Jack Grapes Method Writing Program in SF
September 2014 Newsletter
Emotional Catharsis in Writing

© Ted Andersen

The high of accomplishment of finishing a piece is well known. But in addition to that old standard, there is another high that writers can chase: achieving emotional catharsis in art.


Catharsis has the Greek word Catharos in it, the same root as the verb Catharizo.
Is means to cleanse.
OK. Now that I've got the father character from My Big Fat Greek Wedding
proclaiming that to you in heavily accented English in your head, let me hit you with this:


 Finding catharsis is one of the keys to writing authentically.


In addition to the high of finishing a large piece, or burning the midnight oil to write furiously into the night, experiencing Catharsis is one of my favorite things as both a reader of books, a watcher of movies and a writer. It's right up there for me with reading a novel and the title and main theme of the novel are included in poignant dialogue three quarters of the way through the book. (This used to be one of my absolute favorite parts of reading novels, by the way. I'd relish that moment. It was the chocolate old-fashioned doughnut experience of reading with the cherry on top.) Akin to this aha moment of literature, is finding emotional catharsis.  Luckily for us writers, we get to find it a few times.  Once as we learn to read and watch movies and a second time as we create it for ourselves and maybe even a third when an audience is moved by our words. But, finding Catharsis in work is not so easy.


In Aristotle's Poetics, a lengthy and ancient treatise that draws out among other things the concept of the 5-act dramatic structure of plays, emotional catharsis comes to the audience after the audience experiences tragedy.

After watching a tragedy, when everybody dies in the end, as we cry, we feel cleansed. Think about the end of Romeo and Juliet. This kind of art lets us feel the feelings. As the theory goes, after a good cry, we feel better. We feel better because we have directed "our own anxieties outward and, through sympathetic identification with the tragic protagonist, [have purged] them" (Merriam Webster Dictionary).

A lot of Aristotle's Poetics talks about tragedy, but today, modern writers and thinkers have translated it into talking about drama in general. 


Not everything you write or read needs to be emotionally cathartic, but, if we're going to be real, there is a reason why we seek out great works of literature besides being able to impress people at dinner parties. But really, impressing people these days is more about taking a usable selfie to prove you were at a dinner party for all your friends on social media than it is about the dinner, the conversation or the party-unless it's a pic of the food, then yummo.


Compelling characters come from somewhere. The stardust that makes them is within your reach and at your fingertips. Give your vulnerabilities to them. Give them your fears. Give them your quarter-life and mid-life crises. Give them the same secret fears and desires that lurk in the recesses of your own heart. Make them complex, searching, yearning individuals that we all are.  How do we do this? By having an emotional catharsis ourselves. By facing ourselves. All of us. By staring ourselves down in the mirror warts and all.   


Sometimes, as we create-as we write the words and embroider the feelings into a character, or a voice, a poem, a personal essay, a ranting monologue, or kickass scene we also get it out. Catharsis in art comes from vulnerability.  It's the ability to be vulnerable in art requires a kind of humility.  It actually takes a lot of strength to be humble.



Vulnerability is what makes us human and it is what draws readers and writers to each other across time and space.  The best literature and stories are universal. It doesn't matter what language, time period, gender or ethnicity the character is born into, if the voice is authentic, and the characters are interesting, the story compelling, people will identify with it regardless of where they are coming from.  


In fact, pair a little vulnerability with toughness and you've got potential for a great complex character. Ironically, in society, in order to function, we must cultivate a kind of toughness, an outer shell in order to function.  We're not supposed to let things bother us. But did you ever know a really tough person? We're talking tough as nails. Who was the toughest person you knew? Was it the little grandma in the town you grew up in, who was 5'2" and spindly, who could inspire fear in kids with a look in her eye, who once stopped a tank of invading soldiers by protesting outside while brandishing a rolling pin.


Or did you ever know a really tough guy? We're talking tough. Looks like he could be a long lost member of the Hells Angels? The kind of guy who, if you saw him walking down the street, you'd consider crossing to the other side? Now pair that badass dude with a tender-hearted love for kitties and puppies and you have got yourself an interesting character.  People are complex. Emotions are complex.



Sometimes in the process of finding your voice, you may feel emotional. Where were you all these years, you might ask? Or where have you been? Or you might say, thank goodness I've got my groove back--or whatever. But as artists, this emotional catharsis is a pinprick that we must feel in order to give it to the work, and vicariously give it to the reader. It's the thing that creates the cleansing release for both creators and consumers of drama.


