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I’ve been working on a Passion Project since the beginning of the year. In my January newsletter, I shared some thoughts about the joys of committing to a passion project. I have expanded the piece here:

In order to begin my PP, I had to do something pretty radical for me. On Jan 1, I stopped listening to writing podcasts, I stopped reading craft books and clicking on the columns of my favorite writing experts. I took a break from everyone else’s wonderful advice, knowledge, tips and went within. I got reconnected with my own CORE WRITING VOICE AND WISDOM.

This was hard to do! As you know I am a ‘resource maven’. I LOVE finding resources and sharing them with my community.

I, however, also believe it is super important to take breaks from the avalanche of others’ advice and guidance and deeply connect with our inner writing intelligence. That inner writing intelligence is always there, of course, but by the end of the year, it craves recognition and reconnection. It craves being in the center and having your undivided attention.

I also truly believe that whatever you focus on the first couple of days and weeks of the New Year sets the tone for the rest of the year. I decided to make room for a passion project that I’ve been dying to tackle. I am writing a creative nonfiction piece (maybe a memoir) about the year my mother left my abusive stepfather and we were almost homeless. I was ten and my sister was four.  Through a special state program, we wound up living in a Manhattan hotel on a floor designated for “battered women and their children”. This year changed my life and I’m investigating all the ways it shaped the woman I became.

A passion project is one that is both scary and ambitious and tugs at your heart. It’s one that has urgency. The one that has been trying to get your attention for all these years. The one where you don’t know if it will “pay off”, the one that is unruly and messy.

How do you make room for a passion project?

You look at your schedule and you notice what activities you do that are either draining, time-wasting, unnecessary or just take up space. We all have some of those. You look for slivers of 10-20% of activities that can be consolidated or cut to give you time. Then you get into the frame of mind where you get excited about your passion project (the one you would LOVE to do, but never seem to find the time). You imagine yourself working on the PP within the time that you have made for it.

To make room for a passion project in light of what’s already on your plate (and I’m assuming that could include, work, childcare, eldercare, exercise, life stuff, other writing projects, etc.) takes some effort. I know it’s not easy, but isn’t it also important to make space for a passion project that has been on your list for a LONG TIME that you intuitively know will bring you JOY, or at least make you feel really ALIVE?

I decided that I would write daily on the PP for 10-45 minutes beginning around 9:30 pm. This meant giving up and rearranging late night time with my partner (we moved our TV time up), ignoring work email (unless it was urgent),  not listening to podcasts, and shuffling other creative writing projects to earlier in the day. It has been challenging but also super rewarding. I began with a brief outline, but most writing sessions I started freewriting with, “I remember”. I now have about half of a journal or 65 handwritten pages.

As luck would have it, I also found my first diary which chronicles a few months of that year.

This was buried under many other journals.

It’s humbling to see what one decides to document when one is a ten-year old!

My handwriting was much neater at 10!

Today, I have begun to transfer these writings into Scrivener. It feels good to move this work from my journal into the computer.

Passion projects replenish our creative wells. They are also addictive. I now will do just about anything to keep this work going though I have other writing projects to finish. These, however, are good problems to have.

I encourage you to find a way to go deep into your work, be it a passion project or something you have already started. And, that might mean taking a break from the outside world for a bit. That was crucial for me. The first quarter of the year is a great time to mirror nature. Winter is about going within and metaphorically playing in the dark.

Do you have a passion project that you want to tackle this year? I’d love to know!

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As a writer, you can never predict what will touch people. You can only do your best to tell your story with skill, precision and heart. My writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson (author of Accidental Birds in the Carolinas) encourages students to ‘find their territory’, to explore the kinds of unique themes and challenges that only they can write about.

The relationship with my mother is definitely my territory. In last December’s ‘My View’ column for The Chapel Hill News, I wrote about a snippet of my mother’s life which involved a great act of courage that changed the course of our lives (‘My Mother’s Gift’). When I was eight, my mother left my abusive stepfather and started her life over. Due to her actions, some serendipity and innovative social service programming we (my mother, sister and I) came to live in a special program for battered women and their children at The President Hotel, in Manhattan.  The program was a partnership with the city of New York and the President Hotel.

I received the highest number of responses from this column, more than any other I have written. I also had lengthy conversations with friends who read the column. I’ve been reflecting on what people shared with me and the questions that linger.

I was touched by many comments from women who had mothers that stayed with abusive partners, who were unable or unwilling to leave. A representative remark was “I’ve always wished that my mother had the courage to do what yours did.” These daughters have spent a lifetime trying to understand and cope with the consequences of growing up in a violent household. Some later became active in women’s issues:  “I grew up in a battering household, found feminism in my 40s and served on several boards advocating and helping women.”

I also heard from several readers whose mothers did leave. One said, “My mother did the same for me and my brother. Hooray for women who break the cycle of violence and give their children hope.” Therapists and health providers wrote to say that they work with many abused women and it is still very challenging for many women to leave. They hoped some would see my story and make a change. Others also thought my story might help other women. A friend said on my Facebook page “Stories such as these need to be told so [that] others’ can ‘keep on keeping on,’ when they feel all hope is lost…”

Our individual stories are always connected specific and historical eras. Having conversations with peers reminded me that I am part of the first generation of women (and men) whose mothers could  make a choice to leave an abusive relationship and potentially find societal support (and possibly resources), instead of condemnation.  Second wave feminist activism of the early 1970s placed the issue of ‘battering’ front and center in the national spotlight. Advocates were able to recast battering from a private, personal problem to a public one that needed addressing.  Previously, women, as a social group, did not have the public support to leave abusive men. Many women like my mother were making history in small, individual ways and empowering their daughters to question the status quo.

And, finally there were practical things that people wanted to know, too. I talked about taking my cherished Bionic Woman doll with me when leaving my stepfather—some wanted to know if I still have the doll. I do! She sits in a special place in my home office.  She lost a foot at some point while I lived at the hotel.  She’s a survivor, just like my sister and I.

I received lots of questions about The President Hotel. How did I get along at the hotel? What were the other mothers and children like? These questions have stimulated more for me including:  How many private-public programs like the President Hotel existed in Manhattan and other cities? How did they get dreamed up and funded? What happened to the other mothers and children that I met? What did they make of their lives? Clearly, I’ve got lots more research to do!

Writing about my time at The President Hotel and what happened to my mother later is part of my territory.  My mother saved my and my sister’s physical and emotional lives by removing us from that home. Many many years later, I would save my mother’s life and give her a fresh beginning, but that is for another story.

(this piece is adapted from a February ‘My View’ column that was published in the Chapel Hill News)


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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