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Ellie: Writing Has the Power to Heal

For many years, I kept a journal. Almost daily, I would write and write about everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. I kept these journals for nearly 12 years. Recently, I was looking back over them, and it hit me: I stopped writing at just about the same time that my life began to unravel.

I’m a recovering alcoholic, and those pages chronicled a journey I didn’t even know I was on: a slow, spiraling descent into alcoholism. I stopped writing when I didn’t want to tell myself the truth anymore, when the words on the page were too ugly and stark. I didn’t want to face my burgeoning problem, so I simply stopped writing. It wasn’t as if I was writing about drinking—quite the contrary, in fact. The evidence appeared on the page nonetheless, though, in the form of tear stained pages, illegible handwriting, and rants about things I couldn’t remember doing the next day.

There is one entry, though, that hit me like a punch in the gut. I wrote it in 1997, 10 full years before I stopped drinking. It said: “I feel like I’m standing on the edge of something dark and powerful. If I’m not careful it will swallow me whole.” I knew at the time I was writing about drinking, but something about actually writing the words—I think I have a problem with alcohol—breathed life into my problem, turned it into something real. Shortly after this entry I stopped writing completely.

I find myself now, over two and a half years sober, writing to breathe life back into me.

I started a personal blog last May, with the intention of promoting my little handmade jewelry business. I envisioned a few quippy entries about Life in the Craft Lane … that sort of thing. I had no idea it would morph into reflections about life, recovery, addiction. All I knew is that once I started writing about it, the words poured out—writing brought emotions to the surface I didn’t know I was having until I saw them there on the page. I was healing, and I was inviting the world along for the ride.

This sparked an idea I made a reality about two weeks ago. I launched a new blog, called Crying Out Now. I wanted a platform that could bring writing and recovery together. My first thought was a book, a compilation of stories by women, mothers, who struggled with addiction and who were now sober. But a problem remained: how on Earth do you get people to tell you their story? How do you get them to trust you enough? And then there was the very real problem of identity. Most people in recovery aren’t open about it. The whole process is shrouded in secrecy and anonymity, and for good reason. Very few people want the world to know about their struggles with addiction, particularly women, and most particularly mothers.

But what about a blog? A place where women can come dump their struggles and triumphs—on the internet, where you can hide behind a digital identity of your choosing. I had no idea if it would work, but I thought it was worth a shot. I created the blog, tweeted about it, facebooked about it, blogged about it. Through the power of social media the response was immediate, and overwhelming—in a good way. It turns out people were aching to tell their stories—sometimes to metabolize struggles, sometimes to trumpet victories. A place where they can feel the healing power of writing, as well as receive the immediate gratification of hearing peoples’ responses right away.

I was clear about the rules: you don’t need to be a writer to contribute. You can create an anonymous e-mail account and submit your story without fear of discovery. You don’t even need to be sober. You just need to tell your truth. Just write it down. Make it real.

Many of the stories are beautifully written. Some are not. It doesn’t matter. People who have never, ever spoken to another person about some of the darkest, life changing moments of their lives are writing about it. Most send e-mails to me afterwards, telling me they feel cleansed, validated, loved.

We are healing together.

Stop on by, if you’d like: www.cryingoutnow.com.

Kelly: Memory Making for Mermaids

I was out for lunch today when I pulled up next to an old Ford Pinto. Wow, what memories. I couldn’t help but smile. And I also couldn’t believe that there was still a Ford Pinto on the road! When I was growing up, my mom had a red Pinto. Two particular memories jumped out at me. When I was 12 and my sister was 2, my parents divorced, and Mom, Kim, and I moved to Orange Park to be near my Nana and Granddaddy. We were driving down Blanding Blvd (which was three-lane at the time…one northbound, one southbound, and one turn lane…today it’s seven lanes), and Mom hit a dog that was following a little boy riding his bike. I remember her being devastated, far more devastated than the little boy. She stopped and picked up the dog, put it in the trunk of that Pinto and followed the little boy home on his bike. Kim and I stayed in the car when we got to the little boy’s house, so I don’t remember what happened from there, just that Mom cried for quite some time that day. She would have been 32. Years later, I learned how she felt. A few years after DH and I got married, I hit a kitten coming home from class one night, and I cried for days. I was right about 32.

The second memory was far more fun. I think I was about 13, so Kim would have been 3. Mom was trying to take me to school and Kim to Nana’s for the day so she could go to work, but the Pinto wouldn’t start. She got out of the car, beyond frustrated, and Kim and I followed. She kicked the car and said, and I remember this soooo clearly, “This f*#%ing car isn’t worth a s*^t!” Kim looked at Mom and then kicked the car and repeated word for word what she said. That was the first and last time I ever heard my mother cuss.

