There was a professor at my university who taught creative writing and had a fondness for children’s literature. I never took one of her classes because I was still going to be a doctor at the time, but I knew who she was. My junior year her husband died. It was sudden and unexpected, and while those are two overused words after someone dies when they weren’t sick, they’re true. Sooner than I expected, she came to speak to my publishing class. Someone braver than me asked her how she dealt with his death. There were no pauses, hesitations, or sadness in her response. It was simple:
“I write. I write every day because if I don’t, I wouldn’t be able to be here with you.”
She went on to say that journaling was the best thing for her pain. I’m pleased to say that she was able to find someone new a year later. Someone who would help raise her young daughters.
I had always written fiction, non-fiction if someone made me, and I didn’t write every day. I wrote because I wanted to, but it was never out of necessity. Some might say that because I don’t feel the burning need to write every single day that means I’m not meant to be a writer. I don’t care. I write words of some kind each day. They just might not be novels or stories, but they’re there. Friday night, the need to write struck me over the head so hard, I whipped out my phone and started a word document. I was babysitting for some friends. It was midnight. The kids and dogs were asleep, and it was quiet. If you’re anything like me, quiet triggers your thoughts on overdrive. I lay on the couch in a tragic pose that would have made Ann Radcliffe proud. As two tears, one at a time, ran down my cheek, I knew what I had to do—write.
I didn’t write fiction. I wrote my story, my life. Not the whole thing, of course, but part of it. I started writing and kept at it until I had 600-odd words in 45 minutes of work. For the first time, writing was necessary. For the first time, I let my pent-up emotions pore out onto the page/screen. For the first time in a long time, I felt free. It’s not text that anyone should read unless I turn it into some personal reflection or essay, but it was cathartic.
Yesterday, I took another part of my life, one scene that had changed who I was and how I viewed myself for better or for worse, and relived it in vivid detail with words. I’ve told close friends the story before, but from a distance. I had always detached myself, using the “correct” perspective, the one where “everything is perfectly fine now so why give all the gory details?” This time I put myself right in my shoes that day, that hour, and told it as if the reader was sitting next to me. It hurt for a few minutes, but then relief took over.
As I wrote, I realized that that professor was right. Our pain hurts less if we put it on paper. If we let the words speak for us, then we don’t have to internalize it anymore. We don’t have to be ok. But in the process of writing, we’re one step closer to it. I was fine before, but now I can confidently say, “It’s over. It’s done, and it can’t hurt me anymore.” The good, the bad, the ugly*—it all deserves our attention if we’re only brave enough to face it.
*I do realize this is a movie, but it fit!