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10 posts categorized "Healing Resources"

September 06, 2006

The Boxcar Children: A Primer on Gathering the Essentials

I liked the book, The Boxcar Children, when I was a child.  I liked the original book in the series, the one that describes how four children survive as orphans by making a home in a boxcar.  The children are so competent, and so resourceful.

After they become orphaned, the four children spend their small savings on milk and bread and yellow cheese.  They pick blueberries in the woods.  They discover an abandoned boxcar and they begin to make a home there, carrying pine needles into the boxcar and heaping them into four piles to make beds.  They discover a creek that spills over into a waterfall. The water is cold.  They find a hole in a rock behind the waterfall and the hole becomes their refrigerator.  They’re so ingenious.  They haul stones to build a fireplace.  They dam the creek to make a swimming pool.  They scavenge a dump and bring back treasure—a white pitcher, a teapot, a kettle, a bowl, three cups, five spoons.

Henry, the eldest boy, manages to get a job caring for someone’s yard.  One of his chores involves thinning the vegetable garden.  He saves the vegetables he’s thinned—baby carrots and turnips and tiny onions.  He then buys meat with the dollar he’s earned and carries all of this back to the boxcar.  The oldest girl, Jesse, takes the meat and miniature vegetables and makes a stew. 

It’s a bit of a fantasy, how neatly things work out for the children, and it becomes even tidier toward the end of the book when their grandfather finds them, and he turns out to be not only kind but rich and he takes the children into his home.  But the fantasy is such a satisfying one.  It offers, I suppose, a kind of catharsis.  The book opens with the four children standing in front of a bakery, looking in through at the window at the bread and rolls.  The children are hungry, frightened.  They’re like Hansel and Gretel, children out in the world without parents.  And then, bit by bit, they manage to secure precisely what they need.  Shelter.  Water.  Food.  Fire.

At one point the three oldest children decide they want to teach the youngest child to read and the older children make a book for him using salvaged paper and a stick blackened in the fire.

Shelter and water.
Food and fire.
Paper and a writing implement.
The essentials?

September 11, 2006

Still Life with Chickens: A Recommended Book

I like books that name the concrete things—the resources—it takes to make a life. I also like books about starting over. Thus, The Boxcar Children. And, a more grown-up version of starting over: Still Life with Chickens: Starting Over in a House by the Sea. The memoir, written by Catherine Goldhammer, and published this past May, describes Goldhammer’s move, newly divorced, with her 12-year-old daughter, from a spacious house in an upscale neighborhood to a small cottage on a pond near the ocean.

She did not, she tells us at the outset, have a year in Provence or a villa under the Tuscan sun. What she had was her cottage in a town on a peninsula wedged between the Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean, a town she describes thus—

Once the home of a large amusement park with a famous roller coaster, it had developed haphazardly, with recreation rather than posterity in mind. Big houses sat cheek by jowl with tiny ones, shoehorned together on tiny streets. Some of them were beautiful and some of them were decidedly not. The seaside lawns tried valiantly to be green, but they were small, and some of them had remnants of the amusement park in them: an oversized pink teacup with bench seats, a faded turquoise bumper car.
Goldhammer’s memoir is filled with vivid tangible named things:

That oversized pink teacup

A large salt pond

A new coat of off-white paint

Wood floors

Dragonflies

And, of course, chickens

Specific chickens—

Rhode Island Reds

A Silver Laced Wyandotte

A Light Brahma called Big Yellow

And then all the supplies needed to take care of those chickens—

A brooder light

A rope

Vinegar

Peroxide

A refrigerator box

Duct tape

A utility knife

Hardware cloth

A handsaw. . .

Here’s something else I like about Still Life with Chickens—Catherine Goldhammer is as resourceful as those boxcar children. She makes do. She does not, for instance, have that year in Provence. Nor does she have a table saw. At one point in her story, she sets out to make a particular kind of chicken run—a triangular structure called an ark. Before she builds the ark she names what she needs: a table saw, an electric miter saw, and sawhorses. Then she acknowledges that she has none of these things. What she does have: a dull handsaw, a right angle, a pair of green plastic chairs. She makes do. All in the company of six chickens who cause her at times to question her sanity.

