As part of ACPA creator Kathy Mac's "Wording Around with Prose" webinars, ACPA managing editor Jamie Kitts responds to their chosen text for lesson 2.1: Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. This blogpost covers Chapter 2: "How Writing Can Help Us Heal."
Well, leave it to a pro to anticipate. DeSalvo opens chapter 2 with the problem of writing depression, and how there is helpful and unhelpful writing. However, I have concerns about some of DeSalvo's conclusions.
DeSalvo cites a study wherein a group of people write about their trauma and connect the events with their emotions. The point of the study is, according to her, that we must endure hardship in the short term to feel better in the long term. I get what she's saying, and of course she's also saying it from an informed and personal position. I don't want to diminish her work, her lived experience, or the work she cites. However, I also have concerns about what someone might take away from what she says.
I've seen way too many people insist and enforce the idea that we must suffer in life, that the positive is only possible because of the negative, and that trauma builds character and makes us richer people.
I've met people who've been crippled by their trauma. I've seen people re-enact and perpetuate the abuse they've suffered. I have loved ones who would be much better off without the shit that's happened in their lives. Even if I'm somehow enriched by tragedy and mental illness, I would probably be fine if I hadn't been through those. And that's not even touching racism, colonialism, gender violence, homophobia, capitalism, and other systemic traumas. This notion of perpetual suffering is a fallacy and a farce, and it's also fucking hurtful.
Again, that's not what DeSalvo is saying, but I worry that someone might read this chapter and think, "Yeah, life is pain," and further normalize the toxic perpetuation of trauma as a necessary event. But aside from that concern, I find what DeSalvo says very promising in this chapter. Over the last year I've had the pleasure of reading Hindu texts, so these concepts of linking thought, feeling, and action are both familiar and appealing. The framework DeSalvo suggests reminds me of an early creative writing lesson on sight: some over-rely on sight in prose, neglecting other senses and not fully engaging readers into a scene. Likewise, over-relying on a scene without baking in the impact does nothing to help us. If we are both characters and narrators in our narratives, then we need to unpack actions and their consequences as with any other story. This is just another level of making sure your audience knows everything they need to know, especially since you're the only audience. I don't know about you, but I find that even if I understand something implicitly, I tend to gain further appreciation for it the more I make it explicit to myself. Yes, I know how to breathe, but the more I think about my breathing, the more relaxed I become.
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