Tag Archives: therapeutic

Blow Me Away

imagesPeanut butter on crackers was the closest I came to meditating today. Sometimes just chewing and daydreaming does the trick. Today’s chewing found me pondering the perils of marketing my workshops.

I’m going to be a little lazy here and lean on generalizations, but having heralded from a British mother and an American father and having lived in both countries, I began to wonder if 50% of my cells are programmed for polite modesty, while the remaining half are bursting with bravado?

And if that really is the case, then how do I convey my authentic message humbly without sounding arrogant or too loud?

And then suddenly a memory popped into my head… something I hadn’t thought about in a long while, but was obviously still loitering in my psyche waiting to pounce.

I was on a job interview for a position in the counselling department of a university in London, just a few months after completing my psychotherapy training. The man who was interviewing me was wearing a waistcoat and jeans. I can picture him now. He looked gentle and approachable, and I was sitting opposite him when he asked,

“So Rory, what are the strengths you will bring to this job?”

I liked the question. It was both direct and relevant, and I begin to list some of what I considered to be my most effective counselling attributes. I had just completed a rigorous training and was finally learning how to ‘own my strengths’ rather than consistently denigrate myself.

And then this happened.

I paused, and the man held up his hand. Like a stop sign.

“Right, well I get the idea, you wouldn’t want to blow your own trumpet now would you?”

I recall feeling stunned by his statement and blanketed in shame. I looked down at my black lace-up boots. They certainly didn’t appear too small for me, in fact I thought they fit very comfortably, but in a short and sharp second this man had reminded me otherwise. His words struck a familiar yet muted chord and it sounded something like this: Don’t get too big for those boots, missy. Don’t be TOO much. Shrink. Blend. Don’t call attention to yourself. Shhhh. Leave it up to others more capable. Sit back.

In therapy we talk about clients being influenced by their unconscious. Looking back, I wonder if that so called ‘enlightened’ male therapist in the waistcoat and jeans, was actually being driven that morning by a wayward force out of his awareness; a rusty paradigm that for years has kept women ‘in their rightful place’.

I am the daughter of a powerful mother who fought in the 1970’s to carve out a successful niche for herself in the then male dominated world of fiction, and remains there forty years later. I come from determined creative stock, and yet on the day that I was told to keep my trumpet quiet, it was the reverberations of my grandmothers’ struggles that I recognized in the quickened pace of my heart.

I felt a sudden kinship with the previous generations of women in my family who had been shaped by a patriarchal society – an environment where women’s strengths were swept under the carpets they were cleaning, and trumpet blowing was definitely out of the question.

So what did I learn from being baited to brag, only to be painfully hooked for my boldness?

I learned that trumpet blowing, tempered with humility, is essential – for women and men alike.

Not the ‘look at me on Instagram!” mode of trumpet blowing. Nor the Facebook friend foraging frenzy. But the kind of trumpet blowing which requires true introspection and self reflection. The kind of trumpet blowing which takes time and patience and commitment, until it becomes lucid and clear. The kind of trumpet blowing which might involve sitting still with ourselves after the peanut butter crackers and hearing our own repetitive tunes, and then finding the courage to write some new notes.

My trumpet sings: I am a really really good listener. I’m very intuitive and I’m excellent at encouraging people. I also have this special knack for helping others unthread tangles. And I’m NOT afraid to say it!

I guess that’s the only ‘marketing campaign’ I need after all. A united front. The British and American parts of me meeting over the ocean on a starry ship’s deck, soaking up a unique jazz blend. My own fusion of truths.

It doesn’t really matter what any of our trumpets sound like. What matters is that we are brave enough to play them, even in the face of those who tell us not to. What matters is that we polish them until they shine, and we make a sturdy case to protect our precious instruments. What matters is that we reveal our treasures, rather than toss them overboard where they will sink, never to be found.

So imagine that I’m interviewing you now and I ask YOU what your strengths are. But before you answer, I pass you a permission slip. The letters are LARGE and colourful. The words release you.

PLAY YOUR TRUMPET AS LOUDLY AS YOU WISH! BLOW ME AWAY

 

Writing Prompt: Ten minutes on your strengths. If you’ve never done this before, reflect on why it feels so hard. Whose voice is holding a finger to your lips quieting you down?  Be tender with yourself. Care for your strengths and be curious as to where they can lead you. Stay aware of your surroundings. Listen to your tune…what’s stuck? Where does your rhythm need to change?

 

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Meet ‘Wild Words’

This blog has been sleeping like a baby bear hibernating, dreaming up new schemes for the warmer months. Meanwhile, I’ve been dancing around my second novel and running groups from home, humbled each week by the raw and healing power of  truth seeking and truth speaking. Allowing vulnerability to push through the surface of our pages is always frightening and often liberating. I see it time and time again, when women dare to write about something hidden… they arrive in the light… earth on their hands… tears on their cheeks… hope in their eyes.

Today on Write To Be You, I’m thrilled to host a post by my friend and fellow writer/psychotherapist, Bridget Holding.Bridget main photo

Bridget works on the other side of the world from me in France and the UK, but our message shares the same reflection. She has much wisdom to offer about hibernation and I’m excited to introduce you to her wonderful site WILD WORDS. Explore her selection of online courses and writing retreats – enrollment for her current online course ends this week!  Enjoy!

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Freeing our ‘Wild Words’

By Bridget Holding

I run ‘Wild Words’ online writing courses, and writing holidays in the beautiful mountains of the Pyrenees, in France. Our aim at Wild Words is to free the caged words within us, and harness them on the page. We explore what it means for ourselves and our words to be ‘wild’.

Often I begin workshops by asking participants ‘what are your wild words?’ Immediately, metaphorical hands shoot up. Isn’t it obvious? Wild words are like the tiger, expressive, untamed, and fiery.

But are they? Not always. Because that initial answer is often not our own. Rather, it’s the one that is conditioned into us. It’s a societal view of how we believe our words should behave if we graciously deign to allow them free reign.

And the reason we should be suspicious about our first answer to this question? It’s because the answer is so easy to come up with. In fact, it’s too easy. If we are right, our wild words will rise up all-singing and all-dancing. They will be barefaced shameless, and proud.

However, would the words that are caged within us, really emerge so functional after so long a confinement? At the very least an animal that is confined for a long period of time would come blinking out into the light. And more likely it would cower in the corner of the cage, too terrified to come out at all. And when it did emerge, it would be unsteady on its feet, over-reactive to the bombardment of unfamiliar stimulus it encountered.

Trust me, those words that we really censor, we find it difficult even to think, let alone put down on the page.

Frequently in my psychotherapy practice I see clients who have gaps in their memory, places in which there should be thoughts and words, but in which there are no longer words at all. As writers we can tell when we get close to our wildest words, by the efforts we make to avoid going there. Our bodies and minds change tack urgently. We tune out, cut off, fly away…

So how can we find our own, more authentic answer to this question? Here are some ideas that might help:

-Be patient. Wait for your authentic words to emerge in their own time. Don’t rush them, or force them.

-Sit alongside yourself in the process; support the fragile part of yourself.

-Think about what you want to write, what you really, truly want to write, not just what you are used to believing that you want to write.

-Think about what you have to lose by releasing those Wild Words. Bring that into consciousness. How can you ease that fear?

-Ask yourself: What would it mean to allow my words to be just exactly as they are?

Writing Prompt: Having read this article, spend fifteen minutes writing a piece of prose or poetry that is your personal answer to the question: ‘What are your wild words?’

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Every Person’s Life

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In 1987 renowned Gestalt psychotherapist, Erving Polster, wrote a book called “Every Person’s Life is Worth a Novel”.  In this book he writes:

Stories must not only be told, but also heard. What is said gains value from the listeners understanding…

He goes on to write:

We also use stories to join our lives with those of other people…

I recently had the pleasure of meeting some of the founders of a remarkable and powerful new venture called Narrative 4 begun by writers, artists and educators who are passionate about ‘hearing’ and ‘joining’. Narrative 4 aims to enable teenagers globally to come together to exchange stories as a tool for social change. The exchange is intended to be literal – an ultimate act of reflection. The idea is for the young people to swap stories and then read each other’s stories aloud to one another – to allow words to transcend all differences and thread together human experience.  The stated ethos of Narrative 4 is: 

We believe sharing stories is the key to opening the world. We call it ‘Fearless hope through radical empathy’

I call it inspired.

We all crave an attuned listener. We carry our stories with us deep in our pockets, etched on our hearts, buried in hidden places. Sometimes our stories are legible, easy to read, but sometimes it is as if they are written on the wet wall of a dark cave and we spend years waiting for someone to strike a match.

And when the day finally comes, the sudden exposure can be glaring. The attention can call forth panic, anxiety, shame, trepidation, but ultimately relief. We want to be heard. We need to be seen. And even the small flickering flame from a single match can shed enough light for us to look around and realize that we are not alone with our stories. Sharing our truths is an act of healing.

I’ve experienced this firsthand both as a client and a therapist. Every week in my workshop I listen intently as participants grow brave enough to write their stories and offer them up to the group. We are not there to assess or critique or shape or edit. We are there to listen. People come to Write To Be You to be seen and heard, and to see and hear. I am humbled by the courage of my participants and I am witness to the bonds that powerfully and delicately ‘join’ us through story, encouraging self worth, enabling understanding, embracing recovery.

I am often amazed at how few questions people ask in social situations. Is it that we are bound by decorum not wanting to appear nosey? Or is it that so many people are wrapped  tightly in their own inward facing cocoon that it doesn’t occur to them to reach beyond that and explore another’s landscape?

