A friend had an opportunity to read her writing aloud at our MFA residency. She is well liked and outgoing and we were familiar with her story. There should have been no surprises; it should have felt like a safe environment. She read an excerpt from her journal about the challenges of raising a daughter with autism when her voice began to quaver. We worried she wouldn’t be able to continue. As she wiped her eyes, her face registered shock that her own writing was affecting her so. She’s tough,and it wasn’t a new story for her to tell, or even a particularly revealing one. But it was full of the gritty reality of living with a kid with challenges. It was a story she tried not to think about because she had no choice but to keep living it. The room pulsed with our need to support her.
She was thousands of miles away from her children who needed her, a home with broken pipes and a farm full of animals , while she chased her dream on a non-existent income. And yet she came to me the next day wondering what the hell was wrong with her.
“I have to get through this. Reading didn’t used to bother me. I don’t understand why it does now.”
The obvious answer was that she was over tired and duh… her life is TOUGH. Besides, reading from a personal journal, no matter how well crafted, is a vulnerable experience. Though it wasn’t “profound”, her writing made us all see what it was like – a window into the challenges she faced – and it was powerful.
Isn’t that why we write? To be heard? To reach out so that others understand? Isn’t someone to relating enough to cry, or laugh or nod their head the best compliment to us as writers? Isn’t there magic in the fact that even our own words can reach through our crusty exterior revealing something new?
I often cry when I write. I see it as a gauge of how close I got to the vein. A little sniff here or there, the burning desire to get away from the words for a moment, show me that I’ve gotten close. That lump that forms in my throat, a tear I hastily brush off before anyone in the coffee shop notices, are the highway sign that says “YES. This is it. Truth at last.”
I don’t always cry but that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t affect me. The last six months I’ve been sick – ailment after ailment attacked my mouth and lungs. Eastern medicine would say my communication and heart chakras were ill. It is no wonder – I’ve been writing stories about abuse and my challenges as a mother that no one has ever heard. Stories I used to be deeply ashamed of, or dismissed outright. It was time to tell them for the good they will do in the world. They’ve lived in my body for so long that dislodging them has been physically detrimental – maybe even dangerous. The process has been akin to removing mercury fillings without proper attention to the toxicity. Though I have “been over it” for a long time, finally letting the words go – to let them become a story by themselves and apart from me, has been a painful process.
Maybe we react physically to our stories – through tears or pain- because we finally recognize ourselves through them. In giving our stories the weight of words, the space to be read aloud, to see the mirrored tears in someone’s eye, we allow our stories to be just that – a story. Not a definition of who we are. Maybe it is an opportunity to see what we have been through via the distance of the page. Our words are a window for people – including us – to see a truth not ordinarily exposed. Our words are powerful, they deserve honouring, and the emotions they bring up need to be acknowledged.
We often write to help others find their place in the world, for our reader to feel connected. Sometimes we do this by opening our own veins – sharing the ever-replenishing life-blood of truth as we connect. In allowing our stories to become more than us, we flush out the toxicity of holding something that is no longer needed.
Maybe we share our stories because others still hold onto theirs.