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14 posts from June 2007

June 01, 2007

Nine Images for Writing as Healing


1_french_cafe_nautical_art_med

Writing as a clean well-lighted place. A cafe that is always open.

Pumpkinbooks_2

Writing as a pumpkin--that sense of possibility.

Broom

Writing as a broom--sweeping out the guest house that is the self.

Vinland_2

Writing as a map to a healing quest.

C30thepensieve

Writing as a pensieve--a container in which to spot patterns and links.

Sailboat_in_front_of_golden_gate_br

Writing as a small beautiful boat--a vehicle for a healing quest.

Migrationflight

Writing as a way to remember the sky.

Kinkade__stepping_stone_cottage

Writing as a Refuge.

Ball_of_string

Writing as an unwinding ball of string.

[Please note that the sources and links for the above graphics are the following: The cafe painting is by Linda Paul. The pumpkin photo is my own. The broom photo is from a site called shelterrific. The map image, is from Wikipedia. The pensieve is from the Harry Potter Lexicon. The sailboat photo is from 72 Seconds. The wild geese photo is found here. The cottage painting is by Thomas Kinkade. And the string photo can be found here, where you can also learn how to measure the distance to faraway galaxies.]

June 03, 2007

So What is Revision? And Why Might it Be Important to Writing and Healing?

Here, by way of beginning, are 10 synonyms for the word revision, all found in my desktop thesaurus:

Reconsideration
Review
Reexamination
Reassessment
Reevaluation
Reappraisal
Rethink
Change
Alteration
Modification

When I look at the list I see a pattern:

Reconsideration
Review
Reexamination

Reassessment
Reevaluation
Reappraisal

Rethink

Change
Alteration
Modification

From looking again to reappraisal to rethinking—to transformation.

This, I think, is what can come, ultimately, out of the process of revision: transformation--a literal change in form.

And it has always seemed to me that going through this revision process in writing—and perhaps going through it over and over again—can point to what’s possible in healing.

One can look again---at the body itself---at an illness—at a loss---at a particular moment from one’s life. One can see what one perhaps couldn’t see when one was smack in the middle of it. One can, perhaps, see the value of something in a new way. And then----something can change-----

The facts themselves may not change—they usually don’t. What changes, I think, is the way the facts get put together—and the meaning that gets attached to those facts.

E.M. Forster, in his book, Aspects of the Novel, describes the difference between a story and a plot.
A story: “The king died and then the queen died.”
A plot: “The king died, and then the queen died of grief.”

The facts don’t change in the second rendition. The king and queen still die. Those points—those events—remain unchanged. But the dots are now connected in a particular way. A particular meaning is attached. A theory. A hypothesis. (I mean no one but the queen really knows for sure, right? And she might not even know.)

Maybe that’s one of the key things that changes when we practice revision, and maybe that’s what makes the practice of revision especially important to healing: we can reconsider the plot. And we can change it.

June 05, 2007

Writing and Healing Idea #39: Changing the Plot

This idea springs out of the previous post and from E.M. Forster’s distinction between story and plot.
Story: The king dies and then the queen dies.
Plot: The king dies, and then the queen dies of grief.

You can begin by choosing five moments—from your life—from someone else’s life—or you can make them up. Or you can, if you like, write about the king and the queen.

Draw the moments as plot points on a piece of paper.
For instance:
• THE KING DIES.
• THE QUEEN DIES.

Then, begin to play with connecting the points—and reconnecting them—in new ways.
Write about the connections.
Write different plots. Different ways that the dots get connected.
If possible, make the plot mildly ludicrous, improbable—this itself a way of stretching the mind to imagine new possibilities.

Write new points.

Here, for instance, is one way—an alternative way—of connecting the two plot points about the king and the queen.
• The king dies.
• The queen dies, under mysterious circumstances.
• The prince, their son, wants to believe his mother died of grief. (It’s so much harder to accept, sometimes, that death---it just happens---accidents and illness---mysteries----)
• The queen returns in her next life as a fish.
• The prince meets this fish one day when he’s out on a boat and she jumps up out of the water next to his boat.
• The fish speaks.
• And she tells him-----

What? What does she tell him?

June 07, 2007

Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story”: A Radical Revision

When I think about revision—when it comes to writing or healing—I tend to think about it in radical ways. I’m not thinking so much here about rereading a paper or a story and fixing a few grammar or spelling mistakes. Those kinds of surface changes are important in late stages of the writing process, but I tend to think of those kinds of changes as editing or proofreading. When I think about revision I think of something that goes beneath the surface—and nearer to the root.

Looking again—and seeing something that one has never seen before.
Looking again—and seeing where the gaps are----
Looking again—and changing the plot.

The story that comes to mind when I think about this kind of radical revision is Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story,” in his incomparable collection, The Things They Carried.

This is one of those stories better read in its entirety than described, but here is an excerpt to give some sense of it if you’ve not before come across it:

In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. What seems to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way. The angles of vision are skewed. When a booby trap explodes, you close your eyes and duck and float outside yourself. When a guy dies, like Curt Lemon, you look away and then back for a moment and then look away again. The pictures get jumbled; you tend to miss a lot. And then afterward, when you go to tell about it, there is always that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue, but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed.

The story is, at one level, about the death of Curt Lemon. It’s a story about a soldier, home from the war, trying to tell, among other things, about the death of his friend, Curt Lemon. The story is told in fragments—pieces—and at the center is Curt Lemon stepping on a booby-trapped 105 round and the explosion blowing him up into a tree. Curt Lemon’s best friend, Rat Kiley, another soldier, goes mad with grief, after. He shoots at a baby water buffalo in his grief. Over and over. And then he writes Curt Lemon’s sister and he tells her that Curt Lemon was a tremendous human being, that he loved him, the guy was his best friend in the world, his soulmate. And the sister never writes back.

The story continues.

The speaker of the story is home from the war, he’s telling the story, it’s twenty years later, he’s still telling this story, and then he’s telling what it’s like to try and tell it—and that too is all part of the story:

Now and then, when I tell this story, someone will come up afterward and say she liked it. It’s always a woman. Usually it’s an older woman of a kindly temperament and humane politics. She’ll explain that as a rule she hates war stories; she can’t understand why people want to wallow in all the blood and gore. But this one she liked. The poor baby buffalo, it made her sad. Sometimes, even, there are little tears. What I should do, she’ll say, is put it all behind me. Find new stories to tell.

And then---it happens -----that point of radical revision:

. . . she wasn’t listening. It wasn’t a war story. It was a love story. . .

(She wasn’t listening. She didn’t understand why this was such an important story to tell—and why the teller needs to tell it over and over. She wants him to stop telling the story—find new stories—different stories.)

(Maybe---just maybe----he’s telling the story over and over so that he can change the plot. Maybe that’s what needs to happen. He needs to change the plot----and he needs someone to hear that the plot has been changed.)

It wasn’t a war story. It was a love story. . .

The plot has changed.

And then----the final paragraph of the story. It’s been twenty years and the teller has told the story over and over and now it’s a written story. The plot points are the same—Curt Lemon still steps on the booby-trapped round. The baby water buffalo still dies. The sister still doesn’t write back. But at the same time, this deep and radical revision has taken place:

And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It’s about sunlight. It’s about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do. It’s about love and memory. It’s about sorrow. It’s about sisters who never write back and people who never listen.

June 10, 2007

Writing and Healing Idea #40: A Clean Copy

In order to practice revision—looking again—it’s necessary, first, to have something to look at. And a good way, I think, to practice this, is to have something written down—some clean unmarked pages of writing.

Thus, I propose, a first step to revision: a clean copy of 10 pages or so of writing.

What kinds of pages? Anything. It can be pages from a journal. Pages you wrote in response to a writing idea. It can be a story. It can be pages of freewriting. Anything. Anything you feel like you’d like to look at again. Really. And if you don’t have any pages you want to look at again-----you can create some new pages.

