The goal of many writers is to publish a book. For Michael Linburg, this goal was achieved this summer with the publication of his book The Healing Power of Words: A History of My Life in Poetry 1970-2020. But publishing this collection is more than meeting a writer’s goal, it has truly been a healing journey.
The Journey Towards Wellness
Michael has lived with mental health challenges for nearly his whole life. His childhood was marked by the trauma of having witnessed violence in his home at the hands of an alcoholic and abusive father. In 1988, Michael had a breakdown and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. This began a journey with doctors, medications, and recovery programs all of which had an impact on his life. He found it difficult to get work, despite being a professional accountant. He had difficulties finding stable housing. He had trouble making lasting friendships.
One of the ways that Michael copes with his experiences is to write poetry. He was first introduced to this creative writing process as a child and in high school wrote three poems for his English class. He says that writing poetry is a way for him to process.
“Poetry is cathartic, especially in times of great emotional upheaval,” he says, reflecting on a particular year when he experienced the death of an uncle, his father, and the near-death of his brother. Writing was a way to grieve.
Even though poetry was an emotional outlet for Michael, his breakdown robbed him of his ability to write for 25 years. That loss felt devastating. But in 2013, his doctor changed his medication and suddenly his life took a different turn.
“I had an epiphany, an emotional awakening,” he says. “After 25 years, not only did I have my life back but my ability to write returned. It was a miracle.”
Growing in Confidence
Michael’s new lease on life gave him the confidence to make some friends in his apartment building. He made some lifestyle changes that gave him a measure of financial independence. And then, a chance encounter with a friend introduced him to a place that has become very significant to him.
Centennial Place is a mental health clubhouse in Mission that is facilitated by Communitas Supportive Care Society. Brandi began with Communitas in 2005 and got to know Michael in her role as a mental health support worker. She moved on to manage Centennial Place in 2011, where she stayed for four years. In 2013, Michael became a member at Centennial Place and found many ways to get involved.
“I became a facilitator and taught poetry and genealogy. I joined the community advisory committee and started a newsletter,” he says. “For five years I served as a receptionist and started a social club.”
Fellow club member, Terry Wilkinson, remembers a shy person who felt unsure of his gifts. When he first began sharing his poems in a small group, she says they were awestruck.
“We were absolutely blown away by his talent and continued to listen, in awe of his talent and his humility,” she recalls.
Centennial Place also introduced him to other tools to help manage his mental health like meditation. All of these experiences gave him confidence to explore opportunities in community. He joined the Fraser Valley Poets Society where he sat on the board and was given the opportunity to read his poetry publicly.
“Through the encouragement of friends, I found the strength to get up in front of people and read my poems,” he says, remembering how terrified he was at first. “These public speaking opportunities have given me poise and confidence.”
Michael joined the BC Schizophrenia Society and had a poem published in their newsletter. With each new experience, his confidence grew.
Meeting His Goal
This year, Michael decided to embark on his greatest writing and editing goal yet: the production of a book that is a representation of his life’s work.
“I set a goal to do this in six months and I achieved that,” he says, proudly. “Producing this book is a lifetime achievement.”
The Healing Power of Words covers a portion of Michael’s poetry; it contains 208 selections of the more than 1300 poems he has written to date. The book covers 50 years of his life and is organized in chronological sections. The first section includes the poems written before his breakdown. The second section is a collection of poems written about his 25-year creative drought. The third section is titled “A Tree in the Clearing 2013-2018” and contains the most poems, reflecting his epiphany experience. The final section, “Liberation 2019-2020” expresses the freedom that he feels today.
“I always thought I was a failure in my career as an accountant but with the publication of this book, I have proven to the world and to myself that I have a strong work ethic,” he says. “I can hold my head high.”
“Brandi’s love, praise, and honour kept my spirit going. She was like a shining light in the dark, hugging me and making me feel like I was cared for,” he says.
For her part, Brandi says she has seen the way Michael’s involvement at Centennial Place and the support and encouragement he has experienced there, has helped him to grow into his gifts. She is “truly inspired” by the book and says it is another sign of his growth as a human being.
“I love the honesty and vulnerability he shares, not only within the poetry itself, but within the footnotes of what he was going through at the time he wrote it,” she says. “This is something I’ve never seen before in a poetry book and I feel it showcases both his brilliance and his growth.”
Another Centennial Place staff person, Tony Ma, helped him with the practicalities of self-publishing his book and without whose guidance and computer expertise, Michael says the book would not have happened.
Terry is so proud of Michael’s accomplishment but more so, she is grateful for the quiet way he has been a role model to her and others at Centennial Place.
“He has no idea how he has impacted my life, or the lives of others or how timely and poignant his works are,” she says. “Our amazement and awe continue to increase while his humility stays the same.”
Michael receives this praise with gratitude and a deep sense of validation.
“You could say that I am announcing to the world ‘I am a poet’,” he says. “I wrote this book to please myself and not others. This is my moment, this is it!”
The Healing Power of Words: A History of My Life in Poetry 1970-2020 is available for purchase directly from Michael, he has two copies left. Two copies are also available at Hemingway’s Bookstore in Abbotsford.
Just Me is a significant poem for Michael. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission.