Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today I speak with Christina Baldwin. Christina Baldwin is an author, educator, speaker, and retreat leader. She has authored several books on the exploration of journal writing, including the well-known classic Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice. With author Ann Linnea, she is cofounder of PeerSpirit, offering a wide variety of seminars and wilderness programs to individuals and groups. And with Sounds True, Christina has released the audio learning series Lifelines: How Personal Writing Can Save Your Life.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Christina and I spoke about the physiological benefits of journal writing and how to write from an embodied perspective She also shared with us many exercises for jumpstarting and nourishing journal writing as a spiritual practice. Christina also talked about her relationship with journal writing over five decades. Here’s my conversation with Christina Baldwin.
Christina, you write and teach extensively about the redeeming power of stories—how storytelling can so enrich our lives. And I’d like to talk with you about a paradox. I’ve heard many Sounds True teachers talk about how stories can actually trap us—how they can actually keep us in the past and how they can keep us stuck in a storyline, a myth, and that we’re not actually connecting to what is happening in the moment because we need to “drop” the story of what we think is happening. And I’m curious what you think about that—the negative side, if you will, of attaching ourselves to stories.
Christina Baldwin: Well, I’ve heard this as well, and I’m wondering if the word “story” in that usage is really a code for something very different from what I’m talking about. I think that story traps the mind—that we get in this little hamster cage of reciting to ourselves—usually—how we’ve been done wrong in one way or another. That kind of story is a neurological entrapment.
And it’s very seductive because it can literally feed us certain kinds of self-justification or avoidance or denial, and that allows us not to have to have take responsibility for certain things in our lives. So people become very attached to that story of, “I can’t do that because I have this mental limp that keeps me from going flat out and really doing the course of my life.”
What I mean by “story” is building a narrative that links one life experience to another in a way that blows open and expands our comprehension of, “Oh, that’s what’s happening to me! Oh, this is who I am.” And it’s an enlivening and empowering kind of story rather than that mouse in the corner going around and around and around.
And I think the way I discovered that was really accidental, by starting to write a journal when I was 14 years old—and I’ve been writing it ever since—and realizing over time that I just got tired of those stories. I could write, “Oh, my mother doesn’t understand me.” I mean, this is the lament of the 14-year-old girl, right?
And I could write that, but in the act of writing it, I began to understand myself. And that is the liberation factor in my life work that continues to excite me and continues to make me such an advocate for story as a freeing narrative—both for us individually and for communities and countries and now we’re really in a global story that we’re practicing as a shift from an entrapment narrative to a freeing narrative.
TS: So how would you help somebody identify, when they’re writing in their journal, “This is a story where I’m in a mental loop that’s not getting me anywhere, and this is a freeing story.” How do I know the difference as I’m approaching journal writing?
CB: One way that I’ve caught myself, and to be able to tell the difference between an entrapment narrative and a liberation narrative is: am I saying the same thing? If I open my journal from a year ago or if I look at my blog from a year ago—wherever it is that you’re recording that kind of personal narrative—especially [if you’re saying,] “Oh, I’m so unhappy about this,” and a year ago, you [were] saying the same thing about that that you’re saying today, or five years ago. We have long loops in our lives sometimes. Then, it’s like, “OK, I’m not looking at this with any insight. I’m just reciting to myself.”
And it can be a false positive, too. Like, “I’m so great at this, I don’t need to listen to any feedback.” So you can have a false confidence, or you can have a false victimization. And the purpose of writing in a journal or taking a look at one’s life narrative is really to say, “Where it is alive? Where can I interact with life events and frame them so I learn from them?”
One of the points of learning I had about that was a moment when I was six years old and I was going to get a Bible. We were going to this Unitarian church in Indiana and I was going to get a Bible for [having the] best attendance. And I told my mother, and she said, “No, no, honey—only the fourth graders are getting Bibles. You’re too little.”
So we sat in the back of the church to make room for the fourth graders and their families, and all the fourth graders got their little Bibles. And then the minister says, “And to Chrissie Baldwin, for best attendance, a new King James Bible.” At that point, I have to make my way down the pew, up the middle of the church, up to this man, and I shake his hands and thank him for the Bible, turn around, look over the audience, and made my mother meet [my] gaze and go, “See?”
