writing and stitching

We humans have developed various ways of processing things. We get into a bind, mired in a mess, overwhelmed by data, confused and conflicted, and we do something to sort it out. We pray or play or look away, any of which can make room for an answer to rise up. Or we write.

Do you write only when you already know what you want to say?

Or do you write in order to know what you want to say?

You don’t need to consider yourself “a writer” to use the act of writing as a sorting tool. Writing can gather and stitch bits into a whole, even if the “whole” is a journal entry or a scribble on a scrap of paper.

Writing and sewing have a lot in common. Two simple tools plus time can bring about an infinite array of transformations:

needle + thread

pencil + paper

Apply them, and what was separate and in pieces is repaired, made anew, made whole.

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I first met T (who I later married) in Corsica, on a painting course with a small group of people from Vancouver and Seattle. I fell for him quickly and pretty hard. But I kept my cool. I waited. I tuned in. I’d already stopped trying to control things.

That was my first trip to Europe. The land and culture of Corsica, which I’d studied beforehand, and the powerful way we were exploring art acted on me in a way that made me surrender my usual need to know things. Without trying or even being very conscious of it, I allowed myself to be controlled by whatever it is that moves through us when we follow our intuition, even when we don’t understand what it asks of us. I became a sensing instrument, a divining rod. In our two weeks there, I filled a huge, bound book with journal entries – processing, inquiring, sketching, and listening.

At the end of the course, I told T how I felt about him and we went our separate ways. I flew back to my life on an island near Seattle and he spent two weeks wandering around Corsica on his own before visiting his family in Berlin and flying home to Vancouver.

To sort out an important part of what had happened to me in Corsica, internally and experientially, when I got home I wrote a poem. I got the pieces of it out, then fiddled with them, mulled over the drafts, finally got the tale in order, and called it “Chronology of Hands.” It turned out to be a review of my journey with T during our time together, including the one moment when we shared a more-than-casual touch, as we hugged goodbye before I got on the bus to leave.

Writing that poem helped me understand what had happened. It showed me why the threads lacing through our short time together meant so much to me. It settled me down and comforted and clarified me.

In finding words to bring my strong, complex feelings to the surface and get them outside of me, I understood much more than I had before that poem did its stitching work. To write it, I had to step aside, to surrender again, like I’d done in Corsica.

Surrender makes room for candor. Trying to know isn’t the same as being willing to know. When we abdicate pre-knowing exactly what we’ll say before we write, we make space for knowledge that’s beyond us to find us.

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Here are a few ways to invite writing to do its simple, deep work and stitch you anew, whether you’re “a writer” or not:

The Invitation

Go somewhere peaceful, where you can be alone for a while. I like cemeteries and the far corners of libraries, but a bedroom with a closed door works, too. Get situated, with pen and paper ready, and close your eyes. Notice what you hear, what you feel on your skin, what you smell. Allow feelings to rise up into that sensing space. Write about those feelings. Just give them space to be, on the page. Get them outside of yourself so you can see them and experience a measure of separateness from them. Let the feelings lead. … Feelings are finite. Once we’ve allowed them, paid attention to them, they dissipate or transmute into something more useful, like solutions or forgiveness or comprehension or love.

The Conversation

Choose a part of yourself to have a conversation with. It could be your sore hip. It could be your finances. It could be your memory of a challenging experience. What’s an aspect of your self or your life that’s calling out for some quality time with you? Name it. Start your writing with “Me:” then write the reason you started the conversation and ask a question. On a new line, write the name of the aspect you’re conversing with and a colon, then write the answer. As you write the answer, do your best to not think. Just write. Continue in this way, recording your conversation together, letting the discussion go where it goes, as though you two are sharing a private park bench overlooking a peaceful pond on a summer day with nowhere else to be.

The Poem

Poems contain elements of song and rhythm. They often speak in symbols and veer toward metaphor. Exploring with poetry can trigger a part of the brain that likes making things whole through cryptology and decoder rings, the better to surprise us into a new perspective. The salient action for using poetry as a way of processing is deciding to write in the form of a poem. It alerts your right brain to get more involved, which opens the door to the subconscious a bit wider. Start the poem by revealing a secret, but say the secret in a way that’s not direct. Use analogies and metaphors and likenesses. Continue on from there.

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All you really need to do is move your pen across the page. You might discover something important and extraordinary. Go on, dare yourself to unravel. Writing will sew you back together without the scars.

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Related reading: how to fall in love with yourself, new friends

4 comments to writing and stitching

  • Melissa Frykman-Thieme

    Oh Grace–
    I’ve been writing this morning, as I often do. Then I read your newest post, and next I’ll be sewing.

    The metaphor of sewing, as related to writing, is not lost on me.
    I do both, and each is a metaphor for the other. Both have helped me “stitch” myself together, and both continue to allow me to live on.

    I once heard that people who think and write (and sew?) in metaphors are more mentally healthy than those who don’t, so I took it to heart that being a meta-metaphoric kind of gal was the kind of gal I need to be in order to survive.

    As I was recovering from a horrendous induction to the club that nobody wants to join (heart disease), I hauled out my sewing stuff- beads, trim, fabric of ALL kinds, and quilts in progress.
    The immediate zone around my purple velvet couch became my healing zone, stacked high with all my tools and many inspirations. My desk became my writing center, and journals of all shapes and covers were strategically placed in every purse, bag, bedside and bathroom. I developed a penchant for pens and pencils-(is that where the word “penchant” comes from, or vice versa?)

    Thus equipped, I began the biggest project that I’ve ever undertaken– nothing less than HEALING and SURVIVING through telling my truth and expressing it in multiple ways.

    It’s working– four years into the project, I’m still alive. My heart and eyes have opened. I breathe in and out. Scents on the breeze, fluttering leaves on the locust tree, cats sleeping in the catnip mound now catch my focus and emotion. Life marches, and sometimes limps on into new realms. (I sense that my corpus callosum is no longer a huge crevasse as a superhighway.)

    One of my wise advisers suggests that houses are rich metaphors for our lives. If so, I’ve entered a never-ending series of amazing hidden museum-quality rooms. Each door I pass through leads to more and more doors. Each room eggs me on.

    Your site is another room with many doors. My deepest thanks to you, Grace. This is what life is all about.

    Love,
    Melissa

    • Ah, Melissa. Reading your comment makes me feel like we’re hanging out at a campfire going down all sorts of intriguing metaphorical-metaphysical-metameaningful conversational byways. It’s such fun traveling in the world with you in it. xoxo

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