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Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

For the last few weeks, I have been developing an outline for the next book I plan to write. At this point, it will tentatively be titled “Healing My Anger – Defusing A Time Bomb.” It is about my journey to unearth and resolve a terrible well of anger and rage I discovered. One of the pivotal points of that book will be about a bizarre event that happened to me – a group of people came over to my apartment late at night, and performed a bogus group encounter with me.

I used to call it an intervention, but I realized that gave the misimpression that what happened was somehow legitimate. It was not – it was an exercise in the power of a group in dysfunction, incited by a strong and charismatic leader. I’ve written about that evening before, in a post called “The Betrayal.” That event led to a whole series of events which propelled my growth in astonishing ways, because it forced me to deal with anger that I hadn’t been able to access previously.

This will be a powerful book – I can tell that already. But for the past several weeks, I’ve had the feeling that I was missing something. I just couldn’t think of what it might be. Then yesterday I realized – I had left out one major event. Then I realized that this would have to be the end of the book. I needed to get it on paper, so I wrote it all down.

It’s the first time I’ve ever written the ending of a book before I wrote the beginning. But it was absolutely the way the book had to end. For a number of years, I had not been around the individual who stirred up the event that night, who I renamed Rob for purposes of the book. We happened to end up at a party together.

******

So here is what I wrote:

In 1996, I decided to move to Austin. I went by a party that was being held by one of the people in the recovery program. It had been a fun party for a number of years, and a source of fond memories for me. Rob and Nancy were there. It was the first time I had been around either of them for quite a while, and naturally there was some awkwardness.

After a few minutes Rob came up to me and said “Dan, can we go outside and talk for a minute?”

“Sure, Rob.”

We stepped outside, and I wasn’t sure what he wanted to talk about. I had gut checked my anger before agreeing to go, and there just wasn’t much steam in those old issues. At most, I felt a little edgy – because of the unknown.

We sat down on a bench outside the party, and Rob lit a cigarette. He sat for a moment, and it looked like he was gathering his thoughts, so I didn’t say anything.

“Dan, I want to apologize for my part in what happened the night we came over to your apartment. That was totally wrong, and nobody deserved to go through what happened to you that night. I am sorry. Genuinely sorry.” He looked me directly in the eyes as he spoke, and I could hear the genuineness and sincerity in the way he said the words. His words were simple, elegant and direct. I was so deeply touched I didn’t know what to say. I was quiet for a moment.

“Thank you for saying that, Rob. I do appreciate it – probably more than I can express right now.”

“Can I give you a hug?”

“Sure, Rob.”

We hugged, and then walked back inside the party.

I lost touch with Rob when I moved, but after that night, for the two of us – we were at peace.

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About two months ago I was ready to begin the third rough draft of my next memoir, Healing The Writer. I had finished the second draft in the spring of 2013, and thought this would be a polishing draft. I also thought I had gotten most of the healing experience out of the memoir. I was wrong.

The third draft started at about 58,000 words. It’s now up to 64,000 words, and continues to expand. Just working on this draft has been enormously cathartic – it continues to flush old negative energy out of my system.

The memoir deals with abuse by my Grandmother (Mamaw) when I was 8 years old, which locked up my writing for many years. I already knew that going in. I had remembered the abuse, and thought I had moved through the feelings that had been stuck in my body. But like peeling the layers of an onion, there has been more to release. As that old energy has released, I have felt more and more free. But as well, I have also continued to learn from the memoir, as I put together pieces that seemed separate, but which are now invested with new awareness and connections.

I’m spending as much time on the last third of the book as I did on the first two thirds, because that was the time when the healing was happening. I begin to add things like this to the book:

In Chapter 36, as I began to feel the magnitude of the healing, I originally wrote:

“Words came to me, reminding me about how bold my destiny would be…”

In the revision, I suddenly realized where that bold sense of destiny had first come to me:

“Words came to me, reminding me about how bold my destiny would be – the certainty I had felt when I was 6 years old and knew I was to be a successful writer.”

