healing powers of expressive writing: James Pennebaker

I’ve been wanting to write about Pennebaker’s “healing powers of expressive writing” ever since Isobel left a tantalizing link in a comment back in April.

Since my energies and brain-power wax and wane, I’ve been waiting to be ready to write an informative post.  Ain’t gonna happen.  The being ready.  Why wait to share?  (As it is, I am struggling here….)

To get started, go read the short article, please, linked in the next paragraph.   For more information, see below at “more info.”

For nearly 20 years, Dr. James W. Pennebaker has been giving people an assignment: write down your deepest feelings about an emotional upheaval in your life for 15 or 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Many of those who followed his simple instructions have found their immune systems strengthened. Others have seen their grades improved. Sometimes entire lives have changed.”

As regular readers know, illness has changed my abilities in reading and comprehension.  The good news is that back in May when I was still mired in bad muck, I could understand the intent and instructions in Pennebaker’s assignment.   No special writing ability is necessary.  Note the wisdom about being ready to write about a particular moment.  Smart.

I printed out the two callouts from that first link to use as my instructions.


two callouts I used as my instructions
source:  http://www.utexas.edu/features/2005/writing/

✍  ✍  ✍  ✍  ✍

more info

Truly, it is worth wandering through.  (Each link will open in a new tab.)

James Pennebaker’s home page at the University of Texas.  At the bottom, see the links, some of which include online exercises.  A sampling:

Enhanced guidelines for healing writing, still short, but with a little more to think about.

Insight into your own use of language:  http://secretlifeofpronouns.com/exercises.php.

The Online Research Consortium.  University of Texas psych research being conducted online–we’re the guinea pigs.  Questionnaires out the gazoo.  Painless.  Anonymous.  Kinda fun.

The BBC Radio 4 programme introducing Pennebaker’s research.

✍  ✍  ✍  ✍  ✍

I found all those links after I tried the expressive writing.  That’s me anyway–get the gist of something and full steam ahead!

(Here’s a link to the discussion that Isobel and I had.  At the end of the comments.  Thanks, Isobel.)

I’d really like to hear what you think!


When do ideas happen? Robert Genn, The Painter’s Keys

A very quick essay about ideas and creativity that applies to anyone, not just artists.

Here’s a teaser, with the link below:

Robert Genn, The Painter's Keys

When do ideas happen?  Robert Genn, The Painter’s Keys


the awakening

I  am coming awake from the illness-induced numb-distance from the world, here at the middle of the 6th month of my recovery.  And hoo-boy, what I have wakened to!  It’s like coming home to find out your teenager has had a kegger in your absence and the house has had a bomblet dropped in it.  Complete disarray everywhere on top of the usual mundane furnishings.  And you keep finding snoring, drooling kids in the corners!

That’s me now.  In the holy-crap, where am I and what am I gonna do now?   Truly it was easier and gentler to be numb.  But OK, this is what I’ve got today.

experiencing life in my new skin

Last Friday, without thinking the possibilities through, a friend came over who got me out of the house.  She drove us around to yard sales and we even had lunch out.  In theory that was fine, not a lot of activity.   But I found out she is an angry, shouting driver, unaware of her own overwhelmedness, so busts forward along her path, yelling and swearing and pounding the steering wheel.  I even had to ask her to park the car if she was going to text.  Eeeeeeeek!

Lunch out seemed like it would be a chance to mellow out from the ride–the restaurant was quiet.  But the canned music from overhead made my insides shriek with pain, made my head feel as if it were being flattened from above.

After lunch I was all in, so much so that I couldn’t even find the clarity to ask to go home.  Floated through, leaning against the headrest, until I got to the safety.  Then, rested the remainder of the day, feeling like a deer in headlights.

the beach walk

On Saturday morning, I consented to go for a walk along a pebbly beach with Big.  No big deal, I’ve been there many times.  Except, this time, I had to engage fully in controlling my legs and feet, and the effort quickly became a battle.  What?!  Surprise!  Walking isn’t predictably consistent either.

Up we went to the bluff.  I rested on a bench, insides trembling, and panting slightly because I couldn’t get my anxious-breath.  Big went off to get the car and he directed me the other way over an easy, short bluff-top dirt trail to a parking lot where he could pick me up.

As I sat on that bench, wondering what to do, wondering if I could just stay there forever, an elderly couple came along the trail.  I’m good at hiding my anguish I figured, so I said hello in some easy way.  The woman looked carefully at me, you know, just a bit too long between strangers, and asked if I was OK.  Oh yes, says I, just resting.  Inside my head I was screaming No, I’m not OK!  Please let me walk with you!   (Next time I will ask!)

