writing & me

As we move into a new year, I cannot help but recognize my place in a season of massive change. It as though the change has been set into motion – but I have not yet arrived. I am engaged – but not married. I am studying to be a therapist – but not yet graduated (and certainly not yet licensed). I have started a new job – but have not yet mastered the many skills and learnings required.

Upon this kind of reflection, I have found myself asking: What is consistent in the midst of this deeply transformative time of life? What is it that I can come back to that is wholly and completely grounding?

Writing.

That was the first and most salient answer. Writing – of course!

I have been writing since I could actually write. I have been writing throughout my life and it is the type of thing that has both defined me as I have also defined it. That is to say that I have always been a writer – but throughout the varying seasons of life, I have decided the kind of writer I want to be. When I was young, I wrote a lot of stories. In my travels, I wrote a lot about the people I met and the awkward encounters I often managed to find myself within (I still do this, by the way). When I was an angsty teenager, I wrote about my friends, my perceived social life, and how high school was everything. Several years ago, I spent most of my time writing about social justice: the things that have broken my heart, the things in the world that seemed so wrong, so utterly out of place. Now, I write a bit of everything – I write poems from time to time, I write about my insights from unexplored parts in my past, and I write about my partner, and wedding stuff, and balancing all the newness in my life.

However, actually getting myself to pick up a pen and write something has been harder than at any other time in my life. Sure, it is somewhat hard to find the time, but actually, it’s more difficult to bring my presence to the space of writing. Good writing requires a mind ready for wandering and exploring, and lately, I have found myself hinged up by the waves of practical, modern-day stresses.

Yet, I come back to it because writing is the constant in my life, right? I am a writer – and so when it’s hard to do, I allow myself to trust the process and carry it me where it needs to go. This never fails. Honestly. Even with writer’s block, there’s always something I can bring forth in my heart, soul, and mind and express it on paper. Writing is magical like that.

Thinking about this today, I wrote the piece below. It’s simply a call back to what I love in writing and why it matters so much to me.

                                               

The only thing between me and writing is me.

I mumble, “what really do I have to say?”

I ask this question only to find a swell of energy that reminds me –

A lot.

I have a lot to say. I have a lot to write.

I can write about the world and my place in it.

I can write about the people, places, and relationships I experience.

I can write about spirituality and God – what I know to be true and everything that I don’t (which, let’s be honest, is a lot).

I can write about love. Love – the way I know it, hold it, and bear witness to it. Love – the way it can be extraordinarily miraculous and complicated at once.

I can write about change; how we propel forward and let go of the past while still knowing where we come from.

I can write about learnings. Mistakes. Vulnerabilities.

And, if I dare, I can write about unspoken truths.

The power of writing is in the ability to make that utterances inside of us real. Writing brings forth and identity and pieces of ourselves we may not always speak into the world.

When I give writing a chance, I come back to one of the strongest parts of myself – authenticity.

When I write, it is like my real voice, unfiltered and unwavering, is alive.

The world creates barriers and boundaries (as do we) to what we share.

We are silenced, muted, and asked to be quiet.

Writing radically creates and provides the space for considerations, musings, and ideas that are transferred beautifully (sometimes messily) from mind to paper.

Writing is a process, a practice, a discipline, a craft.

Writing is where I find myself.

Writing is the soul moving into a deeper existence.

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36 Questions

An old friend and I got together for dinner and a movie earlier this week. We met towards East Colfax, a bustling, growing part of Denver. I parked my car (admittedly, it was a bit stressful as I have only recently become competent at parallel parking) and made my way towards the restaurant.

As we ate our food and caught up on the small details of life (work, summer activities, and dating) she mentioned that on several dates she had gone through the now famous 36 questions that are thought to lead to intimacy between two people with recent suitors.

The study, led by Arthur Aron and a group of psychologists, found that “reciprocal and escalated self-disclosure” can be associated with the development of closeness. The research and findings became famous because they were featured in the Modern Love column in the New York Times. I first heard about the study while listening to an episode called “To Fall in Love, Do This” and was fascinated at the idea that interpersonal vulnerability could create such a strong bond.

