Last week in the Writing Closet, we listened. This week, we speak, but not of ordinary things. This week we speak of our darkness.
Something’s happened. Something you don’t understand. You’re not the type of person it should happen to or you’re not the type of person who would do something like that. It doesn’t make sense.
People say things like, what were you thinking? What did you do to make that happen? Surely it’s not as bad as you say. Why do you have to be so negative? Why are you always such a drama queen? They look at their watch when you speak. They say that you’re weak. On and on until you learn to stop speaking about it. You pretend it didn’t happen and everyone’s happy.
It doesn’t have to be physically violent, although it could be. It doesn’t have to be monumental, even, except to you. What is your What Happened? Can you say it out loud, to yourself, when no one’s in the room, no one’s outside the door? Can you whisper, This Happened, and still feel yourself safe?
Touched cheated lied hit cut stole betrayed fired punched spied vandalised withdrew slandered provoked seduced abandoned changed you.
If you don’t feel safe, then perhaps today is not the day for you to continuing reading this. Mark the page. Come back when you’re ready. Before you go, let me remind you, although you already know it, that we all have these things in our lives. All of us. There is a conspiracy not to speak of these things, yet these are the things a writer must speak. But before she does, she must feel safe. Only when you’re safe, should you write.
|Not What You Are|
One of the ways to help you feel safer is to separate the act from the person. You are not what you did. You are not what was done to you. You may be a person who cheats on her partner but also loves that partner to distraction. Who you are could explain the Why, but what you do, does not define the Who. You may be a person being stalked by an ex-lover and you also help the parents of autistic children. What happens to you is your history, not your talent. You are more human and more normal than these experiences, held in secret, let you believe.
If you can speak about what happened and still feel safe, you will write it. This is a given. The trick is how you write it. We’ve been taught to follow that sacred dramatic arc, come hell or high water, to reach a resolution. Popular entertainment teaches us that this resolution should eclipse the What Happened. Now I’m going to contradict myself.
Rather than eclipse it, think about embracing it. Okay, didn’t I just write that you need to separate yourself from the What Happened? Yes. And if you separate yourself successfully, you won’t have to obliterate it. You can change it into literature. The dark, like the right side of your brain or your animus or your psychological shadow is bursting with energy that you can tap into it. But how?
|Play with What Happened|
When the EDL went to protest outside a mosque in York, they were invited inside for tea and football. This is what you have to do. Invite What Happened in for a cuppa. Sit with it a while, get to know each other. And when you are safe, play. And by play, I mean ground yourself physically in What Happened. Let your body feel the experience while at the same time, maintaining your own integrity as separate from What Happened, just as you would do when immersing yourself in a character you’re developing. When you do, it will give things to you. Some of these things may give you insomnia, but you will learn to use them.
My current manuscript keeps me up at night. Not because of structure and form, not because of plot and characterisation but because of the question, Is it ever right to kill someone? Euthanasia. Abortion. Death penalty. War. Murder. Is it ever right . . . This story is a blatant sublimation of What Happened in my own life. Well, blatant to me. There’s not a lot of killing going on in my life, but the creation of that question did come from What Happened. And believe me, it’s a lot more interesting than What Happened, because it takes the themes of the personal events and puts them on a universal stage.
Which actually is the basis of most therapeutic approaches to trauma. Research shows that regardless of the treatment modality, the most important factor to a traumatised person is reconnection to the broader community. The sooner that happens, the better her chance of recovery.
We are, after all, social creatures. What Happened in your life belongs to the society of US. Get yourself safe. Invite What Happened in for tea and football. Embrace it. Share it. Say it out loud.
For inspiration, read this interview with Eva Ensler.