I then remembered that I had talked about owning that sense of destiny – in Chapter 2:

“When I was six years old I felt very connected with God. I had a sense of peace about my world, and knew – I just knew – that one day I would become a famous writer. It was a sense of destiny as tangible as anything I’ve ever experienced.”

It had been so long since I wrote the early part, I had forgotten about including this, but it was the origin of “destiny” for me. It was powerful to have that destiny affirmed after the healing, and own that it began when I was very young.

Then in Chapter 39, I perform a visualization where I have a man bulldoze the house where the pain happened, much like Forrest Gump did with the house that had caused Jenny so much pain. I’ve published it in my blog, some of you have probably read it. I thought I had a handle on the full meaning of it. At the end of that exercise, I wrote:

“… the driver pushed the rubble backward, into the back yard. It took several passes for each section of rubble, but eventually he exposed raw dirt under the foundation, which hadn’t see the light of day in many, many years.”

In Chapter 40, I had originally written about a few weeks later feeling something holding me back, that still needed to be healed. I wrote in the early draft:

“I could feel a big, black ball of tar way down in my gut…”

In the latest edit, I revised that sentence to say:

“I could feel a big, black ball of tar way down in my gut – like the dark, raw dirt underneath Mamaw’s  house, exposed when the bulldozer cleared away what lay on top of it.”

The visualization and what it uncovered happened just that way, but I hadn’t seen the cause and effect. The visualization had an impact on releasing deeper abuse damage. Astounding!

I continue to learn from this memoir in most astonishing ways.

A friend of mine once said “Dan, your books write themselves at their own speed and in their own time. You just have to go along with that.”

I had predicted in 2011 that I would have Healing The Writer published by early 2012. Nope – it is writing in its own way and time. Back then I was writing about healing events that were still too close to me, and I hadn’t fully felt and released the abuse. Based on the expansion that has happened in the third draft, I’m now just leaning back and letting it happen without trying to predict when this book will be finished. I continue to get too much healing out of it to rush it.

I do know this – I’m starting to appreciate how powerful a book this is turning into, as I heal and let the story continue to blossom into what it is meant to be.

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When I began to explore the topic of my writer’s block, I published chapters as I wrote them in Life As A Human magazine. I did that to help me stay focused on the real story in what was a complex and intricate topic, and keep me moving forward with the writing project.  I published 29 chapters that way, and then I was able to see the best way to finish the book.

My friend Karen told me several years ago that she thought Healing The Writer might be the most powerful book I would ever write. Back in April, I read the polished first draft, then set it aside. I think it has taken me six months to fully appreciate the magnitude of the healing journey I chronicled.

Late last night I watched the end of Mr. Holland’s Opus, where he gets to conduct the symphony he spent years writing, played by former students. The final shot in the movie is a closeup of him with a powerful look of serenity on his face – like he accepted what he had created. I think I saw it that way because I had felt myself coming to that same point.

I picked up the Healing The Writer manuscript today and began reading it once more, with an eye to editing needed. I’m ready, and it’s time.

 

Below is the Table of Contents, along with links to the first 29 chapters. (The chapters are in reverse order by publication date in the magazine, and this will give a better idea of how to follow the flow of the book).

Healing The Writer

The desire to express, I was taught to repress,

 Has caused me a block, I wish to unlock.

I pick up the pen, I start writing again.

 I feel the flow -

        And then I stop.

   – Dan Hays October 1986

Part One – Search For Peace

One: Why Is This Fantastic News So Scary?

Two: What To Put On Paper?

Three: I Find My Writing Voice

Four: I Hide Out To Write A Book

Five: Scared To Put It In The Mail

Six: I Walk Away From Publication

Part Two – Nothing Left to Lose

Seven: Ghosts Of The Wheat Harvest

Eight: The Query Letter and The Question

Nine: I Abandon A Book – Again!

Part Three – What Mamaw Said

Ten: They’ll Call You Crazy – And Lock You Up!

