Writing Therapy.

“And even though their son will always be alive in their hearts, like Pammy and my dad will be alive in mine- and maybe this is the only way we ever really have anyone-there is still something to be said for painting portraits of the people we have loved, for trying to express those moments that seem so inexpressibly beautiful, the ones that change us and deepen us.”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
I found the poem I shared yesterday written on the back side of a scrap of watercolor paper, a painting I had begun that I destroyed entirely with too much of the wrong color. On Sunday evening I finally decided to clean out a bag full of things I had taken home with me that week before Christmas, when I knew that this was my last journey home to her. So many things were in that bag. Christmas cards, sympathy cards, receipts from the hospital cafe, a copy of mom’s obituary, a Vogue that I flipped through mindlessly because I couldn’t bring myself to read the novel I brought, scraps of paintings that never turned out, scraps of writings from spare moments when fairly cohesive thoughts broke through my sadness.
Two months later, I don’t even remember writing that poem. Was I in the hospital? Was I at home? Late at night or early in the day? Before or after she slipped and fell and hit her head on the cold bathroom tile and all the nurses came rushing in at once and I cried, but she didn’t?
I left all of that out, but the emotion is there.
I’ve found bits and pieces of these experiences all over the place, scribbled on napkins and receipts and work notes. Like finding all the outer edges of a 500-piece puzzle I’ve been gathering them, trying to fit them together to keep the memories alive. Because sometimes, yes, I have to ask,

Did that really happen?

It did.
And she’s gone.
But she’s still with me.
Reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird has been very much like going to see my therapist, except that Lamott is like the therapist for my writing psyche. She tells me to write thoughts as they come to me on index cards or in a notebook. I think for a long moment about all of my notebooks and scraps of paper.
“Oh yeah… I guess that’s what I’ve been doing, in a way.”
“Good,” she smiles. “That’s normal for a writer, whatever that means.”

On Writing : Louis CK Interviewed on NPR

The following is a quote from comedian Louis CK in an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air from a couple of weeks ago. I found this bit about script writing especially insightful. Louis had decided to write an episode for his FX series, Louie, based on some of his fellow comedians, in which a friend has informed him that he has decided to commit suicide. Louis wrote the episode mere months before his friend and fellow comedian Patrice O’Neal died of complications from diabetes.

Gross : Have you been in that position where somebody’s told you that they want to kill themselves and you have to decide what are you supposed to do with that?

C.K. : Well, it’s a scary thing to ponder, you know, but it’s emotional to hear that clip now because, I mean, I wrote that about a lot of comedians I knew coming up and comedy and show business are very cruel and they don’t have a nice way of saying no or good-bye, you know? And a lot of guys live really tough lives in this racket.

And I’ve known a lot of them and come up with some of them and some have made it, some haven’t. And, you know, the idea of somebody saying to you look me in the eye and tell me I have a reason to live, it’s terrifying to think, well, what if I fail them in that moment?…

And, you know, it’s just funny because I have such a different perspective on that issue of, like, someone’s not taking care of themselves. Someone’s not keeping themselves safe, and what is your role in that? And the anger I feel towards Doug in that scene is the kind of anger I feel about Patrice now that he’s gone. So it’s interesting to look back on it because the thing – the place I took myself in that scene, as I was writing it, I didn’t know where it was going. I knew I wanted to stand on that street and have him give me that news and I didn’t know where I wanted it to go. So I started writing to him my argument why not to kill yourself, and as I was writing it I realized for this argument to succeed would be really gross. For me to, like, be the guy who gives him the reason to live is so self-serving.

And the fact that I was even attempting it on paper, I was embarrassed alone in a room. And so the way that I – the path I found to the truth of the scene for me was having Doug be the one to tell me how full of crap I was for trying it. So in other words, as I was sitting there typing here’s why you shouldn’t kill yourself, I stopped and said to myself, oh my god. Congratulations, you pig. You know, who do you think you are? And so then I had Doug basically say that.

I think the quote speaks for itself, but I will say that this is something I contemplate often. In my younger years of writing, I felt afraid of writing what I know, afraid that if I wrote it, it might not be the truth because it’s just me and my perspective. Yet, I have this desperation to write and life as I experience it only spurs me toward writing more. I have to tell this story, I think to myself. How do I tell it truthfully? Will others understand what I mean by what I write?

But the truth is what you know when you’re writing in a room alone. It’s what you uncover, beneath layers of drafts and words and ideas, once you sit down. It is scary because it is real. Don’t be afraid to write the truth.

Readership Doesn’t Determine Writership.

I’ve been churning out poetry and journal entries like a human word mill, but when it comes to writing prose I’ve been struggling. I write with a feeling that I come close, but I miss the mark. The head of the nail is far away from where my words land. Poetry so adequately touches my emotions in that deep place where the logic and structure of prose do not fit. I dwell in that place right now. Memories fill my thoughts. Words and rhythms come naturally, lull me to sleep when the practicality of life feels burdensome and scary.
If you don’t believe me, I can send you a screen shot of the 47 different TextEdit windows that lay open and waiting with half written posts in them. I can tell you that the only things that feel accomplished and complete to me are the six [count them! 6!] poems I’ve drafted in the last two weeks. This is record breaking, but also upside down and backwards to my usual pace and direction and orientation of writing.
I’ve been worrying and nibbling off all of my finger nails over the idea that my blog isn’t a plethora of “Top 10 Ways to Blahblahblah” and that my daily blog readership is approximately 38 percent more than the number of people that actually respond to what I write.
No more.
I’ve given myself a manicure and moved on. Because here is the thing that consoles and motivates me :


My readership doesn’t determine my writership.


I am a writer, first and foremost. My blog is a medium for my writing, not the other way around.
Most blogs are prose, pieces of advice for learning how to build SEO in order to become the next piece-of-advice giver. That works for some people. It’s garnered 30,000 readers and an e-book publication for them. Congratulations.
I say that without sarcasm or disdain or jealousy.
I say that with gratitude for the encouragement and useful information that continue to guide my journey as a writer.
And I say that with the knowledge that it isn’t for me.
I may lend my advice on occasion, but mostly, this space is my medium for sharing my creative writing and dialoguing about the process. I’m going to be posting a lot of poetry and pieces like this one, but maybe not as much prose or any formulaic posts that make my SEO and Klout score happy.
So what, Bethany?
I guess I’m finally coming to terms with the idea that it’s good to be a writer that blogs, simply and plainly. And for the first time in awhile, these words I’m writing don’t feel forced.
This space is where you will find me. The whole me. The girl that sits amidst half empty coffee cups and pens and scraps of paper and writes what she thinks about the world, in whatever words and order they come to her.
I am no expert, but I have things to say about writing and creativity and life, and I’d love to dialogue with you about that. Join me. Let’s sit down with a cup of coffee and talk about our families and our dreams and what we wrote last night.

What Makes a Poem Good?

“Good poems tend to incorporate some story, some cadence or shadow of story… You could, without much trouble, commit these poems to memory and have them by heart, like a cello in your head, a portable beauty to steady you and ward off despair.” 

Today I’m thinking about how thankful I am for words and that feeling that you get when you read something that feels so right, so accurate that it taps into your innermost being. I’ve been rereading Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems, and I finally read the introduction. He had some beautiful and amusing ideas about what makes a poem good, but I love this point in particular.
It is this concept that has motivated me to paint and produce artwork, and now share it with others. I am deeply interested in the steadying effect that art and poetry have on human nature, the way that these things color my world, bring it to life when everything feels grey and desolate.
This week I’m swapping guest poems with another blogger, an exercise meant to open the discussion about the process of writing poetry, and using language to tap into the deepest parts of ourselves. Stay tuned.

Guest Post | Un-Growing Up.

Today’s guest post from Brynna Lynea King is dear to my heart and very close to my own story. If you’re a twenty-something like us - or any age for that matter - and still trying to figure out how to be a grown-up, this one is for you. Or have you had an epiphany like Brynna’s? We’d love to hear how each of you are working towards un-growing up.

Un-Growing Up 

brynna_htp_06Recently, I became a writer.  Oh, well, that’s not quite true. Let me start again.

