Amazed by the power of words over and over and over. Vets Speak/Warrior Warrior Writers Boston
Amazed by the power of words over and over and over. Vets Speak/Warrior Warrior Writers Boston
O.k., I admit to feeling extra emotional because I just listened to NPR and learned that firefighter Michael Kennedy who dies on Wednesday not only a public servant, but a Big Brother for seven years who was training to run in the Boston marathon. Also, the night before his collection_photo_share_email_thumbdeath he was at a conference for burn victims.
I got weepy in my car on the way to taking my daughter to school.
People can be so good, kind, generous and modest. We don’t even hear about half the things people do, contributed or made possible with their love until a tragedy happens.
I felt both sad and uplifted listening to the radio because this guy who was a public servant in his work didn’t just say, “That’s enough.” He did more.
Go to http://www.healwritenow.com to keep reading.
My new blog and website http://www.healwritenow.com launches on Thursday when it is supposedly going to be spring though I’m too cold to believe that right now. What I do know is that Heal Write Now will have two main parts:
1. a blog
2. an inspiration page
The blog will be much like what I’ve written here but geared towards an audience of people who have survived childhood in trauma. After all, the tag line is: How to live on earth when you were raised in hell. There will be writing and healing prompts if you want to think, write and share about life after crisis and trauma.
The inspiration page has visually cued links to writing, research, quotes, music and mindfulness practices and general soothing. That is geared towards anyone living with post-traumatic stress no matter what the cause or where in the recovery process you are.
Here’s a preview of what will be on that page:
I hope you’ll follow my blog or give the link to any trauma survivor in your life. If you have quotes or resources or information you want to share, please do! My next post will be a live link to the new site. Til then, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
P.S. here’s the Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/HealWriteNow?ref=hl
I wanted to know what would happen if I took a year off and dedicated myself to writing. So last fall, I left my job as a paralegal, cashed out some of my retirement savings and collected odd jobs like driving, childcare and animal sitting to make ends meet. It was exhilarating, terrifying and filled with endless false starts. I had attempted it the year before but chickened out. It was so much pressure and I was scared.
How do you reach midlife having successfully avoided your passion and calling? It was a lot to face.
Writing was my first goal. Publishing my second. There was no way I was going to do either without self-discovery. Plus, there was a list of other things around the house I had neglected for about a decade such as clearing the basement, getting the fireplace working and making my daughter’s room bigger than a closet. Done. Done. Almost done.
The psychic weeding was the most liberating and difficult. It’s ongoing but I made headway. At least one dumpster full of debris such as mildewed photos, the frames to beds I no longer own as well plywood, bricks and vinyl siding I hung on to just in case. There were the relationships as dangerous as the sink hole in my back yard that I didn’t know I was too deep into until my feet was stuck under the earth. Those had to be filled in and patched up. Most often, I had to discard what was no longer useful and taking up space on my foundation.
The writing part was easiest. Focus most difficult. I did get over a dozen articles published on the Ms. blog, in Elephant Journal, Writing through Divorce, Taste for Life and What the Flicka. I even have a piece on speculation at the Atlantic Monthly website.
Bylines were intoxicating. My ego was large and happy. But publishing isn’t what fires up my soul. The writing process, available to EVERYONE is way more important. Too few people know how healing writing is even for those who consider themselves non-writers.
I hope to change that focusing on both the availability of writing and the need for healing from trauma – at my new website, which will launch the first day of spring. Yay.
But before I move on let me say thank you for reading and commenting at Guest in Your Heart.
Guest in Your Heart will always be in mine. The logo, done my cousin Jamie, still makes me smile every time. It’s simple, an opening with a question mark as one half of it.
The last five years were intense. They started with the dismantling of a twenty year relationship. I’m not sure divorce can be anything but difficult. However, I’m now friends and co-parent well with my ex. I still consider him family. We’re not configured the way we once were but we are still devoted to loving and providing for and nurturing the same child.
He brings over milk or medicine if she’s sick or I am. I pick him up if his car breaks down. We share still book titles and talk about our favorite TV shows and celebrate Christmas together. It was a process but we’re on the other side of it. It involved lots of apologies and space. It ended with me not only having to check a different box on medical forms but an entirely new way of living my life.
I’m not the person I used to be. And I went through a lot of pain. But I like where I have ended up.Ultimately, I didn’t want to stay mad or miserable. Eventually I had to look at my own choices and the things I remained silent, in and outside of my marriage. Speaking up and out was scary, vulnerable and revealing. But silence was deadening. I know some wounds feel fresh forever. For me, my divorce isn’t one of them. To get beyond my pain feelings I had to look at the entire 20 years and not just the way they ended.
Really, in the end, since my ex is no longer my husband, I mostly just care about what kind of a father he is. The type of husband he was at the end isn’t as relevant now that he’s not my husband. His choices are his own. His relationships with adults are not mine. I don’t regret the marriage or the divorce. I will always be sad that my daughter doesn’t have both parents under one roof, which would have been ideal if we could have remained that way and been healthier together. That wasn’t possible for us.
I realized I could love my ex without being in love with him, and choose to still be kind to him even though I wasn’t going to trust him to be a caretaker of my heart again.
At some point, it became an actual choice not to shut my heart down completely. I remember the day when I got a meat loaf from a friend. My daughter didn’t like it and I don’t eat meat (well I eat fish now but I didn’t eat it then). Anyhow, my ex loves meatloaf and I had a moment by the trash can where I thought, “Do I hate him enough to waste this when I know he would love it?”
When he came to pick up our daughter I sent it home with him. It was the first softening I had when I decided the waste of the food and my spite wasn’t the part of me I wanted to feed. More than one person thinks me an idiot. I honestly don’t care. I can’t control anyone but me and I don’t want to be that pissed off person for my life. I have no say in how he lives or lived his life. Those are his choices. Then and now.
Yet, I’m not able to get over, forgive and let go of my past, my childhood, at least not yet.
So what gives? It certainly happened a longer time ago.
I’ve had to soul search on this issue more than one time and I’m not finished yet. It has everything to do with what my next phase of life is all about. Healing trauma, understanding the impact of childhood abuse on the adults we become and activism to prevent it for future generations.
Abuse is a “man made” problem and not an inevitable part of life.
But before I move along, blogwise, I just want to say thank you for reading any of my words here. I’ll welcome you at my next blog too, of course, but the target audience is people wanting to process trauma and life transitions with writing and adults abused as children. Those topics may not speak to you.
So let me just say thanks for visiting here and letting my words near your heart and brain. You let me be a guest in your heart and if you have commented or visited you have been to mine. We don’t have to stay bound together to make that meaningful. Sometimes hearts open just for a cup of coffee and other times to share couches and a roof. Whether heart host or guest, thank you.
I’ll cross post for a while in case you want to check out the new writing and blog. But for now, thanks for reading, commenting and sharing your comments, feelings, blogs and writing with me.
I got this link from my friend Margaret. I love Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and here she talks about writing. Enjoy.
I wasn’t going to post the link to my new piece in Elephant Journal because I already wrote about the Warrior Writers experience here. But I am going to for the writer readers who may be interested in what gets published.
I submitted the blog piece, basically as written to Elephant Journal. In general, I write too long, too much and go all over the place. That’s been true since just about forever. I try to be short, concise, tight and use bullet points or big bold things to give the eyes a break. I usually fail.
The editor at Elephant Journal reminded me. Again. She wanted the opening stronger, the tone more cohesive from beginning to end and for me to hone in on a stronger theme. Even though it’s not a paying market usually I do love the writing at Elephant Journal and the mission, so I went back to it.
I made coffee, skipped out on a night of Friday plans and tried again. I cut out a lot, even things I thought were really good, that trailed off. I worked on a stronger opening. I resubmitted it and was sure it was good.
I was wrong. At least in terms of what the editor wanted. She thought it was better but wanted it a little more clear and tight.
