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Scribing the Soul

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Kathleen's Current Column

by Kathleen Adams, LPC, RPT

In ancient times, scribes were devotees of the Word. They were the bridges between worlds, charged with the sacred task of painstakingly transcribing the Mysteries into a form that could be referenced by holy men and women. Many centuries later, our modern journals give us unlimited access to the Mysteries of our souls. Through this column, I hope to offer ways that we can approach our own lives with the love and devotion of the scribes of old.

"Making Up the Truth"

The Dark Men in my dreams would populate a psychopathic colony. There are hundreds of them, varying only in the degree of their malevolence. They all have one intent - to harm me - and they are endlessly creative. They are torturers, terrorists, hijackers, kidnappers, rapists, pirates and thieves. They are muggers, marauders, murderers, outlaws, gangsters, con artists and crooks. They threaten. They menace. They stalk. Whether they travel alone or in packs, they tear out my phone lines, unlock my deadbolts, power through my barriers, kick down my doors and paralyze my nerve endings.
~ from The Dark Man and Other Dreams, a short story by Kathleen Adams, ©1997

Once upon a time, in another decade, I loved a man who lied. Although our lives intersected in the most charming of ways -- he wrote me a letter when my first book, Journal to the Self, was published -- and although our friendship unfolded slowly, stuffed in hundreds of envelopes over seasons and years, still he deceived me through a web of intricately plotted and increasingly complex lies.

In Writing for Your Life, Deena Metzger says, "To write is, above all else, to construct a self." This man constructed a self that had no foundation in three-dimensional reality. He created himself as fictional character, protagonist in a parallel universe, star of the life he should have been given.

Meanwhile, my three-dimensional reality seemingly had no relationship to my self. I was struggling with a reality warp of my own. In a complicated inverse, my life was feeling like a novel. Everything I had ever dreamed of was happening to me, including a well-hailed first book and a brilliant, charming penfriend who was beginning to hint that I might be the woman he had been waiting for all his life.

Is this a story, or what? Romance, passion, paradox; destiny; weavings and layerings and inevitabilities. One waits a lifetime for such a story. I happily tumbled headfirst into it, and stayed there for a while.

You can discern the rest: It ended badly. The Glamour failed one day, and he was revealed as who he really was, or at least exposed as who he wasn't. Thus began a waking nightmare that lasted for most of the next year.

I have a shelf full of journals from that year. I wrote vociferously about my horror, rage, shock, self-recrimination, devastation, grief. For three seasons, my journal was a lifeline. It held my days together, giving me cause both to get out of bed in the morning and into bed at night.

Woody Allen said, "After 25 years of psychoanalysis, I have a brilliant understanding of my neurosis." After three seasons, I was developing a brilliant understanding of the ways in which my journal was sounding more and more like an endless loop tape. I had processed all I could possibly process. I understood what I could, and the rest was incomprehensible.

I began to sense that there was something else that needed and wanted to happen. As odd as it may sound, the story became its own living, breathing thing. It was a palpable presence, this story - this story that was not treatise nor analysis nor catharsis nor endless "now" moment, but instead was mythic, archetypal, terribly real fiction. It lived in the dreamworld, the place that Dana Reynolds calls "sacred imagination." Through the mythic ages it has been told and enacted as the story of Psyche and Eros, or the story of Persephone's descent into the Underworld, or the story of Rapunzel in her tower, or Inanna's nine gates of hell, or the Dark Man. Especially the Dark Man.

The Dark Man is one of the 17 most prominent archetypes in women's dreams, according to Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Nearly every woman I know has bolted upright from nightmares in which she experienced the terror and helplessness of being chased, raped or trapped by a thug, monster, ex, con artist or other devilish shapeshifter. Sometimes these dreams hold the psyche's imprint of trauma, or our own individual or collective shadow. Clarissa says they represent a creative part of the dreamer's psyche that is screaming to get out. Whatever it meant, I was living in the middle of a Dark Man dream, and as story, it begged to be written.

I had no idea how to write fiction, but a friend was signed up for a writing class with short story master Pam Houston, so I signed up too. Over the next four months I produced three torturous, arduous and ultimately thrilling drafts of a 30-page story, The Dark Man and Other Dreams, that told the story of a woman, a man, and deception.

In the course of the writing, I underwent a tremendous transformation. The creative process being what it is, of course, I will never truly know what happened, but I know that something deep within me became healed as I immersed myself in the story, and the writing of the story. As I made up the truth, the truth set me free.

What made the difference? Mastery, craft, poetic truth and surrender.

Mastery. The first thing I noticed was that as omniscient narrator, I had all the information - something I completely lacked in the relationship. The power of mastery over how the story was told, what was revealed and what withheld, was utterly exhilarating. For years I had lived in a cloud of unknowing. Suddenly I knew everything. It was a radically powerful experience.

Craft. Next I found that the crafting of good sentences, the exquisite labor of breathing in and breathing out, the devotional stepping into language, the mindfulness of syllable and rhythm, became a transcendent experience, fashioning art out of horror. I took one of my life's most negative experiences and crafted it into one of my life's best pieces of writing.

Poetic truth. The decision to write fiction freed me from my fundamental journal ethic to tell the truth. Because it was fiction, I could write anything at all. I could create myself and my experience in the image of a character with a name (Julianna) and a sister (Rosie) and a Dark Man (Joseph) all her own. Through becoming absorbed in Julianna's reality, which was similar to but not the same as historical truth, I came to poetic truth.

Surrender. Lastly, I surrendered to the undertow of the Story that wove its way into every strand of words. Through mastery, craft and poetic truth, I was scribing my own individualized imprint of mythology. In my one small life, I was healing myself from a painful break-up. In the vast theatre of the sacred imagination, I was playing Psyche, Persephone, Rapunzel, Inanna to a standing-room-only crowd.

Making up the truth healed me. Perhaps it can heal you, too. If you want to try this, here's a five-step process that I use with my writing groups, adapted from a method I learned from Deena Metzger.

1. Take a situation or circumstance in your life that troubles you. It can be a devastating event, or a chronic condition or problem. Write about it for 15 minutes. Then boil your 15-minute write into a one-sentence declaration of the situation.

2. Create a character who has many of the same strengths, qualities, characteristics, challenges and desires as you do, but who is not necessarily hobbled by your restrictions, limitations or obstacles. Write a Character Sketch of this character.

3. Set a scene. Get a picture in your mind of your character and the situation. Have your character begin taking some sort of action. Write a description.

4. From there, follow your character. Let yourself be guided. It is normal to not know what you're going to write next. Just let it happen.

5. Don't worry too much about writing in chronological order. In my writing groups, we write "pieces" or "squares" and then quilt them together later on.

© 2000 Kathleen Adams. All rights reserved. 

Kathleen Adams LPC, RPT is a Registered Poetry/Journal Therapist and Director of The Center for Journal Therapy in Lakewood, Colorado. She is one of the leading voices on the power of writing to heal and is the author of four books, including Journal to the Self and The Write Way to Wellness. Her upcoming seminars include the annual 5-day women’s writing retreat in Colorado July 8-13, and a one-day Journal to the Self workshop in Denver in late July. She would love your feedback on this column; please e-mail kay@journaltherapy.com or stop by her website, www.journaltherapy.com.


Read Kathleen's "Scribing the Soul" Columns:

Current "Scribing the Soul" Column

July 2000 "Pockets of Joy"

June 2000 "Five Ways to Scribe Your Intuition"


Read Kathleen's Feature Article on Dream Journals:

Writing in the Dark: Cracking the Soul's Code Through Dream Journals



Visit Kathleen at her Website:



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