From the Writing Desk: Triggers

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.

Writing Advice

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Put pen to paper and don’t let it up. Keep the stream of consciousness going.

  4. Don’t self-edit while you write.

  5. 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.

Imposter's Syndrome

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.