Gathering ‘Round Our Grief

IMG_1447This cabin in the woods is empty now, but on two rainy days in early June it embraced twenty-four souls who gathered together to write their hard stories, the ones they can’t share with just anyone. Sometimes not even themselves. Not quite yet.

When I preach, “It’s the sharing of our stories that saves us,” I mean it, whether you whisper your story to yourself, mail it to your Uncle Bud, or shout it out for the world.

Not everyone who came to write with us during the 2018 Haden Institute Dream and Spirituality Conference at Kanuga shared aloud what they’d written. They didn’t have to, and that was part of the deal.

“Come write,” I say to anyone who will listen. “That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to say a word if you aren’t moved to do so.”

Even that—the writing—is, of course, challenging. I tell clients that writing is as hard, and as easy, as “Just do it.”

After we wrote in response to prompts in the little cabin, when I asked for readers, three women sitting together would, all at once as if they had practiced, shift their eyes toward the floor. Like synchronized swimmers. They made it clear they didn’t want to speak. I didn’t compel or cajole or criticize. I let them be.

Later, two of the ladies would tell me they just couldn’t talk, but that afterwards, in the privacy of their room in the lodge or on a bench by the lake, the words—and the tears—came. They were grateful, they said, and I reminded them that they had done the work. All I did was invite them to try, make the space as safe as I could, and remind them they are not alone. That’s one of the best things sharing our stories can do: Connect us to others—those who grieve just like we do—which is everyone, if they’re honest. All of us have it, that thing that threatens to silence us and prevent us from engaging fully with the life that remains. The life that is.

You might miss your father, dead some twenty years, while the person next to you in the grocery checkout mourns the children he never had. Your neighbor regrets marrying her husband, and your yoga instructor hasn’t spoken to her sister in three years. We’ve all got something.

My goal is not to force people to dwell on what might have been or is no more. Instead, I encourage people to put into words those tender parts of life so that they might gain a little perspective, perhaps. Make a little space in which they can take a breath between the loss and the present day in order to better absorb and honor the gap. We live more fully when we take it all in, even the loss. Maybe especially the loss. I am among those who believe our greatest gifts are uncovered in our greatest tenderness, those places we hesitate to touch for fear something might break loose. Famous people have said it better than I can, like Henri Nouwen:

“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not ‘How can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?’ When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.” (henrinouwen.org)

I believe that “service to others” begins with our willingness to connect to our fellow pilgrims through our hard stories. Heartache to heartache, soul to soul. Story to story.

Upon Waking: Week Two of The Artist’s Way

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I’m two weeks in with The Artist’s Way Workbook, and have done my morning pages every day except for one. Not sure why I forgot that day, but I got right back to it the next morning and I’m glad for the practice. It’s helping me unload some nighttime/early rising thoughts, and providing a sense of both inspiration and accomplishment. I’m not reviewing the pages or belaboring the content, per the instructions, just writing and releasing. I can’t say it necessarily alleviates all that weighs on me, but it’s helping, this practice, and it’s even revealed a couple of story ideas for The Big Project I’m working on.

I’ve taken two Artist Dates, one to garage sales in search of art supplies—found a great drop cloth and paints—and another for a walk, during which the aim was not exercise but nature observation. Captured a few pictures and collected some acorns and horse apples and such. This is not earth-shattering blog content, I realize. But The Artist’s Way is equipping me for building a foundation upon which to rededicate myself to the writing life, a life I have fought against with jobs that don’t suit me and depression that threatens to stifle my efforts and betray my confidence.

“You must love to write and bear the loneliness,” says Robert McKee in Story. “But the love of a good story, of terrific characters and a world driven by your passion, courage, and creative gifts is still not enough. Your goal must be a good story well told.”

How Many Books on Writing Does a Writer Need?

In preparation for my upcoming stint as an adjunct professor and writer in residence at the Earlham School of Religion, I’m making my way through all my writing books, to see what I can glean that might be of interest and benefit to the students. I thought about counting how many books I had on the topic, but at about number thirty-eight I became embarrassed because  I know, like many of you, that there comes a time in a writer’s life when he has to put down the how-to books and resist the urge to plan yet another trip to a writing conference, and simply, well, write. But we also know it’s not simple. Anything I can to help another person learn to call herself “writer,” I want to do. So I’m starting with my vast library, and I plan to pick out what I think are the juiciest parts and share them with my students. For now, though, I’ll be posting some of them here, in the hopes that you might let me know which resources you rely on most for your work. In the end, I’ll pass along the books I no longer need. Sooner or later I’ll feel compelled to buy some more anyway…

From May Sarton, in A Self-Portrait (Norton, 1982):

“It’s thought and feeling together, this is what makes the poem for me, when you can think and feel at white heat.”

“You have to be willing, as Yeats says, ‘there’s more enterprise in going naked.’ You finally do have to give something terribly intimate and secret of yourself to the world and not care because you have to believe that what you have to say is important enough.”

Interview with Cool People Care

The fine folks over at Cool People Care (CPC) were kind enough to interview me about the power of storytelling. CPC does great work, and they exist to make a difference. Check them out if you’re not familiar with this forward-thinking group.

CPC: You say that “it’s the telling of our stories that saves us.” What do you mean by that?
Wilson: The guiding principle for my work is my belief that it is the sharing of our stories that saves us. By this I mean that we need to be reminded we are not alone. Be it in good times or bad, commiseration or celebration. Humanity is best served when we are willing to unlock our hearts for one another, and one way we can do that is by offering up our individual stories to our families, friends, and communities, and, if appropriate, the world.

You can read more here: http://www.coolpeoplecare.org/its-time-to-share-our-stories/