Responding to "Why Write?"
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 1: "Why Write?"
So, before I get into the chapter at hand, I wanted to talk about why I chose this book. I don't think you need to know all my darkest secrets, but with a title like Writing as a Way of Healing, you can probably guess that I chose this book because I need to heal from something. I do; I need to heal from a bunch of somethings.
I, like many people, have had to deal with more than my fair share of trauma. I've known people who've overcome much worse than what I've been through, and I've known people who've been through less severe if more frequent misfortune. I'm not covering this book because I'm desperately broken or so keen to bleed in front of an audience. But man, I've been through some shit lately and I've been through way more going way back, and I think it's time to make it my story again instead of just some shit that happened to me.
This book opens with a common anecdote, "Writing saved my life," but writing has never had that power in my life. Writing was always something people told me I was good at, and it runs in the family. I remember one day like a decade ago my dad was telling me about how writing comes from an inner voice, and his shock when I said "Yeah, I know, do people not have that? I can't make mine shut up." Apparently, a lot of people don't hear voices in their head, and most of those who do don't know how to translate that into writing. Imagine!
But writing never tethered me to life -- if anything it was a plow. I wrote an old blog full of video game reviews (again, taking after my dad and his music blog). In high school I got hauled in to be writer on ill-fated video game projects. Come university I wrote creative pieces instead of essays at every opportunity, not realizing that I was better suited for essays than fiction. For me, writing has always been work first, rarely fun, yet compelling and satisfying. The world makes sense when I have a machine in my hands.
Not that I haven't tried to do more with writing. I was diagnosed with depression when I was 16. I have tried to use writing as a way of making sense of it. But every time I try to write about depression I feel disgusted. It's so impossibly hard to grasp what this thing feels like. It's very easy to couch it in raincloud cliches, to capture images like dish and laundry mountains, and to push a character up to their breaking point and keep them there forever. But to make depression true seems impossible. There's a canyon masked by an asterisk next to the phrase "I'm fine," and I've never read anyone capture it in any satisfying way, not that I'm any more successful. I've seen characters break, I've felt their sadness, and I've even cried and shaken in public from some scenes, but none of them felt true. Real, sure, just not true.
And yet, when DeSalvo mentions "shocks" (a concept borrowed from Virginia Woolf), I can't deny the quiet shift inside me. Maybe you know the one: that shift when you know you've been recognized. It's quiet, but you feel it arc through you like tokusatsu sparks.
DeSalvo offers a few metaphors to describe the writing/healing process, and asks what the reader's is. I think mine is probably something like the Cobble's Knot. Way, waaaaay back in 2004/5, when I was in Grade 6, I had to read a book called Maniac Magee. I remember a chapter dedicated to a knot so absurdly complex that everyone who tried to untangle it made it worse. If I'm remembering right, that knot is a metaphor for racism and class inequality, but in a broader sense it's a stand-in for intersectionality: the specific socio-political issues of that story's community are so interwoven and intergenerational that sorting them out requires specific and specialized training (or an orphan with a both sides mindset but hey it's a book for kids). Given some conversations I've had lately, I think at least the image of a complicated knot works well for me. I'm trying to untangle a whole bunch of ends, and believe me, depression is only one of them.
Like many writing books this one has exercises at the end of the chapter. This one just says to write for 20 minutes a day. I understand why all of these books open with that kind of exercise, but I've read it before and I already practice consistent writing. But I hate the tease! Get me to the good stuff or just make this an Introduction rather than a chapter! Maybe the next one will offer more interesting constructions.
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