Eleven: I Capture The Writing Vision

Twelve: The Creative River Flows Once More

Thirteen: The Writer’s Conference and the Fear

Fourteen: What Is It About That Particular Park?

Fifteen: I Can Have You Committed

Sixteen: The Fear And The Light!

Seventeen: Breaking Through – Moving Beyond Writer’s Block

Part Four – Down To The Roots

Eighteen: Red Rocks and Remembering: A Writer’s Road Trip

Nineteen: A Writer’s Journey of Inspiration

Twenty: The Landscape of a Writer

Twenty One: Publishing a Book: Getting One Step Closer

Twenty Two: A Disappointed Writer and a Backup Plan

Twenty Three: The Fearful Writer – Monsters in the Closet

Twenty Four: How My Writing Got Locked Up

Part Five – Freedom’s Just Another Word

Twenty Five: Insomnia – A Writer’s Night Journey

Twenty Six: Confronting the Fear – A Writer Prepares to Publish

Twenty Seven: “I’d Like To Read Your Manuscript.”

Twenty Eight A: A Writer Revisits High School – Part One

Twenty Eight B: A Writer Revisits High School – Part Two

Twenty Nine: I Am A Published Author

Thirty: A Hopeful Omen

Thirty One: Publicity Can Be Rewarding – Or Maybe Not!

Thirty Two: The Origin of Minute To Freedom

Part Six – Moving To The Light

Thirty Three: I Combine Publicity And Therapy

Thirty Four: Healing The Wounded Child

Thirty Five: Preparing To Leave The Dark Closet

Thirty Six: Independence Day

Thirty Seven: Little Danny Set Free

Thirty Eight: The “Don’t” Messages – Deep Damage Healed

Thirty Nine: Deep Healing and Destiny Arising

Forty: The Terror of the Dark Death

Part Seven – Free To Write

Forty One: Writing For Publication as a Healing Tool

Forty Two: Killing The Octopus

Forty Three: A Sign of Healing – The Poetry Returns

Forty Four: Am I Able To Work – As A Writer?

Forty Five: A Sign of Healing – I Become a Freelance Writer

Forty Six: Epilogue

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I haven’t posted in my blog for a long time. I had someone ask me about it the other day, and it nudged me to spend some time writing a post (thanks, Patricia!). What have I been doing? I have been accepting this statement as a reality in my world:

I Am A Successful Writer

For several years I have been working to overcome the effects of abuse by my grandmother when I was 8 years old. The damage was deep enough that it was a source of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The incidents with my grandmother all centered around – becoming a writer.

Healing The Writer

My next memoir will be about the healing process from that abuse. I fought with a writer’s block for many years, and didn’t know why – until I did some inner child work and uncovered the damage. I have finished the first draft, and am astounded by how powerful a book it is. A friend said a long time ago that my healing process has a life of its own – it unfolds at its own pace. He noted that my writing – much of it about my healing process – paralleled that pace, and my books wrote themselves at their own speed,  when I was emotionally ready to own and share that content.

I am settling in with becoming ready to publish Healing The Writer – it will happen soon. I think it has taken a while because the healing is so breathtaking and powerful that I’ve had to get used to it.

Writing Update

When I started coming out the other side of the abuse issues with my grandmother, I was able to go back to work, and looked for a source of income. I set up a business editing service – it went nowhere. I investigated going back to work in the real estate title industry- nothing unfolded.

In the meantime, I was working as a freelance writer – generating travel articles and getting paid for it. I did it for about a year and have said it felt like a “boot camp” for my writing.  I felt I had gotten all I could from it, and didn’t foresee it as a direction I could count on as full time work, hence my efforts to find work in other arenas. I see now I was resisting – trying not to see how powerfully I had been healed.

But I kept having more and more freelance opportunities – clients were seeking me out for my writing talents and skills. Over the first part of 2103, I had to admit how freely I could now write. It was tremendously empowering!