One month ago, I finally decided, once and for all, to be a writer.  I started a freelance business that I hope grows into something fabulous.

Here’s the thing, though: I have written since I learned to write, which was nearly 20 years ago. I won writing contests in elementary school and had an original poem chosen for publication in high school. I majored in writing and literature.  I’ve been a contracted writer for a marketing agency for over a year. So what is the difference between that and what I’m doing now? Is it that I made an announcement, or named a business after myself? No. My identity as a writer is not a company name or a website or business cards or professional headshots. These may have helped me convince myself, but they came after my decision was made.  The reason I am choosing to be a writer is that, after a lifetime of self-doubt, I realized that I was at risk of letting my dream slip away.  And getting in the way was “real life” – or, what I imagined real life meant.

I “grew up” four years ago. I transferred colleges to focus on my future. Then I got engaged. After that, I graduated.  In barely over a year, I had gone from being an art-bleeding, hard-partying singer-songwriter and the keyboardist in a reggae band to transferring schools, cleaning up my act, and planning a wedding. Soon, I found myself applying to graduate school to be a teacher – because after all, what does one do with a writing degree?

But then came the trouble. I had a wonderful husband and a neat, pretty life.  But it wasn’t nearly as fulfilling as it was supposed to be. In my junior high classroom, I felt like a kid trying to act like a grown up in front of other kids, unable to be myself — my not-really-very-grown-up self — for fear of seeming unprofessional or losing respect. And I was wearing slacks.  At home, I was attempting to play perfect housewife, overwhelming myself with assuming all household responsibilities because I thought that’s what good wives do. I found myself in the midst of a violent, self-inflicted identity crisis based on my own assumptions about what it means to be an adult — assumptions that almost cost me my dream and a huge part of myself.

The truth is, I’m an artist.  I’m a writer. I have trouble picking up after myself, and sometimes I enjoy a little chaos.  And so, to balance the pendulum, I’ve been working on un-growing up — just a little.  Here are a few things I’m learning.

“Growing up” does not mean becoming someone you’re not.

Are you becoming a better version of the REAL you? I can try to be a neater neat freak all I want. But I am not a neat freak at all. Un-growing up here means letting go of selves I sometimes wish I was, and working purposefully on improving the self I am. The real grown-up qualities of responsibility, wisdom and maturity are good, necessary things. Add these to your true self; no made-up self can wear them nearly as well.

Growing up does not mean achieving perfection.

You’re driving yourself crazy. And I guarantee your spouse, boyfriend, or best friend is also growing weary of your constant pursuits in the direction of perfection. Repeat after me: perfect is boring. Some synonyms of “boring” are characterlesscolorlessdrab, and lifeless. When your goal is perfection, you miss out on creativity, which is almost always messy and never perfect. Perfectionism robs you of life and joy.

Growing up does not mean you can’t have fun.

One night fairly recently, I got mad at my husband when he told me he only likes doing chores when he can make them fun. To me, this sounded immature and irresponsible. Really? If chores can be fun, why shouldn’t they be? Stop taking yourself so seriously.

Un-growing up is letting go, deciding for yourself, and enjoying the process.

It’s throwing out expectations, unrealistic standards and, most of all, rules. Rules like “you must major in something practical” and “you can’t have any fun once you have kids” and “wash your sheets every week.” Says who?  Take your three-month-old camping. Major in underwater basket weaving, if that’s what lights your fire. And surround yourself with people like my amazing husband who will make sacrifices (like washing the sheets) to support you in your dream, because it’s what you have to do.

At the risk of sounding like your Facebook wall, I turn to the legendary Steve Jobs, who really had this one down:

“You’ve got to find what you love… Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”

I didn’t decide to be a writer until I realized I might have to spend my life doing something else. I might just grow up and leave writing behind.

No, thanks – I’m going back for it, and it’s coming with me.


brynna_htp_20Brynna Lynea is a freelance writer and blogger at brynnabegins.com where she blogs about her creative process, taking chances, learning new things, pursuing projects and dreams, and leaning on the grace of God.  It is about enjoying today and not worrying about tomorrow.  It’s about paying attention to the process. Check out her stellar freelance website or follow some of her everyday musings @brynnlynnea.