And if you are lucky enough to be moved to tears by something you have written, cherish that moment and keep going and shore up for the long haul ahead.  If somebody out there reading has felt a little bit less alone in the world after reading or watching something you have written, I'd consider that a win. As my Uncle Nick used to say, "you beat the track."

Relish the high.



� Alexandra Kostoulas

Writer and Instructor

Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program in SF



Our Taylor Street Location 
Jack Grapes' METHOD WRITING Program in San Francisco

Fall Classes Start Sept 16, 17, 25 and run for 8 consecutive weeks.  
Cost is $395.  

Click on your preferred day to sign up!


Location: 80 Fresno Street At the very bohemian Emerald Tablet 
in the Heart of North Beach--near the intersection of Broadway and Columbus
At the crossroads of SF's historic literary scene.
Sept 16-Nov 4, 2014 6:30-9:30 pm


Wednesdays  [SOLD OUT]
Location: 25 Taylor Street at the Wework building
Above the Golden Gate Theatre
In the up and coming Mid-Market area
Sept 17-November 5, 2014 6:30-9:30 pm
and for the first time, we are adding a 3rd class:

Location: 25 Taylor Street at the Wework building
Above the Golden Gate Theatre
In the up and coming Mid-Market area
Sept 25-November 13, 2014 6:30-9:30 pm
We will also have a final end-of class reading at the Emerald Tablet on a Sunday, November 23 4:30-7pm. All students of METHOD WRITING are welcome to read from their works. 
walking into the main gallery
Emerald Tablet Art Gallery and Creativity Salon
Our North Beach Location
Wework Building 25 Taylor Street 7th floor 

Featured Writer from METHOD WRITING SF Workshop
Check out these poems by
David Steinore

Writing Class


Am I really as shy as the writers with the long preambles in my class?

the apologies

the "I can't climb the mountain" and "it's all toilet paper." 


And then, they read and our hearts are touched. 

We hear language sing musical

We are connected back to our own humanness:  

Invited to cross the chasms of our separateness

with waves of heart and spirit and sound.


Again, we are blessed with unity.


The announcement for our class should read:


Writing class.

Emotion wanted.


Come lift us to our humanity

tell the miracle of your life.


Share your great spirit come through the wide world

Yes, the down, the horrible, the fabulous, the utterly embarrassing are all miracles:

            you live to tell the tale.





I breathed your name


The word I spoke

is a breath shaped by my lips

that came up from belly

that came down from nose

as I inhaled your scent

listening to your heart beat

with the pulse that permeates world.


Your rhythm stayed steady,

as did the world.

I relaxed.

I desired to open pores

to flow inside your skin

and be one with me.


You were expecting me to say you,

but the words I feel lying on you,

the same as on the bare earth-

fertile, greeted, blessed-

have no boundary that demarcates,

so I breathed your name

to greet and bless you,

to bring you into my focus,

to acknowledge the separation our bodies create:

a between I wish be fertile,

a between I wish to share parentage with you.


Your rhythm stayed steady,

as did the world.

My heart grew

as I breathed in all of you,

and breathed out all of me:

your name, our joy,

and the awe of the earth beginning.




10 finger haiku


fried fish cuban style

grease on fingers

tastes good


slice of life play

enthusiastically presented

inspiring for us


walk the dog

hold hands

crisp clear air




dog in the middle


caress hold

feel energy glow

inside outside our bodies


fingers glide up n' down

kisses quiet

faces caressed


not up for more

ah, oh

perhaps me too


go home

sleep well

fingers write haiku


need to settle into body

to sink past all my concerns,

my thinking job,

my intellect, my hopes and dreams


be more like dog

simple pleasures

company, presence, body warmth


leave the ways of fitting together

at the curb

scraped from mind


enter house for companions

for play

for spirit flowing between



no need for restaurant, theater

to make the link


means let my guard down

means recognize maturity, capability

able to respond

in the moment

like dog, like god, like human


tough tissue

protects and restrains

confuses past with now


my little kid

open to everything

arise again



so far to go

to get past scars


merge with my heart

play with me





What the fuck?


I met this woman.

I have all these fears about relationship.

I wrote a list.


Then I said, What the fuck?


Relationships are about joy,

they are about holding each other,

they are about feeling the other person's emotions and spirit.


Then I said, What the fuck?


They are not even about that.

They are about embracing each other,

about tenderly holding each other's spirit.


These are all nice words.

How do I actually do?

And, aren't the ones who talk, the ones who don't do?


Why is my history of tender embrace so sporadic?


So, I keep on writing these words

'cause I'm always wondering what I am missing.

What cog is missing that I ain't already there:


The everyday tender embrace with a woman.


In the whole time I'm speaking this

I'm feeling how much I want to be in control.

