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High on Stories
Reveling in the transformative power of writing
One of the most intense highs I’ve ever experienced came from a Zoom call. I’m talking raised body temperature, buzzy feeling of euphoria, heart beating so strongly I could both feel it in my limbs and hear it in my ears. High!
This happened in February during the culmination of what we at Foster call a Season. Which, on the face of it, is a series of workshops and community meetups designed to help you deepen your writing practice, but it’s also been described as “a psychedelic experience.”
The Zoom call in question was the Season’s Closing Ceremony, during which each participant reported back on what truths they’d uncovered, what they’d written about, and the impact doing so had made on them.
Over the course of 90 minutes, I watched in amazement as one-by-one the writers talked about the incredible things that had happened over the previous five weeks. One man wrote more honestly about his relationship to his body than he ever had, and about how he learned to accept his disability. Another wrote about a troubling experience she’d had while working as an apprentice to an influential healer. One person came out of the closet! There were small but no less significant breakthroughs as well – someone wrote poetry for the first time, and another finally updated his Twitter bio to reflect the different path his career had taken after selling his startup.
What each writer had in common was that they’d found the courage and support to articulate something they’d been working toward for years. And that the experience of doing so had profoundly changed them, making them feel magnificently alive.
Hearing story after story of liberation and the shedding of old selves felt like a heatwave in my body. High! Without drugs! I got up from the call vibrating with energy, and with a lump in my throat from the sheer magnitude of the emotions present in the room. I had to go outside to walk around for an hour to calm myself down.
I had always suspected we were onto something at Foster. But that was when I knew it.
For contrast, here’s another scene: me, at 32, knowing to my bones that writing was something I had to do, but not understanding how to believe in myself enough to pursue it. Starting to write a story and then abandoning it. Being barely able to read over what I’d written myself, let alone share it with others.
I remember watching the pilot episode of the show “Girls,” where Lena Dunham’s character famously says, “I think that I may be the voice of my generation.” I couldn’t fathom having the balls to even think that, much less say it out loud to another human. I needed balls! But how to get them?
One afternoon, as I stalked the shelves at Pasadena’s wonderful Vroman’s bookstore, I came across a book called “The Courage to Write.” Holy shit, I thought. At least I’m not the only one who feels that way!
I bought it, but I was embarrassed about even owning it. If I needed this kind of help, didn’t that tell me already that I was hopeless?
This was, of course, a symptom of a larger problem: I didn’t believe myself capable or worthy of being the kind of writer I wanted to be. Deep down, I didn’t believe myself worthy of a lot of things.
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a girl. An insatiable reader from an early age, one of my childhood nicknames was “Billie Jean Reads a Book” because that was usually where I could be found. My logic was basically this: Writers were the ones who created the stories. Stories gave us endless possibilities, entertainment, and infinite ways and reasons to live. Therefore, what could be better than being one of the people behind them?
I steadily pursued my goal. I wrote for my high school and college newspapers, and in my 20’s I cracked off reams of writing on behalf of my PR clients. From those experiences I gained confidence about doing journalistic and professional writing, but what I really wanted to do was write about my life. Which was absolutely terrifying. I found endless ways to tell myself I wasn’t good enough to even attempt it, and that no one would ever care. It was like having one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake.
I still managed to move forward, and took dozens of workshops in the craft of creative nonfiction from incredible teachers. My writing got so much better! Slowly, I built up a body of work that I was proud of, and by the time I was in my early 40’s, I had the confidence to start writing an email newsletter. By then I had come to the conclusion that while my writing may not be perfect, I had things to say that were worth sharing.
It was a hunch that paid off. That was in 2018, and now five years later I have a modest but growing audience on Substack. I’ve made friends, attracted coaching and brand strategy clients, and been invited to speak at events and on podcasts, among other things. It’s opened up my world in ways I would never have predicted. Most importantly, I have a place to share my work with people who want to read it.
I won’t lie, all those years of craft instruction and messy drafts were critical to me getting to where I am now. I had to put in the reps, and I learned a lot of nuts and bolts techniques and tactics that raised the quality of my work.
But what I now know is that I would likely have progressed more quickly had I had instruction on the less tangible stuff — how to have patience with myself as a developing writer, how to be OK with my work not measuring up to my own standards, how to not take criticism so personally, how to write on days I really didn’t feel like it, and how to just. keep. going. Most importantly, I learned to trust that showing up and doing my best was the most important part of the process.
Those were lessons I had to learn separately. Because let me tell you, the aforementioned issue I had with not believing in myself? That was something I had to work on as well.
During all those years I was learning the craft of writing, I was also learning the craft of being human. Through therapy, meditation, Zen practice, yoga, and other modalities, I was learning to take care of myself, to process emotions, to communicate my needs, to have healthier relationships, and to strengthen my connection with something greater than myself. So many things that are necessary for human flourishing that we’re not often taught.
As I discovered, a lot of those kinds of lessons are what help you develop as a writer as well. And that furthermore, the writing itself helps you get better at the humaning!
That’s why I’m so excited about what we’re doing at Foster. We’re cultivating the kind of community that I wish I’d had when I was just starting to take myself seriously as a creative writer.
We’re creating spaces that give writers tools and instruction in both the craft of writing and the psychology behind it. Using techniques like meditation, somatic experiencing, visualization, improvisation, breathwork, and more, we’re spreading the word that the practice of writing itself is one of the most reliable tools we have to root ourselves into more truthful, nourishing lives. And we’re doing it together, having seen over and over that doing this work alongside each other is what helps us stay committed, energized, and inspired.
And sometimes, it even gets you high.
On October 16th, Foster is kicking off Season 4: A More Beautiful Question. Together, we’ll approach our writing practice not as a means of providing Answers, but as a way of inhabiting the Questions that matter to us. We’ll seek to dance with uncertainty instead of treating it as a problem to be solved. We’ll explore, play, and be in conversation with something larger than ourselves. And when it’s all said and done, we’ll each hit publish on a piece of writing that’s crackling with our energy and humanity. Care to join us?