BIW Member Interview
Miriam Sonn Raabe is a retired nurse living on Whidbey Island in Washington State. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology which she hasn’t used much and is a registered nurse. She has been married to the same man for 33 years and has two grown sons – one living in Hawaii, the other in NYC. Born in 1944, she grew up in Queens, NY, then went to graduate school in Ann Arbor and Boston and has worked mainly as a nurse in psychiatry, community health, and school nursing. Since retiring two years ago, she has been trying out many new things – drawing, choir, languages, travel – as well as doing lots of volunteer work – meals on wheels, cashier at the local community thrift store, hospice care, fostering kittens, etc.). She loves to write but is still working on defining herself as a writer.
Moe: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Miriam Sonn Raabe: I’m still not sure whether to call myself a writer or just someone who loves to write. I knew I wanted to write when I was in graduate school in Sociology back in the late sixties. I would spend time in coffee shops and pancake houses writing poetry (at least it didn’t seem to be prose). It came out of a need to get in touch with a deeper part of myself, more of a spiritual journey.
The only published writing I did in those days was academic and professional. There was my PhD dissertation, “A Case Study of a School of Nursing.” While going for my PhD in Sociology, I decided to become a nurse, took some time off to go to nursing school and then worked part-time as a nurse while I wrote the dissertation.
About three years after finishing it, as a stay-at-home mom, I joined a weekly writing group and played around with turning the dissertation into a novel. I still have the rough draft of that somewhere. I also wrote a chapter in a nursing text that summarized some of the dissertation. I tried my hand at a few short stories that I submitted for publication. No luck. I gave up easily any time I got a rejection.
After graduating from nursing school, I did some research on the in-patient psychiatric unit where I worked. Out of that came an article for a psychiatric journal that I co-wrote with the director of the unit as well as a chapter in another book on psychiatry.
For several years when my kids were still very young, I wrote a monthly health column for our local paper.
I kept going back to poetry, in part because I could write a poem in 15 or 20 minutes, before going to work, as a kind of meditation.
The confusion about writing versus being a writer, continued. Meditation as writing was such a private thing, certainly nothing I needed to share with anyone or certainly not with a large public. On the other hand, I was never sure that my feeling of not needing or wanting to share it widely wasn’t a cop-out, a behavior born of fear and shyness. I still struggle with that.
Miriam Sonn Raabe:
- When I don’t write for any length of time, I get very grumpy. I NEED to write for the sake of my own health and well-being. I have learned to take that need seriously. While I am writing, especially poetry, it is as if I go to a special hideout and tune into a different frequency, one that nourishes and sustains me.
- I have a fear of publishing and trying to get published. I need to get over that. I think it is basically a form of ego masquerading as shyness.
- Be specific and go with the inner flow. Nail down the details and don’t be afraid of the wild ride on the rapids. If I am not a little uncomfortable with what I am writing, I am probably not being honest enough.
Tips about writing and my own personal lessons:
The concept of ‘free writing’ has been helpful. No matter how uninspired I feel, I can almost always convince myself to do 10 minutes of free writing, and I usually feel better for it.
Stop worrying about whether you are writing poetry or prose or what specific genre or form you are using. Some of the most interesting writing has crossed those boundaries and entered new territory.
Moe: What are you working on now?
Miriam Sonn Raabe: I am going through all my notebooks and typing up my poems. The plan next is to review them and choose my favorites for a book of poetry.
I am translating a book (from Hebrew to English) that my brother-in-law wrote. He lives on a kibbutz in Israel and was, for many years, the head of the orchards. In 1997, he suffered a severe stroke which affected primarily his expressive language skills. Since then, he has been clawing his way back to being able to communicate, mainly through using one hand and a computer. The book is about his experiences as a stroke victim. It has been used in Israel by health care practitioners who work with stroke patients.
I have started a blog focused on health issues. It is called Two Retired Nurses. My friend (the other retired nurse), who is now a librarian, meets with me about once a week. For now, we talk about universal health care and health care reform.
Moe: Do you have a favorite writing related book?
Miriam Sonn Raabe: Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones, was my favorite for a while. But the one I dug out of my pile and have used more often lately is called Anybody Can Write by Jean Bryant. Back in the late seventies, I attended a weekly writing group that Jean led on Bainbridge Island. She is very down to earth and unintimidating, and the book includes many useful writing exercises.
Moe: What is your favorite writing website?
Miriam Sonn Raabe: The only website I have used of late is Moe’s BIW site. When I am stuck, I go there. Nice.
Moe: Do you have an important BIW tip you’d like to pass along?
Miriam Sonn Raabe: Not exactly a tip – more a compliment for BIW. I love the concept and the simplicity of the process. I like the fact that all I have to commit to is the number of pages I will try to write during that week. There are clearly many levels of writing experience in the group that sign up each month, but all we get is encouragement rather than judgment or critique. And that, after all, is the bottom line, no? The more you write, the more likely you are to succeed in whatever form you choose.