Tag Archives: Journaling

Self-care in This Chaotic Trump Era

Faye @ computer
photo by Marv

I have the privilege, twice a year, as an alumna of the Solstice Creative Writing MFA of Pine Manor program, to audit classes. This past Friday, I participated in an intimate community gathering in which Nicole Terez Dutton (poetry faculty) and Dr. Prabakar Thyaragajan (psychiatrist and poet) presented and led students, faculty and staff in a discussion of Writing as Balm, Armor and Resistance.

The Solstice group is diverse in gender, identity, age, and experience. United by the bond of writing, we are, as a group engaged, informed and sensitive to information and the world in which we live. To say that writers as a whole are more sensitive than most might be a stretch. Yet, I believe it to be true.

Writers read voraciously. Writers scan their universe, both wide and intimate, for the details of what is apparent and what is beneath the surface. Story, above all else draws us like a moth to flame. We watch on the subway, we listen at the train station, and in the coffee line at Peets. We observe couples, families, friends. Wired to story, we absorb and chronicle.

In this context, Nicole Terez Dutton set the stage to step back and identify all the variable assaults to our dignity as a nation, as a people of diversity, as a group of involved individuals struggling to live through and manage this wild, chaotic Trump era and its effects of what was once reliable and, for the most part, with precedence.

When she highlighted the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s 14 warning signs of Fascism and ticked them off, one by one, with incidents of this past year, we grasped the full sweep of the dangerous trajectory of leadership in our country.

We have to work against Fascism, we have to help each other to survive, she said.

In introducing Dr. Prabakar Thyaragajan, she said, we need strategies to be well, stay well, to be with each other.

In this spirit, I am grateful to share a brief account of Prabakar’s positivity philosophy of self- care.

  • All creatures deserve to be happy; should is a terrible word
  • Listen to the self; adopt gifting to the self; practice foregiveness of the self

I experienced delight when Prabakar said, the simplest way to listen to the self is to keep a journal (he keeps his on his phone, a novel idea to me). His directions to track sensations are simple and basic to the practice of mindfulness.

  • keep a close ear to the ground; give weight to the everyday experience
  • what does the first taste of morning coffee taste like? I am drinking my first cup as I write this: the taste is slightly bitter yet buttery sweet from the mix with coconut milk.
  • what does the walk in air feel like?
  • what does disgust feel like—i.e., I want to vomit when…
  • include mixed feelings—I often struggle with ambivalence and find it helpful to write them out and reflect on the pluses and minuses.
  • On foregiveness of the self :Not fair to judge thoughts and emotions which are not under our control. Okay to feel anger. Aggression is a choice.

Nicole ended with inviting the audience to respond and state how each of us are managing. Solstice writers stood and spoke out about their own struggle and efforts to bring self to the page, to speak to systems of oppression, to take on projects that are satisfying and not too demanding, to bring solace and sustained work to ourselves.

I shared how writing this gratitude blog sustains my creativity while trying to make a difference. I ask each of you reading today to add to the conversation. Please contribute your approach and point of view and write a comment!

Be Alive To Everything

May Sarton, circa 1977

May Sarton, circa 1977

I don’t remember when I first read May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude—perhaps, in my early sixties, working full time as a psychotherapist, teacher and consultant— with little awareness that solitude was an elixir, a drink to quell the thirst for my creativity and voice.

The well of Sarton’s spirit, her unhappiness, her loneliness, her ability and willingness to chronicle her deepest sensibilities was compelling to read. I marveled and envied her bravery to write about her humanity as a woman seeking balance, her need for connection to family and friends as well as her need for solitude as a writer.

In contrast, I wrote poems and journal entries in secret, a lifelong habit influenced by my Jewish/Yankee dad who often said, “It’s nobody’s business.” As a professional social worker, I was the keeper of my client’s secrets. I wrote after each session, chronicled my client’s stories in longhand, just as I write this blog, grateful for the perspective that comes from pen in hand.

At sixty-five, I was searching for a way to transition into writing more fully. I read Sarton for courage, for a close-in experience of a woman thoroughly committed and engaged with the writing life. A lesbian, she did not marry but wrote ardently of her need for intimacy. She did not hold back self-criticism, her struggles with discontent, the parts of myself I can barely face in private, never mind in public.

I resonate with her struggle to both heed and ignore the call of the every day. She experienced gratitude for solitude, the opportunity to reflect. She writes,

I feel cluttered when there is no time to analyze experience. That is the silt—unexplored experience that literally chokes the mind. Too much comes into this house—books I am asked to read and comment on, manuscripts, letters, an old friend who wants my opinion…and so on.

I have my own list of clutter. This is my silt—the unexplored experience that chokes both mind and heart, robbing time for reflection, the option to pause and consider. Too much comes into my house through snail mail, e-mail, Facebook— piles of unwanted catalogues, sales pitches for the home, the mind, the appetite, the body beautiful, politicians plea for money, the thrum of capitalism.

After posting my last blog about Mom and me, I felt at sea. Without thinking, I picked up Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude. I read, I scanned; I searched for what I knew not until the call of memory, like a compass, lead me back to her words. I am grateful to the poets, novelists and essayists who write reflectively. They inspire my aspirations. Now older than Sarton at the time of her Journal writing, I feel a kinship. How discerning is this Sarton quote:

For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.