I hope you are still out there. I guess I needed a long hiatus to swim, relax, just be. But fall is finally here and I’m half-way through my fall writing class at the cancer center, and as always, I marvel at what a privilege it is to be witness to the richness of so many lives and so much courage. Because it takes courage to face the empty page, to face, as one of the participants said yesterday, “my demons.”
That particular writer wrote a short, spine-tingling impressionistic piece about spousal abuse, using the image of being put into a rotten, rat and snake infested well, of calling and pleading for help, only to have her husband stand at the top of the well, laughing at her. The visceral images and strong verbs: rotting, slithering, pleading, had the group by the neck. We felt the terror, without the word terror needing to be used. In the reflection she wrote about the act of writing that piece, she said that even though it was hard to go back to that experience, once she got it on paper she felt better, more at peace.
I am reading another friend’s fascinating and lengthy memoir. On our morning walks she has described how she had to write this tome, to put the chaos of her young experience into some kind of order. She has for years gone home after work and written, often times feeling guilt at not being more accessible to her children. Yet, she maintains, she had to write this to be a whole person, and she feels that she is a more authentic parent for it.
The poet Karl Shapiro has this to say about writing and pathology: “The prevalence of the tragic and the pathological in great works of literature has misled many theorists ino the belief that art is symptomatic of psychic disorder, whereas it is the opposite. Art is a way of reaching for wholeness by way of the assimilation of the pathic into the joyousness of the unified being….” (Foreward, Life on the Line: selections on words and healing).
Another writer of breathtaking courage I have the honor of having in our class, wrote a long piece about years of being stuck, of facing the feeling of not making a difference, and yet also of affirming that it has only been
through her suffering that she has become “real.” She ends her lament about “time (that) cannot be regained,” though, with the observation that it is “time to change how I see…..time to love.”
For those of us attending to these works, we borrow courage to look at our own demons, to know that we can face them and know that we too can survive. For the writers sharing their work with us, those demons b
ecome less potent because the writers are no longer alone with them. It is this sharing which I think brings the process of healing to another level. We are meant not only to create art, but to share it, for our own good and the good of all.
So here we all are, imperfect, striving for wholeness, facing our demons, becoming, slowly, more “real.” It is time.