From the Writing Desk: Triggers
Updated: Mar 29, 2022
When August turns to September, a cool wind stirs memories of the past. This year, our nation remembers twenty years ago when our world changed on September 11, 2001. Most of us know where we were that day. Since then, we have witnessed increased fear and uncertainty in some very dramatic ways.
I remember a day, three years prior to 9/11, triggered by Labor Day. A day when my family’s life changed.
I’d been divorced for nearly a year. September 4, 1998, my ex-husband was coming to pick up the kids for a weekend with him. But there was one glitch. I’d heard through an unexpected source that he had lost his job and was staying in a seedy motel. I had no phone number for the children and no address. Both of which I had a right to know. Could I exercise patience and prayer, or should I ask for what I needed, a way to contact my kids?
The air was soft. The kids were excited to tell their dad about starting back to school. And I looked forward to a weekend of quiet. I could not have predicted what happened next. I asked him for the contact information. He stared at me for a moment, put the car in reverse, uttered an expletive, and squealed his tires out of the drive and out of our lives for 9 years.
My kids have moved beyond that fateful day, and for the most part so have I. But this year, one of our children had planned an exciting journey of self-discovery that will take her to many places. She had prepared, mapped out her journey, assured me she would take every precaution, right down to the AAA card in her wallet. As I watched her taillights disappear around the bend, I struggled to separate the past from this current situation.
I turned to a trusted friend, my journal. On the ensuing dark mornings, I have faithfully returned to my pages to write through the issues that bubbled up with my child’s leaving. Those issues belong to me, not my child. I know that and know that I must be the one to sort through them, not put it on anyone else.
In coaching life’s transitions, memoir, and even fiction, I advise clients to turn to this type of writing to gain clarity, understand the why of the situation or the story they are attempting to tell. The practice of writing in a journal for these critical times in life can be very helpful. Is it publishable? Likely not, but it can help to open the mind and heart to new possibilities. Here are some suggestions for journal writing to be effective.
Pick a time when you are most relaxed. I write in the morning, when the veil between dreaming and consciousness is thin. It is a time to get out the subconscious level to find what is truly at the heart of a matter.
Some find that using a timer frees them to write with a sense of abandon. If this works for you, do it. Set your time for 20 minutes and go.
Put pen to paper and don’t let it up. Keep the stream of consciousness going.
Don’t self-edit while you write.
I recommend that you revisit the writing. It helps to gain that clarity we spoke of, clear your head so you can understand what has happened and why.
In my grandma’s attic, a steamer trunk full of old clothes was raided each year at Halloween. The fedora, red and black flapper dress, and wooden shoes from Holland, they were the stuff of imagination. As a young adult, I slipped into voices that weren’t my own, ways of walking that felt like someone I admired, a twitch of my cheek to mimic some character on television.
It got me thinking about the struggle that we writers have to admit that our work is valid, that we are, in fact, writers, especially in a world where so few pieces are published. For every manuscript published or not, reams of paper could be printed, writing and rewriting in order to drill down to that one piece.
Take ownership of your work. Writing is hard to do. Writing well—even harder.
Upcoming Workshops and Retreats
On October 2, from 9:00 to Noon on Zoom, I’ll be teaching a memoir workshop hosted by Women Writing for (a) Change.
Some call it navel gazing, some call it therapy. Others would say it’s stuff that belongs in your journal. So why write about yourself, call yourself a memoirist?
To write about events that have happened in your life is to merely write your personal history. But the purpose of memoir involves more than that. Memoir is a form of storytelling that brings a greater meaning to events that matter, be they traumatic, joyful, life-changing, or historical accounts.
This workshop will explore the following:
How to begin writing memoir.
The importance of including only those elements that work for the story.
The difference between memoir and autobiography.
To drill down to the powerful narrowness of focus on events and emotions that matter to telling the story.
The need for detail within a story and how details actually tell the story.
How summary can be used and misused.
This is an interactive workshop meant to give writers hands-on tools to write from firsthand experience. How the small details of an event can be written and understood. In keeping with Women Writing for (a) Change practices, we will provide a safe, secure landscape for writers who attend through open writing exercise to clear the mind and focus on what’s important to the individual writer. Cross talk will be a vital part of this workshop.
As always, I work with private clients to tailor retreats and workshops to your liking. Contact me for your next time away from the business of life.
Someone's in the Kitchen with Ina
My husband loves this time of year. He collects several varieties of pumpkins throughout the fall to cook down and freeze. We’ve begun that process with the purchase of three wild pumpkins that will serve as decorations long before he gets around to cooking them.
His goal for the meat is pumpkin pies. He’s gone so far as to learn how to make his own pie crust. I love to use the pumpkin for scones and soup, but Ina Garten has a recipe for pumpkin cupcakes that might just be my ultimate favorite.
Several years ago, I helped a local farmer collect maple sap and cook it down to syrup. Each year now, I wait for him to call and tell me he has a fresh batch available.
Pumpkin and maple syrup go together in a fabulous way. Ina’s recipe for cupcakes marries the pumpkin cake with an icing flavored with 100% maple syrup. It truly is the best of flavor.
With my child’s leaving, I have taken on the task of walking the dogs. We set out each day with one goal in mind: explore.
Cincinnati is home to a type of lizard that is not native to the United States. In fact the young son of a department store mogul brought the reptile home with him on a trip to Italy long ago. The lizards propagated in the East End of Cincinnati and have migrated to other parts of town.
Molly, my black Great Pyrenees mix walks alongside me well, until she scouts a lizard and then it’s a yank at my arm. Sometimes she will get the prize, a little snack, but more often she just gets scolded by me for pulling.
The Reading Table
Earlier this summer, this book was recommended to me. It was written in 1978 so it’s been difficult to get a copy from the library or any other source.
Finally, I received notification from the library that a copy was ready for pick up.
Harry Crews would not have been my choice of a writer to study for my current projects. However, he and this memoir are exactly what I need right now.
A Childhood: A Biography of Place is a memoir of growing up. Crews writes about a father he didn’t know he had until he was an adult. His biological father died when he was less than two years old. His mother remarried and that was the father he always knew, a kind and loving man but nonetheless, an imposter.
Crews tells his story with such rich description and imagination. He has taken the stories given to him by his mother and others to bring his father to life through the places that he grew up, places where his father had been.
My father died 4 months before I was born. In Crews’ memoir, I am learning what it means to put together a story that has meaning, not just a chronological account of my life, a man’s life.
Crews captures the stories his mother told him with such vivid accounts and has opened a new way of thinking about how I can rewrite a story about my parents’ life together. For me, the study of this profound memoir teaches me new ways of looking at someone else’s story as it relates to my life experience.
We are all trudging through this pandemic world the best we can. For several months from her home in Virginia, Mary Chapin Carpenter produced a Sunday series on Facebook called Songs from Home. She ended each one the same way: “You know exactly what to do. Stay well, stay strong, wear your mask, and always, stay mighty.”