How writing pain out serves the writer
I realized recently that one of the things writing does is to serve as a break for the writer.
For the few hours dedicated to writing, a writer who needs it can block out her own pain, the pressing need to make her own decisions, the major and minor tragedies of her own life.
During the writing time, it’s all about the characters’ pain, decisions, tragedies. Those parts of the psyche that are dedicated to dealing with Life, and which are sometimes raw from that dealing, get a break, a respite, time off.
In the same way I am drawn to surf the web, looking for stories – and not the goody-goody ones where everything is sweetness and light and everyone is happy, but the ones where tragedy is involved – I am drawn to writing because, for those hours, I don’t think about myself. Or if I do, it is to find a source for the pain I have inflicted on a character, to ‘teach her a lesson.’
Pain is the human condition
Anyone who has been alive more than a few seconds knows pain. We spend our whole lives learning to deal with it, to accept it, to sometimes beat it, to find the good things in spite of it. Many of us with CFS deal with a fair amount of physical pain as part of a chronic illness. Those who have fibromyalgia often have unremitting pain as their primary symptom.
It isn’t so much that we’re driven to seek pleasure, though pleasure – the bliss of a full tummy, the satisfaction after love, the simple pleasure of walking without pain – is what tells us we’ve arrived at a better place.
We would never seek pleasure if we weren’t in pain. The whole story of the Garden of Eden is of loss – followed by the drive to regain what was lost.
Pain is the driver. And writing is a pleasure that sets aside my one small life. In favor of living many other ones as fully as I feel like developing them.
A two-way street
There is always something I can use, something that needs to be converted from petty to predicament, something that needs to have its sting drawn. That is the normal condition of life. If it seems I get somewhat more than my fair share sometimes, well, others have it worse – but I can use it to write.
Conversely, if I need to write something, I can always search my own experience for something with the same flavor, if not the same magnitude. A small injustice from a shop clerk or another driver will serve as the basis for a life-changing injustice for a character. All I have to do is dial the emotion up or down, add a bit of nuance, and set it into place like a plant into a garden spot, to grow and fill the space.
But I hadn’t realized that during the time I am transforming the feeling I am also free of the feeling: there is a distance between us which means I am no longer my pain. We are distinct, different, disconnected.
The purpose of writing down pain
It quantifies pain to be written down. The immense becomes measurable, containable.
If there is time during a period of pain, I write it down. I save it. I mull it over. I get all possible versions out of my head, so they don’t get lost. And the sorting helps: if one version isn’t quite correct, a piece from another will fit the puzzle better, fill the hole. If there is no time then, I do it later, but it niggles at me until captured. The pain wants to be used, to be understood, to be accepted, to be known.
Most of those truly personal notes won’t get shared, not unedited. A few will be shared with those who are very close to the same pain, if they wish.
The majority of the notes become fodder for writing, because much of what I learn comes from analyzing my own reactions and surprising myself: I honestly didn’t know how much it would affect me when Gizzy, our chinchilla – my chinchilla (though she obeys my husband better) – seemed to be starving to death with abundant food available. She stopped eating completely – not a good sign for a small mammal – and fought so hard not to have the special food force-fed to her that I gave up, even when she was skin and bones, literally, under the plush fur. She got the medicines from the vet as long as I was supposed to give them to her, a quick bolus with a tiny syringe into her cheek after I captured her – against her will. But she wouldn’t let me feed her, nor take any of the treats I offered, nor eat her regular food. I wrote over 8000 words during those weeks and the weeks after, chronicling the ups and downs, preparing myself to live without her – and the miracle I was granted when she turned around.
I am not a pet person. I told the vet that. He said, “You have four kinds of hay for her – you are a pet person.”
Writing controls experience
While I was writing, I could put a limit on the experience, take a break from the thoughts churning in my head, because they each had to take a turn, become coherent, turn into words and sentences and paragraphs before I could put them down – making the inchoate, fully developed. Fixed in a medium.
I wrote when the pain of spinal surgery and the fog of painkillers made me crazy, notebook after notebook. The possibility looms again – I will have to re-read those notes before I can make a decision. While I was writing, I was getting some kind of control over the pain, and setting it aside so that it was not all-consuming for the time I could write.
Normal people use other strategies to deal with their pain. Writers write. And then use it, mine it for meaning and metaphors.
I don’t know if this is good or bad. I just know that it is.