“I don’t know what I think until I write about it.” ~ Joan Didion
Several months ago, a peer at a yoga and writing retreat asked why she should bother with writing.
“I don’t care about writing. It doesn’t matter to me. What do I need it for?” she said.
The retreat leader and I gently encouraged her to sit with the feeling—and if possible, persevere in the daily writing exercises. Because we personally knew the value of creative pursuits, like writing.
I grew up in the 1960s, watching my father write his sermons long-hand, while playing nearby with bible commentary books. On Sundays, his words would generate calm in the sanctuary—softening the loss of teenagers to car accidents, livelihoods to bankrupt farms, and the uncertainties of the Vietnam War and Nixon’s presidential succession.
Later in high school, my senior English teacher required us to write in a journal daily. It was here that I wrote to find balance between strict parents and “handsy” boyfriends with alcohol-spiked McDonald’s cups.
In college, an interest in the odd and unsavory produced an “A” in the hardest English composition class. The topic? An analysis of the prevalent theme of defecation in the Jonathan Swift novel Gulliver’s Travels.
And after graduation, unable to get a job in an investment career after the 1987 stock market crash, a compelling resume and cover letter landed me a writing position in the tight job market that followed. I worked as an abstracter of “merger and acquisition” documents for the precursor (Dialog and Westlaw) to today’s internet. Later, as an investment consultant, I wrote letters (and then emails) to help pension plan sponsors invest monies in plans my own company no longer offered.
After marriage, my primary writing outlet was crafting somewhat misleading holiday cards detailing a sparkly life. And later, I inspired my daughter to write her college application essay on failure—which got her in to (or at least wait-listed) at every college she applied.
And once my marriage ended, I used my writing skills to create a dating profile to find my next love. We courted largely through texts—which I recently made into photos and placed in an album. As these are our “modern day” love letters—precious now that he has passed.
To notify hundreds of Facebook friends of his death, I leaned on my knowledge of famous writers and created a meme with his picture and this quote:
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another.” ~ Thomas Merton
This meme announcement on social media informed his high school students of his passing.
Hundreds of them responded to the post—letting his family and friends know how loved he was.
And when they asked me to contribute to his obituary, the honor made me cry. The newspaper obituary writer praised my descriptions of his love of cooking Beef Wellington for his children and playing Pokemon Go every chance he could get.
At the time of his death, I had finished a final draft of a divorce story which featured our first six months together. I had been close to publishing it, but now am working through a re-write to ensure “we” won’t be forgotten.
The healing benefits of creative pursuits like writing have been well-documented. Stuckey and Nobel note in their paper entitled, “The Connection between Art, Healing and Public Health” that:
“Expressive writing can improve control over pain, depressed mood, and pain severity…our voices are embodiments of ourselves, whether written or spoken. It is in times of extremity that we long to find words or hear another human voice letting us know we are not alone.”
Which is why pursuing writing within the Elephant Journal ecosystem has buoyed me. My writing friends have supported me—and at times, dragged me through the writing, grieving, and editing process. Some are people I have met in person, and some I’ve only encountered through Facebook messages. I am grateful for their community—their written embrace.
Now, as an Elephant Journal columnist, I want to write about my post-modern love experience, resulting from a divorce three years ago—and now, “widowhood.” I do this with the hope that while exploring my mistakes and misfortunes, others might feel less alone.
Recently, the aforementioned questioning retreat peer shared in our monthly writing group that her inquiry months ago was the start of a creative and transformative journey—which she is still on, as we all are.
She now understands why writing matters. Because it captivates and connects. It loves and laughs. It supports and cajoles. It tolerates and transforms. And it saves our sanity and our souls, when nothing else can.
How has writing—or experiencing someone else’s creative explorations—made an impact on your life? Please share in the comments below!
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, and my courage is reborn.” ~ Anne Frank