Then in July, I was contacted by the person who I had written the travel articles for. She was with another company, was looking for writers, and said “Dan, you were the first person I thought of.”

That contact has quickly blossomed into more challenging writing assignments – which I very freely and JOYFULLY handle with ease. I’m having a blast! It looks like freelance writing will continue to unfold and progress.

The balance is that I still have plenty of time and emotional energy to publish and publicize Healing The Writer, and begin work on my next book.

I promise to post more on my blog, and flesh out the details of how my healing has led to greater and greater freedom as a writer.

Life is good! :)

 

 

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I’m getting closer to publishing my next memoir, Healing The Writer. I put it on my website today as “Coming Soon,” with the front cover I plan to use. DanLHays.com

The woman who edited my first book said she thought this would be one of the most powerful books I would ever publish. I didn’t get it at the time, but I’m beginning to understand what she meant. I’m about to read the whole manuscript for the first time. I published the first 29 chapters on Life As A Human magazine, but have been letting them get cold while I wrote the final chapters.

Book Cover Cropped

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One day a friend on twitter

Sent me a message.

She said:

“I’m writing for a magazine

And exploring my next memoir.

Each article I publish

Is a chapter from this next book

Would you take a look

At what I’ve written

And tell me what you think?”

 *

I was glad to help

And began reading

The woman’s story.

It was engaging, compelling

And very interesting.

Then one day,

I began to look

At the magazine.

It was called Life As A Human

Life As A Human

And was a very high quality publication.

I was very impressed.

I began to think about

Submitting some of my own writings,

I asked my friend about it,

And she said they were

A very solid outfit,

And that she thought

It would be well worth my time

To submit some work to them.

*

I contacted the editor,

Thinking this was like other sites

I had published in

Where they would let me republish

Posts I had written

For my blog.

I sent the editor a couple of samples.

She replied that they would be

Very interested in publishing my work

But that they preferred

Original content.

That stumped me for a while.

 *

Then the dots connected

And I realized I had original content

That I wanted to explore.

I was writing my next book

A memoir about a healing journey

That I was taking

To overcome the abuse

"Mamaw" and young Danny

Laid on me by

My crazy Grandma.

She had told me

If I wanted to be

A famous writer when I grew up

They would call me crazy

And lock me up.

I had come to realize

That crazy was not too strong

A word to use

About this grandmother.

 *

So I wrote my first chapter,

Polished and edited,

Cleaned it up,

And submitted it to the magazine.

They loved it!

The editor made a few changes

Mostly tightening here and there,

Then we published it.

Why Is This Fantastic News So Scary?

Got astonishing results

Lots of page views,

And plenty of comments.

I got some wonderful feedback

From the readers.

Doing it this way

Helped me stay focused

On the real essence

Of the story I was trying to tell.

Which was helpful

Because this was going to be

One of the most challenging books

I would ever write.

It was a complex topic,

Covering many years,

And I needed this unique method

To help me see

How to tell this story.

 *

I made amazing progress,

I was writing my next book

A chapter at a time

And publishing each chapter

As I went.

I got editorial insight

Feedback from readers,

And doing it this way,

Kept me moving forward.

Later I would compile

All the chapters

And there would be

My book.

A friend reminded me

That this was a common method

In years gone by –

To publish chapters as articles

And later

Make it a book.

Sounded like a plan to me!

 *

Then something unexpected happened.

It was only after

I had published 25 chapters

Just over half the book

With the wonderful guidance

Of the editor

And the astonishing feedback

From the readers

Which continued as they

Watched the story unfold.

I realized that writing

And publishing

Like I was doing

Was actually part of my healing.

*

Sometimes

I call myself

A very gifted

Slow learner.

I will realize a truth

And be astonished by it

Only to discover

That my friends had seen my truth

Long before I did

And no longer found it remarkable.

That’s how it was with

This experience.

How could I not

Have seen how healing

This process would be?

Well, I just didn’t.

But it happened that way!

