Joy and sorrow as I had
Will be re-inspected;
Feeling sane and being mad,
Taken or rejected.
Junk and chaos, come to halt!
‘Stead of wild confusion,
Form a meaningful gestalt
At my life’s conclusion.
-- Fritz Perls
In and Out the Garbage Pail
Sometimes we read things before we’re ready and miss much of the meat. That was the case with this poem, which serves as a preface for the “free-floating autobiography of the man who developed Gestalt Therapy.” I read this book in 1977 while working on my master’s degree in counseling psychology. I read a pile of books about Gestalt therapy, many written by Perls.
Today I readily admit that most of the material was over my head, but a few concepts stuck, like Gestalt as a sense of the whole. Over the intervening decades I’ve continued to develop and further appreciate that concept, along with my ability to look at an overview or bigger picture. Gestalt techniques such talking to an empty chair are directly applicable to expressive writing exercises so valuable to those who write to find deeper meaning in their lives.
More than twenty years ago my collection of Gestalt books joined dozens of shelf mates on a journey to the library used book sale to clear space for newer acquisitions. As I became more involved with the healing aspects of writing, I began regretting that decision, especially when I found that libraries have made the same one for the same reason. How frustrating to be unable to look back at those old volumes to reassess and further mine the rich ore I now recognized.
Last week, while attending a high school reunion in Los Alamos, I decided to check out the imposing concrete library that replaced the windowed one of my youth. I found a gold mine just beyond the door: half a dozen Gestalt titles I’d given away greeted me from their perch on Free Books carts in the Friends of the Library book sale area. I gratefully whisked all of them into my arms, clutching them close as I toured the building.
I just opened the covers of In and Out the Garbage Pail in hopes of finding a short poem I’ve spent years searching for. I’m sure it was written by Fritz Perls. I do hope to find it in one of these books, but first I am pausing to fully savor this delightful Garbage Pail poem I was not mature enough to appreciate the first time around.
Today I realize I couldn’t possibly have understood that poem before I began writing lifestories. Now I recognize the message. I’ve tossed editions of my own story in the garbage pail (or its digital equivalent, the Recycle Bin) countless times as it continues to shape-shift in a tantalizingly mysterious dance. I toy with selected memories, working to connect these story dots into a meaningful Gestalt. Perls renews my faith that I will solve the puzzle – hopefully before my life’s conclusion.
Write now: Anne Lamott’s advice to “write a shitty first draft” fits ever so well with Perls’ overview. Use Anne’s advice to write a draft of a story you’ve been putting off. Let Perls give you the freedom to toss it in the pail, then remove it again as you reassess. Don’t be deterred by all the shape-shifting. Hang in there with it and finish your story, however long or short.