My book’s third draft requires what I call bridges, written
pieces to fill the gaps that exist in the second draft.
Right now I am writing a series of bridges showing an emotional shift from denial into curiosity and the beginning of a willingness to look at a long, traumatic experience of illness. Because this third draft is all about adding the emotional layer, I need to move deep into my emotions every time I write.
Yesterday I wrote about numbing out. Numbing out is an emotion. It’s a way of coping with and surviving other emotions which threaten to overwhelm. I know it intimately. It was my primary emotion for a very long time when I was ill.
Writing about a denial of emotion and, at the same time, providing
the emotional connection for the reader is tricky. I struggled with the words, I persevered, but
by the time I was done I was numbed out to my writing. I left my studio in doubt of any success.
This morning I realized what had happened. I’d not only written about the emotional wall
I lived behind when I was ill with fibromyalgia, I’d recreated it.
My mind, body, and heart don’t register a difference
between an emotion felt via memory and an emotion felt via a current
experience. When I feel something, I feel
the experience right now. Present. Immediate.
I’ve learned things today. Trust my mind and body and heart to know what needs to be written, to feel the emotions truly, and to write that truth. Remember that the emotions I am expressing on the page colour how I feel after the writing is done; bless them, and let them go. Trust my readers and their emotional experiences to understand and complete the emotional connection I’m offering.
The shorter version—trust and write what feels true.
Writing well and true doesn’t always leave me feeling well
and true, or happy.
This knowledge came home to me yesterday.
I had two days of writing draft for my book. I knew what I needed to work on. A bridge was necessary between the book’s
opening pieces and the first moment when I discover a process that eventually
heals me completely.
I knew the writing
must focus on the shift I experienced, moving from desperation and grief into
the first flash of a kind of hope. I knew
I was capable of writing this. I also
knew I would have to dive into intense memories and feelings to find the words,
and dive out again to get the words onto the page.
All my life I’ve been a master at hiding my feelings from
myself. I learned this while growing up.
Now I have to do the exact opposite.
I have to open to all I feel, and feel it deeply enough
inwards, to capture and express it outwards.
This is exactly when I question what I am doing, writing
what I’m writing. A story which requires
me to be wildly vulnerable, not only to myself but to my readers.
Yet here I am, open and writing as I intended.
I finish the draft. It
needs a few more bits here and there, but the bridge is mostly built. Good for me.
Well done, Cat.
Except I don’t feel well-done and good-for-me
feelings. Instead I feel frustrated and,
if I be honest, angry.
I have enough experience by now to set aside both feelings
and writing once I am done for the day. I
know how to move myself to other things.
Yet I continue frustrated and angry through the afternoon and evening.
Distractions. Things I love, that move me towards joy. I read a good book. I play with a new crossword puzzle. I make an awesome, tasty dinner. I water the garden while the dinner cooks, and let the scents of water, earth, and new roses surround me. My husband and I go for a walk through the neighbourhood. I watch episodes three and four of a fantasy series I am greatly enjoying.
Now I’m in bed. The frustration
has dissipated, but the anger remains.
I look at my day—it was a good one. I am mystified at my mood. Since I am nowhere near sleep, I decided to
pick apart the anger.
I spent two days writing emotional pain. Two days writing memories, seeing and feeling
clearly what I had not allowed myself to see or feel at the time. It was pure survival, years ago, pushing my
life to be bearable.
Bearable. Here is a
word with edges, sharp with anger and heat.
Here is why I am angry.
Why should I have had to live a life, back then, that I could
only describe as bearable?
Should I not have had a life that was joy and play, wonder
and beauty and love?
Should I not have been able to love my life?
I couldn’t say that during the fibromyalgia years. There were some things I loved about my life. There were some things that gave me joy, things that allowed me to bear what the other side of my life held. There were things I found that could carry me through what I would not think about, would not let myself look at or feel.
I survived. That’s
the best this anger will allow me to say.
And with that, to my surprise and relief, anger drops away. I am left feeling a blessed, quiet emptiness.
I have seen and felt and understood.
I have acknowledged what was there, and said yes, that was
That was true, and now this is true—I no longer have to use
‘bearable’ to describe my life. I can
use the words I was desperate for, back then.
