I’m looking forward to tomorrow night, September 30, when I will speak once again at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Last time, soon after Caring Lessons came out, I talked about why nurses should tell their stories. This time, I’m taking a viewpoint from my Christian background on why all of us should tell our stories. And, if we want our words to keep on living, we should write them down.
I’ll be suggesting to the audience, if they want to have my details on why nurses should write, they can check this blog post. With that in mind, I’ve copied and pasted the notes from that speech below. Read if interested, pass up if not! But, by all means, do tell your stories, and if you don’t want your words, your wisdom, your values, your beliefs, your passions (see Taylor below) to die when you die, please start writing!
I’m using a few sources this time that are extremely inspiring: Frederick Bueckner’s Telling Secrets: A Memoir (Harper Collins, 2000), Daniel Taylor’s Creating a Spiritual Legacy: How to Share Your Stories, Values, and Wisdom (Baker/Brazos, 2011), and Nish Weiseth’s Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World (Zondervan, 2014).
If you live in the area, come on over. We’ll also do a few very short writing exercises that you won’t have to share.
Now, I’d better get scooting. I’m going a day ahead to bum with a sister. And I’ll stay overnight after the speech to spend time with senior students the next day that are reading my book for a class in advanced studies in nursing. Plus, I’ll see the beginning of our fall change of colors along densely forested stretches of I-94 from Chicago.
All in all, a pleasant journey…probably leading to another story!
Hope College / April 13, 2011, 7pm / Science Center, Room 1000
Writing a Nurse’s Life – Why?
Thanks, everyone, for coming. Awesome. Overwhelming. Humbling.
First, I want to thank Dr. Susan Dunn, the chairperson of nursing here at Hope. I met her for the first time last September, about a week after Caring Lessons had come out. As I recall, the first thing she said to me was that she loved my book, and the second thing she said was that she wanted to use it as required reading in a course. I’m not sure if she could read my shock, but I was very pleased that then she wanted to set up at a time that I could come and talk. We decided to wait until after winter had finished making ice rinks of the roads between Chicago and Holland. And now that date has finally come.
Keep in mind:
I am not an English prof, a philosopher, or a theologian.
I did not read Shakespeare, Plato, or John Calvin in college.
I am not the typical college prof that writes a book.
As you know, I am a nurse. A nurse who became a writer. And here is how it happened:
I retired from Trinity in 2000.
I wondered: What was I going to do during retirement?
I talked on the phone with my friend Marianna. .
One of us said, Let’s write a book. About our nursing stories.
We knew nothing about writing creative nonfiction.
When we made this decision, Marianna and I did not live in the same city.
But we embarked on teaching ourselves how to write.
We met in person to plan our books,
took classes, formed critique groups, read how-to books,
subscribed to writing magazines,
and read books other than nursing for the first time in years.
We got hooked.
And now I’m here with a finished product. A book of my nursing stories.
I never thought of myself as a published author. In fact, I still see myself as a sandbox mom who got restless with the sandbox crowd and went back to school. And that schooling just happened to lead to advanced degrees and, eventually, to tenured professor. And now to standing here.
So, I titled this talk Writing the Nurse’s Life – Why?
I have to tell you that when I starting writing this memoir of my nursing career, I didn’t have any spiffy reason about WHY I was doing it. A reason I wrote down in my first writing notebook was that I was full of words that had to come out.
I wrote on and off for nine years. With all the critiquing, revisions, and editing, I never thought seriously about what would happen once the book came out. The biggest thing I worried about what where I’d store the 33 boxes of books I’d ordered. I live in a high-rise, so, of course, most of the boxes went in the tub.
But in the last year, I’ve had time to reflect on WHY we as nurses should write our stories. During the last few weeks, I’ve sat at my Borders on State Street in Chicago and read from a variety of sources, taken notes, and scratched out 23 reasons why we should write. Don’t worry! I’ll only talk about a few.
First, last fall, at the 75th anniversary of the SON at SXU in Chicago, I heard a rousing speech by Suzanne Gordon, a journalist and long-time advocate of nursing. Ready for Medicare—I liked her immediately.