And I have loved that story all my life for its sense of pluck and spunk and all those things. One time I was reciting it, and I burst into tears and started to cry. And so then I sat down and I wrote to myself, “Why did that happen?” What I unpacked by going underneath the social recitation level was this sense of, “I was too young to really cut myself off from the parental guidance that was available to me in that setting. But I did. I just said, ‘OK, it’s me and my spiritual journey, and we have to go figure this out by ourselves.’”
So after that, I began looking for different kinds of connectors between my own sense of spirituality and a framework that I could rejoin. Could I come back to some kind of sense of family about being a spiritual seeker?
So for me, that story had a monotrack that I went around, and if you asked me to tell a funny story about my childhood or something, I would tell that story, but only looking at it in a very shallow way. When I broke through into the tears, then I thought, “Oh, there is depth here [and] I haven’t asked myself what really occurred there that I’m remembering 20 or 30 years later.”
And when I realized that there was something—that I made a life decision in that moment that I could now rectify by bringing it into my own consciousness. And that little anecdotal story happens to be not a moment of victimization, but a moment that I defined as pluckiness—as being a spunky little girl with enough courage to walk to the front of the church. But it’s the depth and complexity of a moment we never forget, where the narrative is linked to all kinds of life decisions and choices.
TS: I think that what’s under my question here is—someone approaches personal writing, journal writing, and it can be done at a level of surface or at a level of great depth. And I’m wondering—in all of your many years of teaching people and working with people in their discovery of personal writing, journal writing—how do you help people go to these deeper levels of depth and not get stuck in the surface of the story?
CB: I think that the surface of the story, after a while, gets boring. It certainly has been boring to me. And so to keep on writing a journal—whether you’re writing it by hand or typing it onto a screen—you have to keep designing for yourself ways to stay interested in your own voice. And I don’t mean in this a narcissistic way. How do you come into your story at a level that’s the learning edge of it—that’s not quite set in place, where the mystery resides?
And so a lot of the things that I have done as a teacher have been to help people get out of that surface recitation. “I got up this morning, it’s a good day, the sun came out, I walked the dog, I went to work.” That does get kind of boring after 10 or 20 years, or sometimes after 10 or 20 minutes. So we just set it aside.
So one of the things that I do is I have developed this series of alternative ways to get to the page that just help people dive deeper. And one of them that I talk about in Lifelines is “flow writing,” where I go to the page with nothing in mind to write and I sit, I open my journal, take the cap off my pen, I close my eyes, and take a breath. And when I open my eyes, whatever my gaze falls on, I use that as the way in to a kind of stream of consciousness with myself.
So I’m sitting in my living room, having this conversation, and I open my eyes and there’s a lilac bush out the window in bloom. On the page, I would write, “Lilacs in bloom.” And then that is going to take me somewhere. So it may take me wandering through the campus of my college, which had lilac bushes everywhere. It may take me to living in St. Paul, Minnesota, which had alleys in which people had just planted these huge, old, lilac trees—and the smell of riding my bicycle through the alleyways in St. Paul in the spring.
So it’s a sensually based memory. And when I go in there—after a few minutes of talking about lilacs, I just may veer left and go off into some completely different conversation. But I’ve tapped into this stream of consciousness that’s underneath the social exchange, and that’s where the good material is.
TS: Now, in the program that you made with Sounds True, Lifelines, the subtitle of the program is How Personal Writing Can Save Your Life—which is, of course, a very strong subtitle. How Personal Writing Can Save Your Life. Do you feel there are times in your life where journal writing “saved your life”?
CB: Yes, definitely I do. I think there are times in my life that it has saved me psychologically. It’s funny, when you think of saving your life, you think about, “Well, here comes the truck bearing down the road,” but you don’t sit down and write in your journal, “I see a truck bearing down on me.” You get out of the way. But as soon as you’re out of the way, you begin to tell the story of your survival.
So journal writing is one of the first ways that people begin to make sense out of an experience and bring a psychological capacity to hold it. There have been studies done now that say not only does that reorganize us psychologically so that we have the capacity to take new and oftentimes very surprising events into ourselves and make room for them, but it also literally boosts the T-cell level in your blood so that you’re strengthening your immune system.
