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The Thread You Follow

I recently attended the 3rd National Journal Writing Conference— representing a 25-year cycle in my life. Kay Adams, a dynastic/prolific author of journal writing books, founder of Therapeutic Writing Institute, Center for Journal Therapy, and several other entities devoted to writing practice, has three times called together a tribe of journal writers. In 1991, she and I, Kay Leigh Hagan, and Dan Wakefield were faculty at the first conference just as Life’s Companion was coming out, and just as that book and the power of circle were about to shift my whole life into a deeper path.

In 2008, just as Storycatcher was catching fire, I showed up again as the opening keynoter, and along with Tristine Rainier, it was the closest I ever expect to come to a “rock star” moment.

Now, Kay convened us again—a dynamic event at Kanuga Conference Center in the green and blooming hills of western North Carolina. Ann Linnea and I offered three pre-conference events: Ann did a lovely morning on “Writing Nature’s Wisdom” which included rocking chairs and lap blankets on the dock at lake’s edge; I did a circle on how coherent story-line/life-line emerges from the original chaos of journal pages; and both of us taught circle process for writing groups in the afternoon.

Western Carolina vista

Western Carolina vista

By observation, the group was 95% women, 98% white, 90% midlife and older. Some exciting research was presented on neuroplasticity, on reframing trauma, on advances in recognizing writing as a therapeutic modality. It was a sweet, deep dip into my own story, carrying around journal and pens, doing an afternoon of collage. My cell phone didn’t work. The rains held us to the page. The conversations were meaningful, earnest, held with respect. I saw former students and long-time acquaintances and friends in the field.

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Myself, with Sandra Marinella, teacher and author from Phoenix, AZ.

I wish there were more men. I wish there were more young people. I wish there was more diversity of all kinds. And it is what it is: this is a cadre striving to maintain a way of life where pen and paper are the primary tools of spiritual practice, where reflection is built into the heart of the day, where life questions are tracked with determination until their insights are revealed.

What I want to declare, to these mostly graying, mostly women, journal writers and journal facilitators, is to keep on trusting the value of the journal writing practice.

Keep holding the thread of meaning-making that emerges from time spent articulating your most personal experiences and the tumble of thoughts and feelings that follow. You are organizing reality: not controlling it, but practicing a resilience that comes from standing inside your story. The world needs people who can stand in the story of the times and help others around them make meaning and come to coherent action.

Be bold.

Be invitational. Share the strength of your voice and insight. Write in public: in cafes and libraries, in airports, in any setting where you have a few minutes to say hello to yourself.

Imagine taking the long flight home: the person next to you glancing at this odd behavior of spreading a notebook over the tray table, coping with the leaky fountain pen that doesn’t like the air pressure at 32,000 feet. Their eyes keep wandering toward your handwriting. You turn, and invite, “I’m writing in my journal. I do this several times a week to keep track of my life. Want to hear a few paragraphs?” They will be so surprised. They will most likely be receptive.

Read.

I heard you at the conference. I was in awe at the beauty of your personal voice, your courageous comprehension, your compassion for human frailty, the forgiveness of yourself and others. Deposit some chosen bit of that. They will hear you. They will catch the story. And perhaps their longing to know this much about themselves will awaken. Have an extra notebook and pen ready to give away. Have a question on a post-it note. Teach them five minutes of flow-writing. To put a few paragraphs of self-check-in on the page or screen could change their lives in ways you will never track. Someone did that for you…

Remember: William Stafford’s poem, “The Way it Is”–

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
….
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

(William Stafford © 1998)

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