Questions are essential to social interactions, and yet contemporary technology encourages a ‘me’ centred paradigm where our young people are at risk of becoming voyeurs and not listeners. Let’s encourage curiosity in ourselves and younger generations. Next time you meet someone you don’t know, practice drawing out their story. Be interested. See what you can learn about yourself by listening to someone else.

And while you’re at it, please join me in exploring and supporting Narrative 4 as a dedicated group of individuals step up to link our ever divided world. Personal narratives are thirsty for oxygen, buried within us they can fester and wilt. Now more than ever we need to return to the ancient arts and allow them to work their communal magic alongside technology.

It is not only in recent years that the most essential tales told have gone ‘viral’…  the passage and momentum of storytelling has been with us from the beginning of time. We just need to keep breathing fresh air into stale corners and lighting that match in the darkest of caves.

Read about the origins of Narrative 4 by clicking HERE and visit their website HERE

A writing prompt inspired by Narrative 4: Write about discovering a story on the wall of a cave. Who has been there before you? What is the writing on the wall? Imagine you are illuminated by the light of the match. Tell both of your stories. Give yourself permission to write in fragments, dream images, floating words. Feel your way…

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A Desert Garden

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There is a garden that I pass in my neighbourhood when I walk with Lilly in the mornings. It is a desert garden, punctuated with muted greens, spiky leaves, bursts of yellow and purple, and an array of thorny cacti.

The garden appears on my walk like an oasis. A colourful reef that I want to examine and explore. I am especially enamoured by the landscape because all of these plants grow so beautifully, creating such a magical palette, with very little water.

They grow with a determination – a courage to flourish in spite of being dry.

They grow all year round and serve as a potent reminder to me when I am feeling discouraged, or lazy, or rejected, or low. When I am reading the news and feeling baffled and sad and hopeless. When I am attempting to show an optimistic face to my kids, even though my son’s capacity to navigate three screens (small, medium, large) at any given moment makes me want to wilt. Like a plant with no water. Shrivel. Like a flower without light.

It is at these times that I need to experience that desert garden. In person. Not flashed up as an image to ‘Like’ on Instagram. Not blogged or emailed or linked. I need to feel the texture of those thick flat leaves bewteen my fingertips. I need to lean in closely and investigate the elegant formation of a delicate petal, press my flesh into the point of a cactus needle. I need to pause. Beside the garden.

And see. And touch. And smell and listen.

If  I could, I would invite each and every one of you reading these words to meet me on the corner, so we could gather together and be reminded that growth can still occur in the most unforeseen circumstances. Meaning can blossom. Love can unfurl. Words can be harvested from drought.

But I’m not  so sure how my neighbour would feel about that (I might put a note through their door first!)

So for now – let’s gather here at Write To Be You. Let’s hold out a hand to one another in the form of a story. Let’s prove that healing words can grow from concrete and parched soil. From pavements and dumpsters. From listlessness and doubt.

Our words are seeds. As long as we can share stories – the human spirit will sprout and bloom and our hearts and souls will never be malnourished.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a prompt. I hope you are still with me. Still reading. Still writing. Take a few minutes and share a story today. Write about finding something hopeful where you least expected it or write about a garden that is special to you.

In the weeks to come I will be developing a  ‘Tell Us A Story’ feature where I will share other people’s stories in the main body of the blog. Body of the blog – sounds like a horror film, but I know it will be quite the opposite – it will be pure joy!

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Get It Write

I’ve never abseiled off the side of a building or walked a tightrope, but I’ve bared my soul in writing and thrown it with abandon into the world. I’ve taken emotional risks with my words that can feel as petrifying and as dangerous as taking similar risks with my body.

And I’ve survived.

I’m privileged to watch people in my workshops week in and week out access the deep courage it requires to take those very same risks. To become vulnerable. To try things out. To expose their fears of shame and failure.

Why is writing so terrifying? In this post from last year, I begin to unpack that question. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject when you have finished reading…

Enjoy  GET IT WRITE

“I’m interested in doing your workshop but the idea of writing intimidates me…” 

I’ve heard this often. It seems the very act of picking up a pen and relaying thoughts and feelings can become burly & threatening, like a school bully who syphons power by frightening others. Sadly, very often that ‘bully’ has been frightened themselves and when they can access help or understanding, there is the potential to deactivate the charge.

So how do we make sense of why the idea of writing is scaring so many people?

Here lies my answer. For many years, traditional western education has hijacked writing and twisted it into something unnecessarily menacing. Something that needs to be done ‘correctly’. Something that will result in a mark or grade that is judged by an outsider – a source of authority. This leaves very little room to embrace the wayward and unruly workings of our human minds. This leaves absolutely no room to celebrate unconventional structures such as:

Outside. Bounce. Bounce. That ball doesn’t never ever stop. STOP. bounce. Bounce.  In my brain. Slam dunking my words away from the train of thought I am riding. With my head out the window. Like a dog. Sniffing. Ears flapping, listening. Absorbing worlds of. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

In recent years the foundations have been shifting, but in 1979 that wouldn’t have earned me an ‘A’ anywhere, especially not in England. In my early education, creativity was shackled with strict limitations.  Apparently we were only allowed to light up the right side of our brains (the creative centre) in nursery school or art class. Even then I have recollections of the teacher removing the brush from my hand and painting over my canvas, in a concerted effort to show me how to ‘improve’.

It’s not a shocker that twenty or thirty years later many people cower from the prospect of trying something just for the hell of it. Letting words out of the enclosure. Giving sentences permission to roam lawlessly. To soar high. To float gently.

In reality, it is not the act of writing that scares us but the external judge, who currently occupies our inner landscapes, ruling the domain with unmerciful glee.

What do I say to those prospective participants – the ones who are drawn towards the workshops but who feel intimidated?

Face the bully! 
Straighten your shoulders! 
Stick your tongue out! 
Hold up a shameless finger and kick the gate open!

There are acres of gorgeous ground to cover. Wasted wooly woodlands filled with creative possibility. Magical truth tunnels. Whispering story trees. And the written word is waiting to lead you on your own guided tour.

So don’t write to please ‘them’ – they have their own issues to tackle. Don’t try and get it ‘right’ because ‘right’ is a moveable feast.

The solution is delightfully simple.
You guessed it… Write To Be You.

Start here! Start Now! Share a spontaneous response to this post. Can be anything… a personal account, a fictional story, a tangled net of words. Share anonymously if that feels safer. Work up to declaring your name. Reinvent or reconnect. Find freedom through your words…

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In Need of a Get Together

A note to say my posts have slowed down for the time being because I am busy working on the sequel to ‘Playing Along’ and I’m noticing that all my energy is drawn towards writing that. It’s important to honour the pull of a project – if it has you entwined, then sometimes the best thing to do is not disentangle. However, I have had  a lot of new followers to the blog recently and I am grateful for the interest. I will continue to blog and post writing prompts, but until then I would like to share some of the archives with you. If you are new to this post, why not give the writing prompt a try?  If you are revisiting, I invite you to reflect on the post again. Returning to something with a fresh lens is often very useful!

Thank you, as ever, for your support!

Enjoy IN NEED OF A GET TOGETHER:

 

I remember when I first heard the term ‘inner child’, I pictured a pouting toddler, curled forward, arms hugging her knees. She was crouched somewhere deep inside of me, behind my ribs, peeking through the gaps like they were slatted window blinds.  I felt unnerved by her presence.  Did she need a snack?  A cuddle? Someone to play with?  It was hard enough meeting the needs of my own two children and suddenly I had a third small person to worry about.  One who didn’t speak much but had the whole of my history wrapped quietly around her tongue.

When I was training to be a therapist we were encouraged to have a dialogue with our inner child. Good luck.  Mine was uncooperative. She hid her face. Gazed at me with pleading eyes. Begged me silently to put her to bed and concentrate instead on being the ‘outer grown-up’ I was supposed to be. I soon realized she wasn’t alone in there. She was hanging out with my ‘inner control freak’, my ‘inner debbie downer’, my ‘inner hopeless romantic’, my ‘inner moody adolescent’ and my ‘inner catastrophist’. They were all having a fine old time.

Trying to get the attention of my tenants was a bit like attempting to recite poetry at rave. My inner child might have been monosyllabic, but the rest of them were a raucous crowd – constantly jostling to be heard.

We all have busy interiors. Different psychological paradigms assign this phenomenon varying labels  (ego states and sub personalities to name a few). Whatever you wish to call them, our chaotic internal get togethers are often a result of neglected aspects of ourselves battling for the limelight.

Start to listen to the voices. Establish firm guidelines. I learnt not to let Debbie Downer and Hopeless Romantic meet for breakfast on Valentines Day, no matter how much they petitioned – it was never pretty. Catastrophist was banned from reading the newspapers for a little while and Control Freak was surprisingly calm when I instructed her to keep typing and stop tidying. I started dragging Adolescent to gigs with me and she stopped sulking about all the endless Saturday nights spent watching ‘The Love Boat’. I bought Child the dog she had been longing for, and we took a daily walk through the wooded trees in the park. Gradually she began to chat. She whispered a few secrets to me about connecting with my own children as well; secrets I had very nearly forgotten.

Ignoring the needy parts of ourselves will always have a consequence. Start tuning in to the voices in your head. Use your writing to help you hear what they have to say. Take a roll call. Write a dialogue between them all – is it a comical farce or a tension fuelled drama? Notice who’s mssing. Is there an aspect of yourself that you need to make more space for?  Write them an entrance.

Share your findings!  Post snippets of your dialogue in the comments section or simply let me know your thoughts about your own internal meet ups.  Be playful – create an imaginary Facebook page for your various aspects or write about what they might Tweet to each other.  Don’t over think this.  Just write… and report back!

Additionally – explore the archives on the right for more prompts and click on the Ready, Steady, Write link to find image inspirations!

 

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Giving it Grantham

If you’re not watching Downtown Abbey, you might snooze through this post. But my guess is that you are watching Downtown Abbey because almost EVERYONE I know is. Across the board. Transcending gender, race and age. Downton appears to span every dividing line with a compulsive finesse. Many of us wait with a hungry anticipation for Sunday night, so we can lose ourselves in a world that is completely different from ours in every way imaginable.

Or is it?

Why do we have such a craving for this show? For these characters?  Because at the core of each episode is a web of tangled roots consisting of age old themes of which we are all familiar: family, relationships, sibling rivalry, love, lust, money, shame, humour, hierarchy, transformation, grief, rebellion, prejudice, power, conflict, loyalty.

Downton Abbey may be set in the early 1900’s in an exclusively white community, but in fact it provides us with an uncanny mirror to our very own existences. Strip us of our smart phones and our laptops and I reckon any one of us will find a character or a scenario in Downton that we see ourselves reflected in. Edith’s struggle to individuate. Thomas grappling with his sexuality. Mrs Hughs confronting her mortality. Lady Grantham questioning her marriage. Mary facing issues of infertility. Lord Grantham resisting change and feeling redundant in his 50’s.  Daisy dealing with her low self esteem. A family in grief.

We may not be wearing corsets and crinoline, but it is the common humanity displayed in these characters that draws us to them – that compels us to fall into their world and long for it again when the credits have rolled.

This week my husband was having a bit of a sulk because he felt that the kids and I were ganging up on him over something. He was ‘giving it Grantham’ – big time. When I pointed this out to him, he laughed, recognizing how true my observation was. It’s a relief to be taken back to a simpler age, but also a relief to feel while we are watching, that we have a shared understanding – a heart and soul connection with life as it was lived almost a hundred years ago.

Downton’s popularity may well be a knee jerk reaction to the excesses in our culture – over sexualisation saturating the media, celebrity worship, shrinking attention spans, mindless violence sold as entertainment and mind numbing reality TV.

Call me old fashioned, but whatever the origin of our fixation – I personally think it is a welcome and soothing balm.

And it appears that many of you do too.

I only have to see the backside of that lolloping Labrador and my pulse begins to regulate. I know I am in for a treat. A window to a world long gone, and yet one that is still strangely very present.

Question: Are you watching Downton? Which character can you relate to?

Writing prompt: Choose one of the broad Downton themes from the list above and write into it. Narrow it down, starting with a wide angle lens and zeroing in. This is an excellent writing practice – finding a rhythm between the universal and the personal.

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I’m Pushing an Elephant up the Stairs

As many of you know I’m a music fiend, but more accurately a lyric hound. I sniff lyrics out. I delve into them. I immerse myself in lyrics in the same way that I sink into a luscious hot bubble bath at the close of a day.

I just can’t relate when people (okay – I’m naming and shaming my husband here)  say  “I never really listen to the lyrics.”

Really?!  That’s blasphemy to me – like watching Downton Abbey on mute. You miss out on so much of the juicy, nuanced loveliness of the experience.

If you’ve read ‘Playing Along’ then you’ll be familiar with, George, my sweet lead who is a musician and a songwriter.

I believe all characters are a synthesis of fragments  –  actual reflections of the author’s psyche blended with imagined realities. George is part of me. The part of me that loves lyrics. He is the writer in me. The side of myself that doesn’t always like to be ‘looked’ at directly, but attempts to be ‘seen’ through words, and in George’s case – words and music.

This morning while on the school run an old REM song came on the radio. I marvel at how I can’t recall algebraic equations or historical facts from my Freshman year of high school, but throw on an 80’s dance party mix and I have every word to every song committed to memory.

Think of how many lyrics we each have stored in our brains, only for them to arrive promptly on instant recall when the melody releases the trigger. It’s pretty amazing. Perhaps all school lessons should be a collaboration with Duran Duran or One Direction?

But I digress… back to the REM song :

I’m pushing an elephant up the stairs. I’m tossing out punchlines that were never there. Over my shoulder, a piano falls. Crashing to the ground

A gift really, those words. I sang along, remembering what those lines meant to me when I first heard them, but also deriving new meaning in the present moment.

“I’m pushing an elephant up the stairs”  sums up much of the creative process. My daily tackle with writing a second novel – confronting the blocks that rear their ungainly heads, yet remaining determined to convince that elephant to cooperate.

“I’m tossing up punchlines that were never there”  calls to mind how I grapple with writing these blog posts, wondering if what I have to say and how I articulate it still holds interest.

“Over my shoulder, a piano falls, crashing to the ground”  for sure means something to my middle schooler sitting next to me in the car, juggling a pre -adolescent world that is out of her control, loud and unpredictable.

