Why Expressive Writing Matters

FeaturedWhy Expressive Writing Matters

Expressive Writing, James Pennebaker, and what this has to do with YOU

Writing is cathartic. Journal keepers know this. Writers know this. Writing instructors know this. Professionals helping clients to negotiate traumas in their lives know this. And James Pennebaker knows this. I first heard about Expressive Writing in a memoir writing class where our instructor talked about why writing is healing- and she talked about James Pennebaker and the studies he did which supported this observation and explained why, exactly, writing helps.

Memoir writing classes are difficult. The information processed, read, worked, and discussed is often highly personal. It is a fine art to run this subgroup of writing classes effectively- to make sure everyone is heard, to recognize those who are truly vulnerable, to ensure a safe setting for people to bring up those issues they are negotiating in their daily lives- and writing about. Critiquing a writer talking about their experiences of abuse is a fine art- not to mention directing a classFul of people to be equally thoughtful, caring and sensitive. To be heard, to have a witness to one’s suffering, to be understood and validated is a powerful experience for those small injustices that are an inevitable part of everyone’s life. It is life altering for those who have suffered major trauma. And this is part of what writing does. As writers we tell our story. We put aside our inner critic and wrestle with our demons on paper. We struggle to make it real, to include the details important to us, and we turn to witnesses, our readers- a community which can then understand, empathize, says we’ve been there too, or, can  imagine the horror. This falls under the rubric of connection; a thing our brains, our beings are driven towards. It is a need ignored at our peril. Isolation is death, take it from a pro.


First blog post

Apples, Vitamin C, and my Daughter’s School Lunch

Apples, Vitamin C, and my Daughter’s School Lunch

When I first learned about the difference between vitamin C in a bottle versus vitamin C in an apple I was ecstatic, I thought it couldn’t possibly get anymore interesting. And then I read about soil biology and how that affected my apple. Armed with this new information and my generally wild enthusiasm about all things health, I went right to my daughter’s school and sat down with Sister-we need to talk about the lunch program, I told her. I knew that wasn’t what Sister wanted to hear, but I also knew I could persuade her. After all, fiber! and complex molecular interaction! We need to talk about a school garden and serving apples instead of the ingredients to yoga mat plastic disguised as food. We need to talk to these kids about nutrition and diabetes and their future heart attack. We need to get rid of hotdogs… Sister sat with her hands in her lap listening to me with a kindly smile on her face. Hypertension, salt, recommended daily allowances of potassium, Sister, I said. There is no way they are getting their potassium. Sugar, salt, fat, addiction, I plowed onward. She nodded in agreement. And soil biology Sister. She took in a breath while I hesitated to gather my thoughts. This was her opportunity. We can’t change the lunch program she stated simply. The children won’t eat healthy food. We prayed. I went home. For awhile I packed lunch for my daughter. And then I stopped. She never ate her apple anyway. Or her orange. And she got chips from her friends, and soda in the school cafeteria where the server was kind enough to slip her some of the yoga mat plastic that I refused to pay for.

I am still profoundly disappointed with my daughter’s school although I recognize the dynamics revolving around school lunch were complex, as is any human endeavor. There were politics, there was a job to be lost, hotdogs were a generations old tradition. No one wanted to take the time to understand soil biology in addition to all of the other requirements that continue to pile up on our increasingly unhappy teachers. And yes, diabetes, hypertension, obesity- Sister sighed. She understood my points but she wasn’t willing to take on the project. She had her reasons.

I have tried to teach my children about nutrition but I yielded control to their environment. And I grow some of our vegetables but I also yielded this to time constraints. If the tomatoes aren’t thriving this year I’m not having a nervous breakdown over it anymore. I do compost and my household garbage system is intimidatingly complex. Although  my water source is likely saturated with my neighbors’ herbicides I still refuse spray in my yard and for good reasons. In short, I do the best I can. I hope someday my adult children will stumble on some good reading and get it- get why the apple is such an amazing thing. But today I know, the only diet I have control over is my own.

Gluten free, no grain, paleo, vegan, lactoovovegetarian, and just plain junk- we are faced with so many food choices it is overwhelming. And then there is the time factor- it’s hard to be enthusiastic about cooking at the end of a long day and there are so many convenience foods sitting right there- sautéed kale and lightly sage-buttered chicken go right out the window. Our cows are eating gummy bears we might as well eat pizza. But there are good reasons to eat well and it isn’t that difficult with a bit of thought and planning. And once I tell you about the amazing features of the apple maybe you too will see the value of regaining skills we’ve all lost in two short generations. Remind me to tell you about Gary Paul Nabhan’s  Food, Genes, and Culture too, it is a pretty wild ride.