Wednesday Check-In: Between Writing Sessions

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions
English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ROW80 Week 2.

Goal: Write 5 days out of 7 using the writing and contemplation prompts from a chapter of The Pen and the Bell by Brenda Miller and Holly Hughes (this week is chapter 2, “Sitting Down and Waking Up”).

I’m going to say very little about the writing part and talk more about how the writing is effecting me when I’m not writing. Maybe I’ll talk more about the writing itself at the Sunday check-in. For now, I feel more comfortable leaving that specific bit alone. The writing I just want to leave be without analyzing or judging it for a while yet.

Since Sunday, I’ve had two main insights as a result of “Sitting Down and Waking Up.” First, I noticed that I feel awake to the reality that my life isn’t as compartmentalized as I routinely think of it. My life as “mother” isn’t separate from my life as “wife” or even from my pre-motherhood or pre-married life. All of those versions of me exist right now, in this moment. There is no tangible separation between those versions of myself, no such thing as “my” life separate from what I do every day. If my daily life feels like I’m waiting for a chance to be “me,” then I either need to shift my perspective or shift how I spend my days.

The other insight I had this week is that sometimes I interpret a physical sensation as an emotion when in reality it’s just a physical sensation. For example, when I drink alcohol—even just one drink—several hours after it should be out of my system I feel a fluttery feeling in my chest and I get cold sweats. The same thing happens with coffee. My husband—who is a doctor but the PhD kind, not the medical kind—diagnosed me with trouble metabolizing acetaldehyde, one of the byproducts produced when the body processes alcohol or coffee. Whatever it is, it’s clearly a physical reaction, but because it includes sensations I associate with anxiety or nervousness, I automatically translate the physical sensation into the emotion. I say, “Oh! I’m anxious!” and then go over and over the events of that evening and the past several days to try and figure out what I’m anxious about.

But what if I just felt the sensation without attaching an emotion to it? In this situation, I think that would be a liberating path that would entail much less suffering than my usual way of handling it. Inspired by this insight and the rediscovered benefits of close observation that the exercises from The Pen and the Bell have revealed to me, I’ve been looking at other situations from this perspective. So far I’ve not been able to dissect anger or boredom or overwhelm as I have that one particular type of “anxiety,” but trying to do so has helped me feel less at their mercy than I usually do.

Onward to Sunday!

ROW80 Sunday Check-In: Process Not Product

A goal is something to strive for. Theoretically, there is as much—or perhaps even more—value is in the striving as there is in reaching the goal. So in that sense, I’ve succeeded this week.

In another sense, I’ve fallen short of my goal as stated (to write 5 of 7 days using the writing and contemplation prompts in The Pen and the Bell). Just a bit short, though; I wrote 4 times this week. Plus I blogged, so that’s kind of bonus. And I homeschooled, prepared 21 meals and 37 snacks, cleaned the house, hosted a meeting, and dove into two new (and time-consuming) volunteer tasks.¬†But those weren’t on my ROW80* goals list, so those don’t count.

Here’s a rundown of the prompts for Chapter 1, “Sitting Down and Waking Up”:

– Create a sanctified space for yourself. (I kind of already have this. It’s a corner of the basement. I’ve got a card table, which I euphemistically call “antique,” the vinyl top of which is cut into flaps from the time more than ten years ago when I thought I didn’t need a cardboard backer for a razor-blade cutting project I was doing. In addition to the card table is a plastic set of shelves with a CD player and a set of meditation and yoga CDs stacked to the side and a little Buddhist shrine, with a Buddha statue and a couple of pinecones. The candle, incense and matches I keep on the top shelf out of the reach of inquisitive three-year-old hands. The meditation cushions and yoga mats I keep up on top of a storage bin so maybe my elderly cats won’t defile them again. Now that I describe it, the space seems neither “sanctified” nor “mine.” Maybe I should start over again with this whole “sanctified space” thing.)

-Build a few moments of quiet awareness into your morning routine. (I do this when I think of it, which isn’t often. It’s a miracle there’s anything resembling routine in my morning routine and there’s nothing resembling “quiet.” I blame my children, but it’s probably not entirely their fault.)

-Write continuously for ten minutes about what’s right in front of you. (I did this once this week. I’ve done it before. It’s calming and invites me to notice details I normally overlook, like the smell of the couch cushions. I’m pretty much okay with overlooking that detail.)

-Begin a writing session with a letter to a friend. (I did this three times this week. This exercise was a little surprising. There’s something liberating about writing a letter that I have no intention of sending. That’s not the surprising part. The surprising part is how much richer the writing became compared to a regular journaling session. I was able to see the subjects about which I was writing from a different perspective. I chose to write to friends with whom I’ve not spoken in years, and there was a lot of catch-up to do. The letters were pretty long, so I just made this my entire writing session. I can see the potential value of using this exercise before starting in on a project-writing session.)

This coming week’s chapter is “Details, Details, Details.” There are seven prompts designed to help one slow down and notice details. I think I’ll do my noticing somewhere other than the couch this time.

*ROW80 is “A Round of Words in 80 Days: the writing challenge that knows you have a life.” You can find more information here.