The Seventy-Five Dollar Sticker

April 17, 2018 § 9 Comments

Third Runner-Up for Best Show-Biz Memoir With a Dog Supporting Character, Set in California

In fifth grade, I won a county-wide writing contest. I think that’s how they got my name. I had been “selected” for Best Young American Authors. Or Who’s Who in Young Authors. Or 100 Young Poets. Something like that. Of course I was thrilled–I’d gotten a real letter in the mail telling me my special status and requesting a copy of my story, my bio…and an order form for the number of copies of the anthology I would buy at $45 each.

My mother figured out it was a racket, but I was only a little disappointed. I’d already gotten a medal and a certificate from the school superintendent, what greater prize could there be?

The anthology racket is still alive, barely. Self-publishing has made massive inroads on paying for the excitement of your name in print. Independent authors invest more up front, but make some money back in sales. Independents control the quality of the work and physical presentation, rather than being positioned with everyone else who wrote a check, regardless of their ability to write a coherent sentence.

But as one head of the publishing-scam Hydra hisses beneath a stone, another pops up, ready to do even less for authors, for even more money.

Maybe you’ve gotten an email: there’s a contest your book is eligible for! If you win, your book will be presented to movie producers and in an ad on Goodreads! Press releases will feature you! You can put shiny gold stickers on your book cover! And it’s only $75! Per entry! In as many categories as you want!

Um, Mom?

Sadly, these “contests” are simply money-making machines for the organizers. “Winning” adds no credibility to your book, doesn’t help with sales, and seldom results in any publicity beyond free internet announcements. In fact, there are often so many subcategories that everyone who enters, wins. Their $75 didn’t buy fair consideration and worthy competition–it bought a sticker. (Additional stickers may be purchased at just $25/pack!)

There are plenty of legitimate contests and awards. But contests that mean something are usually contests you’ve already heard of, or affiliated with reputable magazines or organizations. Entities that do more than hold contests. You might be part of their mailing list, but they rarely solicit your entry personally. You may need your publisher to submit the book on your behalf, or to be nominated by librarians or booksellers. The judges are published writers or noted agents and editors. Past winners include writers you’ve heard of, or whose biographies mention MFAs and literary or mass media publications. There may be an entry fee, but it rarely tops $50 for a book or $25-30 for a story or essay. Books can only be entered in the year they are released, and only in one category. Legit contests offer specific, measurable prizes, like “$1000 and a guest lecture at X College,” rather than un-checkable weasel-language like “promoted to industry insiders.” You don’t have to purchase your own prize stickers if you win.

Over at Writer Beware, Victoria Strauss points out ways to spot a for-profit contest…

There are any number of moneymaking contests that focus on published books. Their M.O.: a huge entry fee, dozens or scores or even hundreds of entry categories, and the sale of additional merchandise to winners and honorees. Prizes are typically things that cost the sponsors little or nothing (website features, electronic press releases, vague promises of publicity campaigns). Judges are never named–and may not exist–and, although commercially published books are sometimes declared winners, the contests are marketed mainly to small press and self-published authors.

…and why “winning” may not matter:

Profiteer awards and contests don’t typically command a lot of name recognition, but if you win or place, you’ll be able to tag your book as an “award-winning book” and yourself as an “award-winning author.” How much readers care about such designations, though, is an open question. With all the fake review scandals, as well as readers’ increasing disillusion with authorial self-promotion, I think book buyers have become more cynical in general about what authors say about themselves.

Pay-to-play contests are aimed squarely at authors eager for recognition, and for that extra something to help their book stand out. Cynical, shady organizations recognize and exploit that hunger.

Genuine book awards do launch careers. They’re also highly competitive, and a lot less “rah-rah” about the prizes, because their name alone is the prize (i.e. Booker, Pulitzer, Nobel). One day, you’ll be in the running. For now, skip the contest entry and use that time to write another essay, something that will draw real attention to your book. Something beautiful. Something more powerful than a $75 sticker.

 

Wondering if a contest is legit? The Alliance of Independent Authors has a handy chart.

