Writing Through Life Transitions: Reflections on August Community of Practice
By Daena Goldsmith
When we go through changes in the external situations of our lives, we also experience a process of internal transition as we come to terms with what change means for who we are and our place in the world. The world around us often focuses on the new beginning that comes with change but we also need to acknowledge what is ending and we are likely to find ourselves spending some time in a “neutral zone”—a time when the old has gone but the new isn’t yet fully operational.
This month Aryn Bartley introduced us to William Bridge’s Life Transition Model and led us through a workshop on how to write our way through the endings, neutral zones, and new beginnings of life transitions. Aryn teaches English at Lane Community College and drove up the smoke-filled I-5 corridor to lead our small group as we gathered at the Lucky Lab Hawthorne Brew Pub this past Tuesday, August 21.
We started by making individual lists of some life transitions we’ve experienced—those happening now as well as recent or long ago transitions. Then we selected one and wrote about “My most vivid memory from this transition” or something “I wish I had known.” We continued to write about transitions from different angles and in different genres (a letter, a detailed sensory description). Our group wrote and shared about a variety of life transitions involving relationships, careers, chronic illness, and loss. We noticed that even transitions we desire can be challenging and we aren’t always supported in expressing the loss that comes with any kind of change.
Aryn shared with us Mary Oliver’s poem, In Blackwater Woods. The poem begins with changes in the natural world and then concludes with this advice about how “to live in this world”:
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and when the time comes to let it go,
let it go.
We discussed how difficult and how necessary it is to hold something closely, deeply and let it go, and the challenge of discerning when “the time” has come. This workshop helped us explore how writing can be a way of engaging with these processes.
Several of us plan to continue the writing we started in this workshop and Aryn concluded by giving us exercises we could try on our own, including writing a character sketch of ourselves before, during, or after a life transition; taking lines from Oliver’s poem as writing prompts; and designing a personal ritual to mark an ending or new beginning.
Thank you to Aryn and my fellow participants for this evening! The workshop captured many of the elements that I appreciate in our community of practice: opportunities to write, productive prompts and exercises, active listening, and thoughtful discussion. I hope you will join us in September for our next gathering!