 *

Writing and publishing

My healing journey

Became part of

My healing journey

And propelled that healing forward

Like few other things I had tried.

Today, as I look back

At the first chapters,

It’s like I’m writing about

Another person,

Someone who had

A serious writer’s block,

And had walked away from

Publishing two books

Because of what

His crazy Grandma said and did

When he was

Eight years old.

 *

I’m not that person any more.

I will publish this memoir

About my healing journey

In two thousand and twelve.

Healing The Writer - Chapters 1 thru 29, in reverse order

It will be called

Healing The Writer

And in a very real sense

That’s what the book did!

**********

Photo Credits:

“Mamaw” and young Danny, copyright Dan L. Hays

Life As A Human logo copyright Life As A Human magazine.

“In Written Memories”  Mutasim Billah @flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

“Good Question” e-magic @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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I would be stuck

Sitting at my desk

With a piece of paper

Unable to write

Not knowing what to say

Or how to say it.

I felt like a painter

Sitting at an easel

Not knowing what to paint

Not knowing how to make

That first brush stroke.

 *

I knew I had a writer’s block

I just didn’t know what

To do about it.

I finally managed to gut it out

And began to write

I wanted to write a book

So I hid out in a library

Way at the back

So no one could find me

Or ask me

What I was doing

It seemed pretty weird

At the time.

I just didn’t know why

I needed to do it that way.

Finally, I finished a book.

Then it was time

To send it to publishers

That felt more scary

Than writing had been

I still didn’t know why,

But I managed to gut it out

And sent my book

Off to publishing companies

*

Then I had that most amazing

Phone call.

A publisher called me back.

“I loved your book.  I spent

the entire weekend reading it.

I couldn’t put it down.”

You’d think

That was really exciting news

For a writer.

Instead – I was terrified.

Crippled with fear.

It seemed pretty weird

At the time

I just didn’t know why that was.

 *

Then a second publisher was interested

I tried to gut it out

And keep moving forward.

I couldn’t do it.

I told myself

“I’ve just lost touch

with the project.

I need time to reflect.”

I walked away from the book

And the publishers.

 *

I got so frustrated,

That at one point

I wrote a poem about it.

*
“The desire to express,

I was taught to repress

Has caused me a block

I wish to unlock.

 *

I pick up the pen,

I start writing again,

I feel the flow,

And then I stop.”

 *

I went on my way

For a number of years,

Then felt led to write a second book.

It was to be a novel,

About a part of

My Dad’s healing journey.

Writing that book led

To a grand adventure

That included

Working on wheat harvest

To explore my Dad’s path.

I came home

I managed to gut it out,

And wrote that novel.

Again,

Publishers were interested

And I felt déjà vu

As the whole thing happened again.

I walked away from that book,

Saying

“I’ve lost touch with the project,

I need time to reflect.”

 *

By this point I was so frustrated

I decided

If I couldn’t get past this whole

Writer’s block,

I would just take up golf.

And at one point,

I did just that.

I bought some golf clubs

Determined to leave writing behind

Forever.

 *

But the desire to write

Was just that strong

I had to keep going.

It led to a most unexpected place.

Back to my grandmother’s house

When I was eight years old.

I remembered something she had said.

She had asked me

What I wanted to be

When I grew up.

With the joy of a child I said

“Oh, I want to be a famous writer.”

She frowned, and said,

“Oh no, you don’t want to do that.”

Puzzled, I fell for the bait,

And asked: “Why not?”

With an evil grin on her face,

She said,

“Because if you do that,

They’ll call you crazy

And lock you up.”

*

So there it was

The reason

My writing

Would get locked up

The reason I hid in a library

To write a book

The reason I wouldn’t

Let my books

See the light of publication.

 *

Now as an adult,

I could write off

What she had said

As the ramblings of a somewhat

Nutty old grandma.

But when I was eight,

I couldn’t figure that out,

Especially when she told me

“Don’t talk about this.”

