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15 posts from October 2006

October 01, 2006

Month Three: Finding a Healing Language


Writing and Healing Idea #9: The Mystery of Language

A Apple Pie and Finding What You Didn't Lose

So What Is Healing?

So What Is Healing? (Part 2): Images and Metaphors for Healing

Looking at the Language of Sickness

Questions and Answers

Writing and Healing Idea #10: Conjuring New Images and Metaphors

A Featured Piece: On Velcro and Healing the Writing Process Itself

Healing Circle: A Recommended Book

Writing and Healing Idea #11: A Scavenger Hunt

Is There a Conflict Between Writing to Heal and Producing Good Writing?

Count Crackula: An Example of a Breakthrough in Writing and Healing

Poemcrazy: A Recommended Book

Writing and Healing and Sweets 

October 04, 2006

Writing and Healing Idea #9: The Mystery of Language

In Helen Keller’s memoir, The Story of My Life, she describes a now famous moment that occurred between her and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, when she was seven:

We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten--a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.

Helen Keller made a connection: between the cool stream gushing over one hand and the shapes of the letters traced upon the other:


Do you remember the first connections you made between letters and words and things?

Do you remember, for instance, your first phonics book?  The pictures in that phonics book?  Or any of your early readers?

What about the way the ABC’s looked in your first-grade classroom?  What about the shapes of those letters?  Or the way it felt to hold a pencil and write those letters?  What about that paper with the dotted lines?

Do you remember what you felt when you first discovered letters?  Or what you felt when you first discovered that words and letters were connected to actual things?

Choose one particular moment of remembering.  Perhaps a moment in a classroom.  Or perhaps you were riding in a car and you were able to read a sign for the first time.  Or maybe you remember one particular book from childhood.  Pick one moment or thing.  And then conjure the details of it.  What do you see?  What do you hear?  What do you feel?  Write the words that conjure the details.  Make the words into sentences if you want.

October 06, 2006

A Apple Pie and Finding What You Didn’t Lose

This week I was thinking about a book that was magical for me in childhood—a book that connected letters and things—a book called A Apple Pie by Kate Greenaway.  Perhaps you’ve read it or seen it.  Well, I typed "greenway apple pie" into google and google knew that I really meant greenaway (with an a) and it led to me this magical site, “The Celebration of Women Writers” which publishes online editions of out-of-copyright books by women authors.  I found there reproductions of all the pages of A Apple Pie, a book first published in 1886 and which I first received as a gift when I was four or five (a bit later than 1886).  After I discovered--actually rediscovered--those pages online, I made my way down to my basement and managed to locate the actual book—a bit worn and water-damaged and with my name and childhood phone number written on the inside page.  Those pages evoke something for me.  They evoke a particular time.  They evoke for me something of that mystery of language that Helen Keller experienced and wrote so well about.

What does this have to do with writing and healing?

I’m thinking now of a book by John Fox called Finding What You Didn’t Lose.  John Fox is a poet, a teacher, and a poetry therapist who last year formed the Institute of Poetic Medicine.  The premise of Fox's book, Finding What You Didn’t Lose, is that creativity can be reclaimed by reconnecting to early or significant experiences that may seem lost—but they’re not lost.  Finding what you thought you lost but you never really lost it; you only perhaps misplaced it, or forgot it. 

On p. 7 of Fox’s book he quotes Albert Camus:

A man’s work is nothing but the slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

Perhaps it would be helpful here to restate this quote in a more inclusive way.  (I suspect Camus would have done this himself if he’d written in a different time.): 

A person’s work is nothing but the slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence the heart first opened.

Sometimes we don’t know when our heart first opened.  We don’t remember or we think we don’t remember.  Writing is a way to get back there.  Writing can reclaim an early experience by conjuring its details.  The slant of light in a particular room.  The billowing of curtains.  The sounds out in the street.

