The ABCs of Mental Healthier Writing: C is for Childhood Writing

From My "Slam Book"

From My "Slam Book"

Dear Childhood: 

Why should I write to you or about you? Why should anyone think about it, wonder, or care? 

We adults have one thing universally in common. We were once children. That is the one thing we can all agree upon, no matter who or where or when we are. 

We had childhoods, good or bad.  And we remember them, at least in part. 

There is, for each one of us, a scrap of that other “culture” once experienced—the freewheeling need to play; the longing for peer approval and AGONY of not getting said approval; the startling, fascinating, and terrifying changes in body and spirit; the eternal NOW shifting to meet evolving and devolving goalposts, worries, obligations, chores, and roles, joys, pains, challenges, and expectations. 

Writing about YOU, my own personal childhood, has the potential to bring me there again (or keep me away?). Writing provides space in which to admire and wonder at a person we have always known and yet at times don’t recognize or understand. 

Oh, and reading one’s childhood musings gifts us with a unique time capsule. 

These musings are moments captured like a flower dried in a jar. They are lost feelings best recalled through sensory details. They are bridges from the past to the future. 

And a bittersweet tickle of the funny bone… 

With all this in mind and at heart, I share in this blog a few snippets of my own childhood. They are salvaged from an old piece of artwork found in my parents’ memorabilia, from old diaries and notebooks (with some writing in teeny tiny smudged print). 

But before I begin, let me say that in two weeks one of my dearest childhood friends will be visiting, which got me thinking in the first place. This friend and I…well, we threw ravioli at each other in a long-ago and faraway 7th grade cafeteria. We gleefully cut out of school and hung out at the railroad tracks. 

Now, in different states and decades—and yes, millennium—we live as mature women (barely). What a perfect time for a time capsule: 

From a Mother’s Day autobiography gift: 

“On a bright, sunny morning in August, on our peaceful street in Plainview, there was a terrific wail from the kitchen. It was none other than me, Reina Menasche. I was small, and wrinkled as I screamed for my breakfast. I was born exactly two weeks ago and I was named after my great-grandmother…Days past quickly for me. All I did was eat, sleep and cry. Sometimes people would come over and speak to me. Years passed soon I was three. I had a boy friend named Jeffery. I also had a girl friend named Carry. We had lots of fun together and soon I was four. That led to trouble…Later that day I decided to go in the back to play with Lassie. Lassie was our dog. She was a beautiful collie. I looked outside to see if Lassie was there but she wasn’t. Lassie came behind me and gave me a good push. I fell down hard on the steps outside. I screamed. My mother came running. I was lying at the bottom step. I was bleeding. My family took care of me and soon I was better. The next year past quickly for me and soon I was five, I was very busy because I went to two kindergardens…” 

From elementary school diaries: 

“It is Halloween And I am going to be a witch. We went around the whole area. I got lots of candy.” 

and 

“It is Ann’s birthday. She got 2 pairs of earings. She is getting a polaroy camra. I am sick I have a bad cold…” 

and 

“I could not find Laurie’s Francie for an hour! For that I can’t play with her ever again. I HATE HER.” 

and 

“Today I went to my cousin’s wedding. It was good, especially when they kissed. Joyce was a beautiful bride. Her husband is cute…Tonight I’m sleeping over Jane’s house. I always have fun at her house. We’ll have a panic!” 

and 

“I have a dumb old cold. I’m waiting for J.M. letters. I might write another. The creep!” 

From a childhood “Slam Book” (favorite things listed) 

FAVORITE color: yellow; Sport: swimming & softball; hair color: blonde or jet black; eyes: green; jewelry: ID bracelet; cat: Siamese; hour of the day: 3:05 pm; food: LAMB CHOPS; dessert: Snack Pack; Favorite place to go near home: Old Mill; favorite type of clothes to wear: shorts & top; gift: stuffed animal; uncommon animal: penguin; magazines: Jack and Jill & Teen; ambition: actress & writer 

From high school diaries: 