Writer Beware is a valuable resource for all writers. Their blog and searchable archives explain scams and name and shame predator agents and unscrupulous publishers.

______________________________________

Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. She’ll be teaching Creating Memoir From Memory on June 10, as part of the Cedar Ridge Writers Series in New Jersey.

 

Review of Sophfronia Scott’s Love’s Long Line

April 16, 2018 § 3 Comments

z long lineby Renée E. D’Aoust

Sophfronia Scott’s collection of essays Love’s Long Line reminds us that a life lived with hope is a life full of possibility. While walking in New York City’s Central Park or visiting her emotionally absent mother in Ohio, Scott shows us what it means to find faith.

In “Opening to Love,” Scott writes, “I am trying to learn how my heart works. This knowledge, I hope, could be the key to a kind of protection.” Rather than turn away from the childhood trauma her now-deceased father has caused, Scott turns toward the meaning of forgiveness in her adult life.

Scott’s essay, “A Fur for Annie Pearl,” speaks to how valuable it can be to know our parents’ friends. Because sweet, honest Annie Pearl is a dear friend of Scott’s father, Pearl bears witness to all aspects of Sophfronia’s dad. Through her adult friendship with Pearl, Scott discovers signs of her father’s love.

This essay reminds me how much it has meant to have had three of my father’s closest friends track my life: Bower, Morgan, and Kiwala. They always called me Buzzy, told stories about how much they loved my mum, Susan, talked of how she read so much and so widely, and shared their scary shark stories from their countless scuba dives with my dad. These men bore witness to my baby days and took loving care of our family after the suicide of my older brother Ian at age thirty-nine.

Robert Bower gave me eloquent advice throughout my life, particularly when I was trying for the umpteenth time to break up with a certain ex. He’d tell me that I deserved a man who could show up emotionally. Morgan Wells told me stories about teaching diving physiology to medical doctors and using one of my dad’s papers that referenced super saturation. Robert Kiwala served as my proud bridesmaid when my husband and I eloped at the Bonner County Idaho courthouse nine years ago.

Each of my father’s dear friends was not a constant in my life, but they entered and exited easily. I mourn the loss of witness with each one’s final exit.

So I love the feeling of validation that Annie Pearl gives Sophfronia Scott about Scott’s own father: “There was something exhilarating about the stories Annie Pearl told me. I felt alive, baptized, as though she poured water over my head and confirmed something I once thought I believed but in reality only hoped to believe—my father loved me. And I could trust the stories she told because she didn’t paint a beatific portrait of him.”

In Love’s Long Line, Scott knows how to find grace even in its absence: “What is grace? It is love where it does not have to be, where there is no reason for it.” In part because Scott endured a violent father and maintained her love for him, her writing shows a clear-sighted means of how an individual might encompass grace in the aftermath of trauma.

On December 14, 2012, her son Tain’s best friend, Ben, was killed. Tain was in class at Sandy Hook Elementary the day Adam Lanza shot and killed Ben along with nineteen other young school children and six adults. Scott shares her feelings about that day in the essay “To Winter Warming”:

The event seems to confirm my suspicion of God’s absence and yet in every moment as the cold day unfolded, I knew the only way I would survive the ongoing aftermath is if I kept proving myself wrong. And this would be a tremendous necessity because in the days that followed I experienced a terrible duality in which I felt the situation demanded I marshal every strength of who I was while at the same time feeling dismantled on every level.

But Love’s Long Line is much more than a book that wrestles with survival. It traces a spiritual journey. Forgiveness is not a requisite but it can be a means for an individual to reclaim agency. This theme, and its countervailing tensions, weaves throughout. Scott teaches us that a soul needs to tell it slant, yet still to be loved; she writes:

I am, as Emily Dickinson might put it, a soul seeking my society. This is perhaps the greatest risk I take because the potential for pain is always present. To have a heart so open is to, as Annie Dillard puts it, ‘reel out love’s long line alone, stripped like a live wire loosing its sparks to a cloud, like a live wire loosed in space to longing and grief everlasting.’