I think all of this has something to do with healing, but then I have to admit that I tend to think of healing in very broad terms.  I tend to think it’s all connected—the healing of creativity—the healing of the mind—the emotions—the healing of the soul—the spirit—the body—all of it—I think it’s all connected—though not necessarily in simple or uni-dimensional ways.  (I don’t happen to think, for instance, that people who are experiencing illness in their minds or bodies are necessarily any less healed—or whole—in their souls and spirits than people who are at the moment without illness.) 

What do you think?  Is any of this connected?
Is Camus on the right track?
Do those early experiences of the heart opening matter?
Does reclaiming those experiences matter?
And does this have anything to do with healing?

October 08, 2006

So What is Healing?

This is one of those questions that seems so basic we could almost forget to ask it.  But I think it’s important to ask it--and to keep asking it.

As a way to begin, here is a graphic from a site called Visual Thesaurus. If you visit the site you’ll discover that it also allows you to try out a couple words for free without purchasing any subscription.  You simply type in a word and it gives you a kind of thesaurus map.  I like the site because it’s a way of giving a word a shape—two dimensions.  If you like, you can use this pictorial definition of healing as a kind of template for creating your own definition—beginning to map out your own synonyms and connections.


October 10, 2006

So What is Healing? (Part 2): Images and Metaphors for Healing

The World Book Dictionary defines heal this way: “to make whole, sound or well; bring back to health; cure”.

At WordNet, an online database developed at Princeton University, healing is defined as “the natural process by which the body repairs itself”.

And here is how three women—all in various stages of recovery from cancer—and all participating in an ongoing writing and healing group—pictured healing on one morning in North Carolina a couple of years ago.  The following excerpt is from my notes:

“Healing is movement,” E. said.
“What do you see when you hear the word movement?” I asked her.  “What do you see inside your head?”
“I’m mulching,” she said.  “I’m working in my garden, raking.  I’m thinking about this tee shirt I have that says, ‘I’m not getting older, I just need repotting.'"

“Healing is the apex,” S. said.  “Healing is eureka.”
“What do you see with eureka?” I asked.
“I see myself throwing my hands up in the air,” she said.  “After I’d gotten good news on the telephone.  The doctor called.  I was so afraid it was going to be bad news, but then it was good news.”

Healing is mulching, raking, repotting. 
Healing is the apex, eureka.
Healing is not just one thing.

“Healing,” N. said, “is a taskmaster.”

There was this pause, I remember, after N. spoke.  I could feel a slight shift in the room.  N. had stage four breast cancer.  The tumor had spread to her liver and bones.  In the past couple months she’d become so much frailer than when I first knew her.  But, still, the fierce intelligence was there.

“Would you mind terribly,” I asked, “If I were to ask you what you see in your head when you hear the word taskmaster?”
N. answered immediately.  “Ichabod Crane.”

Ichabod Crane is that stooped and bony schoolmaster in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”  He teaches in a one-room schoolhouse.  When students don’t study properly he strikes them with a birch rod, the rod landing with a sharp thwack on their shoulders.

Is this what healing is like sometimes?
Is this what healing is like sometimes for some people?
Is this what healing can be like sometimes for all of us?

Healing is therapeutic, sanative, alterative.  It’s making whole.  It’s making well.  It’s the natural process by which the body repairs itself.  Healing is repair, therapy, movement, mulching, raking, repotting.  Healing is the apex.  Healing is eureka.  Healing is a taskmaster.  Healing is not just one thing.

What do you see inside your head when you hear—or say—the word healing?
What are the words and images that get at the truth of it?


October 12, 2006

Looking at the Language of Sickness

When I went back to Visual Thesaurus and entered the word illness I didn’t get much in the way of synonyms. But then I put in the word sick—and here’s what I got:


Unlike the graphic of healing which I found appealing—and filled with a sense of possibility—this graphic took me aback. Especially that cluster of words around the word disgusted. And then that cluster of words around the word demented. This graphic got me thinking, not for the first time—but in a new way—about all the meanings and connotations that have gotten attached, at least in some instances, to sickness and illness. Maybe some of these words fit for some people. Maybe some of them don't.

I suspect a person could write an entire book about this cluster of words that radiates from this single word: sick. Maybe one of you will—or maybe one of you will write a poem about it or a paragraph or a something. Or maybe you will revise this graphic--or construct an entirely new graphic that contains entirely new words and new connections.

October 15, 2006

Some Questions and Answers about One Year of Writing and Healing

Yesterday I attended a holistic health fair. What happened at the health fair, among other things, is that I participated in a number of conversations about health and healing and such. In the wake of these conversations—including some conversations about this site—One Year of Writing and Healing—I thought it might be useful to take a step back and both name and answer a few questions about this site:

• QUESTION: Does a person need to have an illness to participate in One Year of Writing and Healing?


• QUESTION: What do you mean by healing?

• ANSWER: Good question. Here’s a working definition of healing, one I’ve patched together from a range of sources and one that’s still a work in progress: Healing is a process whereby the body and/or mind and/or spirit seeks wholeness and restoration and balance in the wake of illness or stress or loss.

• ANSWER: Here’s another working definition: There are many things that can happen to throw the body out of balance. Illness. Stress. Loss. Pain. Childbirth. Injury. Healing is that process by which the body is continually trying to get back into balance.

• QUESTION: Does the body have to be thrown out of balance in order to experience healing?

• ANSWER: Probably not. But this seems to be the way it often comes about.

• QUESTION: What does writing have to do with healing?

• ANSWER: There are a number of things a person can do to support and encourage the process whereby the body begins to return to balance. Good food is one of those things. Deep rest can be one of those things. Exercise. A walk in the woods. Working in a garden. Acupuncture. Herbs. Medication. Writing is no more and no less than one of those things that can support and encourage the process whereby the body returns to balance.

• QUESTION: Who benefits from writing and healing?

• ANSWER: In my own experience, writing with the intent of healing can be of particular benefit for someone who is already attracted to writing—someone who has had good experiences with writing in the past. But it can also be of benefit, I’ve learned, for people who think that they hate to write. Often people hate to write because at some point in the past they’ve written something and they’ve gotten negative or painful feedback. If a person can find or create a new situation in which writing does not result in painful experiences, then sometimes those old and painful experiences can be healed. A kind of do-over. One of the goals of this site is to offer such experiences—where the process of writing itself can be healed. And then perhaps this new writing process can augment healing.

October 16, 2006

Writing and Healing Idea #10: Conjuring New Images and Metaphors for Healing

Try this:
Look at the word: HEALING
Write the word: HEALING
Write the word in large letters on a blank sheet of paper: HEALING
Say the word aloud: HEALING

Then close your eyes and say the word again—HEALING—and notice what comes into your mind. Say the word over slowly until some thing or place or person or creature comes into your mind. What you’re looking for here is a concrete something—a something or someone you can see in your mind. Write down this first thing that comes to your mind, even if it seems silly at first, or surprising, or irrelevant. Then write to describe the image in as much detail as possible. What colors do you see? What textures do you notice? What are its details? If you find it helpful, you can pause in your writing, close your eyes again, and try once more to see or feel this something in order to write about it. Summon as much detail as you can. If more than one something or someone comes, feel free to write about these too, but try, first, to write in detail about the first image that comes.

Many people see places when they try this. A canyon for instance. A place next to a river. An island. A ship. Some people see creatures. Horses. Their cat. A particular dog. Some see an activity. Gardening. Skiing. Some see a particular person--or they might see themselves with this particular person. A grandmother. A teacher. A character from a book. Some people see a color.

What do you see? Try it. And no matter what you see when you conjure the word HEALING—you simply cannot do it wrong. By the way, if you see nothing at all this can be a beginning. A nothing can be a something. A blank slate can be the beginning of a something. A blank slate can be waiting for something to be written upon it.

October 18, 2006

A Featured Piece: On Velcro and Healing the Writing Process Itself

[S.A. sent me the following in response to a post of mine earlier this week in which I mentioned the notion that perhaps even someone who had come to dislike writing—someone with a negative experience of writing in the past—could benefit from writing and healing. That perhaps the writing process itself could be healed. I asked S.A. for permission to publish her piece, and she, graciously, granted it. Thus------]

By S.A.

Oh, my. The process of writing itself can be healed! I had a high school English teacher who basically did not like anything I wrote on paper. Mrs. R---. Negative. However, as it happens in a rural community, I had a sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Knapp, who also repeated as my high school English teacher my sophomore year. In sixth grade, she encouraged me to read Oliver Twist and she always made positive comments and seemed to enjoy my written topics, even when grammatically flawed.

Mrs. Knapp was a stellar teacher. She read Russell Baker's New York Times column every day during my tenth-grade year. I just loved her and her sense of humor. And she was quick! I disrupted sixth grade one time with my new Velcro zipper. I had sisters who left the farm for NYC and they brought home all the latest ideas. Velcro was one of the innovations they brought to my mother, who sewed most of my clothes. During the class, I waited until Mrs. Knapp started speaking and then slowly peeled the Velcro apart. After about three or four of these episodes, she nailed me. Her words were perfect, kind and humorous, "So we have Mae West in our midst?" Somehow, I knew who Mae West was and it was enough of an embarrassment to stop my behavior. She did not punish.

Today, one of Mae West's quotes is a favorite of mine: "It is better to be looked over, than over looked!" And I think of Mrs. Knapp.

It was not until Andrew, my husband, died and I was in grief therapy that I realized how much I had let Mrs. R--- influence me so negatively. My counselor, Betty, encouraged me to write and I told her I was not capable. I had written a short poem that Betty liked and she asked if she could share it with another grief client. It was called, "Who Am I?" I was surprised and, frankly, thought she was patronizing me.

I did write more after that and I wrote mostly humorous stories via email to friends. Several were sent to a dear friend of ours who died of colon cancer. People, including one sister (a whole story in itself), complimented my writing, saying that it lightened their day. Healing. I had nurtured another. Writing made me get outside of myself and my misery. Healing. I was writing for me...for friends.... and not Mrs. R---.

October 22, 2006

Healing Circle: A Recommended Book

I’ve read Healing Circle more than once since I first got it several years ago. More than twice. How best to introduce it? It’s such a vast book. Two editors. Fifteen contributors. Fifteen separate and distinct experiences of illness and the recovery from illness. Crohn’s disease becomes material for one essay. Also HIV. Fibromyalgia. Cancer. Migraine headache. Lupus. Rheumatoid arthritis. OCD. Depression. A broken leg. A ruptured cervical disc. Diabetes. Fifteen separate and distinct essays, and within these essays so many telling details. So many of the kinds of details that illuminate not just illness and the process of healing, but well—life.

Here is one such detail. In “Back in the Body” by Kris Vervaecke, she describes the room in a cottage in Oregon where she first began to recuperate from a severe flare of rheumatoid arthritis that occurred in the wake of childbirth. p. 130:

My hospital bed was in the living room next to the woodstove, where I could look out the double-paned glass at the sparkling river, and when I was too tired to be propped up and turn my head, I lay on my back and watched ripples of light undulating across the shiny ivory painted ceiling, reflecting the river’s surface.

Here’s another detail taken from Richard Solly’s “The World Inside,” an account of his recovery from a surgical procedure for Crohn’s disease that left him with an open abdominal wound. This passage begins his description of his work with Annie, the home-care nurse who assisted him in his recovery. p. 92:

Annie was not into New Age healing through prayers, meditation, visualization, or even acupuncture. For her, healing would be accomplished only by putting on surgical gloves, cutting bandages, peeling away the soiled gauzes, letting air into the wound, rinsing the wound with saline solution, inserting six-inch Q-tips into abdominal holes. . . Each morning, promptly at nine, she rang the front doorbell and then let herself in. I often left the door unlocked for her. . .”

And here’s an image of recovery that Mary Swander offers from a time when she was in recuperating from a ruptured cervical disc and case of myelitis. p. 125:

I fixated on the small, the tiny seeds. In my case, the literal seeds of my literal garden. Lying awake in bed at night, I’d worried how I would ever prepare the soil, plant, weed, dig, and harvest. I contemplated making raised beds. I contemplated making trellises. I contemplated not having a garden at all. . . . Finally, I got up one morning, clomped down to the basement with my walker, and started my garden seedlings. Two little seeds in each pot.

In this anthology, edited by Patricia Foster and the aforementioned Mary Swander, illness and recovery become material. Not by denying the discomfort and fear and sometimes tedium of it. But by using it—attending to it—the true and actual details of it—and then paying close attention to where those details lead. Paying attention to the images that emerge. The light undulating across the ceiling. The nurse at the door with bandages. And those seeds—two tiny seeds in each pot.

I think I just realized one of the reasons I like these essays. The language, yes. The vivid detail. But, more, it’s because these essays feel to me as if they tell something of the truth about illness and healing. They don’t pretend or preach or gloss over. For me at least these essays have the ring of truth, as if they were told from the inside by someone bent on getting the details of it right—

October 24, 2006

Writing and Healing Idea #11: A Scavenger Hunt

YOU ARE INVITED What: A Scavenger Hunt What to bring: Books, catalogues, journals What to hunt for: Images The goal of this scavenger hunt is simple: to hunt for images. But what’s an image? Here’s one way to think about it: in the early part of the twentieth century there was a group of poets in England, France and America who called themselves imagists. Ezra Pound was one such poet. Also, William Carlos Williams, who once said, “No ideas but in things.” An often-cited example of an imagist poem is a poem by Williams, "The Red Wheelbarrow," that centers around the visual image of a red wheelbarrow glistening with rain water next to some white chickens. The imagists often concentrated primarily on visual images, but an image does not have to be limited to the sense of sight. An image can be more broadly defined as a word or group of words that appeals to one or more of the senses. An image is tangible. It’s a word you can see or hear or taste or touch or smell. A red wheelbarrow. Cinnamon coffeecake. Fresh orange juice. Hot black coffee. A yellow goldfinch. A cricket. A pumpkin. An acorn squash. Geese. The goal then of this particular scavenger hunt is to hunt for images—or things that appeal to your senses. Images that strike you. That surprise you. That please you. Images you want to remember. Or, simply, images you like. In your hunt, feel free to look through books of poetry, novels, children’s books, seed catalogues, field guides, magazines, any printed material including your own written material in the form of journals or pages. If you’ve ever written down any of your dreams, these can be an excellent source of images. Your memory can also be a source of images. Songs. Movies. Overheard conversation. The possibilities are endless. Make a list of images that appeal to you. Save the list.

October 26, 2006

Is There a Conflict Between Writing for Wellness and Writing Well?

Whvenn_2Not all writing is done with the intent of healing.
And not all healing requires writing.
Perhaps this is obvious--but perhaps it's also worth saying upfront.

I'm interested in the place where the two might overlap.  The place where writing and healing might overlap.  I'm also aware that each person's area of overlap might be somewhat different.  A tiny sliver?  A wide swath?

And, at this place of overlap--intersection--I found an article of particular interest: Writing Well: Health and the Power to Make Images.  The article, written by Mark Robinson, a poet and critic in England, appears in the journal, Medical Humanities. In the article, Robinson presents his hypothesis: "that the writing process itself is an integral part of any [health] benefit."  In other words, those same elements that foster good writing may also be some of the same elements that foster health.  And one such element is the use of vivid imagery.  The entire article is available online, and is well worth reading, but I’ll mention a few highlights here:

Virginia Woolf, in a diary entry from 1926, links her depression to having “no power of phrase making.”  In turn, she links her lifting of depression with a gradual recovery of the ability to write.  She writes: “Returning health: this is shown by the power to make images; the suggestive power of every sight and word is enormously increased.”

