The above word and its definition was a prompt from today’s hospital writing workshop.
I thought of our last retreat, when Kathy, one of the bereaved moms in the group, sent me a text. “I’m out running last-minute errands and stopped at a light behind a car with this license plate:
She sent this picture and added, “Can’t wait to see you all tomorrow and to write!”
I shared her message with the small group of us who had already gathered at the lake house where we were spending the weekend.
“Wow,” I said. “Live to write. That’s cool.”
Everybody else interpreted the message as: “Love to write.”
My throat went lumpy and my eyes filled. Live to write. That’s what I do. It’s not always an act of love, often I write to survive. To try to ground myself, to remember, to consider, to make sense of whatever it is that’s surfacing. For decades, I’ve turned to the page to share my angst, my shame, my dreams (both of the night and the day), my fear, my joy, my emerging self. And the random overheard conversations and moments I witness in daily life.
For me there is something numinous in the act of writing. I never know what will be revealed, from what sidewalk crack a potent image might bloom. Numinous is a good word to describe the writing process—mysterious, revelatory, holy.
I first became familiar with this word when my husband and I were newlyweds back in the mid-70s and we started a Jungian study group up in Cambridge, through an organization called Centerpoint. They sent us readings and discussion topics. We met with two other people in our high-ceilinged rickety Cambridgeport kitchen. I wrote dialogues with aspects of self, with the animus, with my mother. We wrote about mythology, We did dream analysis, studied alchemy. I clung to the concepts and ideas of individuation and the collective unconscious—all as a way to stay above the surface, to tread water and keep from getting sucked into a deep dark muck, a psychic wasteland—where I had lived for most of my childhood, though I had no language for it.
Numinous and all it promised gave me hope.
Always, I pull out the notebook when I need to record, even if it’s only a list, what’s happening around me. Keeping a journal, I believe, kept me alive while my infant son struggled through two open heart surgeries. I couldn’t read. Couldn’t watch the blaring TV in the parent lounge. Couldn’t eat. I wrote down everything—the hideous defect the family beside us were dealing with, what the nurses and doctors said, how the cold stark atmosphere made my knees rubbery and my heart skip.
Many years later when my husband was hospitalized for out-of-control migraines, I took voracious notes as the doctor explained how the drugs Bill was taking were causing rebound headaches. The doctors had to wean him off them and off caffeine. As my husband twisted in head pain from withdrawal (the IV meds to ease his discomfort were inadequate), I jotted notes as the doctor spoke, “Don’t worry,” he said. “After male menopause, you won’t have as many headaches.”
“Male menopause?” I asked, incredulous. I think I even laughed.
“Don’t you dare write that down,” he told me.
“You can’t tell me what I can and can’t write down in my journal,” I shot back.
“DON’T write that down,” he said again.
And I thought. Hey pal, there is no way you can stop me from writing this or anything else down. My journal is private–mysterious, holy, mine.