So Hard to Say “I’m Sorry”


I am wrapping up a workshop on writing wrongs and am now certain of three things about apology and forgiveness:

First, to feel sorry  – or to need an apology  – is uniquely human.

Second, saying you are sorry – or that you forgive – is really hard.

And finally, apologizing and forgiving can be expressed artfully and in infinite ways.

It’s this last point that got my attention, as well as for the writers in my workshop.

What a rich topic to explore! It’s a subject that never gets old; as true to the zeitgeist of today as it is of yesterday.

Saying we are sorry – or granting forgiveness – can be a thorny proposition. But exploring it in words can coax out the color, the bud. If we’re lucky, the flower.

If more of us give it a go, who knows? We might be able to populate more gardens, seeded with love.

To get a taste for how magnificently the subject can be addressed in words  – as well as animation – I share just a few materials that we relied on for our discussions and writing prompts that ranged from Ta-Nehisi Coates to Bo Jack Horseman.

One or more of these is likely to move you. I encourage you to let it.

“I’m sort of sorry.”

Bo Jack Horseman  comes to Herb’s death bed to apologize, but it doesn’t go well.

“You should feel sorry.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates describes what not feeling safe can look like in his own neighborhood.

“I forgive you and I understand.”

Sarah Vowell sees herself in her dad, in spite of their vast differences.

 “I am sorry but I want to do better.”

On her Facebook page last fall, Elizabeth Gilbert, offered a profound self-integrity check. 

  • Did I give Bill Clinton a complete and total pass on being a lying skank about women, because he was my guy and I liked his politics? Answer: Yes.
  • Do I preach love and courage and peace and inclusion, but then use my social media platforms to spew rage and fear and panic and condemnation? Do I constantly use the language of war, with the delusion that this will somehow lead to peace? Answer: Yes.
  • Do I make blanket proclamations about how “we women are angry,” or “we women will rise up and take our revenge” — ignoring the fact that literally millions of women have completely different beliefs from me? Answer: yes.
Interested in future writing workshops?
In March: “Reading and Writing the Personal Essay”
Also in March: “Essay as Song: What Essayists Can Learn from the Songwriters”
In April: “Writing for Personal Discovery: Making Art from Life”
For more workshop info, click here.
Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2018






Finding Your Story and Writing it … for Self Discovery

 Photo by Ellen Blum Barish

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.  

Maya Angelou

There’s a story you want to write. It hovers. Pokes at you. Maybe even stalks you. You’ve thought about it – in fact you have taken a seat, a pen and pad in hand, but you just didn’t know how where to start and you hoped the feeling would pass.

But it hasn’t. You’ve shared parts of the story with friends and they have urged you to write it down. It felt really good to tell it. You think it would feel as good — perhaps even better — to get it into words. Words that you could return to and read aloud, to feel it again and share with others. A bird, compelled to sing her song.

Anais Nin wrote that we write to taste life twice. Writing offers second chances, writes Jonathan Safran Foer, and allows us to reframe our life, to take it in and give it back differently,  “so that everything is used and nothing is lost,” write Nicole Krauss.

There are so many reasons to write your story but, sadly, there are more reasons not to.

And most of the time, we chose not to because it’s so big … so time-consuming …  so complicated … so scary… so personal … so private …. so hard.

I know all this because I have felt all of these feelings as I considered, struggled or walked away from writing personal narrative. But allow me to share three secrets about writing personal stories.

1)   Finding and writing the personal story is better (not easier, just more pleasant) with someone – a knowing, trusted someone – rooting you on.

2)   Having captured your story (or “having written,” as Dorothy Parker wrote) is one of the most satisfying, joyful experiences you can have in life. (Okay, I’m a little biased, but this I can guarantee.)

3)  The third and perhaps best secret, so well expressed by Anna Quindlan,  is about writing is for self discovery. She wrote:

I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.

Thinking about working with a private writing coach? I work with writers of all levels – face to face, via telephone, email or Skype –  that is as unique as the individual and the project. I’ve rarely worked the same way, twice. Feel free to email me at to set up a free telephone consultation to see if private writing coaching is what you need to find your story and begin to write it.