__
Renée E. D’Aoust’s Body of a Dancer (Etruscan Press) was a Foreword Review’s “Book of the Year” finalist. Recent anthology publications include Flash Nonfiction Funny, Not My President, and Rooted: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction. D’Aoust teaches online at Casper College and North Idaho College. Follow her @idahobuzzy.

A Review of Allison Coffelt’s Maps Are Lines We Draw

April 13, 2018 § Leave a comment

z mapsBy Katharine Coldiron

It’s a rare person who doesn’t like to travel. I know, because I am one, and when new acquaintances discover this about me, they often look as if I’ve pushed aside my bangs to reveal a third ear. But even though I don’t enjoy travel, I have immense curiosity about the world outside my living room. It’s a blessing when a book about a place I am never likely to go crosses my path, and a great joy when that book is also well-written and thoughtful. Such is the case with Maps Are Lines We Draw, a slim and piquant little volume about Haiti laid out along a road trip the author, Allison Coffelt, takes through the country with a doctor who is delivering her to OSAPO, the medical clinic he founded. There, she will provide assistance; not, I gather, because she has any special medical training, but because she is simply another pair of hands. Maps is an immediate book, told with great craft and without pretense. The author’s voice is so strong, full of such intellect and sensitivity, that it’s difficult not to like and respect Coffelt right away.

Let me dispense with the elephant in the manuscript: yes, this is a white American’s book about a visit to Haiti. Yes, there are elements of this premise that feel off, as if an anthropologist is observing a struggle of which she is not really a part. Obviously, she can leave that struggle at any time to return to her comfortable Midwestern life. But Coffelt underlines her awareness of her privilege, and the validity of her project, repeatedly and effectively. On page fifteen, barely having begun her story, she warns the reader:

Maybe a guide keeps you physically safe—but what of other wickedness?

The danger of the mission-trip story. The college-admittance or finding-God experience. You know the one: a student goes somewhere “down there,” and as soon as she gets off the plane (“it was really hot”) they take a bus to the village, and they meet locals and maybe teach some children English, and at the end of the week, that glorious week, when all this time she thought she would be teaching them, she really finds they taught her. A tale so common I once heard a radio interview about just how common it is.

I’m not sure knowing this trap gets me out of it.

I’m not sure I’m so different.

The book is not just the story of Coffelt in Haiti. She also spends many pages on aspects of the relationship between Haiti and richer countries that are not commonly known. For example, clothing recycling, which bundles up clothing donations from North America and ships them to countries like Haiti more or less for disposal, is quite harmful to these countries, and Coffelt outlines the reasons why. “Haiti is a graveyard for clothes,” she notes. Methods of long-distance aid that wealthy countries like the U.S. presume to be helpful often are not, for reasons it’s impossible to tease out without a perspective like Coffelt’s: ground-level interaction with citizens of a nation coupled with a high-altitude capacity to understand the entrenched systems at work. She methodically explains how, in the early nineteenth century, France manipulated Haiti into promising an astronomical sum to its enslavers to compensate for the end of free labor on the island. The unfairness of this situation gathered in my mind so gradually that I was furious and disgusted at the end of the chapter without consciously realizing I’d passed beyond curiosity.

Coffelt’s ability as a writer is not restricted to reportage. Some chapters are structured almost as braided or lyric narratives. She mixes a mouthwatering description of eating douce macoss, a unique dessert, with paragraphs describing the medical education of the doctor who is driving her across the island. There’s collage here, as well; for instance, impressions of Haiti sourced from a 2011 Lonely Planet guide, a 1956 Pan Am brochure, and the people Coffelt meets at the clinic, are mixed together and presented simply:

The adage, “there’s room for interpretation.”

–You wash your hands, your dishes, with Clorox.

The adage, “a good translator disappears.”

–I buy the rice from the farm. We boil it. After that, we dry it in the sun and go to a grinder to grind and clean it. Then we sell it in a public market.

–Why are you a nurse?

–I love the community, and I want to help people and also help my family.

Further, Coffelt returns repeatedly to an exploration of “t/here”: there and here, the American Midwest and Haiti, swapping places. Since there and here are relative to a person’s present location, socioeconomic situation, race, education, health, and other factors, “t/here” does not form a simple binary but a shifting, unreliable set of landscapes. She even writes about Hegel. It’s cool and sad and wonderful and dismaying all at once.

Since I’m not a traveler, I’m not qualified to say whether Coffelt has accurately captured Haiti. What she’s certainly done is produced a profoundly thoughtful volume about place, medicine, light, opportunity, water, and storytelling, among other ideas. Were I her editor, I might have wanted her to write more, to open up her bleak, tightly controlled sentences and build something that feels more comfortably complete—stories with resolutions instead of shrugs and sorrow. But perhaps that is Coffelt’s point: from here to there, and from there to here, prejudice, purpose, and even lives are all going to be lost. The spaces between certainties are where a book like this lives, and Coffelt has manipulated those liminal spaces with great skill.
___

Katharine Coldiron‘s work has appeared in Ms., the Rumpus, the Offing, and elsewhere. She lives in California and blogs at the Fictator.

A Review of Will Dowd’s Areas of Fog

April 12, 2018 § 3 Comments

By Debbie Hagan

z dowdHere in New England, we had four nor’easters in March: Riley, Quinn, Skylar, and most recently Toby. My friend’s business trip to Boston coincided with Quinn. While I’d classify her as a   conscientious, cautious, and well-planned traveler, she decided this time not to pack snow boots. They didn’t match her outfits. They were too big for her carry-on.

“You do have sidewalks…don’t you?” she asked.

Three days into her stay, she described to me how she forded a slushy black stream while crossing Commonwealth Avenue. Her feet were wet and cold, her shoes mucky. She was sorry.

Trust the New Englander. We abandon looking cute or even professional once snow starts to fall. The goal is simply to be clean, warm, and dry—and that’s not so easy. It means piling on everything that’s waterproof: a parka, boots, layers of scarves, and heavy gloves. If you show up at your cocktail party or business meeting dressed like an Arctic explorer, no one will think badly about you. No one will bat an eye or say anything…except maybe praise you for your sensibility.

Author Will Dowd, a New Englander, knows all about nor’easters, mud season, and the slow, coy emergence of spring. In a collection of connected essays, Dowd muses about the region’s eclectic weather in Areas of Fog.

“All the weathermen of New England go mad eventually,” he writes in the opening. “After a few decades spent attempting to predict the unpredictable, they succumb to a kind of meteorological nihilism and wander out of the studio mid-broadcast, muttering to themselves, and can be seen a week later selling wilted roses on the side of the highway.”

Hmmm. I’ve seen these guys in the South End waving their limp roses.

In Dowd’s slim book, he traces a calendar year of New England weather. “It’s been a winter of naming,” he writes. “Every week the weather-industrial complex introduces and calculates a new buzzword for a weather phenomenon that has already existed (‘Bombogenesis’ is having its moment), while The Weather Channel has gone rogue and begun naming blizzards. They’re not even proceeding through the alphabet. It’s chaos.” (See above.)

Why? In part, it’s because Americans don’t have an extensive vocabulary when it comes to weather. Northern Native Americans may have fifty names for snow, but “we still have no name for the first labored swipe of windshield wipers over morning frost,” he writes. “We still have no name for the mist that rises off the shoulders of melting snowmen like their departing souls.” We have no name for those first optimistic rays of sun that sneak through the clouds after eleven days of fog and driving snow.

Dowd draws from anecdotes, letters, poetry, and quotes from various artists and writers who’ve lived in or, at least, visited New England. From Mark Twain, he shares this insight: “In the spring, I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.” Twain observed this from his home in Connecticut, where he lived the last seventeen years of his life.

Dowd writes about flooding, particularly in MIT’s $300 million Strata Center, where the author typically eats his lunch. “A yellow and white aluminum scrapheap, it was designed by Frank Gehry to look like ‘a party of drunk robots got together to celebrate,’” he writes. Obviously, he’s not a fan of Gehry’s, and to him, the building looks more like a “cubist omelet.”

