Get Your Butt in the Chair

anne lamott

Anne Lamott is an amazing writer and is about to turn 61.  She wrote a piece about what she has learned about life and a couple of items had to do with being a successful writer.  She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Grace (Eventually), Plan B, Traveling Mercies, Bird by Bird and Operating Instructions, as well as seven novels, including Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. She is a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and is a premier example of writing from the heart with humor, with depth, and with flat-out courage.

Here is what Anne offers up to those of us who craft our words and send them out into the world as seeds never knowing what garden will spring up as a result.

“Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart–your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.”

“Publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and sometimes nearly evil men I have known were all writers who’d had bestsellers. Yet, it is also a miracle to get your work published (see #1.). Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, will fill the Swiss cheesy holes. It won’t, it can’t. But writing can. So can singing.”

“E.L. Doctorow said about writing: “It’s like driving at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.”

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The Story Of My Life

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”

Helen Keller, The Story of My Life

This was a frequent phrase around my home growing up: “Holy Moly, story of my life”. If I got a collections letter in the mail, or I hear that a great guy has a secret wife, that my brand new shiny car needs a transmission or that in fact I really didn’t win the lottery after all…” story of my life”.   A handy phrase to describe something quite familiar. But what’s in a phrase?

We each have one story that repeats itself over and over again throughout our lifetime. It is like we got handed a script upon leaving heaven and incarnating that acts like a blueprint for our lives.  I promise you, one central ever-present and every changing “story of our lives”. The casts of characters change but they fundamentally play the same role in our lives, year after year. Every new love, new boss or new dog is just like a mother, brother, father, betrayer, helper, teacher and is the best of ourselves or the worst of ourselves. The place, the reasons, the motives, the fears, and the outcomes seem to remain similar as well.

So, if you were to just pluck out of the sky a scenario that you recognize as so familiar that it is a “repeat story” in your life, what would it be? Would the themes be endless hope, deep despair, betrayal, running away, lost love and fighting for what is right, or would it be, men leave, women love you but die, or maybe the all too often, am I good enough, can I prove myself, or that there is never enough money or time or money or love or money or food, nourishment or support?  Could you be in Groundhog Day like Bill Murray where over or over again you love the wrong person, you lose everything you have and need to start again, you never feel smart enough or have enough, or ultimately are loved enough? Does the white knight turn into the villain or are you the one who rescues and heals the world? We all have one story.  The trick is identifying what the story is.

If we take the time to identify this story, which repeats itself over and over again for our learning and growth, then we have abundant power to change the story, but not before we look it square in the eye and say “Yes” this is MY story. For most authors who are seized with a story line and write until the days are a blur and who forget to eat or take a shower, most likely the book or story being written is a mirror of the writer’s psyche.  The soul gets wind that there is a supreme opportunity to work out some kinks in life if only the writer would hop too it and let it rip, fantasy or no fantasy.

Most writers have to cop to the fact that writing is therapy. Writing is sanity. Expiation. Transformation and atonement. Most writers on a good and honest day will say that the story they think is pure fantasy is really from their own life, their own fear, their own desire to be a hero or heroine and to rewrite what went so wrong, so long ago. It is a powerful moment when you can write a fictitious character that is not you in reality, so that this character can do all the things that you only wish to have done or said or experienced in your life. Why else do we write?

And when we can fess up that our own story is driving the bus, we can not only heal our lives but we can write a story that touches the collective nerve. That is what makes a bestseller.

In the end….the story will write you.

 

The Telling Room

selectric typewriter

My generation had no idea that the age of the computer was coming or what it would mean. Back then spelling was a mandatory class we took. We could not go into middle school without getting a passing grade in “penmanship”. I remember practicing my upper case and lower case letters on lined paper over and over again until all my words flowed like little art forms onto the page without effort. The act of writing with a favorite pen and crafting a story for school magically changed brain chemistry and balanced right and left-brain. But, now days, writing on anything other than a computer is rare and making up stories is becoming rare as well.

Then in college we had Selectric Typewriters that were all the rage, which replaced the typewriters that had spools of carbon ribbon used by Hemingway. Then came the Brother Word Processor and life was about to change forever.

Fast forward to my daughter’s generation who had computers in school, spell-check and there were no spelling and grammar classes or cursive in school. In fact unintelligible printing replaced cursive and the intimate relationship between a well-sharpened pencil tucked neatly in a row inside of a wooden pencil box put to a blank piece of paper all but disappeared. In fact reading books began to disappear and daydreaming and imaginative story telling was capsized by video games and television.

The art of storytelling is under siege and in fact the power of storytelling is rapidly becoming a lost personal art, and an underutilized healing tool in our society. Even movies are slowly giving way to franchised super hero trilogies and beyond that dominate the world of storytelling on the big screen.

But, there are those who want to teach storytelling to kids and young adults as a means to unlock creativity, unleash personal power and heal lives. One such teacher and writer is Susan Conley, a co-founder of The Telling Room, a creative writing lab in Portland, Maine who believes in the power of stories to transform lives and change communities.  She also believes that writing and storytelling healed her from cancer. Here is her story on TED:

Susan served as the executive director of The Telling Room for its first two years of life before moving to China, where she wrote a memoir titled The Foremost Good Fortune (Knopf, 2011). This book chronicles the years Susan, her husband and two young boys lived in Beijing, learned Mandarin, set out on The Hunt for the Greatest Dumpling in China, and contended with Susan’s cancer diagnosis. The book was excerpted in The New York Times Magazine and The Daily Beast and was voted a Goodreads’ Choice Award Winner for Best Travel and Outdoor Books of 2011.

Susan has been the recipient of two MacDowell Colony residencies, a Breadloaf Writer’s Fellowship and a Massachusetts Arts Council Grant. Maine Today Media gave Susan a 2011 “Greatest Women of Maine” Award. A graduate of Middlebury College and San Diego State University, Susan has taught creative writing and literature seminars at Emerson College, as well as at Harvard’s Teachers as Scholar’s Program. She continues to teach all flavors of writing workshops at The Telling Room and has a novel forthcoming from Knopf in the spring of 2013. Susan lives in Portland with her husband, Tony Kieffer, and their two boys ages 9 and 11, who are avid story tellers themselves and not at all sick of dumplings.

http://www.tellingroom.org/

Quantum Storytelling

Man-points-toward-galaxy-in-sc-32849888

I sat in a kind of stupor as the credits rolled, the crowd silently leaving the theater. I had a feeling that being in Oklahoma at the time, the majority of the moviegoers were baffled by what they had just seen. No one was talking, something had happened. I was the only one still in my seat. I had sat through three hours and two full bags of popcorn watching Interstellar. Not because Matthew Mcconaughey is beautiful or talented but because I knew that embedded in this film was far more than star power.

I am not going to review the movie here. But, I want to talk about how story can wake you up. Interstellar was written and directed by the Christopher Nolan who did Inception. Most of us know how it felt to watch that movie and witness something just outside of our grasp, but mesmerizing and intriguing enough to keep us glued to our movie seat. Interstellar was no different for me but far more powerful since it is a premier example of how story can change us at every level. I mean really change us.

That any filmmaker would attempt to take me into the heart of quantum physics and nudge me toward a new and more defined perception of time and space gets my attention. Flaws of moviemaking aside, I loved one particular thing about this story: That it revealed what the shift on our planet and in our own DNA as humans may be all about. And that is powerful.

I find myself gravitating to substance instead of the entertainment value of story. And Interstellar seemed to allow me to sink into the big questions of life, the unanswered questions, the heroic ones and the questions we all fear to really look into the heart of.   Questions of where do we come from, why are we here, what is god, are we alone in the Universe, what is beyond three dimensional existence, is there more than one Maya in the solar system and what does relativity and gravity have to do with everything? As for me, those are the only questions I am interested in.

So when I took the leap three months ago out of the world of psychotherapy and embraced what I truly love the most in life, I did so with the understanding that story would heal us as individuals and story would heal the planet in ways that are ineffable, illusive, complex and sometimes simply a mystery.

I held up a torch in my life to ask for stories to come to me. I held tight to my deep love and passion for stories of transformation, survival, hope and love as the greatest power in the Universe as I intended to write only these stories, and help others bring their amazing adventures and dreams into reality. I got far more than I bargained for. Gratefully.

People from all over the world are finding me in some of the most unusual ways. Phone calls and emails from those who suddenly feel ready to reveal secrets of the Universe only they have been entrusted with, stories of unparalleled heroism that will change lives and creative dreams and fantasies that speak to transforming our own natures from war to love, and from fear to magic.

I am pausing to allow myself to feel how very important each one of these stories are and how I can be a part of birthing weapons of mass love and power which is the medicine our planet needs. Medicine the storyteller needs as well, which will affect them on the deepest level imaginable and affect the lives of their families.

Storytelling is a sacred event. I cannot urge everyone enough to begin to see the stories that you have lived or imagined as sacred energy that you were entrusted with long before you were born.   You alone are the keeper of your own unique story of bravery, courage, pain and suffering, triumph of the spirit, love and lost love, finding god or becoming god.

The energy inherent in a great story or film creates a resonant response in our physical bodies, our thoughts and our hearts. That resonant energy begins a cascading shift and change in our own cellular nature. We are not only changed emotionally or intellectually when we read or watch an amazing story, we are changed energetically and physically. This is why I would always caution against the Horror and Death Film. We are changed in ways that only fear can accomplish when we subject ourselves to the images that these films provide in abundance.

And fear releases adrenaline and then fear becomes an addiction to the thrill of the adrenaline. In the end we are physically, emotionally and spiritually changed. The same can be said for the stories that we need far more: Stories of love and hope and courage. Stories of overcoming the unthinkable.

So, I am blessed to be given the opportunity to help any storyteller birth what is uniquely their primary and most powerful contribution to their legacy on this planet: A personal story that will resonate with the people who have simply been waiting for your story and just have not known it.

Later this week I will post under Screenplays the movies that are must sees and the books that should be movies. We all need food for the soul since our souls are under siege by technology and a planet in peril. Your story is a life raft, is a story to help each of us remember who we are, who we were born to be and who we have yet to become. Bravo to our brave storytellers.

Find your voice

The Stalker

Stalker

If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”

—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)

Since starting this blog this past week,  I have been inundated with emails. And, as you can imagine, people were sharing that there was a story to be told, a story that no one knew, a story that scared them, would unravel their family or the worst of all…a story that the writer was afraid would be….boring. How many of us tell ourselves every day that our story is not interesting enough, or that “no one would want to hear about MY life”?

Well, I’m here to say that fear to tell your story, since you are certain it will be a snoozer…is a cop out.  And the second thing I am here to tell you is …you are not telling the story for someone else. You are telling your story for you, your health, your liberation, to find the humor in the tragedy and to simply honor that it is in fact the story you were born to live. Telling our stories is a sign of respect and self-love. And in the end how you share it is up to you.

So, now that we are looking at the obstacles to recording, writing, filming, painting your stories we want to take a peek at why in the world you would want to tall a story that is a secret or is only garnishing the pages of your journals, filling the boxes of photos you have kept for the entire family for a lifetime or is a story that is just being ignored.

The answer is, because we were all born to tell the stories we have been given and entrusted with and because the story is an entity with life and breath and who needs to be released to a life outside your mind and body and heart. Why? So that we all can be challenged, changed and healed. Story is your medicine and your story is someone else’s medicine in this world as well.

And, I am going to bet that many of you feel like your story haunts you, chasing you in your dream life, nudging you awake, making you want to write down ideas while driving or washing the dishes. Right?  Your stories are relentless stalkers.

“Australian Aborigines say that the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators, hunting their prey in the bush.”

—Robert Moss, Dreamgates

Real quick, lets just strip away the thoughts that keep us from breathing life into our stories. Thoughts about fear are simply walls between the mind and our heart. We keep these walls of fear up so we don’t have to feel what is on the other side of the imagined fear.  Took me three decades as a psychologist to get that one.

stalking cartoon

Lets look at the top three fears and just exorcise them, like taking off a Band-aid: Fast and then put some ointment on it and go about living and writing or speaking your story. What are the top reasons you may not be telling your story? We will get the biggest one out-of-the-way first,

I am not a good writer”.  Answer.  No one is and they learn to be.

I will be embarrassed.”   Many people are embarrassed to tell their real story. Did anyone see the excruciating and amazing film version of the book, August: In Osage County, with Meryl Streep? This Pulitzer Prize winning story was semi-autobiographical and cut to the jugular of our culture. And you can bet the writing of it was no picnic for Tracy Letts. When you open up the windows to your soul and share your inner secret struggles and how you overcame the demons of fear, self-doubt, inadequacy, bad decisions, personal failures and weaknesses you gain the respect of everyone just like you…which is…. everyone.

“The truth will come out and offend people.”  Many people are afraid to tell the truth because they don’t want to offend others.  People wait until a family member passes away before they are willing to tell the true story of their childhood.  It might be an ex-spouse they are afraid will contradict their story or concern about a child, a college buddy or a colleague. We are afraid people will lose respect for us when we tell the truth, blow the whistle on family or friends, when actually the opposite is true.  The important thing is not to let fear stop you from telling your story.  The world needs to hear your story, and you are the only one who can tell it.

And, the heavy hitters as writers in our culture are never immune to doubt and fear. This is what a few of them have to say:

“For me, putting my work out there is a risk, and it can be scary.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Maya Angelou

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

Stephen King

“My post-memoir mental state is a mixture of euphoria, disbelief, accomplishment, confusion, titillation, exhaustion and shame.”  Tom Robbins

All good writers started somewhere and in most cases if their knees were not knocking then someone should have poked them with a “pen” to see if they were still alive. We all quake at the first leap into the unknown. And for those of us who now write as a way of life we can tell you two things are true: First, that with every leap, which is usually every day you sit down to write or paint or speak, you act as if you have never leapt before and panic. Second, half way down after you have jumped, some illusive parachute opens over head and breaks the fall, allowing you to run headlong into the unknown without too many bruises.

I think they call this…Grace.

jump off cliff

Quack or Quantum

oscar winner

Those who tell the stories rule the world.” –Hopi American Indian proverb

 I have been a psychologist for over 30 years. Carl Rogers was all the rage when I went to study for my graduate degrees at Harvard University in Developmental Psychology. The year was 1980. America had imprinted on our favorite therapist through the Bob Newhart Show, and it was the decade of the Rubik’s Cube, Cabbage Patch Kids and Bill Cosby. So, when it came to being a shrink, Carl Rodgers was a next great step forward from Sigmund Freud and the movie What About Bob.

What I took away from Carl was a process called “mirroring”. It goes something like this: “Oh, what I hear you saying is that you feel like throwing your cat out the window”.  At that point the client throws the tissue box at me. This approach rapidly became a tool I tossed in the trash.

Then I became a bit obsessed with Fritz Perls. He was an unorthodox psychologist and I felt I would give him a try while my client was sobbing uncontrollably. The approach was an utter failure. Fritz not only believed in ruthless honesty, but also believed in disarming the facade of the client by eliciting a “spontaneous and uncensored response” through what amounted to insulting and antagonistic remarks, like, “You’re such a phony, in fact you’re a bitch”. The only place that took me was to the closet to get yet another box of tissues. I wrote a lot of apology notes during this time. Therapists aren’t perfect.

This approach proved equally as unhelpful in the process of doing therapy with a client who simply wanted the only thing that any client wants in the end: To be loved and feel lovable. My sacred job was to find out where the story of love was broken.

The One Story

After decades as a therapist I have found that there is only one story any person is recovering from and hoping to heal: A Love Story. Every client, every trauma and every impasse to healing is only about… Love: Self love, the love of a parent, falling in love, betrayal in love or the love of god. The ultimate longing is about feeling loved, feeling worthy, feeling enough. It didn’t matter if Dad was an abusive alcoholic, whether mom abandoned the family, a husband or wife cheated, a car accident left a young woman disfigured, whether someone was penniless and on the street or couldn’t hold down a job, it all led back to the most primal place in each human and the spiritual core of who we are: Feeling the certainty that we are unconditionally lovable and abundantly capable of giving and receiving love.

When I saw this truth embedded in the thousand stories that walked through the door of my office, Story became the only place I focused with each and every client. Their hoped for love story, their fractured love story, their mad-as-a-hatter-I-hate-the-world story of love gone wrong, of loves betrayal and their story of broken heartedness. Helping a full-throated version of their story emerge is the most powerful tool for healing I can offer.

Story as Medicine

As I helped clients dig down deep to the core of their own personal story I saw something begin to happen that was unexpected. People’s physical ailments, chronic health issues, cancer diagnosis and near death experiences turned on a dime toward healing, health and life. So, in 2003 I embarked on the study of how we hold our stories, like books, in the library of our neurology as jammed vibrational frequencies. And, I began to study Quantum Entanglement.

Quantum Entanglement is one of the central principles of Quantum Physics though it is also highly misunderstood. In short, quantum entanglement means that multiple particles which can be atoms, cells or people, are linked together in a way such that the measurement of one particle’s “quantum state” determines the possible quantum states of the other particles.

I was participating in Quantum Entanglement every time my client wrote and shared their story, chapter by chapter, with me or in a group. I was changed in the same ways as my client was in the movement of energy through the telling of story. And the movement of energy was initiated through the powerhouse of the heart, the largest electro-magnetic field in our body.

I then began a decade of using biofeedback to neutralize the imbalances in our neurology, which create those nasty “triggers” in life we just seem to respond to over and over again no matter how much therapy we do. We can all relate to having done a load of therapy, spent a pile of money on dealing with anger or fear and just when we think we are well beyond our issues, we hear a parent yelling at a child at the local mall and are instantly transported back in time to feel all the emotions we felt when we were yelled at as a child. We cannot help it. It just takes us over. Our neurology flips a switch and produces a full-blown regressive state. Most of us have dozens of repeating triggers that just don’t let go with regular therapy, because they are body memories. Energy cluttering up our electrical system.

I then started to work with soldiers who had returned from Iraq, broken and suffering from PTSD and only being given mind and soul numbing drugs as a solution to their pain. Working with how our physical bodies held the memories and the experience of trauma and then helping them to release these body memories through biofeedback was a monumental success.

In the process of watching my clients move how they held their stories in their cells, their neurology, their muscles and their minds it became even clearer that moving energy through the telling, the writing, the drawing, the dancing of our story had unlimited healing potential. Story has a vibrational frequency that goes with it and is shifted in the telling of story. Every word, name and emotion has a frequency as well.

There is agreement among science, medicine and metaphysics that certain frequencies can repel disease, and certain frequencies can destroy disease. Herein lies the link between frequency (vibration) and health. Everything in nature vibrates at different frequencies. In fact quantum physics describes the universe as nothing more than vibrating strings of energy! Scientific research has shown that different parts of our bodies have their own sonic signature. In other words, the sound of the cells of your heart differs from the sound of the cells of your Lungs

The awareness of Quantum Entanglement and the power of changing a person’s vibrational frequency changed my life and the lives of my clients. Therapy began to look like this: When one person fully shared the story they were born to live and tell, the experience of two or more people in a room sharing in the story changes each and every person in the room on a vibrational and cellular level. Cells began to spin differently and each individual was physically altered by the experience. New brain chemistry then takes over, hearts beat at a higher vibrational frequency with the presence of vulnerable emotions. In short, story heals and changes our physiology. And sharing a story in its fullness with those who are hearing you is simply an act of unconditional love. Now we have story as medicine.

So what does an M.D. have to say about story as medicine?

Lissa Rankin, MD is an OB/GYN physician, author, keynote speaker, consultant to health care visionaries, professional artist, and founder of the women’s health and wellness community OwningPink.com was discouraged by the broken, patriarchal health care system, she left her medical practice in 2007 only to realize that you can quit your job, but you can’t quit your calling.    She embarked on a radical path that has led to revelations about the power of story and how it can heal the body.

Lissa says, “Telling your story—while being witnessed with loving attention by others who care—may be the most powerful medicine on earth. Each us are a constantly unfolding narrative, a hero in a novel no one else can write. And, yet so many of us leave our stories untold, our songs unsung—and when this happens, we wind up feeling lonely, listless, out of touch with our life’s purpose, plagued with a chronic sense that something is out of alignment. We may even wind up sick.

Every time you tell your story and someone else who cares bears witness to it, you turn off the body’s stress responses, flipping off toxic stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and flipping on relaxation responses that release healing hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, nitric oxide, and endorphins. Not only does this turn on the body’s innate self-repair mechanisms and function as preventative medicine—or treatment if you’re sick. It also relaxes your nervous system and helps heal your mind of depression, anxiety, fear, anger, and feelings of disconnection.

When we tell our stories …a sense of disconnection eases and you start to glimpse the truth—that we are beings of vibrating energy, connected on the energy internet through processes like quantum entanglement, with overlapping consciousness that connects us to a divine source and to the inner pilot light of every being on this planet.”

As a psychologist and a writer I decided to embark on a path of therapy and healing that focuses on helping people unearth and tell their story, write their way to health and healing and share the uniqueness of who they were born to be and the story they had lived, with the world.

Countless people who have no idea that they are creative and have no intention to tell their story but instead, keep it under lock and key in their hearts, their bodies, their bottom drawer of a desk, have ventured to tell their stories unabridged, fully felt and fully disclosed only to find it was the most powerful choice they had ever made.

My spiritual belief is that we are the authors of each and every painful, exhilarating, mind-boggling story we have lived. Ultimately, we are not victims to a story. And as the only keeper of these stories, we incarnate on this planet to live the stories and learn, but to then share and teach. A story that is buried and that does not see the light of day in consciousness or in reality can create a toxic illness of the body and a stagnation of the soul.

It is my dedication at this juncture of my career as a writer, as a storyteller, as a therapist and as a teacher to help healing happen through the blissful, terrifying, passionate, challenging process of telling our stories to each other and the world. But, to ourselves first and foremost. Words are power and each one of them carries a vibrational signature that can alter reality.

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”
― Nikola Tesla