Isn’t it interesting what memories stick with us? I honestly don’t have a lot of early childhood memories; I wish I did. Most of the memories I do have revolve around my Nana since I spent so much time with her, like the time we visited Aunt Livy and Uncle Wilbur in Key West when I was 7 or 8 and Nana discovered that I was a sleepwalker. I went to the mall that night, sitting on the end of the bed pretending to drive and then walking down the hallway to Sears, Nana told me. (I still sleepwalk and now tend to move furniture and groceries in my sleep, go figure.) I also learned how to play penny ante poker that week. My Nana and Aunt Livy were card sharks, and I still love to play poker today. DH is a very sore loser and says Aunt Livy and I cheat. And at 88, she just grins at him and hands me a card under the table…naw….just kidding…sort of. ;-)

Before my parents divorced, Mom worked all day as a nurse, and Dad often worked two jobs, one of which was at Sears selling appliances. I know they did their best, and I’m thankful for the determination and independence they created in me. I want to create determination and independence in my girls as well, and I’m hopeful that I’m also creating lots of memories for them. I want them to remember these days. Maybe that’s one of the benefits of blogging; hopefully they’ll be able to go back and read these stories and they’ll spark memories.

Right now, the girls and I are taking an online class together called Mermaid Warriors. It’s with McCabe Russell, and we’re loving it. McCabe works with young girls using art to help build self-esteem, and she’s taking us through her class with wonderful videos and a discussion blog. One of the things I want to do with the Purple Cottage is mother/daughter art retreats combined with lessons in self-knowledge, self-esteem and good citizenship, and when I stumbled across McCabe’s blog and class that teaches you how to do just that, I knew the Universe was speaking to me! (I’m slowly learning to listen to her.)

This weekend, the girls had a friend sleep over and we created our first Mermaid Warrior project together, these fun little journals out of scrapbook paper and ribbon. We had so much fun! DH even pitched in where we’d let him. It was a girls-only event after all. ;-) I took some video of the girls creating their books and talking about what they wrote in them. If I can ever figure out how to create a movie, I’ll share it with you (anyone point me to a good tutorial?). They’ve since continued to write in them and add stickers and drawings. They even created journals for their primary teacher and their art teacher and are so proud of their work. I know we’re on to something here. :-) More Mermaid Warrior projects coming. Don’t you just love that name? Perfect for us, don’t you think?

Cross-posted from my personal blog….

Robin: For Her, My Turn Revisited

A year ago, I wrote about the baby steps I took to move into living a more creative life.

I am amazed at how quickly time has flown. Many people toss around the words “what are you waiting for?” and to be fair many reasons can be found for not taking on a COMPLETE transformation from the life you live now to the life you want to live. However, I cannot say enough how much I BELIEVE that while Yes we have the tenacity to made big changes in our lives, ONE STEP AT A TIME, community is something that should not be devalued. I know that had I not had one in my corner coaxing me toward something that I was afraid of seeing on my own, I do not think I would have moved MUCH. I could have quit quite easily with no one being the wiser.

Even now, 1 year later, with my dear mentor thousands of miles away, I found that I have just the right amount of encouragement in the tank to continue to notice sparks of innovation and inspiration and MOVE into it. The rhythms of a year with someone experienced in noticing that sort of flash of life is priceless.

And then of course, I am more adept and helping my little one swim in the creativity current. While mommy learned to put her own oxygen mask on, she also learned how to help her offspring thrive. So it’s my turn, her turn, my turn

Brittany: This Writer’s Life, Straight Out of a Horror Flick

You already know about my thing for vampires. But lately, I’ve been feeling more like Dr. Frankenstein.

You know that scene where the doctor’s monster comes to life and he says, “It’s alive!!!”? Well, that’s me.

I’ve created a monster, too.

I want to go on record again as saying that I had no intention whatsoever of starting another novel. I packed up my previously finished novel into a bin in the attic and decided I just wasn’t going to fool with writing and publishing right now. I was going to be a mommy, and mommy my heart out. It was much too hard to balance writing and motherhood, and darn it, I wasn’t playing anymore. I was packing up my toys and going home.