But then—the eggs. Page 112.

Eventually we got blue eggs and green eggs, pink eggs and brown eggs. We got whitish eggs, speckled eggs, freckled eggs, and eggs with white patches. We had one enormous egg with two yolks, and a wide variety of other sizes: small and oval, big and round, tall and thin. Sometimes I found eggs that had just been laid, warm and slightly damp. Finding a warm egg felt miraculous. Putting a warm egg into someone’s suspecting hand was like handing them the moon.
Ah, the eggs.

Unlike The Boxcar Children, there’s no rich grandfather who steps in at the end and makes everything easier. That’s one of the things I like about Still Life with Chickens. It’s one of the things that makes it a grown-up book. And ah—those eggs.

September 20, 2006

Gathering Resources for Writing and Healing: A Supply List

Yesterday I decided to make beef stew.  My grocery list was straightforward—stew beef, a large onion, red potatoes, one sweet potato, carrots, and a can of V-8 juice.  (I make a pretty simple stew.) There's something satisfying about such clear simple lists. 

When Harry Potter is preparing to start his first year at Hogwarts he’s handed, by Hagrid, an exceedingly straightforward list.
Pages 66 and 67.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  By J.K. Rowling.   

Three sets of plain work robes (black)
One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear
One pair of protective gloves (dragon hide or similar)
One winter cloak (black, silver fastenings)
7 course books, titles and authors listed, including The Standard Book of Spells (Grade I)
1 wand
1 cauldron (pewter, standard size 2)
1 set glass or crystal phials
1 telescope
1 set brass scales

And, finally--
An owl OR a cat OR a toad

I love the details—the specificity—in Rowling’s list.  And I wish I knew of such a straightforward list—such a specific list—for the process of healing.  Or for the process of writing and healing.  I don't. The problem: every person is so different. Or, to put it another way, we’re not all going to the same school.

At the same time, there are, it would seem, these common threads.  And these common threads can act as a kind of template—a jumping-off place—for a person who might want to develop—or revise—their own individualized supply list.

Here are a few common threads I’ve observed over the years in writing and healing supply lists:

Paper
Something to write with (pen, pencil, crayon, laptop computer, etc. . .)
Nourishing food
A room of one’s own—or a desk of one’s own (or maybe a chair of one’s own)
Green growing things
Healing landscapes
Rest
Time to think and daydream and walk
A time and a place to grieve what needs to be grieved
People who get it (whatever it is)
Animals who get it (dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc. . .) (owls? toads?)
A bit of a sense of humor about the whole deal
Good books
Conversation
Some kind of work or activity that matters (though not necessarily one’s day job)
A connection to some larger sense of meaning
Silence

This is not meant by any means to be an exhaustive list.  These are merely some common threads—a kind of template.  And when it comes to individual supply lists—I think each one is probably different.
 
What might your own individualized list look like?


September 22, 2006

A Healing Resource Center: Food for Thought (and Writing)

I’m imagining, this morning, a place. Perhaps in the mountains of North Carolina, a place like Wildacres Retreat Center. Or on the Pacific Coast, a place like Asilomar.

I’m imagining an old summer camp, but one that’s been refurbished—with modern buildings, and amenities. A fireplace in each of the guest rooms. Decks. Wide porches. A juice bar in the lobby. Perhaps an espresso bar. And then, on the grounds, a short walk from the lodgings—five centers:

• A Nutrition Center
• A Fitness Center
• A Center for Addiction Recovery
• A Center for Creativity
• A Center for Meditation and Rest

Say it’s early afternoon when you arrive at the center. Plenty of time to unpack, take a shower, settle in, rest for a while in your room. When you’re ready you can wander down to the lobby and request a tour.

You have, let’s say, two weeks to spend at the Healing Resource Center. And you’ll be informed upon your arrival that you can spend these two weeks however you like. But first--a tour.

