Healing My February Funk & Reclaiming Its Blessing

For the past two years, I’ve dreaded February with its deep Winter chill and memories of loved ones passed. This year will be different, I thought as a booked a Corporeal Writing workshop in Portland, Oregon. I’d never been to Portland, my memoir was in a stuck place, and the workshop was being facilitated by two memoir writers I admire, Pam Houston and Stephanie Land.

img_3908I signed up for the workshop, booked a flight to arrive two days early to allow for sightseeing, and reserved a room at a hotel in Downtown Portland. I was ready for an adventure and to take the month back from grief’s grip.

The flight left Detroit later than scheduled, so when we landed in Seattle, I had to run from one end of the terminal, catch a tube, then run to the other. Breathless, I caught my connecting flight just before the doors closed. Once I arrived in Portland, I could hail a Lyft for around $30 or take public transportation (the MAX) for $2.50 directly from the airport to Downtown. I figured the trip cost enough and I’d taken public transport in DC, so surely I could navigate the MAX.

The ride to Downtown Portland was about 35 minutes. Sitting directly across from me was a middle-aged couple that looked uncomfortable with public transportation and distrustful of any characters they might run into. They tried to appear casual but her body was pressed up against the wall and her husband sat with his hand on her thigh. As people walked by, she would tense and his grip would tighten. They never met my eyes, keeping them averted to the floor. I recognized that tension, that stress, that woman…I used to be her, afraid to venture out of my comfort zone.

Upon arriving downtown, I checked into The Society Hotel room, dropped my bag, then took the MAX to meet my cousin. Tim has lived in Portland for 30 years, and we couldn’t remember the last time we saw each other. It was great to catch up and re-connect again.

Running_For_Good_Semper_Fi_SisterFirst thing Friday, I had to see the massive bookstore I’d read so much about. Powell’s City of Books didn’t disappoint with three stories, nine different levels arranged by topic, and one million books under the roof. It was cool to see my story Semper Fi, Sister on the shelf and representing in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running For Good.

When talking to a staff member, I commented that I had traveled with a small suitcase and had no room for more books.

“Well, if you buy 10 books, we’ll ship them home to you for a flat rate.”

“That would be great, but I don’t have time to look at everything I want now.” This was sightseeing day and my Powell’s visit was a recon mission. I had places to go and things to see.

“We’ll hold your books for three days. When are you leaving?”

“Monday. So wait. You can hold these two books, I can come back and add to stack…then Sunday I can pay and you’ll ship them home for me?”

“We will.”

It was a brilliant marketing strategy that I eagerly took advantage of over the next three days. I gave them my books to hold then spent the rest of Friday roaming Downtown Portland. In my research of things to do, I was excited to see the “Walk of Heroines: Honoring the Women Who Have Illuminated Our Lives…”at Oregon State University. Although the garden was underwhelming (not surprising this time of year), my favorite quote was from Dorothy Allison in 1992 who said, “Write the story that you were always afraid to tell. I swear to you there is magic in it.” So I’m finding out.

Voodoo_Doughnuts_Portland_OR

On the way back to the hotel that evening, I came across “Voodoo Doughnuts”, known for their crazy combinations and decadent pasteries. Though I didn’t try Maple Bacon, Voodoo Bubble, or Oreo-topped Dirt, the apple fritter was delectable. The lines out their door are a testament to Voodoo’s popularity.

Finally, workshop time with Pam and Stephanie arrived. Among the many things I learned is that my memoir doesn’t have to be linear, it doesn’t have to follow the traditional hero’s journey, and it can be written in any form I damn well want it to be. That felt liberating.

My long weekend adventure was over all too quickly. I’m still processing what I learned at the workshop as well as my affinity to The Society Hotel.

What I remember most about the trip were the connections I made with my classmates and the serendipitous conversations I had with the people during my travels: Christian, the Army officer traveling home for his sister’s wedding; Domi, co-founder of Corporeal Writing who witnessed my embarrasing faceplant on my recon visit; the couple from Sacramento I met in the Voodoo Doughnut line who commented they’d visited Powell’s but didn’t personally know a writer until me; Tom, the pony-tailed nightshift history buff and dayshift manger Anthony who filled me in on the fascinating history of The Society Hotel; Doug, the Portland Airport blues guitarist who soothes frazzled traveler nerves; and the Michigan organic seed growing couple traveling to a conference. Each and every person I met helped heal my February funk.

