Tag Archives: empathy

Impersonation. Empathy.

After writing a memoir and spending a year promoting it, I’m taking the chill of autumn and getting back to the craft I’ve been working on for 20 years and that’s fiction writing. I love fiction. Some people say, “I don’t read fiction. It’s not real.” To me fiction is realer than real. It’s distilled reality. The characters are not beholden to what actually happened in a room. Their words and feelings and actions tap into the collective We. And the act of climbing into that collective We as a writer and as a reader, requires the most important character trait I know: empathy. Without empathy, how can we love? Without empathy, how can we learn? How else am I to know what it is like to be a man, or a soldier, or a quadriplegic, or a Queen four hundred years ago?

People ask me often why I broke out of fiction to be the main character in a book. Well I think that sometimes people need to know that the main character exists in the world, to know that they are not alone. And as a writer, I needed to be the main character because I needed to create that kind of objectivity for myself during a challenging time in my marriage. I needed to write subjectively as an act of pure creation and catharsis, and then I needed to hold up the mirror to myself in reading it and wearing my editor’s cap. But memoir is limited. Though it’s still crafted and architectural, while you are still out on scaffoldings building your book, you are limited to reality. Back in the realm of fiction, I am free. I can climb into the mind and heart and actions of a 19 year old farrier from Montana and see the world through his eyes. In my comings and goings, I am back in that place of watching people move and talk and learning about that collective We. Maybe a certain turn of phrase might make it into my work. Or a gesture. Or a smell. Writers mine their lives. Hopefully we do it responsibly and hopefully we do it with compassion. It begins, however, by being empathetic. To a fault sometimes, tis true.

Here is a brilliant display of empathy. There is no way that Kevin Spacey became this good at these pitch-perfect impersonations, without studying these people he’s impersonating with a sharp dedication to the collective We, and years of developing his Empathy muscle. Enjoy this stunning performance.


Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts


Okay—I’m back.  Suitcase still sitting in the corner of my bedroom.  Mouse droppings all over my office.  River birches flaxen.  Dark cool mornings.  Silence at night save for coyotes and the occasional logging truck down-shifting out on the road.  Ahhhh…home sweet home.


My New York, Hartford, and Chicago area events were all a success, and by that I mean that I felt the love.  From high school students at my alma mater, to the women who helped raise me, now in their 70s, to friends I hadn’t seen in 20 years, to the many supportive fans who came out and said hi…it was quite frankly, a love fest.  And love fests are a good thing.

But they don’t necessarily cure claustrophobia.  As many of you know, I took a stand for myself recently in this regard, knowing that I was going to spend the next little while in elevators and airplanes and subways and buses.  Things with doors that close and don’t provide easy answers to opening them.  It was getting in my way and I wrote about it here on my blog.  In short, I was limiting myself.  I was spending hundreds of extra dollars to not have to take small planes or stay in hotels that required an elevator.   And when I couldn’t find one, I was walking up and down 15 flights of stairs in business attire, trying not to trip over my boots on lonely, dirty stairwells–and arriving to every meeting in a full sweat.  I was carrying around anti-anxiety meds just in case.  It was exhausting.


I was embarrassed and fed up and I called on the help of my new friend the wonderful therapist La Belette Rouge to share her wisdom.  She told me about EMDR, and after hearing her success story, I promptly scheduled four appointments with a local practitioner.  I wasn’t sure if it was working at the time.  Though I recalled intense early childhood memories including crying in my crib and what it was like to actually be stuck in the elevator in the John Hancock building at age five.  I didn’t do much research before I signed up for the sessions, mostly because I didn’t want to walk in a doubter.  I just wanted to get “better.”  And I’m happy to report…that I think I did.

Here’s what happened for me:  in every re-processing of my traumatic memories with the bi-tonal sounds in my ears and the vibrating paddles in my hands, I was able to see that nothing contains you.  You contain you.  Life is no better on the outside of where you are.  And short of a lifetime in prison, you can usually get out, eventually, from where you are.  And when you can’t, I’d hope for the grace to call upon the container that is me, and find solace there.

What I really got to see and feel is the amount of exhaustion that comes with drama, not unlike the driving forces of my book.  The payoff to engaging in the drama is thin compared to the freedom of non-reaction.  It’s less spiritual (though I’d like it to be moreso) than it simply is self-preservation.  It’s easier to sit on an airplane and not be staring at the door wondering when they’re going to close it, thinking about how hard it would be to get them to open it again and let you out.  It’s easier to stand in the elevator and think about what the woman next to you is wearing, or how your next appointment is going to go, or what you want for lunch, than invent and indulge a 70s horror film that has you in a blackout, stuck with a birthing woman and an axe murderer.  It just is.  I spent $500.00 to figure this out.  Well worth it.  I recommend it highly.


But here’s something else I learned.  I’m not particularly nice to myself.  In watching those mental movies they ask you to re-live in EMDR as you re-program your mind, I wasn’t often that able to be my own gentle mother.  I told myself at every turn to buck up.  Suck it up.  That there are far worse problems.  And guess what:  it doesn’t do a damn thing but make matters worse.

Mostly I was okay on this trip. I got into elevators and small planes and subways without incident, and when I started to engage those old patterns of thinking, I was gentle with myself, using the methods they teach you in EMDR. But more than being a spokesperson for those methods…my larger message is to be gentle with yourself.  If you need to take the stairs up nine floors, oh well.  It’ll be good exercise.  If you need to talk the person’s ear off next to you in the airplane, so be it.  They’ll survive.  Go gentle into that dark night.  And call it good.


Filed under City Hits, My Posts