Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Expressive Writing

Twenty-eight books have played a part on this, and I still have one on request from the library. 

There were many where I didn't think the book was that great overall, but there was still something that stuck. Then, there will be other people whom that book helped a lot, so it's very individual.

I was mostly not impressed by David Kessler's Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, but it did have a reference to expressive writing and James W. Pennebaker. That sounded like it was right up my alley. I read Opening Up by Writing It Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain.

Here is one pretty approachable article about the process, but you can find instructions in multiple places:


At its most basic level, you have multiple sessions of writing about some trauma in your life. It is free-form, unplanned writing for around 15 or 20 minutes.

In Pennebaker's experiments they had people also try writing about other things, some people talked into a tape recorder instead of writing, and they varied the length. I only remember segments of three consecutive days, but this article mentions four-day periods also. It can be very flexible.

I wanted to experiment a little bit too. My first idea was to see if there was a difference between handwriting and typing on a computer. That made a huge difference in that I can't even complete one fifteen minute session writing by hand. I scrapped that immediately and started fresh the next day.

I said it was very individual.

All of my segments were three consecutive days on the same topic, and then moving on to another topic for another three days the following week. I did that twice for three weeks in a row, but had not initially planned on doing the second round; I just came up with more material.

I did not always start on the same day, but I always kept the days consecutive. I did do both fifteen and twenty minute sessions, and did not notice a lot of difference for that. In some ways the twenty minute ones felt like more pressure, but for someone who worries about not getting everything out it could be liberating. 

I also experimented with different times of day, trying before bedtime (my usual writing time), afternoons, and in the mornings right after breakfast. After breakfast completely stressed me out because of the pressure to do other thing. There was not a big difference between afternoons and nights for me. I am sure it makes a difference to feel like you can have the uninterrupted time, varying based on your schedule.

For each week, I kept the session time, length, and method the same. Theoretically it was also always the same topic, but sometimes things come up.

The extreme adaptability is probably something that is very useful. Also, self-expression itself is quite valuable, and it gets discouraged a lot. 

One of the things that makes me feel best about recommending expressive writing is the relative safety. It's not just that it is something anyone can do on their own, but it also seems less likely to pull up things you are not ready to deal with. 

It's not that nothing comes up. Often toward the end of a session I would find myself writing something that did not seem pertinent to the topic, but there were connections and my subconscious knew it. Still, the writing is pulling from conscious thought of remembered things for limited time periods... it should be pretty gentle.

I was worried that it would not be that helpful for me because I have already written about so many of these things so much, but I wrote about them at the level that I was ready for then, and more deliberately, with a pretty clear idea of what I was going to write at those times.

The obvious question is then whether additional journal writing at this time would have gotten me to the same place, or whether just planning a time and a topic but not the words contributed something different. 

I believe the expressive writing was uniquely helpful. Following its format did give me some unexpected thoughts, and bringing those thoughts out is why I ended up having more to write about two months later.

It is also completely possible that it was a better fit for me because writing is so much a part of whom I am. The simplicity of the technique, though, seems like it should be something that can work well for many people. The results in blood pressure for the participating students by itself is enough of a reason to consider trying it.

Worth a shot.


Monday, January 25, 2021

Healing preview

I thought I should map out a rough idea of where posts are going for the next few weeks.

A lot of this will be familiar if you have been reading this blog for a long time and have an excellent memory for things you read about someone else's life. The combined unlikelihood of that makes some review necessary.

You may of course remember some things that resonated with you personally, but remembering all the pieces and how the fit together is less likely; you have your own issues. Even for me, I understand how they fit together differently now.

The parts that I have visited pretty regularly are events that happened when I was in first grade, ninth grade, and 11th grade. Normally I think of those in chronological order, but I decided to do a section of expressive writing for each of them, and I did them in reverse. 

I don't know that taking them in that order mattered so much, but it felt like the way to go, and intuition has been a big part of the entire journey... combined with a lot of reading.

The expressive writing (I will go over that term, I promise) first round happened in August of 2020. Another three life events that happened between about 3 and 6 years old took on greater importance, but again, those were things that I had written about before. It wasn't that I didn't know, but I knew them better.