“Hi! I’ve been reading old diaries and I realized that some day I’ll want to remember my senior year and I’ll have nothing ‘cos I’m too lazy to write. So, I’m dedicated again. Hi, Diary. It’s been so long. It seems like forever. Oh God, I’ve really grown up these past few months. I’ve been hurt and resolved my pain. I made new friends and got closer to Sue, San, ect. School sucks. It’s got a pain-in-the-ass cut system that’s driving me crazy. I even got called down to the office for being late to homeroom. The office is threatening me for cutting study hall of all idiotic reasons. I’ve been working my ass off trying to keep up with Schiavo’s sadism for honors. Would cut but Mr. Schiavo is a pisser, and he’s so little and cute…” 

and 

“We will never see this year again. It is now a memory. Well, I’m in an OK mood. I’m in preparation for tonight. My gown is all ready and ironed and my hair is washed and dried on big rollers. My nose is still stopped up but I don’t care anymore. I haven’t budged from the house in 5 days and I still haven’t killed the Bug. So if you can’t kill it, welcome it, I always say…” 

and 

“It is a three ring circus. Ted, Renz and Joe likes Irene, Irene, Lauren, and I like Joe. Monica likes Ted. It’s really mixed up…” 

and 

“Well Summer’s here. It bumped right on time. Another dream wilted in my face, and inside I’m dying to cry, I’m dying to stop hurting, I’m dying not to care, I’m dying to find myself capable of love and I’m dying never to reach out again…” 

And college age: 

“So it’s cold outside here in the hallway of this dirty railroad station. I keep drinking hot tea because the inside of this place is smokey and stuffy and also, I can watch all the people. I don’t want to pick up all my luggage, not even to move five feet. I am tempted to get my sweater though; however, five inches also seems pretty far.  I am tired, numb, and my throat feels coated and yucky from the tea. “Endless Love” is playing. My love for my parents, my family, my house that I’ll never see again—not as my home anyway. It hurt to say goodbye. I am too tired and overwhelmed to comprehend what I am doing here. Some guy just came up to me, mumbled something incomprehensible, and took my chair. So far, the nicest thing was talking to this guy from Holland. Actually, he talked to me. Came up to me and started talking in good English. Spoke five languages like that weird guy on the plane. Said time was going quickly because he was having a good time (talking to me). Oh well, nothing else profound to say.  Time is dragging, unlike my precious, hectic week at home with my precious, hectic family. On two hours sleep these are the extent of my philosophies…” 

Oh, and one last thought I would like to share: 

It is completely ordinary, my story. But in telling these ordinary stories, the extraordinary comes home to roost. 

Welcome home, childhood. I’ve missed you.

The Pen is Mightier than the STRESS: The ABCs of Mental Healthier Writing

B is for BOREDOM Writing

You are the spiritual equivalent to 2-day old coffee. 

Bitter, maybe, but it’s already in the pot, and I’m exhausted and late to work and I need to wake up and smell the chores that lie ahead of me. 

You are that “meh” feeling, that restless itch of something better to do, somewhere more exciting to be. The green is greener over there, it’s that other season or year (or decade?). You are the ever-receding goal, the goal of having goals, the magic trick you’ve seen a million times. 

Or, you may be the dream that hasn’t yet come to fruition. Or that one day that did not disappoint and so you want it to come back. You are a natural yearning for excitement; the reach for glory and the fatigue with routine; the existential yawn as time yodels on—and I’m so afraid it won’t, and I can’t stop thinking. You are every kid whose parent has said, “If you can’t find something to do, I’ll give you something to do.” 

Shudder. 

But yes, as an adult…I still get restless. Bored. Especially during lockdown during a global pandemic. Oh yes, especially then. 

Sometimes I get a whiff of you and think depression. And yes, you are that, too. 

But you can also mean I am vulnerable in a different way. I am afraid. I expect more, I crave affection, my responsible adult body aches to roll down a grassy hill away from whatever feelings just won’t behave. Maybe I need sleep or to cultivate a new hobby, and I am too distracted by pinging text messages and the dizzying kaleidoscope of information dancing in all directions. 

Sometimes I can’t remember to make choices to enrich the moment. This moment. Now. Like, I’m not in my body. I want! I need! I long to FEEEL—but how can I when I’m not in my body? 

Feel what exactly, is the question. That is the stuff between the moments… 

Having spent a decade and a half working with people grappling with substance use and addiction, I believe that you, Boredom, are as red as flags come. You may be as simple as a short attention span, or as complex as a blush of childhood innocence or a freewheeling moment of defiance or a fantasy of sustained purpose…or pockets of unexplored pain. 

Old pain. 

Old dead feelings just sitting around, like 2-day old coffee… 

I can’t count the number of clients I’ve worked with who feel “fine” except…a tad bored. Not sure why exactly. Maybe all of us wish to feel that rush, the trapeze moment of bright new day, 

Or most of us. 

