Guest Post | Belinda Nicoll Presents The Big Picture

It is my pleasure today to welcome Belinda Nicoll, memoir writer and author of Out of Synch. Belinda will share with us her thoughts on the “big picture” as it relates to the process of writing to heal. Please join with me in welcoming Belinda to Healing by Writing.

The Big Picture

by Belinda Nicoll

Apropos the mission statement of her blog and the writing goal of my host, Sherrey Meyer, the notion of healing through the arts go way back and has become firmly entrenched in modern society. The written word—keeping a journal, or writing memoir or poetry—is an obvious channel through which to explore emotional and psychological distress due to childhood abuse, the break-up of a significant relationship and overcoming a life-threatening disease, as well as reflecting on traumatic events, such as acts of violence, terrorism and war. Painting, sculpture, architecture, music, drama and dance are also effective means of self-expression and healing. Self-development courses and healing workshops that draw on the arts help to engage the imagination, alleviate anxiety, and provide a space for mindful expression and meaningful interactions and communication.

In 2001, when my new husband and I relocated from South Africa for a short stay in the US, we had no idea that our arrival at JFK International Airport on September 11th would coincide with a terrorist attack on our host country. Neither did we know that the event would be the indirect cause of a permanent separation from our families due to our unavoidable expatriation, the near break-up of our marriage and the end of my income-generating days. It would take many years and several relocations before realizing that the dysfunctional aspects of my new life were really also symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Feeling overwhelmed by a sense of not belonging, and seeing that I had a background in writing and life coaching, it made sense to write a book about my expatriation and its impact on my relationships. My memoir, Out of Sync, soon became an exploration of the concept of personal transformation within the context of global change. In the end, I understood that the forces of change affecting me and the world were destined to collide, and that I’m not really adrift but part of an increasingly transient world.

On this note, while ‘transitory existence’ relates to the human condition, the written word, once published, becomes everlasting. As writers, we need to be mindful of the effect our work could have on others, especially those close to us—even if you’re writing for the purpose of healing, your experiences never take place in isolation but in the context of a shared world. I worked on my book fully aware that my perception of our marriage ran counter to my husband’s opinions of our situation; in fact, the disparity of our ex-pat experiences was really at the heart of our troubles. I decided to explore the dynamics of our roller-coaster relationship with an open mind and reflect on it as honestly yet responsibly as I could. On another level, my children were important characters in the drama too and I was already feeling alienated from them. While it was important to acknowledge my pain and get clarity on my issues through my writing, I also wanted my story to be constructive within the context of my relationships as well as be relevant to world events.

That said, writing for healing is a process and your first priority is to get in touch with your deepest thoughts and feelings and let those flow freely—this is called expressive writing. Later, when you feel less anxious or depressed and have a better grasp of your issues, you might want to take a step back and view all that within a broader frame of reference—this is referred to as the big picture: the entire perspective on a situation that reflects repetitive patterns, main themes, cause and effect, how your values fit (or not) with those of significant others. You could also think of it as content vs. context. Remember, if self-expression has healing powers, then imagine opening your mind and heart not only to what is deep inside but choosing your words carefully and with the intention of benefiting others too.

I believe the arts have the power to change the world in a positive way. What about you—what are your reasons for writing?

* * *

Belinda, thank you for sharing with us your own personal life story and writing experiences. Most importantly, thank you for sharing your expertise as a writer and creativity coach and how you perceive writing benefits the healing process.

Author Bio:

Belinda Nicoll is originally from South Africa and has been a citizen of the United States since 2010. She holds a BA degree in Communication and Sociology and an MFA in Creative Writing. Belinda is a freelance writer and creativity coach. She is currently working on a creative writing guide as well as her first novel. Belinda is also an active blogger who offers creative writing tips and helps other writers promote their books—her current blog series is on Goal-setting in Creative Writing—on that note, she says: Not only do goals motivate WRITERS to be productive and creative but they inspire the actions of STORY CHARACTERS too.

Belinda’s book is available on Amazon.

Out of Sync by Belinda Nicoll (A Review)

The date September 11, 2001, will likely remain seared in the minds of most Americans.  When I read a synopsis of Belinda Nicoll’s memoir, Out of Sync, and learned that she and her husband landed at JFK International Airport on 9/11, something pulled at my heartstrings and I knew I had to read her story.

Belinda’s story, however, deals with so much more than that one frightening incident in New York and the aftermath in the days that followed.

Belinda had been on a roller coaster before arriving in America.  Born in South Africa the youngest, and unexpected, child of an Afrikaner family, she grew up alongside the black house servant’s daughters.  Together, they used their imaginations to create a fantasy land which included the Serpent Goddess who made promises never realized.  Blissfully unaware of their country’s politics and comingupheaval, the girls became like sisters.

Still very young, Belinda married an attorney in the law firm where she worked.  Together they had two children — a daughter and a son — before their marriage crumbled.  Belinda then climbed the ranks at an advertising agency where she met her second husband, Bruce.

It is with Bruce that Belinda makes the move across the ocean to America.  Not once did she even think that she would never be able to go back to her homeland, until things began a bumpy ride beginning with their landing at JFK on 9/11.

Once in San Francisco Bruce landed a job with an ad agency but worked long hours tackling the learning curve.  Belinda’s solitary time at home because of her green card status left her feeling alone and abandoned at times.  Delays by the U.S. Department of State in issuing green cards was more than difficult for Bruce and Belinda, and I find it an embarrassment that such inefficiencies and complacency exist.

Removed from her children and other family members made life more difficult emotionally for Belinda, something it seemed hard for Bruce to cope with at times.  This reader never doubted their love for one another; it seemed from time to time they were working at cross-purposes.

After many job changes and moves from the west coast through the mid west and then upstate New York, they find themselves in Raleigh, NC.  This part of Belinda’s story resonated with me, especially her descriptions of the people, their colloquialisms, and their behavior toward outsiders and their believes.  Growing up in the South made no difference when I moved from a large city to a small town within the same state.  I was looked upon as “suspicious” because no one knew me and who knew why I’d come.  I felt that Belinda and Bruce felt this same alienation when they arrived in Raleigh.

Basically, this is a story of seeking common ground in the midst of a relationship cemented by love but fragmented by unrelenting circumstances created by outside forces.  Belinda’s tenacious desire to make their lives work in synchronicity shines through on each page turn.  Bruce is not denied his part in attempting again and again to pull the pieces of their lives together and repair hurts and inadequacies.

Belinda’s ability to share the sheer truth of her story is amazing, not only because it is possible to sense that it is the truth that you’re reading but also because the writer has honored character development, story line, and dialogue which is utterly believable and moving.

Out of Sync is a story of healing and an excellent model of what memoir writing is.