And over the years—I don’t know, I lost track at probably 10,000 people I’ve talked to about journal writing—but the majority of those people started writing in crisis. They come up to me over and over again and say, “I started a journal when my mother got Alzheimer’s; when my father died; when the divorce happened; when the kids went to college.” Whatever it is. But there was a big shift in their lives that disoriented their story and they needed a way of writing this lifeline—literally, to create space in themselves for this changed reality.
TS: Can you say a little bit more about what was happening in your life and how the journal writing process itself brought you psychological clarity?
CB: I have had, over the years, bouts with what I would call profound sorrow. I do not think of it as clinical depression. It’s not like I can’t get out of bed. But something has triggered my grief about the larger world and the larger story we live in, and I have had to really work with myself to reclaim my resilience.
For example, when the Gulf oil spill happened, [it] just happened to trigger in me this sense of, “We are not learning here. We are not learning fast enough about the need to change our relationship with the natural world.” That was in April, I think, and for at least six months after that, I wrote in the journal a lot about—I asked myself the question, “How am I going to retain my resilience in the face of continuing ecological disaster? And what can I do? What can I really do?”
And it also was a time—it was my 64th year, and I realized that that kind of grief work is also what I consider part of the role of an elder in a social setting. [I realized] that people, after five or six or seven decades of life, have lived through enough joy and sorrow, joy and sorrow, joy and sorrow, love and loss of love, health and ill health—all those things that happen to us—that it gives us a capacity to hold that breadth.
And in a way, I have said to my step-daughter and to my grandchildren, “It’s OK. I will hold that. I will hold some of that sorrow. You have business to do. You have business to raise these beautiful children. You children have a right to grow up. I’m going to hold some of this sorrow.” And once I found a place [where] I said, “This is an honorable thing for me to do,” the sorrow lessened.
I am willing to sit down at the edge of the water and cry. I am willing to interrupt my neighbors’ compulsive garden watering in the summer and go over and sit down with them and say to them, “You know, we have one well in this neighborhood. We need to care for it as a collective and not just assume that your neighbors don’t know that the faucets are on all night long. So how could we talk about this?”
So that, for me, was a very clear example of a time that I got hit in the gut—that I sat down and I wrote and wrote and wrote until I found the place that I could stand with this. And then it led to doable action.
TS: I’m curious—if someone’s listening right now and perhaps they feel some sorrow or despair in their life about something that’s happening, either in their life with their family or in the greater world—what would be your suggestions for how they could bring that to the page in some way?
CB: I think the most dynamic way to deal with those kinds of psychological moments on the page is to write in dialogue. Just do an X or an O, or just do “me,” “you,” [or] “me,” [or] “the grief.” And to do a question-and-response kind of writing. So I asked myself, “Why this event?” Or I asked myself, “What do you have to say to me, sorrow?”
Because the first thing I had to ask it is, “What is your name?” because I didn’t feel depressed. I had some despair, but we have a limited vocabulary in English for describing some of the subtleties of our own psychology. So I kept saying, “What is your name? What is your name?” And, finally, this name came to me, and this voice said to me, “My name is sorrow.” And I said, “Oh, I can be in dialogue with sorrow.” And so then I began writing back and forth. “What do you have to teach me? How can we work together? How can my feeling sorrowful be a strength?”
So I would encourage anyone listening to name this feeling, to name this as a relationship and to develop two voices for it in the journal. Sometimes, if people haven’t done this, they think it sounds a little strange or it sounds difficult. And it’s amazing—once you set up that dichotomy—how easily these two aspects of yourself will start to talk to one another.
TS: Now, sometimes when people are feeling a lot of despair, it’s hard to get the mojo going to do something like write a dialogue. And I’m curious how you’ve worked with that—like when you know writing would help you, but it feels like a big hurdle to make it to the journal.
CB: It’s a very good question to ask how to do that narrative on the page when you’re in a lot of chaos or sorrow, because one of the things that I believe have happened there is the story has fallen apart. So I’m carrying my life story like a glass bowl in my hands, and I offer it out to the world and people put things in it, and there’s this sense of engagement. And when we really get hit by a life event, we drop the bowl. Suddenly, we don’t have a story that we can move forward with, and the story we were carrying has been shattered.
