Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

When writing becomes healing

This column was published in the Tri-Valley Herald in November 2007.

Ten years ago, Elizabeth Martella gave birth to a girl she named Viviana. Like many new mothers, Martella held the baby in her arms for pictures, and made prints on paper from her daughter’s tiny palms and feet.

But the occasion was not happy.

“Having a stillborn baby means dealing with very hard emotions,” said Martella, who lives in Lathrop. “For months my mind raced with questions of guilt and misgivings.”

To cope with the tragedy, she turned to the love of her husband, Jorge, but she also turned to poetry.

“Writing was a way of healing for me,” she said.

In fact, Martella, 35, has tapped into the power of writing poetry to grapple with the many challenges life has thrown her way.

When she was eight, her father left his wife and children for another woman.

“I was devastated,” she said, “and I still have difficulty with this.”

Martella’s mother, who was born in Taiwan and met Martella’s father when he was a Marine overseas, moved her young family from San Francisco to Oakland to live with her sister. “My mom was a strong woman,” Martella said, noting that her mother had to work three jobs—as a waitress, a hotel housekeeper, and a late-night janitor—just to support her family.

As Martella wrestled in her pre-teen years with her father’s absence, she became the victim of sexual abuse by a cousin. This went on for many years until she turned 14, when she stood up to him and said no more.

After high school, Martella took a few classes at Merritt College and started working. “Growing up with barely any food to eat sometimes,” she said, “it was great to be able to make my own money, so I left college and began working full time.”

Martella managed a Chevron service station and one day met a young man whose family had immigrated from Buenos Aires. “I soon discovered that Jorge was my soul mate,” she said.

A kind and caring husband, Jorge understood and loved Martella like no one else ever had. Then, a few years after the loss of their first baby, they were blessed in 2001 with a baby girl they named Izabella.

Though from the outside it appeared life was settling down for the Martellas, an avalanche of unresolved inner conflict led Martella to a nervous breakdown in 2005.

She began to see a therapist, and as she made progress, she leaned heavily on her writing for support.

“The month after I started therapy,” she said, “I started compiling a collection of my poems, which led me to write even more poems.”

Martella poured her tears and sadness into her work, writing about her father, her stillborn baby, the abuse—all of her life’s experiences.

The result is a book of published poems dedicated to readers “from broken homes and dysfunctional families” and those “molested as a child.” Martella states in her dedication, “Know that there is light at the end of that tunnel.”

And part of that light for Martella became the publication of her second work, this time a children’s book. Based on a happy experience with Martella’s 6-year-old daughter, the book is titled “Izabella and her Wardrobe.”

“My daughter was my inspiration,” Martella said. “She is quite the character, especially when it comes to her clothing.”

Martella’s goal is to write a ten-book series on various topics as Izabella grows older.

Both books, available at
http://www.lulu.com/, are the expression of a caring woman dedicated to sharing her experiences with others on the path to healing.

As she writes in her book of poems, "Life isn’t always perfect; it’s what you make of it that counts.”



she said...

so much to love about this story..

this woman. her strength, candor, openness, love, dedication

all admirable and inspirational

and then.. look at that.. true but overlooked by so many

this gift.. internal coping mechanism..

writing to heal; healing from writing; reading to heal; healing from reading

but look deeper still: some write, some conversate, but humans are designed to share their stories through one vehicle or another

words, pictures, art, dialogue, movies, poetry, plays, music...

imagine our world, our lives without this instinct

i am so fascinated by the genius of creativity in humans and so intrigued by the experiences which unleash it

what wonderful testimony lives in this article and in this woman's journey, poetry and stories

i fear pain and suffering less as a direct result of stories like this one, and so many in your entire blog collection here

i start to see a pattern with purpose..

much love and congratulations! ~s.

Jim Ott said...

Thanks for your remarks, she. Elizabeth and her husband are two amazing people. I've known them for several years, and they have such warm and giving hearts.

Ms. Wong said...

If anyone has gone through experiences that you cannot find words for, this book is for you. The author expresses very personal experiences through the power of words.

There are moments that anyone can identify with and feel a sense of connection that someone out there went through similar experiences.

As an educator, this book reveals what a student can possibly be going through that impacts their daily choices. You simply cannot judge a person by the way he/she looks. Seeing the author's picture, you would not suspect that someone who can have such a glowing smile can possibly have gone through such tremendous heartache.

I like to thank the author for writing so candidly about her experiences.

Cindy said...

A beautiful story Jim. So much emotion and love. It makes my heart weep when I hear about knives cutting lives short because of jealousy or who knows why...and good byes that can only be imagined. Reminds me again of the fleeting time we're here on earth--and to leave no stone unturned...
thank you