Gehry famously denied his building leaked. He stood in front of a crowd and shouted, “My name is Frank Gehry and my buildings don’t leak.” Nevertheless, Dowd “avoided brimming buckets and ducked under caution tape” on his way to the cafe.

It’s stories like that make this book a fun read—even for New Englanders, who you’d expect to be bored to tears in hearing about weather. Not. In spite of their groveling and complaining, they are truly weather obsessed, checking in with weather reporters all day long to hear the latest.

“Yet while they may be doomed to fail, we don’t mock our weathermen,” Dowd writes. “Even though we see them for what they are—oracles draped in sheep entrails—we don’t change the channel. We listen politely to their forecast. And then we talk about it.”
___

Debbie Hagan is book reviews editor for Brevity and author of Against the Tide (Hamilton Books, 2004). Her essays have appeared in Harvard Review, Hyperallergic, Pleiades, Superstition Review, Brain, Child, and elsewhere. She’s a visiting lecturer at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

On A Writer’s Investments

April 11, 2018 § 30 Comments

z Laura GilkeyBy Laura Gilkey

These are the first words I am typing on my brand new laptop computer. I bought the laptop, I told myself, so I can write when I need to write, where I need to write. An investment, I said.

My husband went to the techy store with me, wholeheartedly supporting my investment. He believes in me, the poor guy. We chose a middle-of-the-road laptop, no bells or whistles, not a huge amount of memory and a three-digit price tag, not four. I just need it to be fast, I said. I need it to keep up with me. With all of this writing I’m going to do.

This investment came just two weeks after I invested in attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Tampa, an hour’s drive north of where I live. I was so proud of myself for committing to it, despite a near-crippling case of Imposter Syndrome. I catered the conference to my own particular palette these days: memoir, grief, research, trauma. I was riveted by three full days of panel discussions with incredible voices who tell incredible stories. I filled a legal pad with emphatic notes. My mind was brimming with words like intersectional and liminal and narrative arc. I couldn’t wait to get home and write. Of course, first, I made a list of more than twenty books referenced during the conference, books I clearly must read before attempting to properly tell my story.

Three months before the conference, I invested in a writing coach. She is someone whose work I greatly admire and whose opinion I value implicitly. I chose her because six months ago I invested in her online workshop for mothers who write, and it was exceptional. I produced good work during those ten weeks, and I learned a lot from her, and from the other mothers taking the class. So I hired her. Which is so great. Except that I’m not giving her anything to work with. Since our agreement, I have sent her fewer than twenty-five pages of manuscript. And that was two months ago.

But hey, I haven’t been procrastinating, I tell myself. I’ve been doing field work. I’ve been studying the barred owls that will play so indelibly into this story. I’ve been keeping a detailed journal of their behavior and of my experience observing them. And I’ve been writing the letters to my son. I have to write those. More than a hundred now.

I am completely procrastinating. Jesus. The laptop, the conference, the owls. This essay. As much as his story burns in my chest, as much as I know I cannot live with myself if I do not write it, I don’t want to. What is my problem? I wrote for 772 consecutive days when Benjamin was sick. I shared my writing with a blog audience that grew to several hundred per evening. I didn’t edit myself, and I certainly didn’t care who was reading what I wrote. I wrote because I had to. I wrote to survive.

I know I need to write now. There is something so big at stake here. But I don’t want to recount the chronology of my son’s death last February. I don’t want to go deeply into the pain Benjamin felt when his liver and his spleen grew to twice their normal size. I don’t want to smell that occult blood again or feel the unwelcome shift in the alternating pressure mattress or watch him try to push away the inevitable. He was nine years old.

I do want to convey the joy he brought to our family, though. To the world. That was a big fat note I wrote on my legal pad at the conference, and starred: to capture the magnitude of the loss, you must capture the magnitude of the joy. And I need—need—to delve into the unmistakably divine events that have happened since his death. I have no idea what will come out of those pages. That’s why I need to write them.

One of the AWP Conference panelists I saw—twice, actually—offered readings of her “craft essays” as accompaniments to each literary piece she read. These were breakdowns of her observations, not about the subject matter, but about the process of writing it. To be honest, I didn’t quite understand why she felt the need to write them, let alone share them with other writers, but now I do. This procrastination of mine, this series of investments, this anguish is just another layer of the storytelling experience. It helps me understand the importance of the knowledge I hold, because of Benjamin. It tells me to be brave, like he was. To go into the pain. I will tell his story and I will do it right here on this laptop, so help me God, and I’ll do the best job I possibly can.
___

Laura Gilkey is the mother of two sons: Banyan, a healthy, rugby-playing adolescent, and Benjamin, who died of leukemia in February 2017. Laura’s writing through Benjamin’s cancer treatment is archived at BenjamintheBrave.com. Additional work has been published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Mommy Magazine, and Pulse Voices for Medicine. Laura co-produced Maternally Yours, a weekly community radio program, for five years. Guests included CNN Hero Robin Lim, Right Livelihood Laureate Ina May Gaskin, and Dr. Maya Angelou.

Writing to Give Shape to Our Lives

April 9, 2018 § 24 Comments

zz slavinBy Nancy Slavin

“I write because writing helps bring life into clearer focus and give shape to what I might otherwise experience as disconnected shards.”  – Joyce Thomas

I read the Joyce Thomas quote above in a 2011 issue of Poets & Writers and practically hummed out loud in my attraction to it. The urge to write for me is a primordial need to make sense of experiences that often happen in pieces. The way I make sense of the pieces is by creating the story, which hopefully turns out whole. Certainly in the case my daughter’s birth, the pieces of a fifty-four hour labor are disconnected, fragmenting more and more with each passing year, making me wonder which pieces are important enough to keep? And yet, long as the labor was and as bloody the outcome, I don’t use warfare metaphors to discuss that birth or write about my body as a battlefield, or even discuss the experience in sharp-termed images like shards. I have a choice in how to name that experience; I get to write my own story.

Being cut open crosswise below my belly button has made me feel at times like I have two parts of a body, and writing about that experience, even after therapy for post-partum depression, has actually been the best work I’ve done to connect the two parts, to make a new whole. As a former writing mentor once said, “if you write it down, it can’t own you.” For me, writing about the difficult parts helps me own that experience, rather than it owning me.

People often ask, when they hear I’m a writer, “what do you write?” I answer I write words. But I write in many forms – poetry, fiction, non-fiction. I’ve taught all of those genres, too, and love thinking about the different elements between each form because I’m a believer in form follows function. Each story demands its own structure, and each story, eventually, will tell you in what form to write it if you’re willing to listen.

I also believe: the greater the pain behind the experience, the greater the need for precision within the form. Joyce Thomas, in her Poets & Writers essay, tells us that after she was raped at gunpoint, she wrote her very first poem. She wonders why she turned to poetry at that moment, but I don’t wonder, I know: the greater the pain, the greater the need for poetry, the most precise of forms, to connect the shards. For the same reason, the first time I wrote about birthing my daughter, I wrote a poem in rhyming heroic couplets, an exacting form that helped me stitch together our dual experience.

The other question people ask when hearing I’m a writer is “what do you write about?” That question is quite a bit more complicated and I’m sure there’s not one answer any writer could give, although at least one famous writer claimed each writer writes the same story over and over. But finding out what you need to write about is important. Find your themes. When I teach writing classes, one of the first exercises I do with students is to have them write a one or two word “top ten” list of topics they think are important to write about, topics that would excite them and get their engines greased. They come up with weighty subjects like the environment, God, being a mother or father, daughter or son, and sometimes less weighty subjects like cars or video games. Still, every subject has potential for deeper exploration, and certainly can be crafted into a story. When I do that exercise, I often write “human relationships” as my number one topic, but I think the bigger truth is I write about “healing in human relationships.”

