The past two months have been brutally unkind to me. I find myself undergoing some deeply painful, deeply personal “stuff,” and in many ways, unable to cope. I have cried a lifetime of tears so far in 2017, and asked myself dozens of unanswerable questions. I have called upon friends near and far to help me sort things out, and in their mercy they have heard me out and let me cry or rant or trail off in bewilderment. I have talked, and talked, and talked. I have taken up yoga with a vengeance, breathing fire on each exhale as if punishing myself and my body. I have stopped drinking alcohol. I have started praying. I rotate my checkbook between three very helpful therapists. I even planted a zucchini plant to keep my tomatoes and peppers company.
In the midst of it all, I have penned very few words. A few scattered journal entries and a few notes about talks I’d like to give or book chapters I yearn to write.
And then tonight, with the essence of Tuesday subsiding around me in a quiet house, with the cat asleep beside me and the children tucked in for the umpteenth time, I was greeted with this amazing TED talk by the one and only Anne Lamott. She said so many brilliant things but this is what took away my breath:
You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs — your truth, your version of things — in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us, and that’s also why you were born.
It didn’t stop there. In fact, the next thing she said is what I really needed to hear:
Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you,that it will fill the Swiss-cheesy holes inside of you. It can’t. It won’t. But writing can.
Writing can heal me. Writing can fill the Swiss-cheesy holes inside of me, whether anyone reads my words or not. Whether I share them on Facebook or keep them secret on this blog, whether I choose the scritch-scratch of the world’s best pen or the clicking of the keys, whether I retrace my steps or start over each time, whether my parents get ahold of each essay and publish for me (there really should be a special genre of “parent-published” literature, somewhere between self-published and blockbuster).
Writing can heal me.
In fact, Anne Lamott said, and I think this is the crux of it right here:
If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.
I had no idea. I mean, I first loved reading and writing for my own sake, but somewhere along the line (maybe winning a writing trophy in 8th grade, maybe that string of front-page college newspaper articles when I covered Student Political Affairs for The Stater, maybe when I blogged about my engagement, maybe when I started to blog for my job) it changed. It became something that had to be done to satisfy an “other.” A relentless, hungry “other” that wanted me to write but never let me enjoy it. A “should do” rather than what it was intended to be — oxygen for my soul.
Everything that has happened to me is mine to tell. This is an intoxicating, heady notion, full of power and righteousness and stark naked fear. Everything? Even those moments when I have been the bad guy in the story, or when I have failed on my quest as the heroine, or when it was just plain boring? Everything?