Category Archives: Writing

Writing Roadblock

Over the last several months I’ve found myself stuck whenever I try to work on a few of the short memoir pieces I’ve started. It’s a repeating pattern. An idea, then great first line hook, a couple of paragraphs which flow out easily onto the page, and then a long slow coast to stuckness, followed by lament. My in-progress folder is now littered with a quartet of these.

Then suddenly in the middle of this writing roadblock, a complete flash piece pours out. I tweak it, get feedback, revise a bit and it’s ready for its next stage. All while the others still languish unfinished. Hoping the energy from completing something (anything!) will energize my efforts, I turn back to one of the languishers. Fizzle.

I think I missed this sign when starting on the road to make sense of traumatic experiences through memoir.

My work in therapy has also been at something of a standstill since the pandemic started. First being disconnected from a safe place ground work to a halt. Then working though every day challenges and finding a path forward for life in this changed world took over my sessions. When bits and pieces of traumatic memories come up from time to time, they are only worked with until they can be packaged and put on a shelf safely for later. Whenever that might be.

Earlier this week I was digging into a memory about a reflections book I’d used a decade ago. I was trying to make sense of what had happened to it, where it had gone. When my memory failed I turned to my journal. Sure enough I found the answer of when I’d used it and with prompting recalled why I’d stopped. Once I’d solved that puzzle I continued on to skim through a bunch of old entries, finding myself coalescing around the summer when memories of my childhood trauma started flooding back to me.

Field of Blue FLowers
So much was fuzzy during that summer of forgotten memories. I could only focus on one at a time, but each and every one got their moment in the sun before fading into the background.

My writing from that time brought back the mad, headlong rush to get down everything I was remembering – before I forgot it all again. In rereading, I found memories I’d forgotten again, and felt the bite of re-remembering horrors I’d not wanted to know. Now though, I can turn the page and move on, the memories contained for the time being in those pages. However the next next (likely disquieting) memory is just a page or two later. As I read through those raw memories of unprocessed trauma I experienced that summer, something tugged at a corner of my mind. I couldn’t quite see it, but I knew it was there just beneath the surface.

A few days later I recounted this experience to my therapist from the safety of the couch in her plant and book lined office. As so often happens in therapy for me, talking about my experiences allows the lines connecting parts of my past to take on sharp relief, becoming suddenly visible. In a moment I saw my writing roadblock in a new way – why some pieces sat unfinished, untouchable, and why others were essentially completed in a single sitting.

Every piece I’d finished was about my experiences since I’d started therapy, since I’d taken control of my life and started working to live in the light of the present. The others? They were all from the shadows of the past, the before times. They were filled with the raw emotions and and unexplained experiences which pulled me to write about my childhood, to find meaning. This pull was also my downfall. I was writing about unprocessed traumatic events which pushed me out of my window of tolerance and straight into the floundering fields of numbness.

Staying in my window of tolerance means working with things one drop at a time.

To write about my childhood experiences, I am going to have to do work in therapy with them. The memories I want to make sense of need to be processed, bit and piece at a time in a safe place. Some can be processed on the page, perhaps in my journal, and eventually as memoir, but much of my work will be done on that couch. I will explore with someone to guide me, to help pull me back, to give perspective. What I am writing about will guide my work processing trauma, and the work in therapy will help me to write. Interweaving the two means having a way finder to help me see the roadblocks, to point the path to through or around so I can make progress in both healing and writing. Because I now see for me, healing and writing are one and the same.

My road ahead is full of twists and turns to work through and around writing roadblocks- there is no map, but I have a guide.

The Bridge

I am so excited to share my first publication! Published by the spectacular crew at SFWP – the Santa Fe Writers Project – I present

“The Bridge” —> here

as included in the 27th issue of the SFWP Quarterly. Please read and enjoy! Feel free to leave something in the tip jar if you like it or simply want to support independent literary publications.

You can follow #SFWP on twitter and instagram – I certainly do! Many thanks to Monica Prince and Nicole Schmidt for finding my piece worthy of their special issue focused on the body.

A bit of background – bridges both literal and metaphorical litter the landscape of my life. So it seems only fitting that my first published piece is about a bridge. Even more specifically apropos I found photos of the Golden Gate from a solo trip years ago to enliven this entry. Suppose I’ll have to explain some to connect those things together, how one bridge led to another.

Often I write here about my attempts to cope with the after effects of childhood trauma in the present day, about the struggle to make sense of it all. Back in the early days of remembering these long hidden parts of my childhood, when fresh memories were flooding forth daily, I was completely overwhelmed. Almost a year later still exhausted despite the flow finally reducing to a narrow stream, I had nothing left. None of it made much sense and I had little capacity to create some order from fragmented bits of childhood newly strewn across my awareness.

Given the opportunity to spend a day, a single 24 hour day in San Francisco before attending a conference in San Jose, I lept at the chance. I needed time and space to myself, an opportunity to reflect while revisiting my favorite city on the planet. Perhaps it would help. I needed to try something to help myself find some small respite.

One night a few weeks before the trip, I sketched freehand from memory the Golden Gate Bridge – solid, eternal, foreboding, and yet reassuring. The sketch inspired my plan a visit to the bay front, to sketch again from real life in hopes of calming the anxiousness within. Maybe some of the strength I saw in my mind’s eye would rub off on me for real as the graphite of pencil rubbed off on paper as I sketched from shore.

Finally the day arrived. Fresh from my bright blue airport shuttle and with several hours before sunset, I walked from my hotel near the Presidio down through the Palace of Fine Arts to the bay – to sketch. The scrape of pencil on paper, the low moan of the wind, the screeching of the gulls, the rumble of distant surf and lap of water kept me present while I worked.

Yet, before I finished, it was apparent I needed to move. The anxiety and tears were back yet again, brought forth by something unknown. Perhaps memories of family trips to the Bay Area as a child. Perhaps something else. In any case, my best tool for dealing with overwhelm was to walk. So on the spot, I resolved to walk to Fort Point and the Bridge.

I had hoped for introspection, for knowledge, for calm from my visit to sketch beach. Instead I found my path incomplete. As I walked more realization dawned. This journey – how to become who I am, whatever I am, was just beginning. I was so unsure of my life and path in that moment. How does one live an authentic life, one worth living, when you don’t know your whole story, when you aren’t even quite sure who you are or what your place is in the world. How could I know where I was headed if I’d so little idea of where I’d been?

It’s actually quite a long way from sketch beach all the way down to Fort Point and the bridge. I wasn’t really prepared for it, but the body needed to move and so I walked. It’s probably a good thing I walked miles that day. My nervous system calmed with the input of my surroundings and the continuous motion. I became more rooted in the present. I had plenty of time to just be.

Golden Gate panorama

As I neared the point I started to snap pictures. The camera had been an afterthought added to my bag when I was focused on packing my sketch pad and drawing supplies. Now it became a central part of my experience as angles and framing caught my eye – old habits came back unaware to the rest of me. My photographic muscles contracting in a reflexive echo of youth.

Finally I reached the highest point of the old fort under the bridge. Gazing up into the geometric complexities of the underbelly and the sheer enormity of the edifice above me, I knew if humanity could build this span of steel and concrete to connect to disparate shores, it was possible for me to do the same. I could survive, and even thrive. I was sure I could make it back to the life I should have had. It would be an arduous journey, but one I had to make.

Every step since then has been toward the life I never had a chance to live. “The Bridge” is a piece of that story.