This Week’s Guest Blogger
January 18th was Keys’ to Change’s first Writing in the New Year online workshop. It offered time to pause at the cusp of 2018, reflect on the year just past and look ahead to the coming year. We asked ourselves what we learned from the previous year and how we want to shape the year to come. We closed by using a design-thinking framework to help us shape small experiments to help us move toward what we want more of in our lives.
One of the participants was my sister, Roberta Diehl. Roberta lives in Amherst MA, where she works, hikes, bikes, writes, reads, parents, and savors her life.
After the workshop she told me of the powerful experience it opened up for her. I’m delighted that she took me up on the offer to write about it here as a guest blogger.
Why Resolutions Don’t Work for Me
How likely is it that we’ll ever enact true change from our New Year’s resolutions? For me the chance that will happen is slim to none. And yet I am ever hopeful. Every year, I make some sort of list. Things I want to start or stop doing in the next year. Things I want to fix, to solve.
But by the end of February, I’ve usually forgotten where the list even is, and the idea of pursuing the goals on it has succumbed to the welter of daily responsibilities and the heavy weight of habit.
That’s why I was drawn to Nancy’s Writing in the New Year workshop. It was right on time, coming toward the end of January, when my goal-oriented momentum had already faded. Her workshop promised us a different approach to shaping the new year, and Nancy delivered on that promise.
Rather than having us create a list of aspirational goals, Nancy had us begin by reflecting on the year that just ended. The idea being that you can’t honestly envision who you want to become without first honestly reflecting on who you are now.
We were not together physically, but I could see everyone on my computer screen, and I could hear them if they chose to speak. First, we introduced ourselves. Then, in order to shift our focus from whatever we’d been busy with all day long to what we were gathered to do, Nancy guided us through a brief deep breathing and visualization exercise. Next she gave us a warm-up prompt to respond to by sketching or writing.
Now we arrived at our first writing challenge: Tell the story of last year. Its struggles, surprises, and lessons. Because we had a time limit, and because we were encouraged to write without stopping to reread or correct, I dove in immediately by choosing this prompt: Last year was a story of….
The Power of Metaphor
In my case, last year was a story of being brave, a year of finally speaking the truth, regardless of the consequences. As I wrote, a curious thing happened.
Something about the combination of being given prompts to choose from, the reassurance that I didn’t have to share the writing, the encouragement to write without censorship, and the camaraderie of writing along with other people allowed me to find a powerful metaphor for my experience.
First I wrote this:
“If I spoke the truth, I knew I was opening a door that couldn’t be closed.”
But that wasn’t my powerful metaphor. That was simply a cliche. My metaphor found me when I wrote this:
When I started to speak, I couldn’t take it back. The horses were out of the gate and running, with nowhere to go but ahead.
This was about me finally telling my husband how unhappy I was, how broken we were, how I wanted to separate. Since that moment — when I let the horses out of the gate — I’ve thought a lot about why it took me so long to say anything, how I let my fear of what would happen next stop me.
Stumbling onto this horse-out-of-the-gate metaphor gave me a way of thinking about what I have been going through in a new and useful way. I saw the single-minded, forward motion; the looping around the track; the danger; the mess; the blur. The excitement. The energy. The feeling of being in the race. The hope. The possibility. The realization that I could win.
The metaphor’s power for me was that it not only captured the messy, dangerous, no-turning-back sensation I felt when I spoke the truth, but also that it led me to realize that by being in the race — by speaking the truth — I had put myself in contention for “winning.”
Obvious stuff, perhaps, but finding that metaphor in that moment, and following it through from the point of waiting for the gate to open — all that pent up energy and fear — (that’s me in my marriage not speaking the truth) through to the exhilaration of realizing I’m running again, I’m out here living, and by entering the race (by speaking the truth and forging ahead with saving myself), I could even possibly win.
It was honestly the first moment since the horses busted out of the gate that I felt I could actually “win.” That was a powerful awareness to come to.
A New Perspective
As if that wasn’t enough, Nancy interrupted us then to encourage us to switch points of view. For me that meant switching from writing in the first to the third person. Fresh off the heels of my horse race vision, in a very short time, my third person self discovered another metaphor.
I was still writing about the exact same topic (the story of last year, a year I finally stood up and spoke the truth), but with the shift to 3rd person, this metaphor emerged:
When she said the words aloud, it was like the surface shattered. As if she had been living beneath the surface of a frozen lake and with those words, the ice cracked, and everything came apart.
I went on for awhile, exploring the metaphor — how muted and hazy everything had been below the surface. How shocking and cold to stand on the surface. How vulnerable and unbalanced I felt. Again, fairly obvious stuff. But as with the horse race metaphor, by following this one a little farther, something surprising emerged:
“The longer she stood there, the more it changed. The wind calmed down. The clouds drifted away to reveal stars and a half moon. She spun in a slow circle and realized: I can go anywhere I want to go. She was suddenly free. To soar.. To sink. To Try. Anything. Absolutely anything.”
This writing experience not only allowed me to find two relevant metaphors for how it felt to take the risk of being honest, it also allowed me to follow these metaphors beyond their initial and perhaps conventional imagery, to ride them out until I could see myself emerging on the other side.
They took me on a journey — what happened, how it felt as it happened, and where it’s taking me. By telling this story of my past year to myself, aided by these two powerful metaphors, I was then ready to really think about what I want to start doing and stop doing this next year. Now I could write the story of who I want to become, and not just write a list about losing 10 pounds or getting 8 hours of sleep. Instead of that list, I could write a real story about a woman standing on the top of a frozen lake, her arms lifted to the sky like she might take flight any second.
Writing for Resilience
You’re welcome to join my online writing groups. Watch the events page for announcements of monthly Writing for Resilience and special quarterly Writing Through The Year online groups.Contact me to find out how you can subscribe to the series and save.