The Healing Help of Writing
Has writing helped heal you was a question posed by Heather Holleman.
Writing is a tonic and a goad. And it is a solace. Sir Francis Bacon observed that while reading makes a full man, and conference (discussion) a ready man, writing makes an exact man. Writing keeps showing me how little I know about all upon which I long to be expert – and writing holds up a mirror to my heart demanding I cut out the malarkey and become teachable. Therein I find help and hope – and a goad to keep scribbling. (The Discipline of Writing)
Reading about writers is a handy writing tutorial. I am working my way through Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch. Her writing was the fruit of coping with pain – emotional and physical. Her writing is hard to read – startling, grotesque – full of disturbing images.
But, what is today’s news if not also upsetting, monstrous – full of disheartening images? It, too, is hard to read.
A story from last year haunts me – a Dallas woman tortured her own little girl. (Dallas Morning News) It is as the same polluted well from which Ms O’Connor drew her stories – people living out their sorry lots. What would she have said, had she known about this, a child whose young body her mother beat and scarred — a grandmother who could not protect her own?
Ms. O’Connor wrote in Mystery and Memory that
- The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.
Ms O’Connor believed in God – a real God in the midst of real pain. Reading of her writing struggles reminds me how puny the bond is between my faith and writing can be. Having come to appreciate her life through reading her biography, I am not yet a fan of all her stories. But I admire her courage – in living through the grotesque suffering that is lupus, and in her writing, describing how she saw meanness and mercy.
Writing of the diagnosis of lupus, she said to Robert Lowell, “I can with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.” (Brad Gooch, page 193) Although forced back to a difficult and increasing dependence on her mother, Ms O’Connor kept writing and encouraging other writers and friends.
Spending hours alone in her larger front room, among the phantasms of drowning boys, garrulous Southern grandmas, and mean-killer prophets, all created within a six month span, Flannery struggled to make sense of her life . . . For this dedicated writer there was no surer sign of grace than writing a good story . . . (Brad Gooch, page 193)
“Spinning her own life as a parable of the prodigal daughter, forced home against her wishes, and finding a consoling gift,” she concluded that running away in her twenties was a delusion – and had she not become very ill and had not come home, the delusions would have persisted. She said that the best of her writing was done in the home from which she had tried to escape. (Brad Gooch, page 193)
So, while squinting an eye, my hope gentle reader is we will keep writing and reading. And with these unique gifts, and talents, remain a mirror and lens to the crazy, wonderful scary times in which we live.
Artists with faith, O’Connor insisted, have an even more serious responsibility to work perfecting their craft than do unbelieving artists: “your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.” The higher the vision, then, the more determined the artist must be to convince through the senses.” (Mary Mumbach, Invitation to the Classics, pp.353-356.)