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!


note to self: beware emotional landmines

For part of the last week, I experienced something new:  calm and clarity.  I could feel it start on the Friday, pushing through the fog that actually parted instead of closing over me.  By that Monday I had emerged in time to enjoy the warm spring sunshine streaming shadows in the budding yard.

By Wednesday, I knew that I had been floating along gently, same rhythm as the last many months–two to three hours of “doing” followed the rest of the day and evening by “being.”  But calm.  No brain-addled anxiety.  For 5 days.  Days of — what?  How do I describe?  Days of the opposite of the last 5 months.  Serenity.

Bang.  Hatefulness right between the eyes by a once-close family member.  I had set her aside a year-and-a-half ago following a vicious attack-by-proxy.   The way I had to set our father aside a generation before he died because he was a walking landmine.

With bomblets in his pockets, he wandered through many lives, dropping them when a new shiny caught his attention.  He was a brilliant man, but his social intelligence was petrifying to observe and to be swept up in.

He taught the next generation well, but it was his social skills he taught.  How horribly sad.    He should not have been a parent.  He made a great husband, I guess, because he married six times.

What she doesn’t see:  she has improved on his version of creating destruction–he wandered away, but she flings the bombs to protect herself against any perceived slights.    And, worse yet, she doesn’t yet know that she has taught the next generation, father’s grandson, to live in fear.  She doesn’t see her ripple effects or just doesn’t care.

She also doesn’t know that sending hurt my way won’t ease the horrible hurts he inflicted on her.  Getting whole by proxy doesn’t work.

Enough about them.   Hatefulness has been commented upon.

By Friday, I was feeling tired and knew that my 5 days of calm clarity were drawing to a close.   I hung on, a deeply hidden part of me screeching with despair:  here comes the fog and upset, but it can’t be, because I felt so good and how could it just end like that for no reason when I followed all the damn rules to be quiescent?  And why do I keep saying I’ve had 5 days of calm when it has been 7 since the start of the calm?  Oh, because on the 5th day came the hate.

I don’t have much emotional capacity still.   Emotional experiences use up my limited brain battery, leaving less ability for nicer pursuits.  An overt demonstration of familial hatefulness would have been difficult in the before-time.  Now, I pay an astonishingly steep price.

Isn’t that the way of hatefulness, though?  An immediate price is exacted from the recipient, an emotional slug to the chops.  The purveyor of hate will have a price to pay.  Later.  In living color.

Now it is up to me to make room in my life for what I want:  calm.  After living through the anguish of laser-guided hate, I will put thoughts away; I must not allow them to roam around, poking at the wound, keeping it festering.  I have done this before with family.  Now that I’m well-practiced, it will go more easily, I’m sure.

Life… in pictures





making room for what you want

Many hundreds of lifetimes ago, a friend sent me a clipping from a newspaper.  I may have it still, in the stacks of detritus I had to save (for some reason!), but I dunno where.

The author used the metaphor of a red sweater.  The title and content approximate this:

Make Room in Your Life for What You Want

She had a perfectly serviceable red sweater in her closet, but didn’t wear it very often because it made her butt look big. Or something.  She didn’t feel good when she wore it.

So, when she saw the most beautiful red sweater in a shop window, she didn’t buy it because she already had a red sweater and didn’t have the money to be buying yet another one.

She figured out that if she’d give away her own red sweater that made her feel crummy, she could have the new, shiny red sweater that made her feel great.


Make room in your life for what you want.  Draw lines and boundaries and mean it.  It’s OK to like what you like and to want what you want.   Otherwise, you’re living someone else’s life, and really, that doesn’t work.   Life can be cut short in an instant and gee-whillikers, wouldn’t it be cool to have fun NOW?!

What’s one thing that just popped into your head?  Why not head for it and see what happens?  It’s OK if it’s a person that isn’t fitting….

PS.  Don’t be daunted by the price you’ll pay–there has to be a trade-off.  Loss for gain.  Et damn cetera.  Just hang on through the change; it can be cold without the shelter of a familiar sweater, but doesn’t have to be scary.

tarred with the same brush

One of my failings, and perhaps assets, is to practice the art of the benefit of the doubt.  Great expression, that.

As my years have added up, the number of tries per person, entity, or weather phenomenon, has lessened to sit concrete-like at two.  Two tries and yerrrrrrr outtttt!   Or:  two tries and I really and truly believe you are what you show me you are.

I have given the US mortgage industry–wait don’t go!!–their two tries.  Each mortgage company I encounter henceforth will get no benefit of the doubt because they’ve all just been tarred by the same stinky brush.

