Writing is the way that we communicate with people who aren’t there at the moment. I don’t just mean that in the physical sense either. I guess if you sit down to write a letter, or rather, an email–to a distant relative, what you’re working towards is expressing what you want to say through a medium that is neither touch nor sound, neither a conversation nor a game of charades. Not at face value anyway. Writing is fluid in the sense that it can be used just as versatilely as the spoken word, but the word doesn’t have to be spoken to remain a word, a collective of meaning.
Some people write to themselves, and not just sticky notes on the fridge or notes in a handheld planner, but rather journals and diaries. Some people write to remind themselves of the past. Sometimes they write only the good, and sometimes, only the bad. Most people though, write about both, least in my estimation.
When we write history we find ourselves not only searching for facts of the past, but also offering critique and trying to find the deeper meaning, what pedagogically is referred to as the “lesson.” The same principle applies whenever we write history of the self. “In this memory I did well, this one was pretty bad, and this is what I learned.” The way that people recall memories when writing to themselves is the sum total of the process of trial and error that you use not only to learn about the world, but how you grow up in it. It’s the why.
The outlet writing that I mentioned is its own avenue of expression, different from poetry. I would argue that this “inside writing” is what I term “poetry backwards.” I say this because a poet uses image and metaphor to convey a feeling. Journal-writing or “history of the self” cuts out the middle man and goes straight to the feeling, straight to the event. It is raw emotion without pomp and circumstance.
Sometimes writing for yourself is ritual and anthemic and for other times it is the product of pressure. Brenda Miller says in chapter 12 of Tell It Slant, titled ‘Particular Challenges of Creative Nonfiction’,
I’m writing an essay about my grandmother. I’m not sure why I’m writing this; there are just certain scenes and images that haunt me and I have to get them down on paper: my grandmother immobilized in a hospital bed.
This epitomizes those uncomfortable feelings that for some people, writing out of pressure is the only outlet. We all feel them, one way or another. I’ve just come to find after some deliberation that it is indeed out of the strain of these often painful memories that people find the need to self-medicate via writing. I feel that’s because circumstance less memorable, whereas pain draws on forever.
But writing it down, analyzing it, and accepting to learn instead of regret, that makes all the difference.
Writing makes it not better, but easier.