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Writing In A Spiral : Page 2 of 2

Writing In A Spiral

continued from page 1

And so as I sat at the computer in my studio, a memory rose up in my heart. And I followed it, in writing, to see where it would lead, hoping I would be healed by what I found; released from the hold of some conditioning that, as yet, I believed too fully to let go of.

This was the memory:

When I was in high school in New York City, a "cool" school for art and music students, I was not free to hang out with my fellow students outside the building after school, but had to take the subway home to take care of my younger sister, because both my parents worked. This was not in any way a repressed memory; I'd always recalled it. It had, in fact, become an internal symbol of my inability to live a wholly joyful, spontaneous life through the years. High school was long gone, no babysitting was still needed; and yet a line had been drawn so well (if unintentionally) around me that I often still operated as if I could not just hang out with my friends and potential friends. I had to go home and ~ work.

I let the memory expand within me, and I wrote into that. I wrote with complete full-heartedness, eager to find the story and tell it to myself. This enabled me to look at the experience and to inhabit it from within, so that the details were as vivid as if happening right now, yet offering an arc of understanding not possible at the time.

"When I was in high school," I wrote, " — and I started young, at the age of thirteen, so that I was but sixteen when I graduated — I had to come home directly afterwards to take care of my younger sister. My parents both worked, and the apartment in the building with the lobby and the elevator was empty of adults, and so it was left to me to be the adult. This meant that after classes, in the Gothic-like building where my high school took place, a seven-story stone edifice complete with a tower and gargoyles, while my schoolmates were standing outside chatting with each other and smoking cigarettes, I had to walk past them down the hundred-twenty-five steps to the street, and from there take the subway home. There was a feeling of being excluded, as I walked past people of my own age and generation to assume a role befitting my parents' generation; as if I could not stop the work of school, the work of home, to relax, afterwards, laugh, complain, join forces with people my own age."

Circling Round

As I wrote into the hope for healing, the hope that giving voice to all this could free me from what was not real that still clung to me and constricted my options for joy, I noticed that I kept circling round that scene of having to pass by my friends and go home. It came up again after the initial mention, when describing sitting at home with my sister and watching the movie-on-TV together, "One Touch of Venus," with the beauteous Ava Gardner as the statue of Venus come to life at night in a department store, while the dazed clerk, Robert Walker, could not believe his eyes or his luck. It was no literary device, this circling round, this spiraling repetition: it was a wish (perhaps not a conscious one) to touch base, to see if what I had written in between the last mention of this pivotal event of not being able to belong to the peer world of my schoolmates and the current mention shed any light on the situation, gave it breathing room.

"This was my refuge, my compensation for leaving my peers, untalked-to, unsmoked-with, unimagining adventures with, the green-shoot sprees of youth together: watching a mortal fall in love with a Goddess, again and again, moving each time from his prosaic, obedient life into the enchanted world of love with a celestial being, and then having, at the end, only the secret memory of that union, able to share it with no one who might believe him."

Could this movement into describing the longing for a deeper love, a higher life, that union of human and divine in the movie and what it touched off in me then (and now) have been pre-planned and inserted into an outline? No, it was a revelation that came directly out of what I had so intimately and longingly described: that in having to relinquish the small talk and the belonging to the world of my peers, I brought that hungry heart into my absent parents' bedroom, where the black-and-white TV was, where my sister and I ate the tuna sandwiches on white bread I had made us, the recently pudded chocolate pudding, and in our linking loneliness watched this movie about the union of our limited, mortal self and the divinity of love. Against a beautiful musical background provided by Kurt Weill, the department-store clerk wooed Venus, an alabaster statue come to life only at night, when the store was empty and closed to the ordinary world.

Circling back to my adolescent duty and loss, walking past the other students to take the subway home, my writing became a guide in itself, casting a searchlight ahead of me just far enough to illuminate the next thing. Along the way were subjects that also lived in my memory but had never till now been connected to this particular theme before. For example, what it was like to make an etching plate, engraving fine lines into a metal sheet covered with an asphalt-like ground, and then later on deciding you didn't want all those lines and needed to burnish them out. The connection between the extremely concrete, detailed process of making an etching and then un-making that etching paralleled and illuminated my situation in a way that no conceptual exploration in itself could have. Because that was exactly what I was wanting to do: recognize the etching that had been engraved into my sense of who I was and was not, what was and was not possible for me, and remake it; burnish out some lines, and keep those that I found still beautiful.

And again, like a heartbeat, the writing spiraled around that pivotal experience of being locked out of youth because of the obligations required by an older generation:

"This was a long time ago, now. Yet it remains as vivid and fresh as then, and remains in memory because the impression etched by this on my soul was that my life was not to be filled with playing and belonging; it was to be filled with duty, and obligation, and caring for others while I myself was still young. This memory of passing by my schoolmates, who were my own age, and trudging down the hundred-twenty-five steps to the subway to go home and take care of my younger sister by making her tuna sandwiches and hamburgers and cooled, bubbled chocolate pudding, and be compensated for an hour and a half in imagination, then turn the TV off and become, in effect, the department-store clerk, wondering if that mutual love had even happened, has stayed with me all this time."

Arriving at a Healing Place

It is said that all the ages we have been are still in us; that all the experiences we have had are still available to us; that nothing is lost, only covered over by other things more immediate and pressing. I had the sense that if I could revisit that pivotal, constricting time with an open heart and the intention to unlock its grip through my writing, healing might come to be.

And so it was. When I was done writing, I felt I had arrived at some larger, more expanded place inside; that what had happened in the past had still happened, but now I could hold it in a much larger context, and could open to something new because I was more intimately acquainted with what I had experienced, the pain and even beauty of such longing as now brought me closer to myself.

The next day, a Saturday, I went into a sanctuary in nature right in the heart of the city where I live: a creek bordered by trees and wild other growings. And I was so incredibly present to myself and to the living nature all around me that there was nothing I was missing, nothing I was being kept out of. Everything was here, in this moment, right now. The rocks, the music of the creek, the trees letting in light through their green latticework of leaves; and me, standing on the earth a part of all this life, wealthy as a queen.

Was it because my conclusion, at the end of the writing, was that had I been free to be young when I was chronologically young, free to stand outside my school with my friends and become more and more sophisticated in my efforts to belong, what I really would have wanted was nature and my own nature? Or was it because, allowing the writing to spiral into its own nature, a gift of my feeling heart was returned to me, and this was what gave me the joy of being present in nature?

Writing into the spiral can heal, in a most touching, tender way. The next time you feel empty or yearning, or something calls you to write it even though you don't know what "it" is, you might remember the spiral. Just start writing where you are, and see what opens up out of what you write (as you are vividly, intimately present with it). See what the writing is spiraling around: what is the center, where do the arcs go? You may enjoy it; and you will find that you are being written on, as surely as the other way around. •

Copyright © 2010 by Naomi Rose. All rights reserved.

Naomi RoseNaomi Rose, Book Developer and Writing Coach, has successfully used her "Writing from the Deeper Self" approach to help people with an inner-directed focus write the books of their hearts. More »