This guest post written by Gillie Bolton is for the project “A Dialogic Exploration of Gluten Ataxia“, led by Ruth Chalkley. Gillie Bolton has worked with reflective, reflexive and healing writing for over twenty-five years – writing in her own journal nearly every day. Ruth and Gillie have been corresponding about the project and swapping ideas and sharing poems and developing an e Writing group for some ataxia patients in a group Ruth heads up.
What Gillie has written of here begins to give a hint of what is possible through therapeutic and reflective writing. I certainly had no idea when I started writing again, in illness, how my work might lie along these continuums, but all I can say is that the daily act of writing has become part of what I do, and that my writing somehow, as she puts it, ‘uses the tremendous power of creativity to help us to understand ourselves better’. I know that, in writing, finding the words, or rather waiting for the words to land, or developing a state where those words can be induced, has been a process that has become woven into what my days now consist of, and therefore play an important part in my life for measuring time, becoming mind-filling, and allowing the state of Flow that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes of to happen.
I want to name my collection of poetry Flow: From The Other Side of the River (unpublished) because for me the writing marks the time when the metaphoric Rubicon has been crossed, and my view is now from the opposite bank as it were, for so many different reasons, and in so many different ways. Gillie describes Writing as Listening, and I think this has been very much the case for me. Learning to listen to myself as a patient, as someone changed, someone new, has been a major creative preoccupation.
Also the theme of time. Time spent well, time spent wisely, time gathered. What time is for – why carpe diem? All these ideas running around in my head became, with time and self-encouragement and brilliant counselling, the things they are today. Poems on the journey of life. I wrote a poem called ‘Time: A Broad River’ which was dedicated to a friend with ataxia who also suffers from dyschronometria, a condition where the sense of time is altered, and where, because of it, it becomes difficult to relate to the past or to the present.
Creative healing writing uses our ordinary everyday words. Yet the action of writing can charge those humdrum words with magic. Just words on a page, put together with love and trust and care, can help us learn things about our lives, memories, thoughts, feelings and fears we didn’t know before, or that we sort of knew and had forgotten, or that we knew only too well and never wanted to think about. Putting them on paper is a beginning of sharing, and can make such things easier to share with other people; and a burden shared is not only a burden halved, but it brings companionship as maybe Ruth would agree with view to her blog project.
Why Write? What to Write? How to Begin Writing
Creative writing for personal and professional development – therapeutic and reflective – uses the tremendous power of creativity to help us to understand ourselves better – our thoughts, feelings, memories, ideas, inspirations, bodies, spirituality, relationships with others and our society. Making things creatively not only makes us feel good, but also gives insight and inspiration which ordinary everyday thinking and talking cannot.
Writing can help us pay proper attention to our own selves – privately. Humans are fabulously complex beings: we know, remember, feel far more than we realize. Yet much of this is stored inaccessibly, especially at times of stress or, most particularly, trauma. Writing can encourage our closed internal doors to slip ajar, or even open.
Our minds are rather like Covent Garden Royal Opera House, London. Most of the time we live and work in the auditorium – that lovely crimson and gold space – unaware that behind the stage curtain there are vast spaces (two and a half acres!) unknown to us, where all the workings of the Opera House go on: 3 massive stages, umpteen rehearsal spaces, practice rooms, offices, canteens, costume, scenery stores, and so on. It takes specialist enquiry to gain admittance to the essential areas beyond the wings of the stage.
Writing helps open the curtain to our mind’s vital and huge backstage areas because issues seemingly impossible to share with another person can be first be aired relatively fearlessly with a piece of paper which never gets bored, angry, distressed or shocked, and its potential impeccable memory is impersonal. I say ‘potential’ as writing can be ripped up, burned, flushed away: just creating it without rereading helps. Writing can be read and reflected upon, perhaps developed, redrafted, perhaps later shared with a trusted confidential other, or group. Writing’s privacy makes it qualitatively different from conversation, which will be remembered idiosyncratically; and we cannot be asked to forget what we have heard.
Thinking is also private, but it’s hard to focus, and even harder to remember reliably.
Allowing words to fall onto the page and then seeing what’s there can feel like playing around, like dancing, singing, or playing an instrument. If musicians play, why can’t writers?
Stress or anxiety can make it hard to voice problems and fears, so they stay damagingly locked inside. Sometimes, on the other hand, we need to express ups and downs far more than others have time or patience to listen to. Paper and pen are endlessly patient, present, and never judge.
Expressive and explorative writing helps gain permission beyond the stage curtain also because it comes more directly from the body, via the hand. Our mouths are also part of our bodies, but talking is more likely to be censored by the controlling forces in the mind. The late poet laureate Ted Hughes said: ‘The progress of any writer is marked by those moments when he manages to outwit his own inner police system’. That police force (or Opera House usher) will be on duty far more with speech than with writing. He/she is much less on the lookout for the written word.