My friend told me more – she shared that the last activity after asking these series of questions (there are three sets, designed to build in depth) was to stare into the other person’s eyes for four minutes. FOUR MINUTESImmediately, I thought to myself, I definitely need to do this with Chelsea.

We haven’t tried it yet – but I want to. In the mean time, I have read a bit more about the questions and the study.

Some of the questions in the exchange include items like:

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?

Why haven’t you done it?

When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Better yet, I stumbled across this charming, touching, tender video of three different couples going through the process of asking the questions. I literally wept. There is something about watching love manifest between two people, especially in their interactions. It is both inspiring and soothing.

Check out the video below – you won’t be sorry. And, if you get a chance to start exploring these questions with someone you love (it doesn’t even have to be a partner!) who knows where the conversation might lead.

The Truth About Reading Your Writing.

I recently listened to an inspiring NPR session about StoryCorps, an initiative started to compel social change through the power of storytelling. The idea is simple yet powerful: honor, create, and preserve the stories of humans for understanding and change. 

I promptly downloaded the app on my phone – useful for recording interviews – but then decided to move in a different direction. Oration is an important part of the storytelling process, absolutely – but so is the tangible documentation of those stories. In turn, documentation creates ownership of those stories, which allows a personal efficacy that as humans, we should all have access to.

Yet, try telling your story. It can be hard. It’s challenging. Capturing small, intimate, yet formative moments often requires a listening ear, and sometimes even, the right questions. And so, in the spirit of communal story-telling, I had the opportunity to sit down with my grandmother, Mary Lou, to hear her story. That’s right, her life story.

We sat with warm tea, sunshine, and my laptop on a Saturday afternoon on my patio. At first grandma wasn’t sure she would have much to share – three hours later, it was clear there was far more complexity and insight in her nearly 75 years than she may have originally thought.

She said wonderfully insightful things like,

“I’m just trying to make my world the best it can be.”

and also,

“…children are a joy…but grandchildren are like strawberries and cream.”

Currently, she’s looking through the initial notes (nearly 28 pages!) and adding any additional happenings, people, or anecdotes she wants to include. After, I’m going to help her draft a prose-form story of her life. It’s intimidating – how do you fully write someone’s story..? – but I’m absolutely excited and awed by this challenge. Grandma has lived a full life – with roots in Uppsala, Sweden, and a story filled with different kinds of work, relationship upheaval, children, life in a small town, and a commitment to friendship. I’m honored to be a part of that process.

The following week, I celebrated Peace Corps Week (celebrating 55 years since inception) by attending International Storytelling Night in Denver at the Deer Pile.

The concept was simple: bring your stories of Peace Corps adventures, travel, and cross-culture interactions and share them on stage. As I entered the red-painted room with odd hipster wall decorations, I put my name in the hat. I thought to myself, if my name is drawn, great, I’ll do it. If not, oh well. I tried.

“Heather” was the first name drawn. Of course. I grabbed a luke-warm PBR and hopped on the wooden-black stage. I read a story I wrote recently called “bird songs” based on the African proverb: Birds sing not because they have answers but because they have songs

I was nervous. Sweaty. Unsure if this was the right story to share. But it was. It was not only the right story, but the right time to share it as well. The story delves into the tensions of relationship – that much of what we experience in life is actually quite undefinable, which in turn, makes it beautiful. It was a story that extended well beyond the confines of the “Peace Corps Experience” and I believe that resonated with the audience listening.

Reading your writing is an act of vulnerability. Though I have been blogging for years, reading a story aloud (with others!) brings a presence and authenticity with a story that you couldn’t find otherwise. It reminded me what I had already been learning with my grandmother: storytelling is a creative process because it involves both the act of writing and the commitment of sharing what happened in the first place.

Keep sharing, y’all. It’s important.