Monday, January 12, 2015

on being a writer: surround

                                                   New York City Poetry Festival, Governor's Island, NY, July 2014

As a holistic speech pathologist, I spend much of my work day actively engaged in the occupation of listening.  I listen to the monologues of children who have difficulty with social cues, and help to shape better conversation.  I listen to children who lack spoken words cry and discern the meaning:  I don’t want to do this, I am sad/angry, I am relieving my stress and thank you for hearing me.  With my sight, I listen for responses in eye contact and body posture.  Using my hands I listen for changes in tissue tension and respiration rate, for the tensing and relaxing of the body as it readies itself for processing and learning new skills.  I listen for distortions in vowel production in connected speech to tell me how the articulators form the vocal tract during the complex motor acts of speech sound sequencing.  I listen to parents as they share the concerns and triumphs of their child’s journey.  I give physical and emotional support, knowledge and provide a sounding board when needed, in an intimate, intense exchange for 6-8 hours daily. 

When I am working, I have designed my room to be as distraction free as possible.  I keep the same traffic flow, use soft lighting, and the walls are painted the blue of Bahamian sea and sky.  The womb-like atmosphere fosters a soothing space that allows the children to initiate thoughts and ideas, to be heard and ultimately challenged to grow.  It is very easy to stay in that concentrated mental state when I leave work, but that type of intensity isn’t necessary, or healthy, for the rest of my life.  I find that a change of scenery every few weeks helps my brain to reboot.  I will go into NYC for the day for a meal, or to a museum or concert, by myself of with a friend.  Sometimes I meet my daughter when she’s at work and enjoy some awesome Mexican food at the Hotel Tortuga.  I often escape to Ocean Grove, New Jersey, most likely in the off-season, to feel the crisp salt air, collect shells and to walk barefoot on the beach.  Weird sidebar:  When I walk barefoot on the beach in the winter, instead of getting cold, my feet actually heat up to the point where they feel like baked potatoes.  It’s a very wild sensation. J

My home contains mementoes of these trips.  I’ve traveled some amazing vacations, but mostly I’ve ventured out on day jaunts and short detours when I could capture the time.  There are memories and stories and people associated with most of the objects I have on display.

Last year, due to a series of unfortunate (and unrelated) neurologic events, I was homebound most of the time I wasn’t working (and I was working a lot less than usual).  My ability to focus for reading and writing was seriously compromised, and I started many thoughts, projects and books that I didn’t finish, or even forgot about completely.  As I am recovering, I have set up a new plan to organize and deepen my creative writing process.
Firstly, I have a pile of notebooks, books with pages marked, papers clipped together, notes on my iPhone and other bits and scraps of written phrases and ideas.  While that (lack of) system used to work when I wrote sporadically, it’s no longer practical and doesn’t feel as “artsy” and cool as it used to feel.  Instead, it’s become an island of undeveloped ideas that are waiting to be brought to fruition or laid to rest.  I plan to take these first three months of 2015 and mine this pile using the “adapt, achieve, abandon or archive” approach to dealing with them.  So far, it’s been fun to gather these ideas and work them out or file them accordingly, either here at the blog or in my simple system at Google docs. 

I have also committed to reading more fiction, especially short stories.  Over the last two years I have mostly read poetry and other “formation” books, either spiritual or artistic.  I am going through this pile that I have accumulated.  It’s not an obscene amount, but it needs attention.  Some of the books need to be prioritized to read, and some need to be passed along or returned because their focus is no longer relevant to me.  I am also going to read at least one short story per week, in preparation, perhaps, for writing one of my own.

This plan is really a continuation of habits that I started last year with the physical off-loading.  I am going to use up what I have already on hand before I look for something more to add to my writing life surround, and pass along what some else can use better.  An extended artist’s date without leaving the comfort of my home this chilly East Coast January.  


  1. You are magical and a gift to anyone who has the good fortune to cross your path.

  2. Michelle -- I, too, need to get back to reading more fiction. I find that the more stressful life gets, the more I turn to nonfiction, when really, the stories of fiction would be more inspirational. You have a rich life from which to draw as you write.

    1. It's been so long since I got lost in someone else's world~such a stress reliever!

  3. I love your plan to "mine this pile using the 'adapt, achieve, abandon or archive' approach to dealing with them." Is this your approach or something you invented? If you invented it, I suggest you launch a new productivity and organization plan using that lovely alliteration? ;)

    Also, Charity and I have been using Google docs a lot, both for our collaborative work and for individual projects. I love how searchable it is, so your plan to mine those ideas and store them in a Google doc or docs will make everything easy to find and use.

    Thank you for blogging through the book and sharing your experiences. It fascinates me to see how the content is helping you think through your writing life and affirm your decisions. I hope this turns into a fruitful and rewarding time for you, especially after your homebound era.

    1. You know, Ann, I only consciously put my process into those terms as I was writing the post, but it's how I manage all the venues in my life. I will think about your suggestion because a ton of ideas popped into my brain when I read it!
      I'm so happy to blog this experience. This book is so seamless with my process right now, I can't wait to get to the new chapter each time I finish. Seriously!