I’m going to be honest. I was annoyed. I might have said a swear or two. I may have resented the fact that writers rarely get paid anymore. But I was excited about the writing process, the work of the Warrior Writers and the way words connected total strangers that I didn’t want to give up. o.k., 49% of me wanted to give up but the part that didn’t won that arm wrestle match and so I said, “One more f’n time. One more. That’s it. F this constant editing. Blah. Blah. Blah. Complain.”
Submit for the third time. It got accepted. It was satisfying.
It is a tighter piece of writing. It’s probably a better clip. I can’t say I “like” it better than the first because in that one I think the feeling of connecting with others oozed out more. However, it was also less disciplined writing and more of a free-write.
So I learned two things.
1. If you want to publish for a particular place you have to write in a way that pleases them as they are the gatekeepers for their wider audience.
2. I like to write long and all over the place but only sometimes do I like to read that style. I have to remember the balance or when a piece NEEDS to be longer and when I just WANT to write long. I am a HUGE fan of free-writing, which is stream-of-consciousness style because I think it’s more honest and makes for less strained writing. However, I can be lazy and sloppy and that’s not the same as creative.
So, it’s all good learning and experience. Here’s the version that got published if you are interested. And if you want to share any thoughts or tips on your writing process, please do.
Last night, this civilian got to go to a Warrior Writers event at Bridgewater State University usually only available to veterans.
There was a middle-aged man with grown kids and a veteran who brought her spouse. A few guys brought their young children. The civilians were teachers or students or artists, writers and invited guests. Together, we wrote to prompts and shared words and experiences as Rachel McNeill of Warrior Writers. http://www.warriorwriters.org/ guided us.
There is something sacred about being in a group and sharing words written on-the-spot and during a meeting. Immediately, reading words creates intimacy and honesty that isn’t often accessible in the polite conversation had sharing a meal or making small talk. Though given the same prompts to write to for each of us a tiny new flame was sparked. A fresh insight. A new memory or emotion. Perhaps a glimpse of understanding.
To hear experiences of a total stranger in his or her own voice travels inside of me like an aroma. Without thinking it gets to the center of my being. It is not mine but it becomes part of me.
It’s like watching a baby bird coming out of his shell or a flower only a day into her blossom. It’s not just seeing or witnessing another human being but also being present while something fresh emerges.
People don’t come in with prepared speeches or rehearsed lines. They don’t have go-to stories. No one knows what will get birthed when a prompt is given. Sometimes stunning stories come out whole while others are gifted with poetic fragments. Sometimes people circle the subject they are writing about and it is their tentativeness that is shared.
People might tear up or laugh hard or write something they’ve never even admitted to themselves. Always there is a delicious nakedness. It is not the overexposed kind of shock but the graceful purity of live vulnerability. People share not knowing if anyone has ever had a similar thought, experience or feeling and still they offer up their words.
It is so brave and tender.Sometimes they tremble and read quickly. Other times they are eager and devour the experience of being heard.
It is not the writer in me who is touched most but the primal human animal getting a glimpse of soul.
Leaving last night I felt enlarged and expansive, opened up and more awake. I had taken in and considered entire perspectives I had not even known existed. Reading fabulous writing can and often does the same thing but when we select books and movies we are often still consumers deciding what flavor or type of meal we choose to ingest. When strangers gather to create in the same time and space there is mystery.
The middle-aged man might say the most rebellious or idealist thing while a young woman might say something so wise it as though she has given a sermon.
In fact, I wrote about my homeless-veteran-alcoholic father and not really understanding what the phrase “he never really came home” from the war even means and how I’d love to know what and when his center pulled apart so that he couldn’t function or father. How I’d like to know and understand that phrase and him not just as an overgrown daughter but as a woman.