I want to walk away from the downside of the negative.

I only want to hang out in the upbeat.


What the fuck?


I have another human here in my arms,

that type of control crushes spirits.


And, I don't want to be falling in love.

I don't want love to be some mysterious quicksand

I fall down into and don't know how to get up out of.

I want love to be something I generate, that permeates our souls.


How come when I dance, I don't know always know everything my limbs are doing

and it comes off fine and makes me happy?


But when I'm in a tender embrace,

I've got to know everything that's going to happen,

how it's going to come out.


What the fuck?


Maybe that's what love is:

Not knowing how it's going to come out

and staying right there anyway.




Come to our Reading on 9/18! 
Write From the Gut! Reading Series #5: METHOD WRITING *all stars* Reading


Thursday Sept 18 at 5:30 pm 

at 25 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA

7th Floor Lounge 

Join us for a night of storytelling and poetry in our newest location just above the Golden Gate Theatre in the Mid-Market Area of San Francisco. Writers are veteran members and guests of the Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program. We'll be sure to serve up our freshest works for your listening enjoyment. We'll have a keg on tap of free beer, delicious food, and live music. All you have to do is show up. Great way to end out the workday and ease your way toward the end of the week. Free. Doors open at 5. Program begins at 5:30.  


Writers from the Workshop: Dennis Estrada, Caitlin Fischer, Judy Fox, Jean Sullivan-Finn  
Musicians: Karlyn DeSteno; Datiko Galashvily 


Guest Author, Elena Mauli Shapiro


Elena Mauli Shapiro was born in Paris, France. She is the author of the novels In the Red (2014) and 13, rue Th�r�se (2011), both published by Little, Brown. Her short fiction has appeared in Zyzzyva, the Farallon Review and Five Chapters. She lives in the Bay Area with one scientist husband and two elderly half-Siamese cats who spend all day following sunbeams around the house. Sept 18 is her 23rd anniversary of coming to the US.

Local Literary and Arts Events

Books and Booze Live 

The Books and Booze Podcast is going LIVE again! Join us for drinks and live reading with: Joe Clifford, Nick Mamatas, Tom Pitts, Constance Ann Fitzgerald, Michael Paul Gonzales and Travis Richardson!
Hazel Reading Series
Hazel officially turns ONE this September! Help us celebrate with some great literature, friends, and booze.
Pireeni Sundaralingam is our guest reader. She'll be joined by:MK Chavez, invited by Cassandra Dallett
Candace Diaz, invited by Sara Mumolo; Liz Acosta, invited by Clare Marie Myers;Amy Bell, invited by Ploi Pirapokin; Jacqueline Luckett, invited by Alyss Dixson.

California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission Street, Room 560, San Francisco. 5pm.

Babylon Salon Fall Reading
On Saturday, September 13, Babylon Salon's Fall Reading presents California Book Award-winner Tom Barbash, author of Stay Up with Me ; Beth Nguyen with her new novel, Pioneer Girl; Nona Caspers, Grace Paley Prize winning-author of Heavier Than Air; Evan Karp, San Francisco poet and literary hero; and Mimi Lok, Executive Director of Voice of Witness, reading from their latest book, Invisible Hands. 
Cantina SF, 580 Sutter Street, San Francisco, 6:30 pm.



I've been asked to organize a reading where we hold our Mid-Market classes above the Golden Gate Theatre. I thought it would be fun to have a reunion reading featuring the people who have taken my workshop three or more times. If there's a good turnout and interest, we'll be doing more of these. Contact me if you want to read at a future event or if you'd like to help out. Or just show up. We'll have live music, free pizza and beer. :)

25 Taylor Street, San Francisco. 7th Floor Lounge. 5:30


Greek American Writers Night
Join Bay Area writers Alexandra Kostoulas and Nick Mamatas and special guests as we honor Greek-American heritage with a night of poetry and storytelling in North Beach. We'll be breaking stereotypes, not plates. ;) Line-up is currently in the works. More to announce very soon.  The Emerald Tablet. 80 Fresno Street. San Francisco. 6pm.


A local website that features readings and literary culture around the Bay Area. 
They have 3 or 4 Bay Area literary arts events per day. Visit for more info.


The Emerald Tablet Art Gallery and Creativity Salon has cool arts and literary events happening all the time. Check out some of Emerald Tablet's upcoming events here.



"Write what you want, when you want, and how you want to write it. If you keep finding yourself staring up at the lights while the ref counts to three, try another strategy. There are plenty to choose from" 


 -Nick Mamatas

 Starve Better


"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost." 


-Martha Graham




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