My father used to say he had never felt bored in his life. True story, that. Before his long decline and death in 2012, my funny, sarcastic, introspective, and historian dad enjoyed quiet and even solitude. He fondled old books and read catalogues and bibliographies and hummed while cooking in his baggy apron alone in the kitchen. “I don’t get bored,” he announced, mocking me. “I’m too busy thinking about 16th century English history.” 

In a way I envied him. I mean, I get lost in books but never that lost. Sometimes a book does fit the boredom bill. Other times…I need to write. 

Write my boredom. Or not write of that but instead what I hear. 

Baby birds? Oh, there’s that old crow that chased away the magnificent and raucous flock of parrots. What do I see now? Hey, the cat chasing a paper clip on the floor. The light of the afternoon, a gold settling into corners and grooves. Smell the honeysuckled air mixed with car exhaust. Move my body into a stretch or yoga pose. Watch branches move and never leave (excuse the pun). 

Inevitably, as I write of Now, whatever feelings lurk step boldly into the light. First, it’s: Why, hello, Boredom—and next: Oh, I see a whole party, then? 

In writing or journaling, we see you for what you are, and aren’t. We breathe room into the space. We allow…and the ambiguous stuff of boredom recedes. 

May as well brew some fresh coffee, I think. 

I feel more grounded now. Mm.

The Pen is Mightier than the STRESS: The ABCs of Mental Healthier Writing

A is for ANXIETY

You used to be called “nerves.” Now you have an elevated title: “anxiety.” How hoity-toity of you. No vapors here, no images of Victorian ladies swooning because some beastly fashion statement is suffocating the life out of them. 

No, “anxiety” is the new buzz word universel, as we might say in French—if we spoke French and wanted to show off. Anxiété. That’s your name in the 21st century, in whatever language. Millennials suffer from you and so do Baby Boomers. You are an umbrella term, covering everything from the pitter-pat of lovesick teenyboppers to the free-floating angst of living in a Pandemic world. Struck by panic attack and need an EKG to check your heart? Could be anxiety. Bobbing along from one fear to another because half of them have already come true and the other half have happened to someone you know? It’s just good ‘ol anxiety. 

We can’t cancel you completely if you seem to mean everything from grief, to stage fright, to a case of O My God, I-CAN’T-FIND-MY-PHONE. So, what do I do? Therapy is great; a potentially perfect place to process productively or pointlessly, if you’ll excuse the alliteration. And medication? No comment, that’s outside my scope of practice. There’s also cost—and insurance—to consider. Isn’t anything free, and as often as we want? How can we protect ourselves from ANXIETY? 

Write. We humans can write often; we can write well—or we can write badly. We can free write on a beach or timed-write in a wheelbarrow. We can journal, we can blog (yup!), we can write stories and books and poems and captions that make no sense for art pieces that no one understands. 

Writing protects us like a wet suit does against the cold ocean waves. It’s not magic, no. We are still wonderfully, terribly human. A little sprinkle of “anxiety” a day may keep some other ailments away. What I mean is that sometimes the feelings are a message, a wave of internal antennae. Sometimes you are a life saver. Leave This Situation Now, you say. Heads Up. 

Sometimes you are a chemical aberration, a flash of the genetic wand. You may be a sign of the times, if we take a step back to notice the big picture. Maybe our technology is good for electronic files but poor for Brain Files. Oh, and the Pandemic sucks. By the Way. If the news yells at us and we yell back, we may clench our muscles at the same time. Clenched muscles don’t work for oh so many moments of our every day. 

Writing releases. Writing plays. Writing evokes. Writing shares. Writing blurts and shapes and reframes. Through writing we shift gears. Through writing we clench—and let go. We can put the writing away and shut the box and go do something else: something active and allegedly fun, like jogging (I prefer walking myself). 

A is for Anxiety. 

B is for Boredom. (I’ll talk to you next time!)

DEPRESSION versus ART 

 

Sylvia Plath described depression as a bell jar stuck over your head, distorting your every experience of the world. I remember reading that description as a kid and not getting it.

A jar over your head? Uh, why not just take it off? And how would a jar get there in the first place?

Sure, I’d felt grief when my grandparents died. I remember lighting a candle for Grandpa, howling at the emptiness. And who can forget The First Heartbreak? After my first love dumped me, there was that first night of pure…

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#Me Too: Sexual Harassment before It was a Thing—or How to Get Chased around a Desk and Survive 

 

I was 22.

