My next nonfiction book has a working title of Your Creative Self is Waiting for You. I am writing it for readers who want to access their creativity in any form. I believe we are all creative. Even those who protest, “Oh, not me, I have no talent.”
We can’t all be famous painters and writers, but everyone can express themselves. Taking a few small steps to give form to our thoughts, images, yearnings, and ideals is empowering.
Writing in a journal, doodling with a pencil, coloring images in an adult coloring book, re-arranging a room, setting a beautiful dinner table, taking time to teach a child—all are creative acts that feed our souls.
With the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Europe, my stress level has gone up. I wondered if writing about creativity is appropriate given the turmoil in the world. But then I remembered how writing eases my tension. Writing stories, especially, feels good.
And I remembered Paul Levy, a wise man who teaches about the negative effects of trauma in the mind, what he calls wetiko. Wetiko is a Native American term referring to the negative mental programming, or mind virus, that causes selfishness, insatiable greed, and the unfeeling wielding of power over others. Levy offers an answer to the question many are asking. What is happening to our world?
A few months ago, I took an online course from Levy. It was profound and inspiring. He said that we all suffer to some degree from the effects of wetiko It can take the form of the inner critic who judges and criticizes, often urging us to act against our own interests. The good news is that one way to counteract it is with creative acts. So the time spent in the writing room, the studio, the workshop is not wasted. We can free ourselves by opening ourselves.
We are all stressed and anxious. The pandemic is winding down. But now we have inflation, war, cultural polarization, and the juxtaposition of truth and lies which is truly terrifying. All my life, I’ve struggled with discerning what’s true for me. People dealing with the effects of early trauma are often confused about how much to trust their feelings and intuition. I have used many methods to separate the easy messages of the common wisdom from my truth. Opening the channel to the inner world works. That’s why so many people are journaling. Writing memoirs. Taking up painting. Intuitively, they want the different answers that lie within.
So I write about the inner self, the Creative Self, the part that pain, disappointment, grief, loss, and illness have not damaged. The part that reminds us we are more than our experiences. We are creative beings who can change our thoughts. We change how we perceive our lives by playing, making music and art, by writing, and by opening our hearts to people, animals, and plants.
Being creative is not a panacea, and won’t solve the world’s problems, but accessing our creative energy brings us closer to life as it is supposed to be. It will relieve stress, release endorphins, and help distance us from the inner critic. When we play with the Creative Self, we remember who we are.
So don’t say, I’m not creative. Don’t listen to the critic who judges you not good enough to write/paint/build/compose. You’re exactly good enough, right now, to start. And that’s all it takes.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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.
The stories of our daily lives have changed. We had no choice. We’re working at home. Not working. Home schooling the kids. Can’t travel. No baseball games, concerts, movies, or parties. We learned to operate on Zoom and discovered you can order anything, literally anything, on Amazon.
The changes were abrupt and startling. We adjusted and asked a lot of questions.
- When will it be over?
- Am I safe?
- Is any of this true?
- When will life go back to normal?
For answers, there’s no lack of stories.
- It will end in the summer.
- The virus will run its course like the flu.
- Only old people are at risk, so don’t worry about it.
- We don’t know what’s going to happen.
- The way the story ends depends on how we behave.
We find ourselves in the role of protagonist.
But is that anything new?
There are so many stories to choose from. As much as humans love inventing stories, then repeating and elaborating on them to entertain each other, this is different, isn’t it?
Yes, and no.
Before written language, people told stories. They relayed what plant was safe to eat, what trail led away from the lion’s den and which one to follow for water.
Stories based on facts won.
When the story is about our health, safety, how we work, and how we provide for our families, we want a story based on the best facts available.
But when the story is about how we respond to abrupt cultural change and how we feel about it, that’s different. It’s about our lives. We get to make it up.
We tell a story about how we’re doing. What adjustments we’ve made. What’s going to happen. What it all means. It’s how our brains work. They want to know the next step. An unfinished story makes them squirm.
We tell the story of our lives all the time. To friends, to colleagues, when we’re interviewing for a job, or talking to a realtor about buying a house. The stories may be snippets, short stories, or in some cases, novels. This is who I am. This is what I did. This is what happened. This is what I’m going to do.
Our story makes up our personal myth.
- I’m the kind of person who always . . .
- I love a challenge.
- Nothing stops me from reaching my goals.
- If my family had been supportive, I could have . . .
- Relationships never worked out for me.
- Boredom is the worst, so I go where the adventure is.
Now that life has changed, are you changing your story? Developing a new plot? Inviting new characters into it?
In fiction the hero’s journey is a familiar plot. The protagonist ventures forth, meets allies, vanquishes enemies, and after conflict and difficulty, seizes the prize. Whether the prize is a princess to love, treasure, or hard-won knowledge, he meets his destiny. He was brave and developed skills.
Another journey is that of the heroine, taken by both men and women. It does not require a quest, but instead follows an inner path where memories, feelings, and beliefs are examined. The goal is to be authentic. The heroine examines her values, decides how much of the common wisdom applies, and who she will be in the future.
This time seems perfect for the inner journey, a pause to examine our lives, notice our reactions to the changes we’ve had to make, and decide what can be left behind. As we move forward, we may need a new perspective. New plans. A new attitude.
If you’ve thought about writing the story of your life, for personal development, legacy, or memoir, this may be the time. Especially if that story is changing. Writing helps sort things out so you can become the conscious narrator of who you are and who you will become.
I offer a class on Writing the Story of Your Life through UNM Continuing Education. Contact me to learn more about it.