Coming to Terms

March 28, 2009 § 8 Comments

john-updike209_copy41273Recently, I had a conversation with someone about writing memoir. I shared that I have written publicly about painful incidents that I had never shared privately, and she  replied that it had taken her years to write about personal experiences. 

I wonder why for some of us, writing is safer than speaking. For me, it creates a distance from the event, as if I’m an actor in a play I haven’t written. I’m able to step back and see the scene with more compassion and less judgement. But at the same time, I’m healing: I can feel myself processing and coming to terms.

A poem by John Updike in the New Yorker brought to mind how we adapt to trauma by putting words on paper. When my dog was dying, poems poured out of me – there wasn’t any other way to express my pain. And I think about my friends who write humor – contained within are universal truths, made palatable by their satire.

Updike’s poem is about a death sentence; and yet he is freed by his words. How do you feel about baring your soul? Is it freeing or frightening?

Needle Biopsy
December 22, 2008

All praise be Valium in Jesus’ name;
a CAT-scan needle biopsy sent me
up a happy cul-de-sac, a detour not
detached from consciousness but sweetly part—
I heard machines and experts murmuring about me—
a dulcet tube in which I lay secure and warm
and thought creative thoughts, intensely so,
as in my fading prime. Plans flowered, dreams.

All would be well, I felt, all manner of thing.
The needle, carefully worked, was in me, beyond pain,
aimed at an adrenal gland. I had not hoped
to find, in this bright place, so solvent a piece.
Days later, the results came, casually through:
the gland, biopsied, showed metastasis.

Rest in piece, sir.  January 28, 2009

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§ 8 Responses to Coming to Terms

  • leafless says:

    Writing is a form of personal therapy? Interesting.

  • loretta says:

    Pam, I was wondering if you had read those marvelous poems
    by Updike. I was thinking that it was the best writing of his
    that I had ever read. I always knew he was a great writer
    but could never really connect with him through his work .
    These poems exposed him in a way that was a revelation to me.
    My mother also read these poems and had the same reaction.
    Except being closer to end of life experiences, she was maybe
    even more touched than I.

    • Lorry, thank you for commenting! And I feel the same way about Updike. I liked his fiction initially, but lost connection as I aged. The poems were for me, also, a revelation.

  • alantru says:

    I agree. There’s the catharsis of being able to write about it, and there is the distance. I think also that since writing is, at first, a very private act, one has the chance to rethink and rewrite and reexamine the incident and that type of introspection likely helps.

    • Cathartic makes sense – somehow making it public creates that for me, too. I hadn’t thought about the rewriting, but that also helps us redesign it and add the perspective we decide it should have. More fiction than fact, if needed? Hmmm.

      Thanks, Alan.

  • I am more like your friend. I have no problem verbally expressing my feelings. Writing, though, has more of a sense of finality…as though by putting my emotions “on paper” I am more committed to feeling them…

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