Shauna passed away 12/3/09. She was our featured writer in the summer of 2008, and we are featuring her again to honor and remember her. We deeply miss Shauna's inspiring writing and her warm and generous presence in our writing community.
Please note: This featured writer page was originally created in June 2008 when Shauna had just finished participating in our writing workshop at Providence Integrated Cancer Center, St. Vincent Medical Center Campus.
Shauna is forty-two years old and was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. She is currently disabled by the cancer, but for nearly ten years before her diagnosis, she was a designer for Hot Off the Press, a craft-book maker specializing in scrapbooks and paper-crafting. In connection with her job, she designed idea-books, ads, journals, teaching handouts, and promotional material for shows.
Shauna married in 1994, and she has two children, a boy 13 and a girl, nine. When Shauna began having surgeries for the cancer, her mother quit her job of 25 years and moved to Portland to live in Shauna’s spare room and help out with the family. Her husband’s business allows him to work from home, so he’s also able to help out around the house when the need arises.
You can read Shauna's writing, which is featured in our anthology, A Rare and Necessary Time, and below. An interview with Shauna about her experience writing in community follows.
What Matters Is This Moment, Now
By Shauna Berglund-Immel
I’ve started a journal for each of my children, because it’s hard for us to talk about our fears face to face. I’ll write in the journal how proud I am of something they’ve done, and I ask them to write back to me, in the journal, to tell me what they’re feeling. It’s easier sometimes to communicate through the journal.
It’s very important to me to leave writing for my family, for when I’m not here. I’m making a box for each of the children, with letters, song lyrics, and cards for them to read: like on their sixteenth birthday, or when they graduate or get married—a kind of time-capsule box they can open after I’m gone, so it will be like I’m still there with them. I’m putting in a keychain for them to get when they learn to drive a car. I’m also putting in books they’re too young for now, but they might want to read later, like the “Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch . He’s a man who has cancer, and really young children, and he wrote this amazing lecture saying everything that he wants his children to hear from him after he’s gone.
When you have cancer, you get a warning that you’re running out of time. This encourages you to say what you have to say and not save it for later. But this is true for everybody: we don’t ever really know when we’re going to run out of time. What matters is this moment, now. Now is the time to say how you feel, to tell your children how much you love them. You don’t want to have any regrets. You don’t want to wish you had told people you love them, when it’s too late.
© Shauna Berglund-Immel and Write Around Portland
Interview with featured writer Shauna Berglund-Immel
Biography writer and interviewer: Kathryn Kendall, Volunteer
Tell us about your experience in a Write Around Portland Workshop
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I started journaling about what was going on, how I was feeling. The writing I was doing wasn’t focused, wasn’t regular, and wasn’t anything I would want to share with anybody. When I started participating in the workshop, that gave me an appointment, a pre-arranged time, and an assignment. It gave me a chance to give shape to my writing.
Being in the group with other women who had cancer filled up my well, inspired me. I’ve always felt that I can’t think or talk as well as I write. So this gave me a particular time and place set aside from everything else, in which I could do the writing I needed to do.
What did you get out of the workshop?
So much! You know, when you have cancer, you spend most of your time reassuring other people, saying “I’m fine,” or “It’s going to be OK.” You’re facing your own death, but you can’t say that to your friends and family, because it scares them. You can’t admit to the fears you have inside, because you want to be positive all the time and keep other people going. But you have fears, you have a great darkness inside. Other people who have cancer are able to hear that darkness.
I realized that everybody is a writer and a poet, if they let that happen for themselves. Every woman in there wrote beautifully, and every woman also listened beautifully. The workshop gave me a safe place to share my feelings. I didn’t have to sugar-coat reality for them. In the workshop, I felt validated as a writer, and I was able to admit to the whole range of feelings that I had.
The workshop allowed me to take my fears and put them into a form that other people could really hear, both in the workshop and outside the workshop, and that has been very important to me.
Had you written much before you joined the Write Around Portland workshop?
I’ve been writing ever since I took a creative writing class in eighth grade. I’ve always loved to write. I thought of myself primarily as an artist; I got my B.A. in Art, but I always needed to write, too. I took creative writing and literature classes in college, and I always loved the writing that I had to do for them. In my work at Hot Off the Press, I did a lot of writing; but of course I wasn’t writing about myself. I didn’t put my own feelings into my writing there. Being in the workshop helped me to take writing more seriously, and to let it be a part of who I am.
I always dreamed of being a writer and illustrator of children’s books, but then I got married, and I had a job, and then I had the two children—and there just never was time for me to make that dream come true. It was great that I was able to have a job that, in a way, allowed me to make a living by my passion for art and writing. But of course I wasn’t writing about myself. I never had uninterrupted time to devote to developing myself as a writer. The Workshop gave me that.
How was your experience writing in a group? Sharing with others? Hearing other people’s stories?
It was amazing being in that group of people who were going through the same thing I was going through. The workshop gave me a scheduled time to write. The room we were in was not being used after the workshop was over, so I’d stay [later and write].
Sometimes I like to work on draft after draft. I like to read my work aloud, over and over, and change it, shift words around, polish it till it’s exactly the way I want it to be. So I do that late at night, on the computer. I write a blog to keep my family and friends updated on what’s going on with the cancer and with me—and I put everything I write in the workshop on that blog. The chemo disrupts my sleep, so that’s why I often write late at night. Sometimes I’m up all night long. The writing is company for me during the long nights.
When you’re having chemo, there’s a rhythm that sets in—at least for me. Right after the chemo there’s a low time, and then I get a chemo-high, with waves and waves of creative inspiration. I come up with my best ideas in that upswing that comes after the downer right after chemo. Before I had the writing workshop, I felt this enormous creative energy, often at night, and I didn’t know what to do with it. The workshop gave me a focus. It meant I had assignments to work on, and I could revise all I wanted to, and there would be people who really wanted to hear what I had written.
Would you recommend Write Around Portland workshops to others?
Definitely. It gives you a safe place to release whatever is inside. It’s safe, therapeutic, and cleansing. You make connections with the people in the group, and that’s very important.
And then when there’s a public reading, you realize that you can connect with this huge roomful of people, some of them very different from you, some of them going through completely different things. But you feel the connection. You get respect, and people cheer for the writers and give them really warm applause for getting up there. You see that everyone who gets up feels this amazing sense of safety, of being welcomed and heard. That’s magical.
What did the workshop help you learn about yourself as a writer?
I love the [writing] prompts. I love having an "assignment." I like timed writings, but I also like taking all the time I need—time to rewrite, to revise, to work on it till every word is just right. I like feedback, and I learned in the workshop that other people see me as a WRITER. That helped me to see myself that way. It makes me feel like I have so much to offer.
I love having the time set aside to write. It gives writing the importance and the central place in my life that I always wanted to give to it, but never could. I love having permission to take the time, uninterrupted time with no distractions. It gives importance to the writing, and it’s a way of honoring myself and putting myself first. It makes it easier to sleep at night, because I can empty out the ideas that have been swirling around in my head. I think of the image of filling up a well. I fill myself up with inspiration at the workshop, and then I empty it all out in words, in poems, in the things that I write.
Write Around Portland Participant