Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Book Report: Writing the Mind Alive & Hip Update

This has been one of those times where I can't quite seem to find the voice that I want to access and use for this blog.  Sometimes I've been too awash in a sea of self pity and "Why me?" injury despair to write anything that pretends to be inspiring, sometimes I've been too awash in a sea of complete and utter blackout rage over what is happening in our country, sometimes I've been too deep in the weeds of hard and scary personal growth to share any of it in a public setting.

So, first thing's first - quick update on the state of my hips and the state of my 2018 NYC Marathon.  Basically, I'm still in Marathon purgatory.  Some days it seems inevitable that it won't happen.  We are 18 weeks out from the race, and I not only wanted to start my training two weeks ago, but I wanted to have been building upon a rock solid foundation from having trained for the Brooklyn Half.  Instead, I haven't run at all since mid-April and I haven't run without pain since April 5th.

It's not impossible to train for and run a marathon in 16 weeks.  But it's not how I wanted to do it - not just in a "that's not fair, I didn't want it to be this way" sort of way, but in a practical, let's-keep-myself-healthy way.

But my doctor is still very much digging their heels into the "wait and see" party line.  He's not giving me a definite yes or no until probably about mid-month.  And of course, he could always give me an answer and then my body could wind up surprising us, for better or worse.

I still really don't know what's going to happen, and the battle of being okay with uncertainty, for this girl who likes to control and plan anything, has been humbling and unfun.  But, I know, it's good for me.  Ugh.  When will the world stop conspiring to help me build more character?

With all of this said, I've still been writing every single day, like I always do.  My mom started me on the habit of journal writing when I was a kid - and I'll never forget my first Lisa Frank journal she gave me at the beginning of a summer one year that was just for me and no one else to ever read - and I've kept it up my whole life.  I don't make any rules for it - sometimes it's a fairly shallow and uninspiring to-do list.  Sometimes it's a recounting of events I want to remember.  Sometimes it's hashing out stuff that's bothering me.  I don't strive to make it particularly stream-of-consciousness or anything - I just write.

This brings us to the book report part of things.  During an extremely well timed and much needed night with my best friend last week, she loaned me Writing the Mind Alive: The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon.  It was published in 2002, but the writing method it describes was developed by the authors in the 1970's.

I devoured this book - it's a shortie, only 183 pages.  Lisa (aforementioned best friend, and also ps she's a talented superstar too) has been telling me for awhile about her Writes that she's done, and I always thought she just meant general journaling, or morning pages.

A Write (always with that capital W!) is a period of about a half hour of writing.  The setting is important - the authors' recommended setup for this ritual includes a private room, a candle, wordless music (they recommend Baroque), and white, unlined, unbound paper.  The "rules" are as follows:

1. Write what you hear
Meaning, write your thoughts as they come in to your head.  This isn't necessarily stream of consciousness, and there isn't a rule that the pen must constantly be moving on the paper.  You can take it a little more slowly and thoughtfully than that - it's not a race.

2. Listen to what you write
From the book:  "The skill that's most actively engaged during a Write isn't the writing skill at all.  It's the hearing skill...To hear your own thoughts and to awaken your auditory imagination, you must develop within yourself your capacity to listen.  Thought can always be voiced, but to hear it requires a certain kind of intense, focused listening, a quality of attention:  curious, patient, even tempered...It never judges, edits, censors."

3. Be ready to ask the Proprioceptive Question
The question is the tool you use to develop your ability to listen to your thoughts.  It is, "What do I mean by ____?"  For example, if I write down, "I want to cede control of it all" and it feels like the concept of control needs more elucidation, I will follow it by writing out, "What do I mean by 'control?'" and then delving more deeply...until I feel the need to ask it again, and delve deeper, ask again, delve deeper - you get the idea.

Every aspect of this technique appeals to me.  I love the ritual of it all - the candle, intentionally carving out the space and the focus.  Often times when I write I lose focus so much that I might as well have not written a thing.  At first I hated the idea of loose and unlined white paper (as a leftie, I don't usually write in a straight line) but it's actually been great and feels strangely freeing.

I also find that having that one technique of the Proprioceptive Question is like turning on all the lights and unlocking all the doors in my brain.  My first few Writes coincided with some turbulent days and they were like free therapy where I went down some avenues of my mind I hadn't gone down in a very long time.

As I said above, I'm a lifelong, daily journal-writer.  It's really important to me and to my sanity (it's probably how I've been able to get away without going to therapy at this point in my life - not that it's going to be a substitute for it forever...) but it's also something that I truly love.  As evidenced by the obscene length of this blog post - I love to write and it's something I've always loved and been good at.

If you do not consider yourself a writer, or if you hated it in school the way I hated math, or you're just new to the idea of journaling, I think this is the perfect technique to get your feet wet.  You aren't writing for a grade or for anyone else's eyes.  Hell, you don't even need to ever read it again unless you really want to.  You could burn each and every Write you do for all anyone needs to know.  But the act of writing, the act of asking and answering that question, is an active step toward knowing yourself better.

The only thing we can really control and count on in life is ourselves.  We can't control what happens in our lives or our country or even in our bodies.  But the better we know ourselves and take care of ourselves, the better prepared we are to face whatever the world has in store for us.

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