“I’m afraid to write.” The woman looks down and gives the dirt a few timid kicks with the toe of her Nike-clad foot.
“I don’t get that,” says her twenty-something daughter. “I blogged a lot when I was trying to work through my family stuff a few years ago.”
“Yes, that helped you, didn’t it?” The older woman says, more to herself than to her daughter. “But still, I couldn’t.”
Couldn’t what, exactly? It’s not as if we were talking about publishing – I had simply suggested that journaling might help her sort through the tangle of what’s-next-in-my-life thoughts that tumbled out of her mouth. What was she afraid of? The thing is, I’ve heard this trepidation expressed often, especially from “women of a certain age.” When I mention that I’ve left my career and gone back to school for a Master’s in Writing, their response is often an expression of awe and fear that would be more appropriate if I were taking up alligator wrestling.
I suppose that could be partly a reaction to me leaving a good paying job to pursue freelance writing. Yes, that’s crazy. But they’ll follow it up with, “I could never write. I’d be too afraid.” If you ask what of, they’ll say they don’t know.
Are they afraid they won’t write well? That they’ll be judged? Won’t measure up to some imagined standard? Feel stupid?
The most important thing about putting pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, is at least a mild willingness to contemplate truth. Writing can be like moderating a conversation with the voices in your own head as they meander their way towards an emerging truth. When you’re writing, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Don’t share it if you don’t want to. But you do have to be willing to let the truth settle out, like flakes of gold through silty water.
What some people fear, I expect, is looking at the truth. And that’s because the truth is often not an intellectual thing, but a matter of the heart and the emotions. These women don’t want to confront their feelings. Writing can be very revealing and therapeutic, but therapy is hard. And scary. They seem afraid to look inside themselves, afraid of what might be down there. Having been raised to be “nice” women who don’t make waves, they’ve likely got a cap on things like resentment and disappointment and unexpressed anger. Or maybe they fear there is nothing in there at all. Nobody home, or at least nobody worth noticing.
I don’t know what issues the woman in the Nikes was dealing with, and she probably doesn’t either. I do know that in the ten minutes we chatted, she repeatedly apologized for herself and called herself stupid twice. I could feel the toxicity of her shame. I almost wanted to beg her to write.
“You’ve got to expose those wounds,” I wanted to say. “Let it all bleed out onto the page so the infection can get some air and light.” Just Do It, Nike Lady!
One of the reasons I’ve decided to study writing is to learn how I can help others discover the healing power of the pen. I’ve kept a journal since I was fifteen. I dredge up my crap, dump it on paper, and then sift through the muck looking for lessons, obsessions, warped motivations, and worries I’ve picked up that don’t have my name on them. Even if I start out making a grocery list, my psyche knows that it’s safe between those covers, and it will shortly deliver whatever needs to be processed.
If you don’t journal, Blog People, I hope you will start, or maybe try again if you’ve quit. Personal journaling might reduce navel-gazing on the web, and I’m certain it would make the world, and your brain, a healthier place.
I’m realizing as I write that I’ve got my own fears to confront. I have never read the dozens of old journals stacked in my closet. Once or twice I’ve scanned through some years of sexanddrugsandrock&roll, and what I read was painful. I felt sympathy for the desperately needy person I used to be, and sometimes disgust at the way I treated myself and others. It wasn’t fun reading. But it will surely enrich my writing if I can muster the courage to dive in. Fear is overrated.
“The courage to create is the courage to make something out of what we are feeling.”