Joy, play, wonder, beauty, and love.
Here, on this side of the bridge I’ve written, I have a
life I love, and I can feel it. Well, true,
I’ve been listening to an interview series on the web. Some of the interviewees are musicians/composers/healers all in one. Each has told the story of how the healer part of their life developed in balance with their music.
I get it, because music has healed and saved me, all my life.
As a child, I was taught to deny what I felt whenever the
feeling was difficult and uncomfortable for others to witness. Anger, sadness, confusion, overwhelm, and
grief were just a few of the unacceptable emotions in our home.
Denying and hiding my emotion made those around me more comfortable, but it left me in turmoil, not being allowed to express what was rolling through me.
Music saved me.
I started piano lessons at age seven, and quickly discovered I not only heard music, I felt it within me. Music unlocked the denied emotions, and the feelings translated themselves into the sounds my body created on the piano.
Here, sitting on the piano bench, my feet dangling far
above the floor, I could feel loud and angry, or heartbroken and slow. I could move my fingers over the keys, feel
the sound vibrate through me, and send my emotion flying into the air around
I could express how I felt.
I could let go.
I could be free.
I could be myself.
Music still saves me. Sometimes, when an emotion is too painful or frightening, I lapse into the pattern of denial and control I learned as a child. I feel something within me, a hard, heavy rock lodged in my body, and it’s the signal I am hiding an emotion from myself. That emotion needs to be seen and heard by me. It needs to be felt and freed so I can come back into balance in my life, and back into love for myself.
On my beloved IPod I have 67.5 days of music. Music, melody, and sound for every mood and every layered fraction of a feeling. Exactly what I need to heal and save and power myself, exactly whenever I need it.
I also have a keyboard sitting by the studio window. I’m looking at it right now. I haven’t played with it in some time, and I can
feel it calling me. I can hear it
calling the music in me.
Come and play, come and feel.
In this post:
The online interview series is The Conscious Late Night Show, created and hosted by Scott Brandon Hoffman. It’s fun and illuminating. It’s also about being true to your creative self. www.ConsciousLateNight.com
A few months ago I listened to a webcast. The speaker compared life’s experiences to climbing a ladder.
“Every rung is important,” he said, “Every rung is equal.”
At first, the idea of “everything matters equally” felt paralyzing. Taking even the simplest of actions could be life-or-death in a world where all is so completely important. I might do it wrong.
Then I heard the words differently.
Everything in life has equal meaning.
At first, this didn’t seem logical. Holding a door open for someone and saving
someone’s life has equal meaning?
Yes, it does.
Last Fall I was deep in grief over the deaths of my Dad and my cousin. The feelings came and went, unpredictable tides that left me feeling helpless and lost. On a day when things were especially colourless and I desperately needed to feel better, I took myself to the library.
As I walked towards the door, it swung open and someone
came out. Their arms were loaded with
books, a balancing act, but when they saw me they paused and waited, holding
the door open wide. They looked me in
the eyes and smiled. I thanked them and walked
Holding the door open for someone and smiling, a momentary gesture frequently repeated, nothing really in the larger movements of life. Except this someone, a stranger, smiled for me as if we knew and loved each other well.
That brief action was pure kindness, a connection that gave me light and space and breath. I was offered a moment of love that buoyed me for the rest of the day.
I don’t know what happens as my actions and choices ripple outwards. I don’t know who I affect every day in my
I do know I want my life’s touch to be as kind and loving
as the gift I received that day.
If everything is important and equal, if everything has meaning, I choose to do my days with kindness and love for the people around me and for myself.
My studio is in chaos.
Boxes. Books. Papers. Art supplies.
Reintegrating two studios into one is a messy business. Right now I am organizing, and there are
multiple piles covering the floor and work tables.
I am joyful amidst this chaos. My smile is wide and I am utterly content. My studio is becoming one again, I am becoming one again.
I moved back and forth between two homes for fifteen
years. This movement was not natural to
me. I am a nester. I did my best anyways.
Now I am home where I began, the place where I feel grounded and whole. Here I breathe easiest, and my body and senses know the rhythm, smells, and sounds of the land. I am a part of this place.
