I write because it’s cheaper than therapy

It turns out you can buy a whole collection of “cheaper than therapy” t-shirts and most of them make the valid point that doing something physical, or doing something you love, is good for your mental health. I guess the remaining ones (mostly about chocolate, wine and beer) make the point that the occasional indulgence is helpful too.

Most people I know who write, do include “writing as therapy” as one of their reasons. Sometimes it is the main one. I’m no exception. Writing anything is an outlet for me, and it is one of the reasons I blog, and at times keep a journal. In some ways the journal is the best mental health tool, because it is a place where I can explore my own issues without giving any thought to a reader.

However, fiction provides a sort of veil between my raw emotions and a make believe story while it allows me to delve deep into issues that might never surface in something more contained like a journal. Creating a plot has a certain non-linear element of surprise to it that can take me exactly to the places where I least want to go.

When I started my first novel, I promised myself I would do my best to write without fear. Some of that entailed pretending that no one I knew would ever read my book. (I still have to pretend that sometimes.) I got the chance to go to Ireland in the middle of my first novel, and toured the Jameson distillery. I was surprised to learn that every bottle of Jameson contains the two Latin words “Sine Metu.” Without Fear. Well, Mr. Jameson and I seem to have things in common.

I have a theory about writers block. So far, in my case, it is caused by one of two things. The first, and easiest to solve, is that my body needs something and I’m ignoring it. Usually it’s sleep, but sometimes it’s food or water or even a trip to the bathroom. My brain will eventually cease to create until I care for myself.

The other is that I want to go somewhere with the story and I’m censoring myself. Occasionally it’s because I have another direction I want the plot to go, but more often it’s because something deep within wants to take the story into territory that bothers me. I’ve learned that my muse becomes silent until I relent and stride into the dark forest that is scaring me so.

There, I find the demons that have my particular number, and as we stare each other in the eye, I become a little stronger and they become a bit less terrifying. As I write them into the ordinary, I turn them into creatures of the light.

The forest is huge and the creatures are many, so it’s not like this writing thing is a quick road to complete mental wellness, at least for me. But I do recognize that writing forces me to confront my worst of everything, and with the confrontation comes a measure of understanding.

While looking for information for this blog, I found a great post written by “The Angry Therapist” on tips for dealing with life if you can’t afford therapy.  I found the entire article worthwhile, and some of it surprising and wise. I especially liked tip seven: share your story.

A final word about therapy. Several people I’m close to either see or have seen a therapist and each one of them has benefited from it. It is, I’m told, expensive and hard work, but with the right therapist and the right attitude, it can be life altering. So please understand that I don’t mean to claim here that writing, or any other activity, can or should replace therapy when it is needed, or even wanted.

Therapy may be something I’ll try someday. Much as it may help me, I’m confident I have enough garbage in my head that writing for my mental health will always be an option for me. Besides, I have six other fine reasons to write, and there are four of them I haven’t given much thought to lately. One of them I’m kind of secretive about, and it will be the subject of my next post.

(Read more about why I write at at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions, and My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing.)

A feminist looks back at Valentine’s Day

candyIt always was a problem holiday, wrapped as it was in girlie expectations of flowers and candy. I understood that the female, of course, was expected to do for him also, usually by way of, wink wink, you know. It had enough of that underlying sex for treats aspect to it to make me cringe, but I couldn’t help wanting to acknowledge the day. I was still a member of my culture.

My friends always asked. Did he get you flowers? Take you out to dinner? Somewhere romantic? My answer was always a slightly sad no.

roseMy friends would sigh. “It wouldn’t have hurt him to at least, maybe, bought you a single rose or something.” No, it probably wouldn’t have. But I knew that I was sending out mixed signals. I was one of those girls who was usually in a relationship, and with the kind of boy who thought Valentine’s Day was stupid. Not surprising, really, given my own independent beliefs. Still, why couldn’t he make one tiny exception and buy me some dark chocolate? Then I would have had had something to tell my friends. Besides, I like dark chocolate a lot.

Finally, and to no one’s surprise, I married one of those independent thinking guys who had declared early on that no collective of greeting card salesmen and florists was going to tell him when to act romantic, dammit. And they didn’t. I got used to telling people that we didn’t celebrate February 14, and I focused on sending cute cards to relatives instead and just bought my own chocolate. Problem solved.

sparklyFunny thing. As the years went by, Valentine’s Day began to seem more and more like a contrived holiday to me as well. I bragged about how he was too smart to buy me $70 roses. Then one year he surprised me with a silly card. Just for fun, he said. It made him think of exchanging valentines at grade school class parties. I laughed and the next year I got him a silly card too. That became our little tradition, the exchange of a card, the goofier the better.

Then a few years after the card tradition started, we somehow got in habit of making a special meal sometime in mid-February, on a night that was convenient. It included lobster and sparkling wine and maybe even some sort of chocolate dessert. It became our own secret celebration of love, held on a day of our choosing and far from the crowded restaurants with their over-priced menus designed for the occasion. This worked for us, and all was well.

Then, this year happened. The fancy meal was had Saturday night. The cards were exchanged Sunday morning over coffee. By Sunday evening, I was done with Valentine’s Day and happily writing away on my blog when I was informed, with just a touch of petulance, that dinner had been ready for awhile.

You made dinner? Of course he had, I was told.  It was Valentine’s Day, so would I please get off of my computer and come eat the chili rellenos he had made for me because he knows how much I like them.

Why did you bother to do that? Because it is Valentine’s Day, he told me. And because I love you.

Oh. Well now. If that doesn’t just make up for all the flowers and candy I never got and said I never wanted, I don’t know what does.

So, Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday about loving someone. If you celebrate it right, there isn’t a better occasion on the whole calendar.

blooming

(Text from “The Word Virus”)