Today our refinanced house loan closes.  Last Tuesday, I was very well-behaved at the signing, not even swearing when the title company whipped out forms the mortgage lender hadn’t ever shown us.  Same thing happened in the last signing, coming on 5 years ago.  This time I only grumbled and sighed histrionically.  OK, did growl, but I hope it was sotto voce (under my breath).

I got a call this morning, yet another morning where I announced to Big (and to the Universe) that I was not going to answer the phone.  We’ve been getting political calls and spam calls, and I am sick to death of answering the phone ringing in my own damn house to be greeted by a flippin’ recording.  I digress.

So, phone rang, answering machine did its thing (yes, we have one of those still), and when I heard our lender’s voice, I picked up immediately because I assumed she was calling to tell us the loan had closed as scheduled.

Instead of that news, she asked for a bank statement that we gave her 4-5-6 weeks ago, the bank statement upon which this whole refinance exercise is based.  What????!!!  I was confused.  OK, so I get confused very easily, very quickly.  But didn’t we give you that?!  What?  The loan won’t close without it?

Stand still, you are being tarred.  Feathers up next.

(Here, I am swearing in my head, but not typing the words.  Some of ’em are hard to spell.)

A little amusement for you, and maybe me:  at least twice in the 1-inch-high stack o’ papers to sign (I am not exaggerating!), we had to sign to acknowledge that we, the consumers, would not commit loan fraud.

Hey you folks holding the money, just keep on blaming the consumer.  I want that form to be counter-signed by the mortgage lender.  Then it would make flippin’ sense to flippin’ include that flippin’ nonsense in that flippin’ 1-inch-high stack o’ papers for us to flippin’ sign.

That is all.

We now return to art and kittens.


recycling debt and recirculating serotonin

Ed. note:  the writer appears to have had her last nerve gotten upon by the economic and medical machines.  You have been warned.


Refinancing car and house loans

We have just finished refinancing our car loan and are just about finished refinancing our house loan.   These are both very good things.  We’ve dropped our monthly output by about $500 (about £300, €390), which helps as my savings dwindles.  (Tons of “helping” programs out there now in mortgage-land because of the horrifying mortgage debacle that tanked our economy.  Yours, too.)

Yes, it’s true that I have not worked since January because of the near-dead thing, but too, the economy still thinks I’m too old to be valuable in the workplace.  I’m 55.  Bastards.  Hence the pursuit of Art as $$$.  (Art is still a much better fit for me as a way to earn money, so that’s just displeasure expressed on behalf of the other old folk who can’t get an interview, much less a dang job.)

Recycling debt

Where does this recycling debt come in?  Our banker (loosely called that since they don’t actually touch money and their storefront is a few desks tucked away in the ubiquitous giant grocery store chain)…

Aw hell, let me try again–Our banker reassured us that by refinancing our car loan while we’re smack in the middle of refinancing the house loan, we would not cause any ripples in said house loan re-fi.  She said:  “You both have excellent credit, and besides, you aren’t taking on new debt; you are recycling old debt.”

We’re green:  reuse and recycle.  Can’t think of a way to re-purpose.

(End of economic nerve-twanging.  Surprisingly short, huh?!)

Recirculating serotonin

I’m gonna keep this medical machine outrage short.  (Yeah, sure!!!!!  {pouting} Well, I’d like to!)

Simplistically stated, serotonin is a happy-chemical produced by our own brains to keep the mood stabilized and the sense of humor intact.  Some of us seem to have low levels of serotonin, which results in a not-happy state.  (Oooo, ooo, that’s me {waving arms wildly}!)

So, some years ago, my medical machine helped me back to the happy state by prescribing antidepressants, which were, I was told, going to boost my serotonin levels.  Side effects?  Schmide-effects!  What’s a seizure between friends?

Hold that thought.

Because of the, shall we say, intensity of the near-dead thing and the COMPLETE lack of medical support following same, I have at last come off the fence (pickets are pointy), and am returning to my former hippie-dippie, I’ll do it my own damn way, there are too alternatives (you money-sucking Bastards) Stubborn Self.

In removing myself from the antidepressants, I have been warned that I could experience a return to the not-happy state that existed prior to the ingestion of same.   Seems odd…

In doing some brief research yesterday to understand amino-acid therapy for stabilising mood, I learned why:  these miracle drugs (money-sucking Bastards) don’t actually boost the serotonin levels.  The drugs (wait for it!) recirculate the low levels we already have.