I should have expected the feeling that showed up, but I didn’t.
I held my breath for fifteen years and did not know it.
How could I not know something this essential?
Necessity. I forced myself to focus on what was necessary. In my second home I made myself find what was good, what was new and interesting, what I could love. Apparently I am very good at finding ways to feel okay, and very expert at looking away from what I have to leave behind. No looking back, I say to myself, and I don’t.
I made good friends.
I found things I could truly love, and things that expanded my life. I met people who love the land there, who are
clearly home in every meaning of the word.
But I know my home is here.
The back-and-forth years are done, the time away completed. The relief I didn’t expect to feel is real and honest. I have come home again.
In this post:
The image is a pastel drawing I made for my sister-in-law. It’s titled “I called light and dark and wove the cloth of life (Charlene)”, from a body of artwork “Dancing The Ghosts” which honours five generations of my family. I created this body of work while living in my northern home, and on Charlene’s drawing I wrote:
Nothing is wrong. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is neurotic. Nothing is disowned. Everything is possible. Everything is held. Everything is claimed. Everything is loved. This is who we are.
The last few weeks have been a slow roller coaster. My moods have traveled up and down, and longer in the downs. This week I’ve settled, a blessed relief.
I could list the reasons, but it’s easier to simply list ‘life’.
I am exactly like my son when he was five years old.
It was a tough day at school (kindergarten is not always easy), and he came home angry. He didn’t want to talk, and he bashed his way around the house until I became angry too. Better we separate when we’re both angry. I told him to go to his room. I stayed in the kitchen.
I listened as he stomped away, as his door slammed, as the noise and activity level in his bedroom peaked, then quieted.
After a few minutes, concern and curiosity led me down the hallway. I knocked on his door, then opened it.
He looked at me, mourning written all over him. “Mom, I’ve tried everything and nothing makes
me feel better.”
The evidence of his effort lay all around him, on the floor and the bed. Toys, Lego pieces, stuffed animals, his favourite blanket. He had tried so hard. My upset dissolved in an instant.
Love is what I gave my precious son that day, and received love back. We sat on his bed and hugged, held hands, talked about nothing important. We had all the time in the world.
I’ve tried and nothing makes me feel better–I know that place.
Luckily, I am now old enough I’ve learned what to do.
I don’t push the feelings away. I don’t try to make myself better. I’m upset for a reason and my feelings are broadcasting what and why. I need to feel and listen, so I do. I put on music, or let the house be silent , wrap myself in my favourite blanket, cocoon myself on the couch, become still. An hour or a day, I feel and listen. I treat myself gently, a precious being broken and hurting and needing love.
Love is what I give myself when I am hurting and needing. Love and all the time in the world. Love fills the cracks and mends the breaks. Love tells me I am something precious, and makes me whole again.
My son doesn’t remember that day, but I do always. He gave me the most perfect gift of feeling
and understanding what keeps us whole. Love. Love.
In this post:
I didn’t always know how to love myself. I still forget sometimes, but each time the
gap is smaller. Dee Wallace’s Red Dot
Exercise is one of the things that helped me learn what unconditional self-love
My experience doing the Red Dot Exercise is here on my blog,
postings from December 23 and 24, 2014:
I am not very kind to myself. I call myself lazy. I say I am a master procrastinator. The fact that I am in year five of my book draft must make these judgments true. The additional fact that I’ve done several projects during this time, so that I didn’t have to write, also makes this true.
Today I woke and realized these years of off-and-on writing
and the projects-in-between were necessary.
I had to get myself to the point where I could let go of the story.
I had to break my heart open.
In all the time I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve never
talked much of my book draft, other than I was doing it or not doing it. I’ve never talked about the content because
that wasn’t what my blog was for. My blog
has always been for the sake of writing, not for the sake of story.
I am changing that today.
For thirty-four years I had an overtaking illness, fibromyalgia, that shrunk my life and finally, fully cut away my ability to make art.
I was always a good girl. I did everything the doctors told me. I took all the medications. I cared for my body. I adjusted my life, managed, made changes, made excuses.
None of it mattered.
The disease slowly stole away the core of me, my truest self—artist.
The week I understood I had finally completely lost my art
was the breaking point. The book begins
here, and the story traces the healing path I created.
I know this story intimately. I lived it.
I was sure that five years of writing was too long and wrong. I called myself lazy and procrastinator, and
it felt appropriate.
What I had not taken into account, when I began writing the book, was how numb I had been for all the years of illness. I was living through loss repeated over and over. I was living through pain and grief, and I had to numb myself to my emotions. Numb was survival. The only place I allowed my emotions was in my art, where I had control over what I expressed.
Numb is an emotion.
But, telling a story where numb is the primary emotion
doesn’t work. The reader needs something
more to connect into and feel.
My first draft was all numb. The facts were there. It had a story line, but the emotional
connection was ice. I was skating on the
surface of everything I described, and I knew it.
I stopped writing and spent time working on my emotions and
my beliefs about myself.
My second draft was better. I was able to move into fear and love, how they felt, and how love melted away fear.
Better, but still not deep enough.
Then I did two things, perhaps accident, perhaps instinct, and experienced yet another that broke me through the numbness and let the story go.
I wrote a parallel draft during Nanowrimo 2017. I wrote all around the edges of the story,
every other part of my life, and the lives of my family and friends, during the
period the primary story took place.
Because I believed the parallel draft was not the story, I felt
free to write whatever showed up. Because
I’d given myself permission to accept whatever showed up, emotions started
breaking through and I recognized them.
Loss, grief, rage, desperation, depression. Everything I’d buried beneath numb showed up,
demanding to be acknowledged and written.
So I did. I felt the feelings and wrote the words. Painful, tearful, cathartic, necessary. For my eyes and heart only, and those of a few very trusted friends. I made it through the parallel draft.
While I was preparing to begin draft three, I discovered Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius. I put the draft on hold and instead began writing the back story, following Lisa’s process.
While I wrote back story and grieved the losses imposed on me by this now-healed illness, both my Dad and my cousin died, and my Mom fell hard and deep into Alzheimer’s.
So many griefs. They smashed the few defenses I had left.
I was naked and lost.
I kept writing.
There is something to be said for having my heart blasted
I felt everything and I feel everything, pain and joy
both. There is no numbing a blast site
And somehow, for some reason, I no longer wish to.
The emotions running in me have freed my heart and my
story. I can let the story go, and trust
the writing. I can trust the words to
carry what I feel and have felt.
For Christmas, my sister gave me a gift I’d hoped for, the book Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart.
I cocooned myself on the living room couch, and read the book slowly over two December afternoons. I could have read it slowly in one, but I had to stop halfway. I had to stop and let my feelings wash through me. Wash through me and make enough room to experience the second half of Tom’s story.
Rosalie Lightning is a graphic memoir. Tom and Leela’s young daughter Rosalie died suddenly and unexpectedly. Tom found a way through, drawing and writing.
You’d think this memoir is about grief. You’d be wrong.
Tom, Leela, and Rosalie’s story is about love. Immense, devastating, life-filled love.
Grief is always about love. I have learned this over the past year, grieving and loving first my Dad and then my cousin. Feeling both empty and far too full at the exact same time. Frozen in place, and yet needing to run as desperately fast as I could, as if I could outrun pain.
You can’t outrun your heart.
My heart—love—is the only thing that can carry me through when nothing feels right.
Tom knows about heart and nothing feeling right. His book tells something unimaginable,
chaotic, stark, crushing. And yet, at
the same time, his images and words show a way of continuing to love when you
don’t know how.
Emotion. I try, but words cannot hold the whole of it, and images only suggest it. Then I see them together, and there is magic. Together they walk me into layers of feeling another person’s world, knowing beyond any doubt my world feels the same. Word and image together reach into my heart and heal me.
Tom Hart, your name fits you perfectly. Say it aloud.
Thank you for Rosalie’s story.
In this post:
Rosalie Lightning: a graphic memoir by Tom Hart. St. Martin’s Press, New York. 2015. http://www.tomhart.net/ I also have his book The Art Of The Graphic Memoir which I am beginning to work through. This book came out in November 2018, also published by St. Martin’s Press.