Writing in these confusing times

” …how do you free yourself to write in these confusing times?”

– a question posed by Karen Cushman in 2017 and brought up by Marion Dane Bauer in her blog this morning –

This just an important question to me since I have spend that last few weeks unable to put important words down on the screen or on paper. I say important because my personal journal has been filled with words – weather reports, or simple sentences about plants. The bigger deeper thoughts have been locked inside me in a swirl of emotion, fear, loss, anger and love.

In this mess of confusion I just stopped writing. There seemed to be no words that could fill the page. When reading blog posts early this morning I saw Marion’s post it got me thinking again. How do I come to writing again? and the bigger question is how do we hold hope when things are crazy?

I know these two woman were talking about the bigger picture of our country, world and the issues we face – racism, environmental changes, health care and we could go on. Those issues for me right now have been pushed back in my thinking as our family moves day to day with personal health issues. I wrote for the first time last week about my brother and his open heart surgery. Also along side that worry, stress and then joy we are walking the journey of cancer.

Our daughter is in her last seven weeks of an exciting pregnancy. There is a healthy baby boy waiting to be born in just a few weeks. Her journey through this joyous time was flipped on its head about a month and half ago with the discovery of breast GV5A6682.jpgcancer. We understand the impact of this since I had breast cancer 26 years ago.

This young and brave woman, that I get to call my daughter, has undergone two rounds of chemo and will have two more before baby makes his appearance in late June. (Amazing – I know – the placenta has the great power of blocking many drugs and keeping baby relatively safe.) Her treatment will continue once baby is born.

There have been so many disappointments for this young family – no breastfeeding, no working (she is a power house teacher who is missing her classroom at the end of a school year), no gardening (no hands in the soil due to chemo and no resistance to germs and bacteria), no hair, loss of salary, loss of energy, no working with the natural birth folks (everything now has medical in front of it with a big C).  We have not even gone to the discussion of surgery and long term medication to be sure this does not return. The no’s and negatives could take over if you let them.

Given all this swirl of emotions and questions – is mother safe, is baby safe, how do we help, what do we know, how do we help the father to be – it would be easy to get angry, depressed and just go hide in a closet. I did consider this approach for a few minutes and my writing did come to a complete halt for a few weeks. The thing is that those emotions don’t help – they don’t help the new family to be, they don’t have us as soon to be grandparents, they don’t help the friends who surround them.

So with a bit of time, many walks, lots of yoga and watching we all found those little moments of hope. The positive things that help us move forward. Each of us found things to help us all look towards hope and health, not dark and down. We started with simple statements – it is great the weather is warming so she can take walks then moved to bigger thoughts – doctors know how to treat this form of cancer, they can begin treatment even before baby is born. We each in our own way made choices to think, talk and act in a positive way. The mother to be who is in the middle of this swirl also made that commitment to herself. She knew that negative thinking was not what she wanted to give this unborn child.

With her strength in moving forward we all moved with her and to support her. Her partner stepped up to hold her and walk this journey close by her side. Her friends stepped in with a meal train, a list of who is walking and helping her when needed, a yoga fund raiser and a go fund me page to help with the rising cost of this high medical pregnancy. The family has kept baby and pregnancy in the fore front as much as possible and we look to what works. (yes, it is hard to lose your hair but we know it will grow back. You can get angry or have a bit of goofy fun with crazy wigs, a good looking wig and a few beautiful scarfs to make you look just as lovely)

Is all this easy?  No, I don’t want to over simplify this. There were days at the beginning of this journey that we all found ourselves stuck and unable to move. I did my own flash backs and guilt as a mother who had cancer and now daughter with cancer. We needed a community to help us. There are times now that it still strikes us – the moment when we say is this really happening?

Yes, it is and we can choose to make it hard or we can look for and find the peace and joy that is there for us to grab hold of.

A clear example of this was last night as daughter, dad and mom (me) went to an information meeting about support services for cancer patients and the people who support them. We sat in a room with about 12 people all dealing with cancer in some way. Each in a different place in their journey and knowing some journey’s will be much harder than others since cancer clearly does its own thing and goes its own way in the body.  What made this interesting was watching each person – a few were clearly looking for positives. They retained a sense of humor, they had connected with family or friends to come along with them, they smiled even though things were not great. This group of people were ready and eager to join into groups that might help them.

Then there were those who could only find negative things to say, they could not find a way to connect with those around them and were struggling to move forward. These folks were having a hard time. I was glad they had made it to this community and hoped that they could make a connection to find support for it was clear they needed this.

So how does this all connect to writing –  funny but the simple question of “how do we free ourselves to write in these times” pushed me over the edge and back into writing. Thinking about how we move forward day to day helped me look once again to the things that work. One thing that works for me is to share my thoughts, to write out what I am thinking. The act of writing helps to clarify an experience or an emotion. It lets me step back and reflect on what is going on and how I feel.

Writing for the others, in these crazy times, helps others to see another way, to look for different perspectives. Taking time to write out our experiences might give someone a way to connect, a way to understand, to learn and to change.

It is the hope of love, learning, change and growth that keep me moving in a positive way and allows me to write again.


How would you answer this question?

How do you free yourself to write in these confusing times?


For more of her story you can go to: https://www.gofundme.com/melissatoft

I am not asking you to donate – it is just a way to share her story in more detail if you are interested.


About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
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7 Responses to Writing in these confusing times

  1. ureadiread says:

    I wish your brother and your daughter restored health. I wish you the strength and community you need to keep looking at the positives you can grasp.

    How to return to writing in these times? As you have…In your own time, like an exhale after a deep calming breath, to a friend instead of into the void. Write when it focuses or releases you. Give yourself permission to step away from the page when the thoughts and feelings swirl or when you simply need stillness.

  2. Trina Haase says:

    Oh, this post took my breath away. It must be challenging for all of you to live through this right now. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

    Writing provides me with solace in hard times for sure, although I do not often share with others what I have written. I have also found that sometimes it takes me a while to be able to articulate my deepest fears and sorrows in words.

    • Joanne Toft says:

      Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. I so agree that sometimes it just take time before we can find the words to express those fears and sorrows. Thanks again!

  3. Ramona says:

    Oh, Joanne, my heart goes out to you and your daughter. Thanks for your words during this difficult time. I can see returning to them and sharing them with others. “Each of us found things to help us all look towards hope and health, not dark and down.” I’m not sure that I could write at such a challenging time, but your words are there to remind us that there is power and goodness in writing.
    Prayers for everyone and for continued health and healing.

  4. Alice Nine says:

    Last year, I walked a path very similar to yours. I didn’t blog for at least eight months. …because there wasn’t time. …because I was living in each moment as the clock ticked it out. …because I didn’t want to give a voice to fear. …because so much was really unknown and speculation (the “what if’s”) was unhealthy for my emotions. …because I had to be still. Life became very simple in the middle of great complexities and unknowns. I leaned in heavily upon God. I drew much strength from my faith. Family drew in close. Now, the heart is strong, miraculously repairing itself. Cancer has been stopped, treatments are nearly over, hair is beginning to grow back. That season has passed. You and your family are in my prayers, Joanne. May you be strengthened and filled with peace and joy.

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