I am pleased to interview writer and poet Louise Mathewson. She is the author of short stories, narrative essays, and poems, and her work has been published in numerous magazines, journals and anthologies – including the first volume of the bestselling book series, Cup of Comfort.
While Louise has always written about the sacred moments in everyday experiences, today those experiences hold even deeper meaning. In February 2003 she emerged from a two-week coma following an auto-accident in which she suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Though a struggle at first, Louise returned to her writing as soon as she was able. She has since used her writing (and poetry in particular) to help her cope with the physical effects of the accident, recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder, and in the emotional part of her healing process.
Her new book, A Life Interrupted: Living with Brain Injury, is a collection of poems that chronicle her recovery from the brain-damaging car accident. Included are journal therapy writing prompts and other resources Louise found helpful in transcending trauma.
Be sure to check out Louise’s website, www.louisemathewson.com, where you can read an excerpt of her new book.
MIR: When did you start writing and journaling?
LM: I started writing back in the 80’s when I went through a hard time after my parents died. I rewrote each psalm as if it were my own prayer and plea to God. It was such a relief to get some words out of my head in the privacy of a journal. I stopped when that period of change took me as far as it could. Then in the late 90’s I worked at a church and started writing little stories for the bulletin each Sunday. When I moved out of town, the minister who gave few compliments, told me it was clear I was a good writer. I knew since he was a gifted writer, and short on compliments, that I needed to pay attention. And so when we moved I took writing workshops and looked for writers’ groups to develop that side of myself. Then a couple years after the accident, I decided it was time to get back to writing, but could not pick up a pen or paper. This troubled me and so I found a writing mentor who gave me easy directions that helped me get back to writing. Writing about my injury was such an enormous relief and then to have someone to talk to about what I had written, made me feel like I had a witness for all the pain. Sometimes we need a witness for our grief and I sure did!
MIR: How does writing, and journaling in particular, help you to cope with the effects of your traumatic brain injury?
LM: Journaling allows me to get feelings and thoughts out of my head and to write in the privacy of my journal without fear of judgment. I find that when I get the chaos and energy of feelings about what happened or what happens today out of my head, my brain is clearer and works much better. Then I get new thoughts, ideas, things that amaze me. I also find that I get to know myself better, and find inside me is a treasure of wisdom. The hurt, pain, sadness, anger, shame, all the hard feelings of loss are not so polite, but are part of any grief process, however I find that they act as messengers about my deeper self. As I dig in the dirty ground of loss, I discover new layers of myself and below those layers lies wisdom.
MIR: What is your writing and journaling process? Do you write or journal every day?
LM: My process is to write in the morning, which I most often do by getting out of the house away from all the household distractions that keep me away from tending to my deeper self. (However, sometimes I write a little before I go to bed.) I often go to Starbucks, get a decaf with a couple pumps of chocolate, put on my iPod with Creative Mind by Jeffrey Thompson. With those comforts around me, I then check in with my inside landscape where sometimes I find meat for a poem. I also keep a ‘Dear Wise One’ journal, where I write about concerns and then ask questions of my deeper self. The amazing thing that has happened to me is that a voice responds with simple things to help me cope with whatever concerns I have. One day it was to make a list, simple, but it was such a relief to hear an answer that was such a big help! It often takes a few days of doing that to find that there is a wise voice inside that listens to us and will respond. I also have my favorite pens and favorite journal – I love Miquel Rius journals sold at Barnes and Noble, in which each page has ½” of color, most are like a rainbow of colors as you flip through the pages! I love color, so using that journal really motivates me to write!! I write most days, except when my routine gets disrupted by travel. So I work to get back to my old routine when we land, because journaling time with myself is such a comfort.
MIR: Besides being a writer, you are also a certified Journal to the SelfⓇ instructor. What has Journal to the SelfⓇ meant for you, both personally and professionally?
LM: Ahhh, I learned some techniques for journaling that have been immensely helpful and I use consistently. I also met an amazing group of fellow journal writers and am still in contact with them through the journaling group online. It is a place where I can ask for help and always receive some suggestions. If someone else has an issue, sometimes I will have an experience or idea to offer. It is an amazing virtual support group for those who see the benefits of writing and those who want to share that passion with the world, like me!
MIR: What is your favorite journaling technique?
LM: It’s hard to say which is my favorite technique. I love clustering, listing, writing to my wise self, and I also love writing from springboards. I also love writing nearly daily to “Dear Wise One.”
MIR: Do you have a writing prompt for us today?
LM: My favorite one is “I reclaim,” how about trying that and see where it takes you! You can use memories of items you had as a child, teen or young adult or you can use present day events.
MIR: Write about something you want to reclaim in your life. Thanks, Louise! It’s been a pleasure talking with you.
LM: Thanks, Marianne, for this opportunity to “speak” to your readers.