Don't be alarmed. I promise this post will not get as dark as the title might suggest. The main point I want to get at is writing about those things that we might not want to face up to; those things we consciously step around but under the surface they live rent-free in our souls. This might have similar tones to a post from last September, "Tough Writing," and this is not a coincidence. I believe that part of the power of writing is not just sharing a story or experience, but freeing yourself from the intrusiveness of some thoughts and memories. And I also believe that avoiding things can lead down a bad road. As Gil Scott-Heron wrote:
One of the best pieces of writing I ever encountered in a workshop was from an author (who requested anonymity for this particular case) who wanted to share a story from her childhood in the Deep South. The story, "The Taste of Milk," was a wonderfully innocent, very immersive story of a six-year-old girl and her love of the fresh milk brought to the house every week. It very much gave a feel of her life back in the Fifties, the kind of home she lived in, and the way her family operated.
Home is filled with pain and it
Might not be such a bad idea
If I never, never went home again
Stand as far away from me as you can
And ask me why
Hang on to your rosary beads
Close your eyes to watch me die
-- Gil Scott-Heron, "Home Is Where the Hatred Is"
Then things got dark. Fast.
As I said, this post is not going to be dark, so let's just say that her story was quite shocking. More to the point, she had carried it around with her for sixty-plus years and it had weighed on her in many ways. And yes, it made the simple act of drinking milk a PTSD trigger. Then, when she turned seventy-something (one never says a lady's age), she finally gathered the courage to commit this story to paper then read it to the workshop. It was amazing, and part of what made it great is that she wrote it from the most honest and sincere place possible. She wrote it as a way of purging all the hatred and trauma from her system, and neutralizing it as a toxic memory. No longer would it live rent-free in her head, but rather she could process it into a helpful reminder of the things she's overcome during the many years since.
Most every writer I know (and most every person for that matter) has some unresolved issues lingering inside them. Some people manage them, some ignore them, some try to bury them alive under mounds of denial. However, writing offers that free-therapy process of confrontation in the safe space of a blank page. We can write down our darkest nightmare, look at it, then crumple it up and burn it if we so choose, or we can edit it, rewrite it, examine it, or whatever we want. When we turn a memory into something concrete like words, it loses some of its power, and we gain some control over it.
It's a scary game to play; writing out the stories that give us so much trouble. However, if you try it just once, you might feel just how power you have over them. And I hope it is for the better.