So many people walk around this earth with no idea
how to communicate their gifts to the world.
But you, dear writer, have already found your language.
Now it’s simply time to trust YOUR voice.
With love and total belief in you,
I have been writing about grief for my upcoming book, Six Healing Questions: A Gentle Path to Facing Childhood Loss of a Parent. During the process, I wrote heartfelt stories about the early loss of my parents and the grieving or lack of grieving that followed. My motivation for including personal stories is to help others who have experienced similar early loss.
During writing class, I have told these stories out loud numerous times without a tear. Yet, to my surprise, writing these vignettes continued to break my heart. When I described the last time I saw my mother alive, I cried as if it had happened recently. One side of me welcomed this as cathartic. Another voice in my head was appalled. Can I still be crying over what happened so many years ago? My answer to my chagrined self was, “I guess so.” The hackneyed phrase, “why cry over spilled milk,” kept intruding in my psyche.
I kept writing and kept my box of tissues close. What I learned was it got easier. I also learned that my inner child still needed tenderness. I imagined her sweet eyes looking up at me and accepting my love. After all the personal work I had done, it became clear that my child still needed care.
It is getting easier to share the stories without tears. I am more accepting of feeling the occasional emotional tug and not afraid of shedding a tear. Never being a crier, this has been a challenge. I now find that crying is good for me, and I plan to do as much as needed going forward. Not crying is a hard habit to break. I may need a bigger supply of tissues. I study my tissue box with blue and white stars and think of how cute it is.
For us non-criers in the world, I think we really are criers. Something has stopped us. The same person who told us not to cry over spilled milk likely told us other things to shut us up or maybe to help us move on. Who knows? They were wrong. Damn! I’m getting over this and plan to cry when I want to. Hoping you will join me in protest and cry too.
When I was in fourth grade, I was inspired by The Bailey School Kids series to write mysteries on index cards. But as soon as I hit double digits, the form of writing took on a new shape; the words created puzzle pieces that I desperately wanted to put together to understand the realities in life. Years of therapeutic writing has helped me face how my innocence was taken away–an innocence that left through two family divorces and when those closest to me tragically left this world. Writing about these negative situations enabled me to see my strength, so I could deal with and grow from them.
In college, I had the opportunity to explore with Therapeutic Uses of Writing courses, directed by Dr. Allan Hunter. Hunter saw therapeutic writing as self-exploration. He offered exercises that allowed us to process emotions. Some exercises rooted from different stages in our lives such as childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. On more than one occasion we listened to Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. Next, we’d draw and write about our own Jabberwocky, a current struggle in our lives. It wasn’t until the third semester, the last part of this class, that the Jabberwocky represented a past struggle for me. I could no longer keep silent. It was unusual to lie to myself in my writing, but I had done it, dancing around the truth in journal entries and poetry. Going around in class we described our monsters. I soothed my throat with water and announced, “I was molested by my ex-brother-in-law” for the first time.
For my written reflection on this exercise, I closed the shades in my mother’s basement, zippered myself in a hooded sweatshirt and kept a pool stick nearby for protection. I had to do this alone but felt as though I was wrong, even with a classroom full of support. Though therapeutic writing is beneficial for processing emotions, it can re-traumatize, which is what I experienced as I re-visited details in my piece: “The turning of the doorknob is persistent and more upsetting to hear than anything else. The young naked girl in the mirror backs herself into a nook between the cabinet and towel rack.”
Before I knew it, warm tears pushed their way up and out of my eyes. I needed to pause, bend my knees in the chair and self-rock.
“I don’t see it as an act of bravery in the moment but looking back, using judgment to lock myself in was the best thing I could’ve done for myself.”
I did find a slice of peace knowing that when something bad was looming, intuition and self-care were present.
A few years later, I realized that my written reflection acted as a catalyst that strengthened my voice as I peeled back my trauma even more. I tricked myself into thinking that the bathroom scene was the most difficult layer of the truth, but it was the scene I hadn’t processed that was the most frightening: the beginning. So here I was, in the nook of a local library by the window challenging the damn Jabberwocky again, four years after college. Just as I did the first time I wrote about my Jabberwocky, I shut out the light. The irony of being in a nook, albeit a safe nook this time, did not go unnoticed.
I was not attached to a pool stick or hooded sweatshirt for protection. I only had my mind, my laptop and my iPod for support. Once Microsoft Word opened its blank document, I marched right back into my fear. “Stop running. This is where I turn and get angry the most; the rawness I never want to type and see.” With ears under headphones, I couldn’t hear the pounding of fingers on the keyboard, but I felt the anger coming through them, leaving my body:
“I am cross-legged on the couch. We are one seat width apart when his hand moves up my chest. Soon after that, his fingers wander where they shouldn’t. Then there’s pressure–very uncomfortable pressure. When I was older I realized it is the same poking and pushing sensation that a woman feels when visiting her gynecologist. I’m sure I’m one of the very few who cry on the exam table when getting a pap smear.”
