In this conversation, we talked about how and whether writing stories from our lives is like therapy. What’s the difference between Disclosure about the more painful events of our lives and Making art about a life that includes those events.
A note that we’re not psychotherapists, we are not counsellors, but we do talk a bit about our own experiences with therapy and how it has helped us write and make meaning out of our lives. Again, this podcast and this episode feature difficult or painful topics based on our own experiences, including mental health, grief, and death by suicide.
The show notes include references to suicide prevention services and hotlines so please, if you’re in crisis, we want you to have resources, which is why we’ve also included a couple of inroads to accessing therapy on a sliding scale and some organizations who are doing this work to help folks access mental health services:
- Suicide hot lines
US: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Canada: The Canada Suicide Prevention Service
International: International Suicide Hotlines
- 5 Action Steps for helping someone who may be suicidal
- Accessing sliding scale therapy resources
US: Therapy for Every Budget: How to Access It
Canada & US: Open Path Psychotherapy Collective
International: What is Sliding Scale Therapy and Do You Qualify?
Links and Resources from this Episode:
- Rachel is reading The Right to Write by Julia Cameron
- We mention Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing by Betsy Warland (Cormorant Books, 2010)
- Meli mentions Roxane Gay‘s MasterClass, Writing About Trauma and Writing into the Wound: Understanding Trauma, Truth, and Language by Roxane Gay (Scribd, 2021)
- Rachel mentions an exercise from the Mary Karr’s book, The Art of Memoir.
- Rachel mentions this interview she did with Alicia Elliott for the Write, Publish, and Shine Podcast and shares the idea that Alicia shared with her to “write around the trauma” which came to her via Canisia Lubrin. Alicia Elliott is the author of the memoir A Mind Spread Out on the Ground (Doubleday Canada, 2019)
- Meli wanted to share this TED talk with Nadine Burke Harris about trauma as the greatest unaddressed public health threat.
- Meli couldn’t remember which Brené Brown book talks about how she has a group of friends help her write her book. It was Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, Random House, 2017
Rachel: Hi Meli.
Meli: Hello, Rachel.
Rachel: We’re going to talk about memoir as therapy today, or as we put it in our title and our notes [00:02:00] “memoir equals therapy question mark?”
Meli: How are you feeling about your memoir? You were saying before we started recording that you you were talking about writing the damn thing.
Rachel: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s kind of the whole point of our project. Well, it’s part of it. I mean, it’s to find our community of other grievers who are writing grief, memoirs but a big part of what needs to be happening in tandem for me is writing the damn thing. And I find I’m still kind of avoiding it. So in this episode, I guess it preamble, I’m going to commit to getting my hands messy again, go back to at least my outline and start thinking about where I need to start writing again, the sections I need to expand. How about you?
Meli: Yeah, I think actually you saying about returning to the outline is probably a good [00:03:00] place for me to go back to I’ve right now I’m working on smaller pieces. I still don’t know if I’m going to have chapters or a collection of connected pieces. So I guess I don’t have to decide that, but it would be good to go back to an outline for sure.
Rachel: Yeah, that feels like a later decision that you don’t need to make yet. I know we’re both reading Betsy Warland’s book on revision, Breathing the Page and how she talks about the form kind of the writing knows the form that it wants to be in.
Rachel: So to me that feels just right. And then you’re going to see what form it wants to take.
Meli: You mean I can’t plan it all out ahead of time. That’s disappointing.
Rachel: Yeah, for sure. Well, for me too, cause I took a whole course on planning it out. Like that’s why I have an outline. I took a course on outlining [00:04:00] and it’s useful in its own way, but it hasn’t manifested magically into a memoir. Now, since I have that outline.
Meli: Do you think there’s value to making an outline, knowing that it might change, but at least you feel like you have something like you’re going somewhere? Like having a way through the woods.
Rachel: I think it’s helped very helpful scaffolding. Like, yeah. It’s like, I have a general idea of where it can go, but I also think I still have to find where I’m going to begin and where I’m going to end, even though I’ve declared that in this outline. But again, I want to keep it loose. It’s like the pencil sketch version. And it’s going to change when I keep sketching, erase some lines, add paint, but I have to be doing those damn things. That’s the thing that’s frustrating me right now is I’m not. But you know what? I also am living in 2021 [00:05:00] as a woman who’s got a lot of personal responsibility, so it doesn’t help me to beat myself up about it, but the desire is there. I might go to some looser kind of mapping like of visual, you know, brainstorm kind of, what do they call that mind mapping that might be where I go now?
Meli: What is the, when you write all over the page in no order, what’s that called? There’s a word. I not remember.
Rachel: I think it’s a mind map too, right? Where you do little bubbles and they all kind of feed off each other.
Meli: I was thinking like when you write around the outside of the page or you write sideways or you make shapes out of the text. I learned about that in a writing workshop once.
Rachel: I don’t know this.
Meli: Anyways, I don’t know
Rachel: if we find it we’ll link to it in the show notes or we’ll explore it in a future episode because I’m super curious about that.
Rachel: So today, we’re talking about therapy.
Meli: I was going to, [00:06:00] I was going to try for a transition. I mean, authentically, I did think like when you were saying you know, still figuring out what the story is it just, it does kind of remind me of how. Seeing a therapist, whether it’s talk therapy or not, it’s like you are, I am working out my story and telling myself my story and then saying like, is that my story? Like, there is something similar there where you’re kind of like re you’re looking at the story that you thought you had and kind of like wondering whether you could tell a different one or tell it in a different way. I didn’t see that connection before, but I liked that.
Rachel: Yeah. And like in therapy or kind of trying to understand the significance of events and examining each one. And I mean, for sure my experience in therapy is like, Oh, you know, why did this recent experience bother [00:07:00] me so much? Is it like that time when my mother, so, you know, look, it’s always making those kind of connections back to childhood.
Meli: Yeah. Yeah, so we have, I actually don’t know how, when did you start therapy?
Rachel: Oh yeah. Good question. I started in my thirties, I’m in my forties now. I’m not currently in therapy, but I have done, I guess, several years of therapy with different therapists, some with different like somatic type practices, some who are more like cognitive behavioral therapy type people are more of a mixed bag though. Not like solely that. And yeah, I mean, some that I didn’t really get on with in the end and some that I really liked. And I mean, it was really useful for me to explore for a lot of reasons. I mean, through therapy, I just even learned [00:08:00] how I feel like emotions were not accessible to me until, you know, and so until my thirties, I didn’t know whether I felt sad or mad or yeah, tired even like, I just didn’t know how I felt. Cause I didn’t know how to experience feelings and listened to my body and understand what they were. So those are all great tools for writers to have to know.
Rachel: You know, how a person feels.
Meli: Yes. And then to be able to share that with the reader in a way that is processed and is clear. I mean, I always say, I always joke that I thought that emotional intelligence was just having a lots of emotions. But eventually realizing that like, you know, being able to kind of locate the emotion and examine it if like, and then what to do with it and how to react and how to how to [00:09:00] express and emotions pointing to be to needs or unmet needs. And you know, just like having needs was a whole revolutionary thing.
Rachel: When did you start therapy
Meli: I started therapy when I was 15. My mom made me go and And then I’ve basically been in therapy on and off since then. , right now my therapist is she does somatic experiencing therapy it’s about the body and it comes from Peter Levine and the idea that , trauma lives in the body and, yeah, so I’ve definitely talked a lot and I think that’s great, but I can talk around issues pretty well. And in fact that. It has been part of my coping is to perform intellect and to perform insight. And so once I was in therapy that connected me to my body and [00:10:00] wasn’t about, you know, saying the right thing. That’s when things really started to move for me.
Rachel: Hmm. Yeah. Like just that deep listening to your body and how you feel.
You’re reminding me, I, I did do like, art therapy, I guess when I was about 15 as well. And it was really profound. It could help me with a lot of, it was like a one session thing, but when like, you know, guidance counselor and then, but then didn’t do it for a long time because of the layers of shame associated with it in my family too. It’s like,
Rachel: It’s like, it was an insult. You need therapy. Yeah. Was always like bandied back and forth within our family. And in truth everybody did, but we use, we hurled it at each other. Like, there’s something wrong with you. Certainly the beliefs, probably the, the culture society that I grew up in at the time [00:11:00] was like, if you’re in therapy, something is wrong with you,
Meli: but something is wrong. Something is wrong. I mean, but yeah, totally. There’s like that, you know, don’t portray the family secrets and I think a lot of families have that or, or even you know, it’s, it’s fine to go to therapy, but like. You know, like, I don’t want to hear what you’re saying about me or whatever, you know, or not being able to debrief with family about therapy because it’s more of a intellectual concept than something they’re willing to practice.
Rachel: Yeah. Or in my case, it was often like any kind of vulnerability, right? It’s like, yeah. Becomes a weapon. So just the fact that you’re in therapy, but then to dare even say what’s happening in that [00:12:00] therapy would be hard. , I think you’re really onto something in terms of there was a real fear associated, what would happen in therapy? What kind of things would I expose about our family too?
Meli: Yeah. And don’t disrupt the story. I mean, isn’t that a BetsyWarland thing too, like the comastory or the keeper of the story? Am I quoting that? Right?
Rachel: The it’s the authorized version. Yeah. The family has like an authorized storyteller. And so if you dare and always. I mean, having spoken to her about this, she said, it’s always not the writer. The writer is telling the unauthorized version of the story, because we need to assert ourselves as having a story because there’s this dominant story that consumes us really.
Meli: Do you think that going to therapy and then writing memoir about your story, does it having said [00:13:00] those things aloud to a therapist or having processed those things? Is it easier to write the really scary stuff on the page? Like, you know, that feeling before you write something you’ve never written before and you get that kind of like, Ooh, am I allowed to do this? Even though, you know, you’re allowed to like, intellectually, but there’s that like, Oh, like it’s the first time you write it? I think that probably primed me a bit more to be able to write, because I had seen. In my therapist, eyes that, you know, I wasn’t a monster or, you know, like I, that this was a, a worthwhile thing to examine.
Rachel: Yeah. Yeah. I definitely think so. I think, like I was saying before, it helped make connections for me too, or it’s like, okay, this is like this. And so there’s something there that has like, yeah. Meaning-making that I could do in, in the writing.
Meli: Yeah. I mean, I, I I’m writing more than [00:14:00] ever now. And I think it’s because of my current therapist. And I’ve even shared a piece with her which I was quite nervous about what a good feel, make me feel seen. I just didn’t want to put it on her. Like she had to congratulate me or give me critiques. So we had very clear, I just made it very clear that I was sharing of myself. Like this was another way of me to be, for me to be in connection basically rather than wanting her feedback. And I’ve, I think, cause I’ve had therapists kind of like not show any interest in my creative side. But the last two therapists who were both trauma informed, both doing the previous one was doing EMDR. And so yeah, both of them were really under really encouraged my like creative life and seemed to understand how [00:15:00] important it was to me, whether I published what I’m writing about or not.
Rachel: Yeah. I wonder about the flip of that. Like, so, and that I know that’s definitely something we want to get into is like, is writing, is the writing itself deepening and supporting the therapy? Like you’re getting the benefits of the therapy to be able to tell. The story. And then how I’m curious, how therapeutic you find writing to be?
Meli: I think one of the things that talking out these memorable stories does with a therapist or feeling into them or revisiting them in a safe way that isn’t retraumatizing it validates my experience and probably just helps me have more self-compassion. You have given me feedback about my writing that I need to do a self-compassion revision. So I need help with that obviously. And understanding that what I did to cope [00:16:00] was. My survival, a tactic or a series of survival tactics. And that, that was a form of wisdom. And I don’t have to like shame myself for that. And also a therapist can say, Oh yeah, that’s common for you as a , that traumatic experience that you had, this reaction that you’re having, where, you are acting recklessly or, those things you did in your mid twenties were related to this childhood story, and then a therapist can also put it in the context of not just how we process or work these things out emotionally and in our lives, but also social context, bring a social context to an experience that makes me feel a little less special or freakish or whatever, so that I can say, Oh, actually I would love to read a story about what [00:17:00] I’m going through. And this is something that maybe would help other people who have survived these types of things. So it kind of has helped me focus on what I am coming to see as the goal, which is to offer your story with a purpose, like. With the purpose of connecting to other people and helping readers as much as, you know, as much as one can. But yeah,
Rachel: that answers the kind of why publish question, why, why not just write in a journal, but how you’re feeling versus publishing and yeah, I’ve heard that referred to as kind of like the invisible woman or something , it doesn’t have to be gender that way, but under the invisible person who has maybe had a similar experience or just similar feelings who maybe needs to hear that story because it’s somewhat like their own.
Rachel: And then be able to provide that book. Both of us would say that we’ve read books like that too, that have [00:18:00] made us feel less alone and
Rachel: I would argue. That’s kind of why we read in general too. Sometimes we read to escape, but I think , the deeper literary writing tends to be more about, Oh, I’m not the only one who felt this way. And it’s the place where we get to say, to say those things that we can’t say. I mean, talking about being too much in our previous episode where we’re not allowed to say those things or it’s considered too much in a book, it’s not, it’s like, that’s what we’ve picked up this book for. We want to feel things with you.
Meli: Well, and it feels like there’s a kind of a consent. Like if I pick up a book that on the cover of references, I don’t know, sexual trauma or something like that, I have consented to that kind of story. I’m like, okay. Yes, I’m in. And so something about that [00:19:00] feels A little more I don’t know, protected than social conversation you know, in which I quiet the room and silence the room because I’ve said something too dark, which happens.
Rachel: Yes. I’ve been there. I’ve know that. Speaking of a moment of shared experience so when it comes to writing, though, when some of the things we wanted to talk about here too, is like in writing circles, there is a tension with this idea of writing as therapies of writing equals therapy question Mark, a lot of people would say no, that this isn’t a therapy session, which I think as you put it before, it can be both respectful to the writer because it’s like, we’re not going to talk about. Your trauma and make you, go through that but it’s also, it can be really disparaging too. I’ve heard it used disparaging, like, Oh, this is this, person’s writing this. And it’s just a journal entry and they [00:20:00] shouldn’t be sharing this here in this space.
