A Path to Publication, pt 13: How self-absorbed are you?!

To bring about a paradigm shift in the culture that will change assumptions and attitudes, a critical number of us have to tell the stories of our personal revelations and transformations.

Jean Shinoda Bolen, Crossing to Avalon

I haven’t posted about my path to publication in a while because, well, last fall the path suddenly became a rut. I didn’t have the time or emotional ability to navigate that bumpy road at that time. But, as these things do, it hasn’t stopped nagging at me. Lately that voice has once again become too loud to ignore.

The question for me right now is: Do I stop everything else I’m doing, including pursuing other work, to dedicate my time to this memoir? It is so close to being finished (pre-revision finished, that is) it probably wouldn’t take too much concentrated time to complete it. But, as always, money and time are in limited quantities and I wonder if even the consideration of taking precious resources to work on a book is foolish.

Yes, the old fearful, imposter-syndrome, “who am I?” question has come into play. Why on earth do I think my story is so special that I have a right to spend anything on it?? Isn’t that kind of self-absorbed? Isn’t it just navel-gazing?

Well, here’s what my journal had to say about that last night:

If you are a good singer, you share your voice with others. If you are a talented cook, you feed others. You are a gifted teacher, you inspire others to learn. You have a story, you tell it.

I am a writer. A good writer, with a story to tell.

People respond to my writing. I have been given a gift. It is my gift back to share it.

I need my words to be read. I need to be heard.

And I have something to say. If it only resonated with one person, that’s reason enough to say it. Writing my story helped me to heal. Maybe it can help someone else too.

Humans are story-livers and givers. We relate, we learn, we empathize, we resonate, we make decisions, we change the world through story. It is my obligation to share mine.

Gotta dance!

When I was a very little girl I loved to dance. Once a week my Nana would take me to the Senior Center (which in England I think they used to call the Old Age Pensioner’s Club – nice) so I could gavotte around for their entertainment. I loved it. And I almost killed my other grandmother when I was three. As I straddle-hopped the footstool and jumped around in a frenzied expression of Spanish Calypso, dear old Gran would be nearly asphyxiated with laughter. Once a year Gran would take me to the International Dance Festival where dancers from around the world would twirl and stomp, sashay and jig. I absorbed the colors and fabrics and rhythms like Weetabix does milk. Watching Fame! was the highlight of my week. For at least an hour after the show I was still flinging myself around the house.

When I was a teenager, my happy-drug of choice was a mixed tape of Salt-N-Pepa, Vanilla Ice (Ice, Baby), and whatever else allowed me to attempt my horrendous version of the “Running Man.” (My other upper – or downer if I needed a good cry – was to drive in the car singing at the top of my lung to Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera as they blared from the less than sufficient speakers.) Later in life I tried belly-dancing for a little while, but once I had passed the age of “going out dancing” I kind of forgot – or ignored – my love for dancing.

But once in a while I’ll remember. I still have CDs of African, Indian, Persian, and other highly rhythmic music. When that music starts it’s no good trying to keep me still! Taiko or African drumming gets my blood pumping, and I now have discovered Pandora… Bollywood and Zumba, baby! Try dancing with a straight face… I dare ya!

What we loved as a child, when we are naturally authentic,  is always a key to what can make us more content as adults. And the bonus here is, as I have discovered through my graduate studies,* is that using our bodies helps with creativity and inspiration. Contrary to the believe of our head/mind/thought-focused culture, our best ideas usually come from somewhere other than the noggin. It’s as if movement and deeper breathing knocks loose the memories and creativity locked in our unconscious. This is our body wisdom.

My mood lifts and I am able to write and concentrate with more ease after I have gotten myself some rhythm. And my love-handles appreciate it too.

Prompt: When I was a child, I loved to…

*Three books in particular: Writing Begins with the Breath, Writing from the Body, and The Spirituality of the Body.

Steppingstones to a new life

Yesterday morning in my journal I wrote:

I am blessed with abundance. I am blessed with the answer. I am a magnet to all the resources I need. What is the answer? I need to know what path to go down today.

This morning I wrote:

Oh, lawd! I feel like a puzzle piece just snapped into place. Thank you! Yesterday I wrote that the answer would come. Yesterday I didn’t know… but today I have my next step in life.

Ira Progoff calls them Steppingstones. They are the moments, the decisions, the experiences that have carried you to the place you are today. Today, the dissonant notes of my life came crashing together and fell into perfect harmony.

I was raised in a fundamental church. As a child I felt loved and cherished surrounded by many “aunties” and “uncles” in a family which segregated itself from, while living and working in, The World. But by the time we moved to America in my early teenage years, the shiny veneer of this community had begun to tarnish.

The next fifteen years were ones of anger, grief, denial and pain. I do not exaggerate when I say I was experiencing the after effects of trauma – emotional trauma. By my early 30s after much reading and self-exploration through journaling, I had finally come to a place of peace and acceptance. I was still searching for meaning in a spiritual sense but at one with the knowledge in my heart that I believed in one thing – Love.

