Want to Help Me Write My Book?

May 5, 2014

Dear Readers,

Want to help me write my book?

Mary Ann Barton, September 2012

Mary Ann Barton. Photo by Wendy Wolfberg.

Rest is a book of readings about finding rest and renewal as we care for others.

The poems and stories I’m writing for Rest are relatively easy to compose. How not to love a character, Grandmother Cellist, who appears suddenly before me as I gaze at a favorite painting on my widescreen computer monitor. I imagine her playing music after dinner with her grandchildren, drawing her bow in an exquisite arc of notes. I imagine their music as a balm of sound that reaches the kitchen worker toiling downstairs and the new mother resting, exhausted, upstairs in bed.

However, these evocations of happiness — of joy, beauty, comfort, and intimate family connections — aren’t just aesthetic considerations for me.

Increasingly, as I read about recent scientific studies of the structure and function of the brain, I’m coming to see poems, songs, and paintings as tools that we can use in structured ways to help ourselves become calmer and more resilient, even in the midst of hard times.

I first started thinking about art, happiness, and healing two years ago, when I took a course called Taking in the Good taught by neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

“You can use your mind to change your brain,” Hanson told us, in ways that “change your mind for the better.” Simply by paying attention to small moments of positive experience, Hanson says, we can, over time, strengthen the circuits of the brain that promote “contentment, calm, and confidence.” *

I wish I could write a brilliant essay for you that explains how modern neuroscience, ancient contemplative practices, classic European paintings, and my WordPress.com blog have helped me cope with the hardships of aging and caregiving. I’ve tried to do it, but I’m just not there yet.

Here’s where you come in.

I Want to Know What Brings You Joy

What brings you joy today? What are those small moments of relief that raise your spirits or ease your pain?

I’m talking about specific sights, sounds, tastes, smells. Touches. Textures. Heat. Cold. Flame. Glances. Words spoken and understood. Movement. Stillness. Silliness. Pratfalls. Puns. Wiggles. Giggles. Barks. Purrs.

So how do we do this?

Let’s start with a survey. I’ll give you eight words, and you give me eight associations. You could give me just one word, or describe a complex image. Tell me something you remember. Something you want. Something you’d forgotten. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with joy. But it has to be specific.

REST Survey #1: Eight Words, Eight Associations.

Take this survey any number of times. Forward it to your friends. Link to it on your Facebook page. Post it on your blog. And if nothing comes to mind for a word, just write “Nothing today.”

Writing is a mystery. Who knows where these words will take us!

All the best,
Mary Ann

PS: I chose the eight words in this survey for their somewhat mysterious importance to me as a writer, so they may not seem to relate to the topic of this post, which is about sources of joy in our lives. Please know that whatever you write will be received with gratitude.

* Hanson, Rick, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. New York: Harmony Books, 2013.


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