A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy In Spring: On Writing & Reaching Out

I know it's just about spring because I caught the first wasp of the season in my house. Of course this one was large and active and I was grabbing my six kit-kats and stuffing them into the bathroom and the bedroom to keep them away from the critter. It took me a while, but I got him or her out of the house. I love the end of winter and the beginning of spring, except for the wasps and bees that get into the house and with all these hyper kitties, it's challenging.

Yesterday I went out in late afternoon to the local coffee shop and ordered a large Cafe Mocha and a cheese focaccia sandwich. I considered it a treat for getting out of the house. I brought my journal with me. Writing in the journal was more the purpose of the trip than the food and coffee, though the combination was good. I wrote for about 45 minutes. Nothing profound. I was writing to write. I've been going through Natalie Goldberg's books on the craft of writing. Her most famous book is called Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within. It was published in 1986 and until now, I had never read it. She's a Zen Buddhist as well as a dedicated writer. She writes short chapters touching on different aspects of her writing practice and weaving in some stories from her own life. Her goal is to encourage others on the writing path. Well, I'm one of those people who needs the encouragement and I found her approach and her style comforting and challenging at the same time.

This is her formula for a good writing practice routine:
  1. Keep your hand moving. (Don't pause to reread the line you have just written. That's stalling and trying to get control of what you're saying.)
  2. Don't cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn't mean to write, leave it.)
  3. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don't even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)
  4. Lose control.
  5. Don't think. Don't get logical.
  6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy. (p.8)
Ms. Goldberg's idea of writing practice is to fill up a spiral notebook each month for a minimum of two years before even thinking about publishing. That's why it's called writing practice. She firmly believes that the more you practice, the stronger your writing will become. She also says that you should not be afraid of writing the worst stuff in the world, just continue to write, return to it after a few weeks or months and underline the parts that have the most life to them, maybe use them as jumping off points for further writing.

Presently, I am writing both her way (fast, uncontrolled, using writing prompts to get me going) and the other way (slow, controlled, following a topic of my choice). They each have their merits, so I think I'll continue with it. It's been almost two months since I began taking my writing seriously. I started out, in my usual fashion, gung-ho for trying to write articles/essays for magazines, but was drawn away from that towards work on my memoir. First I was doing research on my great grandfather who came to New York City with his poor family from Ireland when he was a child and became a police officer working under a corrupt Tammany Hall police chief. He retired in his mid 40s to become a bookie, worked at that for 20 more years and then grew old and ill and died. Part of my research was going over my father's genealogical research and then emailing and talking to him. This was a very nice arrangement because it brought me closer to my father and stirred up enthusiasm in me to keep pursuing the story.

Then I set aside that research and took the plunge and got in touch with an old friend from grade school and junior high school on facebook. I told her that though I suffer from schizophrenia, I am in recovery and am working on a memoir. She was pleased to hear from me and said that she had even tried to find me on facebook a few months ago, but had no luck. She's been busy teaching, but we've managed to pass some memories back and forth. It's quite a step forward for me to reach out to her and I'm considering contacting a few other people along the way. Facebook could turn out to be a wonderful tool for reconstructing the past and reconnecting with people who meant a lot to me growing up. After I left New York City in 1989, I cut myself off from a past that I am only now trying to reclaim. But it takes a certain courage to admit what I've done or failed to do in my life and to reveal my diagnosis to others. I am firmly entrenched in middle age now, as are all the people I have known who have survived. I have a healthy respect for that survival instinct in us all.

So my writing practice has meandered from a time before I was born, to my childhood and youth and then has skipped ahead to my time with Brendan and later to my experience with schizophrenia. I've also written a few poems, begun a couple of short stories and continued transcribing my journals. I haven't been able to write every day, but I am writing. These next two years will be about generating raw material to rework and mold. And then there's getting back into just plain reading, both books on the craft of writing and memoirs, novels, poetry and articles in magazines.

Otherwise, my life has been quiet and fairly uneventful, but I am trying to sponsor a wonderful, but presently miserable, young woman who suffers from schizoaffective disorder. She is smart, artistic and hardworking and I believe she has the stuff to get through this hard time and into better times. I think, with the right kind of support, we can all get through our hard times. I've decided to offer my friendship to others in need on a site that Chris had mentioned a while ago called NoLongerLonely.com. It's a friendship/dating site for people who suffer from all kinds of mental illness. I tried to join last May, but couldn't log on and forgot about it till they recently sent me an email saying that they had just upgraded the site. I checked it out and was pleased to find that they have provided sections to post personal artwork, stories and poems, blogs as well as having a forum and chat feature. There are people there from all across the U.S. and from England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and perhaps other places as well. If you're interested, here's the link: nolongerlonely




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