And then last week someone said something to me that ripped my wound open. It became very clear to me that I needed to purge this pain and grief once and for all. But how?

From age 5 I wanted to be a writer. From age 13 I kept a diary. From age 22 I kept a journal. At age 33 I began to call myself an Aspiring Writer and realized I wanted to teach others how to journal. And at 35 I told the world I was a Writer and a Certified Journal Writing Instructor. Two different things. Similar in their love of words but not the same. I started two blogs, one just my musings and the other for journal prompts. I’d write personal essays for various outlets and then I’d go out into the world to share my love and passion for the power of journal writing. I want to empower everyone I meet and I am passionate for them to believe in their dreams, their talents and their potential. Two different worlds: words for me, words for you.

From the moment I was handed the certificate that claimed I had a Bachelor of Arts degree and all the “rights and privileges pertaining thereto” I wanted to go onto grad school. Problem was I had no idea what to go for. 16 years, two states, 5 houses, 7 cats, 2 children later, and approximately 5012 journal entries later, I finally figured it out.

When I finished my certification as a journaling instructor I thought I wanted to go on to study journal/poetry therapy but the medical implications of that did not appeal to me. But I also wanted to write – creative writing. How could I tie my two writing worlds together? I wasn’t sure what to do next.

Then I discovered there is such thing as a self-designed degree in Transformative Language Arts. Very few colleges in the country offer this program and the one recommended in my field just happens to be in my home state, only two hours away from where I live! And because it is self-designed I can incorporate both creative writing and journal writing. But how exactly?

Yesterday while pondering in my journal the next step with my journal workshops I had written that there might be “a slight pull towards religious people.” Why on earth?! Because I want to understand the thinking and maybe help those who have experienced the similar “religious trauma” as me. I wrote, “I’ll look into [grad school] today and see if this is the direction I want to go. What new worlds could that open???”

Then today: Light Bulb! I could write a book as my Masters study – my religious trauma and the healing I get from writing about it and how I could then help others with similar issues.

Stopped in my pen tracks! Fear. Excitement. Doubt. Overwhelm. Combination of both worlds. One giant therapy session! Yesterday I didn’t know I’d be able to combine this curiosity about religion and a degree. And today I have an answer. THANK YOU!

Steppingstones. When you step from one to the other you may feel like they are islands, isolated and disconnected. Just a way to get from here to there. But then you reach a new shore and you turn around to see, that although they are all different – some big, some small, some wobbly and scary – they were all leading to the same place.

And when you bring your journal along to record each step, it can serve as travel agent, telescope, compass, map, and travel log. Today mine is a celebration of self-exploration. Where to next?

Prompt: What are the steppingstones in your life that have gotten you to where you are today?

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P.S. Please visit my Examiner.com page for articles on Journaling for Kids, Organization, and almost everything in between.

On a quest to find the truth

I’m sitting here in this hotel room and suddenly I’m struck dumb. No fighting children to break apart, no dinner to prepare, no responsibilities. I could write all night if I so wished. But nope, nothing. Too quiet, no time limit.

But I’m not here to write this blog post anyway.

Truth is, I came here for two nights alone to uncover something. It’s something I have long known was waiting for me but I have pushed it away – so far away and so long ago that I’m not even sure where to start looking (or what I’m looking for.) Years of therapy have not helped, rather only frustrated and alarmed me. Even my journal has not taken me where I have needed to go because I haven’t allowed myself to. I was not ready. I’m not sure I’m ready now. But I had to try and it had to be in place far away from my family, my home, my life, in order to come to terms with the past before I return to the present.

In her book, Journal to the Self, Kathleen Adams writes of a weekend after a devastating break-up where she went away by herself. She wrote for two days. She wrote and she wrote. And she cried, and screamed, and swore, on paper and out loud. And then she was done. She purged her sorrow by dealing with it head on. And then she was bored with it all and walked out of that place ready to move on.

That is my plan. I haven’t had a chance to do this until now. And now I’m here and I’m scared. Scared of what I might discover under the surface of my mind, but at the same time scared that I won’t be able to get there. While I don’t really want to know the truth of my past I know I must face it in order to live my life to the fullest. Whatever is hidden in my memories – stuffed away long ago for self-protection – is actually hurting me. While I do not truly understand some of my actions and reactions on a day to day basis, I do know that my Subconscious is seeing life through the lens of those memories. I must now align my Conscious and Subconscious eyes.

We hold all the answers inside. We have the inner wisdom we need to heal ourselves. Just as Jewelweed grows in close proximity to the Poison Ivy whose sting its leaves and juice sooth, so too our pain and its balm live side by side in our Subconscious.

So for the next day I will open my journal, my mind, and hopefully my memories. I hope I am prepared for what I will find there. If not, I must trust that I will get through it with the help of my journal.

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P.S. Please visit my Examiner.com page for articles on Journaling for Kids, Organization, and almost everything in between.