I was so relieved to hear those lyrics and syphon from them the empathy the songwriter wasn’t even aware he was offering. Thank you Mr Stipe.

Songwriting is cathartic – not only for the artist but for the recipient.  Songs are like potent microscopic therapy sessions. Offered for free. Always accessible.  Soulful mirrors. There for the taking.  But most importantly, there for the listening…

On a side note, I am thrilled to be featured as the guest poet this week on Samantha Reynolds’ gorgeous site www.bentlilly.com. Samantha writes a poem a day and hosts one guest each week. Click HERE to read my ‘Creative Diagnosis’.

 

Share your favorite song lyric. Reflect on how the meaning has changed for you over the years. Take ten minutes to write about the impact music has in your life.

OR

Are you writing fiction? Tell me your experience of integrating aspects of self into your characters. I’m always curious – let me know!

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A Small Window

When I first started writing ‘Playing Along’ I did so as an antidote to the heaviness of my ‘other’ work. I had recently completed my masters degree in psychotherapy and I was working with individual clients – adults and children – all with a range of emotional hurdles and difficulties. I saw a six year old child for a year who was a ‘selective mute’. He had stopped talking in public having lost his mother at an early age when his language was first developing. I worked with that child for a year and he never said one word to me. But he always smiled, and we played together, and we drew together, and by the end of the therapy, he was writing pages and pages of story – conveying his pain and confusion through imagination – engaging with me in the only way he knew how.

I saw children whose parents had all but abandoned them, adults who were wracked with phobias, women who had suffered sexual abuse. The work was extremely rewarding and could also be extremely draining. Psychotherapy is never a quick fix – it’s a long and often arduous journey.

So on the days I wasn’t seeing clients, a sweet, lighthearted, romance, was unravelling on my screen. It was my tonic. A salve to sooth the darker aspects of my work. An opportunity for me to escape into a world where lead singers fall in love with their fans and destiny trumps reality.

I needed that space. It helped me to be more present for my clients. And my clients helped me to be more present for my characters.

Despite the fact I was writing a ‘breezy ‘ read – I still wanted George and Lexi and all their family and freinds to have dimension. I wanted them to be people that you, as the reader, could relate to and might want to know.

News wise this has been another oppressively desolate week. We are all asking ‘could things get any worse?’ and we don’t want to hear the answer. We share a collective grief which is washing over us in waves. Rightly so we are becoming involved in dialogues about gun control, mental health care and accountability.

My heart is beating at home, moving through the motions of my day, but my heart has also travelled to Newton, where it sits silently with all those bereft, sending out love and solidarity.

I questioned whether today was the day to post an excerpt from ‘Playing Along’ and I decided for all the reasons above – that it was.

I wrote the book in the first place to provide a small window of escape. Even in our darkest hours, carving out space for lightness and humour can be a soothing reminder of hope. So if you need a break from reading the news or watching the television, take a few minutes and get to know George and Lexi. They helped balance me out when I was searching for relief.

(If you want to skip the excerpt and save yourself for the book, please scroll down to the writing prompt at the bottom!)

PLAYING ALONG

by Rory Samantha Green

THEN

GEORGE, 1st November, 1994, Stanford in the Vale, Oxfordshire

“Your brother’s grown up a bit, hasn’t he?”

George holds his breath when he hears these words swoop past his bedroom door. He’s thirteen, but his sister is two years older and her friends are an enigma.  They smell like grapefruit and cigarettes and layer mascara on their lashes until they look like pandas.  Most of them have boobs.  Big ones.  He’s fascinated by the divide.  George’s sister, Polly, has maybe said one word to him in the last two weeks and that was muttered in disdain when he had mistakenly knocked her make-up brush off the counter and into the toilet.  It had floated forlornly in the bowl like a drowned rodent.

“Arsehole!”

But now there’s a chance of redemption.  Despite his skinny legs and spotty rounded face, it seems as if one of the awesome grapefruit girls has noticed something in him.  Something unique.  He reckons it will take a very special woman to appreciate his nuances.  His love of Grover from Sesame Street (so underrated – why did Kermit get all the limelight?) and his adoration of the most amazing music the universe has to offer – Bowie, U2, Portishead, Dylan, New Order.  The woman who takes his heart must take his record collection as well.

“My brother?” replies Polly in dramatic shock.  “Yeah, you could say he’s grown up – into a first rate troll.”

The grapefruit girls giggle and their laughter snakes under his door and rings painfully in his ears.  George bites his bottom lip, scraping his teeth against peeling skin. Another nervous habit.

“And listen to this… he claims one day he’s going to be in a famous band and be on the cover of NME and have groupies.  What a joke!”

George, prepared for the inevitable cackle of mockery, grabs his headphones and his CD player and presses play with an urgency.  “Fools Gold” by the Stone Roses floods his brain.  He turns up the volume as loud as it will go and hurls his notebook across the room where it ricochets off the wall and slides under his bed.  The notebook is filled with songs.  George has been unpacking heartache from his sensitive soul since the age of ten.

His sister’s harsh words are never as brutal as the words he calls himself.

He knows what he wants, but he’s pretty damn certain that a boy like him is never going to get it.

LEXI, November 1st, 1994, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California

“I’m psyched about the game tomorrow!”  Andrew enthusiastically polishes off his second burrito, gazing longingly at Lexi across the table.  She smiles at him mischievously knowing that she drives him crazy with her Juicy Fruit breath, her shiny brown hair, and her legs which have conveniently slimmed out and toned up since she started diligently attending an after school kickboxing class.

“I’m excited too,” she replies, playfully nudging his size twelve basketball shoes under the table.  “I hope you win, so we can celebrate.”

Lexi and Andrew are the couple at Pali High.  Just embarking on their senior year, they have been an item since the eleventh grade.  Andrew first kissed Lexi on Zuma beach with the waves lapping at their bare feet two nights after passing his driving test.  His parents had given him a convertible Mustang for his sixteenth birthday and when he drove her home, one hand on the wheel, the other holding hers, Lexi had a sweet taste lingering in her mouth and salty wind in her hair.

“So unfair,” her best friend, Meg, had complained the following morning.  “It’s not supposed to happen like that.  He’s supposed to drool, or run out of gas, or step on your toe or something.  Why is your life like an Audrey Hepburn movie and mine like a bad TV sitcom?”

And Lexi certainly didn’t want to be smug, but there was some truth in Meg’s observation.  Things just seemed to go her way.  Her parents had raised her to believe in herself and face life with a positive outlook.  Not that she was syrupy or self-obsessed.   She worked hard at her studies and had an excellent Grade Point Average.  She volunteered at a local homeless shelter, fingerpainting with vulnerable kids after school.  She’d started up a current events debate club in her junior year and persuaded many of her friends to join.  They now competed nationally.  Oh and of course, she kickboxed and played on the girls’ volleyball team, and thankfully had the sort of hair that didn’t frizz on damp mornings when the fog rolled in off the coast.

Lexi had lost her virginity to Andrew on the floor in his bedroom on a Sunday afternoon while his parents shopped at Target.  He had lit a scented candle stolen from his mother’s bathroom, and the smell of orange mimosa flooded the room.  “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by UB40 was playing on his CD player.

When it was over (slightly painful, but not nearly as uncomfortable as she had imagined), he leaned on his elbows beside her and whispered in her ear, “I can’t help falling in love with you…” One year later, sitting opposite him watching him wipe guacamole from the side of his lips, Lexi feels in her heart that she loves him too.  In fact she is sure, along with almost everyone else at Pali High who either knows them or admires them from afar, that they will most likely end up getting married.  Lexi’s mother has saved her own wedding dress for the occasion, wrapped in delicate layers of archival tissue in an ivory box on the top shelf of her cupboard.  “It’s just waiting, my beauty,” her mother has promised.

Lexi can picture their home now (a cozy New England style house, a few blocks from her parents, with whitewashed floors and shabby chic couches), two or maybe three kids (she really doesn’t have a preference for boys or girls) and most definitely a dog, a black Labrador called George.  She imagines a fulfilling and creative part time job as well, maybe a teacher or an art therapist, something that leaves her with the freedom to be a hands-on mom.  So what if she is only seventeen?  It’s just a dream, but life has already proven to Lexi that dreams do find a way of coming true.

NOW

GEORGE, 1st November, 2009, Greenwich, England

“George… I love you!”  On certain nights this professed love is yelled out a hundred times from men and women alike.  Most nights it disappears into the roar of the crowd, but at some gigs a single voice will miraculously separate out and hover above the throng of faceless fans and George hears it and needs it to be true.

George is at the piano finishing the final chords of “Beyond Being,” a poignant ballad based on his teenage existential musings and a lyric which popped into his head one day as he polished off a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream.  The audience sways in time and cell phones punctuate the blackness like rechargeable flames.  George hangs his head as the song comes to a quiet end, his voice wavering with a sad clarity.

Thousands of fans cheer and whoop in adoration and George looks up shyly with his trademark grin.  “Thank you very much for coming.  We appreciate you might have better things to do with your Saturday nights, like watching X Factor, and the boys and I really enjoyed playing to you tonight…”  This, as intended, whips up the crowd into an even louder frenzy as George and his band mates lope off the stage with a schoolboy charm that has captivated fans across the world from Denmark to Chile, and every destination in between.

