Saturday, April 16, 2011

Back to the Beginning: An Admitted Negative Self-Talker — And an Accomplished Smart Woman

I attended The Field's End Writers' on Bainbridge Island today. Carol Cassella, author of Oxygen and Healer and now working on a third book under contract with Simon and Schuster, presented a workshop titled, "Get Out of My Way: Don't Be Your Own Worst Enemy When Facing the Blank Page!" She focused on ". . . grabbing your best concepts and getting them down on paper before your internal editor can ruin them." Having interviewed her in 2009 after her debut novel came out when her perfectionistic self was plagued with negative self-talk, I was excited to hear her inspiring others to avoid inner self-criticism. Consequently, I'm adding this article from April 2010 to the Back to the Beginning Series; articles that are introductory to the what and why of negative self-talk.

The article below, originally in Seattle Woman, July/August 2009, is a great example of an amazing woman who openly announces she's  burdened with the negative self-talk that most of us deal with. You'll see a great example in the second to the last paragraph which highlights the negative self-talk in blue. In the final paragraph, some neutral, cognitive restructured self-talk is highlighted in red.

"Carol Cassella, M.D., anesthesiologist, author of Oxygen, spouse, and mother of two sets of twins, ages 12 and 13, seems to personify the 21st century ideal of the woman who does it all, has it all, and is it all, balancing her many roles with grace. She disputes the suggestion that she’s a role model and says, “It’s not true. There is no balance: like being on a bongo board, there’s never a static point. I’m always adjusting, seeking equilibrium — which isn’t there. The last year has been the most stressful of my life.”

Before Dr. Cassella finished Oxygen, which takes place in Seattle and tells a compelling story of a single female anesthesiologist’s professional and personal crises, her publisher, Simon and Schuster pushed her to start a second novel — with a quick deadline. ”My crazy life became crazier,” she commented. The book tour for Oxygen, requests for speaking engagements, and a leap in e-mails from enthusiastic readers demanded triple the time commitment she had anticipated.

Even before this last stressful year, the fifteen years of Cassella’s life prior to writing her debut novel were relatively hectic; a move from Texas to Seattle and completion of an internal medicine residency; marriage, finishing an anesthesia residency, the birth of four children within 15 months, then building and rebuilding (they needed more room than planned) a house and moving from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. “Shock and awe” are the only words the she and her husband Steve found to describe the realization and then 9 months later, the actualization, of their second set of twins. “We discovered that it was impossible to take care of four babies without help. Luckily we found the greatest nanny in the world — she is still a part of our lives and a close family friend.”

When the four children started school, Cassella began a connection with Field’s End, the Writers’ Community on Bainbridge Island, fulfilling her childhood and early adult craving to write. She was first in line on the doorstep of the Bainbridge Island Library when Field’s End founder David Guterson presented the initial offering for writers. She took all the classes, participated in roundtables and conferences, and met other writers who supported each other in their common mission.

 In August of 2008 Carol presented a Field’s End Roundtable, “How Do We Find Time to Write?” She suggests that writers forget about finding a two or three hours unbroken time period for writing and instead grab any ten, twenty or thirty minute segment and start planning, jotting notes, editing, outlining, or polishing what they’ve already written. On April 18th, she will be a presenter at the Field’s End Spring Conference, an honor she values. As is currently clear, Cassella is definitely made up of the writer’s cloth. Her childhood passion has produced a second significant career, concurrent with her medical profession, both cultivated in the state of Washington.

When asked about the profession that seems more natural to her, Cassella replied, “I certainly wanted to write long before I wanted to be a doctor, so the writer has lived inside my mind ever since I learned to read. I don’t think I could have felt complete at the end of my life if I hadn’t given writing a dedicated and serious effort. But I also can’t imagine having missed out on my career as a physician. It is such a unique type of work, presenting so many intriguing intellectual, scientific, and technological challenges along with the strong emotional component of the patient relationships.”

Working two or three days a week at the hospital, co-parenting four almost teens with her husband, Steve, co-managing the household, while writing 30 minutes here and 10 minutes there, plus sleeping, eating and staying healthy often feels almost impossible to Cassella. When contemplating the complexity of her life she sometimes wonders, “Should I have added writing to my already crazy life? Have I invited a beast into my house?” referring to the demands of writing a second novel, which she finds even more difficult than the first because she now knows who her readers are and what they expect. “Should I still continue on this path? Will I have regrets? Am I being selfish by writing? Am I missing family events and experiences that I’ll be sad about forever? Is what I’m doing good for the children? Or at least not bad for them? “

She answers herself when she says, “Ultimately I have to believe that the children know they are loved as unique individuals, and the consequences of such a busy, crowded childhood will be made up for in other ways. I hope they grow up to be as close to one another as I am with my two sisters. I only wish their childhood could pass a little more slowly, with more chance to savor the five or six years we have left together.” Many parents in dual career relationships would probably share her sentiments about raising children well, a difficult task even under ideal circumstances, whatever those might be."
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