Owning Our Lives

Posted On: 04.04.12

A good friend is going through something very, very hard. I am not at liberty to discuss her situation here. Maybe I can talk about her experience very vaguely and cautiously sometime down the line, but not yet, not now. It is too soon. And out of respect to her, I will hold off.

Something really bad happened. Tragic. And my friend told me. I told her that I am here for her because I am. I told her that I am here for whatever, whenever. Because I am. I am realizing something about myself: I am a good friend. I care. I am a particularly good friend, I think, when people are struggling, wrestling with life and loss. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s because I feel like I have been through things, hard things, and I remember, and keenly, who was there for me during these times. I remember the gestures, large and small and detailed. I remember who was there. Who was really there. And I am trying to be that kind of person, that kind of friend, to those who need it, and me.

In one of my texts to my friend, I said something. I said something that surprised even me, my fingers flying across my tiny iPhone screen. I said, If you can snag a moment or the next few days, write about how you are feeling. You would be amazed at how writing can make things a tiny bit better.

I wrote these words. And I sent them. And, truth be told, they awakened something in me. Yes, my own words, hastily cobbled together on a diminutive slab of plastic, awakened something in me. And maybe there is something profoundly egotistical about this; about the fact that I am in some regard admitting that I inspired myself, but so be it. It’s true.

Since I sent that text, I have wondering something: Why did I tell my friend to write? She is not a writer. I choose to write about things, about my life, but that does not mean everyone should.

This morning, at the gym, I read a few chapters of Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write. I have been doing this religiously these days – rising early, grabbing my coffee while the morning’s still dark and raw, stumbling sleepily to the gym, spinning on the elliptical, reading. And I have been reading about one thing in particular: writing. I have been reading about writing because I think I am forever curious. About why it is I write, why it means so incredibly much to me.

When I read the following words, I smiled so big. I probably looked very silly to those on the machines around me, but oh well.

Writing is a way not only to metabolize life but to alchemize it as well. It is a way to transform what happens to us into our own experience. It is a way to move from passive to active. We may still be the victims of circumstance, but by our understanding those circumstances we place events within the ongoing context of our own life, that is the life we “own.”

Owning something also means owning up to something. It means accepting responsibility, which means, literally, responsibility. When we write about our lives we respond to them. As we respond to them we are rendered more fluid, more centered, more agile on our own behalf. We are rendered conscious. Each day, each life, is a series of choices, and as we use the lens of writing to view our lives we see our choices.

Julia Cameron, The Right to Write, p. 94

I read these words and I nodded and I smiled. And, also, I remembered. When Dad was diagnosed with cancer, I started writing like crazy. I wrote down memories and stories and little bits about him, about the before and the after. I took my laptop over to my parents’ house and parked at the kitchen table and wrote. I shaped what was happening to Dad, to us, to me. I made it my own.

The first piece of writing I published was Dad’s death announcement in the New York Times. I wrote it the very day he died, sitting at that long kitchen table, surrounded by Mom and my sisters. Fierce with focus amid the sounds of family, of loss, I stared into the screen, and I wrote. I wrote because it was my way of contributing, of controlling. I wrote because it helped.

Big Girl was there on that morning, only eighteen months old, flitting around in her gray tutu. Gray was a perfect color for that day, for many days, a color that’s neither happy nor sad. A real color. The color of life sometimes. One day, when the time is right, I will write about that day, that day that was an end but also a beginning. I will write about Mom’s red nightgown and the sound of the clunking coffee maker. I will write about the pastries Husband brought and how he arranged them carefully on the plate and put them out for us to eat. I will write about the blond girl from the funeral home who wore all black, the girl who was just doing her job, carrying a lifeless body to another place, the girl who cried when she saw us, pajama-clad girls, girls who looked a bit like she did, girls who had just lost their dad. Just.

And so. I am rambling now and I love rambling and believe in it – there is often more truth in a ramble than a polished gem – but I will stop. I will stop because there is no rush. There is no rush to get it all down, all at once. There is always tomorrow. To live, to respond to, to write about, to own.