Each word pushed out in the open was a punch to my Jabberwocky, each paragraph another defeat that I felt less and less wrong about.
“Sitting on the couch, I internally scream. He shouldn’t be the first person exploring my body, even before I’ve explored it! My eyes never leave the screen, nor does the rest of my body move; my head remains straight ahead. The characters on Roseanne stand in the kitchen arguing.
I keep watching, though not really seeing.”
I paused once and skimmed over what poured out of my body and onto the screen. Dr. Hunter taught us to pay attention to language in our writing because it can tell us how we are doing. For example, writing from a place of observation with questions can help problem solve and comes from a Conscious Voice. Words like should, ever, and judgmental phrases echo what he calls a Parent Voice, while “I don’t care,” wishes and desires echo a Child’s Voice. I noticed where the child in me showed her anger, and yet, writing the scene almost like a journalist did help compartmentalize from a distance, even if only moments after being in the fight with the Jabberwocky. As I finished skimming, I felt present, exhausted, and no longer like prey. I finally took back
While writing has been medicine to transform fear into courage, writing the scenes does not erase them. Being a raw writer means carrying the feathers of truth and the weight of truth. Being a raw writer breaks the mold of what is right to write.
What is your Jabberwocky?
BellaBianca Lynn takes her Life List, including riding a Ferris wheel and chasing fireflies, very seriously! Her love for movement and learning follows her constantly–who says you can’t shimmy your shoulders and practice Italian while driving? Lynn has taken many yoga teacher training courses and is 500-hour certified with a focus on Therapeutic Essentials. She has taught Yin Yoga as well as Yoga for Anxiety and Depression. Her essays and poetry have appeared in the American Dance Therapy Association, Belly Dance New England, Boston Seniority, and Eunoia Review. A recipient of the Poetry Award and Freshman Essay Contest from Curry College, she weaves her creative and non-fiction writing into the art of belly dance and yoga practice. BellaB resides in Massachusetts. For more of her work visit: https://bellabiancalynn.com/
Photos courtesy of BellaBianca Lynn.
My seven-year-old grandson, Beckett, knows the name of my book. I don’t remember ever talking about it with him. Maybe he heard a relative asking about my writing pursuits during the holidays. Wherever he heard it, listening to him say it made me feel more accountable than anything else has in months.
We were going through photos on my iPad to distract his five-year-old sister Emerson—who was having what seemed like the worst day of her life—because she found out that Beckett got a milkshake at lunch while she was at preschool. Never mind that we all got frozen yogurt after we picked her up. He had gotten something she hadn’t, and that was just plain wrong.
The photos had a magical effect. The sobs were stifled. She was mesmerized by seeing herself in so many pictures. Backward through time. Watching them shrink. The majority of photos I take are of my grandchildren. Followed by, in order of volume, pictures of Scotland in the summer and photos from other trips. No pictures of food, no selfies.
Once in a while, I grab a photo of something because I’d like to have a copy of it. Sometime in the last few years, someone brought a hand-out to my writing group that they had received at a workshop at San Diego Writers, Ink. It was about query letters. I had taken a picture of it so I could study it later.
Beckett is an advanced reader for his age. I know he was read to from the time he was a baby, but I think the ubiquitous billboards in Los Angeles helped. The world’s largest flash cards.
He saw the headline and asked, “What’s a query letter?”
“It’s a letter you send to someone when you want them to publish your book.”
“Has your book been published? Hair on Fire?”
I felt my face getting red, hearing him say the title of my book.
“No, I haven’t finished it.”
“I don’t really know why not.”
“Well, you should.” This was ambiguous to me. Should I know why? Or should I finish? You always hear people say you should do things for yourself, not for others. But I want to be who this precious and precocious little boy thinks I am.
The moment passed, and we kept going on our reverse journey. I have almost 2,000 pictures. There would be more, but I winnow from time to time to avoid having to pay for iCloud storage.
We finally reached the end. The first photo I ever took with my phone was Beckett at about three months, sleeping in a carrier.
“Where am I?” asked Emerson, still sensitive to being left out.
“You weren’t here then.”
“Because your part of the story hadn’t started yet.”
They both wandered off after I refused to let them watch YouTube videos on the iPad. I sat there staring at the screen, wondering… when am I going to start to finish my story?
Andrea Moser spent 35 years writing for other people and organizations, from elected officials and civic leaders to universities and non-profits. These days, she is animating the characters who inhabit her first novel, Hair on Fire. She is an avid theater-goer, in San Diego and in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she has been attending the annual Fringe Festival for 20 years.
Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/3287788
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