George has come a long way from the corner of his brown bedroom.  His band, Thesis, stormed onto the music scene with an unstoppable force after his best mate and guitarist, Simon Ogden-Smith, persuaded George to start up a Myspace page and stream some of their music. George, Simon, Simon’s cousin Mark, and Mark’s sister’s friend Duncan from Australia, had been playing local pubs in Islington and had been slowly building up a loyal fan base.  But the Myspace page catapulted them into a whole new stratosphere, and with a swiftness which at times found George’s throat closing with unprecedented anxiety, they burst onto the alternative music scene and made their mark.  Three months after being signed by a record company they were flown to Los Angeles to record their first album, Twelve Thousand Words.  George Bryce, still a sweaty lonely teenager at heart, found himself surrounded by attractive, fawning women called Claudia and Agnes and Nell.  They willingly offered their breasts to him without any pleading involved and he indulged in a whole new adolescence at twenty-two.

The band’s first big hit was a rocking anthem called “Grapefruit Girls,” an opportunity for George to get his revenge on those elusive females who had inducted him into the hall of shame.  George became an unlikely heartthrob, a self-deprecating lad who wore T-shirts with Grover on them and gave interviews about obscure comic books and rare vinyl.  His boyish looks, lopsided smile and thick shaggy black hair, once his greatest insecurity, suddenly became irresistible.  Even America, notoriously hard to break for an unheard-of alternative band, lapped up the accents and the awkwardness.  Critics either loved or hated Thesis and George made a point of reading every review, because no matter how famous they became, he never stopped caring about what people thought of him.

COMING IN JANUARY 2013!

Thank you for joining me on this writing adventure! I began my love of writing by hiding my words. I was a ‘closet’ writer. I’m out now and I encourage you to do the same!

Share something in the comments. Today’s prompt: take ten minutes to write about where you find lightness during periods of dark? Where can you access healthy relief and release?

I am taking a week off for the holidays so until we meet again…  peace, blessings and gratitude from me to you xo

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“Who Still Serves Consomme?”

Last week I wrote about holding onto conflicted feelings and my best friend, Karen, shared this beautiful response:

I just spent two hours ripping through dusty boxes from a storage unit that we finally emptied after ignoring it for seven years. I came across some treasures. The kind you love, but you can also live without, and even totally forget ever existed. I found my children’s tiny hand prints dipped in paint and made to look like turkeys for thanksgiving day. I wanted to keep them and throw them out all at the same time. Same with my grandmother’s china. What will I ever do with eight gold plated consomme bowls and matching saucers? Who still serves consomme? I wanted to smash them to the ground at the same time I was holding them gently up to the light appreciating their delicate craftsmanship. If all this had burned in a fire I would have been better off. Now I’m having to decided where it all goes. Recycling, the shredder, the thrift store, my already full kitchen shelves? Or worse, back in the box to live in our basement.

My favorite line in her response was “Who still serves consomme?”

It struck me as so funny and so accurate. I have actually also been sifting through ‘old stuff’ recently in an attempt to liberate some space in my garage. I stumbled across a once precious journal, tied tightly with bright coloured ribbons – a silver unicorn dancing on the cover. The pages were heavy with heartache. The pain of trying to fit in. The blinding intensity of middle school and high school friendships. The longing for the life I felt I ‘should’ be living. Excruciating analysis both of myself and every person around me (perhaps a precursor to the psychotherapy route I would choose as an adult!)

Scattered amongst the words were concert ticket stubs and carefully transcribed lyrics.  From that tender age, I found empathy in music and I found release in writing. That hasn’t changed about me. But many other things have, and as I flicked through my journal, I understood on a deep level that it was time to let it go… or in Karen’s words, who still serves consomme?

Research has proven that writing down our emotions can be hugely cathartic. But the act alone can be enough. Revisiting those feelings repeatedly in the future or exposing those feelings unintentionally to people they might wound or confuse isn’t useful. 

My revelations were written for no one else to see. That journal was my private refuge, and leaving it lurking around in my garage for my children to discover one day felt like a betrayal to my middle school self. That book served a purpose at a certain time in my life, but that purpose has long since expired.

So I photographed a few key pages. I kissed the cover.  And I set that unicorn free!

The next morning I thought I might regret this brazen act of pack rat defiance.

But I didn’t.

I have been writing profusely since I could use a pen. I have written journals and letters and cards and fiction and poetry and short stories and articles and blogs and essays and a dissertation and a novel. I hope to write thousands of more words to come – but do I need to preserve every one of those words?

No.

Sometimes there can be tremendous value in the process taking precedent over the product.

If you want to explore the subject of ‘letting go’ further, please visit a fellow writer and blogger, Erin Kurup, at her site remadebyhand.com – she is an inspiring role model!

Are you a word hoarder?! If so, I am giving you permission to divest yourself of some of those words which might be weighing you down. I’m guessing this is a controversial topic! But why not give it a try? Create a ritual. Tear up an old journal, school essay or half baked short story. This non attachment will also help you tackle the editing process. OR try writing something now that you never want anyone to see, ever, and then delete it immediately or burn it. Notice how you feel…

Report back, and in the meantime – thoughts on this post? I’m curious to know where you stand?

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