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Alphabet Soup for My Soul


By Cheryl Eckl

Words are the stuff of my existence and writing the path that has led me to a deep place of personal authenticity. Yet only in the last several years have I realized that, like the proverbial fish oblivious to the water that surrounds it, I have spent my life swimming in a virtual bowl of alphabet soup. The possibilities for expression are endless—the experience delicious.

My conscious passion for words began in Mr. Castle’s 8th grade English class. “Don’t be lazy,” he admonished. “Dig until you find the most creative word and then use it sparingly.”

Hemingway taught me the power of brevity. A biography of Tom Wolfe’s editor lifted the veil on word craft. Working for a ferocious leader, who was also an author, taught me to penetrate a thought and explain it clearly. “Don’t waste my time with drivel,” she demanded.

But it was relentless practice that turned me into a writer. Throughout twenty-five years as an executive assistant, I composed thousands of memos, proposals, and letters for the leaders I supported.

At some point, I realized that I had managed to turn every task into a literary one. Yet, I didn’t consider myself a “real” writer because I didn’t do fiction. I produced a couple of very energetic poetry cycles, but I was never one of those authors with characters and stories propelling themselves onto the page. So, in my own mind, I wasn’t (and never would be) a legitimate writer.

In the early 1990s, I fell into an opportunity to write advertising copy, marketing brochures, and contribute to a company newsletter. At about the same time, a management consultant hired me as his assistant. He was a brilliant strategist, but English was not his first language, which severely hampered his impact on the organization he was trying to change.

He was a pedestrian speaker and an even worse writer. So, very quickly, I started composing his correspondence, polishing his articles, and even delivering his workshops on team building and organizational change.

These were heady times that came crashing to an end when I totaled my car (and nearly myself) on a rural highway in Montana. Swerving to miss a mile marker after looking down just a bit too long to change a tape in the cassette player, I lost control, drove into a ditch, hit an embankment, and flew 60 feet, landingkersplatin a field. The car didn’t roll, but I suffered a severe concussion and fractured back, so work was out of the question.

For some months, my husband had wanted to return to Colorado. I was conflicted about leaving my great job and had prayed for an obvious sign to determine if we should stay or go. This accident clearly said, “Go.”

Back in Denver with a muddled head and no definitive career path, I figured my writing and speaking days were over. But, as I have come to believe, we live in a Universe that really does want us to pursue our dreams. So, before too long, life presented me with a new opportunity to write articles, create workshops, and conduct a leadership academy as part of the marketing team for the Colorado Community College System.

Here I met my good friend Doug Hawk who acted as mentor and cheerleader for the writing passion that was becoming increasingly powerful and insistent. Inspired by Julia Cameron’s concept of morning pages, I started a journal.

The effect of my personal “late-at-night-pages” was electric. Out of the initially repetitive inventory of a day’s events and what seemed like an eternal quest for my “true work,” came insights, emotions, poetry, and inspiration that I had never before expressed to anybody, including myself.

In these journal conversations, I marveled at a previously untapped aspect of my consciousness that seemed to be multidimensional. It was as if a student would begin the dialogue and then an inner teacher would finish it. Suddenly, writing had turned into a spiritual practice that was also very productive.

I began two different books (which are still waiting their turn for publication). My experience as an executive assistant formed the framework for a one-day workshop to help employees do great work in any occupation. And I was hired as an instructor/facilitator for a prestigious training company on the East Coast. I had found “my true work” and it was exhilarating.

Unfortunately, the old saying, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” became all too true in 2004 when my husband, Stephen, was diagnosed with colon cancer. After a year of aggressive treatment, he was pronounced cancer-free. But in 2006 the disease returned, metastasized to his liver—treatable, but not curable.

It was then that words became my lifeline. Desperate emotions, crazy thoughts, deep philosophy, spiritual hopes, passion, prayers, and fears all found a home in the journal I carried with me everywhere.

A few weeks after we learned that Stephen was going to leave me a widow, I had a vision that our experience with the end of life would be a book. I didn’t know what kind, but it was very clear that I had to record everything that was arising in our world. “Capture the moments now and figure out later how they fit together,” was the advice of the inner teacher I was learning to trust.

Stephen died in October of 2008. Within four months, I had remodeled the upstairs of my townhome and completed a first draft of the book I felt impelled to write. By October of 2009, a sixth draft went to my brilliant editor in New York. And in June of 2010, the completely re-written manuscript went to the printer.

A Beautiful Death: Facing the Future with Peace(Flying Crane Press) was released on the second anniversary of Stephen’s passing. At last, I was a published author, and it finally became clear that writing was what I most wanted to do with the remainder of my life.

Since then I have continued to produce articles based on my own experience with death, grief, and a life profoundly transformed by loss. All that output earned me an invitation fromPsychology Todayonline to blog as “A Beautiful Grief”—a moniker they picked because I told them I was writing a book by that title.A Beautiful Grief: Reflections on Letting Gowas released this past March, and I am currently collecting elements for the third book of what is emerging as a trilogy.

Compelling fictions have to yet to appear on my pages. But I do have passion and poetry and a message of hope that I know is helping others traverse some of life’s most heart-wrenching experiences.

Writing is a gift for which I can’t take much credit—except that I do practice daily, working hard for the words to have their say. And alphabet soup remains my soul’s favorite repast.


Cheryl regularly posts on LinkedIn and as cherylecklbooks on Facebook and Twitter. Her books are available online and through fine booksellers everywhere. Learn about her current work, and where you can also subscribe to her e-newsletter.

Copyright © 2012, Cheryl Eckl Communications, Inc.


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