Writing, in the form of essays, fiction, and poems, has helped me figure out and heal disparate swatches of myself, swatches torn from the whole due to traumas or losses or disappointments. Writing literally helped me stitch together the initial frayed pieces of motherhood, and continues to do so as my child grows. I’ve also written about family, partners, therapists, and friends. All the writing allows me to connect pieces of my life and figure out my constant thread within my life. I’m grateful not only that I have this primordial need to write, but also that I have the wherewithal to abide to that need and act accordingly. I wish the same wherewithal for you, for we all have a need to express our “top ten” list. May the disconnected shards of your experiences be assembled into a whole.

__
Nancy Slavin is a freelance writer and editor. She was longtime community college writing and English literature instructor and a violence-prevention educator. Her work has been published in Oregon Humanities Magazine, The Manifest Station, Barrelhouse, Literary Mama, Hip Mama, among others. She’s the author of Moorings a novel, and Oregon Pacific, a collection of poems.

Writing Toward Wholeness: Journaling, Imagery, and Meditation

April 6, 2018 § 7 Comments

zz ww40_Author and workshop leader Susan Tiberghien offers writing exercises from her new book, Writing Toward Wholeness, Lessons Inspired by C.G. Jung, which uses excerpts from Jung’s writings, and writers such as Etty Hillesum, Thomas Merton, Annie Dillard, and Thich Nhat Hahn, to bring together psychology, spirituality and the arts:  

The first lesson in Writing Toward Wholeness ─ “Keeping Your Own Red Books” ─ suggests journaling as a way toward uncovering our soul, toward uncovering our connectedness, our oneness. Journaling is a practice, like meditation, leading us to deeper writing, to deeper living. When we journal, when we write about what we see, feel, touch, we discover its meaning, linking together the visible and the invisible worlds.

If I journal about a walk on the beach and picking up a small white shell, the white shell is no longer one amidst hundreds in the sand, but it is unique, its jagged edges cupped in my hand. It has suffered, from being tossed about by waves, currents, and eddies. But here it is in my hand, opening the door in my imagination to my own jagged edges.

To illustrate this, here is a writing suggestion from the second lesson in my book, “Pursuing Images.” Open your journal, close your eyes, what experience comes to you, what image comes to you? Something you did, something you saw. Hold on to the image, look at it, and describe it. Take a moment and write a few lines to give it life.

I give the following example from my own journal: “A tree with fall foliage appeared, like the one outside my kitchen window last fall. Its rust-colored leaves were falling sporadically to the ground.”  To learn from the image, from my tree, I spoke to it, asked it why it came to me. I wrote down my question and the tree’s response in the form of a dialogue. Jung calls this active imagination.

I asked if I too must let go of my leaves, If I must “stop checking if all is well, stop worrying about family, friends, about my work.” Yes, replied the tree, “Let things be.” I was told to trust the process. “The leaves return to their roots to rise anew.” Nothing is lost. Life is a continuum.

A continuum. A whole. Each of us writes towards this wholeness.  As Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote in her “Letter To A Young Activist During Troubled Times:” ─ “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”
__

Susan Tiberghien, an American writer living in Geneva, Switzerland, holds a BA in Literature and Philosophy and did graduate work at Grenoble University in France and the C.G. Jung Institute in Kusnacht, Switzerland. She has published four memoirs Looking for Gold, A Year in Jungian Analysis; Circling to the Center, An Invitation to Silent Prayer; Side by Side: Writing Your Love Story; and Footsteps: In Love with a Frenchman, and the writing handbook, One Year to a Writing Life, Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft, along with numerous essays in journals and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic. Tiberghien has been teaching Jungian inspired writing workshops for over twenty years at C.G. Jung Societies, at the International Women’s Writing Guild, and at writers’ centers and conferences in the States and in Europe. She directs the Geneva Writers’ Group, an association of over 240 English-language writers, which she founded in 1993. Mother of six children and sixteen grandchildren, she lives with her husband in Geneva, Switzerland.

 

%d bloggers like this: