A Different Kind of Memoir

New Mexico author Jean Stouffer has written a moving memoir of healing from the effects of growing up with an alcoholic mother.

But Sometimes I Cry is not just another recounting of a child caring for an absent parent and the self-esteem and abandonment issues that ensue. This memoir uses personal history, myth, and poetry to convey her journey from a traditional wife and mother who could not express herself to a woman who speaks her truth and accepts how she feels.

She tells her story in short chapters organized into five sections as she works with a therapist to unblock her emotions and uncover her true self.

Most sections are told in the third person, from the point of view of many charming fictional creatures—mouse, cloud, stone, owl, baby bird, beaver—who stand in for the author. Only the sections about her beloved dog, Molly, are conveyed in the first person. They are among the most moving accounts in the book.

She also gives the reader short progress reports in the third person, which tie together the fictional and poetic chapters.

When I asked about that choice, Jean said that writing in the first person was too painful. Her fictional characters conveyed her meaning and gave her the distance she needed to write about her experiences and process.

Jean did not publish this book for thirty years. Jean said she wrote it for herself, to process what she was feeling, and, at the time, never considered publication. Years later, a friend read the manuscript and encouraged her to put her story into the world. Sometimes I Cry came out in 2021.

“Writing the book changed me,” Jean said recently during a phone conversation. “It improved my relationship with my husband and helped me realize I had value beyond my traditional roles. After that, I became a hypnotherapist and got a lot of satisfaction using my skills to help people through difficult times. Going through the healing process and writing about it helped me understand that it is okay to have emotions, to be an independent person with my own feelings and goals.”

I asked Jean what she hoped readers would get from her book.

“Hope,” she answered. “Maybe my story can encourage others. Facing the darkness isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. I ended up a much happier person. A stronger person who could offer my gifts without losing myself.”

You can purchase Sometimes I Cry in paperback and e-book formats at Amazon.

You can reach Jean at www.JeanStouffer.com

 

Making Space for Happiness

By now, we thought our lives would have settled into whatever the “new normal” turned out to be. That doesn’t ring quite true. Not with a new virus strain, economic and political challenges, and warm weather that is both pleasant and a harbinger of an uncertain future.

With it all—frenetic holidays, rising prices, cataclysmic weather events sweeping the world, widening fissures in our society—we can still make space for love, creativity, and yes, even happiness.

The trick is not to forget we have more control over our lives than we take credit for. How we think is the key. I can’t control most of what happens in the outer world, but I can change my thoughts. I can root out my negative beliefs that bring up feelings of helplessness and anger. I don’t have to be a victim in someone else’s story.

I write my own story.

Of course, I always did. Just as you are writing your story, embellishing it as you go along, choosing characters to interact with, how fast the plot moves, the setting, and how it feels to be you.

Because of my early experiences, I created a lot of negative stories. Unpleasant experiences seemed to come at me from nowhere. Without the knowledge that I was repeating ingrained patterns formed from fear, distrust, and self-judgment, I was a victim of my mind’s programming.

Fortunately, I knew something was wrong, which made me feel bad but also propelled me into my healing journey. Eventually, I learned that to heal my wounds meant to let go—of self-judgment, old patterns, fear, distrust, anxiety, and depression. The more of the past I released, the happier I felt.

It is possible to be happy and creative, even during what looks like chaos. It’s possible to make a private space where your creative self can enfold you in the unconditional love that is yours for the asking.

All you have to do is change your thoughts.

Try it.

Try saying:

  • I love myself.
  • I am beautiful just as I am.
  • I am creative.
  • I am safe in the arms of love.

Say the words quietly, inside your head. No one’s listening except your Spirit.

The Book I Feared to Write

When the pandemic of 2020 crashed down like a tidal wave, I retreated into my home to wait it out.

A writer and teacher who works at home, it wasn’t a stretch to teach classes online and restrict communications to telephone and Zoom sessions. Enforced isolation seemed the perfect time to w0rk on ideas I’d been gathering for a new book. No more excuses. Time to write that book.