They went along and I sat there, bereft in a small way, easing my breathing, knowing it was best to just get walking.  I did a mundane thing–picked up someone’s trash and dropped it in the receptacle, then turned and started walking.  We’re not talking a mile or even a half-mile, but it seemed so far to meet Big.  I don’t give up easily, but the thought had stayed that I could just not go.

the irony in the overwhelmed

I took 10 steps or less and suddenly a fast-moving freight train was roaring by.  Even I could get the irony of being so terribly overwhelmed by little things and here I am faced with a freight racing by only 50 feet from me.  It’s funny, really, in a dark humor way.

May I say that I rose to the occasion?  I stuck my fingers in my ears, was not singing la-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you, and turned my back to reduce the sound.  I understood that there was no getting away from that train except going back down to the beach.   That accepted, I turned around and faced the train and something new happened!

I became acutely aware of the discrete sounds of each type of car.  The empty flat-beds gave me time to breathe, the fluid tankers whooshed the air around them in a roar, the grain tankers rumbled.  I heard the end of the train coming and waited–just to be sure there wasn’t another train parked on a siding waiting to come the other way toward me!

The path indeed parallels the tracks, is the dirt filling of the ocean-and-tracks sandwich.   I made it, but with anguish and upset.  Part of the upset was coming up against the More

choices, fallback positions, and faith

Recently, I’ve been faced smack-on with having to pursue one option or another.  Time to reflect on that idea, the idea of choice.

What to choose and how to make the decision?

My choices have been an either/or, but not both.  What would I choose and how to make the decision?

I found the answer to “how” by remembering a theory of successful negotiation–always always always have a bottom line, a position beyond which you do not progress.   Stand there quietly in that confident knowing.

The “what” came immediately because of the how, but this does not assume that it was easy.  So, “how” comes first.

The how is:  we have to know what we want, the shape of a path, even if we don’t fully know the path.  Choosing causes the path to veer and wind toward a goal, perhaps, or just allows a peaceful stance, one of acceptance of choices made.


A fallback position, the choice I could make if other options don’t seem to be working or presenting themselves, sounds like a good idea.   In theory.  In reality, adding an option that we don’t really want just adds tension and does not allow for acceptance.   So, no, I don’t want a fallback position because I don’t want to give up on paving my path with the choices I am interested in.

Having a fallback position presents too many options and causes paralysis.  Have to choose, to narrow down, to whittle away the swirling fog of confusion and plant my feet firmly somewhere.  Anywhere.  To do as my landscape design instructor kept hammering into us:  “Get in the boat.  Stay in the boat.”  (By which he meant, choose a theme/intent and stick with it.) More

Existential Cat video

Oh my! OK, you slaves to cats, get watching and pay attention!

Existential Cat video

wisdom for decision-making

I’m reading a book called Caveat Emptor** by Ruth Downie .  It is set in around 110 A.D. in Roman Britain, the time of Emperor Hadrian, of the famous Hadrian’s Wall.

An Italian woman and a British woman are talking about how to solve a problem.

British woman:  “…my mother used to say that if you cannot bang your head through the wall, you will have to turn to the left or right.”

Italian woman:  “Maybe that sounds better in British.”

British woman:  “No.  It sounds annoying in British too.”


** Latin for Let the buyer beware.

(Source:  2011. Ruth Downie.  Caveat Emptor.  Bloomsbury USA, New York.  P. 233.)

I have a big behind!

My blogging friend Nadbugs commented on my last post, where I wrote a rather bald statement of past and present pain, and the sources thereof.  I don’t want her intuitive observations to be buried in the comments section.  Herewith:

I see this as a companion post to your exciting one about Italy. There it’s about you stepping into your “done-ness.” I am happy for you. And this one is about the background — which makes the “done-ness” ripe and full. I like what a friend of mine said recently about yin and yang: If it’s got a big front, it’s bound to have a big back. Back: Get thee behind. Now: Front and center. Forward! Yay.

I can only add:   She is correct:  I have room in the Now because I have made room for what I want.

Thank you, Bean, for coming along with me on my journey through this life.

© No Stealing!  That’s what the little c in the circle means!
© lahgitana and Rockin’ the Purple, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to lahgitana and Rockin’ the Purple with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Creative Commons License

%d bloggers like this: