a continuing resolution
In September, which is always the real beginning of a new year for me, I vowed I would write a memoir. I promised I would see this project through to completion. The focus of the memoir is that part of my life I devoted to parenting four extraordinary children, two of whom suffered from a progressive neurological disorder. While I drafted this work, I used my blog as an online journal to share my writing journey with you.
Along the way, I’ve gained a range of knowledge from several “how-to” sources for memoirists. These were often quite helpful. More inspiring by far than these guides, however, were the enlightening memoirs of authors who walked before me. These brave ones lit my way. One of the most illuminating of these was Ellen Blum Barish’s Seven Springs. In this memoir, Blum Barish shares the ancient Jewish belief that humans are called to tikkum olam, “the restoration of the world.”
Then in lyrical prose, she offers us a wonderful narrative that does just that. As Blum Barish sets out to break the silence that locked an event from her past away in the darkness, she sheds light not just on that incident, but on her whole life. In seven beautifully interlocking chapters, representing different phases of her life, she leads the reader through a series of riveting discoveries to a climax that frees not just Ellen but others who had been bound by the same silence. In the end, the reader sees the power of persistence, the beauty of light, and the impact of breaking unnecessary locks. The story calls us to ask our own questions. It inspires us to push away past fears and uncover our own truths.
Because I found the book so inspiring, I approached Ellen and asked her to share with me the story of her writer’s journey. I share her answers with you here today.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writing since I was 6 or 7 but was only able to call myself a writer 10 years ago!
In elementary school, I began with awful Dr. Seussian poetry and later began to journal. But by seventh or eighth grade I ran into a reading comprehension issue that was impacting my test scores. My parents sent me to a reading tutor which helped me pass tests and make a B average in high school English but like liked reading and writing so much that I minored in English in college. It wasn’t until I was two years out of college, working as a travel writer for Mobil Travel Guides, that I decided to go back to school for a master’s in journalism. I loved 60 Minutes -still do! – and wanted to make a change in the world. But even after earning that degree and working as a reporter, feature writer, and editor, I still didn’t call myself a writer until many years later when I was accepted for a writing residency at Ragdale in 2012. That’s when I knew that I was my best self, my happiest self, writing. It’s also where I began to write my memoir.
What drew you to writing as an avocation and/or profession? Why is it important to you?
Now I can see that I reached for the page as naturally as a painter reaches for a brush or a musician to an instrument. Once I connected with it, it became as essential to me as breathing.
Anne Frank wrote that paper is more patient than people, and I agree. The page has always been my best listener, the place where I feel the calmest and the way I make meaning from my life.
What are the top three challenges you face as a writer?
I continue to struggle, like most writers, with navigating rejection, trusting the process, and managing ego. But in recent years, I’ve come to understand that there are no wasted words. I believe everything we write leads to the next thing – our words build on each other – even if that first thing doesn’t leave our desk.
My challenge now is clarifying my mission with words. What is my goal? Am I writing for self-discovery? To teach other writers? To entertain? To promote? How can my words help bring people together? Unify. Heal. I want to do more than put more words out into the world.
I want them to work harder now than I did before.
What is the best thing that’s happening for you currently? How does it feel? What do you think it will mean for your future endeavors?
I am savoring this year of my memoir’s release. It has felt incredibly satisfying, gratifying, confirming, and surprisingly healing, not just for me but for some of the people I write about in the book and readers who have written to say so. This experience makes me want to write even deeper pieces – words that move people to feel something powerful and act on that.
If your writer’s life laid just the way you’d like it to, what would that be like? What’s the most important aspect of this dream? Why?
Writing pulls me in two directions. My writer self – the ego – would certainly love to see continued press coverage of my memoir, Seven Springs, more book sales, and a writing award or honor. I have ideas swirling for two more book-length projects and a TEDx talk idea, so I’d love to get these in motion.
But my teacherly-coaching self focuses on coaching writers who want to improve their craft and get their work out into the world. It feels important to me because I know the potency of the healing that can come from getting a powerful story from one’s life onto the page – whether it is for self-discovery, legacy, or publication. Returning to my childhood trauma and finding words to write it released something and made more space available inside me. I have more energy, resources, and experience to share with others. And doing so fulfills a desire for tikkun olam in my spiritual life – the desire to do better and help repair the broken parts of the world.