Tuesday, June 26, 2007

TO WRITE: Darkness and Light
In English, we use the words "dark" and "light" to describe a myriad of things, including paint on the walls, lamps, our thoughts, and our moods. But have you ever considered the concept more broadly?

For visual artists, the degree of light in a work is often a key aspect of the piece as a whole. Should the landscape painting feature a sunrise or be under ominous cloud bank? What do the shades of color in an abstract work indicate? What mood is implied by the shadows of a portrait?

In one of my favorite writing books, Wild Mind, author Natalie Goldberg discusses with a friend how everything can have these attributes, including watermelon (light, they conclude), friendship (very dark and scary), Minnesota (real dark), and death (light and dark). "As we talked more, dark transformed," she writes. "Dark became good and bad. It became energetic, fertile, less scary, more desirable."

Play with this...
Write continuously for 20 minutes, starting simply with the topic of "darkness and light," and see where it takes you. Really let your mind go, beyond the traditional categories we tend to use. What do the concepts mean to you, how do you apply them, and how could you think about them differently? And is friendship or watermelon dark or light for you?

Then read what you've written. What ideas or words are the most exciting to you? Start with one of those and write 20 more minutes, going deeper into your mind. Afterward, consider carefully how this kind of writing feels to you. Were you surprised where you writing went? Did it begin to flow automatically, without effort? And -- how did this feel to you emotionally? Whatever you find, keep what you've learned in mind when you write in the future.

Monday, June 18, 2007

TO WRITE: The Wisdom of Youth
What did you know when you were a kid? A lot, you probably thought at the time, if you were like me. But what do you now think as you look back on your childhood days? Our experiences were limited, but perhaps our wisdom was right on. And what does our state of knowing back then say about our mood now?

Play with this. . .
Write continuously for 20 minutes on: In fifth grade, I thought....
Did you have strong beliefs about how the world worked when you were ten or so? (I was seriously questioning both the existence of God and the need for school.) As you left elementary school and headed for junior high, did you have misconceptions that in retrospect are funny or surprising? (Did you know where babies come from?) What views did you hold about yourself and your family? What were your plans for the future? (Any firemen or veterinarian wannabes out there?)

Looking back at your writing, consider how your mood was then -- already showing signs of depression, or still innocently happy? If depressed, try writing some more on this period of your life, but consciously change the circumstances you describe so that you are pleased with the result. If you were in good spirits as a kid, are there any lessons there for you now, such as specific activities that brought you joy, and that might again?

Monday, June 11, 2007

TO WRITE: Caffeine and Alcohol
Whether or not you take medicines for your depression or other mental disorder, there are legal substances that may play a big role in your life and health. We know that alcohol abuse can devastate the lives of entire families. But even if your intake is moderate, do alcohol or caffeine affect the way you live?

Students in my writing classes usually have quick and definitive responses and stories about this issue -- usually because they respond differently to these common substances than they did before they became depressed or began taking meds. For some of us, many cups of coffee are needed to get through the day; for others, a sip of tea in the morning will mean a sleepless night. And, while some patients -- and their physicians -- feel they should completely avoid alcohol's potential mood-changing properties, others enjoy an occasional drink without a problem.

Play with this...
Write continuously for 20 minutes about your feelings about caffeine and/or alcohol. Do you use either? Why or why not? Have they affected your life adversely? Has your attitude toward them changed with your depression? And would you like to change your intake patterns for either?

Monday, June 04, 2007

TO WRITE: What's to Become of Us?
I've got to give credit to an unknown student for this one too, a fascinating question to write on: Where do you think we're going in our evolution?

If you're a biologist, like me, your thoughts may go immediately to Darwin and genetics and survival of the fittest. If you're a sci-fi buff, you might be thinking in more high-tech terms. If you're a mystic, perhaps your ideas about death and beyond come in to play on this one. And if you're a global warming expert...?

Play with this...
Without thinking too much beforehand, write continuously for 20 minutes on where you think the human race is going evolutionarily. You can create a serious and thoughtful freewrite, or let your imagination go and write a fictional account of the future.

Afterward, consider what mood you were in when you wrote this piece. We're probably all likely to sound more pessimistic when depressed. But does consciously trying to write more optimistically help to improve your mood? There is evidence that the different ways we tell stories can affect our thinking and even behavior, so it doesn't seem outrageous as a hypothesis. If your writing sounded "down," try a rewrite and see what you think.
You may notice that there's no "TO READ" article posted this week.... The TO READ feature will probably appear rather sporadically through the next several months as I focus on writing my book, The Power of Writing: Easing Your Depression with Paper and Pen, to be published in spring 2008 by Ten Speed Press. I'll continue to post a TO WRITE writing exercise each week. And I'll likely come across depression-related topics on occasion that I just can't wait to share. Thanks for your understanding. Keep in touch! --Beth