And then one day in the mini-van, while I was trying to block out the ever-present Wiggles, this character appeared in my head, and then this other character appeared, and suddenly this plot was unraveling, and I thought to myself, “Yeah, yeah…that’s nice. Now shut up.” But they wouldn’t shut up. So I thought, “Well, there’s no harm in writing the idea down…” So I wrote the idea down. And then I started thinking of scenes to write. And I said to myself, “The boys are napping. I have a few minutes. There’s no harm in writing them down…” And I wrote them down. Soon I had so many scenes written that I thought, “I really ought to put these in order.” I put them in order. Then I thought of stuff to write between the scenes. And things to research. And people to interview… And then yesterday, I finished my novel.

Imagine my surprise.

Now, when I say finished, I don’t mean finished. It’s a mess. It’s a monster made up of a skeleton (with lots of vertebra missing), loosely held together by some scraps of muscle and tissue, and, if they ever saw it, mobs of editors and publishers would run it right out of town with flames and pitchforks.

However, it does have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The characters (and their relationship) make sense. Their story is interesting. And, even better still, I’ve written the story I wanted to write.

This was not the case with my previous novel, or any other story I’ve written before.

I used to subscribe to the choose-you-own-adventure method of novel plotting, as well as the write-the-entire-story-chronologically-and-if-you-get-stuck-stare-at-a-blank-screen-and-blinking-cursor-indefinitely method of composition. And that got me nowhere.

I was like that idiot girl in the horror movie who stumbles blindly into the dark basement where the monster is lurking. Or, to continue my monster metaphor ad nauseum, it was like slowly unwrapping a mummy (a stinky undead dude with a bad attitude), but hoping that it was really Brad Pitt under a lot of gift-wrapping. It’s obvious now why writing was so frustrating for me.

I needed to get to know my monsters. (Or, as people who aren’t beating a metaphor to death would say, I needed to abandon any preconceived notions I had about writing and try something scary and unpredictable.)

What’s funny about this is that people who know me would say “scary and predictable” aren’t words in my vocabulary. I am probably the most risk-averse person I know. I am so type-A, that in new situations, I actually plot out several different scenarios so that I’m prepared to deal with every impending uncertainty at any given moment.

Just based on my personality, I should be the extensive-outlining type. I am the *last* person that non-linear anything should work for.

But in a few short months, I have written the framework of a novel that has real potential. And that framework supports my desire to be present for the boys and mother them but still write when I can.

It’s such a great feeling, it’s scary.

Your blog post here

Blogging mamas! A quick note to sound the horn for cross-posts. Do you have something tasty in your archives that merits a fresh posting here at Studio Mothers? I’m sure that many of you have written with frequency on the topics of motherhood and creativity (and those topics need not be intertwined within the same post). Our audience grows every day, and sharing your personal blogs is a gift to everyone. You don’t need to be an ongoing Studio Mothers contributor, either.

If you don’t have a WordPress account, or you don’t want to fuss with yet another content management system, I’m happy to grab your posts myself and post them here. If you have something in mind, send a link — or better yet, a list of links! — to creativereality@live.com. Alternatively, if you’re already a Studio Mothers contributor, you can post your piece to the WordPress CMS and let me know that it’s ready. Don’t forget to include a link back to your personal blog!

Miranda: What makes you happy?

Do you know — and can you list right now — the things that really make you happy?

I recently read Gretchen Rubin’s interesting bestseller The Happiness Project. In this self-described “stunt” book, Gretchen spends a year systematically working to become a happier person and to understand the nature of happiness. Gretchen frames her journey in a way that facilitates the reader’s self-reflection without becoming a workbook. At the end of the year, Gretchen decides that she is in fact happier — and perhaps, most importantly, has become more aligned with her #1 Personal Commandment to “Be Gretchen.”

In addition to her Twelve Personal Commandments and her secrets of adulthood, Gretchen arrives at Four Splendid Truths. The first Splendid Truths is: To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

I gave this some thought. Gretchen points out that we often fall into the trap of subscribing to things that make other people happy, thinking that those things should make us happy, too. Many people love good food and dining out, for example. Gretchen doesn’t. Accepting this truth is important. Why invest hours in a doll collection that is “supposed” to make you feel happy when in fact nothing about dolls resonates with you? Or taking your kids to the zoo when you really hate zoos?

I enjoyed Gretchen’s book a lot, although I found myself frequently wondering how she managed to read as many books as she did and where her children were while she worked. Her older daughter was in elementary school, but her younger daughter seemed to be barely a toddler when Gretchen started her project — and while Gretchen spent many hours reading, researching, blogging, thinking, and writing, I never figured out where the little one was during that time. Babysitter? Daycare? Of course, as a blogging writer/mother, I was eager to know how these logistics were taken care of. At one point Gretchen decides to take her older daughter out for an occasional after-school one-on-one adventure, although she struggles internally with giving up the work time. So it sounds like there was fulltime coverage for the little one. Not sure why, but given the level of detail that Gretchen shares about how she accomplished her project, I couldn’t understand this oversight. (Maybe I just missed where Gretchen spoke to childcare — if you caught something, please share!)

