Hot coals

July 8, 2012


Famous spiritual healers past and present talk about “letting go” of the past. Holding on to traumas of the past is like holding onto a hot coal. Just drop the hot coal, they say.

How can a writer reconcile this with spending years writing a memoir or semiautobiographical novel? Not only are you not letting go of the hot coal, you’re studying it from all angles, describing it, even delving into the exact nature of how it’s searing the flesh of the palm of your hand.

Ten years ago, I first grappled with this spiritual concept of letting go and the fact that I was writing my first novel Earth, which is based in Missouri and looks at some of the traumas I faced as a child. I have never been able to come to a suitable explanation or conclusion on how I should feel about this, both as a writer and as a coach. In the past week, the spritiual message has come back to me in three different ways: from reading Spiritual Emergency, a book of essays edited by Stanislav and Christina Grof; through talking with spiritual coach Lisa Jones ( who is penning her own memoir; and in a shamanic healing session in Portland with Nepalese shaman Bohla N. Banstola. Again and again, the message was that spiritual enlightenment comes from fully letting go. Of course, this means more than just letting go of our childhood traumas. It means letting go of our connection to our roles, our families, our cultures. It’s a journey that goes through many many lifetimes, the Buddhists say.

Receiving the same message three times in one week makes one stop and listen. I have no answers for any of this, but realized it may be good to put some thoughts out there about the topic.

First, let me say that I’ve helped dozens if not hundreds of writers as a coach who felt an overwhelming need to tell their story, an almost life or death need. Whether it’s memoir or fiction, they need to write about their fathers, mothers, the events of a difficult childhood. I couldn’t imagine telling those people to just let it go. “Oh, so you were held against your will during the invasion. They tortured you?  Oh, just let it go. Don’t dwell, for god sake.”  Most of the time, if we say this to a person needing to write their story it’s because we have a hard time hearing what they have to say. I can’t imagine that squelching these stories that we have a very human need to tell is what the spiritual gurus have meant about letting go…but still I grapple with it.

Many people need to write their stories as a way to understand what happened to them, as a way to come to the understanding that it was not their fault, to come to a place of compassion even for the perpetrator. Telling them to let go of the hot coal may pre-empt a process that helps them spirituall evolve.

I’ve also found the authentic self is buried beneath the debris of traumatic events. I found my visual artist self down there while writing Earth, and my love of food and organic gardener self came out when Earth was finally finished. I worry that people who drop the hot coal too quickly may be opting for denial, may just be putting icing on a burnt out cake and calling it a birthday party.

Still, I do believe the spiritual message. Letting go…it’s been touted by too many great leaders for too many centuries. I do know now that Earth is done, it’s time to let go, not just of the novel, but obessing about the wrong. I’m so tired of the pain.

What is the benefit a person could get from holding onto hot coals? Look at me, I’ve been WOUNDED. I define myself by this wound, and you will give me special favors, and allow me my excuses and make room for my rage. And if I let that all go, then I’m just me with nothing to hold over anyone. I’m just grappling with the other side of the argument here. As I’ve said, I don’t have any answers.

Perhaps the spiritual message is spend all the time you want analyzing the hot coal, but don’t analyze it forever. Write your novel, your story, but then let it go. Maybe dropping the hot coal is also a centuries’ long process, a path of many many lifetimes.

I am a writing coach. Contact me for a free initial consultation,


Upcoming Public Fiction/Memoir Reading in Seattle

May 22, 2012

Art of Storytelling Reading, Saturday, June 9, 2012, Santoro’s Bookstore, Seattle, WA

Many people have a profound need to write. Telling their story, whether through fiction or nonfiction, feels as essential to them as eating or breathing. Are you a writer? Do you want to see how other new writers tackle the soulful and practical aspects of writing? Six writers will be reading from their memoirs, short stories and novels on Saturday, June 9, 2012 from 7 to 10 p.m. at Seattle’s Santoro’s Books. The event will be run by writer and writing coach Caroline Allen, owner of Art of Storytelling. Wine and snacks provided. Free.  A list of the readers follows:
•Luanne Brown
•Sulley Keehnel
•Danny Litowitz
•Julie Mannina
•Ellen Newhouse
•Carrie Allen

A loving thank you to Carol Santoro for hosting the event. Her bookstore represents the essence of the power of storytelling in building community. Such writer events would be impossible without independent bookstores like Santoro’s.

What: Art of Storytelling Reading
When: Saturday, June 9, 7 to 10 p.m.
Santoro’s Bookstore
7405 Greenwood Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 784-2113
Caroline Allen
Art of Storytelling
A coaching service for writers

Let the bitch run free…

September 15, 2007

the three graces, acryclic on canvas, by caroline allen

The protagonist of my first novel Earth is named Pearl, as in a metaphor for the black pearl, as in rare and dark. I recently finished the third draft of the novel in Budapest. After I dotted the last i, I felt I’d hit an underground cable, some deep vein, because afterwards, I was fucked up. Girlfriend, I was a complete wreck.

I’d heard other writers say this about finishing a novel. The post-partum depression. I’m sure each writer’s post-book blues has a different flavor. Mine was a mantra I couldn’t get out of my head: “Nobody cared about me.” Pearl’s life is a fictionalized version of mine. In writing it, I hit upon some core personal truths. I finished Earth two months ago, and still I couldn’t get the mantra out of my head.

Finally today, I understood it — I’m sharing it because what seemed a personal issue is actually a social one, a global one. And it was that understanding that began to blow open the creative doors for me this morning.

“Nobody cared about me.” What an awful phrase to have binging around your head like a pinball. My first reaction was to mollify that inner voice — of course they cared, they did the best they could. Etc. Etc. Blah blah blah blah blah.

I am not just talking about family, here, but teachers and friends, and others. Nobody cared about me…the mollifying just wouldn’t work; trying to appease the beast just didn’t work! I just couldn’t get the phrase out of my mind. I’ve learned from long experience that my healing always begins with taking whatever comes up seriously, and not trying to pacify it.

So, there was truth in the statement. OK. I’ll go with that. So what do I do with it?

What I realized this morning through journaling was this: most of us are taught very young that are essential natures are not OK just as they are. We must fit in. We are forced into an existing world structure, that has nothing whatsoever to do with who we really are. To be the essence of who I am, an artist with an eccentric voice, to flourish as such, I MUST first understand how I wasn’t accepted/acceptable. How no one was. Our parents and teachers often worked to wean us off our passionate selves because that’s what happened to them. (If you were one of those people whose parents themselves were artists who rejected being normalized, and in turn nurtured your essence, count yourself lucky.)

So much rage is coming up around it all. I’d rather it be rage than depression. Anyway, I journaled it, and the message that came to me: Honor the rage. Let the bitch run free over the wild Serengeti. You’re right to be enraged. It’s enraging! It’s unnacceptable. Not just for you, but for everyone. For all those people you coach, who must spend months if not years struggling against all that negative reinforcement to get to the core of their passion. World rage, world violence, is ALL to do with this core repression of self.

It’s bullshit. Rage against the machine. Put that vile hatred, that anger, into your art, in your painting, your writing, your photography. Rage is passion too!

The concept is coming up everywhere in my life.

One of the new projects I’m working on is to bring my work as a writing and creativity coach through Art of Storytelling into corporations. I coach many writers who work full-time. We struggle to schedule time for their writing and their coaching sessions outside of their hectic schedules. And we have to deal with how their lack of creativity at work drains them and hurts their creative process. As they increase their soulfulness through writing, the lack of spirit and inspiration in their jobs becomes even more burdensome.

Why not hit the problem at the source, I thought? Why not bring Art of Storytelling into businesses? Why not hold workshops that plumb the depths of artistic, innovative, dynamic ways of thinking? Not only could AofS help individuals feel more alive in their work, it could help corporations be more creative and transformational. My website has more info on this:


Already, even in the planning stages, the task seems formidable. Why do corporations think creativity is kooky? Why is it thought of as professional to deny the creative self, to put on a mask and pretend to be someone you’re not? What are people so afraid of?

This rage. This pain. They’re afraid to look at exactly what they might be missing.

The house that Jack built

January 19, 2007

London Textures

photo: textures of london, carrie allen

Creating character

I finally “got” the character of Jack in my novel Earth today. I already knew as a salesman he  served as a metaphor for the loss of the earth, for Pearl having to leave the farm, leave her roots, leave the fecundity of the earth she grew up on. But in the novel, he was coming across as a cardboard cutout, a stereotypical “bad guy”, a one-sided evil stepfather.

After deep contemplation, I realized he saw himself as a hero; he was saving Pearl’s mother. So, how could I show this? I happened to go to the National Gallery and saw armored ex-Kings with swords on horseback. What if Jack’s fantasy of hero translated into him collecting prints of famous military heros, men in armor on horseback, men in full regalia, with rifles, sitting proud atop horses with massive flanks? What if he hangs these prints in a row, a formation down the walls of the living room of Pearl's house? Suddenly Jack became much more interesting. I imagined him stuck as a four-year-old in a land of castles and princes, queens and princesses. Then, his rage later comes because the reality cannot meet the fantasy.

I also had Jack and Pearl’s mother hold hands often, lose themselves in the fantasy of each other. Magic! No longer is he so one-sided, but complex and perhaps even interesting.  Still, he does serve as the antagonist, creating the force that Pearl must rebel against.  — Carrie

Hello world!

January 14, 2007

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