Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Poetry Prescription from Tracey Cleantis

When The Next Happy: Let Go of the Life You Planned and Find a New Way Forward arrived in my mailbox, I shrieked with glee, and then teared up a little. I’ve known the author, Tracey Cleantis, from blogland since the earliest days of The Storialist. Some of you may know her column, “Freudian Sip” (at Psychology Today) or her former blog, La Belette Rouge.

In all of Tracey’s work, she writes about meaningful concepts and experiences in a voice that is warm, inviting, authentic, and wise. (This is exactly who she is as a person and friend—someone who is caring, truthful, funny, and so damn smart!)

This book is no exception. In The Next Happy, she gives beautiful and real advice for helping others discover and create joy in their lives. I love how she prompts self-reflection, asking readers to look at and question what we so desperately want. Her perspective is so refreshing and helpful—she advises for us to run away from potentially hurtful adages like “Never give up on your dreams” and “If you want it bad enough, it’ll happen,” and to instead, be thoughtful and honest in our own evaluation of the goals we’re pursuing. If you’re feeling stuck, drained, or would like a little more insight into why you’re doing what you’re doing, this is the book for you!

In the book (and in her practice as a therapist), Tracey makes recommendations of books, movies, and poems that she thinks could benefit clients and readers. Tracey has graciously prescribed three poems for us here--you can enjoy them below, along with her thoughts on each!

Tracey says: In The Next Happy I teach people what to expect when they are grieving and the absolute importance of making room for whatever feelings that arise. We should not reject these feelings, but should make space for all of them, the good, the bad, and the unwelcome---all the while knowing that this joy, meanness, envy, sadness, fear will not stay forever. This is a poem that therapists everywhere love. Truly, I almost feel like this poem is as important to have for therapists as the DSM-V. This poem instructs, "Don't push feelings away; welcome them and learn from them.” 

The Guest House
Jalal al-Din Rumi (translation by Coleman Barks)

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Tracey says: I was just at the Algonquin last week. I went to see the ghost of Dorothy; I love Dorothy. I always have loved her for her beautiful pairing of wit and wounding—she is a woman who clearly had both. I had really wanted to use this poem in my book and we had the permission for US rights; however, we didn't get the foreign rights in time and had to pull this poem from the book at the last moment. This poem says so much of what I want people to know about dreams. Even if we get what we dreamed of, very often we don't feel as we had dreamed we would once we get "the silly gown.”

The Red Dress
Dorothy Parker

I always saw, I always said
If I were grown and free,
I'd have a gown of reddest red
As fine as you could see,

To wear out walking, sleek and slow,
Upon a Summer day,
And there'd be one to see me so
And flip the world away.

And he would be a gallant one,
With stars behind his eyes,
And hair like metal in the sun,
And lips too warm for lies.

I always saw us, gay and good,
High honored in the town.
Now I am grown to womanhood....
I have the silly gown. 

Tracey says: First, as as therapist who works with dreams (both the waking and sleeping kind), I love that this poem came to Mary Oliver in her sleep. It tells us that dreams are of value and should be paid attention to. That and that alone would be enough to make me love this poem. Mary Oliver's gorgeous and photogenic psyche gives us a little gem of verse that says so beautifully what I try to tell people, in both my therapeutic work and in the book, that this loss, grief, pain, heartbreak, disappointment, and sorrow… that it too, with work, can be transformed through understanding, effort, and time, into something that is a gift.

The Uses of Sorrow
Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.


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