Meli: Yeah, and there’s almost I would feel very self-conscious about that guess that’s why we’re having this conversation, but I would, I would feel self-conscious about saying, Oh, this story, or this essay was a form of therapy , or even which I don’t think I would say that, but even to say, like, is it a word thing, to say this was therapeutic. This was helpful in my healing. I admire when other writers say that, especially when, in my opinion, the story is pretty processed and it feels like they’ve done a lot of work. So I respect that, but I would feel, I feel nervous saying that because of the I don’t know the judgment but that’s also a bit silly because aren’t, I allowed to find healing in my art. I don’t know
Rachel: this super amounts of shame associated with that. Like how dare [00:21:00] you work out your feelings in your art on the one hand, and then on the other I’ve seen non-writers like interviewers. Talk to someone about a memoir that handles grief or trauma and be like, oh, it must’ve been so therapeutic for you to write this. And both of those feel really discounting and really reducing the art to just one, one or the other. And in my experience has definitely been both. Yeah. Like I think therapy is therapy. I don’t think writing is therapy, but then writing is, and writing is writing, I guess too part of writing is like coming to understand things more deeply. And so that has had positive impacts for me I go to therapy so that I can own my story so that I can challenge these narratives and personalities that have been imposed on me, character flaws. And, for self-esteem [00:22:00] issues and processing, trauma both know historic, like more complex PTSD type of trauma. And then, the intensity of, of my traumatic experience that I’ve, that I’m centering a lot of my memoir around. And I don’t know if the writing helps specifically with PTSD, but I guess it just like, it’s like practice to be able to talk about it, look at it from a distance and kind of separate yourself from feeling in a good way, you know, not in a disassociative way, but just more like, here’s like the external version of what happened. I can actually put it somewhere and even imagining that someday, someone’s gonna read that too.. And it’s like here’s the story it’s contained in this place.
Meli: Yeah, containment. That’s an interesting word.
Rachel: It’s like control, right? It’s like feeling this, a lot of these [00:23:00] feelings, trauma can feel like a lot of loss of control and, and I’m get, I get to harness it. This is a world that I make the rules in and I can tell it in the way I want to. Yeah. Now of course, I want to make it readable to there. You know, it can’t wield that power is so Willy nilly. I definitely want to respect the reader too. And not just, it’s not a journal entry that I want to publish. I want to publish something that’s not just processed, but revised, thoughtfully and carefully and belongs to a tradition of craft and storytelling.
Meli: I guess the question is, and this is maybe an intuitive thing, but what, I mean, I don’t know if we can really name it, but how do you know what’s processed and what’s a [00:24:00] draft and I mean, I’m not actually asking that, but there are certain markers that say this is someone being responsible with their story. I think one of the things, if I read another writer’s trauma story in draft form I want to be respectful of the person’s process, but also, Oh, I don’t know where I’m going and got lost.
Rachel: I wonder if where you’re going, because this is where I went to is thinking like, as an editor, I read a lot of work that isn’t processed and I’m making that evaluation. So you know, who am I, but I am and reading it and going, Oh, this is just so raw. And there isn’t really again, a craft to it. The writer feels out of control and I mean, I think [00:25:00] I feel very touched that people trust the magazine that I’m editing with. And then me, therefore, me as an editor to read their deeply personal traumatic stories, or like you said, we’re working with other writers in a workshop setting and having them share that work, but. Not, but, but, and, I would wish for them to have a chance to get a little more control of their narrative, as I say that, I feel like I’m saying, get control of yourself and stop feeling all over the place, but there’s a tension between what I want to say and
Meli: The word that I think of that came to me when I was in a storytelling workshop. We were preparing to tell out loud, working on these stories about personal experiences and somebody in the workshop talked about sexual trauma that they’d had in childhood. And as they read their draft in [00:26:00] the workshop setting the word careening came to mind, it’s like just kind of coming down the Hill fast with no, with no moves with no equipment with no, I don’t know. It just, it just felt you know, I mean there’s when someone comes on stage and after a string of people who are nervous and, you’re kind of like cringing for them and hoping they do the best, and then somebody with real performance skills comes on stage and you can just feel the whole crowd relax, because there is a, there is a feeling that like, okay, like we can all relax. Like this person we’re in good hands. We trust this. I mean, I guess memoir is similar. Like you’re a tour guide or, we trust this storyteller to take us through because it’s like, they’ve been along the path before this isn’t the first time they’re going down the path. like they’ve, they’ve [00:27:00] burrowed away through the mountain to the other side kind of thing. Like as opposed to, Oh, we’re going, we’re all on this, on this expedition for the first time. None of us has been here before and, and that’s where it feels. I mean, maybe it’s almost like a bit embarrassing. It’s like this person doesn’t know what they’re doing yet. Like maybe at some kind of like empathetic slash judgmental cringing
Rachel: yeah. It’s like a vicarious discomfort. Yeah. And I think, I mean, I do believe as a writer, you need to trust your reader and your reader needs to trust you. That’s like fundamentals of writing. And it’s hard to trust someone when they’re not clear, like you said, on where they’re going with this. And it’s like, you’re not sure if they’re okay and if it’s [00:28:00] even safe for them, but you know, it’s such a line that’s hard to define because I like art that makes me uncomfortable and challenges me where I need to be challenged too. But I do think fundamentally the artist in that case, Kind of knows that they’re doing that and the person who’s sharing that work, like when I’m reading it as an editor, I definitely feel like, Oh, this is the first person they’ve ever trusted with this story. Again, it’s really beautiful to have that kind of trust. But then it’s also like, I guess in that case, I do feel it, this isn’t therapy and, and I guess, you know, it’s such a privilege to be able to have any form of therapy too. So not everybody has access to that. So, and certainly the, you know, the pieces probably that I’m reading, that’s the case.
