|William Faulkner, 1943|
Each Sunday, The New York Times Magazine, a pleasantly cheeky publication, contains a department called "Riff," a place for one freelance author's scat, rant, or chest-clearing bombast. In yesterday's paper, Steve Almond's "Why Talk Therapy is on the Wane and Writing Workshops are on the Rise," makes a case for writing as therapy. No, no, he doesn't suggest that we, especially memoirists, write confessional, weepy, solipsistic prose.
He points out that the significant rise in MFA and undergraduate creative writing programs in the past twenty years may reflect "a broader cultural shift" from talk therapy to writing where writers learn to work through "the human heart in conflict with itself."
(On one hand, read his article as a model of logical organization, each new point of evidence building on the previous one. On the other hand, know I'm responding favorably to his "riff" because I completely agree with his overall point, which is, likewise, logical and real. True, it's real and logical whether or not I agree with it.)
Almond's student writers "are hoping to find, by means of literary art, braver and more forgiving versions of themselves." And, as we understand ourselves, our readers better understand their worlds. We write, as E. M. Forester said, "to find out what [we] think." We write to make meaning, to make art out of difficulty so we can see it more clearly. We write to get perspective on our observations and understand them in a larger, more universal context. Or, as David Foster Wallace put it more simply, we write "to become less alone inside" and the reward of that honesty is a gift--a reader responding to our words.
Almond is not saying that writing replaces or replicates therapy, a much messier endeavor in real time. Instead, he says that, in our writing, we "fixate on particular stories and characters and themes because they speak to the fears and desires hidden within us."
He gives us license to find sanctuary in literature, in "the refuge of stories, which remain the most reliable paths to meaning ever devised by our species."
Consider joining me in Italy to become part of a community of writers for a week--to learn the finer points of narrative nonfiction writing; to discover Abruzzese culture, food and wine; to bathe in a Philippe Starck tub by candlelight and to walk through the streets of a quiet medieval town each day. Details and enrollment information found at Italy, In Other Words.