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(Still) staying sane

The way we begin each session of the writers’ group I have been running at the Oregon State Penitentiary for going on three years is with a five-minute writing prompt. Every two weeks I come up with another prompt, generally a single word – trust, hope, friendship, power, dreams – that invites the guys to write about what they know and how they feel. Sometimes we do lists: 10 pieces of advice I’d offer to a new inmate; 10 things I’d do if I were prison superintendent for a day (an all-time favorite).

A while back I had them write a list of 10 things that keep them sane, that allow them to wake up every morning, morning after morning, year after year – some of them for more than 30 years – and keep on keeping on. The answers ranged from finding a sense of purpose to listening to music, from spiritual practice to indulging in Skittles. Faith. Will power. The knowledge that others have it worse. Books. Visitors. And, of course: WRITING.

I write along with them. They want me to, and I want to. This isn’t a class. It’s a group of people trying to make sense of the world and themselves through writing.

So I wrote my list, in full realization that it is infinitely easier to stay sane if you are me, healthy and free. Still, there is enough out here in the “free world” to make you run out into the streets screaming, to bring you to your knees sobbing. I offer my list below in hopes that you, dear reader, will write in with yours. We all need to expand our keeping-sane repertoire.

1. Writing. Always, since those first leatherette diaries with locks that didn’t lock, I have used writing to make sense of my world, to capture experience so I can learn from it, to try to understand others, to talk sense to myself.

2. Reading. Since I read my first chapter book (My Friend Flicka) and disappeared into someone else’s world, reading has been for me both an intense exploration of and immersion in the other and the most glorious of escapes.

3. My stubborn belief that most people are kind.

4. The clear-eyed compassion, kindness, toughness and perseverance I see in those who work to make a difference, and who serve as a model for my own behavior.

5. Lists. I make them. They bring order to chaos. They calm me.

6. Sweaty, full-on, challenging physical activity: long-distance biking, running, hiking, ballet, barre, holding two-minute planks, mini-triathlons. Without exercise, my mood plummets. I can be awash in negativity.

7. Simon, the cat. Sonny, the cat. Tenderberry, the cat. Sally, the cat. For cat-lovers, I need say no more. For others, you wouldn’t understand.

8. Solitude.

9. The heart-stopping physical beauty of the place I call home. Plus clouds, from every angle, especially looking down from 30,000 feet.

10.My family. I put them last in recognition of the fact that they are also sometimes the cause of my temporary insanity.

Now your turn.


1 Kathy Nolen { 04.04.18 at 11:58 pm }

1. My crochet business, keeps me from killing people!
2. Abby cat, Ziva cat, Bella cat and Bam cat.
3. Aqua aerobics, at least 5 x a week!
4. All the red wine.
5. Books!
6. My belief in the blue wave.
7. The Chew tv show
8. Cruises
9. My family
10. Lists, lists and more lists!

2 Lauren { 04.05.18 at 4:11 pm }

Love this list, Kathy. Hope you don’t mix #3 and #4! Delighted to see “lists” on the list.

3 C.C. { 04.05.18 at 6:49 am }

10 Things That Keep Me Sane

1. My 2 best girlfriends.

2. My pets – 2 cats, 2 birds and a dog who has (so far) spent 38% of my life with me, and 99%of his life with me (I actually did the math on this one).

3. Being alone.

4. Podcasts and audiobooks. I spend a lot of time in my vehicle and so I have really am quite taken by listening to funny people, serious people, stories, and conversations.

5. A black hair tie on my left wrist. It’s absence triggers anxiety and unease that only goes away when I get it back on my wrist. I need the option.

6. Water…rivers, oceans, lakes, rain, a hot tub or swimming pool, I love the sound it makes when it is in motion and the feeling of being enveloped in its softness.

7. My husband’s laughter. This may sound romantic, but it is actually a fact. The sound of his laughter is my favorite sound. I cannot explain why, but the sound of his particular, specific laugh fills me with joy and love.

8. Birds. I love watching them, they are so graceful, delicate, powerful and beautiful. Their melodies are so calming and enchanting.

9. My parents. I am thankful to still have both and appreciate their love and wisdom.

10. Laughter. I am a fan of certain comedians and types of comedy, and certain specials I have listened to/watched countless times.

4 Lauren { 04.05.18 at 4:10 pm }

Thanks for this list, oh Woman of Many Names. How could I have forgotten “laughter”?

5 Greg { 04.24.18 at 2:39 pm }

My grandchildren. Teaching them letters and words and numbers. Reading to them and listening to them read to me. Singing them to sleep. Teaching them to swim.

6 Lauren { 04.24.18 at 7:00 pm }

Wondering if it feels different than it did back when you read and sang to your children. How wonderful it is that you are such a part of their lives.

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