From Hollywood to the Heart: Author Helps People Use Writing for Therapy
Feb 01, 2016 11:30AM
● By Sheila Julson
Melissa Greene always knew in her heart that she was a writer, but her Hollywood upbringing led her into the world of modeling and acting. Only through her own courage, and the support of a great author, was she able to break free to become a serious published writer and teacher, who today helps others use the magic of creativity to heal.
Greene comes from a Hollywood family. Her mother, Jan Wiley, appeared in movies including Stage Door and the Dick Tracy serials. Greene’s father, Mort, was a lyricist whose credits include “The Toy Parade,” which became the Leave It to Beaver theme. He wrote comedy for The Red Skelton Show and worked on projects with Johnny Carson.
As an adult, Greene pursued acting. Although her parents had connections, they offered little assistance and Greene earned roles on her own merits, appearing in the movie Electra Glide in Blue. She also had roles on 1970s television hits including The Six-Million Dollar Man and The Rockford Files.
Despite the allure of Hollywood, Greene was a gentle soul who preferred to observe the world from behind the scenes. “Acting wasn’t me, I was a creative introvert putting on a façade,” she recalls. I had observed my father and knew that writing was what I really wanted to do. I began to reach for my writing life in any way that I could.”
Through a modeling job, Greene learned of an ad copywriting internship at Detroit-based Campbell Ewald agency. She earned the position, and at age 26, left California for the Midwest. She later married a paintings conservator whose work brought the couple to Williamstown, Massachusetts. There, Greene studied writing with the author, Jim Shepard, a National Book Award Finalist and fiction professor at Williams College. “He’s been my friend and mentor for years,” Greene says. “He read my earliest fiction, and he also read through my Hollywood façade, seeing through what had been conditioned into me.”
Greene penned short stories and was published in The Northwest Review, and other literary magazines, but her divorce interrupted her writing stride. She later entered a business partnership dealing high-end antiques, but that later dissolved, leaving her at a crossroads with no compass.
A visit to an antiques dealer in Lititz led her to discover the Lancaster area. She made Lititz her new home and took a corporate job in Malvern, PA writing business newsletters. After two months, her heart led her back to her dream of supporting people through art.
Soon after, in 2002, Greene formed Write From the Heart and led a women’s writing workshop at Ephrata Community Hospital. When the class ended, Greene continued the workshop out of her home studio. Through the years, she’s offered introductory and memoir writing workshops for children, teens and adults. Most participants write with pen and paper instead of a laptop. There are no assignments, no right or wrong formulas, no curricula and she maintains a playful, lighthearted ambiance. “I’m spontaneous and create my classes according to the people in front of me,” she states. Participants may share their work with the class if they choose; “there are no grades, grammar or red pen.”
To help people find their creative voices, Greene gives verbal prompts or uses her favorite and sometimes quirky visual inspirations, such as polished stones or broken glass. “Observation, surprise and wonder are so important in the creative process. When our emotions are stirred, we learn to tap our feelings and jumpstart our hearts and souls,” Greene says. “Our writing is not about following a formula, my job is simply to give my students courage to open up. That’s what Jim Shepard gave to me, and that’s what I followed to create Write From the Heart.”
Since 2014, she’s led writing workshops at Lancaster General Health Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute. “We’re going into our second year. It’s most definitely a therapeutic tool, our classes are a safe space to both laugh and grieve.”
Greene began the New Year with an additional therapeutic writing workshop for cancer patients, providers and caregivers at The Penn State Cancer Institute at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center of Hershey, Pa.
Content with her slice of life that has taken decades to create, Greene continues to use the power of the pen to help others. “These days, with the world so distracted and people living in such fear and anxiety, I see more than ever the healing properties of art—specifically writing,” she says. “Writing keeps my own life steady and calm, I believe it consoles, illuminates and heals- it is one of our greatest paths to hope.”
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.