Thursday, December 25, 2014

Narrative Therapy

Another powerful, palpable student writing. We were all struck by how this student, who has been writing with me for years now, has found a way to combine his powerful lyricism with a narrative - in fact, narrative therapy - to help re-write things that used to trigger him when he followed pure poetry.

Narrative therapy has strong overlaps with memoir writing, whether we like it or not. How we write, what we write, what we invite in and work through or not really shapes our story. And, of course, we are telling and re-telling our stories - especially our "life story" - every single day. To embrace that process and realize that our stories, too, are impermanent, is really empowering.

Enjoy the intense dip in, then strong heart that saves the reader - and writer - from dimness.


A feeling of satiety, 
not satiated or saturated,
or dripping. 
I've had the glimpse, that
hint of light that hits the mirror
just right - turn your head it's gone
That all of the craving, the striving 
powering the great samsaric engine.
For just that evanescent moment,
which seems so precious.
Must... hold tight.. and gone.
All that which I seek outside myself is already there.
But like the moment when I've achieved some goal, 
it too is gone. 

I'm brought back to the darkest days before the hospital. The entrance to the house was through the garage which opened to the basement. Dark and cluttered, it seemed a reflection of David, my stepfather's mental state. I had to watch where I was going. So did he. Up stairs that creaked every one, led into the kitchen. The kitchen, where he told me, near that chair that seemed out of place, that I was going to end up on the street. He would pace for hours. And drink, and breathe heavily. His presence was so onerous the house threatened to sink. Dark, deep eyes would stare off for hours. Deep pain. I could feel it all. Those eyes usually passed right over me. Boy, I tried not to get in their way. But could not. I felt like he had it in for me especially as my depression progressed. He was strong and I was weak. Or so I thought. I learned later the opposite was true, but it didn't matter then. I didn't know. Fear. Glare fear. And so I hid. I left my body. Went somewhere else, but the re-inhabiting, the re-entry was awful, like slipping into someone else's skin. Someone had been shaken deeply. So, too tension I used to protect myself. If I held myself tight enough and watched closely, remained vigilant I won't get hurt. Later I got angry, lashed out at my mother. I'm sure i caused as much pain out as I did in. Still David's footsteps as he passed back and forth, caged heavy breathing animal that he was made their way through. 
What I can see now, though is those protections, which look so maladaptive were out of love, protection. And they weren't my fault. And not that I was pure victim, but those parts deserve, need love compassion, a light touch. 
When welcomed into my heart, that's when I have a sense of wholeness, of fullness, and my heart opens to myself.

-Nick W.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Jumping Clocks and Calendars

A student wrote this piece in response to the Compassion prompt I gave a couple of weeks ago.
I am particularly struck, as a memoir piece, by the presence of both specific/personal and then universal themes. Because of the Baby Boomers, there are so many folks dealing with their parents in situations like these, and knowing that they, too, may be in these places one day themselves. This student really shows their ability to slow down and be in the situation, which is, after all, the truest expression of compassion one can get.

A couple of my favorite lines: "The avant garde of the avant garde," "I look directly at things, at the faces of people, that I wouldn’t have looked directly at before," and "I try to imagine this fuzzy-edged world where it’s so hard to get moving, where clocks and calendars seem to jump around unable to hold their hours or weeks in place." These strike me the most because they show the raw edge of compassion and also really deliver us into this place - showing us their compassion in really being present in the situation.

More folks need to be writing about this, publishing this. I hope that increases with time. Roz Chast's amazing graphic novel memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant didn't win the award so many of us hoped it would. But perhaps, one day, memoir that so many in this generation really need to be reading will be more broadly offered.

There’s a man I often see when I enter the the assisted living facility where my mother-in-law lives. I don’t know his name, but I always say “Hello” or “Good afternoon” to him when I pass by where he’s seated near the entrance to the dining room. He’s the avant garde of the avant garde -- the first of the small coterie of men and the occasional woman who start gathering at the door of the dining room at 4:00, or even 3:45, in preparation for dinner being served at 4:30. That’s a pretty early dinner, but these guys like to get there even earlier, so they can chat, or I guess just sit somewhere other than in their rooms or the hallways, get a change of scene.

This particular man is relatively new here -- four months, maybe? When I say hi, he responds “Hello” in a deep voice, not a muscle moving in his face, his eyes may flick upward to meet mine or they may not. To all appearances, he’s sitting there like a rock, unfeeling, begrudging in his attention to passers by. But I’m unwilling to believe these outer appearances, for I know that sometimes people who look dead on the outside can be quite alive on the inside. They may be unable, for a physical reason or an emotional one, to show their aliveness, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Birthday Party

This is a response to a celebration prompt I wrote awhile back.
Usually I don't use this blog to post bits of my own memoir, but I felt compelled to share this.
This very cottage my brother is in the process of selling, so I spent more time there this year than I have in years. 
Writing from photographs is extremely powerful. I cannot promote it enough. It seems like such a simple thing to suggest, but still profound. Not just about the photograph. Put yourself back IN it.
Ironically, I can't find this photograph right now. As I wrote it during class, I didn't write from the actual photo in front of me. And now, as I go to post it, I cannot find it. But it is clear in my mind.
However, the photo above is about how old I was in the photo from the party.
It’s an annual event. Every July, the month before Bapa was born, we gather at the cottage. Sometimes I bring friends, as I have been doing all summer. Often there are chosen family there – mom’s best buddies from Kindergarten and college, and their kids, who are the closest things to cousins we think we have.

In one photograph, I am next to Bapa. He is shirtless and tiny, even though he was still only in his seventies. I am surprised at his slenderness, at how worn he looks. He will live another 18 years after this picture, but you wouldn’t know it by the image. He has his ever-famous cigarette – non-filter Pall Mall’s – suspended from between his middle and forefinger. The ash, as ever, is longer than what remains to smoke.