You can, if you like, begin by freewriting. You can look at the list of writing ideas here. You can choose one or two or three by clicking on the permalink tab at the bottom of the writing idea. You can print the writing ideas. You can take a trip to a bookstore. Or a café. Or you can simply sit down, here, now, and fill 10 pages of writing---not concerned with spelling or grammar or whether the pages or good enough---simply 10 pages of your thoughts and feelings and perhaps what you’ve always wanted to say but haven’t yet said.

If your pages are handwritten pages, it’s probably best to enter them into your computer and print them out. It’s easier, I think, to see words and sentences when they’re typed and have spaces between and around them.

The goal is (at least) 10 freshly printed, unmarked pages of your own writing.

And then find a folder for the pages and put them away for a while—for a week at least---

June 12, 2007

A House with No Door: An Image for Writing and Healing

For the past week or so I’ve been looking for a poem that would speak somehow to revision—and I couldn’t quite find what I was looking for. And then I found this poem by Rumi. It’s not what I thought I was looking for—it does something slightly different. But at the same time it feels like the right next image for revision. For looking again. For looking at the big picture.

And what was it again that I wanted to write? What did I hope would come of this? What can I do with the pages I've written? What do I hope will come of this?

Not infrequently, I find that when people come up against a serious illness or a serious loss--or any kind of significant transition—they may find themselves, eventually, asking certain kinds of questions: And what is it that I'm here for? What is my piece? What is my gift? What do I want to leave behind?

Rumi’s poem, Every Craftsman, speaks to these questions.
Here are the first 17 lines:

I’ve said before that every craftsman
searches for what’s not there
to practice his craft.

A builder looks for the rotten hole
where the roof caved in. A water-carrier
picks the empty pot. A carpenter
stops at the house with no door.

Workers rush toward some hint
of emptiness, which they then
start to fill. Their hope, though,
is for emptiness, so don’t think
you must avoid it. It contains
what you need!
Dear soul, if you were not friends
with the vast nothing inside,
why would you always be casting your net
into it, and waiting so patiently?

Rumi’s poem is another way of asking: What is the one piece of writing that you, and only you, can write?

What emptiness is waiting to be filled?

Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish writer, said (among other things) in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “I write because I want others, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey.”

What sort of life is it that you—and only you—can write about?

What gap is waiting?


June 14, 2007

Writing and Healing Idea #41: Reading to Discover What You Most Want to Write

Find a piece of writing that you love----a poem or a children’s book or a story or a novel---or a something.

Look at it again---or look at part of it again---- a page---a passage------beginning to get that sense again of how and why you love it.
Write about it.

Write about the way it feels in your body to read this piece of writing that you love.
Write about how and why this piece of writing touches you.

Or you can, if you like, begin a letter to the writer of the piece.
In the letter, consider writing to her or him about what touched you in particular about their writing. Consider writing about the piece of writing that you still want to write but haven’t yet-----

What Piece of Writing in All the World Do You Most Want to Read?

When I think about practicing revision and creation—the thread for this month—I think of it as having 2 parts---

1. Revision: Looking again at some pages you’ve already written
2. Creation: Deciding what you want to create out of what you’ve already written. (For instance: A poem? A letter? A short story? A story for your grandchildren? A journal that you can look back at later? Something else?)

The following passage speaks to the second task: Creation.
(And, paradoxically, sometimes it’s helpful to have some idea about the second task—some image for what you want to create—before you take on the first task of looking again.)

Back in February, I wrote a bit about a memo that Seymour Glass, the central character in Salinger’s Seymour, An Introduction, writes to his brother Buddy. Here is more advice from that same memo.

If only you’d remember before you ever sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world [you] would most want to read if [you] had [your] heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.


June 17, 2007

Writing a Revision in Ten Steps

I started earlier this month by writing about a couple of early possible steps to revision—gathering a clean copy of your work----and figuring out what you really want to write. I thought it might be helpful now to offer an overview—a kind of template for revision. This template could work, I suppose, for revising any piece of written work, but I’m thinking of it here, and in particular, for some pages you may have done in the context of writing and healing.

You may want to try the steps in the order in which I’ve outlined them. You may want to do a step a day—or a step a week. You may also want to rearrange the steps a bit, revise them. Of course, feel free.

So, A Template for Revision----Ten Steps:
1. Create a clean copy of your work. Put it away. And wait. At least a week.

2. Read something you love.

3. Figure out what you long to write.

4. Gather supplies for revision: the clean, printed copy of your work; a pencil; a few pens in different colors; a pad of paper.

5. Go for a walk. Become, if possible, a stranger in the streets.

6. Become a stranger to your own pages. In order to do this, schedule for yourself at least thirty minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time. Sixty minutes would be even better. Begin to read your pages as if you are a stranger to them—preferably a kind stranger. And, this first time through, read the pages straight through without making any marks. Read for the big picture—the forest rather than the trees. Or, to use a slightly different metaphor, think of this stage like doing landscape design before you begin to fuss with any individual plant. Try, if possible, to resist the urge to edit. If you do find a need to make notes or marks of any sort, make them on a separate sheet of paper.

7. Read for words that resonate. This second time reading through your pages, begin to make boxes around words and lines that resonate with you now for some reason. Use different colors if you like. Draw boxes around words and lines that surprise you—or that hit the right note—or that seem to you now to be of some importance.

8. Write a response to your pages. Take out a clean sheet of paper and write in response to what you’ve just read, responding in particular to those words that are now inside the boxes. Write as if you are that kind stranger--or perhaps a kind teacher.

Dear ---------, I have just finished reading the pages you gave me, and I find that I am moved (—puzzled—delighted—) by several parts of this . . . . There is one line in particular, out of all of them, that strikes me now . . . . And too, one of the things I began to notice as I read was a certain pattern in what you’re doing. It’s as if . . .

9. Decide on a form that feels right for expressing some or much of what you’ve written. You may find it helpful at this point to go back and look again at step 3: What is it that you long to write? And what might be a good form for doing so? A poem? A short story? A journal? A letter? An essay? A dialogue? A fairy tale? A list? A written collage?

10. Write something new that emerges out of the pages that you’ve written.

June 19, 2007

Love Your Body Exhibit: Winston-Salem

Submissions are closed for the Love Your Body exhibit---BUT---the art is up.

Find photos of the show here.

Sara Yates, the show's founder, writes, about the exhibit:

The idea began as a way to increase awareness and understanding of eating disorders, but has grown to encompass any body issue (such as abuse, sexuality, body image, aging, illness, disability, etc.). The goal of the show is to facilitate healing by allowing contributing artists to share their stories while encouraging viewers to have a compassionate relationship with their body.

Sara works as a teacher’s assistant at a school for students with special needs and disabilities.  This, combined with her own personal experience of recovery, led to the idea for the exhibit.

In her own words: 

Because of my personal struggle with anorexia and my connection to children whose lives are affected by disabilities, I have become profoundly interested in the sweeping changes that occur when individuals heal their relationship with their bodies. In my own struggle, I found that art spoke when I could not. Telling my story through art was probably the first meaningful step I took towards recovery. I hope the Love Your Body show will allow participants to find compassion for their bodies as they share their own stories (through whichever medium best suits them).

She’s definitely onto something------

The visual art is on display in the South Corridor Gallery at Salem College and the written work--primarily poetry and short prose---is collated in a booklet that viewers can take away from the show.

Sara also has a new website which includes updated information about the show.  loveyourbody.wordpress.com

Writing and Healing Idea #42: Making Peace with the Body

Sparked by Sara Yates’ Call for Submissions, which appears below, I thought I'd offer some ways to begin writing about making peace with the body. It also occurs to me that there may be a way to tie this in to the practice of revision.

Here then are some questions that might spark writing on Making Peace with the Body

Question 1: When you hear the phrase, Making Peace with the Body, what image pops into your head? What word? What picture? What scene? What body?

