This week was full of bravery, people taking risks in writing.
Monday—monthly poetry group: I took a poem about the bruises my brothers suffered at the hands of my father.
Tuesday—a friend’s reading. She traveled to Israel and interviewed people living in and evicted from occupied territories, heartbreaking, important poems.
Wednesday—15 writers gathered to delve into Anne Sexton and use her work as prompts to write. A friend opened herself up to a terrifying part of her past. Inspired by others in the group, she read what she felt was raw and revealing to the strangers in the room.
Thursday—women Veterans brought in and wrote about their dog tags.
Friday—at the book launch of The V-Word: True Stories about First Time Sex, edited by Amber Keyser, I read my story about losing my virginity. Writing about sex and sex abuse isn’t new for me, but reading this essay brought a surge of feelings when I sat down afterwards, a mix of fear, shame, relief, and more.
My question is whether the place in the brain that allows survivors of sexual trauma is the same place for Story, for creating stories. Is there a “storied” part of the brain? I’m not just talking dissociation. Well, maybe I am: the ability to place oneself fully in another character and time and place. When I’m writing in the voices of my characters, set in the early 1950s, I leave my beautiful little writing studio with hyacinth blooming outside, and I am in the October cold of New England, with saddle shoes and bobby socks on my feet, and a cardigan sweater and pleated skirt on my body. I walk the campus of Smith College and duck into the library with its long, dark tables. This ability to transport myself seems like the same ability I used as a child to leave the dinner table when my parents were fighting across it, disappear from the house when my father was raging at my brothers.
I’m NOT saying that all writers have been abused. Or writers are better if they’ve been traumatized. I’m saying that the ability to create stories seems to be something evolutionary, a way that humans can adapt, have adapted over millennia. And how cool. What an amazing animal we are.
And I am grateful. I’m grateful that I can delve into characters, that writers like Tony Doerr in All the Light We Cannot See, let me touch a wooden replica of a French town and hear the bombs about to drop, or delve into animals, through Nicole Birkholzer’s stories of seeing, really seeing the animal world, like parrots and goats in her Pet Logic. And I am giddy and grateful when writers around me commit this primal act of writing, this advanced and elemental form of survival, when they exercise the storied part of their brains. Something reptilian, the long tongue of a gila monster flickers, and a story emerges from the ages, from deep inside. Witnessing writers take these risks, move into and through the stories inside them or the stories they create connects me to a primal urge, a lateral line within all of us, turning us in unison away from danger or towards it because together we can face anything. We can survive and make beautiful anything that has been ugly. We can offer stories that warn and inform. We can imagine different times and places, Israel or New England or Paris, and be there and here. Magnificent animals that we are.
If you know the brain, if you can tell me where I can learn more about the storied brain, please let me know what to read, how to proceed. Click HERE to email. Thank you so much.