I hope my friend sneaks away and writes. I do. And I hope it helps.

I am not keen on advice, but today I am giving it, and unapologetically too:

Write. Write about your life, your love, your loss. Write to look in, and out, back, and ahead. Write to wrestle, to flee, to feel. Write because you do not know what else to do. Write because you have a story, a story you choose and do not choose daily. Write because writing means ownership, owning your life. There is an immense and abiding power in words simply spilled on the page. What you do with that page is your choice – show it to someone, show it to everyone, show it to no one. Hang it up. Rip it up.

Just write.

How do you cope with tremendous hardship? Do you believe in the power of writing through and about life? Are you a better friend during happy or hard times? Are you going through something hard now? Write about it here if you choose. Feel free to do so anonymously.

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11 Comments for: "Owning Our Lives"
  1. A way to metabolize and alchemize our lives. Wow. I need to give in and read that book, I think. I suspect you know how much I relate to all of this … and I think that was great advice to your friend. xox

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      You must read this book, Lindsey. You will underline like crazy and nod all the way through. I think, I know, we write for so many if the same reasons. It’s not just that we love the cadence of the well-written bit, but we write to process, to see, to feel. We wrote to realize. Who we are, who we are becoming, what life is and can be.

  2. When my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s grew strong enough that she no longer recognized anyone at all, my dad and aunt and uncles started sharing stories from their childhood back and forth in emails. At first it was just to capture the memories of Grandma, the memories she no longer had, but soon it grew to all their memories, memories of being a tight-knit family. And it did help, and when she died this past fall, one of my uncles printed out all those stories and bound them together for everyone to re-read, to laugh and cry over.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Louise, this is amazing. That there is a history of your grandmother god you a to return to SMS build upon. When I think about writing about Dad it is largely to ensure that I remember, that nothing grows too blurry, so that I might read my words to my girls when they are bigger.

  3. Yes, that is a big reason why I write. I have always written – for as long as I can remember. It’s been a huge part of me. And I hope, maybe, someday to be able to publish something worthy.

    Until then, I will continue to write for me – to get out my feelings and try to figure life out.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I believe, and deeply, that we go our best writing when we wrote for ourselves. Keep doing that and I imagine the rest will fall into place.

  4. I think any of us who have gone through a difficult time know the value of a good and true friend. Your advice is solid: writing can help. But whether or not your friend decide to write, she’s very fortunate to have you in her corner.

  5. Wow… your words today validated something so big in my life and why I write.

    A couple of years ago I started a blog for fun. And it was fun. I played along in the blog hops and kept everything light. Then about a year ago I had a major change in my life. I needed support and couldn’t find any. Ironically (or maybe not) I had heard at Blogher “if you can’t find what you are looking for, create it yourself” and that’s how my current blog was born. I needed a place to write and put down what was going on. Everything was so raw and I was fearful therefore I wrote it under fake names to make it easier to write.

    Someday I will take this experience and make it a book. I have no doubt that I’m not the only one on this journey!

    Thank you again for sharing your words. I am quite a fan of yours!

  6. I think you suggested writing because you are a writer. But not everyone is a writer. For some, the ink does not flow on paper as easily. The process of getting started with words may be more frustrating than the potential relief and understanding it could bring. People process things in different ways and writing is not for everyone.

    Other people might own their lives through drawing, painting, music, dance, meditation, dreams, talking, etc. Learning your own processing style is important. It’s probably best not to fight against one that doesn’t feel natural.

  7. Great advice to your friend. Writing down our feelings is therapeutic . It’s good to have friends like you holding her up, giving her hope. Happy Easter to you and yours !

  8. I love this post for so many reasons. Write to understand your life. Write to know what you feel. Being a good friend and what that means. There was a friendship I had that was irreparably damaged by the fact that my friend thought a card was enough and turned me down when I asked for the real support I needed when asking is such a rare rare thing for me to let myself do. And then you said this…”there is often more truth in a ramble than a polished gem”. That’s it exactly. We edit, we polish, we make pretty and we make nice. But the truth often gets lost. Thank you for such a raw heartfelt post.

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