• In a survey of 34 poets—including not only poets receiving mental health services, but also poets with no particular physical or mental illness history and poets with several published books—84% responded that writing had had a therapeutic use for them.  These poets reported that they’d used writing to deal with stressful incidents in their lives, including the death of parents and children.  They reported using writing, among other things, to deal with emotions, to sort out thoughts, and to provide a means of catharsis.

• Interestingly, a number of these poets who were surveyed reported that when they did not write as regularly as they wanted they experienced negative mental and physical effects.  More than one poet mentioned that when (s)he was able to begin writing regularly again (s)he felt better.

• Finally, Robinson also reports on some work—a bit complex—but very interesting—in which a professor at Adelphi University, Wilma Bucci, proposes a model for why writing has an effect on physical and emotional health.  She proposes that writing works particularly well at stimulating health when the language of writing is grounded in specific and concrete images.  She describes a process whereby a person begins with a kind of amorphous knowing and then through the process of writing begins to form images, allowing for a “breakthrough in writing.”  A person moves from amorphous—literally no form—to an image.  A form.  A shape.  A something.  And this breakthrough can foster health.

This last point seems to resonate with Virginia Woolf’s reported experience (thus the title of Robinson’s article) and also resonates with my own experience.  When something that has been amorphous emerges as an image—a concrete something with a concrete name—this can offer a kind of breakthrough—and that breakthrough can both make for better writing, and at the same time, it can feel good—it can look and feel like healing—

October 27, 2006

Count Crackula: An Example of a Breakthrough in Writing and Healing

I wrote yesterday about Mark Robinson’s article: Writing Well: Health and the Power to Make Images. I wrote, among other things, of the way images can sometimes offer a kind of breakthrough. And it occurred to me that it might be useful to offer an example of one such image. The one that comes to mind—perhaps because it was the first time I recognized this kind of breakthrough—is an image that emerged over ten years ago when I was teaching creative writing to a group of men and women recovering from addiction.

Count Crackula.

This image emerged in a tale that R., one of the more inventive writers in the group, came up with. He had written a tale—a kind of myth about addiction—and he’d named his characters. The nemesis in his tale was Count Crackula. And when R. read this story aloud to the group—when he named Count Crackula—it was as if this character burst into the room. Something new was happening. You could just feel it. Addiction wasn’t quite so invisible or shadowy. Crack was Count Crackula. A worthy—and vivid—and slightly ludicrous—opponent. (I tend to see the count from Sesame Street when I hear this name, though others may see a different visual image.) In any case, a crackling of energy had come into the room like that feeling in the air just after a flash of lightning---

Names have energy. They can take something that was previously invisible—or amorphous—and give it a form.

October 29, 2006

Poemcrazy: A Recommended Book

This book, by Susan G. Wooldridge, is one I recommend when someone tells me that they’d like for their writing to become more creative, more playful—or when someone tells me that their writing is a bit stuck. Wooldridge is a teacher. She’s worked for many years with CPITS, the California Poets in the Schools. She’s a teacher, but, as she says in her introduction, she doesn’t believe it’s possible to teach someone to write a poem. Instead, she says, “. . . we can set up circumstances in which poems are likely to happen. We can create a field in and around us that’s fertile territory for poems.”

Poemcrazy is that fertile territory. Sixty short chapters. You can read the chapters in order—or not. Many of the chapters contain ideas for writing practice. And each chapter holds out the possibility of replenishing and rejuvenating language. Language for poetry, yes. But also for sentences, paragraphs, journal entries, letters, stories, myths—and perhaps for healing—

Much of the inspiration for Poemcrazy comes from children—both Wooldridge’s own children and the children she’s worked with in the schools. She’s particularly adept at hearing and noticing those moments—those words—and combinations of words—in which language illuminates. She writes of a Cherokee child in Thermalito, California who can’t stop raising his hand during one of her workshops and then breaks out in a Cherokee song which he subsequently translates (p. 119): “I am one with the magnificent sun forever forever forever.” She writes of an image of “smelling sunlight,” that emerges from a Hmong child who knows very little English. And she writes of the images that she hears emerge in her own children’s language—

Her son, Daniel, saw his newborn sister, swaddled, with only her head visible, and thought she looked “yike a hotdog”. Cows on a hillside looked “yike popcorn”. And, my own personal favorite, Daniel’s observation after they’d transplanted a small tree from its pot to a hole in the ground: “The world will be its new pants.”