A student, maybe twenty said to me how she didn’t think of veterans as damaged but as people who know more truth. She said this as she sat next to her veteran father. She added something like “if that even makes sense” after. I looked right at her. I smiled because it made beautiful sense. It doesn’t matter if I understand or agree with her words, not really, because what I felt is how much she loved her father. And also, how she wanted to give some words and how much she had thought about life and learned to consider scars and trauma with fresh vision. She also seemed to be protecting her father or her view of the world as she rebuked any notion of veterans as damaged.
I was touched. If my writing existed only to evoke a response like that and enabled me to have that moment in a room of total strangers, how can I not be joyful? This young girl and her genuine and unrehearsed response to my words stretched the shape of my heart.
It’s not always so profound or magical, so artistic or thought-provoking. But there is always a line or a gem or a nugget. Maybe it is only the way the face of the person reading opens up and their shoulders unclench just a bit so that they can hear the words of others more. Always though, without fail, during a free-write something happens and moves and shifts. Incremental or monumental – that can vary – but the movement is indisputable.
I thought I’d write a post about all I have learned about veterans and the different veterans who shared. There is so much but I can’t do justice to what I learned without sharing war stories that aren’t my own.
Instead, I praise the universal way words reach in, educate, awaken and inform. I love it when people put down defenses and scripts and the guardedness to risk true connection. I don’t do or allow this often enough. I listened and I sat and I scrawled and I shared.
Today, there are words and stories and feelings residing in me that weren’t there yesterday. All day, I pick at them like sea glass in my pocket, picking up different pieces, holding one to the light, one to the window and another under a magnifying glass to study it more.
I will never tire of the process of writing that is basically free and available to most everyone. One not feel “good” at it or especially talented to create new words out of air with just an invitation, a prompt and willingness. The process is as sacred as the product.
True Detective is my new favorite show but it’s so damn disturbing I wish it wasn’t.
It’s the kind of show where one character says something seemingly insightful and in the next moment, another blows that sentiment to bits. And they both make a point. You are often left with your head shaking and unsure.
Of the characters.
Of the truth.
Of what you believe.
Let me be clear: this is not an easy show to watch. Two detectives are tracking a serial killer. Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Marty (played by Woody Harrelson). There are two other detectives following up, over a decade later, when there’s another murder from a supposedly closed case.
You aren’t sure if one of the original detectives is the serial killer or is desperate to solve the case himself. You aren’t sure if the new detectives with an open case are trying to solve a case or part of a conspiracy.
The serial killer’s methods of killing are particularly gruesome. I generally sleep on the couch instead of my bed after watching an episode. It’s creepy enough that downing episodes of Downton Abby and Girls do nothing to clear my mental palette after the show.
And the sculptures of the serial killers, made from dried twigs and branches, are so strongly associated with the psycho and his murders that now all driftwood art is ruined for me.
Still I return to watch.
Will they catch the bad guy? What happened between Rust and Marty? After an entire episode I am left with more questions than answers. Maybe that’s the draw.
In no one scene, episode or character can you get a complete picture of what is going on in the past, present or future. Like life. But unlike real life, there’s open examination of the shadow side of people. There’s pondering of big issues such as the nature of time, life and death, religion and the fourth dimension, during an interrogation.
And also, the grief and regrets of middle-aged men who have lost or are losing family life.
The heavy and dark material is made much easier to watch because the dialogue is incredible, the filming interesting and scenes with Matthew McConaughey in a tank top or something which reveals ripped arms and vulnerable shoulders. It’s not as superficial as eye candy (though there’s that). McConaughey transforms from clean-cut, shell-shocked and disturbingly introspective and antisocial to chain-smoking, beer guzzling haggard man who appears drained of his energy, color and drive but doesn’t stop talking.
It’s difficult to figure out how or why he’s still around and what’s happened to him. You wonder about the time covered as Marty’s partner. You wonder about his married life and the death of his daughter. You wonder about his childhood and relationship with his own parents. All is left mysterious. And relevant. And Marty is a puzzle as well.
Sometimes likable. Usually despicable. Always entertaining.