Couldn’t you medical-machine folks have told me this, as part of full disclosure?  Whywhywhy did you have to be all paternalistic ‘n’ sh!t and pat me on the head and leave out this detail?

Nothing for you to worry about, My Precious.  Trust me.  Whywhywhy did you not give me alternatives when I begged for them because I did not want to take these miracle drugs, but did not know where else to turn?    Whywhywhy were you all doom-and-gloom as you told me that this was the only answer?

what now?

Predictably, I am on a bit of a roller coaster ride.  Add this to my recovery, which is blatant about being long-lived, and is now showcasing my memory-forming dis-ability, and I’m sending Big Mister on vacation alone.  We were together sposta get in the old funky truck that hauls the old funky camper and go tootling off for a week.

I need a break from being observed in my throes of FFS, WTF????   Of having my lack of short-term memory reflected back to me…  Of being in multiple kinds of pain and seeing him worrying about me.

I need to do something for him, and I know it will make him happy to tootle around with no negotiation about going here or there….

No ladders while he’s gone.  I swear.  Yeah, sure.  I just wanna live my life and live it well and do pretty much whatthehell I want when I want.    A discussion of adult-onset dependence will occur someday.  Watch This Space.

This reminds me too keenly of a family-story my mother tells:  as a pre-reading toddler, I was out to dinner with my parents and my slightly-older reading-age brother.  The nice waiter thoughtfully handed me a menu along with the others.  My clearly-heartbroken response:  “But I can’t reeeeeeeeead!”

That’s me now.

“Ciao, Professore!” (movie); Io speriamo che me la cavo (the book)

“Ciao, Professore!” is a charming, laugh-out-loud movie, by Lina Wertmüller, released in 1993.  Next to the title in parentheses were these words:  Io speriamo che me la cavo.  Here’s the Netflix blurb:

In director Lina Wertmüller’s upbeat comedy, Marco Sperelli (Paolo Villaggio) — a priggish upper-class teacher from northern Italy — is mistakenly assigned to a tumbledown school in an impoverished village near Naples. But upon arriving, he finds most of his students hustling on the streets to earn money for their families — and before you can say “school of hard knocks,” Sperelli becomes the pupil as the kids tutor him about life’s realities.

I don’t speak Italian, so the English subtitles could be accurate that translated the very, very rude language of the 3rd graders.  Somehow it worked, those little children hollering some terrible language.  It probably worked because it was coming out of the mouths of little children.  Laughed and laughed till I couldn’t breathe!

The parenthetical title in Netflix was in little tiny letters and got me curious.  (Thank you Google.)  The movie is based on the book, released in 1990, Io speriamo che me la cavo (I did not know there was a book!).

Apparently, the book is a collection of the real essays written by children going to school in Arzano near Naples.  At that link there is a sample of the humor and is well worth reading.  I remember this passage well in the film and it was hilarious!  Still funny!  Now I want to read the essays…. !!  Better get studying!

The real reason I started this post was to quote a particular piece of wisdom in the movie.  But I digressed. (gasp!)  I’ll tell anyway:

Q:  Why is LIFE like chicken coop stairs?

A:  Because it’s short and shitty.

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

a happy realization

You know how sometimes we get locked into feeling as if we don’t have enough choices?  I figured out that we can go:


other left


other right

Lots of choices there!

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.

I do not shrink from her pain

Will she dump me, too?

This to me from my elderly and infirm mother who is realizing that my sister has actually dumped me from her life, the way our father did to each of us, the way he did to my sister 12 months ago as he lay dying, and 6 years ago and 16 years ago and 26 years ago.  And forever ago.  Again and again.

My response to Mom seemed right as I said it, but wrong just after I spoke:  Of course not!  She adores you!

Oh.  She adored me, too.  How do I comfort my aged mother?  How do I assure her she is loved by all the children?  How do I help her hold this pain?  I cannot do anything.  It is not in my power except to continue as I have with Mom, she knowing I am with her always.

So, I stand strong with my mother as she reels in the knowledge that my sister has done to me what father did to daughter.  That sister could also do that to Mom.  I deal with her pain, not the one who is causing the upset.  I will not leave her alone to fear quietly.

My father caused terrible pain, the worst kind in his children.  If I start from the end, perhaps you will understand that he died the way he lived:  when his (6th) wife wrote and published his obituary, there was no mention of the children.  We did not exist to him.  We were disposable to him.

I am not disposable, despite being tacitly taught to believe I was.   My sister and brother were also shown that they were disposable.   My father showed our mother that she was disposable.  Can you imagine the strength it has taken to dash aside those lightning bolts of pain and doubt and to settle into knowing that there are people who are constants, who don’t have in their repertoire the ease of leaving, of disposing?

