(Excerpted from my forthcoming book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your life, due out in 2017 from Loving Healing Press)
Many people ask me when I knew I wanted to be a writer. The fact is that writing chose me. In fact, most writers will confess that they write because they have to write, not necessarily because they want to write. They write out of necessity because it either makes them feel better or they want to share their story with the world. I fall into both of these categories -- writing makes me feel good, so when I don't write, I feel as if something's missing from my life. Plus, I also yearn to share my stories with the world in the hopes that they will resonate in a way that brings about healing and a deeper way of knowing and understanding.
My life as a writer began when I was 10-years-old and started writing in my journal to help me cope with, and heal from, my grandmother/caretaker's suicide, which occurred in my childhood home. I was the only child of immigrant parents who worked all day tending their retail dry-goods store in Brooklyn, New York. On that Labor Day in 1964, I was at home with my grandmother. In many immigrant families of the post-World War II era, children were raised by their extended families, particularly grandparents. My grandparents lived with us, and while my grandfather spent much of his time in New York City becoming culturally acclimated, my maternal grandmother, Regina, stayed home to take care of me.
It was a hot Indian summer day common to the season. We lived in a suburban community along with other immigrant families, and I had many playmates in the neighborhood. I was excited when a friend invited me to swim in her pool that day. With a child's enthusiasm, I knocked on my grandmother's door to ask for permission. There was no answer. I tried several times, but still no answer. Like most children, I took the experience in stride and didn't think too much about it. But then I found out that she had taken her life.
There was no doubt that I missed my grandmother, Regina, the only grandmother I ever knew. My mother knew I was grieving and wanted to help me through the trauma of having lost my beloved caretaker. Reaching out to therapists wasn't done in those days, plus, if even if it had been, we didn't have the money to make that happen. Others might have seen therapists, but it was certainly not something anyone ever talked about. My grandmother had been a journal keeper, and after some contemplation on how to help me cope with her loss, my mother went to the nearest bookstore and bought me a blank red-leather journal with Kahlil Gibran sayings at the top of each page. She told me to write down my feelings about my grandmother. Having been an English major in college, my mother felt that this was the most natural thing to do.
In those days, children were unwelcome at funerals, so I was shipped off with my journal to my aunt and uncle's apartment in New York City. I guess everyone thought that the funeral experience would be too traumatic for a young girl. For days on end after my grandmother died, I sat at my small birch desk or in my walk-in closet with clothes hanging above, writing about my grandmother and how I missed her. Little did I realize that my mother's seemingly simple gesture of buying me a journal would set the stage for my lifelong passion for writing. As I grew into adulthood, each time I encountered difficult times, including my turbulent adolescence in the 1960s, my daughter's drug addiction, and my battles with cancer, I reached for my journal.
More than four decades after my grandmother died, when I was 47-years-old, I received my first cancer diagnosis (see Healing with Words: A Writer's Cancer Journey). After healing from the physical and emotional trauma of that experience, and of course once again chronicling my journey in my journal, I decided to follow my dream of returning to graduate school. I pursued an MFA in writing, and when the time came to consider a subject for my thesis, the story of my grandmother's life came to the surface.
That paper, which involved studying my grandmother's life, turned into my first published memoir: Regina's Closet: Finding My Grandmother's Secret Journal.
In that memoir, I dealt with two major turning points in my life -- losing my grandmother, and then discovering her sacred journal. I realized that not only were those two experiences transformative, but writing about her was healing and one way to keep her alive.
I had always been a seeker, but the experience of reflecting upon my grandmother's life and then finding her journal led me on a path of discovery and further transformation as I tried to understand why she had taken her life at the age of 61, the age I am now as I write my new book. It seemed as if whenever there was a life-changing event in my life, I returned to writing to help me through it. The reason I became a writer is because I had no choice. I write because it simply makes me feel so good.