As I write this now, it seems significant that I started doing this again shortly after getting Mom settled into memory care. It seems relevant, but I had been working on my emotional health for a while so it felt like a natural extension of what I was doing. 

That's the thing; there is always more to notice.

Therefore, it should not have been particularly surprising that in October I started another round of expressive writing, this time focusing on a deep depression I went through on my mission, and contributing factors that I had never noticed. 

That was followed by a big life shift in early high school that I did not recognize as a reaction to what happened in 9th grade at the time (but it very clearly was) as well as something pretty critical that happened in second grade. 

Overall, some of the writing took things farther out, and some of it filled in blanks. It turns out everything is connected and super-logical, though largely in a sad way.

This gives us six life event themes, I guess, but also several books as well as one really important technique with the expressive writing. 

I am also going to write about three other techniques. I don't believe a single one of them worked the way they were supposed to, but I nonetheless had valuable experiences with them. 

Here is an important caveat from one of my favorite books, A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis:

“What Richard Selzer, M.D. once wrote of surgery is true of therapy: only human love keeps this from being the act of two madmen.”

If it can be hard to find a therapist who is a good fit, surely there are also risks to becoming your own therapist. 

I cannot swear to what is a good idea for anyone else. I used a cycle of reading and intuition; that's intuition about what to read and what to use. There are techniques I have never tried that could be good, but they haven't felt like priorities. 

I can only relate what my experiences have been. When there were fears or safeguards in place, I will include that information in the posts.

For the record, my counseling referral never came through, and it might not even be that useful. I am not depressed now, and I understand why pretty well.

I still do not rule it out. There are some practices that can't be done on my own and would need a facilitator. There could be unrealized benefits from them. When writing about my 11th grade trauma, I discovered a gap in my memory. Would EMDR bring it out? I don't know. I also don't know if it is important, but I don't rule out that it might be.

That just reinforces my commitment to universal health care with mental health parity. For now, I am working with what I have.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Review retrospective: My Chemical Romance

I could have started this series earlier. One concern holding me back was stress over the inauguration. That deep sigh of relief was much needed.

There was also some personal conflict about My Chemical Romance and reluctance to write about them. I am kind of mad at them now.

I am not sure how mad I am; it could be more the label, maybe, but there's this ambiguity there. 

They really were important to me, though, and current feelings don't erase that.

Surprisingly, I have never officially reviewed them. I have written about them more than any other band. Some links will be included, but all of them would be impossible. 

Being captivated by them and listening to their guitar sounds is why I plunged into the Greatest Guitar songs and comments (the topic of next week's post). I spent hours writing hundreds of pages inspired by their music. They are how I found many other bands. It's also how I found other people as other fans befriended me on Twitter. 

They have been a big deal to me, and it would be dishonest to ignore that.

And they have had many, many songs of the day - including all of these I am sure - but here we go again:

"Welcome to the Black Parade" (2006)

This is how I learned about the band. It was the sound on the phone of someone I needed to call, way back in 2008. It was just two lines of "We'll carry on" but so solid, I had to ask about them. That was what led me to...

"I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" (2004)

I don't know why I didn't get into the band overall then, because at this point none of that music was new and I liked all three albums once I did listen. Still, for a long time it was just the two songs, especially this one. My finding them was actually around December 2008. By January 2009 - unemployed, alienated, and stressed out - I was singing this song all the time. 

It is one of my best karaoke songs. I don't even sing it that well on the first two verses, but by the bridge when I pull the band from my pony tail, bang my head to the beat, and then go through the fast transition, the very quiet "I'm okay... I'm o - " following by the shouting "KAY" and then the race to the end, yeah, then it's a good rendition. And if the head banging leaves me a bit dizzy, that is probably the point in the evening where I relate most to the people around me who have been drinking, because I have not. 

I broke a glass once.

"Sing" (2010)

I didn't listen to it until 2012, and then I was listening to all four albums, plus Frank Iero's previous band, Pencey Prep.

It's possible that I was really brought in more by "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)" from the same album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, but "Sing" was the one with the video that inspired all of the writing. 


There was a lot that went into that writing, including some personal heartache but also very much the murder of Trayvon Martin. As much as those things hurt, the music felt good. 

Even more important, it got me writing again after all the joy in writing and life had been squeezed out of me. 

And it is still out there, even if it was more for me.


"Summertime" (off of Danger Days, never released)

This song has a bridge that is hauntingly beautiful. I have literally had dreams where I have asked members of the band what made it so special (and got a very complex chart that my sleeping brain couldn't grasp at all, but I don't think my waking brain would have done any better).

"Bulletproof Heart" (2011)

Also off of Danger Days, I didn't remember it as having an official release, but Wikipedia shows it hitting 18 on the US Alternative charts, so it must have. 

Going along with things I don't understand about music and its effect on me... even though once I got the bass (which I still cannot be said to play) I started focusing on bass lines, for some reason this song (and also Fall Out Boy's "Thnks fr th Mmrs") makes me want to play guitar. Something about it; I don't know why.

"Fake Your Death" (2014)

I understand this song more in terms of Fall Out Boy, because it came out when I was listening to The Youngblood Chronicles and thinking about their hiatus and return. This song hits on some of the down sides to fame. Maybe some of that is more background that I know and hear in the song without it being explicitly there, but it also helped me understand MCR's hiatus better. (No, that's not what I'm mad about.)

I wrote more about that: https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2014/06/look-at-all-this-pain.html

I love the piano in it, but also it is significant that for all of these songs that existed long before I needed them or knew of them, this was their first release where I was an existing fan, and it still came at a good time. 

"Disenchanted" (off of 2006's The Black Parade, never released).

This song is beautiful in its simplicity. It's like it's almost an afterthought, but still deeply evocative. Also there's a guillotine reference, and there have been so many of those lately politically, but it's also mournful. Taking their heads off is not going to help; we're going to have to find a better Way.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Music bloggery

I have been doing daily songs for about seven years. 

There was a definitely a holiday run around Valentine's Day 2012. Then (if I remember correctly) after doing some Halloween songs in 2013 I decided to keep going. I was reviewing bands then, so the daily songs gave me a way to highlight those bands, as well as exploring other themes, like Muppet Month or Opera-ctober. 

For a long time I tried to never repeat. This was easier before the first computer crash, when I lost the notes I had been keeping of which songs had been used. Still, I could often remember that certain songs had definitely been used. 

As various things started happening -- which definitely includes the dual fundraisers in June and Christmas in July and #RememberSeptember, but also various life and political events that demanded certain songs -- I did start repeating.

I feel like that has opened the door for review, and at a good time for doing it. Part of this transition is knowing what I have learned, and knowing what to keep. Also, I am still not quite ready to start doing new reviews yet.

My plan is to start reviewing old blog posts, for band reviews and for book reviews.

One of my lost files (which I have had to give up on recovering), was a spreadsheet that kept track of the bands I'd reviewed, including how many different bands there were. However, I only had the name, the number, and whether I'd seen them live.

Well, I also mostly kept track of whether the review happened because they followed me on Twitter, or if someone had recommended them, or because they were playing with a band I wanted to see for other reasons. I will remember some of those, and sometimes it will be mentioned in the review, but I may not always know.

However, I always felt there should be other information there and never quite figured out what other information. The best web link for them? Definitely. What other bands would be similar? Maybe. Where they are from? Often surprisingly complicated. Whether or not they were any good? Umm, if they weren't I tried to not say it that way, but it could be valuable information.

Now, though, now I am going to figure it out, and I am going to rebuild that spreadsheet.

I do have a new one that lists the bands I want to review and where I have kind of tracked numbers. Fortunately, I had remembered when I hit 600, and I was still reviewing then. Therefore, I can give you some numbers.

My last album review was for Chris Barron, whom I also interviewed.  That was in April 2020, before everything started falling apart. Since I had reviewed his music before, that did not change the total number of bands reviewed. That number was 651 with the Bowie Alumni.

Since then, eleven bands have followed me, and therefore must be reviewed. Some bands I know have new albums that I want to review. There's another 65 bands that I am interested in checking out for one reason or another. 

That sounds like a lot, but I was doing about 100 a year before. I don't know if I will get there again, but I am going to review these bands! Sooner or later! (Should I review English Beat?)

