Friday, January 13, 2012

Expunge the Bitterness

Or, writing as catharsis and the need to let go.

I've written about this a lot, at various times, but it seems each time I fall into a mental ditch I need to rediscover how to dig my way out. You'd think it gets easier. Here I go.

I try to keep the details of my personal issues off this blog, so suffice it to say that I'm fifteen and I have the usual cadre of things that make me upset. Friends, family, school, family, my own expectations, family, and so on.

So what to do?

I'm not going to talk here about the steps you should take in real life to resolve these problems, since I don't know myself (though I sorely wish I did). But since life is 90% how you react, etc., perhaps I can share what I do, or try to do, to deal with the mental end of reaction.

1. Write.

As Natalie Goldberg said in Wild Mind, "If you let go in your writing, you naturally go for the jugular over and over until you clean out unfinished business."

So write to get your feelings on paper. Or screen. It doesn't matter which, just that you get them out. You might get something good out of it. I wrote Monstrosity when I was angry and in the process learned exactly how one of my characters' mind works.

But don't write hoping for some end. When you are upset, you must think of your writing only as a way to deal with your present conflict. If you start considering it from the perspective of an artist/craftsman, you remove a layer of truth: do not filter what you're writing when you're upset.

Let it out. You know you can stop when you feel bored, spent, or no longer bitter. Water has to boil before your turn off the stove - but once it does boil, you turn off the stove.

2. Leave it be.

Leave your rant/whatever you came up with alone. Drink tea, breathe, listen to neutral music, allow yourself to calm down.

When I'm angry, trying to be happy feels like a lie. This step is for when it doesn't. When you're feeling stable and level-headed, go on to step three.

3. Revisit.

You may decide that what you've written is worth keeping. If so, keep it. On the other hand, you might be embarrassed by the extent of your vituperation. As you read, you may feel your anger begin to rise, old wounds festering. (My kettle metaphor fell apart pretty quickly.)

If so, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you are a writer whose depths of talent are endless. Nothing you've written is irreplaceable, and besides your mental state is more important than your portfolio. Yes, it is.

So if your writing whose purpose was to ease your heart is now inflaming it again, move on to the next step.

4. Expunge the bitterness.

Delete it. If on paper, tear it out, shred it, recycle it. If in a notebook or journal that you can't bear to deface, just remember not to read that page again. If on the computer, delete the file. If in a file with stuff you want to keep, email your ragefest to yourself and then delete the email. I don't recommend the highlight-and-backspace method since it doesn't offer as much satisfaction.

What you are doing is symbolically purging your bitterness and ill feeling from your mind. Let's pull in another metaphor.

The things that have been upsetting you are a red mantle of unutterably heavy cloth. You have removed the mantle, and now you are burning it. With it go the paper goblins that have plagued you.

Good riddance.

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