding support from other women writers.
I should say that during my working life, attending college, and getting a degree, my life was influenced by four female friendships.  These women shaped and inspired the narrative in my story.
At one of our critique sessions, I finished reading from my third (fourth? fifth?)  revision of an unfocused story about those friendships . . . those same friends who had reservations about my dream to write after I told them about the Circle and my new goal. Why bother? they seemed to say.  What’s the use?  How silly. 
After I confided this in the Circle, one writer slipped me a note asking, “Why do you stay connected with them?” Her question proved the kick-start to start delving into my past . . . and our histories together, growing up in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, our early years of trying to live the Marlo Thomas “That Girl” lifestyle; the untimely, tragic death of my younger sister and the impact of her death on our friendships. 

The next day, as I started preparing dinner, a flood of memories, images, events, experiences, and conversations with those friends started to float by.  From that point on, every moment I could steal away was spent clarifying and refining my story.
Through subsequent critiques in the Circle, women writers pushed, nudged and motivated my muse.  They urged me to dig deep; something I was not used to doing, but felt I needed to do. I extend my gratitude to them all.  They proved to be a lifeline to the woman I was then and am now.
Ambitions and disappointments, not only in my life but also in the lives of my friends, make “The Zen Art of Peeling Potatoes” something I now realize I had always wanted – and needed – to write. 
My goal as I wrote my story was not to second-guess or judge – and I ask forgiveness if I inadvertently crossed that line in telling my story . . . and theirs.  I trust I have treated them with the respect, kindness and integrity they deserve.
Edda R. Pitassi has maintained a love/hate relationship with writing since she started seeing her ‘letters to the editor’ in print at the age of 15.  A published journalist with several suburban newspapers, she currently contributes a monthly book review for "Chester County Seniors!" newspaper.  A former web content writer and proofreader, her employment history includes a 20-year career with IBM.  Edda graduated Cabrini College, in Radnor, PA, with a BA in English/Communications.