“Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear most.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Aletha Solter’s book, Tears and Tantrums, saved my life when I was a mother of preschoolers; well, it was one of the books that saved my life. I’ve been thinking about it, and wanted to share with you. If you Google her name you’ll find a website with a summary.
Books such as this one (also Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso, and Your Competent Child by Jesper Juul) I’m sure were helpful as I read them, but the concepts expressed in the titles were very nearly enough. They helped me parent my daughters, and they helped me to be a better teacher. I learned from reading parenting books that when a student is extremely upset, it’s best to nod your head and say, “You are really upset.” Reasoning with the student, asking them why they’re upset, none of that is immediately helpful. Listening to an upset student, really listening, is the best thing to do. When you argue with a student, it’s a lot like throwing a tantrum because your child is throwing a tantrum.
So these concepts have been immensely useful to me as a parent and (even more, as it’s difficult to be objective with one’s own children) with my students. (And not that I haven’t had bad moments with both.) I am now wondering what these insights could do to help me finish the revision of my novel.
I’m trying to let my characters wail. I’m trying to really listen.
My weekend retreat was not a retreat, I learned to my great distress on the very first evening (no leisurely unpacking, no lolly-gagging). It was not about reading books. It did include a lot of writing, but not the sort of writing I would normally have chosen.
It was called a Responsible Living Workshop. What it taught me was how to feel my feelings, in particular how to dig deep into my own childhood and recover what that little girl used to feel. It was, in a word, intense.
Of course in numerous ways the weekend turned out to be all about my writing. Well, all about life, which–ultimately–is what the best writing taps into.
Right now–home after three busy days (Thursday evening to Sunday evening, 7 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday)–I’m not sure what else to add. But this together with my PNWA workshop with Margie Lawson this past summer (the one about writing emotion) are telling me, loudly, clearly, that I need to pay more attention to feeling my feelings.
“To humiliate a crying child is to increase his pain, and augment his rigidity. We stop other people from crying because we cannot stand the sounds and movements of their bodies. It threatens our own rigidity. It induces similar feelings in ourselves which we dare not express and it evokes a resonance in our own bodies which we resist.” –Alexander Lowen
I own pretty much everything Flannery O’Connor ever wrote, including her collected letters, so I couldn’t resist buying the new A Prayer Journal as soon as I saw it. Later, I listened to this story on NPR.
I’m headed to Sand Point, Idaho, tomorrow morning for a retreat with my friend Shawna. She’s driving. I’m reading.
I found this in Gabriele Rico’s Writing the Natural Way:
“We are what we imagine. Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves. Our best destiny is to imagine who and what, and that we are. The greatest interpretation, a newly constructed version of the original. As our age and experience change, versions of the same thing evolve. Memory is essentially reconstructive.” -Antonio Damasio
After coffee (and writing talk) with a friend yesterday I was thinking about times when I’ve reinvented myself. Waitress, teacher, mom, writer, wife, daughter–sometimes it feels as though each day is a series of reinventions. I know people who seem rigid in their understanding of themselves, as though they have to defend themselves from the onslaught and at all costs avoid changing. Better to open your arms to it. This particular friend is someone who, when one career seemed to slam a door in her face, turned and became an award-winning high school teacher. She dyed her hair, too! It was inspiring!
I’m changing a section of the manuscript, weaving a character in. It’s hard. It’s as if the previous draft is concrete and I have to chip it away and repour. But that’s just imagination. It’s not concrete. I’m playing in the mud, in something porous and absolutely changeable. The key–it seems to me–is to know when enough change is enough.
The key lies in knowing when I’m just tinkering away in order to avoid finishing the damned thing.
But I really am getting closer.
“…if you weren’t racing around doing stuff with everyone and their little sister…”
I had an interesting response to this criticism. First, I felt as though my stomach dropped, that familiar clenching and sense of dread. O my God, I thought, I’m sabotaging myself by doing all this running around and filling up of my time! I have to stop!
Which meant–of course–that I scheduled EVEN MORE stuff. I decided that I had to go to Bellingham immediately (!) to see my daughter Annie and I had to take my fourteen-year-old and one of her friends with me (guaranteeing that there would be no time for quiet reflection on this trip).
Home again by 10 p.m., I let myself get swept up in another daughter’s enthusiasm for Lady Gaga and stayed up until 1 o’clock watching Saturday Night Live.
The next morning, even though I overslept and had no time to write, I HAD to go to church. I had to have lunch out…well, it goes on and on.
At Ravenna Third Place Books yesterday afternoon, I listened to Esther Helfgott read from Dear Alzheimer’s. I lost track of time and sat in awe of how one can take the every day busy-ness of a life and make it into a song. Her meditation on listening to Mozart with her husband, one of my favorite pieces, made me reflect on my own resolve to do less this year, and to write more. I sat listening to Esther and I was swept away by how she had in the midst of all the things she must have had to see to in those years found a space in which to write. I felt lucky that she had done so.
Several years ago, while teaching full-time and trying to be fully engaged in parenting three youngsters, I made a decision to always say “yes” to writing. This year, I need to learn to say “no” to some other things. I want to continue to be engaged with my daughters, naturally, but I think I need to distinguish what among my other activities really counts as writing, and what detracts. I am not sure what this means, not yet, but I am willing to be conscious and to explore what it means.