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Writing Will Save Your Life

I’m in a mood today for dramatizing. Will writing save your life? All I know is that it saved mine and I’ve made it my business to try to understand how writing saved me, and how it can keep saving me. Louise DeSalvo has been one of my mentors–not that I know her, personally, but I’ve read her book, Writing as a Way of Healing, about 100 times. DeSalvo doesn’t flinch from the difficult, in fact, that’s exactly what she goes after:

Writing about traumatic or troubling life experiences initially unleashes difficult, conflicting emotions. In the long run, though, we feel better emotionally and are healthier and achieve a level of understanding of our lives that only writing can provide. Safe writing–writing what we already know or understand, writing that is superficial–won’t help us grow, either as people or as writers. For our writing to be healing, we must encounter something that puzzles, confuses, troubles, or pains us. (p. 93).

And that’s why you don’t get to go back to bed and sleep through the next six week news cycle.

I recently came across this KUOW story about poet Colleen J. McElroy and wanted to share it–she’s a walking, breathing example of writing’s power to sustain us. (Click on the link to go to the story/video.)

Hunkered down at 85

Colleen J. McElroy

DeSalvo continues:

An outgrowth of the kind of writing that digs deep, that takes risks, that arises from our desire to explore the unresolved emotional puzzles or ongoing pain in our lives is that we “gain greater psychological freedom” (as Albert M. Rothenberg, M.D., has observed) and greater range and depth in our artistic expression… (p.92)

I can’t imagine living any other way.

Happy Birthday, Colleen J. McElroy

ColleenJMcElroy3Today is Colleen’s birthday. I want to refer you to my History Link article about Colleen, and to her essay in English Matters (Spring 2011) about post-retirement travels. And to share a poem from her latest book, Here I Throw Down My Heart (U of Pittsburgh Press, 2012):

Crossing the Rubicon at Seventy

we do not know the name
of the river that roils
beneath us until we arrive
at its shores — until we give
reason to pass along or stay
there where waters sound
like uncut jewels swirling
in a tide pool — until the little
boats we’ve made fold like kites
in a storm — until we’ve come
to that point where turning mid-
stream is outside reason and staying
lays sour on the tongue — know
you have shaped a raft before
floating with the current toward
another long day’s journey — know
you have yet another reason
to reinvent yourself before
you take the last route home