I thought my Portland trip was about reclaiming the month from grief, but in the end it was a reminder to live a connected life with those around me. And to celebrate my parents…I am their living legacy.

Writing Myself Home

I attended the Rochester, MI Writer’s Conference at the end of April and A Rally of Writers in Lansing, MI last weekend. The Rochester conference focused on self-publishing and isn’t something I need to worry about yet. At this point, I just need to edit my shitty first draft to get it into a working manuscript.

A Rally of Writers, on the other hand, offered multiple sessions in 3 different time slots throughout the day. With so many topics to choose from, there was something for everyone so my choices were memoir and poetry.

Will “The Poet” Langford opened the session and among the many poems he performed was “Pamoja”,  which was even more moving since that evening the Michigan State Spartans were playing in the NCAA Final Four. Will The Poet’s ability to weave poetic phrases around metaphors was brillant, beautiful to listen to, and brought tears to my eyes more than once. He inspires me to seek out safe spaces to learn to perform spoken word and I looked forward to his afternoon poetry session.

The memoir session was taught by Mardi Jo Link, a journalist  and self described “accidental memoirist”. Link summarized her session by saying memoir needs truth, a timeline and logic the reader can follow, an invitation to experience a life the reader will never know, and a change in the narrator the reader can relate to. I’m working on incorporating all these elements in my memoir, but an off-handed comment about her sons generated a light bulb moment for me. We just never know where know where our next source of inspiration will come from.

In the “Writing Home” afternoon session, Will The Poet talked about his journey to Africa and the need for a home to carry with him in his travels. Church, communities, events, schools, neighborhoods, and work can all be places where we feel a sense of being at home, so he told us to write down five. Then using one of our choices, he brought us to the page to write our own sensory based poem. This is how I feel every time I fly to San Diego and see the Marine Corps Recruit Depot adjacent the airfield as we’re landing:

Lindberg Field

We touch down on the runway…home.
Outside I hear the silent cadence of Marine recruits marching.
I taste the bitterness of regret, but catch a whiff
of promise in the person I became when I marched with them.
With the opening of the hatch, I’m transported back to the present
until the next time I connect with my Marine sisters.

I’m headed to the Michigan Writing Workshop in Livonia on May 4th to round out my Spring writing conference circuit. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting like-minded writers, picking up gold nuggets to incorporate in my own writing, and communing with the writers over lunch. Now I’ve found a new home in the writing community.

Beating Back the Doubt Demons

Yesterday I became a Medium paid subscriber just to write a comment on a post where the writer was questioning her memoir writing plans. I wrote this comment as much for me as in response to what she had written “I’ve come to understand that when I’ve faced resistance, it was because I was still processing what had happened and wasn’t ready to put it on the page. Be patient with yourself and the process.”

It’s tough writing memoir because a lot of stuff jumps out that you had boxed up and put in the back storage closet of your mind. If we ourselves haven’t processed what’s happened to us and made peace with our past, what spills onto the page is unresolved emotions with no universal lessons for the reader. No wonder it takes some people so long to write to write a memoir.

I find myself questioning whether I can really do this. Only in the last couple of years have I disclosed to friends my mother’s mental illness. Now I’m writing about it for the world to see? It’s scary. But I’m writing my story for others out there who like me was feeling they’re the only ones to bear the pain of loss to mental illness. You are not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

First Fatherless Christmas

blurred-Christmas-tree.jpgIt hit me like a gut-punch this week. In a year of firsts since my father passed, this would be the first Christmas without him. I crumbled at the thought, but sucked it up, stuffed my emotions, and went to work.

“Guess what I did Pa? I joined the Marines.”

“Guess where I am Pa? I’m in Vegas and I just got married.”

Yup, I was that kid that would turn a parent’s hair prematurely gray. My father was my Rock. No matter what I did or where I was, he’d respond, “You did what?!” and then want to know all the details. He was always a shoulder to cry on and a soft place to land through two divorces and the death of my mother, his first wife.