For the first few weeks I believed my own story. Kept my commitments. Participated in online meetings and classes. On regular bike rides with my dog, Zena, I spoke to neighbors I had rarely seen. Everyone was eager to say hello, pass the time of day, and relay how they were coping. At the park, passersby were friendlier than usual. I sat under a ramada near a favorite tree while Zena rolled on the grass. Dogs trotted over to say hello. People waved. It was interesting how being forced to separate brought us closer together.

Weeks passed. I taught my classes, worked with students, completed editing jobs, and wrote. My writing practice is decades old, so I always write, but the new book’s focus eluded me. Anxiety kept me moving but also made it hard to sit and concentrate on an intensely private subject: my relationship to Spirit.

Fiction was easier to write, so I did that. Sent out short stories. Got a couple published. Still, I felt like a skittish animal running in ever-tightening circles around the one thing it wanted but feared to approach.

Facing my new book, which my mind had told me would be short and easy to write, I trembled.

An optimist at heart, I believe we have more freedom than we realize. We aren’t victims of our genetics, family upbringing, finances, politics, or experience. These things shape us, but at every moment, we have the choice to change. No matter our circumstances, we can embark on a fresh path.

Practice what you preach, I exhorted myself as I created a new spreadsheet and listed my chapters. I forged ahead with another draft—wrote, edited, researched, and organized. But something wasn’t right.

It was time to examine my own beliefs. One More Time.

After serious meditation and journaling, I uncovered the face of my resistance—my lifelong reticence to write about who I am. Not in the external sense. What was uncomfortable was writing about my inner world, which is far more real to me than what I do “out there.”

I am one of the lucky ones. From early childhood, I have wandered the inner world. I also knew that, if I spoke of it, the outcome would be ridicule and shaming. So I kept my counsel until I got older and found safe spaces to be myself.

The roots of my personal challenges were buried deep. Not “out there” in an unmarked grave but inside my psyche and body, what I call the “biofield.” Because of early trauma, I’ve berated and second-guessed myself, agonized, and rationalized when deciding about jobs, relationships, business, writing projects, and finances. I doubted my inner perceptions and the common wisdom. Anxiety was a constant companion. No matter what I did, I judged myself, taking on more responsibility than was mine to bear, experiencing the exquisite torture of teetering on the line between worlds.

Struggling with a book I couldn’t grasp, an epiphany burst forth. I realized that, at this moment, only what’s important counts—and what’s important is what I’ve learned from sojourning with my inner self. The lessons were not complicated, but I’ve been a slow study, so it’s taken time to re-member them

  • There is a path through life which we chose before birth.
  • We walk our own path, whether or not we know it.
  • Our inner self guides us, whether or not we notice.
  • Life is easier when we heed the messages from within.
  • When we listen to the messages of our inner self, it grows into a Wise Inner Guide.
  • Spirit possesses infinite patience.
  • It’s never too late to listen and learn. 

The book, When Spirit Whispers, a journey of awakening, will be published soon, along with an accompanying workbook. This article is an amended version of its preface. I plan to write two more volumes, Visions of Healing and Doorways to Healing.

Going forward, I will use this monthly blog to write about healing, trauma, and writing, the three subjects that intersect to form my path. I hope you will find it useful

If you would like to be an advance reader for When Spirit Whispers, contact me at carol@carolhollandmarch.com. I will send you an electronic copy of the book. If you enjoy it, I hope you will be kind enough to leave a review.

 

 

 

 

 

Valentine for a Beloved Dog

I thought my dog Buddy would enjoy a companion because he loved playing with other dogs at the dog park. But when I brought Zena home one scorching August day in 2010, I learned I was wrong. Buddy was jealous, annoyed, and intimidated by this big Shepherd/heeler female who had suddenly appeared in his kingdom.

I worried about how they would get along, but after one altercation instigated by little Buddy, Zena let him have his way. Although half her size, Buddy assumed the position of top dog. He stole her toys, hid her treats, and commandeered her bed, so Zena slept on the rug. Six years old, shy, and abandoned by her family during the recession, she was so happy to have a home she didn’t care. I didn’t realize then how very loving she was.

