Words that Cut, Burn, and Heal

Last week, a friend forwarded me Tara Parker-Pope’s New York Times column entitled Writing Your Way to Happiness (1/19/15). It’s a concept which the Times seems to be pondering recently. Thanks to them, me too.

Typewriter in Flames, Kathleen Cremonesi

For a dozen or so years, I spent a good portion of my evenings and weekends dissecting and compiling stories from some adventurous years I spent traveling in an Italian circus and falling in love with the Italian elephant keeper. And I agree wholeheartedly with Ms. Parker-Pope’s opinion. A member of my writing critique group joked once that my memoir occasionally resembled a 400-page love letter to my husband. There is a kernel of truth in that. I can honestly say that I fell in love with him over and over as I wrote and re-wrote those stories – and that certainly can’t hurt the longevity of a relationship. (At the very least it helped combat the seemingly endless late nights I spent hovering over a keyboard instead of snuggling with him.) Just as important, it was an opportunity for me to relive, in a Bill-Murray/Ground-Hog-Day way, a formative period that would help define the rest of my life. I treasured the process of gaining a deeper understanding of myself and my relationship, “warts and all.”

Not everyone agrees that reliving emotional episodes is healthy (Anna North’s Op-Talk, NYT 1/18/15). Some of what I wrote about had sharp edges that continued to cut me. But I understand that those experiences contributed who I am today, as well as to my solid relationship with my husband. For me, writing about them was akin to taking a sheet of sandpaper to my life. Both the experiences and my memories of them were smoothed in the process – not diminished, not glossed over – but processed in a way which allowed the grain of my life, the fibers which hold it together, to shine through a bumpy exterior. In a nutshell, it offered me a greater understanding of myself, allowing, eventually, both the good and the bad events to fit more snugly and comfortably into the puzzle of my life.

Plus, I got to light my old typewriter on fire.


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