put it in writing

“We live and breathe words. …. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt–I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamt. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. ”Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

There’s a weird paradox about putting something in writing. Many of us feel like it gives our ideas permanence. Suddenly there’s a record of our mistakes, vulnerabilities, and histories. It’s like we imagine some dour office somewhere where our bad writing or, worse, imperfect moments will be filed away, remembered, or even filtered through and fanned out by a swift-fingered administrative assistant. We don’t want our sadness sorted with delightful efficiency. So we often don’t write it or don’t write at all.

Then you have more practiced writers like the regulars in our group. We don’t talk about it all the time but there’s an implicit understanding that often, your writing knows something before you do. You go digging with a pen and you find the daily things: lines of breakfasts and med schedules, every time the metal doors slam shut. And the loved things: children, spouses, pets, old jobs, that first cup of coffee on Sunday morning. There’s the remembered things, the unusual things, the known jokes, and solid anecdotes, what sly turn-of-phrase that will get you out of just about anything. But then there’s the unknown knowns -the stuff you’ve got in your bones, what lines the path to the interior that you can’t speak because know one knows to ask. Writing these is the risk you can’t help taking.

This week, we completed our unit on letter writing. We wrote to younger and older versions of ourselves, our regrets, wants, and condolences. Below, you’ll find the work of one woman who travels further inward with each letter, arriving at vulnerable knowledge it was a privilege to hear.

Dear Animals,

I love my dogs and cats. They bring me joy and happiness. They are my babies so soft and lovable. I never feel alone when they are with me. To you, my beautiful, loving companions, always so faithful and willing to please me. They keep nothing from me, except maybe a little pee or poop in a hidden spot. I don’t know what I would do without you, my furry little family. You all mean the world to me.

Dear House,

I love my house. I miss you so. Just waiting for the day I will return to you. You bring me pride and joy. I love the rain coming down when I am on the deck, the pitter patter of soft and heavy rain, the scenery of your land, trees, grass, cat o’nine tails, and lilac flowers. I will always be happy there. You make me feel safe.

Dear [me] at 45,

You always try to please everyone, give love to anyone that needs it. You were very unaware of what your life was about to go through. Mike came along and I fell in love. He had a hard upbringing and I wanted to show him the beauty of little things. YOu thought you could change him, give him some class. Then, little by little, you were getting scared, he showed signs of anger. I will calm him down, I told myself. That never happened. He started to control me, my life. I was trying to adjust, not really knowing what to do. Why didn’t you tell anyone he was abusing you? You didn’t listen to anyone. Everyone saw what a leech he was, except you. They told you to get away. Why didn’t you listen? I was fooled like by the devil. You were afraid and ashamed.

You should have told your family and friends, they would have understood. He was the biggest downfall in your life for 14 years. What was wrong with me? Why was I so stupid? It was because he told me I was stupid and ugly. I am glad he is out of my life now. But his pathological lies got you time in prison. Be smart and beautiful now, you are going to make it and become someone you love again. Good luck.




notes to self

writing woman


“Letter writing can be seen as a gift because someone has taken his/her time to write and think and express love.”Soraya Diase Coffelt

This month, we are focusing on letter writing and correspondence – the letter, the postcard, notes, all written forms of communication meant to carry words from one to another on paper. The women inside are avid letter writers. They don’t have access to the internet and phone time is limited so a letter is a line drawn from their hands to those they care about. Each conversation is a record, a body they shape before they send them out of the prison like paper doves.

This week, when we asked “What lifted you this week and what weighed you down?” one woman answered:

Being able to write my words and thoughts freely; When the guard came in, I realized I was in jail again.

A letter is a place where our written freedoms can live in relationship, where the liberty we choose for ourselves can be heard, remembered, put in writing. Each writer is his or herself in the room of the page both in jail and independent of jail. We can even reflect that freedom back to ourselves, mirror it in words as though we promise it will come into being. The letter is a note to another and a note to self: remember, to get the bills paid, remember, that I care for you, remember, who you are. While the jail is a constant reality, each writer can create another one, invites themselves and another into that free space.

In the two pieces below, the women are addressing themselves as much as an audience, creating a world where even the elements support their written and literal of acts self-liberation:

Note to Self


We’re going on a walk today. Go, jump and run and yell and shout. TO be free from the worry and despair of everyday life. We walk along the winding road, kicking stones as we go. Dancing as one as the sun and clouds make their way for rain. We see the tree we’ve got to make it to, as lightning flares and the thunder booms. Splashing through the puddles as we run like children. Huddled underneath the boughs of leaves, under the willow tree, we hug and sing a song and say a prayer to help us carry on.



Cold Spring Shedding

The cold spring has eased. The ice finally melted into the lumpy muddy road. My car’s been smacked underneath and thrown sideways like beans and tumbling dice.

I ride 50+ miles everyday, passing beautiful lit up hills. Grey, brown and gold sticks and branches texture across the horizon. The silence touches the horses and soft human steps.

Sliding away, I leave for town with no fan fare. I say “Hello”, “Good-day” and “Good-night” that’s it. We used to embrace and cling. We come home at different times now and cook our separate meals. Our broken love is stiff as cardboard.

And the screen door still swings too fast, out of my hands. A relic we saved from the dump. It helped keep the icy air out. I will leave in summer. Almost 10 full years from when we meet at summers end.

My eyes are dry, my skin ready to shed. Shedding this weight. The weight of hanging on.

I may take a long walk to reset my default switches. And burn calories never reached while driving too many hours and miles.

Shedding is like submerging under water, and capturing a new momentum. Perhaps I will learn to move and loco-mote like a dolphin, or at least a person with adventure and joy.