When I opened YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers, I felt that I had been invited to join a circle of intimate friends. There’s a voice to this practical and inspirational guide that made me immediately trust that the book would lead me some place special. I contacted the author, B. Lynn Goodwin, and asked if she could tell me more about the book and how it came to be.
MM: The book encourages caregivers to put on their own oxygen mask first. How did that image come to you?
BLG: I’d love to tell you it was original, but the truth is that Sybil Lockhart, who wrote a memoir called Mother in the Middle, suggested it to me. The minute I heard it, I knew she was right. She was a caregiver for her mother, and you might want to check out her book as well.
MM: Caregivers are often advised to take care of themselves. I had people tell me I should get my nails done or go to a day spa. That’s often not possible, given a caregiver’s day-to-day responsibilities. Can you explain how this book could help caregivers who can’t leave the house?
BLG: You can write about fantasies as well as frustrations. Let your writing go where it wants to go, without worrying about structure or form. Let your mind skip around. You’re getting to what you really want to say, and you may not know what that is when you start.
MM: Do you think that something about caregiving turns caregivers into “voiceless” beings?
BLG: It depends on who you are and who you care for. It depends on how badly you want to please the person you’re helping and how open that person is to your ideas. It’s hard for an unmarried daughter to parent her mother. It can also be rewarding. Sometimes it’s simpler to be “voiceless,” but if it’s turning you into a child or an emotional wreck, you need to reclaim your voice. Writing helps, because a journal doesn’t interrupt.
MM: The open-ended prompts lead readers gently into rooms they might not have occupied for quite a while, namely the rooms of their own legitimate needs and feelings. How did you choose these particular prompts?
BLG: I’d used some of them with my free writing group, the one Sybil Lockhart is in. Others came to me as sentences I’d like to finish or sentences I needed to finish. For several years I used sentence starts to help my tenth grade students journal, so I knew they worked in an open-ended way. If a sentence start doesn’t work, look around the room for any sensory image, like the dull drone of a commercial blaring from the TV in the next room. Start there, and see where it takes you. Make leaps. Or comparisons. Or let your mind take you into unknown territory.
MM: One section I particularly like is called “Thoughts About Reclaiming Myself.” This struck me as an extremely wise section. It suggests a future. It suggests that life will get back to normal. Do you think the prompts here are good ones for people who are still caregivers?
BLG: Absolutely. I am living proof that life will get back to normal. I shut down my world to help my mother. When I reopened it, I found new paths. Writing helped me imagine a future and kept me from feeling like I was trapped in an endless loop.
MM: Can you say more about the benefits of writing for fifteen minutes a day, the time frame you suggest in the book?
BLG: Writing for fifteen minutes can clear your mind. It’s like erasing a white board. Once it’s clear, you start again. You let go of what was there (the obsession du jour) and you start fresh. You process. You have enough time to complete a thought but not so much time that you feel the process will never end. If fifteen minutes doesn’t work, try ten or twenty. Write enough to get your thoughts out, but leave yourself wanting more. If you’re eager to share a journal entry, feel free to send it to me at Lgood67334@comcast.net. I’ll tell you what’s already working in the writing. If you ask for help, I may be able to guide you to resources.
MM: Is there a reason for recovering caregivers to use your book after their loved one is gone?
BLG: Once your loved one is gone, you have more time for reflection. It’s a great time to recall both good and bad moments. A relationship doesn’t end when a person dies. I wrote a letter to my mother yesterday while sitting in a restaurant where we used to eat lunch after she had her hair done. I’d just had lunch with my husband, whom I’d met ten years after she was gone. I had a lot to say, and the form opened me up so that I felt like I was talking to her. It was very freeing.
If you are a writer dealing with imaginary people, try letting your characters journal. Use the sentence starts in the book. I can practically guarantee your characters will become more three-dimensional.
MM: What are you working on now?
BLG: I had a YA novel (young adult) called Talent picked up by Eternal Press. It should be out in 2015. I’m working on a memoir about getting married for the first time at age sixty-two. I continue to coach writers, and publish Writer Advice. Check out our latest interviews, reviews, and contests at www.writeradvice.com.