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Nessa McCasey

Writing Our Hearts Out
November 2003

by Nessa McCasey

We are very pleased to welcome Nessa McCasey to SoulfulLiving.com as our newest monthly columnist!  Each month, Nessa will offer a poem or short writing based on our magazine's monthly theme and will provide techniques for creative expression that you can use to explore the topic yourself.

Midlife Questioning:
One Writer’s Path to Learning

Although I’m not exactly sure when I would mark my midlife as beginning, I do know that I have been searching for inner fulfillment for some time. Time and again, I have felt the need to listen to my deepest desires, particularly as I have become more aware of a finite period for my life. Simply the title of Dawna Markova’s book, "I Will Not Die An Unlived Life" is an inspiration. I want to live my life fully, according to my passions and sense of purpose. And of course, it is only through searching my heart that I will know the next step on that path.

For me, writing has always been the perfect way to find answers of all kinds, for both internal and external knowledge. Earlier in my life, as a corporate writer and editor, I found that I was continually engaged in learning, and I loved that! I once boasted that I had come upon the fount of continuing education — learning on the job! I learned about the U.S. space industry and planetary research as I edited presentations by scientists and worked with NASA personnel. When I was employed by a business software company, I learned about many aspects of business, calling it my own "Master of Business Administration." Now that I am learning about dementia and the issues around memory loss as I face their effects on my father, I am led intuitively to research and then write about it.

I tell you this not so that you will be impressed with my knowledge, but to share with you my firm belief that writing is a process for learning. In this Age of Information, there is one absolute expertise that we each have — ourselves. The truths that I hold within myself are precisely true for me. No one else can truly know these until I share them. I might not even truly understand them until I explore them. And this is the value of QUESTIONS.

I expect that on the day that I die, I will still have questions. In the meantime, I continue to explore my life and the world around me. Midlife — what does it mean to me? What does it mean to you? We can start with a question that might seem a little out of the ordinary:

  • How would your life be different if you were a redhead? (Or a blonde, or a brunette…) My writing group recently used this question as a writing prompt and after we had shared and enjoyed each others’ responses of creative, adventuring images, the inevitable question followed: And why can’t we live that way now, without having a different hair color? I wanted to lean into the feeling I had of freedom and creativity and joy. My hair color certainly was not stopping me from doing that right now. My thanks to Jean King for suggesting this question for my own writing and self-exploring.

Try writing your own answers to this question. And then use more adjectives, such as:

How would your life be different if you were…

  •  … a man (or a woman)?
  •  … born in England (or Africa, or Japan or …)?
  •  … a doctor (or a teacher, mother, father, police officer, etc.)?

Then take another step. Consider those things that you aren’t doing now in your life. How might you incorporate those activities, attitudes, values, etc. into your life right now? For example, I wrote that if I were a redhead, I would live more vivaciously. How might I live more passionately right now, as the brown-haired woman that I am? I know that I have more energy when I listen to Ottmar Liebert’s compact discs, flamboyantly dancing in my own living room. So I decide that I will play Ottmar Liebert’s music more often at home. I wrote that I would be more self-directed if I were a redhead. I decide right now to stop complaining about being unorganized and start clearing my cluttered desk so that I can plan and follow through to reach more of my goals. It seems that one thing leads to another: my fantastic notions of how I might be different based on an external change leads directly to ideas for me to change my life in seemingly small and yet notable ways.

At the same time, however, life continues to happen with obstacles being placed in front of all of us. Or are they obstacles? As I have aged, I have learned that anxiety doesn’t serve me well and that patience is a practice that leaves me with a satisfying sense of sanity. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t spin my wheels with regularity… So how can I manage to continue to observe my path and adjust it according to my heart’s guiding whispers while at the same time attending to the necessities of life (such as supporting an ill parent or friends who suffer illness or grief)? It has always been my goal to have relationships that are meaningful, that I will act to help my family or friends, and allow myself to be similarly supported. Through my writing exploration, I also take note how my chosen value of caring for others aligns with the seeming obstacles of crisis, as I am rewarded with a confirmation that I am truly living the life that I desire to live. You can have a similarly insightful exploration through your own writings in this way.

I have witnessed my clients’ self-empowerment improve as they write in a supportive environment, such as a poetry therapy group. Sharing one’s writing with a friend or acquaintance can also be affirming. It takes courage to step outside oneself, first on the blank page, and then to share it further. Knowing who to share it with is an important self-preservation tool, as well. Affirmation is essential when we write out our hearts’ deep words.

Just as when children are learning writing in their early years of school, we all bloom when supported gently and with affirmation. I have found that these words of T.S. Eliot are true for me; perhaps you will, too.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Here’s one more writing possibility. In my poem below, the first letter of each line spells out the word, Midlife. See if you like my poem and then try your own. I would be honored if you would share your writing with me, if you so choose. You can send it to the email listed below.


Mysterious journey to an
Island in the stream of life’s waters
Dawdling between naivete and wisdom
Living both at the same time
Innocently traveling to the next destination
Fond as we are of the present
Exuberant about the futures.

What might you say using this format?


Midlife is for me a great time for exploration. I wish you to have the courage for your own exploration and the affirming support that you deserve as your words come forth.

© Copyright 2003 Nessa McCasey.  All Rights Reserved.

Read Nessa McCasey's Past Columns:

October 2003 - Can We Write (or Read) Our Way to Serenity?

Nessa McCasey
Nessa McCasey,
A former technical editor for NASA, street/performance poet in Denver, corporate writer, single mom, marketing communications specialist, and church music director. She is charting a new path for work and life in the profession of Poetry Therapy serving as a State Representative for the National Association for Poetry Therapy (NAPT) where she facilitates group or individual poetry therapy sessions and presents poetry and writing workshops to jump-start others in their own powers of creative expression. You can reach Nessa at: poetnessa@writersofwrongs.com


Email Nessa at:


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