She admonished us to stand up for nursing
Call ourselves Nurse Roelofs, not just Lois. Do you hear doctors call themselves Pete or Jim?
She asked repeatedly, what does the public know about us? What do they get from the media?
Get rid of the heart as the symbol of nursing (don’t be the chicken soup story kind of nurse)
Start wearing our minds on our sleeves—we are thinking people, not just heart.
Do you realize nursing is different from most other college majors?
We expect our students to use their heads, hearts, and hands at the same time.
In other words, to use cognitive, affective, and psychomotor methods of learning simultaneously.
READING: A typical experience for a beginning student (23—3 pages-4 minutes) Feeling overwhelmed by Mr. B. (Missy…)
With Mr. B, I had to be ready to tell him whatever he asked about his colostomy. Cognitive learning.
I had to be able to answer his questions knowledgeably, while, at the same time, I had to respond to him with respect, empathy, and genuineness. Affective learning. Which means I couldn’t gag.
And while my head was abuzz with facts and theories and evidence-based nursing practices, and while I was being genuinely attentive to Mr. B’s anxiety, I also had to be able to execute at least ten memorized steps on how to change his dressing. Psychomotor learning.
And that is nursing.
Using head, heart, and hands at the same time.
Second, when I was writing my book proposal to try to get an agent to represent Caring Lessons to a publishing house, I had to document the need for such a book. I wrote such things as:
“In 2008 the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) released fact sheets conveying alarming data for the nursing profession: the registered nurse shortage in the United States could reach a half million by 2025, nursing schools are continuing a trend of turning away qualified applicants, and the primary reason for rejecting qualified applicants is a concurrent nursing faculty shortage.”
Clearly, dear agent, don’t you see why my book is needed to inform the public about one nurse’s journey from nurse’s aide to nursing professor? They didn’t.
I was impressed by the report last fall from the Institute of Medicine, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, titled: The Future on Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. They made recommendations about what nursing has to do to play an important role in health care changes on the horizon. Here’s one thing they said about why nursing input is valuable”
“At more than 3 million in number, nurses make up the single largest segment of the health care work force. They also spend the greatest amount of time in delivering patient care as a profession.”
Another thing they said:
“Transforming the health care system and the practice environment will require a balance of skills and perspectives among physicians, nurse, and other health care professionals.”
What I take from this, is what I used to tell my students. If you don’t speak up on the unit, the nurses won’t know you know anything. If we don’t write what we know, no one will know we know anything and we won’t be able to be a contributor to helping transform the health care system.
Theresa Brown, RN, PhD writes in the current Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing: “The first column I ever wrote for The New York Times , called ‘Perhaps Dead is Proud , More Reason to Savor Life,’ generated a firestorm of attention. Literary agents sent me e-mails, my piece hit The New York Times ‘most e-mailed’ list, and, within three days I had a book contract with a major publisher.
Third, I got fired up for the title of this speech, Writing a Nurse’s Life: Why, from a book one of my writing teachers insisted I read: Lillian Heibrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life, published in 1988. A classic because in it she describes the history of how women have been portrayed in a traditionally male dominated world. How the first female writers even had to write under assumed names to have their writing et recognized. How writing by woman evolved how women finally found the courage to express their own independence from a male dominated culture. As I reread her book for this speech, I felt a rant coming on . A healthy rant. But, since we are still a female dominated profession, all the more reason to write.
So what should you call yourself if you write?
Josephine Ensign, a nursing professor at the University of Washington, blogs at Medical Margins.com. On her March 31 post, “Nurses and Writing: Writers and Nursing, ” she explores whether nurses who write should be called nurse writers? Or, nurses who happen to be writers? She quotes Laurence Long, a non-nurse who heads the writing center at the U of Connecticut School of Nursing. “He titled his December 30th, 2009 blog, Remember the Nurses. He asks why there are so few well-known current nurse authors. And he brings up the point that nursing has been a servile, female, ‘functional doer” sort of profession, and one not conductive to intentional creative writing.” He made the argument that nursing students need a liberal arts education where they “are exposed to good literature and learn to write in complete sentences.”
