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…

Read more

#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…

Read more

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

Read more

“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…

Read more

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…

Read more

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…

Read more

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…

Read more

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…

Read more

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…

Read more

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…

Read more

Come visit me!

My video trailer... coming soon!

Coming soon...