He’s seemingly less complex than Rust but only at first. Family life is an ideal he embraces but a reality he fails to measure up to or deprive satisfaction from. Rust, the antisocial loner is paradoxically “against” love but seems to more decent in his actual interactions with Marty’s family than Marty does.
It’s hard to know which character you like more or trust less but the ambivalence doesn’t keep you from being drawn into each of their personal lives as well as the case they are working. I spend a long time trying to guess at where the plot is going, feeling highs and lows and finding myself attached to and repulsed by the main characters.
The show reminds me a bit of Rescue Me, not plot wise, but because of the moments of great humor and questionable jokes, the “good” characters who betray and the “bad” ones who have moments of heroism. The chaos, recklessness and self-destructive tendencies of those characters eventually got old but not before several seasons of enjoying striking contradictions.
It too had lots of men in various stages of nakedness which is a refreshing change since it’s usually on the women on TV who are scantily clad.
Shows like True Detectives, Rescue Me and even the Sopranos and In Treatment have excellent dialogue. All have (or had) messy and raw real life dramas, personal lives on the periphery and the backdrop work life (as firefighters, shrinks, detectives and mobsters) strong enough to be a main character. The only major network TV show that has similar elements, that I watch, is the Good Wife.
Cable shows are employing fabulous writers. Some of the most memorable scenes end with a great one liner. For example, Rust is the morose and pathologically antisocial one. Marty is the sociable “family man” who seems happier. Early in the season the Marty character defends his drinking and womanizing as something needed to balance the impact of the job, as though the blowing off the steam is almost a service he performs to keep from bringing the job home. Rust says to Marty, “People incapable of guilt usually have a good time.”
Suddenly, Mr. Happy doesn’t seem so up. And Mr. Morose has an unexpected moral compass as he challenges Marty’s dogged pursuit of his own gratification. Is Rust so miserable because he’s good at the core? Is Marty even truly satisfied? Of course not. But it sneaks up on you. And him.
Rust on the other hand makes other detectives in the office uncomfortable but also you as the viewer as well. He’s self-righteous and dismissive of most of the human race. Despite being smart he is often arrogant. He can come across as Mr. Insightful one minute and disturbed in the next. Is he brilliant, crazy or both?
I don’t think Rust is the killer but I don’t think he’s entirely innocent either. His hunting of the serial killer seems to be some sort of personal quest for redemption related to the death of his young daughter. Of course, that may just be wishful thinking on my part. Who wants to find anything likable or interesting about a killer even if he’s fictional? It’s easier to watch and believe there is some big organized cover up by the police or some overzealous preacher on drugs leading people to murder. That feels more distant. Less intimate. A little less disturbing at least.
Still, I have to close my eyes at the violence.
I don’t mean metaphorically look away, as in denial, but literally. The way in which the bodies of women and children are depicted by the people who make this show makes my stomach turn. That’s probably intentional but it’s frightening. I wonder if men who make shows like this or watch it have any idea of how fear inducing it is for women to watch? We know, in real life, how often women are savagely objectified and violated and threatened.
And as hard as that is to watch, the violence to children is more shocking. It too sends off primal alarms.
There’s violence to men as well, gun shots to the head at close range, that come so fast you can’t avoid them. But so far the violence to men is usually “justified” or something that is made “understandable” because of how horrific they have behaved whereas the bodies of women and children are often littered in the scenery like props. Those are the images that linger too long and evoke fear.
I try to close my eyes to prevent ingesting the violence without missing any of the plot. It’s disquieting but never so much that I don’t return for the next episode. Which is annoying. I’m hooked to a show that makes it hard to fall asleep. I’m not sure what that says about the show or me.
But I’m in it now and have to know who is the killer and what happened to Marty and Rust? To their relationship and their lives. Is Maggie somehow involved? What will happen to the daughter?
And what’s up with the crown of Marty’s daughter going up in the tree? That was the brilliant television because it implied to much without being graphic or disgusting. That crown in the breeze over the heads and in the tree looking like the wooden sculptures…
A clue? A commentary? Chills…