Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Writing Psychotherapy

My personal life has changed somewhat in the last few weeks with the loss of my job. I have a theory about life, perhaps one trying to circumvent the old superstition that "bad things come in threes." When one bad thing happens, I face every other potential stressor in my life on purpose.

So, since I lost my job and pitched to a literary agent in the same week, let's also get the car inspected and go to the doctor for a physical.

Now I have a $700 car bill, am waiting on test results for anemia, and working with a psychologist to see if I have general anxiety disorder. Just the fact that there is such a thing as "general anxiety disorder" that effects a large segment of the American population amazes me.

Could it be part of the problem is our lack of connection to anything other than our material lives? We all seem stressed out about money, jobs and stuff and I don't get it. Why? I'm a victim of it as much as anyone. But why? If I lost my house would my family really let us go homeless? If I couldn't afford food would my friends and neighbors let my daughter go hungry?

But yet... these fears exist.

(I promise this will get to writing.)

In the 19th century, after the industrial revolution, many writers and visual artists addressed the potential hazards of modernization. Many writers like Zola and Sinclair took the naturalist route and described what they saw in detail and when you read these works, like Zola's experience of the Hausmann-influenced Paris, I feel like we've never dealt with these issues. Not yet. More than 100 years later.

Gauguin's solution was to live, paint and frolic with the natives in tropical paradise.

And I think people today are no more "screwed up" than people 100 years ago. A nervous person 100 years ago might lock herself in the parlor with a book, or work in the garden, or get sent to the sanatorium for a "rest," but would more of us be more at ease if we had a more natural rhythm of work and rest?

150 years ago everyone had some connections to the land. If they didn't grow their own food, their neighbors grew it. They understood the limits of their universe and had a connection to ever part of their lives. We're detached. Our food comes from grocery stores. Our fuel comes in tanker trucks. Our clothes come from malls. We hit switches and lights come on. We type words on screens and send them to other people with the touch of a button.

Our ancestors understood their needs and how to fulfill them. Our ancestors worked and slept on schedule with the sun and didn't have a snooze alarm.

I've connected this with some 19th century writers, but how does it effect our writing?

Until Monday, I thought I was a naturally nervous person, that it was part of who I am and I had to deal with it. Monday I faced some of the reasons why that's not true. Monday I had to inventory some of my demons and realize how they effected me. And this wasn't done in the safety of the psychologist's office. This hit me like a sledgehammer several hours later. And I'm still recoiling.

But I also realized that the struggles my characters go through are quite literally the same struggles that I go through. I downright torture √Čtienne, and his turmoil is a veiled commentary on what I've faced and how I feel about my life.

We all do it. If we don't use our characters to vent or explore our emotions, then we give them the opportunities we want or we let them chase our dreams.

Writing. Ultimate psychotherapy.

What are you writing?


  1. this was an excellent essay Angel.

  2. Brilliant! I completely agree. I do this exact same thing with my writing. My turmoil becomes my characters' turmoil. I make them suffer, because I have not yet dealt with certain issues. Whenever isomnia hits, I write it out, and someone always experiences something terrible on paper before it all ends and I can find sleep again. It's just the psychology of a fiction writer I think.