When my father died last February, I had been estranged from him for almost 20 years.  I left him because his behavior became ever more egregious to the people he purported to love.  That was not love; that was pain embodied in a genetic father.

The father of my childhood was nothing like the father of my late teens and beyond.  He loved me, clearly adored me, and always encouraged me.  OK, there was that one time in 1972 when I was leaving the house in holey bell-bottoms with the peace, love, and beansprouts patch (War is not healthy for children and other living things).  He told me I wasn’t leaving the house like that!  Um, yes I am.  See ya.

The father of my childhood did not show me that he had leaving in his repertoire.  I’m relieved I did not understand how he came to be married to my mother, how he left his first wife and infant daughter and moved on.

Then, he did it to our family.  Left.  Began a string of marriages that ended with a 6th wife.  Kidnapped my sister from us, leaving teenage me with the blame through his adult machinations.

I swam for years through the fog of the disaster he left behind.  Not well.  Always painfully.  But I came through it, strong and sure about how to love.  Leaving is an option of last resort, of such dire seriousness that it is simply not an option, even during anger, hurt feelings, and bitter argument.

My sister has not reached the same conclusion I have.  She lived with my father and was taught that leaving is always on the table.  And why shouldn’t she believe that?  He left her over and over.  When he kidnapped her, he caused a leaving from her mother, sister, and brother.  It must have been, and continue to be, excruciating truth, the depths of which I never comprehended.

I am finished with my father’s legacy in whatever forms it takes.  Done.

I hope for her a healing of the tissue-deep damage his example showed.   I hope for a healing for anyone who has been left holding the emotional bag.  I hope for the courage to put that bag down after coming to peace, leave it in unclaimed luggage, and never open it again.

You are loved.  See it.  Know it.  You are not disposable.

© 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.

stuck in traffic with Charmayne watching the world go by

Location:  a lovely island in the Puget Sound area of Washington State.  I’d been living with Charmayne for quite some time–she was my father’s 5th wife and she and I really loved one another.  My father bolted the country, leaving her behind, and me too since I was temporarily staying with them trying to recover my interrupted adult life.  (Father-stories another time.)  So, he left and I stayed with his soon-to-be 5th ex-wife.

She and I were both morose for different reasons and were either completely silly or very quiet.  We went on errands together–post office, grocery, that stuff.  We cruised antique shops–in one of her lives she was a dealer and so had very cool stuff.  We didn’t spend money because we were both broke, but we didn’t really care.

Charmayne was an artist–she designed clothes and jewelry and also created funny little sculptures.  She was kooky and smart and very funny….

On one of those days of erranding, we got stopped at an intersection with the one road/ 55mph-highway through the island:  a long slow line of shiny black hearses and 20 or 30 private cars following, lights on, crawling along.  We were in quiet mode, just sat and sat and sat and watched that line of cars.

Charmayne broke the silence:  “Look, it’s a parade, and I don’t like any of the floats!”

My dear Charmayne died at 60 years old in spring 2000 from her third bout of breast cancer.

© 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.

Be not afraid of the dark or stillness

Being afraid of the dark is a primal response, but one we in our Western culture have outgrown.  The fear we’re left with is the fear of our own darkness, of the hidden words and pictures.  We do everything we can to keep that darkness from reaching the light, and always in the form of running hard, physically and mentally.

Being afraid to stop is the hint that we have something left to show ourselves, something to complete so that it can be removed from the inventory of darkness.

Why do we fear being still?  Being quiet?  It’s not as if velociraptors are going to chew off our faces as we sit.  Be still with memory, allow it to come, knowing that the whole of you will hold the memories and will gently integrate them.

The words, too, will show themselves.  But we have to remove the blocking wall of darkness first.

Be still.  Do not fear.  Breathe.

a note card I have tucked in a quiet place to remind me...

© 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.

Crossed brain wires

I sometimes see things that aren’t there.

No, not like that.

Reading signs has become entertainment instead of edification:

Passing a church with one of those scrolling electronic reader boards, I saw:

“A mighty mattress is our God.”

Passing a horse ranch, there was a hand-lettered sign advertising a logical product for sale:


I can’t see what’s happening with the brain pathways for my optic nerves (no pun intended, but accepted!), but it sure makes life fun with unexpected ways to think about things.

Think about those two mis-reads up there.  Maybe I read those signs correctly?

I am special and getting the subliminal and secret messages!

© 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.

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