So to get back into narrative can be very difficult. The way I deal with that is I work in collage. I start going to magazines and cutting out imagery—and I like to work in collage—so I save things and I have little piles of images tucked away in a craft drawer. And that’s how I begin putting the narrative back together—by imagery—and then just meditating on that imagery and finding my way through to, “I notice there’s a little bird that keeps showing up in three or four of these collages.” And then I might say, “So who’s the bird?” or, “What is the meaning of the bird to me?” And that gives me just enough to start down that verbal path again, to start writing in narrative.
TS: Now, one of the lines that I pulled out from your work that I quite liked is: “Despair and wonder are two sides of a spinning coin.” Can you talk a little bit about how journal writing has helped give you that insight?
CB: For me, wonder occurs in the most intimate micro level and the big, big macro level. So I can restore my sense of wonder if I sit down and really look at something that I pass by all the time. For example, [I see] just a flower, and I go, “Oh yes, the tulips are up,” And I keep going. But if I sit down and I look at something like that—or if you look at the fingernail on a baby’s hand, or something that’s very tiny, and you go, “This is amazing.” And we find ways to let ourselves be amazed.
And then wonder also happens for me when I go into the large scale: when I look at the stars; when I look at the mountains; when I was river rafting down the Colorado River a few years ago and looking at these columns of stone and thinking, “Human beings are so self-centric. We think this is our planet. We haven’t even been here long enough to make it into these stones. This is the planet of the stones.” And when I started, I did some really fun journal writing on that trip at night around the campfire. When I thought about, “This is the planet of the stones,” it just calmed me down and got me out of the human-centric view around everything that’s going on.
So that’s how I attach to the wonders: through the very small and the very large. And when I’m caught in some kind of chaotic, despairing cycle in the middle ground, then that’s where I go. I go tiny or I go huge.
TS: Now, Christina, you teach journal writing as a “spiritual practice.” And I wonder, what do you think makes journal writing a spiritual practice versus just journal writing?
CB: I think journal writing becomes a spiritual practice when we bring a kind of conscious view to the page. It’s possible to write a journal and not particularly grow yourself. But the kind of classes that I’ve taught and the people that I’ve engaged with over many years are people who have broken through that first level of writing and seen the larger self encoded in the words—or in moments of emotions on the page when they have delighted themselves on the page, or when they have fallen into some insight that may have caused them to cry while writing.
As soon as someone has had that kind of experience, they have a way to attach to their own conscious growth. So now, when I sit down and write, I oftentimes start with nature as the doorway into myself—because of the place that I have my journal writing set up in my house and how I look out the window and what I get to see from my window view, which is a very nature-oriented view of trees and water and my lilac bush.
So I do a weather report. I talk about what the day looks like. And somehow, that takes me into, “And what does the interior day look like? What is the inside weather? How am I? What am I setting out to do today?” And so in the classes, we keep talking about creating this thread between the reportage and the interior possibility of what we could write about.
TS: So it sounds like—for you—part of what defines the spiritual practice component is this checking in with the inner experience. Is that the defining part?
CB: I think that’s an essential part to it, yes—checking into the inner reality, and not necessarily letting it rule us all day. Because emotion is weather, and it passes through us. We have a reaction to something that may be bothering us, but the next interaction can pull us out of there and into a place [where] we go, “Oh, now I’m over here. That’s good.”
So emotion is a very fluid, weather-y kind of experience. Touching into the inner reality can be very helpful, and then I ask myself, “Is this where I want to be?” If not, how do I shift it? How do I move my waking up a little out of sorts about X, Y, or Z, and say, “How could I turn that perception around and see it as a gift—be done with it or do something else more creative with it?”
The other part of this—besides touching into that inner space—is slowing down enough to touch that inner space. In my own writing and in the groups that I’m working with, that is the biggest challenge we are all facing right now. We are increasingly attached to and addicted to these instant feedback machines—where you want to Google it and you’re there. I open up my laptop in the morning and if I have not turned off my mail program, all the emails come at me—even if I was on my way to a quieter place.
So I want to do any kind of creative writing on my computer, I make sure that my wifi is turned off so that I can just go where I was planning to go. One of the ways that I stay slowed down in my journal writing is that I do it by hand. I keep it separated from the techno-pace of the world. I enjoy the fact that it’s slower—that my hand is always working to catch up with my thoughts. Those kinds of things. But it’s about pace and then knowing you have an inner life to touch.
TS: Now, in the Lifelines program, one of the things you talk about is how to write from an embodied place, so we’re not just writing from a mental layer of looking at our life. Can you talk some about that—how to write from an embodied position?
CB: Well, I love to write sensually. I love to write from inside my body—and to me, nature is a very embodied place. So I will oftentimes go out and sit on the porch of my house while writing and note the quality of the day: the temperature, the air, whatever is going on out there. Or the birdsong, or the dog barking, or whatever’s happening in the neighborhood—it becomes part of my writing.
And I like to write in language that is very physical in its origin. And it’s not so much like, “I wake up this morning and my fingertip hurts or doesn’t hurt or I cut it yesterday.” It’s not that kind of micro-reporting, writing about the body. But it’s really being in the world with the world. Some of my favorite journal writing is to just go up to the state park near our house and sit under a tree and just write.
Because there’s something about being outside in the nature that influences where I go with the story. I don’t sit there and write about trees for an hour, but I feel grounded, and I’ll make reference to, “I’m in the state park. I’m sitting under this tree, and I can almost feel the sap rising and the nutrients falling. How great [is that]?” And then I go on with whatever I’m going to say.
TS: So when you say that you like to use a lot of physical language, do you mean that you like to really tune in through all of your senses and report on what your senses are experiencing?
CB: I like to put the senses on the page, so it’s more metaphoric writing. So if I’m sitting under a tree, I may ask myself, “How am I like this tree?” Or, “How is the path that’s going around the corner and through the woods like my life right now?” And so I use the physical metaphor that’s around me to shape the narrative.
I remember one time I was on the Pacific Coast, and I came across this huge boulder. And it was a time in my life when I was feeling that I’d given everything I had. I just needed to lean up against this rock and I may have cried a little bit—I don’t remember, it was a long time ago. But I remember leaning up against this rock and saying, “I am so tired.” And this rock laughed and said, “You’re tired?! I’m getting hit by the Pacific Ocean 24 hours a day, and I’m standing here.”
But it wasn’t a discounting of my experience, but it [was] like this rock and I had this little imaginary dialogue. And then I went away from the surf a little bit, where I could whip out my journal and continue that kind of metaphor. So it was a very embodied metaphor, in which I brought my tiredness to the rock, and the rock—through an internal voice that [was] rising up out of me—gives me back a different way of carrying what I was carrying and going forward.
TS: Now, one of the exercises that you offered on the Lifelines program—that I thought was really quite unique and special—you called, “Writing from the Dark Eye and the Light Eye.” And I wonder if you could explain that exercise for our listeners?
CB: It’s another way of being in dialogue and creating a third place for you to stand. So we’re living in a time right now when there’s a lot of light and a lot of dark going on. So we look into a life event and see something that’s larger than us, and I will say, “Oh, there’s a lot of dark eye/light eye happening here.” And for me, the most interesting story is not what’s happening on the news in the 24 hours—or whatever that the media eye is focused on—but how are people involved in that story going to carry it forward?
So I actually had a chance to work with a man on our island about this, who had been out trying out a new motor on a little boat. I think he had gotten it for Christmas or something. He’s out there and he’s in the water, in January, trying to get this motor to work. He pulls on the cord very hard, and much to his surprise, the motor jerks to life and throws him overboard. So now he’s in very cold water and he’s got about 15 minutes. And the ferry that connects where I live to the mainland happened to go by, see this happen, veered off course, and in the nick of time, pull him out of the water.
I didn’t know him, but three months later, I’m meeting him, and he’s telling me, “Yes, I was that guy. I was the guy who made the news, who fell in the water.” So I gave him this dark eye/light eye, and I said, “What is the dark eye?” And he said, “The dark eye is I knew I was going to die, and I decided to cinch up my life jacket and die with hypothermia rather than drowning. That was my choice in the dark eye moment.” And I said, “What’s the light eye?” He said, “The light eye is all of a sudden I heard the ferry boat horn and I knew somebody was coming.”