Question 2: Is there anything you’ve already written—ever—that touches, even remotely, on making peace with the body? Can you find it? Would it be worth digging up and looking at again? Might it provide the clean copy of pages that you could look at again and use to practice revision?

Question 3: Have you written anything—ever—that touches, even remotely, on the topic of someone or something making war with the body? Would this piece be worth digging up and looking at again? Could it become a springboard for writing about making peace with the body?

Question 4: Might one of these lines offer a springboard to writing?

I remember a moment when I made peace with my body-----

I remember a moment when I felt at peace with my body------

I remember a moment when I really needed to feel at peace with my body-----

I have never made peace with my body------

A person I know who has really made peace with her/his body is-----------

I started to make peace with my body when------

The next step to making more peace with my body would be---------



June 21, 2007

Speak the Language of Healing: A Book for Making Peace with the Body When the Body Has Cancer

Writing earlier this week about making peace with the body prompted me to pull out a book that I haven’t looked at in a while. Speak the Language of Healing: Living with Breast Cancer without Going to War. It’s an intriguing title. An intriguing book. And one I was introduced to a few years ago now by a patient, Norah, who found the book during a time when she was trying to figure out how to live with metastatic breast cancer.

I’d known Norah two years before she got her diagnosis of cancer. She was a patient of mine, had seen me on and off for some stress-related symptoms and had been doing quite well. She’d suffered an enormous amount of pain in her early life, and she’d found a way to work through some of her grief about that time, and she’d begun to feel a sense of freedom—and possibility. She was preparing to move away from North Carolina and take a new job in a large city. She was excited about the move. She’d just made a trip to look at housing. And then one evening, not long after she’d made this trip to look at her new city, she came in to see me, and she was carrying a large brown grocery bag. She sat down, and she proceeded to take from the bag a bottle of wine—and then two glasses. And she handed one of the glasses to me. This was entirely unlike anything she’d ever done. In fact I can’t say I’ve ever had a patient bring wine and glasses to an appointment—not before or since. She opened the wine. She asked me if I’d take some. Sure, I told her. Sure. She poured a bit of wine in my glass, and then a bit more in hers. I waited. And then I asked. What are we toasting?

To breast cancer, she said. I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

And so we toasted breast cancer.

She’d found a lump. She’d been in to see her internist a month before and at that time everything—her exam—including her breast exam—all was normal. And then she’d found this lump. And she’d gone in for an evaluation—a biopsy—the lump was cancerous.

Sometimes patients go through a phase of denial where they believe a serious condition is not going to affect their lives. And, sometimes, it would seem that physicians go through this. In this particular case, I was the one who stayed in denial for a bit. I thought—she’s doing so well, she’s just taken this new job, she’s excited, she has a breast tumor, she’ll get treatment, maybe it will delay her move, she’ll still get to go. Norah suspected it was going to be a bigger deal. Norah was right. Further evaluation revealed that she had disease in her liver and her bones. Stage four disease. She changed her plans. She began chemotherapy.

And as she went through her treatment—and her illness—and all the changes that this brought—and as she began to write about some of this, well, Speak the Language of Healing was the kind of book that she needed to find.

The book is authored by four women—Susan Kuner, Carol Matzkin Orsborn, Linda Quigley, and Karen Leigh Stroup. Each of the women has a different stage of breast cancer. And the thread that brings them together is a sense—in each of them—that the language of war—the language of winners and losers—no longer serves as a useful language for them when it comes to thinking about their cancer.

Carol Matzkin Orsborn, a woman with Stage II breast cancer, is the woman who brought the four of them together. She found herself leaving a fund-raiser for breast cancer one day—“a fund-raiser exhorting us to lead the charge in the war against cancer,” and she made four phone calls. She made one phone call each to the three other authors of this book and one to a literary agent, Linda Roghaar.

What I like most about this book is that it does not require one to be “cured” of one’s cancer in order to experience healing. Nor does it equate metastatic or Stage IV cancer with losing—or with failure.

Orsborn writes:

The urgency of my mission picked up tempo as I increasingly encountered the ‘cancer culture’: a world in which people who die are ‘losers,’ and the ‘winners’ are those who emerge from illness unchanged. I knew that this attitude was useful in that it heightened emotions around our illness in order to raise funds for research more effectively, but it came at the expense of our spirits. As a seasoned author of spiritual books, I had long ago given up the idea of being a master of the universe. I’d learned to stop thinking of my inner world and outer challenges as enemies to be conquered, and learned to recognize the potential for true greatness in acceptance and compassion for myself and for others, regardless of the obstacles I faced. To create the optimum environment for my healing—body, mind, and spirit—what I most needed was not a mighty sword but rather a mighty heart: a heart that could hope, love, love and remain faithful in the shadow of mysteries that were beyond my comprehension.

The shadow of mysteries beyond comprehension.

I wonder now if that’s not one of the reasons Norah brought in the wine—and the glasses. Norah was Catholic and so for her drinking wine carried a sense of sacrament. Sacraments, as I understand it, are always pointing to mystery.

Perhaps, in some sense that I don’t fully understand and that I suspect Norah understood better than me--perhaps that’s what we were toasting: Cancer not as a failure but as a mystery.

June 24, 2007

I write because. . .

For me, part of the process of revision—in this case, looking again at One Year of Writing and Healing—has been going back to the basics and beginning (again) to ask myself some very basic questions: Now, why again am I doing this site? What have I done so far? What do I want it to become? What might I want a second year of writing and healing to look like?

And, in the middle of this process, I was inspired by Sharon Bray to ask an even more basic question: Why do I write?

Her question inspired me to do a search on “I write because. . .” and then to make a page of quotes of writers who have responded to that question. I made the page and brought it into a writing workshop at Cancer Services that is just forming, and I can tell you that the words carry even more resonance when read aloud. That’s what we did. We just went around the circle and took turns reading the lines aloud: I write because. . .

It was a bit like reading poetry aloud. For me the words became more powerful and clearer as I heard them read. They became more alive. Hearing them aloud—particularly in different voices—it became easier to hear which lines carried a particular resonance--which lines struck a chord.

Here are the lines we read. (Can you hear us reading them?):

I am going to write because I cannot help it.
---Charlotte Bronte

I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still.
----Sylvia Plath

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means, what I want, and what I fear.
----Joan Didion

I write because I want more than one life.
---Anne Tyler

I write because it gives me the greatest possible artistic pleasure to write.
---Oscar Wilde

I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.
---Flannery O’Connor

And, from Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

I write because I have an innate need to write.

I write because I want to read books like the ones I write.

I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing.

I write because I want others, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey.

I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink.

I write because it is a habit, a passion.

I write because I am afraid of being forgotten.

I write to be alone.

I write because I like to be read.

I write because once I have begun a novel, an essay, a page I want to finish it.

I write because it is exciting to turn all life’s beauties and riches into words.

I write to be happy.

June 26, 2007

One Year of Writing and Healing: A Retrospective: Nine Metaphors

Well, I took some of my own advice and made a clean copy of some pages from my site. What I ended up doing was printing out the pages under the category of Healing Images. The first surprise—more pages there than I realized—it printed out to 38 pages—which makes me wonder if the site isn’t getting a bit too bulky. Not sure what to do with that observation yet. So what I decided to do instead is attend to those images that seem now to resonate. And when I did, what emerged was nine images—nine images which could also, I suppose, be called metaphors.

Nine Metaphors for Writing as Healing
Each offered with a link to its post—and to some of the poems that were a source of these images:

A CLEAN WELL-LIGHTED PLACE
Writing as a café. Or as any clean well-lighted place that stays open and is there when you need it. In the story by Hemingway, an old man sits on the terrace of a café at closing time. It is late, but the old man, the last customer of the night, is reluctant to leave. A young waiter wipes off the old man’s table with a towel and tries to shoo him out. But a second waiter, older than the first, understands the old man’s need to linger. “Each night,” he says, “I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the café.”

A PUMPKIN
Writing offering a sense of possibility. Like the pumpkin in Cinderella. That moment in the story when all seems lost—the stepsisters have torn Cinderella’s dress, they’ve gone on to the ball without her. Cinderella’s heart is breaking. And then the godmother comes. The pumpkin becomes a carriage. It maintains the lines and shape of a pumpkin, but now it has wheels—and a door. Cinderella climbs inside. The carriage begins to move. . . . Something there—that moment. The godmother comes. The pumpkin becomes a carriage. Writing is like that—or it can be like that—that possibility of transformation—the pumpkin becoming a carriage—and the carriage beginning to move---

A BROOM
Writing as a way to sweep out the guest house that is the self. From the poem by Rumi. The Guest House. If being human is a kind of guest house, and if every morning we can expect a new arrival—including, sometimes, those more difficult guests—sorrow and so forth—and if those guests are capable of sweeping out the house of the self—preparing us—for something (who knows what?)—then maybe, just maybe, writing can facilitate all of this. A way to name the visitors and help them sweep. Writing as a broom.

A MAP
Writing as a kind of map to the healing quest. It’s there in Adrienne Rich’s poem. Diving into the Wreck. “The words are maps.” First, you gather the resources you’ll need for your quest. In this particular poem, this involves a book of myths, a camera, flippers, a mask. A ladder appears and you begin to climb down. To explore the wreck or to search for treasure—or both. Writing offers the map. A way perhaps to keep track of where you’re going—or where you’ve been—or where you’d like to be going. “I came to see the damage that was done/ And the treasures that prevail.” Writing as a way to record the damage and begin to discover, in the process, what remains—what has been born out of (or borne out of) the wreck. The treasures that prevail. Writing as a way to recognize the treasure.

A PENSIEVE
Writing as a container. From Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The stone basin filled with a silvery vapory substance that Harry Potter discovers in Dumbledore’s office. And then Dumbledore explains: “One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them in the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.”

A SMALL BEAUTIFUL BOAT
Writing as a vehicle. From Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. Healing as a process—a quest—toward some kind of North Star—and writing as the small beautiful boat—the vehicle—that can help carry one there.

WILD GEESE
Writing as a way to remember the sky. From Mary Oliver’s poem by the same name. The speaker of the poem invites us, the reader, to tell of despair and she will tell hers—and then---reminding us----“Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,/ are heading home again . . . . ” This poem as a kind of template—the way the word meanwhile can always enter the writing—and perhaps transform it.

A COTTAGE
Writing as refuge. Writing as a way to conjure the old woman in the cottage who might take you in. She recognizes the need for refuge. And she also seems to understand the most basic elements of refuge. She invites you to come back with her to her cottage. She leads you back, ushers you inside. She shows you where you can take a hot bath. She lays out towels. A clean robe. When you come out of the bath she’s laid a place at the table for you— a bowl of soup, a basket of bread, a pitcher of water. She shows you to a bedroom with a clean soft bed. You sleep and sleep, and she lets you sleep. When you wake you find her out in the kitchen. She offers you a cup of tea, or perhaps a mug of coffee. She asks you to sit at the table. And it’s only then, after you are warm and fed and rested, that she asks you to tell her all about it. About all that has happened and what your hopes were at the beginning and how those hopes have been dashed. She has, she tells you, plenty of time.

AN UNWINDING BALL OF STRING
Writing as conversation. Like the conversation on the porch in Michelle Huneven’s novel, Jamesland: “Now that she had a willing ear, Alice’s story of the deer unwound like a ball of string rolling down a street. This was the first time she’d been able to tell it all the way through, without interruption, and nothing she said seemed to invite dismay or contradiction. Helen nodded and sometimes narrowed her eyes as if listening to a familiar piano sonata or poem . . . .” Writing as one way to conjure that willing ear. And then, in the presence of that willing ear, the ball of string beginning to unwind-- down through one layer, and the next, and then the next.