The tour begins at the Nutrition Center—a low sprawling building of stone and glass. You follow the guide into a large room, find a long buffet table arranged with platters. Blueberries and orange sections. Slices of watermelon. Slices of whole-grain bread. An array of cheeses. Also peaches. Plums. Tiny carrots. Bowls of walnuts and almonds and sunflower seeds. Several pitchers of clear water with slices of lemon. It’s late afternoon and, before you go back to tour the kitchens, the guide invites you to take a plate and help yourself to a snack, pour yourself a tall glass of water if you’d like.

As you walk down the length of the table and begin selecting your food, the guide explains: “The goal here at this center is to provide a kind of immersion experience with healthy food. The goal is to engage your senses. Colors. Touch. Smell. Taste. And, eventually, if you wish, you can work with one of the chefs back in the kitchens. . .” As he’s talking you pick up a plum. You bite into the plum. . .

And then what happens? What happens next?
You could, if you wanted, write about it. Like one of those choose-your-own-adventure stories where you get to choose the ending. (Okay, maybe it's not a big adventure. But it could be a little adventure--or it could turn into an adventure---)

September 26, 2006

WORDS AS A RESOURCE FOR WRITING AND HEALING

In Frederick, the children’s book by Leo Lionni, a chatty family of field mice live in an old stone wall. Winter approaches. All the mice set to work, gathering corn and nuts and wheat, except for Frederick, who sits apart from the others, doing nothing, or at least he appears to be doing nothing. He’s the daydreaming mouse. The lazy mouse? The other mice scold him. Why isn’t he working? He tells them he is working. He tells them he’s gathering sun rays for the winter days. Yeah, right. How does one gather sun rays? They ask him again. Why aren’t you working? He tells them he’s gathering colors. Right. Sure. Finally, Frederick tells them he’s gathering words.

Winter comes. The mice hole up in the stone wall. At first all goes as well as can be expected in winter. The mice are well-fed and content. But the time comes when they have used up all their provisions. It’s cold. They’re feeling a bit less chatty. Finally they turn to Frederick. They ask him about his supplies.

He tells them to close their eyes. When their eyes are closed he begins:

‘Now I send you the rays of the sun.
Do you feel how their golden glow. . .’
And as Frederick spoke of the sun
the four little mice
began to feel warmer.
Was it Frederick’s voice?
Was it magic?

Next he conjures colors. Blue periwinkles. Red poppies. Yellow wheat.

And what happens? “. . . they saw the colors as clearly as if they had been painted in their minds.” And they were nourished by them.

Sometimes we forget what nourishes us. The winter comes and we forget. Words are a way to remember. We can write them on index cards, or on the palms of our hands. We can write them on the back page of a notebook, or the front page. We can write them in fall on those days when the harvest feels especially plentiful. We can store them like Frederick, and pull them out on flat winter days when we are most in need.

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--

November 02, 2006

A Word of Caution about Writing and Healing

Some of the writing ideas I've put up on this site have to do with writing about difficult or painful experiences. Though research has shown that this kind of writing can, over the long haul, be healing, research has also shown that, in the immediate aftermath, writing of this sort can sometimes feel painful.

On his website, James Pennebaker, one of the chief researchers in the field of writing and health, offers this advice, which applies in particular to writing that deals with upsetting experiences:

Many people report that after writing, they sometimes feel somewhat sad or depressed. Like seeing a sad movie, this typically goes away in a couple of hours. If you find that you are getting extremely upset about a writing topic, simply stop writing or change topics.

I think this is sound advice. Some people may wonder: how upset is too upset? For me, an analogy to yoga is sometimes helpful here. I once had a yoga teacher tell us that when working on a new pose it’s prudent to stretch just a bit beyond where one has been before—stretching into that “good” and bearable kind of soreness—and holding that stretch for ten seconds, fifteen seconds, twenty seconds—but not stretching into frank pain. Stretching that is too painful can cause a kind of rebound effect: it hurts so much the next day that you may never want to go back to the class or ever think about yoga again. Writing can be like that. Writing that becomes too painful can make us want to shy away from the process.