Then he said, “And then the dark eye is—so now how do I grow beyond this near-death experience? And the light eye is what I have learned about the preciousness of my life, my marriage, my work. And then the dark eye is—” And so he just kept rotating those back and forth in conversation, and I don’t know if he ever went and wrote them down, but it really worked for him in the moment. So I learned from him that I could do that too, that I could look with the dark eye and the light eye. And when I do that on the page, suddenly I realize, “Well, I am writing both those things. So I’m in a third position that is conscious and aware.”
TS: So I could take any event in my life and alternate between writing from the dark eye for a period of time and then switch—and that would be the way to approach this?
CB: I think so. Do it and let me know how it works.
TS: OK. Another technique that you offered that I thought was very cool was something that you called “God-alogues.” And I wonder if you could share with our listeners how to write a God-alogue.
CB: A “God-alogue” is a pretty presumptuous statement, but I do love the terminology of it. I love the word. For me, a God-alogue is to write directly to Spirit so that when I am needing help with something, like, “Please help here!” I can break that monologue in the journal. “I really need help with this, I don’t know where help is, how might help come?”—all of those things that we have a tendency to write in the journal—all of a sudden I say, “Well, why don’t you just take a breath and see what Spirit has to say back to you?”
For me, the word “God” doesn’t connote a particular tradition as much as it’s a portal—it’s a code word into whatever feeds you. So I don’t have it attached to a lot of dogma, but I just say, “OK, God, here’s where I need help. What do you need me to notice?” And then something responds. There’s like an inner wisdom that responds when you ask a direct question like that—or at least for me that’s been true, and for many, many people [as well]. And I get this dialogue going back and forth. It tends to be really helpful because I have given space and a name to some kind of interior voice of guidance and authority.
TS: And then one final exercise that I’d love to have you describe on the Lifelines program [is] an exercise for creating your future.
CB: The exercise for creating your future is connected to that whole idea of writing with embodiment. So to create a sense of my future, I will ask myself, “Where do I want to be five years from now?” And the first thing that I begin to recite is based in the body. I say, “I want to be living in my home. I want to be healthy.” Or not even “I want,” but, “It is five years from now. I am living in my home. I am healthy. I am gardening. I am able to ride my bicycle the two miles to town to the health club and then back.”
And I begin to build the world of five years from now, starting with my body and my sense of well-being and placement. Maybe you’re living in a place that you don’t want to be in five years. So then you say, “Five years from now, I have moved to New Hampshire.” You begin to really put yourself there and put your state of well-being there.
And then the next layer of questions is, “Who is there with you?” And so I begin to say, “My beloved partner is with me. We have a dog. The grandchildren live nearby.” Whatever that is, and I just begin to build that world. And then, “What am I doing?” So I begin to build that world.
Then there’s also in there—because this is a spiritual practice—“And what am I serving? How am I being of service? How am I being sustained?” because service is a reciprocal thing. “What do I give my community? What does my community offer me in exchange?” And putting that out there begins to build a thread between where we are now and the intentionality of where we want to go.
TS: Very helpful. Now, Christina, one thing I’d love to hear you talk about is in the Lifelines series, you talk about what it was like for you when you read the diary of Anne Frank, and how that influenced you. In the context of this conversation about how personal writing can save your life, I’d love to know about what your experience of encountering the diary of Anne Frank was like for you and how it influenced you.
CB: At the time that I was in school—in I think it was eighth grade—the diary of Anne Frank was assigned reading in the curriculum. I think this was true across the United States, just from the response I’ve had from other people. And I don’t know if it’s still true. I hope it is.
But at that point, when I was 14 years old, and I was reading the story of another girl my age, several things clicked open in me. One is: I didn’t know you could have a voice—really a voice—on the page. I had been writing little reports up until that time in school, but no one ever talked about a voice on the page. And I thought, “Wow, this girl has such a voice!”