Since going through the reviews means I will be going through blog posts anyway, I will go through the various reading lists, and make some notes on which books were most interesting or most helpful, and what stands out.

The Friday blogs will be going over sections of my reviews. Some of that will be the actual bands reviewed, but there were other projects, like going through the material on "Greatest Guitar" songs or the Nothing Feels Good book. Some musicians held different significance. The posts will go over that review period, highlight key songs from it, and the daily songs will come from there. So that will be all repeats, but also all of the best and some really good stuff. 

After going through that, I will renew my commitment to including a wide variety of songs and finding new ones, but it will be a little more relaxed too. A good song can stand up to multiple plays.

Fair warning, that will take about four months.

Thursday posts may contain information on books or movies or other things that come up.

I may skip some weeks. Or, if there are too many songs, I may need to post about some review sections twice. If there are that many great songs, there are probably enough things to say to fill two posts.

I have accepted the uncertainty, and am excited for what is ahead, even knowing that there will be some complications.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Bloggery (and some bookery)

I have worked through feelings about the possibility of not being able to finish some things you start. It has not completely resolved the way that uncertainty can inhibit some goal setting. For example, even if I want more dancing in my life, I do not currently have a plan to incorporate it. 

Of course, you are never doing everything at once. If something goes on a break, that doesn't mean it wasn't important while it lasted, nor that it can't come back. In the moment you have to trust in what you do know, in your heart and your head.

Currently the answer for all of those political things I want to write about and keep stumbling on is to put them on hold. It stings, but I am also sure it is right. 

It is not because we finally upgraded our executive branch; there will be plenty to say about that. 

It is more the feeling that a lot of what I can say about that won't matter as much as what others will say, or what I could say about other things.

My skill set has been clarifying things for people who already pretty much get things right. It's nice, but not vital. 

I frequently see people who are getting things very wrong. Explanations and well-reasoned responses spring to mind so quickly, but I have given some of those explanations and they do not make a difference. That is not the best use of my time.

Here is some political advice from me (clearance, I guess): there is so much work to do in repairing harm that arguing with people who have chosen outrageous lies and white supremacy over the most basic decency is not going to be the best use of anyone's time. Focus your efforts on voter enfranchisement and advocacy and fighting income inequality. Focus on reading books by diverse authors and enjoying art by diverse artists. 

It has been very fashionable to say that the two main parties are the same, but that is demonstrably untrue. This administration can be worked with and that is wonderful. That's where we focus. Not winning over Trump voters. Not proving how reasonable we can be to conservatives. 

The thing is, for everything that I am passionate about -- permaculture for healing the earth, Universal Basic Income for giving people real choices about their work, health care -- there are people who know more about it. I can post what they write, with comments and endorsements, rather than writing blog posts. Since most of my social media contacts are liberals (Facebook) and progressives (Twitter), if I mainly post about things that make you face discomfort about your investment in white supremacy, I can annoy and edify everyone in 2021 without a single blog post. Dream big!

My feeling is that I need to finish my current rounds of economic and post 2016 election reading, which seems to be about 23 books. At that point, I hope I will be able to move further into understanding that theme I have in my head: De-corporatize. De-capitalize. De-colonize. That will start with reading some Fanon, Foucault, and Mbembe. After that, I don't know, but that's a fair sight down the road. It gives time for other things to resolve. 

Until then, I will be writing about emotional issues and healing. That is an area where I may know more than anyone else, at least on the topic of checking out library books and giving yourself homework from them, and in fact getting better from it. 

It's a plan.

But it's a plan that only takes in Monday through Wednesday. Tomorrow is Thursday. What will that hold?

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The return of the selfies?

The other thing I started feeling pretty sure of is that I need to do #365feministselfie again.

It did not seem like a great idea, if for no other reason than that I was so relieved to be done with it the last time. Frankly, I'm glad I didn't have to capture any images of myself on some of the days that came after.

It's quaint now to remember how terrible a year we thought 2019 was, until 2020. It makes me a little nervous about the relief we have felt getting into 2021.

If this next year is as hard or harder, do I really want to be broadcasting the images of how it is grinding me down? My full humanity includes my suffering, but I would rather share the good parts. It's more fun. I would rather have less suffering going forward.

I was thinking that maybe I could take photos daily, but then only post them weekly. Melissa McEwan was a big influence on me for #365feministselfie, and that was how she did it. 

There has also been a thought (which I will go into more tomorrow) that perhaps I should post more pet pictures and flower pictures and more things to spread brightness.

I was thinking about that, and then I got the bright idea that maybe instead of using my digital camera and having to upload daily, that maybe I should install Instagram on my phone and post there.

I cannot get the app installed on my phone. 

That may be my lack of skill with technology, but also I did not successfully log in to the Instagram page first, because I don't remember what password I used. I thought a simple password reset via the Instagram page on my PC (which I am pretty good at using) would resolve that, but the button for resetting the password is grayed out.

I suspect that with enough effort and asking around I could manage it, but I am not sufficiently invested. 

I also thought that perhaps I could use Facebook on my phone, just for selfies. I worried about turning into one of those people with their faces constantly in their phone, but I am pretty good at leaving my phone in my purse in the other room. It believed I could manage.

I know my Facebook password -- that wasn't the problem -- but I couldn't make that work on my phone either.

At that point I decided I was probably better off just using my old method. Now the pictures won't upload.

I started on my birthday, Sunday. That way, I will have completed 365 days right as I am turning 50. Wouldn't it make more sense to document that year? Maybe I will; who knows? For now I have two photos trapped on my camera. My computer refuses to recognize the various upload attempts.

I believe this is a cable problem. My computer is dying again, so I can't rule out other issues, but I am pretty sure it's the cable. I can test that more, but given the knowledge that this computer is on its last legs, and remember how devastating that hard drive crash three years ago was, current efforts are focusing on data backups.

So maybe the first selfies posted will happen a week at a time because that will be when I first manage an upload. I would be fine with that.

If that gets me into a weekly pattern, then theoretically if terrible things happen I will have a gap between showing it on my face and posting that face to the internet.

I hope there is joy too.

For all of us.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Moving into 2021: What I know

I kept going back to last Monday's post and how messy it felt. 

Ultimately it was trying to do too much. Most of it was about the things that I don't know yet and the frustration that comes with that. However, there was a section of information that I know very well mixed in with it; that was just in the wrong place.


Taking care of that felt good, but also it reminded me that there are things that I do know, and that can be a focus.

The surest thing I know about how I need to be different going forward is that I am still weird about taking credit for things and I need to get over that. 

No matter how much I have improved in being able to recognize my strengths and weaknesses, it's still weird to acknowledge those strengths to another person. That it just social conditioning. 

Well, it is also habit, but it is habit because of social conditioning. 

Another thing that has become pretty clear is that I have gotten many strong messages not to conform, which will be more important in other posts. For now, I need to give up worrying that if I say "Thank you" when someone tells me something good about me, that they will think I have a big head. If that was a real concern of theirs they would probably refrain from giving me the compliment or load it up with some kind of negation. 

In addition, if someone thanks me for something I did, I need to say "You're welcome" instead of trying to convince them that this thing I did for them didn't matter. What if that carries the message that they don't matter that much? Could stressing the lack of effort imply that they would not have been worth effort? I don't want to do that.

So, this is kind of for me, but may equally be for other people. Somehow we have gotten things twisted up where it is only allowed to know how you are bad, and not how you are good. That is especially for women, though not exclusively. 

Let my "nope" be resounding. NOPE!

I admit it is still weird for me when people say I am nice or kind or have a good heart, because sometimes I can feel so impatient and mean. There is still some value in generally not acting on that.

Possibly another thing that helps here is that I have done some exercises in forgiveness and meditation. I have also contacted a few people where I felt some guilt over things that I said or didn't say. 

It appears that I have not done a lot of harm over the course of my life. I'm sure there are things I didn't realize (I still participate in capitalism), but I have tried pretty consistently to be kind and ethical and responsible, and I am grateful for that. It takes some weight off.

There is still a lot of uncertainty and one thing that I think I know I should do, but for which I am encountering technical difficulty. 

That does give me some clarity about my next two blog posts.