So, just a bit of a stretch—a bearable stretch.

I also think it’s helpful to remember lifelines—those things that reconnect us to a sense of safety and comfort and belonging. And then we can call on those lifelines when we need them—when we, for instance, stretch ourselves a little farther than we intended to stretch. A healing place can be a lifeline. A healing resource can be a lifeline. Healing language. A friend. A counselor. A doctor. A teacher. A nurse. . . .

Perhaps one of the most important things to know about healing grief--whether one is writing or not--is to recognize when one has become overwhelmed by grief--when the feelings have become too much--and then to ask for help. And not to hesitate to ask for this help from a health professional.

November 05, 2006

Writing and Healing Idea #13: Making a List of Lifelines

I wrote a few days back about having a few lifelines in place if and when you decide to do any writing about breaking. You can now, if you want, and if you haven’t already done so, formalize that. You can make a list of your own personal lifelines. Here are some questions that might help you in putting together your own list:

Are there places you can go when you feel like something is falling apart?
Are there places where you’ve been in the past that are safe and comforting?
Can you imagine these places when you need to?
Are there resources that make you feel safe and nurtured?
Certain foods?
Certain objects?
Photographs?
Poems?
Letters?
Books?
Particular songs?
Particular music?
Is there someone you can call when you feel like something is falling apart?
A friend?
A counselor?
Is there someone you can call to mind?
(This can be a person, living or dead, who you know well—or perhaps someone you have never met.)
Is there something or someone or even some words that you can remember—and call to mind—when you feel like something is falling apart?

Make your list as short or as long as you like.
Save your list.

November 21, 2006

Writing and Healing Idea #15: Listing What Remains

This writing idea springs directly from the passage by Andre Dubus that I posted above. Because it occurs to me that before embracing what remains it might sometimes be helpful, simply, to list it.

You can make a list of what remains. And then you can, if you like, take this list and carry it with you. You could carry it with you through the holidays. You could carry it in a wallet—or in a purse—or in your pocket. You could, I suppose, write it in tiny print and fold it and place it in a locket. And then you would always have it there with you—like a reminder—what remains.

December 06, 2006

Collage Machine: A Playful Resource for Writing and Healing

The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. has (I just discovered) a rich and informative website, which includes, among other things, an interactive zone—for children actually—but maybe not just for children. One of the activities available is something called a Collage Machine. It offers 105 small graphics that you can combine in different ways—overlapping or not—repeating or not—rotating or not—making some of the graphics more transparent or not—in order to create a collage. It’s kind of fun to play with. (And it even includes a link with instructions of how to take a screen shot of what you’ve created in order to save it.) The site looks like this:

Healingcollage

Playing at the site got me thinking more about collages and mosaics and written collages. And it occurs to me that one of the nice things about this little Collage Machine is that there’s a limit to what graphics you can use—105. Not infinite. Just 105. And within this limit of 105 the play happens when you combine and recombine the graphics in different ways. Different juxtapositions. Different patterns. (And because it’s just this fun little site, you don’t have to have any expectations of what you’ll make from it. It really can be play—no expectations—just fooling around.)

When it comes to considering resources for a written collage the potential resources are infinite. The entire web for instance is a potential resource. Libraries. Bookstores. Newspapers. Overheard conversation. And perhaps it would be helpful and meaningful in writing a collage or mosaic if, at the outset, one were to limit oneself to one particular resource. Say a resource with 105 or so parts. Maybe a bit more—or a bit less. Maybe doing this as an experiment.

You could choose one resource. One book of poetry. One small novel. One anthology of stories. Or you could choose one of your own journals. Perhaps an old one—or a newer one. And you could look through any one of these resources for particular passages. You could look for passages that surprise you. Passages that resonate with you. That please you. And you could circle these passages—or highlight them. You could copy them. And somehow separate them into individual pieces. And then you could place the pieces together into new juxtapositions and patterns. You could play with them a little. Maybe with no expectations. Maybe just fooling around a bit.

And it would be like having your very own collage maker. Wouldn’t it?