Mondays with Monika – 1

As you may recall, a trainee clinical psychologist, exploring the therapeutic benefits of creative writing, interviewed me. The experience got me thinking about some themes I return to in my fiction, such as loss, separation and sacrifice, and the ways in which fiction comes to be as authentic as non-fiction.
But what about non-fiction that tells the truth – warts and all? How far can or ought we go in our quest to connect with the reader?
I’d like to introduce my friend, Monika. We ‘met’ at San Diego based A Word with You Press, although I’m at least 50% certain that neither of us has visited the HQ.
What makes Monika’s blog, Motheroad, special is its combination of honesty, engaging writing and ability to connect with you emotionally.
It’s my great pleasure to bring Monika into the limelight.
Let’s start with what might seem a steep dropping off point. 

Your mother died recently and you chose to write about it in detail – not just how you were feeling, but also what was going on around you. Was it a conscious decision to commit it to the page and has that helped you in the grieving process? 

Regarding writing about my mother’s death: it was both a conscious decision and a reflexive action. Writing a blog is like having a conversation with yourself that you allow other people to overhear. I have occasionally kept a journal, but I just couldn’t get motivated to write anything that no one else was going to read. But I really enjoy talking to myself, and I find that I can be a very clever self-conversationalist if I think that someone else might be listening. And that’s the whole value of therapy right there–just knowing, or at least hoping, that someone is listening. I mean, besides myself. (Maybe blogging could be called “tautological therapy” – a self-referencing and self-reinforcing loop with restorative powers.)

Writing is also a good way to separate the strands of thought that get so tangled inside my head. My head is like a big knitting basket, with a bunch of crazy-knotted balls of yarn inside. Writing allows me to take out one ball of yarn at a time, examine it, and untangle it. And the delightful part about writing is that, as you’re untangling your yarn-thoughts, you find strings that connect to other balls of yarn in unexpected ways. Although sometimes that’s exhausting, because you’re like, “Damn! I thought I was DONE untangling this ball of yarn!”

And then writing is also a way of recording what’s happening to me, so that I can remember it more clearly. I don’t mean that I go back and read my blog entries from two years ago, because I generally don’t. I mean that the act of writing helps to cement an event in my mind more clearly. It’s like this: I write down a shopping list, go to the store, and realize I’ve left my list in the car. But I still get everything I came for because the act of writing things down has made me remember them. It’s the way my mind works–some people have to hear things spoken to remember them, and some people have to write things to remember them. Some people think in images, some people think in words. My thoughts are almost completely in words; my inner images and feelings are always accompanied by descriptive language.

Another benefit of writing-as-therapy–a therapeutic aspect that many people overlook–is the act of producing something, and the corresponding feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when you are done. You made art! You told a story! You didn’t just sit around and stew about what’s bothering you; you put a bunch of words together and you made something beautiful, something real, something that exists OUTSIDE of your head, something independent and separate from you. It’s part of you, and it came from you, but it’s also not-you. It now also belongs to whoever reads it, and it takes on a life of its own that you have little or no control over. You made a baby. And the best thing about this baby is that you don’t have to change its poopy diapers or pay to send it to college.

More from Monika next Monday – and please head over to her blog, Motheroad, and drop into her world. If you’ve enjoyed what you read here, you won’t be disappointed.


  1. Chloe says:

    That's a really interesting collection of thoughts – thanks Derek and Monika!

    Going back to fiction, I wonder if all writers have a theme or two that comes across in most of their work. I think I am beginning to get like that – and perhaps my writing is getting better because of it. I know there are 'universal' story themes, but I bet most of us have one or two we stick with, even across very different stories.

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