Sometimes I think that the only time I see life in clear perspective is when I’m sad or ‘doing it tough’. When I’m happy and carefree there seems to be little to write about. Perhaps it’s because when a person is in a state of ‘everything is okay enough’…why spoil the picnic…? There are times when some circumstances are hard to fathom and create worry or concern. For me there is solace in writing, a clarity and comfort that isn’t always present in other means of explaining or expressing angst and worry.
Recently, I had a conversation with a small group of women about women’s lives and writing diaries and memoirs. Some of the group said they wrote in their diaries when they were going through difficult times, others said they would never write about personal troubles. The conversation then moved to ‘what to do with dairies?’ Should they be left for others to read or are they only a tool for the writer…most thought they should be destroyed, preferably before the demise of the writer. Just as well all people don’t think this way. How many wonderful stories and discoveries have been told as a result of finding a diary in the attic or in an old trunk in the shed? On the other hand I guess, there have been a few distressing and concerning finds as well.
I want to take this to another level. As I said when opening this topic, I write with clarity (self perceived) and honesty when seemingly under stress or worry. I also feel that I understand or can relate to other people who have personal issues or difficulties as a result of dealing with my own concerns honestly (and privately). Writing has helped me do this. It’s a process that’s taken a while but being honest about what’s happening and it’s impact is very self-regulating. So, I guess I will shred my diaries and essays when the time comes (not that anyone has a good handle on that…) but at the moment I occasionally re-read them and consider them precious.
Most of the honest writing that I do and have done (and I’m not talking about blogs, short stories and novel-writing) is when I’m struggling with issues that seem unresolvable or at the least particularly worrying. I know when my Mother was dying I wrote often…about her and about the lovely small things that meant so much to me. I remember writing about my Mother’s cardigans and how she loved new ones, splendid in their pastel and beautiful colours. Writing about my Mother’s cardigans had not a lot to do with the garments themselves but the person who was fading and entering the last phase of her life…the writing at the time was about grief.
And then, when my adult children strike hard times and are vulnerable, I resort to my private world of expression. Words are comforting and somehow help. Perhaps it’s just like having a good conversation with a well trusted friend, writing about feelings can free up the internal responses to grief, worry, sadness and a range of other emotions that hold us to ransom on occasions. There is something therapeutic about writing down our concerns and trying to make sense of them, it’s actually having to confront our irrationality and fear and then moving to the next level. Writing makes it less possible, I believe, to be swept along by irrational worry and angst…mostly anyway!
And so, why is it easier to write when I’m sad, worried or fearful? Why can’t I write when I’m less challenged? Maybe for some people the process of writing is about the need to understand, to free oneself of the disenfranchised feeling of hopelessness and to find a place that is calming and comforting. To externalize the problem and to be honest about concerns and worry is sometimes soothing. Of course, feeling soothed does not necessarily mean the problem is solved but maybe it paves a path towards acceptance and a clearer understanding of a situation. So what happens to the need to write about personal issues when life is less problematic? Simply, I suspect there is less psychological need to deal with or figure out the serious and difficult issues in life when all feels well or managed at the time.
So to answer my own question. No, I don’t have to be sad to write but it’s easier to write about life issues when I can relate and empathise with others from having written honestly about my own life. Anyway, I think that’s how it goes…