May 2013 New Directions Weekend — Home, part 1

 New Directions May 2013 Weekend – “Home”

P1020083.jpgOn Friday morning, May 3, I gathered with returning and first-time New Direction participants at the Pentagon City Residence Inn for the Spring 2013 weekend. Organizers Sharon Alperovitz and Evelyn Schreiber joined three guest faculty – Nancy McWilliams, Faye Moskowitz, and Deborah Luepnitz – to explore the theme “Home“. Over the course of the weekend, we considered the creation of writing homes; the work of activists and therapists to create material and psychic homes for the homeless; the homes in which we are raised and raise our families; the homes we carry with us; and the role of memory and the body as a home that defends against and repairs trauma and provides for the building of connections and a secure self.

Because each of these ways of thinking about home is too interesting to be reduced to a few lines in a single blog entry, I’ve decided to report on the May weekend in four separate entries. I plan to release a new blog entry every few weeks, which will keep me busy until the Summer Cape Cod retreat. In the first three entries, I will write about the presentations of the guest faculty; the final entry will highlight some of the other events of the weekend – the four participant readings, Linda Sherby’s reading from her new book, and the graduation.  I will also describe how the weekend writing groups are structured for participants, to give those blog readers who have never attended New Directions a sense of what happens. 

P1020076.jpgNancy McWilliams offered us the first presentation of the weekend, a talk titled “On Writing, With Nods to Virginia Wolf and D.W. Winnicott.” McWilliams is the author of numerous books and articles, including Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality Structure in the Clinical Process and Psychoanalytic Case Formation, and teaches at the Graduate School of Applied & Professional Psychology at Rutgers. McWilliams, who is well-regarded for her ability to make complicated psychoanalytic concepts and techniques accessible without dumbing them down, described her development as a writer through reference to psychoanalytic conceptualizations of how a therapeutic home is created for analysands.

McWilliams began by describing her transferences to her internal and external audiences.  She suggested that her pleasure in writing is based in deep identifications with her parents, who valued her writing, and two of her high school teachers, who provided her with an inner sense that she had something to say. These teachers taught her “to find the fresh phrase, the surprising metaphor, a useful figure of speech, simplicity, and directness” and they had, she said, “an allergy to overwriting.” 

McWilliams next described the working alliance with a colleague that helped her redefine the task of writing in a way that allowed her to write her first book.  She moved to a consideration of the facilitating environment – the particular physical and temporal spaces needed for the writing endeavor. 

(Click image to play video)

(Click image to play video)

I particularly enjoyed the narration of her resistance to actually sitting down to write. (To view a three-minute video of this part of McWilliams’ talk, just double-click on the image to the left.) What she described was so familiar to me, capturing my own strategies for the painful beginnings of any writing project:

  “Whenever I have a writing project with a looming deadline, I go through what has become a familiar dance. I procrastinate. I think of a gazillion other things I have to clear off my plate before I can start. I keep trying to get my email inbox down to nothing… I do an inordinate amount of housecleaning, something that under other circumstances is hardly ever my first choice activity. As I pursue all these distractions, I have an image of myself as involved in a kind of circling behavior, like the kind one sees in an old dog when she is deciding exactly where and in what position to lie down, knowing that while it will feel lovely to rest, the act of lying down will be a painful strain on her joints.” Overcoming her resistance to creative expression, McWilliams told us, “tends to be the stark phenomenon that I can no longer tolerate the shame of not following through with the writing task that I had either agreed to do or had announced that I intended to do.”

Finally having a rough draft allows her to move to working through, which conjures for her a self-state of being in a zone in which she becomes preoccupied with the project, in which everything that happens to her becomes part of the experience of writing.  She revises in this state, reading with her ears, finding the right word, the perfect rhythm. 

P1020078.jpgMcWilliams concluded by reflecting on home. To write, she told us, she needs to be alone, but it is an aloneness that is ultimately relational and is always tied to the feeling of being at home.  It is to be “alone in the presence of the mother,” of a real and an internalized audience of those we trust, those who believe we have something to say and who respond, as McWilliams described her high school teachers as doing, with direct criticism, honest praise, tact, and always with a willingness to be our best supporters by being our best critics.

This may be a feeling that resonates for many in the New Directions Program, which was, after all, conceived as a home for psychoanalysts and therapists, writers and academics who share a desire to explore the movements between clinical insights and practices and writing. In her introduction to the weekend, Sharon commented, “It seems amazing that it has taken so long in New Directions to do a weekend on home, because …from the beginning, we were very certain that what we were hoping to give to you was a place that would feel safe and warm and enclosing, to be able to bring out your wonderful intellect and skills as writers, and I think by and large we have been able to do that.” I came to New Directions, not as a clinician but as an academic from a largely unrelated field with an already well-established record of publication. I already knew how to talk aIMG_2296.JPGbout my writing with others, how to revise and polish. I have barely begun to understand what it is about finding a home among the people at New Directions, in spite of my professional foreignness, that has contributed to making the past five years the most productive of my professional writing career.  While I’m not yet able to say much about it, I think it very much has something to do with the quote Deborah Luepnitz used in the title of her talk (which I will write about next):  “I felt it shelter to speak to you.”


  1. Irene Landsman says:

    A wonderful weekend, beautifully described. Thanks, Gail!

  2. Danna Halpin says:

    Very much enjoyed your recap of the May meeting. Thanks, Gail!

  3. Cynthia Ezell says:

    Dear Gail,

    Thanks for this informative blog. As a graduate of the program, it’s nice to keep in touch this way.


    Devra – Wishing you were there!

  5. Devra Adelstein says:

    Hi Gail,
    I couldn’t attend the May weekend and your blog helped me to feel like I was there. Thank you,


    My pleasure.

  7. Kerry Malawista says:

    Thank you Gail for creating this world “blog” home for our New Directions community. A great review of Nancy’s wonderful talk.

Skip to toolbar