When my son died I was so filled with grief and guilt, regret and shame, I was afraid to tell anyone how I really felt. I’m not sure if I knew what I really felt. So I did the thing I knew to do. I picked up my pen and notebook and continued the daily writing practice I had begun a few years earlier. Maybe I could tell myself.
I wrote about everything. My anger at God. My rant to the world about how unfair it all was. The idea of taking my own life. The fear that if I didn’t choose to do that, wondering how I would stay alive. The belief that it was all my fault. The need to stay out of everyone’s way for fear of causing more trouble. Thoughts. Ugly, messy thoughts. Were these feelings?
Day after day, page after page, I scribbled. Slowly the anger lightened. The rant softened. I saw words on pages. Words from the pen I was holding. Words from the thoughts from the feelings. I saw an elementary school teacher’s manuscript in black ink on the white page and I heard a voice that sounded familiar. Like a child gulping for breath after a really big scare.
A dozen years later and I’m still writing. Still amazed at the words on the page from the thoughts from the feelings. My day begins with morning pages. A time to sit with myself and listen. How do I feel? What are the thoughts running through my head? I want to be present as I teach my students who want to be teachers, be with friends and family and interact with the world around me.
Some days it’s easier than others. At times when I begin to feel anxious and uncertain, I pull away, sit still and listen, and pick up my pen.
Something’s trying to get your attention, dear friend, I tell myself. Don’t be afraid. Just be present.
I wrote this much and a bit more over two weeks ago. But it felt disconnected and pretentious and I couldn’t finish.
A couple days later a writing buddy and mentor suddenly died of a heart attack. He was 63. With a brand new grandbaby. His first. How do I feel? What are the thoughts running through my head? I put my pen to paper and through my tears I see my blurry words appear.
And this past week the presidential election. The election season has been divisive, but this week it’s been downright brutal. I want to stay above the name calling and side taking, but it’s not easy. How do I feel? What are the thoughts running through my head? Wanting to be present in the world and not fall prey to the alienating rhetoric around me, I pick up my pen. Maybe I’ll find the words.
On Thursday night knowing my writing group might be feeling strong emotions from the election and wanting to keep it from being a complete rant, I offered the topic So how are you feeling now? as a ten minute write. We all shared what we had written. I did that writing for me. Maybe others benefited. From our words.
This morning’s plan was to recharge. I could just read and write the whole day. But anxiety began to build. How do you feel, Laura? What are the thoughts running through your head? I don’t put my pen to paper.
Instead I open my computer and take a detour to Facebook Land. Twenty minutes into the back and forth posts and I know this is not what I need. A post about Mary Oliver’s new book, Upstream, gets my attention. I put down the computer, get dressed and drive to the bookstore where I normally write with a plan to find the book and do morning pages there.
Long story short. (You know how plans can go.)
I begin reading the book. I do very little writing. How do you feel, Laura? What are the thoughts running through your head? I’m restless, I think (but don’t write.) Mary’s words are telling me to go walk in the woods. It’s a gorgeous fall morning and I know the perfect place.
But I haven’t written, I whine.
Then take your notebook with you, Mary answers. Just be present.
And your writing topics: How do you feel? What are the thoughts running through your head?