“Sometimes,” Wooldridge writes (p. 32), “part of writing a poem is as simple as looking carefully and bringing things together through simile and metaphor. This bit of moon looks like a canoe. The moon is a cradle, a wolf’s tooth, a fingernail, snow on a curved leaf or milk in the bottom of a tipped glass.”

Yes. And those connections she makes—right there—the moon looks like a canoe—the moon is a cradle—a wolf’s tooth—this strikes me as the kind of fertile territory a person might want to visit in order to rejuvenate language for writing----

October 31, 2006

Writing and Healing and Sweets

The first time I went to a Bar Mitzvah I loved the part where someone—the rabbi?—scattered candy across the steps at the front of the temple and the children were invited to come forward and retrieve it. The rabbi explained something about making a connection for the children—between Torah and sweetness. Not just telling them the Torah is sweet, but letting them experience the connection: reading the Torah and tasting sweetness. This week I looked this up (Google: Torah child sweet) and found a piece written by a Rabbi Levi Cooper. He explains a tradition in hassidic communities of initiating children into the study of Torah at a very young age—at the age of three—and doing so with a cookie. The teacher offers the child a cookie in the shape of the Hebrew letter, aleph. When the child can correctly identify the letter the cookie is dipped in honey and the child gets to eat the cookie. “Thus,” Rabbi Cooper writes, “we bless our children that their Torah study should always be as sweet as honey.”

Wikipedia adds this:

This is not just to show the child that learning is “sweet”, nor that Torah study is “sweet”, but also, to learn the sweetness of the Hebrew language.

I love that—to learn the sweetness of the language.

In my last year of college I managed to schedule my classes so that on Thursdays I had only one class—an eight o’clock. I loved Thursdays. As soon as class was over, at 9:15, I walked out of the classroom, across campus, and down Rockhill Road to the Alameda Plaza. This was in Kansas City, Missouri. The Plaza was, and still is now, this lovely outdoor shopping square with restaurants and shops. Back then there was a restaurant there which was called, simply, The Place. I’d go to The Place on Thursday mornings and I’d order the same breakfast each time. A poached egg. An English muffin. Strawberries with cream. A mug of coffee. The strawberries came in a blue bowl. The coffee was strong and hot. The cream was real. I ate and I wrote. For me, it was the beginning of falling in love with writing. And this falling in love with writing was all of one piece with the egg and the strawberries and the blue bowl that the strawberries came in and the strong coffee, the real cream.

A strawberry can be a sweet.
A chocolate can be a sweet.
A good cup of coffee.
A hot cup of tea.
A new mug.
A blue bowl.
A good pen.

Pat Schneider, a woman who has taught writing workshops for some twenty-five years, has written a very good and useful book about writing called Writing Alone and with Others. In a chapter on discipline, she suggests that the discipline of writing does not arise best out of obligation but will always arise best out of love. p. 51. “Rather,” she says, “than thinking of going to your writing desk as the ‘ought’ and ‘should’ work of your life, think of it as a longed-for pleasure, as a hot fudge sundae, as that which pleases you, delights you, that which you love”

Yes, I agree. Though, for me at least, I sometimes find it's easier for me to think of writing as a hot-fudge sundae if, at least now and then, I actually have an experience of writing while I'm eating a hot fudge sundae. Or some kind of sweet, whatever that may be. Creating and recreating that physical connection—between sweetness and writing—between sweetness and words—sweetness and language--