 *

And later I remembered,

She hammered the nails

Of her evil intentions

Into my heart

With extremely vicious

Lies and actions

Abusive and cruel,

Which built a wall

Around my writing

That I couldn’t overcome.

*

But by bringing to the surface

What had locked up

My writing for

Forty five years,

At least

I had something

To work on.

It led to a lot of hard work,

Releasing the pain,

Overcoming what had been

Burned into my soul.

I knew I had made

A lot of progress,

When I published my first book.

 *

Now I am writing

My next book

The story of how Grandma

Tried to poison my soul

And my journey

To overcome the writer’s block

She gave me.

I will expose those lies

To the light

And let them wither up and die

Like lies deserve to do.

**************

Photo Credits:

Images From – The Microsoft Office Clip Art Collection

“Pen on Paper” Completed in 2004 to serve as the basis for the publicity of a retreat for authors entitled Writers Refuge. jlseagull @ flickr.com Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

“Attack of the Lunesta Moth (cropped)”; original by Maxintosh @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait, Walking Away: On one of the jetties at Gräsvik” Misteraitch @flickr.com Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

“The Wheat Harvest” the slowlane @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

“Mud Golf on Orcas,” by wiselyb @ flickr.com.  Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

“Scary_04″ Aliwest44 @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

“Locked Up” Derekskey @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

“Big Chain” Shaycam @flickr.com Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

Book Cover copyright by Dan L. Hays

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The other night I was talking with a friend in Portland who was considering a career change.  He had been in Information Technology for 20 years, but felt the need to pursue his creative path – he just didn’t know where that might lead, or how to uncover his passion.  I mentioned my experience with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – as I have many times in conversations with people interested in creativity.  I shared how working through that book – morning pages, artist’s dates, and the exercises throughout, had greatly expanded my concept of myself as a writer, and shed light on the limitations in thinking that had held me back.

When I bought a copy of The Artist’s Way in 1994, I took it home and put it on the bookshelf, where it sat for two years.  I would sheepishly glance at it when I passed by.  Why? Because I knew on some level that if I took a serious pass at that book, I would be upping the ante on the pursuit of my creativity, and would likely discover things that I didn’t want to see.

In 1985 I had written a book and had publishers interested in it – I walked away from publication.  I had no good explanation.

In 1994, I had written a second book, a novel, and in preparing for publication, I had hired a marketing consultant to help me draft a query letter to send to literary agents.  During the conversation, it came up that I had walked away from the first book.  His puzzled look was very understandable as he asked “How are you going to make sure that doesn’t happen again?”  My fumbling response seemed lame to me, and I’m sure to him as well.  That’s when I bought The Artist’s Way, but didn’t read it.

By 1996, agents and publishers had responded positively to the second book, and it looked like I was going to once again walk away from publication.

At that point, I didn’t have much to lose and a lot to gain from giving The Artist’s Way a try.  The first time, I went through the book on my own, very diligently writing my morning pages each day, going on artist’s dates each weekend, and tackling the next set of very probing and incisive exercises about my creativity, my passion, and my roadblocks.

The second time I went through the book with two other people.  The accountability of showing up to our weekly meetings and being able to say “yes, I did my exercises” and the transparency of divulging to the group what resistance I might have dredged up that week – which was sometimes very deep – made the whole experience much more rich.  I was taking an inventory of myself as a creative person and a writer, and finding ways to diminish my resistance and allow myself to succeed.

In 2008, when I finally took a memoir to publication, I knew that my experience with The Artist’s Way was a pivotal element in that process.  Now I will go back and publish those first two books!

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On the first day of my creative writing class, the teacher opened the discussion by asking “What is a story?”  She suggested that we begin by defining the word.  Several people responded.  I took a minute to think about the meaning, and then raised my hand and said “A story is something that happens to someone.”  The teacher smiled broadly, nodded, and said “That’s it exactly – at the very basic level, the essence of a story is action.”

