Sometimes, the question is not so much why as how
Some may think us presumptuous to have founded 14 Black Poppies on proverbs that we, Jason and I, wrote ourselves. After all, for some, Proverbs is solely a book in the Hebrew Bible, though such bits of wisdom are found in every faith and culture. By definition, proverbs are “memorable sayings embodying some important fact of experience.” While I believe our proverbs are “important facts of experience,” I can’t say as yet that they are memorable. Indeed, even Jason and I have trouble remembering all 14 of them.
Perhaps what’s more important than “why” we chose proverbs to speak to our work is “how” we came up with the proverbs; that is the “process” of 14 Black Poppies.
When Jason and I first decided to work together, rather than writing out a business plan, we sat outside in his sunny garden in the Mission and wrote proverbs. As writers, we’ve often played with writing exercises, sometimes to call forth our respective muses, but often just for fun. In a brainstorming session Jason came up with the idea to write proverbs and I happily went along for the ride. What we found we had was the basis for a series of workshops and since we had 14 proverbs, we decided to create 14 workshops. It was only later that we learned that 14 is an auspicious number on many levels. We also realized that this year marks our 14th year of friendship!
While Jason and I have, at times plugged away, side by side at our computers I don’t believe keyboard slogging is our modus operandi. (In fact, we both like writing stories in long hand.) At times, we’ve plastered my dining room wall with post-it notes, drank vast quantities of tea and coffee while talking “talking points,” cut pictures from magazines, and walked and walked.
Both Jason and I have found walking, together or on our own, to be a great way of working through things when we get stuck. We’ve walked all over the city (at one point going through a church-hopping phase) including parks, beaches and Land’s End. Sometimes we just walk back and forth across our living rooms.
Activity gets me out of my head, which is why I love yoga, swimming, gardening, knitting and ceramics. (Jason cooks.) Many years ago I was seeing a therapist and as much as I appreciated her help, I ended the sessions when I felt I was all “talked out.” Soon after I started taking improve dance classes with dancer and artist, Judith Kajiwara. I found her classes to be very therapeutic and my creativity skyrocketed. Under Judy’s guidance, I felt that I was able “process” through movement what I couldn’t verbalize in traditional therapy.
In the summer of 2009, I read an article in Ode magazine by French psychiatry professor, David Servan-Schreiber entitled, “A kinder, gentler way to deal with depression.” In the article, Servan-Schreiber wrote about the benefits of meditation and an approach to therapy that deals with focusing on how one is feeling during a bout of depression and/or anxiety rather than trying to analyze why a patient has such feelings.
“It’s all about learning to be conscious of what’s happening for you here and now. Don’t worry about why you feel what you feel or why you think what you think; concentrate purely on how," Servan-Schreiber writes.
Obviously, the article stayed with me over the years. As far as I know, I’m not clinically depressed, but what resonated with me is the idea of working through “how” something works rather than asking “why.”
When Jason invited me to write proverbs with him, I didn’t question why. I simply wrote and I remember feeling a sense of joy in the process.
David Servan-Schreiber is the author of Healing without Freud or Prozac: Natural Approaches to Curing Stress, Anxiety and Depression without Drugs and without Psychoanalysis and Anticancer: A New Way of Life.
Judith Kajiwara is a dancer and multi-faceted artist. She is the founder of Enter the Stillness Arts