Writing Exercise: Lovingkindness in the Second Person

In Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir In the Dream House, she addresses the younger version of herself, the person who is in the abusive relationship as “you.” In the chapter “Dream House as an Exercise in Point of View,” Machado writes, “You were not always just a You. I was whole—a symbiotic relationship between my best and worst parts—and then, in one sense of the definition, I was cl91zeicdP-gLeaved: a neat lop that took first person—that assured, confident woman, the girl detective, the adventurer—away from second, who was always anxious and vibrating like a too-small breed of dog.”

Often the second person point of view is used by the narrator to address a younger, former version of themselves as this author does. In other chapters, Machado speaks of her intellectual self—the one writing, the one researching abusive lesbian relationships through legal cases, literature, movies, TV shows —as “I.” It’s a fascinating and experimental treatment of memoir in which the “I” and the “you” exist in the same work each with a clear role to play.

In the Dream House inspired this month’s writing exercise. Yes, the assignment is to write in the second person, but with an additional element. Add in some lovingkindness.

Writing in the second person is a very mindful act, if you step back and create space between the present you and the experience you are recounting. In becoming the observer and not getting pulled under by the raw emotions of the memory, you can gain perspective and see your former self in light of all you have learned, with compassion and understanding. So, remember to treat yourself with kindness, even humor, as you write this month’s exercise.

Lovingkindness Meditation

If you are unfamiliar with lovingkindness meditation, here is one from Palouse Mindfulness that is under 15 minutes. I recommend listening to the meditation before you do the exercise to put yourself in a lovingkindness mindset.

Writing Exercise

For this exercise, think of an event, situation, or time in your past that stands out to you. Perhaps, you got an asymmetrical haircut, or met someone you admired, or started a new job, or left your hometown. Address that former version of yourself with lovingkindness, with wisdom, and with humor. What would you say to them?

Let me know how this exercise worked for you.


It occurred to me in writing this that one of my favorite poems is in second person. I always thought of Mary Oliver addressing me personally, but perhaps she is speaking to herself.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~Mary Oliver

Ask SBT: Secret Journals

Q: I want to start a Mindful Writing practice, but my fear of someone finding my journals after I die stops me from writing unencumbered. What should I do?

A: This question comes up frequently in Mindful Writing classes. Our daily Mindful Writing practice is to meditate letting whatever arises be the practice, then to freewrite letting whatever arises be on the page. In freewriting, there is no editing, no plan. You just keep writing. All sorts of things arise – grievances, rants, self-doubt, unrequited love, story ideas, memories, poems,  plots, and escape plans.

15536110699_a4a9e3c7c7_bAlmost everyone who asks this question envisions having a massive heart attack. (They even clutch their chests as they ask the question.) And then, a family member discovers their sudden demise and promptly sits down, perhaps by their still warm body, to read their journals.

First, in all honesty you will be dead. You will not care. But as you are alive now and having this fear, I understand that your concern is for those you will leave behind.

There is always the option of writing and then burning your pages. If you don’t want to bring attention to yourself by burning paper every day, you can keep writing on the same page. Writing over your writing again and again, so that no one, including yourself, can read what you have written. You still purge yourself of your thoughts, you still partake in the physical activity of moving pen across the page, and your words are safe.

I suggest keeping your journal in a secret place, even just a desk drawer or under your mattress. If you have more than one, keep them in a bureau or a box. You could padlock them in a cabinet or firebox. Or stuff them somewhere people don’t want to go like a gym bag. Choose a friend or family member who you trust not to read your journals. Another writer who keeps journals and understand your concerns is a good choice. Or someone who you find boring and hence you don’t write about. Or someone who hates to read, but who has great loyalty to you. Make sure this person has a key to your home and knows the location of your journals (and the combination if necessary) in case of an emergency. Feel free to also include other personal items you don’t want your children or nosey neighbor to find.

Freewriting lets you get down to what you are really thinking and feeling. You become familiar with your obsessions. Ideas begin to flow. It’s a contemplative activity that will enrich your life. Don’t let fear of a sudden death stop you from a Mindful Writing practice.

What’s your post-death journal plan? Have you inherited someone’s journals?

“Minding” Dani Shapiro

Dani and me

My good friend Lynn Rosen asked me if I would be a “minder” for author Dani Shapiro during an Open Book event at Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA.  Author and fellow podcaster Gretchen Rubin interviewed her about Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love for an episode of Shapiro’s podcast Family Secrets.

As a minder, my job was to take care of the author, making sure no one monopolized her time or approached her when she wasn’t signing books.

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Writing advice for my Lyft driver

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Dear Christopher,

Thanks for picking me up Wednesday night after my Building a Mindful Writing Practice class and making polite conversation with me about the weather and asking about my work. At first I thought you were feigning interest, until you asked, “So, do you have any advice for someone who wants to write in the future?” Then, I realized I had a wanna-be fiction writer on my hands.

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Marie Kondo teaches people to listen to their bodies

Perhaps you listen to your body when it tells you that you’ve overdone it at the gym or that you shouldn’t have binge watched all of season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel the day it dropped. Maybe there were times you ignored the subtle messages of your body until they got louder, fighting hard to get your attention, and you found yourself with the flu or a pulled muscle in your back. Your body had to shout, take care of me!

But do you listen to your body when it’s not in distress? When it’s happy?

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