A Story about Writing Stories

Mary Muirhead

At Sister Triangle, we are always encouraging people to write – with mixed motives, I’ll admit. Besides sharing the joy that each of us Books
experiences when we write for our readers, we are constantly on the lookout for new voices, because each voice is unique, just as each story is unique.

Words provide the glue that binds family and friends together over great distances and over the years. I’m thankful for the many local history books that have been published here on the prairies, and as I get older, and hang out more with my grandchildren, I want them to know and appreciate the stories that belong to our family, our culture, and our faith.

A family story: my mother used to talk about her Aunt Oline (pronounced Olina), married to Onund, her mother’s brother. Mother was the youngest, and the shyest, of the three Jelsing girls, and Aunt Oline really believed that our grandmother should have given mother to her, because she had no children. Grandma Jelsing would have none of it. Mother was definitely Aunt Oline’s favourite, and she died the day before mum married our dad, of whom she did not approve. I’m not sure of the point of that story. Maybe, it’s about family attitudes at the turn of the last century. Maybe, it’s about choices. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by it, as mother told it, and I roll it around in my mind.

A thoughtful story
not too long before retreat this year I received a note out of the blue, as we say. It was written by a sister with whom we had worked at Western Christian College, and whom I had known as a young girl. She was/is one of the beautiful Morgan girls from Carman, Manitoba. She told of having a book on her shelf for many years. It was my father’s “Life” of the apostle Paul, written all in poetry; which was why she said it had been sitting so long on the shelf.

Nevertheless, she took down the book, found it easy to read, and enjoyed it. Then she picked up her pen and wrote me a note telling how she enjoyed it. What a sweet thing to do! I felt blessed by her memory of my dad, and her thoughtfulness. The gratitude I felt, however, was mixed with respect for my friend who actually practised what I preached! By way of thanks, I need to do better.

A success story: when I was in school, there was this girl. I always felt inadequate around her, although I was, even then, quite sure that she didn’t intend to do so. It just continued to bug me, even though our paths have never crossed since that time. I would think about her and wonder what was the matter with me to make her look down on me? To be fair I can only consult my own feelings. She may not have felt critical at all, but I have to deal with my feelings, whether they are irrational or not.

So I thought, “Why don’t I write about it?” I grabbed a pen and sat down for a half hour, examining my memories, and bringing up my past insecurities to see if I could make sense of them – which I didn’t do. But I did something better; I realized that I don’t need to understand, I am just fine as I am right now! In fact I feel a little silly sharing this story; the solution was so simple.

A challenging story: are you up for a challenge? It’s guaranteed not to be painful, or take up too much of your time. The minutes pass quickly, and you stop after a twenty-minute session.

For 20 years or so, Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, has been giving this assignment:

Write down your deepest feeling about an emotional upheaval in your life for 15 or 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days.

Those who do this writing exercise profit from it in many areas of their lives. Their overall health improves, their marks improve, and even their immune systems perform better.

You can read more about Dr. Pennebaker by googling ‘Writing to Heal’. There is a lot of similar information online, some very close to home. The Saskatchewan Writers Guild has partnered with Canadian Mental Health Association to create a program called “Write for Your Life”. It is headed up by the professor and author Dr. Ted Dyck, the “Word Doctor”.

An encouraging story: at a not-so-long-ago consultation with the above mentioned Word Doctor, he was very impressed with our magazine, its motto, and the fact that we had been publishing it successfully for so many years. I think we may take a moment to be proud of our efforts, and our relationships as sisters. Well done all! Let us not grow weary in well doing.

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