So what was the best way to tell a particular story, to describe that action?  Over the next several years I read a lot about point of view – mostly looking at first person and third person, and what were the advantages and limitations of each.  First person is confined to the thoughts of the narrator.  Third person can either be omniscient – using the thoughts of all of the characters, or limited – using the thoughts of one character’s mind. After I experimented with point of view, it became apparent that it depended on the story.

Years later I wrote about a time my Dad’s life when he disappeared for a year, worked the wheat harvest, had a spiritual experience in the process.  He returned a changed man.  After his death I realized I’d never asked him what happened.  I started with the part I knew, leading into what might have taken place later.  I decided to make it a novel, and chose the third person omniscient viewpoint.  I wrote in a more detached style, which allowed me the distance to step back and imagine the events objectively.  I could speak from the perspective of various characters as needed.

When the story was about me, “something that happens to someone” still held true.  Something had happened that I wanted to share, and decided to write about it in depth.  Not an original concept.  Many people have written a memoir for that very reason.  The first person viewpoint had an immediacy that helped me capture the emotions and experience of the moment.  I wrote about the events surrounding the time of my father’s death 17 years ago.

I knew what happened, and had journalled extensively about it at the time.  There was plenty of fodder to refresh my memory of the events.  As I wrote I fell into the mode of  “I did this, that happened, I felt this about it, I experienced, and then next I …”  I was in the middle of the events, with no psychic distance.  To tell that particular story, I needed to be that close.  Yet as I wrote, I could feel the events at a physical level.  My heart raced as I felt unsafe when that strange person entered the room.  I smelled the coffee I drank in a restaurant as I chronicled my feelings in a notebook. I felt the heat of Houston on a muggy afternoon in October; heard leaves blowing in the breeze that only stirred up the heat without relief.

Even more happened.  I had never written down everything that took place the week my Dad died.  I heard the jangle as the phone rang; heard my sister say “better come home, Dad is dying.”  I sat in a darkened airplane and wrote brief notes in a small notebook “it’s too soon, I’m not ready for this.”  I walked up to a hospital at night in Tulsa, wondering if it was just my imagination because of the lights, or was this huge building really pink?” (I saw it the next day, and sure enough – it was pink.)

I looked down at my father lying in a hospital bed with a tube down his throat, barely heard the nurse saying he was already functionally gone, and the machines were keeping him alive.  I returned to the room after the machines had been turned off, and his breathing had stopped.  I stroked my father’s forehead, something I never would have dared if he were alive.  I walked into to the “Grief Room” at the hospital, where no one was attending to the needs of my family, sitting and crying all alone.  I pushed down my feelings because someone had to make funeral arrangements, and the task fell on me.

Later in the week, I visited his office at the hospital, heard his boss describe how he had spent his last several years helping others.  I drove just outside Tulsa and walked across his 5 acre pecan orchard, then used his chain saw to cut down a couple of dead trees, a project he and I had shared.  I sat at the dinner table at my parent’s house and went through my parent’s financial papers to reassure my Mom.  I stepped out in front of a packed church to deliver his eulogy.

Of course it was cathartic to write down those experiences – isn’t that one of the biggest benefits of memoir?  I felt the events, experienced them in a deeper way than before, and could release some of the emotional charge they contained.

As the memoir continued I wrote about the events after my Dad died.  I met with a minister to discuss an reservoir of old anger I had discovered – anger at my Dad, anger at God.  I dreamed a man was chasing me with a gun.  I did an inner child exercise, and remembered a violent incident with my Dad when I was a teenager.  Then came some intense healing work.

I did an exercise to cut cords to the feelings I was carrying from generations of my family – an ancestral burden that had weighed me down greatly.  Many nights I released terror from the violent incident.  I relived the violent incident on a feeling level several times.   I wrote down ways I had changed, and burned the papers, to let go of who I used to be.  I dreamed that there was a tiger living in my house.  I knew it was my rage, and had to be dealt with.  I made a commitment to release that rage in safe ways.  There were a number of other healing experiences, and by the end of the memoir, it all led to a new sense of forgiveness for my father.  I wrote down my tremendous gratitude for the whole experience.