Meli: Yeah. Yeah,[00:29:00]
Rachel: I mean, I would love to have a workshop space where it’s okay to share on unprocessed work. I mean, I think you said in our, our notes setting this up too, is like, how can we ever. Fully processed things. We’re not even allowed to talk about them publicly where there’s so much shame and kind of covering up happening. I would love to have a workshop space where people didn’t feel embarrassed or feel like they had to do, you know, the other thing that they do, which is like put someone on a pedestal. You’re so brave, all the things you survived and instead just like human to human. It’s great that the person survived and, and to celebrate that, but without kind of saying that there’s some kind of, not like in here dehumanizes them because it’s like saying that they’re somehow a superhuman for having survived , again, I think that’s reductive, just trying to say that people who have survived to certain experiences are somehow [00:30:00] superhuman.
Meli: That’s someone not willing to talk about the work. Like I hear someone’s I dunno, it’s almost like people pleasing taking over, like, I’m going to congratulate you on, on doing this. Like, I can’t believe you did this. Wow. It’s like when, when people tell women of size or fat women that they’re so brave, it’s like, well, no, this is just me existing. I’m just being in my body and I’m not having shame. And I don’t need to be like congratulated for that. But the tension between being vulnerable, also. You’ve used the word control, which is probably yeah, it’s, it’s probably the word, but I also think, as a reader, you can also tell when when you feel like you’re being controlled, like you’re being led to some kind of conclusion that doesn’t feel authentic, or the writer is trying to present something that doesn’t really seem to be there in the, [00:31:00] in the text. And I guess in terms of like what you said about wanting to have a workshop where those stories are safe I mean, that’s something that we all, hopefully agree to when we enter a workshop, but maybe there is space for workshops where. Not only are we presenting drafts that need work, but we are saying, okay, this is one of those stories that I have been trying to write, but I haven’t shared yet. And so I would kind of hope that the person didn’t write the memory out yesterday and then present it to workshop the next day. But that there is some kind of like in between the first writing and, you know, even considering publishing something. You know, that we would all, if we were, if I was in that situation, I would know what I was getting into. And I guess that’s just setting up the expectations of a workshop and, and consent really like everyone consenting to be there. [00:32:00]
Meli: But yeah, but grief is not grief. Isn’t tidy. So.
Rachel: Yeah, that’s the challenge. Yeah. I like, I kind of feel like there’s no. So we’re not going to come here with a, some kind of instruction manual for how to write about grief. I think, I mean, for what’s helped for me is finding readers who have also had, you know, want to write about trauma and then be able to share that with them. And also maybe like for me also discernment of feedback I have done, you know, the outline course I was talking about , there were a lot of people in the course and, and, you know, in that case, I’m not creating the community around me. There’s just kind of random people who signed up for the course and not everybody in that who read my outline was my reader. [00:33:00] And then some people really were. And so to have the people who respond really well, who don’t just say again, like definitely got feedback. Like you’re so brave for sharing this, but people who were like, Oh, wow, I’m really feeling this. And it’s incredible because it’s such a traumatic experience. But again, I think we’re, you know, praising the, the fact that there was kind of this authorial, like there was a voice and an arch to some of the sections. I shared feel a bit egotistical, but anyway, but you know, and I guess like for me as the grief memoir writer, and who’s trying to get feedback and trying to improve my writing knowing that not everybody is going to be able to go there and, and read the work as work, especially when I do feel it has, is mostly processed work. You know, and actually there are cases where it’s not, and I’m still like a, I would call it [00:34:00] like litigating. Sometimes, sometimes I’m like just trying to argue the fact that I deserve to have a story and arguing against other narratives and I like people identifying that for me too, but the kind of feedback I really dislike is like that kind of, , this is so hard , this must’ve been so hard for you or just, well, obviously I’m writing a memoir about something that’s really hard on purpose. Like it’s, I don’t need you to tell me that it was hard.
Meli: Well, it’s like, it’s like, they’re saying, Ooh, that’s so ugly. I can’t believe you’re doing that. Like it’s like there. They may as well say this kind of fucked me up, but I don’t want to admit it. It’s like, they’re there. I don’t know. Yeah. It’s and I think it comes from fear sometimes. Like, yeah, like I think people want to elevate people and [00:35:00] say that, Oh, they’re the brave, strong person who survived these things, because then that means it’s external to them. And not something that could happen to them.
Right. Or that if it did that, you know, that they would be as, as brave. Like, you know, I guess that’s the most generous side of it that there is a way through, but yeah, I think it’s a fear thing. I kind of pushing away. Like you don’t want to catch it. It’s like a cold. So you kind of distance yourself from it instead of. Which I mean, that can also be a form of safety. I mean, sometimes I think the people that react like that are in awe because they are not working on their own shit. So they’d rather congratulate
Rachel: writing a memoir about something else . And ignoring the lava of pit in the middle of their [00:36:00] life that they haven’t faced, which is fine too. I mean, I think , there is the Mary Karr exercise from her book on Writing memoir, where she talks about whether you’re ready to write a memoir about a difficult subject. And the exercise is to start by just writing the hardest part. And then seeing, and not that you’re going to have no emotional reaction to it, but you may, but just like how hard was the reaction? Did you go to bed for a week? Did you cry for an hour? I literally recall doing that, sitting on my bed in Montreal, where I lived at the time and I did cry for an hour, but I didn’t go to bed for a week. So I thought, okay, I think I can do this soon. Like I’m getting there.
Meli: And you’re saying that it’s reminding me of an intense feeling of elation I had at writing out one of one of these like core memories [00:37:00] of, of, you know, shame and you know, which could also be alarming, right? Like the kind of like high of of releasing something that has not been so far articulated the way that I wanted it to be like. That could also be like something to notice. Let’s just say and I’m not trying to make it negative. I just, you know, those extreme reactions say something about where you’re at with it. And
Rachel: cause you feel like you were, there was like a denial to it somehow from being so elated.
Meli: I think what it is is part of my tendency, which I’m trying to get away from sharing things before they’re ready. Like it’s still like, okay, that’s the first time I wrote it out and it feels, I feel elation because I feel like there’s space inside of me or I’ve [00:38:00] relieved some thing that was going to eventually come out. But not sharing that too quickly. Which is something I used to do. I used to like share it with, other artistic friends. I guess,
Rachel: I think a lot of new writers do that, I guess that’s like part of a maturity of writing is knowing when to go, okay, this is first draft. I mean, a lot of just new writers don’t realize how many drafts it takes to finish . And so, because there’s the myth of the first draft perfection, you know, the genius, the artistic genius. You can just put it down and now it’s ready to publish. There’s something to be said for kind of writing it and then keeping it close to you. And then you being the next person to read it fresh after.
Rachel: Sometime. And that’s, I guess probably the work that we’re talking about to the work that the careening work, the work that you read, and you’re just like who you sh you [00:39:00] know, I don’t want to say should on people, but you sh you would have served not just the writing, but yourself more to have given this a little bit more space and reflection.
Meli: Yeah. That’s the kind way to say it for sure.
Rachel: And I do think, I mean, I think I kind of want to defend that person too, though. You know, I’m not like laughing at them in their artlessness. I think they could get there and certainly have as much potential as any of us. We just, you know, the writing, the work of writing is the work. It’s like the only way you’re going to improve its writing is to work, but I want to defend them because again, like. Therapy ain’t free, , it’s not cheap and it’s definitely accessible. And then also like finding a therapist who gets the intersection and perspective that you’re coming from . Is hard. I had a hard time and, , I’ve had [00:40:00] all white therapists and who came from a similar, more middle-class background like I do. So yeah, I guess I kind of feel like there’s a place for that. Being able to write that, but then I w I want, I want to also invite , those people to both write, write their traumas down and use it as a way to heal, but then. You know, part of like the thing with sharing it outside of yourself too, is it’s kind of like approval seeking a bit too. So yeah. So writing it down and then just sending it out right away is like, now I’ve written out the worst thing that ever happened to me. And now I want someone to say that, you know, to give some kind of stamp of approval and published it and yeah. And that’s not, I don’t feel like that’s healthy for anyone. And then it’s also not [00:41:00] artistic and it’s not going to be evaluated as, as art.
Meli: Which is too bad because there is still value in connection. I mean, just as humans like people share difficult things, I think, because they want to feel close to someone or they do feel close to someone. And in the context of workshop, it’s maybe difficult to, to see it as something closer to being done, but I, yeah, I agree. I think I appreciate the times when I’ve received a really raw story from someone, even if it’s made me feel uncomfortable. I think also that’s like part of my responsibility and maybe something, again, my privilege of having been in therapy of having someone say to me, notice that, okay. Noticing that like all those kind of like [00:42:00] mindfulness type practices that if I’m receiving something like that, I can go, okay, what is this triggering in me? Am I am I unwilling , to give feedback on this? Because I’m uncomfortable that this person is doing this or because it’s reminding me of something I went through and I’m thinking, well, how dare you describe it this way or whatever, I I’m, this is not my best self that I’m describing, but I have received drafts where I’m like, Oh this is very new and fresh. I am truly grateful that the person felt safe to share it with me or share it with a workshop. But I will admit that sometimes if I’ve received something like that in workshop, I have to really force myself to look at the actual words on the screen, on the paper and say, okay, what am I actually finding in the text? And I’m making a judgment about where this person is at [00:43:00] because of what I know about them, or, you know, I don’t know all those little judgments you make about people without meaning to and how can I be useful? By pointing to the text, instead of saying you shouldn’t share this because I mean, that would really shut down the person being willing to work on it.
Rachel: I guess we’ve probably all been there . I definitely took a more confessional voice in my early writing . That was like almost like a, I dared myself to expose some scary things . But again I hadn’t made those connections yet of what it means, and probably it’s actually therapy that helped me more, like come into myself and own my story in that way and be like, you know, the thing that I’m trying to be cool and show that it didn’t hurt me really did hurt me. It was probably a lot of what was happening in my writing then.
Meli: I have some Roxane Gay quotes that I wrote down from [00:44:00] an event she recently did around writing about trauma. About the difference between disclosure and an essay that first outpouring of this is what happened to me is not the writing. And so, yeah, I think that’s kind of what we’re talking about is that sometimes in workshops we’re getting the disclosure and that we want to like respect that, but it’s not necessarily a piece yet. But there does. I mean, disclosure is part of it. And I, it also makes me think about how you can tell, I mean, Roxane Gay was talking about this too. You don’t have to describe the actual moment. In the case of like abuse, there are ways to write about abuse and the effects of abuse without describing the worst incidents.
Rachel: I think that’s [00:45:00] probably what does happen between the disclosure draft and the essay too, is like, Okay. Now I have written the harder, hardest part, but now I can write. I know once I interviewed Alicia Elliot, who told, told me, I just really listened to it recently cause I’ve I attributed this to her, but she actually attributed it to Canisia Lubrin the poet that you can write around the trauma that you don’t need to write the trauma itself. And I think that’s a really handy tool, especially when we kind of live or maybe we’re coming out of this time of trauma porn and writing too. Or it’s like, tell me the worst thing that happened to you as what people can read in a way that’s really consuming it and almost being like, Oh, I’m lucky. I’m not that person. And instead like writing around the trauma, I think creates that space of here’s our connection and shared experience because if you known any kind of heartache you’ll know. The heartache that I’m describing here, but you don’t need to hear the sexual [00:46:00] assault or whatever that experience might be
Meli: well and describing sexual assault in detail is I mean, maybe important for the disclosure part, but it’s not, to me is not the story. I mean, most of the story is providing context. Like how does that type of relationship, how do we love our abusers too like, what, you know, what are some times that we’ve had with our abusers in which they were really kind and loving what are the effects of that? I don’t think that you want to traumatize your readers. And I think that people who have had those types of experiences can infer their imagination, fills it in very well because they know.
Yeah, I think it’s really powerful for me to say you know, my dad [00:47:00] baked bread on weekends and I can still remember the smell of bread or I loved that he took me fishing. There are moments that I love, but there is also the undercurrent of danger. And if that can be expressed, that’s so much more, it just gets at the complexity of being in relationships being in a family and the characters in your memoir get a chance to be real.
Rachel: Well, I think, disclosure can be about the event and be maybe a bit more extreme in terms of good, bad. And this happened to me. I think there are real villains, so I don’t think everyone needs to be given like a yeah. Benefit of the doubt or something like that. That’s sorry, that’s a whole other episode, but I also think for lesser slights or the ways I’ve been done wrong. I think for sure, first draft for me is very much I’ve [00:48:00] been done wrong and you’re a bad person. And then second, third draft, there’s more perspective of how might that person feel in this circumstance? Or what are the other conflicting emotions? Cause otherwise too, like writing about that, it feels like, well, you know, if you’re billboarding, this person is terrible and they did all these terrible things, then in some ways too, the reader doesn’t trust the writer too, because they’re like, well, why didn’t you see this? Because yeah, actually I think we are a bit off track. I took us further off track in terms of therapy. I’m wondering, could we maybe talk. About our takeaways from, from thinking about memoir equals therapy. Like I think I went into it thinking memoir is memoir, therapy is therapy, but I have seen therapeutic benefits. And I’m curious, how you came into it. And then what you’re [00:49:00] thinking now that we’ve had this conversation.
Meli: I think I feel strongly that writing is therapeutic and there is a difference as Roxane Gay mentioned, there’s a difference between disclosure and the sort of final work. That both writing and therapy are really privileged activities. I feel really grateful to be having a conversation about writing memoir and about going to therapy. But I think the main thing they share is, and they, and they do it differently. But creating connection. My therapist explained to me that to think of my relational health or my, there’s been an injury to my ability to connect to other people. And that together we’re going to sort of reset my [00:50:00] ability to connect. And so that’s, that’s the processing that I get to do as someone who gets to have therapy, The writing should also, I think, focus on connection. I need to disclose what happened for myself, and then I need to describe how I felt about it around it, after it to connect with the reader. I need them to know how those experiences like reverberate in my body so that they can connect to that as well with ultimately like empathy being part of it. And Hmm. Yeah. That there was something else, but I’ve lost it, but yeah. Where are you at?
