"Soul Between the Lines: Freeing Your Creative Spirit Through Writing," Dorothy Randall Gray

Pros: Warm, inviting, a little bit of everything in terms of traditions and religions
Cons: A bit new-agey in places; requires a very open mind in places
Rating: 3 out of 5

First published 8/26/2002

There are quite a few books that attempt to combine the subject of writing with spirituality or self-help of some kind; so far I’ve found two different ways of approaching this goal. In the first method, the spirituality is seen as an adjunct to the writing – a way to get yourself to open up more and write more “truthfully.” Since writing is such a personal thing, it’s meant to help you find better ways to write. In the second method, writing is seen as an adjunct to spirituality. It’s a way to help you explore your thoughts, get in touch with your feelings, and write about the things you find important in life.

I prefer books of the first sort – while I am not, by and large, a spiritual person, I find it interesting to explore new ways of approaching my writing. The second sort of book usually ends up triggering the skeptical part of my brain at some point, which makes it a bit less fun to read. As it turns out, “Soul Between the Lines: Freeing Your Creative Spirit Through Writing” is definitely of the second variety. I found it inoffensive, but there were parts that were just too “new-agey” for me.

Where It Comes From

Dorothy Randall Gray, the author of “Soul Between the Lines,” has for many years taught a workshop called “Writing From Your Heartland.” In an attempt to show just how diverse the benefits are that you could gain from this workshop (and hence, this book), she starts the book off with tales of various people’s experiences from her workshops. They’re interesting stories, and certainly do make the point that this isn’t just a lesson on writing.

The book includes a surprisingly large amount of memoir material in general. After reading the more-than-300 pages, I feel as though I’ve spent a long weekend kicking back and chatting with Ms. Gray, talking about family, relationships, dreams and fears. She has a very informal style that’s rather endearing, and keeps a couple of things from becoming annoying. For example, all those tales of benefits people have gained from her workshop would sound awfully pompous and “look at me!” if the tone were any more formal. If I had to pick one word to describe the way in which her personality comes through in this book, it would be “nurturing.”

Ms. Gray clearly has a deep love of people, and enjoys helping people to make their lives better. This shines through very clearly in her writing. “Soul Between the Lines” is about figuring out your life, trying things until you find out what works for you, and heading off in a better direction than the one you rode in on.

Many meditation “poems” are provided; for the most part I found them very beautiful. Ms. Gray has a wonderful sense of poetry. Her prose is a little rougher, with some interesting typos and mistakes here and there, but I’ve seen far worse and did enjoy her style quite a bit.

Topics

After an introduction to the book’s methods and terminology, Ms. Gray moves onward to colors. She presents a similar chapter on the elements later on, as well as one on seasons. She examines how these natural phenomena affect our lives, what they mean to us, and how we can use them to reexamine our selves and our work. Chapter three is “the Sacredness of Self.” Ms. Gray suggests that divine power is an energy that can be called upon. She leads the reader through a meditation to find your “Goddess of Creative Spirit,” and then on an initiation journey.

“Spirit of a Woman,” chapter 5, addresses the various stages of life and leads you through the creation of an “icon box.” This section is framed in terms of the feminine experience, but any man who is reasonably in touch with his “feminine side” could find something of value here. Ms. Gray divides life into “To Be or Not to Be” (conception), “Planetary Reentry” (birth), “Pioneers at Play” (childhood), “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” (adolescence), “the Age of Consent” (adulthood), “the Middle Passage” (middle age), “the Silver Time” (senior years), and “A Wake-up Call” (death).

She discusses the topic of angels. Do they watch over us? Can we ask them for help? What about the spirits of our ancestors – how do they affect our lives? How can we honor them and ask for their help? Then she wraps things up with a few last topics, including stars, sky, and moon.

Each chapter (or section of chapter) ends up with several specific sections. One is called “journeys,” and suggests topics for freewrites that involve the concepts just discussed. “Food for thought” is a sort of free-association list. For example, the food for thought from the section on the color red includes such items as red ribbon, red fox, red light district, red neck, red wine, red tape, red pepper, red herring, “The Scarlet Letter,” and so on. These are terms that use the relevant word, book titles, song lyrics, names, and common sayings.

Finally, each section ends with “seasonal surrenders.” These are little rituals you can use to remind yourself of the divinity and specialness of life.

Things That Didn’t Impress Me

First, a nit-picky stylistic matter. Every single instance of the name of the workshop had a “TM” after it (and it was mentioned often). In addition, the various terms that Ms. Gray used (journeys, food for thought, a few other things) were always capitalized or italicized. There’s just no need to go that far overboard. It’s distracting, and it’s kind of cheesy.

I wasn’t overly fond of most of the “food for thought” sections. They were mostly lists of stereotypical, cliched associations, particularly toward the beginning of the book in the chapter on colors. They often seemed like a waste of space.

Some of the material in this book got very “new-agey.” In particular, the section on angels annoyed me. The tone of the section left me with the impression that angels were supposed to be silly, cherubic beings playing pranks on people for fun. I just find that… demeaning to angels, I guess.

In particular, Ms. Gray sometimes referred to things as being “medical fact,” or having been shown through research. She says this as though research automatically confers validity. The truth is that there’s a lot of very flawed research out there, and I object to anyone using the word “research” to show that something is true without at least providing a bibliography of sources or indulging in a brief discussion of what the research entailed. (Or at least qualifying the discussion a little – it’s possible to say that research has indicated something without making it sound final and authoritative.)

Ultimately…

If you can’t stand any aspect of New-Age spirituality, don’t read this book; you just won’t enjoy it. Ms. Gray puts a great amount of value in family, tradition, and ancestors. If you have a horrible relationship with your family, then you might find this difficult.

If you can stand it, even if you don’t love it, you might still get something good out of this book. Ms. Gray has a delightful and ebullient spirit, and she provides some wonderful places to start when it comes to exploring and taking charge of your life. Her memoirs are fascinating and inspiring, and she provides enough disparate suggestions that almost anyone could find something worthwhile in here – in terms of both spirituality and writing.

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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