Then something happened which I hadn’t envisioned.  After I published the memoir, which I called Freedom’s Just Another Word, I had numerous people say they benefitted greatly from my experience, from reading about my journey and the steps I had taken to heal.  I was genuinely surprised.  I hadn’t seen that coming, but was delighted that it happened.  That was not the reason for the memoir – it just was something I needed to do.  For me it was an enormously healing process.   But if writing a memoir could yield additional rewards like that – helping other people heal and grow – then it was a huge success.

 Originally Published in Laura Schultz Now

Photo Credits:

“Good Question” e-magic @Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

leaves in the wind: jans canon @flickr.com.  Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

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What if I don’t have a talent for creative writing?

On the other hand – what if I do?

______

It was September of 1988, and I had signed up for a creative writing class at The University of Houston.  The teacher was a well known published author and writing teacher from New York City who had agreed to guest lecture for a year.  It seemed like a great opportunity and I wanted to learn more about my craft, so I sat nervously in class with 30 other students.  Oh, did I mention that I was 38 years old at the time?  It felt a bit awkward that I was so much older than most of the students, but I was willing to accept that discomfort to get some depth perception on my writing ability.

In the first class the teacher described our writing process.  We would each turn in a 1,000 word piece every two weeks.  The teacher would select a few of our writings, then the class and teacher would review and critique our work.  Gulp!  I had been journalling extensively, had written some short works and won praise for them, but this was unveiling my talent at a whole new level.

The class was an hour and a half long. The teacher lectured for the first part of class, then read one of our works, and the class would spend 10 to 15 minutes reviewing it.  We reviewed 3 to 4 pieces per class, and the group was very generative in their comments – honest but gentle. The teacher was a bit more incisive – she got to the heart of the matter candidly and sometimes a bit harshly.

My first piece was not read aloud in class.  I worked hard on a second piece entitled “The Hunt,” about an experience I had as a 14 year old deer hunting with my Dad and his friends.  The story was about how frightened I was being with grown men who were combining poker, whiskey and guns in a very unsafe environment.  I really put myself out there, and didn’t know what response to expect.

When the teacher said aloud “The Hunt,” I felt my heart begin to race and my breathing grow rapid.  I didn’t know what to expect.  As she read the class was very quiet.  She finished, looked up and asked for comments.  The class raved!  “Insightful … brilliant … I could feel myself being there.”  I waited for the teacher’s opinion.  She went through the piece quoting passages and showing how brilliantly the story unfolded and was portrayed.  She said it was almost like the narrator was outside the experience, standing and looking on at the events.  At the end the young boy has almost a living nightmare, the men running down the road after a deer, one of them tripping and falling and shooting his father in the back. The teacher was effusive in her praise of this part.  One of her benchmarks about stories was: “Did it earn the ending?”  She was clear that this story really did earn the ending.

I had tensely been listening and taking notes all over my copy of the story.  I finally looked at my watch and realized that 45 minutes had elapsed.  I left class that day with a new appreciation for my writing gift – I had seen it in a way that none of my friends could make me believe.  A published author – a professional – had raved about my work.

I thought maybe it was a fluke until it happened a second time, on a piece I had written entitled “Fight Night,” about my Dad introducing me to boxing.  The teacher took about 40 minutes to go through that short piece, giving it an equal amount of praise as she did for my first work.

I’ve talked to a lot of writers over the years, and it seems many of us share an uneasiness about “someone might figure out that I really don’t know what I’m doing.”  It must be something that goes with the writing talent.  If the teacher had panned my writing, I suspect some part of me might have been secretly relieved at being able to give up this need to write.

What I discovered in creative writing class was the opposite.  I had a gift, and it was my job to steward that gift – to share it in appropriate ways.  In ways, that was a far scarier prospect than the possibility of having no talent. Yet over the years, facing that fear has been much more rewarding.

Originally published in Write By Night

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