Perpetuating our own truth

Even before I got out of the car I questioned why I was here. I had pulled myself away from a cozy fire and good company to go out into a chilly, damp December night. I was about to walk into an overheated crowd of locals, some of whom I hadn’t seen for twenty years or more. Immediately we have two problems with the scenario: 1) I’m an introvert. I don’t like crowds or rowdy parties. I’m more of the intimate dinner party type where you can have deep, interesting conversation. How’s the weather? and What have you been up to for the last twenty years? strike me dumb. 2) I don’t drink (that much). And 3) at this particular point in our lives I was painfully aware that the money passed across the bar for the wine or Malibu and Coke that might have relaxed me a little could have fed my family a nice dinner.

It was my high school class 20th “preunion” held in advance of the official July reunion in deference to the few class mates who were shipping out to Afghanistan  in January. Hubby and I had spent Boxing Day (the British name for the day after Christmas) with my parents and so were in town anyway, I thought we should go.

I worried that I looked slim enough, 37 and not 45, and if my hair wasn’t too poofy. And I worried I wouldn’t know what to say to anyone. The very few people I was close to in high school weren’t going to be there and any others were in reality only acquaintances. Yes, we had spent four years knocking around the same halls and suffering under the same teachers, but I did not know them. And they don’t know me.

I hadn’t spent my formative years with them. Our mothers did not chat over coffee, our fathers didn’t watch the Game together. I never went to high school parties because back then I was “religious” and probably wouldn’t have been allowed to attend even if I had been invited. I wasn’t a cheerleader or soccer player. I attempted to play field hockey but that was only because a friend had told this newly arrived “English girl” that you weren’t anybody in high school unless you played a sport (she also told me that it was imperative that I wear a turtle neck under a button-down oxford – and I thought there wasn’t a school uniform here). So upon arriving at the school, I signed up for the only sport I had any experience with in my former school. I spent the next three springs sprinting (which I was good at) up and down the side of a field, stick in hand, praying the ball wouldn’t come anywhere near me. The only compensation was that I knew I looked good in the little pleated skirt.

I was too shy to join any other groups other than drama and the peer help group called Students to Students. Not one student ever came to talk to me. I question whether that was because no one had any troubles or because I sent out vibes that declared I was unapproachable? I’m guessing the latter. The truth was I was so anxious and unsure of my place in the (American) world that I erected a protective wall of which I was unaware but very few people penetrated.

Where I really belonged was in the music room. Once dear Mrs. LaPlaca heard me sing that’s where I and my closest friends spent a lot of  time. It was here I felt freer to be me.

That was twenty years ago. My high school friends are living their own lives and we are no longer physically or socially close. I have been away from the area for more than 15 years and I am not the shy, unauthentic, uncertain 16 year old I was. Or am I?

Walking into that bar, seeing faces from another time, another life time, bought it all back. The discomfort of not knowing where you fit, how you fit, or if you should even try. If I was an extrovert I would not only have had more friends in high school to begin with but I would be able to walk into a room of almost-strangers and initiate conversations, chat about football or kids, and throw caution and money to the wind for a few drinks.

But as it was, I felt like running away I moment I stepped over the threshold. Not because of the people there but because of me. I didn’t like being reminded of the lost little girl I once was. Just like the pathetically bad field hockey player who missed out on being in two plays because she was trying so hard to be a “somebody,” and the socially awkward student mentor, I felt uncomfortable and ostracized. And who made me feel this way? Me. I was once again the self-conscious “English girl” who didn’t belong. And so I made it so.

We make our own beds. What do you believe about yourself that you know in your heart isn’t true? How do you continue to perpetuate your own truth? How can you change this “truth” in 2010?

A Memory of Cabbage, Reprise

I posted this journaling prompt a couple weeks ago on my old site. I haven’t used it myself but I did have the opportunity to introduce it at a workshop with three lovely ladies this past week. It is from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away:

Do a 5-minute writing sprint on… a memory of cabbage… Go!

When I told the workshop attendees that they were going to write for 5 minutes about cabbage they laughed. They especially chuckled when I then read an entrance meditation which urged them to ruminate on the green, stinky veggie. But then they began to write. And write. The results were wonderful. Memory and philosophy was pouring forth. They were impressed by the exercise over which they had originally questioned my sanity.

Earlier this month I had a similar experience. At a meeting of a fledgling writer’s group we wrote from the prompt, “when I think of apples…”

The six of us scribbled for about 10 minutes. When we shared our musings we were all amazed by the humor, beauty, and depth we had reached in so short a time. My writings went to a place I was not expecting and touched on memories I had not given much concern. But a fuse has been lit and new  writing projects are smoldering with possibility.

Even if it’s not cabbage or apples, look around you. Is it a tennis ball, a coffee cup, or a dust bunny (a few of things within my sight at this moment) and just write about it. The memories or connections you will come up with will astound you!

I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with these journal prompts. Feel free to leave a comment (anonymously if you prefer).