The cycle of life is inevitable but getting older sucks. I know I’m lucky he was in my life for 63 years but it doesn’t ease the pain of the gaping hole his passing left.

I’m fortunate to have had a lifetime of loving memories with the man I’m proud to call my father. This weekend, I’m taking a stroll down memory lane looking through pictures and watching all the 8mm movies my father took that I had digitized. It will be another first, watching our younger years without being able to call and reminisce with him. Please pass the tissues.

Book Look: The INFJ Writer

MTBIAs a Psychology major studying Jungian personality theory back in the day, taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was required. I like to know what makes people tick and the personality test developed by Isabel Myers and her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs nailed my type, Introversion iNtuition Feeling Judging (INFJ). I’ve taken the test many times over the years and no matter the circumstances, I’ve always been an INFJ, a rare 1.6% of the population.

41lflrfsfolI explored a lot of paths for personal growth and my bookshelves are lined with writing books, but I never could get back to the page. After Julia Cameron’s nudge at “Creative Reboot“, I began morning pages again. Then in a synchronistic surprise, the next day a new book appeared at the check-out table called “The INFJ Writer“.

Turns out a lot of writers are INFJs. In a brief conversation with author Lauren Sapala, I expressed my struggle to write and she responded that I’d probably have to get my memoir out of my system before I could write anything else. I devoured the book, reading it from cover to cover by the time I got home. Lauren speaks my language.

Soon morning pages morphed into a regular writing habit. I jumped into NaNoWriMo with wild abandon to write a crappy first draft of my memoir. Reading “The INFJ Writer” helped me understand where my potential roadblocks are and what I can do to navigate the emotional writing tides that sometimes threaten to swamp my progress.

I didn’t major in Psychology to practice as a therapist, but the knowledge I gained has served me well throughout my career. While the audience for “The INFJ Writer” seems like a small niche, I’m glad Lauren wrote it. The book inspired me to quit thinking about my writing angst and just start writing. Thank you Lauren.

Reclaiming My Name

In my first blog post, I alluded to my 1990s writing journey. As a professional woman, a mom of an adolescent, and a busy wife, I was working through a lot at the time. I became extraordinarily frustrated when the creative well dried up no matter what I tried. I’ve come to believe the universe was telling me I wasn’t ready.

I spent 31 years being married to two different men. I divorced for the first time after four years, taking back my birth name Sinness. I felt strongly about it at the time, and I didn’t want to be reminded of that failure. After 27 years of marriage to a terrific guy, sharing a daughter, and establishing myself professionally with his surname and my birth name as my middle name, the decision to retain his surname was easy. I had been known as my married name longer than my birth name. Reclaiming

After a third marriage, this time to a woman, we explored changing both our last names to one we could share. After many philosophical ‘why do women change their surname’ discussions, we decided to retain our own names.

After I began writing my memoir in November, I faced the dilemma of whether I should consider a pseudonym or pen name. When my partner suggested using my birth name, I was resistant. Why? I loved my recently passed father dearly. Why was I opposed to using his surname?

I brought up the issue to my writing coach Lauren Sapala, the author of “The INFJ Writer”, and she nailed the reason…to reclaim my birth name. It makes perfect sense. I did not know who I was during my adolescence, early adult years, or even when I wrote one of my first poems in the 1990s. It’s time to make peace with my past and reclaim the surname I was given at birth, Sinness.

51K & Nowhere Near Done

Now that all the excitement has passed and NaNoWriMo 2018 is in the books, I’m left with a 51K word salad. I envy writers who write with wild abandon about their fantasy worlds. Writing about my life is all too real and sometimes sucks.

I’m torn between wanting to tear my work in progress apart and wanting to marinate on the process, learning more about the craft of writing and putting together a memoir.

3-booksDuring NaNo, I ditched both outlines and wrote whatever came into my head. In the week after I finished, I started feeling that the structure I had believed would work wasn’t quite right. Turns out there is such thing as a memoir trilogy, but would anyone really be interested in reading a redemptive coming out story, a story of resilient empowerment, and a mushy love story?

Who knows, but clearly my intuition is telling me I need to tell those stories to myself first to figure it out.