We talk about secrets; how we avoid revealing our deepest secrets out of dread that, "If people knew that about me, they wouldn't like me."
We talk about feminist author Carolyn G. Heilbrun who wrote "what has been forbidden to women is anger" ... our trepidation that writing stories of action and accomplishment will be branded "unwomanly."
We talk about myths. The little girl believed the myths―you fall in love with Prince Charming and live happily-ever-after; you suffer in silence, your reality and pain stored in the hold of the conscious and unconscious mind.
We talk about poetry. And then we write.
We talk about poetry. And then we write.
I become the one with the crenellated fans that Adrienne Rich writes about in her poem “Diving Into the Wreck.”
“I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail ….” Rich writes. And now: it is easy to forget what I came for among so many who have always lived here swaying their crenellated fans between the reefs and besides you breathe differently down here.
I look up crenellated. Hard, embattled ... like me and many I have known. Building a wall, stone gray battlements as unyielding as the buildings at West Point John wrote about in his memoir.
I am a woman alone, surviving the memory of the night his mother threatened to kill whoever entered his ghostly hospital room and cross her unholy path ... the night he died and I wasn't by his side. A secret I haven't shared until now.
I write about the wreck … the cancer … “I wish I’d never met you …” my life not how I imagined. “The thing I came for: the wreck and not the story of the wreck… the thing itself and not the myth,” Rich writes.
I come for the woman alone, to support and succor her … hoping to demolish the wreck. Old age beckons its bony finger. As one of our writers puts it, aging alone after the death of a husband comes with a tinge, sharper at times than others … a blade slicing through flesh, leaving the wound of depression.
Some might say I have it easy, indeed, they have even told me this as though owning a lovely home, Lily by my side is more than any woman should want or expect. After all, I’m not swabbing campsite bathrooms as some in their mid-seventies must do ... they have no savings to speak of, and so they appear on the front page of the Washington Post in a story about the "new reality of old age in America."
I do not ascribe a value to the idea that one person’s pain is deeper or worse than another’s. Pain is pain and it immerses us―sooner or later. And that’s where writing comes in. It eases the burden of the wreck … the myths that wreaked havoc … the secrets that led to the many defenses and contradictions. The trepidation we will be branded unwomanly.
Write it as memoir. Write it as fiction. Just write it. I think of my father who wore a mask of composure until the day he died. "We don’t air our dirty laundry." His face stares back at me, a mirror image of my own repression. Then I gather with a group of writers and with their words, reflections and insights, I discover the courage and the freedom to write and take my place among them.
I’d like to share a sampling of comments from our writers following our Writing About Pain, Loss and Other Difficult Subjects memoir workshop:
I came looking for ways to establish a “writers’ life” and left understanding more fully that the key is in sharing our humanity in authentic ways.
I came into the Writing Circle today filled with trepidation. The thought of exposing my vulnerabilities to strangers filled me with dread. I left with a sense of expectation and confidence because I found exposing my vulnerabilities to daring fellow strugglers was so encouraging.
I really enjoyed the workshop. Hearing other women’s stories and the courage of them sharing, encourage me to write and share my stories too. I never imagined that I would write stories or share them. The Women’s Writing Circle has made it possible for me to open up.
I brought pain and hope for different perspectives and resolution on my grief. What I took away? Pain is a universal truth that we all share and we are all hiding with our secrets and wear masks to cover our true authentic selves … and when we delve into our deepest, darkest parts and unravel and reveal the pain that has held us back forever and ever, it is then that we become free because we realize we are no different from anyone else … we all have secrets that make us human.