Rachel: Yeah I’m I’m nodding fanatically at [00:51:00] everything you’re saying around, around the connection piece. The goal of connection and that being kind of the connective tissue, I guess, between both writing and therapy. One takeaway, I think from our conversation though, is I’m feeling more reflective on that disclosure writing. Cause I do see it. I mean, I’m both take, people’s work in for critique. Like I do some one-on-one critiques workshops and then as an editor, as I mentioned, and I think I’m going to work. A bit more on how to give more constructive feedback to that kind of writing versus being, I don’t think I was wholly dismissive, definitely felt honored that people shared work with me, but just thinking about how to provide more resources or even just more empathy for people writing, bearing in [00:52:00] mind, I think how privileged it is, like you said, to both be able to do therapy and write. So that’s maybe a shift I’ve taken, but I definitely still feel like, memoir is memoir therapy is therapy, but that I have, I’ve definitely grown a lot and gotten over quote-unquote things through writing about them because of the perspective it’s given me just to really go. You know, to block out a whole scene and a conversation with someone and think, and then being forced to empathize with the, with the person that I’m writing about. Like the interaction I might be writing about has made me think about, you know, maybe not, again, not necessarily forgive people for things they did wrong, but just get a bit more okay, these are the resources they had, and this is why they may have responded this way. Which I feel like [00:53:00] somehow is able to do that more in writing than in therapy, which I think, kind of rightly centers, me and my feelings and thoughts and experiences versus going. You know, I don’t think many therapists will say, well, imagine how that other person must’ve felt and what resources they had , like maybe they would, but it’s all in the service of you and how you know, and how you’re healing. And there’s been something really powerful for me about the writing of things and the empathy,
Meli: I guess I also, too, wanna acknowledge how much therapy has helped me feel permission and, and see that, that my creative life is important. Whether anyone ever reads what I write it’s still important. And I do like what you’re saying about how to [00:54:00] receive the disclosure drafts respectfully which includes honesty. And I guess one of the ways to do that is to make sure that as much as possible have an understanding where the writer feels they’re at. I mean, maybe it is just that like, I mean, this would require the person receiving feedback to be allowed to speak. But where do you think this story is?
Rachel: You know, I think it’s okay to identify it as though this is more disclosure than essay, but that also, we all start there. And, and here are some ways to get to the next
Meli: And I guess sometimes disclosure is about events. So this happened and this happened, this happened, whereas the writing is writing in between this happened, this happened. This happened and I felt this. I used to think it meant this now. It means this. Like, there’s that those kinds of like recognizable [00:55:00] memoir type phrases where it shows reflection distance, like feelings changing over time. I find myself thinking about the first stage of acknowledging trauma and how boundless it can feel. And how therapists have warned me to be careful about who I share with my story. And so then I guess that would go for the writing as well. And so
Rachel: It’s like, write it, but then don’t share it and then look at it again a little bit later, like a week or two or even a month later.
Meli: Yeah. And I would even say like, if someone isn’t in therapy and can’t access that, that there is value in disclosing to yourself, that’s part of the steps. And as you say, like to disclose, what’s comfortable for you without retraumatizing [00:56:00] yourself
Rachel: and it really depends where people are at too with their stories, like, yeah, they might do something like write the hardest thing and then it might be too hard. It might be too soon as well. I would hate to put someone into like, into bed or spiral for a week or something, you know, and it’s already so hard these days.
Like planning some care, give yourself some space, if you can, to care for yourself as you write. , I mean, the difference too is when you’re writing the memoir, you, you are, I mean, unless you’re really connected to writing community, you’re doing that on your own. Whereas in therapy, you’re working with someone who’s guiding the process. And so it’s a little more untethered and certainly it’s been good when, for me, when it’s coupled, when I’m doing both, it’s like writing and processing stuff and then. Being able to talk about whatI write about in therapy
Meli: I don’t know what book it’s in, but Brene Brown [00:57:00] talks about how she’s always trying to write things on her own. And at one point she invites a group of trusted people to her house, I think, and they start talking through creating things together. And I guess that’s another thing. I don’t know if everyone has someone that they can share their feelings with, but maybe they can talk to their cat. I used to do suicide awareness and prevention for teenagers. And so the teaching that we gave was when your friend discloses to you, that they’re feeling suicidal. One of the things you can do. Once you’ve, you know, listened and all that stuff, you can say, I’m going to call you tomorrow. And that’s just the plan. I’m going to call you tomorrow at two o’clock. Then the person who’s feeling badly knows that call is coming at two o’clock . I mean, we’re not talking about suicidal ideation, but we are talking about grief and it can be really [00:58:00] disorienting. And so I guess that’s why I keep emphasizing this, have someone to call or plan to go for a walk with a friend or find a time that you feel stable. But you also have some point of connection because it can be, feel really lonely.
Rachel: Yeah. Like you don’t have to disclose to the person, but just say, Hey, I’m doing something I’m trying something difficult. I’m going to write this thing. I don’t need to talk about it or don’t want to talk about it, but I just kinda need to know that you’re there for me and we can yeah.we can connect connect.
Meli: Yeah. Yeah. How lucky is it to have, I mean, how lucky I feel to be having this conversation and to be making friends who are writing. But everyone wants to tell their stories. The other thing I believe whether they publish or not, everyone wants to be heard. Yeah, that’s a great place to end, I guess.