Naturally, Gretchen’s story prompted me to think about my own desire to be happy. While I don’t seek happiness so much as contentment, I started thinking about what kinds of things really make me feel good, bad, and right, “in an atmosphere of growth.” The growth part is important, because sometimes you have to push outside your comfort zone in order to find something new that makes you happy. The trick is being able to figure out which initially uncomfortable pursuits lead you away from being yourself, and which might end up bringing you closer.

So, what makes me feel good? What are the things that I can actually DO that make me feel good? When I first sat down to make the list, I was a little taken aback when I could only come up with 3 or 4 things. Since then, however, the list has grown:

  • Reading books
  • Reading blogs about creativity and motherhood
  • Reading about time-management and domestic organization
  • Reading most anything (lol)
  • Taking photographs
  • Making things
  • Doing crossword puzzles
  • Writing poetry
  • Blogging
  • Being outside
  • Dancing
  • Baking
  • Doing right by my children
  • Reading aloud with my kids or my husband
  • Making connections between other people
  • Feeling prepared (planning, organizing, anticipating, thinking through the details)

I can’t help but notice that writing — as in, working on my novel and my nonfiction book project — isn’t on the list. What does that mean? Does that kind of writing just feel too much like “work” to make me feel good? I could say that it feels good when I’m writing and the words are really flowing and I’m not in control, but putting “visits from the muse” on my list seemed too far afield of anything actionable. You’ll also note that “running” isn’t on the list, even though I ran a half-marathon last year and subscribe to the transformative power of running. The truth is, I have never been excited about running, even though I have come to see it as a necessary evil.

What makes me feel bad?

  • Domestic chaos (this is a big one for me — chaos makes me very unhappy)
  • Being late (which I often am)
  • Feeling like I let my kids down
  • Being disconnected to my husband
  • Taking on more than I can handle (uhm, yeah)
  • Letting too much time elapse between creative stints
  • Eating sugar
  • Being overdue for exercise

When do I feel “right”?

  • Choosing to be vegetarian even though it isn’t always convenient or fun
  • Deciding not to share something gossipy even though the sharing might seem like connection-building
  • Biting my tongue when I’m confident that I’m “right” about something factual and the other person is wrong (no point in arguing about something unimportant, is there?)

What about you? What makes you feel good, bad, and right? Where do creativity and motherhood fit into your lists? Are you able to do those things on a daily basis?

I’ll be writing more about The Happiness Project, and about living a life of intention — which is my latest objective. I may not be able to control the way life unfolds, but I can apply my intentions to whatever happens. In the broadest sense, for me happiness lies in honoring my intentions. This requires real clarity on what those intentions are. (Hence my new planner.)

Learn more about Gretchen’s project at her blog. You can also start your own happiness project.

Robin: Motherhood–An Invitation to Whimsy

This is not my first time here. This place called motherhood. While carrying one in my belly I was preparing for one to walk a high school graduation stage in a matter of months. Surely, I was well equipped to go through the phases and stages that motherhood holds; it was not that long ago.

But… something was different. A number of things really. I was 20 the first time; this time I was rounding out 37. The first one was a boy, this time I was blessed with a little girl. Possibly the realization that this will be the last time I hold a babe that comes from my body. More so, I recognize that as she grows, I am experiencing these inner tuggings of the girl I used to be but whom I had long ago lost touch with. I feel the emotions about art and beauty and color that she feels with the intensity she seems to feel it. But I had forgotten.

I am midway through year two of CHOOSING to live a more whimsical life. More often than not, we are in the midst of two art projects while preparing to go experience some sort of nature walk or find some new adventure in a library book. I do not know how else my life would have progressed to this particular place other than through my giving myself permission to go here. To REINVENT. To OPEN UP. To BELIEVE THAT whimsy is ageless and timeless. And so I did. And I KNOW, the three of us — yes I do add my oldest back into the equation — are the better for it.

Robin Norgren is a military wife and mother. Her most recent hats include growing as a fiber artist and placing her toes in the home-school water through integrating children’s literature with creativity. She is mom to 2 and step-mom to 1, ages 21, 17, and 4. She has been married 7 years to a guy who loves serving in the military (Navy) and is determined to take his family on his adventures whenever possible. The family currently reside in Ramstein, Germany. Learn more at Robin’s etsy shop and Robin’s personal blog.

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