Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Woman Visits a Shrink

Her story is compelling, should never be forgotten. The woman dies, the shrink authors a book about his late patient. Nightmare or gift? 

As a writer reluctant to share my own personal story I've come up with different scenarios to mislead not just what I know to be my internal editor, but the safe-keeper and guard of my family secrets. What if I'd pretend to be dead and have my husband send all of my material to an editor of a publishing house? What if I would let a shrink be the storyteller?

To see how the latter would work out, I bought Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves. The novel's narrator is a shrink, so intrigued by a patient, that he starts investigating the man's life, crossing professional boundaries as he develops a personal interest in the patient's wife and child. The book turned out to be about the shrink's obsession, and the book's premise reinforced my notion that psycho therapists are regular fallible people too.

Having someone tell your story may be a dream come true, yet it can also be a patient's worst nightmare. Does the fact that the husband of the dead woman's family gave the psycho social therapist the go-ahead to write and publish her story, mean that she would have given hers? Did she leave a will in which she stated so?

Is the notion "Never Again!" enough of a reason to disclose thoughts uttered in the privacy of a psycho therapeutic session?

Leo Feijten, author of Ik geloof dat hij Hans heette (I Believe His Name Was Hans) states on his publisher's site, that his wish is, that by telling the story of his patient —her family and foster brother were murdered in the Nazi death camps— he's helping to prevent that something like the Holocaust will ever happen again.

That could be a good enough reason. Still, the notion that therapists would use patients' files to publish books throws me off. Even if the project is approached in an honorable and sincere manner.

Or is Feijten, by using the point of view of his patient's foster brother Hans —not focusing the story on her, but the whole book on (her story about) this German Jewish Horst Eichenwald — off the hook?

What are your thoughts on this?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Friday, April 13, 2012

Centrum's Port Townsend Writers Conference Workshops Twice Around in 2012

The summer of 1995 my husband dropped me off at camp, leaving me to my own devices far removed from the real world as I knew it. That's how I felt as I waved him goodbye standing in front of the white painted wooden barracks at Fort Worden.

From an article in Poets & Writers I had learned a conference was the place to be for aspiring and seasoned writers alike. I gathered ten pages worth of vignettes and poems that related to my childhood growing up in the Netherlands, and signed up for a fiction workshop with Janice Eidus at The Port Townsend Writers Conference on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
Janice presented us with guidelines for critiquing other people's work, with writing exercises, and valuable assessment of our manuscripts. I learned I had a knack for story analysis, didn't write fiction myself, and that being in the presence of authors who are willing to share their knowledge is inspiring to say the least. And last but not least, friendships forged at that time lasted way beyond the ten days at camp.

In 1997 I was submerged in the writing of a book length manuscript on loss, grief and recovery(*). By then I'd learned how lonesome a writer can get, I craved being in the presence of other word smiths. Apart from that, Fort Worden, the location where An Officer and a Gentleman was filmed, situated on the wooded hillside shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca had become a favorite destination. This time I signed up for an open enrollment workshop with fiction writer Robin Hemley.

The difference between a manuscript workshop and open enrollment was soon apparent; for the latter more true beginners signed up. While I hadn't wanted to workshop my WIP, and Robin's classes were fun and valuable, I missed the level of other writers I encountered in the earlier manuscript workshop. Still, even today, when I create a character, I use Robin's suggestions to pin down the characteristics in description without ever mentioning the underlying adverbs of adjectives. Another memorable plus point was a one-on-one conversation —in the laundromat of all places— about grief writing, with another faculty member, Bret Lott. While folding our clothes, Bret told me he published a book Reed's Beach about loss himself. His kind response to my description of my story encouraged me to continue with my project, even though infant loss would not be a subject that would appeal to a mass market.

Six years would go by before I returned to Centrum's Port Townsend Writers Conference. After I published my memoir Creative Acts of Healing in 1999, reading Robin Hemley's book Turning Life Into Fiction lead me to understand that could be my next aim.
In 2003 Dorothy Allison,  author of Bastard out of Carolina appeared on Centrum's roster. She said she recognized the secrets in my writing, the double whammies, the layers of reality and separate reality. I had to keep in mind not merely the different departments in my writing, but my own veiled personality, and that truth is a many-layered thing. In my fiction I would have to show that. What she said has kept me busy ever since.

In 2008 I took advantage of a Creative Residency during the conference. A retreat, that gave me the opportunity to take in the atmosphere, and communicate with other writers, while not participating in any workshops.

Perhaps it's time to touch base with Dorothy Allison at the Port Townsend Writers Conference again? Or join up with Pam Houston, I remember the enthusiasm of her students in 1995. Centrum has both authors scheduled in the first of their two week-long conferences. Yes, two,  from July 8-15 and 15-22, 2012

Check out Centrum's faculty line-up here.

Or perhaps I should give myself the gift of just being there, enjoy a retreat and the company of poets and writers at an amazing location.

(*) Published in 1999 by Paseo Press as Creative Acts of Healing: after a baby dies.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Writer's Health and Fitness

Health Activist Writer's Month Challenge - Day 4
In September 2001 two years after my first book, Creative Acts of Healing: after a baby dies was published, my right arm went on strike. An intense pain from fingertips to shoulder —a sensation I likened to, but knew was not a stroke— forced me to carry my arm around on a pillow. Cooing, "I'm so sorry," I stroked my fingers, wrist, forearm and biceps. My physical therapist said I'd done to much, worked too hard on too many things. Between stretching of large canvases, painting, cutting mats, pruning fruit trees, weeding, cooking, cleaning and writing I had worn out my poor arm.
The verdict: Rest. 
This was relatively easy, since I couldn't even hold a lock of my hair between forefinger and thumb. Learning to use my left hand for tasks normally performed with the right turned out to be possible. For a while I typed with only one hand, and learned not to delete, but highlight, cut and move/paste instead, to save time and energy.

In my studio I finished four paintings in bold strokes I, nor my husband recognized as my own. The gestures of my left hand, connected to the right —creative—side of the brain, weren't hampered by the editorial power of the right hand, directed by the left side of my analytical brain. That was quite the discovery. The reason why I stopped painting at this crossroads, is three-fold. The landlord raised the rent by 100%, basically forcing artists out of a building that could house more lucrative businesses. The work involved in being a studio artist was beyond my physical and monetary means. No longer able to stretch canvases myself, I'd have to buy them ready made. Doing everything with my left arm and hand in order to give the right one the required rest would mean an overload of work, and the possibility of hurting my left arm the way I had hurt the right.

Of all my activities typing was the least harmful. Adjusted armrests and a lumbar pillow helped with the correct ergonomic position, a splint kept my wrist aligned. I was off to a good start, yet slowly but steadily I was turning into the office version of a couch potato. Writers joke amongst themselves that they need to apply glue to their seats to get a project done. Glued to my seat I was. Staring at the monitor day in day out, I discovered my thighs were turning to pudding.

A year and a half ago, I started working out with a personal trainer, and eleven years after my arm went on strike, I feel more fit, and stronger than I did before that time. Remembering what happened back then in 2001, is a reminder to take care of myself. Working too hard on too many things will wear out the best of us.

What do you do to stay fit while writing?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Writing Artist's Empathic Emotion

Batman, Super Man, Spider Man, Gracie Hart 
In Miss Congeniality Sandra Bullock as Gracie Hart makes wine glasses sing, is her heart in it? She knows she has to wish for World Peace to score points, but rather then that, she would like to teach the audience, and pageant participants to stand up, kick ass, and protect themselves and others.  In the end she finds a way to use her talents, and be herself.

... And what about me, myself, I?

What is my superpower? I asked my husband.
He stopped midway up the stairs and said without missing a beat: Your Intuition.
How can I help people with that?
You can be, ... you are a catalyst, he said.

I'm no superhero, but if I were, what's my Achilles heel?

Pretty much the same as my superpower. My intuition makes me sense and feel other people's pain. I'm not a professional caregiver, I'm a listener, an artist and a writer. A writing artist.
How can I help people with that? 
Sharing words and images.
Giving the world my all.
I may not have superpower, I have talents, and using them is my gift, to myself and to others

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Secret of Freedom is Courage - HAWMC

Health Activist Writer's Month Challenge #2

Choose a quote that inspires you – positively or negatively – and gets you thinking. 

The Secret of Happiness is Freedom and the Secret of Freedom is Courage ~Thucydides (471 BC - 400 BC)

The above quote is the epigraph of Anthony Robbins' conversation with 108-year-old Alice Hertz Sommer.

Merriam-Webster Definition of COURAGE: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty

Worst Thing in Life is Boredom 
~ Alice Hertz Sommer

The biography A Garden of Eden in Hell: the life of Alice Hertz Sommer was authored by Melissa Muller with Reinhard Piechocki, and published in the year that Hertz Sommer was 104.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Health Time Capsule - HAWMC

Health Activist Writer's Month Challenge #1

Health Time Capsule. Pretend you’re making a time capsule of you and your health focus that won’t be opened until 2112. What’s in it? What would people think of it when they found it?


April 1, 2112 (this could be a joke considering the mores in 2012), upon opening the Time Capsule dated April 1, 2012 we find the following:
3 devices called "thumb drives" named so for the thumb-like shape, and size; common at the beginning of what at the time was called the New Millenium.
1 rolled up book with spiral back titled: Personal Training Guide: 5 Benefits of Personal Training.

We deciphered the data stored on the thumb drives.
Herewith transcript of those documents of interest to the Department of Socialized Health Care.

Subject is a 56-year-old Caucasian woman. With 180 Lb at 5'4" she's considered  obese by BMI standards of 2012. Subject received the following assessment:
Your BMI is 30.4, indicating your weight is in the Obese category for adults of your height. For your height, a normal weight range would be from 109 to 147 pounds. People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. 
Going by the dates in the Personal Training Guide Work Book the subject worked out twice per week at a gym. A journal entry on Evernote shows that the subject's 28-year-old Personal Trainer exclaimed "I didnt know that", upon hearing his client's age. He had worked with her for over a year. He thought she was in her early forties. The subject printed a so called smiley face in the margin. Apparently appearing younger was very important 100 years ago.

In another journal entry the subject writes that her gynecologist blames her complaints on menopause. Note: She's vague about these complaints, as though fearful someone might read what this Change of Life entails.
9-12 Months without menstruation, so GYN prescribed Estring, a vaginal ring not unlike the diaphragm I used decades ago to prevent pregnancy. Funny little rubber ring, without the dome in which you had to squirt anti-spermacide gel.
After reading up on what could be the subject's problem, the question arose in our team, whether the described side effects  might not be similar if not worse than the problem? Journal entries show that the subject didn't suffer from side effects. At least in the beginning.
The Estring worked well the first three months. At the beginning of the fourth month I started cramping. Imagine my surprise when I got my period. Once again I'm concerned about getting pregnant, at age 56! In a strange way this makes me feel young. Although the hot flashes remind me that I'm going through the Change of Life. The best I can do under these circumstances is do what I have been doing all along, taking good care of myself. I exercise, eat healthful food, I take the prescribed Statins for my cholesterol, smear Benecol on my bread, and I keep smiling.

Notes to be resumed. Bij the way, we thought it was funny to read in another journal entry that the subject slept in the nude, while her husband of 20 years wore pajamas and socks. Life must have been so confusing 100 years ago!

 This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License