So I began to sit down and try to find my own voice on the page. And one of the things that I encountered very quickly was an awareness that I didn’t have much voice—that I was living in a family system and a social system that didn’t talk about very much. If I was going to start talking about big, deep issues—which Anne Frank broke through in the isolation of her time hiding from the Nazi occupation. She had nothing else to do but this, really—to develop a thought process that matured her very fast and very far.
And I sat down to try to copy that. It took me quite awhile. Nobody looking at my journal as an eighth-grader and Anne Frank’s journal would go, “Oh, this girl has a lot of potential.” I mean, I was just trying to break through all the silences around me. And one of the things that’s happened between the time that I was 14 and until now is that 99% of those silences have been broken.
We live in a saturated story, media, YouTube-y environment in which I can’t think of a topic that isn’t probably out there being discussed somewhere. But that doesn’t always make it easier for the individual person to discover voice. I think one of the clearest examples of this are some of those rather heart-rending little YouTube videos—often of teenagers with 3x5 cards in front of themselves with one or two words that go, “Hello. I am Jason. I am bullied at school. Here is my story.”
And they’re doing this kind of amazing little journal blog right there on YouTube. But they’re breaking into voice, and that same struggle is there. I think that Anne Frank is a profound model of that moment when we claim who we are.
TS: And here, now, many decades later in your life—you’re now approaching 70, is that correct?
CB: I’m 67.
TS: 67. When you think of your own legacy, through your writing and teaching—I’d be curious to know what your reflections are on that.
CB: I think the work that I have done through Lifelines—and I’m so glad it’s in an MP3 file now, as the technology has changed. I think we did it first on cassettes, then CDs, and now the MP3 file. That is a document that is timeless, and so is Life’s Companion, upon which this course is based. And out of the Lifelines experience and Life’s Companion, I wrote a book called Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives Through the Power and Practice of Story. And those three documents—to me—will go on without me. I don’t need to keep them alive.
And I love it that there’s a cadre of people—I was just in conversation this morning with a woman who said, “Is it OK with you if I use this as the primary text in my college course?” And I’m going, “That’s why it’s there—to give you excitement about that.” And I think that the documents are designed to hold up the power of story as a healer, as a teacher, as a liberator. And that in the midst of all the stuff that’s going on around us now, I want that to be one clear thread that just keeps making context and sense out of our experience as we go forward in time.
TS: And then I just want to ask you one final question, Christina. You talk about your journal as a companion and writing as a relationship—such an important relationship in your life. And at this point, if you had to say, “Here’s how I would characterize my relationship with writing,” how would you characterize this relationship?
CB: My relationship with the journal is: here is a place that never gets tired of me. I may be tired—period—because of other things going on in my life. But here’s a place that if all I do is sit down and write two sentences, it is a little thumbtack into my consciousness that says, “I paused; I reflected; I had a thought.”
So the journal really is this life companion. I can’t tell you how many thousands of miles I have carried the current notebook with me going, “Well, maybe I’ll have 20 minutes and a latte on the plane. Maybe I’ll have a few moments that I want to reflect on something when I get where I’m going. Maybe I’ll put the notes from the meeting in here so that I’ll always be able to find them, because if I put them electronically, they disappear. If I put them on loose-leaf paper, I eventually go, ‘What are these things?’ and chuck them. But if they’re in my journal, they become part of the narrative.”
So there’s this little book—and I see people doing this more and more on iPads and tablets because they can do handwriting and stylus work and doodles and things. And that’s totally fine. For me, I just want to keep writing by hand, using colored pencils and collage and pen on the page. But it’s always there. And it’s a way that I can just stop and re-center and re-ground myself in the midst of everything that’s happening.
TS: “Your journal never tires of you.” I like that line a lot, that’s beautiful.
CB: I tire of me sometimes, if I’m in one of those rabbit traps, you know? But the journal is just patient and waiting.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Christina Baldwin. With Sounds True, she has created an audio learning series called Lifelines: How Personal Writing Can Save Your Life, and it includes many, many exercises called “lifelines” that you can use to jumpstart and nourish and support a practice of personal writing. Christina, thank you so much for being with us on Insights at the Edge.
CB: It’s great. Thank you, Tami.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.