It was my first job out of college, as a journalist and PR person in Washington, DC. I made more money and had more perks in this job than I do now, decades later as a humble social worker and novelist. And this Washington job was elusive; I had to compete to win it. When I did win it, I was triumphant, at least at first.

Then it tortured me in ways I have never written about until today.

My first Big Girl job gave me an expense account, plush office, my own secretary (I had no idea what to…

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Gem in the Rough—OR, the Sweet Lessons of Aging 

 

We are all doing it.

Getting older, that is. Perhaps we are wondering and curious at the process and results; or scared or bored or contemplative about the prospect, sudden and unfolding. But we all know that aging happens. We don’t really feel it happening—until we do. Right?

Aging.

Why am I discussing this now? Because my mother is in her nineties. Because most of my friends have already lost both parents. Because my little dog (only 3!) is sick, and I don’t know whether she will heal. Because my

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“PLUNK-PLUNK-PLUNK” AT THE PIANO: My New Best Thing 

Plunk-plunk-plunk.  Yes, that’s me, sitting at the upright Hamilton piano that I bought for my son’s lessons music eight years ago. He’s playing Mozart these days, and it moves me. After years of nagging him, years of wheedling him to practice and get off his latest electronic device and shlepp with me to lessons, years of mediating between him and his formidable tower of a piano teacher; years of listening to my son go plunk-plunk-plunk--magic happened. Sonatas flow from his dancing adolescent hands. He…

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FREE Promotion of Silent Bird on Kindle: WHAT FOR? 

Free download on Kindle!

 

In this brave new world of electronic books, this brave new writer actually bought a Kindle.  Seems obscene to make one's books available in Kindle and then not buy one.  What was my hesitation in the first place?

At first I felt...kind of panicky.  Like: OH NO, not eliminating BOOKS!  Please nonononono, not books going the way of the dinosaur and the do-do bird and the VCR.  Please don't make my passion obsolete.  Dear Civilization, don't brush away my anchor under a fusty…

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Dear Dad: 

January 22, 2014

 

Dear Dad:

Two years ago today you died.  I don’t know how I feel right now.  Numb, mostly, I think, or maybe that’s healing.  Grieving seems to be like an intermittent stomach ache: like, hey! I feel okay again! And then I want to curl up in bed and put the heating pad on my stomach and cry. Life will never be completely whole, completely unbroken…as it never is for anyone.  I guess life just changes shape, its broken off bits rounding off and smarting frequently, leaving us yearning…

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Congress Should Write Fiction 

 

We have a polarized Congress, right?  C’mon, there really is no way else to describe it! Polarized. As in, “I see my point of view and not yours,” and “I view the world this way and don’t put a serious earnest effort into viewing the world your way.” In other words, I don’t bother with anyone else’s point of view, or POV, as we writers call it.

Congress writes their national and local dialogue in the first person only.  Never third person; never multiple viewpoints; never the ambiguous joy of putting…

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The Bird Has Flown: My New Book—SILENT BIRD—Has Left the Nest! 

 

Why would anybody do this?

By “this” I mean sit nearly immobilized for 30 hours on a holiday weekend, hands on laptop keys, nose red and congested, with hot drinks nearby, cold medicine taken in bulk, brain addled and fogged and a little delirious. Why write a book when there are papers to grade, soups to heat, bills to pay, dishes to wash, house to decorate, curative sleep to be coaxed, coddled and hopefully enjoyed?

This is a profoundly stupid question because OF COURSE there is no reason except the…

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Too Much Homework! 

I have a teenager.  Anyone else out there in cyberspace got one (or more) of those?

Not that I OWN my teenager!  Certainly not.  How would I figure out how to completely assimilate another identity as colorful, and usually much more colorful, than my own?  The National Institute of Mental Health confirms what I suspected, hoped and feared.  That is, that my teenager is not only “on loan” to me (my beloved Grandpa always did say to my parents that childhood is “borrowed time”), but he is not finished yet…

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DOG: Meet Dog Beach 

You know your dog. 

You know your dog almost as much as your dog knows you. 

Right?

I mean: if you are angry when you come home from work, Dog watches apprehensively, tail erupting in a speculative wag of joy before—wait for it…!—the next one.  OK to spaz out completely? Doggy’s eyes plead.  Can your lousy work day please tolerate it?

If you are sad, who is the first to notice?  Who shlumps on the sofa, nose down, to sigh and bear your weight for you?  When you are discouraged, so is Dog.  When you are…

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Coming soon...