No matter how much Buddy teased and plagued her, Zena never snapped or growled. She accepted every new situation, dog, and person with shy anticipation, followed by enthusiastic wags of her long tail. She was a big gentle girl, patient and forgiving, without a trace of competition or jealousy. She had none of Buddy’s annoying habits. She didn’t rummage in the trash or steal food. When she wanted something, she sat and quietly asked for it. When Buddy beat her to the punch, she sighed and walked away. I learned to offer their treats separately.

Zena tried to play with Buddy. Sometimes he would engage with her, but most of the time she was forced to impersonate a lone wolf.

From the first, Zena was on the job, making a show of fierceness with her deep throated barks at anyone approaching the front yard. She took her role as guard dog seriously.

She needed no training to stay at my side on our walks and trotted along beside my bike as if she had always been there. She never tried to escape the yard, as Buddy routinely did, or dash away when I took her to the bosque or mesa trails. Sometimes she joyfully charged after a rabbit (in vain), but always returned quickly at my call.

She never chased Bosco, the cat, and as an elder, cautiously accepted the arrival of Clio the kitten. They soon became fast friends.

Walking in the bosque one day with both dogs, when Buddy was in the early stage of dementia, I learned more about Zena. I couldn’t find Buddy, and when Zena heard my frantic calls, she took off searching. She found him and brought him back to me. I wrote a story about that experience, called Angel Dog, which I’ve posted on my website. It’s a true story about how I learned to see Zena more clearly.

After Buddy left us, Zena moved into the dog bed I had bought for her and continued as my faithful companion for another four years. She was a happy dog who took pleasure in small things—a cat friend, peanut butter treats, a house to protect, and the occasional rabbit to chase. She loved me and Buddy and the cats, and although she was shy with new people, she enjoyed every person who visited us. Her tail wagged constantly. She came here to love and to serve, and she did both perfectly. Now my beautiful girl is running free.

                            On February 4, Zena left this world as peacefully as she had walked upon it.                                                  

Zena, Beloved Friend, 2004 – 2021

 

 

Dancing With the Creative Self

Many of my students sign up for a writing course because they have an urge to bring forth their experiences.

They want to write stories, poems, memoirs. Many have never written before. They don’t know where to start. What to write about. How to choose fiction or nonfiction. Many have confidence issues. Fearing judgement, they hesitate to share their work.

I understand the tenderness of the beginning writer, the courage it takes to put forth embryonic work and place it under the light of scrutiny.

Even though I had written professionally for years, when I was ready to put out my first fiction, I was terrified. The marketing and training books I wrote, the manuals, web text, and scripts, even the ghost-written articles—none were as personal as fiction. It took stern conversations with myself before I started sending my work to magazines, accepting the inevitable rejections, and sending it out again.

Now, after publishing many short stories, three novels, and a few personal experience narratives, I tell my students that I learned the most about writing from the effort to produce publishable work.

My writing teachers taught me much. So did the students in the classes and workshops I attended. Every editor I hired to advise me before I sent out a piece taught me something new.

Some magazine editors were kind enough to say why they rejected my piece. Some even suggested changes. Every time I looked anew at a rejected story, I found ways to improve it. And of course there was the exquisite pleasure when  an editor said they liked my story.

The whole process was a learning experience. It toughened me and eventually became fun. Not to say I enjoy rejections, but they no longer stop me. It’s not personal. It’s the work. Which can be improved.

What’s important for new writers, especially those who start later in life, is to honor the urge to create. To bring forth and shape the nascent idea nagging at you. The images you know are part of a story. The characters who spring to life in your mind. The feeling that your experiences matter. Which they do.

We live our lives according to the story we tell ourselves. We change our lives by changing our stories. Whether we fictionalize our experiences or write searingly honest memoir, the benefits of getting them out of our heads and into the world are enormous. It helps us, and it helps others.

The drive to create is in everyone. It’s part of being human. Honored, it makes us more human.  Our Creative Self urges us onward. It wants to be expressed. It wants to dance, with joy and abandon. Honor it.

So, write! Sing! Dance! Paint! Make a poem! Outline your novel! Decide you’re going to tell about all that you’ve learned!  I promise, you won’t be sorry.