Healing with Writing

Autumn Forest
Autumn Forest | watercolor | copyright Liz Macklin 2004

I have a new routine for feeling good: eat lots of vegetables, exercise and write! What’s writing got to do with it? I might say “taking time for reflection” and perhaps “finding a way to speak up and recognize one’s own voice.”  What do you think?

Last Tuesday I met with five women to explore expressive writing. Together we read a poem. Then our pens took the lead, and we wrote whatever came to mind.

After fifteen minutes Nancy Morgan, our guide and the Director of the Arts and Humanities Program at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, asked if we’d like to share our feelings about our writing. Reading aloud was purely voluntary. The content of the conversation was, as always, confidential. Let me say simply that people talked, laughed, sighed and commiserated — not in any particular order!

Each Tuesday a different group gathers, but Nancy is there every week with a new idea. Sometimes she brings a poem, sometimes a painting. The themes include nature, family, identity and life with all its bumps and lucky breaks. Sessions are free of competition and critique. Nancy greets everyone with encouragement and assurance that writing can help people find relief from stress and the emotional effects of illness.

Writing is recognized as beneficial to care in the cancer center, not in a small part as a result of a recent study conducted by Nancy and her colleagues Kristi Graves, Elizabeth Poggi and Bruce Cheson. Their findings indicated that “cancer patients are receptive to expressive writing” and that “a single brief exercise is related to patient’s reports of improved quality of life” (The Oncologist, 2008, 13; 192-196.) In addition to her other administrative duties at the Arts and Humanities Program, Nancy leads workshops, plans readings and edits Lombardi Voices, an anthology of writing by people with cancer and caregivers. This summer she’s also taken time to train writer/researcher Michelle Berberet and me in therapeutic writing techniques. As prompts for writing, Michelle explored the evocative power of scent and gave writers a beautiful card and a sprig of lavender. I began with a silly image and asked fellow writers “What tickles your funny bone?”

Since my sessions with Nancy, I’ve tried to write — well, let me say more often — because I’d be lying if I said every day. I also attended a weekend workshop with editor Deborah Brodie. She recommends exploratory writing with a focus on ways to make creative connections and develop story ideas.

If you’d like to try expressive writing, find a pen and paper and begin with any thought that comes to you. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or perfect punctuation. Start, write and see how it feels! Need help with an idea? It can come from anywhere. I’ve included an image, “Autumn Forest,” in this post. After these scorching sunny days, what are you thinking about?

(author’s note: I made an update in paragraphs 1 and 5 on August 1, 2010.)

Wings, Woodlands and Watercolor

Korean Garden (detail) | watercolor | 3.5″ by 5.5″ | copyright Liz Macklin 2010

Sunday afternoon at the park. Enjoy the  animals — owls, hawks, tortoises, snakes. Drop by to watch and talk or bring your sketchbook and your paints.

Students from HB Woodlawn school will host activities for kids and demonstrate a variety of art techniques.

I’ll be painting, and I’ll be eager to discuss  gardens, nature drawing, book design, popups and inspiration from the far east, especially Korean kimonos and embroidery.

Stop by and say hello!

Potomac Overlook Regional Park, — Marcey Road off Military Road, Arlington, Virginia

Sunday, June 6 — 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm

Books. Discoveries. Fun.

Pink and Yellow Lilies
Pink and Yellow Lilies | watercolor | 7" by 7" | copyright Liz Macklin 2010

Revelations. Power. New friends. Browsing through the library to find new books for children and teens by Virginia authors…

Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount White tells  the story of a teenage girl who, after the death of her mother, enters boarding school and discovers her unique ability to create bouquets that bring to life the language of flowers. There’s more than just a splash of scent and color in that long-stemmed rose. White says her favorite flower is the lily, associated with beauty, elegance and sweetness. Read with your own floral bouquet in mind.

Mockingbird by Kathy Erskine also relates a young girl’s quest for friendship and acceptance, as well as  the healing potential of a shared project, as she tries to cope with the death of her brother. Gentle humor marks her conversations with classmates, teachers and her dad as she describes the world through the lens of Asperger’s syndrome.

Boys join in and Saturday Night Live take note! Bo, the lively main character in Sara Lewis HolmesOperation Yes, learns to love improv. Can he also raise his academic standing at his school on an Air Force base and then mend a rift with his dad that seems as persistent as an F-16 jet racing down  the runway? Theater might be fun, but it has nothing to do with deployment and war — or does it? Bo and friends emerge as an ensemble cast as the plot takes a couple surprising twists!

And for those looking for fun with young readers…

Jackie Jules has a new series. The first book is out now, Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off.  A pair of purple sneakers catapults young Freddie across the school yard and straight toward adventure.

Two whimsical picture books recently released in paperback are Alphie the Apostrophe and Penny and the Punctuation Bee by Moira Donohue. Who knew that commas, periods and apostrophes have personalities?  In Donohue’s world, punctuation marks lead cheers, tell riddles and perform magic tricks.

Happy reading!

Spring Festival at Potomac Overlook

Autumn at Potomac Overlook
Autumn at Potomac Overlook | watercolor | copyright Liz Macklin 2010

Live music, games, food, a juggler, community exhibits, art and the annual Taylor Elementary School maypole dance — all at Potomac Overlook Park’s spring open house! Special exhibits this year focus on energy, the environment and electric vehicles.

Sunday, May 2, 1:00 to 4:00

Here’s an autumn view from the nature center.