And here’s an opportunity to write and act and stand up for nursing! Did you know that right now American Nurses Association, ANA, has announced an “I am a Nurse, I am a leader” video contest? A two-minute video with the deadline of May 1. hey invite you to showcase one of the following:
H ow you work to improve health literacy in your community.
How you mentor a fellow nurse.
How you implement a best practice in the workplace.
How you advocate for a healthy environment.
Fourth, in this month’s issue of Poets&Writers, Lauren Grodstein, a non-nurse, writes about how to make characters work in your story. Well, when I read it, I saw myself as the character and this is what I took from her article.
Write about underrepresented jobs in contemporary literature.
That’s about us. There are three million of us, and how many nursing memoirs are floating around?
And, are the few out there being taking seriously?
Ask yourself, is your story a big story hiding in plain sight?
Have there been changes in your profession that are worth documenting?
Write to “show readers the value they might have missed in people they might not have noticed.”
Fifth, in the current issue of the Writer, Jacob Appel, a doctor and a fiction teacher in NYC, gives some good reasons why we as nurses should write:
Write what you know. Well, we know a lot. Think of the particulars of your jobs.
Every profession has its own lingo.
Readers like to learn something new. They like to go places they can’t go to and into other people’s minds. For example: nursing decisions–
Why choose nursing? What’s required? What’s it like?
Why choose role?—practice, teacher, administrator, researcher
Why choose specialty?—adult, maternal/child, community, mental health“Your life provides an excellent souse of material you know well and others do not know at all.”
We can become better at what we do when we write. Writing our experiences helps us work them through. (Morning pages—picking patients).
Sixth, from a Christian perspective, at the Calvin College Faith and Writing Festival last spring, Rhoda Franzen, from this college and author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress asked,Why is memoir popular today?
There are two themes: captivity and restoration.
When we write memoir, we admit we are our own captive, and we’re telling our reader, “Here I am reader. Once I was captive, but now I’m restored.”
Memoir appeals to all because we all have stories inside of us with a captivity to restoration theme—we all have a longing of the spirit, we all are spiritual seekers.
When I left that conference, I stayed at my sister-in-law’s house in Grand Rapids. Over my breakfast I picked up her current copy of a religious magazine in which Marilyn Robinson, well-known author of Gilead, referred to John Calvin’s assertion on page 1 on The Institutes that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are inseparable.
Think of that. Our knowledge of God is inseparable from our knowledge of ourselves.
Until I know my smallness, I can’t recognize how great God is.
And then I thought of the commandment, Love your neighbor as yourself.
We can learn to know ourselves by writing. Then we can love our neighbors more completely.
Finally, I want to leave you with this thought:
We all have a story to tell.
All of us here have a story to tell.
There are no brand new story lines;
what is new, is our take on that story.
My story line? Girl in the 50s becomes nurse. Then a teacher. Unique?
No. In the 50s, girls were expected to become nurses or teachers.
But how I navigated that journey is unique. And how you are living your story line is unique.
So, If you love examining human behavior, especially your own, you’d love writing.
Opening yourself up to critique from others week after week—having your precious words attacked, a wonderful way to explore yourself and see your life with distance and perspective.
And now, that Caring Lessons, has been out about six months, I’ve learned, perhaps naively,
how my words, my journey, can help others. A new teacher bewildered in the classroom, young moms in MOPS groups,
retiree recalling own restless mom period, couples comparing relationships, mental health hidden in families.
And as Suzanne Gordon admonished us to do in her speech I heard last fall, when I’m out talking about my book, I’m trying to STAND UP FOR NURSING.
Donating all proceeds to nursing scholarships at Trinity Christian College and for a fund raiser.
Resources for Writing:
Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird
Tristine Rainer’s Your Life as Story
More advanced—Charles Baxter’s Burning Down the House (Defamiliarization)
Charles Baxter / Saul and Patsy
Elizabeth Berg / The Day I Ate Everything I Wanted (sampling)
Anne Lamott / Some Thoughts on Faith and Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (fresh, irreverent)
Carol LaChapelle, Enid Powell, plus blog developer Helen Gallagher
© Lois Roelofs, 2011
(Please note: if you use any of this material, you must cite this blog post. Also, I would appreciate the courtesy of being informed that you’re using this material.You may inform me at email@example.com.)