On Cathartic Writing (and My Interest in the Unusual Lives of Others)


On Cathartic Writing

(and My Interest in the Unusual Lives of Others)

I feel I should explain myself lest I start coming off as too bitchy, too whiny, too self-absorbed and, shall we say, rather obnoxious. Insecure and discontent.  Lest I be accused of insufferable navel-gazing with a propensity towards highlighting the minutia of daily life.  Or the complaints and annoyances that lie therein.

For I don’t think I’m often any of these things, no more so than normal, and it is not my intent to project such a misconception.  I write what I feel momentarily; what I think; what I wish to release.

And this ties in with what I view as cathartic writing.  Personal essays, brutally honest in the moment, but perhaps exaggerated by hormonal emotion, that serve to purge. As a purge: I write it down; I get it out. And then it’s done. It passes.  Whatever that it is.  I’ve had it out on paper and I can usually move on.  In fact the issue at hand usually ceases to bother me much at all after that.  

Moreover, I have some sense that micro-details can at times speak to macro-realities and that, more importantly, my observations, feelings, and notations are not specific to my condition.  That, as I have written before, there must be others who feel the way I do – even in the broadest sense.

Though not all written in this vein, to glance at some of my writings one might be getting the very wrong idea.  I had a good friend of mine softly hint as much just recently.  That maybe she was just the tiniest bit concerned that I wasn’t getting out enough.  That perhaps my equilibrium was… slipping.  We have a pact, you see.  That if one of us seems to be falling off kilter, even ever so slightly, we will address this.  It then becomes the other’s responsibility, the one not sliding down, to hoist the proverbial rope and pull back hard – to a grounded center point.

In my defense we haven’t seen much of one another lately.  And her analysis was based solely on reading my essays.  The personal collection I am building. That ceases to be quite so personal when I publish them publically.  Well,  that and my inability to answer the phone these days.  And quite honestly, it is vital to have those one or two people in one’s life who will speak up with genuine concern and act as a mirror to what we might not otherwise see ourselves.  I have two such women and lord knows what I would do without them.  I count both as sisters, but one is my actual sister and therefore just a tad bit more – brutal.  In that beautiful way that family can be.  Bless her, for more often than not she is right.

But I’m fine. At least I think I’m fine. No?

Sometimes I am simply just practicing an exercise in releasing what might otherwise become suppressed emotion.  If I open things up to unfettered inspection it might not be the most flattering of portraits, but it is a momentary truth that serves a purpose.

I recently finished a book entitled ‘Uncommon Arrangements:  Seven Marriages’ by Katie Roiphe.  This deceptively simple and entertaining book is a study of seven different marriages within the British Literary Community between 1910 and the Second World War.  Roiphe scours private memoirs, personal correspondence, and long-forgotten journals to present the reader with an exquisite portrait of seven marriages that sought to go about redefining, rather self-consciously, the challenge of intimate relationships.

Roiphe could have never managed the writing of this book were it not for the intense need, on the part of the individuals and couples she researches, to chronicle, to record, so richly and in such great detail, their most mundane activities and their most private thoughts.  They wrote as though they were writing their lives into existence.  That the act and expression alone would and could create the worlds in which they wanted to live.  

And often these extensive private diaries were not left private.  “They were not content to leave thoughts unformed, feelings unaired, episode unsorted through.”  And while some may find this “insatiable need to put everything into words bewildering” I think I understand.  It is not the over-literate, self-conscious drive of exposure for the sake of exposure, I feel.  It is rather the “impulse to fix the ephemera of strong feelings on the page.”

Roiphe writes:  “What is the act of putting feelings into words?  In part it serves to clear the mind, as H.G. Wells wrote of his detailed autobiography: ‘I want to get these discontents clear because I have a feeling that as they become clear they will either cease from troubling me or become manageable and controllable.’  Writing, then, is a therapeutic act, and an act of transformation:  in the writing one masters the experience, one tames and controls it.”

I’m not quite there yet, (stylistically at least), however I do strongly believe in the ability of the individual to “impose a new form on the mess of experience.”  I remain unformed.  But these few lines speak most clearly to what I am striving for and how – perhaps more so than anything else I have recently come across.

We live in an age where most of our communication is lost in the impermanent morass of digital communication.  Letter writing has become an oddity, a nicety.  Even emails have devolved, in a few short years I have found, to uncarefully written, short missives – as the endless stack of other emails we must respond to continues to mount.  So we either call or text.  Most often text.  And while the government might save all our electronic communication (for their own nefarious reasons), how many of us do?  Or if we do, how often do we go back and read through where we were as a expositional juxtaposition to where we are now?

So I have arrived at a twofold explanation for some of the the personal essays that I write.  The first reason is that is serves me as an individual – hoping to understand, hoping to grow.  These essays help me to define what I am thinking, and often more importantly, feeling.  They help me to vent.  They act as a reference point, a go-to of a moment, of a moment that will most likely repeat itself.  And upon repetition I then have a tangible expression of a similar event that serves to, one hopes, illuminate.

The second reason is that, in my own way, I am making a case for recording and dissecting one’s life in a time where moments are quite simply more rapidly lost than ever.  Everything has sped-up.  So to purposefully take the time to pause and reflect and even fine-tune the daily minutia is a self-conscious attempt of not losing pace with who I am.  Even in the moment.  A moment.

And of course, I write for others.  I write and publish these often unflattering pieces because I believe that others are right there with me, in one sense or another.  That we are all flawed creatures looking for a way to go about our days, and sometimes all we can manage is the capturing of an emotion, a feeling, an atmosphere that might lead us to other epiphanies.

So am I fine?  I think I am.  Quite balanced, even.  Most of the time.  But I have no problem with detailing when I am not.  In fact, it usually makes for a far more interesting, even amusing, read.

© StephiaMadelyne ~ 25th May 2013


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