Jeannine Atkins: Writing and Tears
Is there a way to sit down to write memories, funny stories, or adventures about made-up children in made-up lands without risking crying at the computer, having touched on tender places? I was just asked about this from a thoughtful, sensitive person embarking on a summer of writing and who would rather not do this by a box of tissues.
Clearly some people can write anything without feeling overwhelmed. Journalists have to write about catastrophes all the time. And I expect many of those writing dystopian novels showing the world at its worst may work on chapters while eating lunch.
But I find that sitting quietly can put me in a lot of moods. Sadness, which caregivers may neglect during days of making an effort to look bright for other people, may take this chance to call for attention. You may not mean to write about a loss that’s pushed back to get on with the day, but it may take its chance to rise at the writing desk, just as it might when a song comes on the radio while driving to get groceries, or in the quiet when your head hits the pillow. I’m not a therapist, though I’ve been to one, and think if tears come, they do so for a reason. And happiness can be found on the other side. Tears do dry, and they can be healing.
Someone surely knows of a writing practice that avoids the dark recesses of the mind, but I’m not sure I’d choose it, any more than I’d want a life without love, though I know that means eventual loss. My mom was the sort who advised, “Don’t dwell on things. Leave the past behind,” and I became someone who dwells kind of for a living, and unburies hidden stories of history, work that sometimes makes my own hidden stories fly up with the dust.
This kind of work isn’t for everyone. But those who choose to write and find tears come should know they’re not alone. And if it hurts too much, it’s good to ask for help.