We live a few miles away from a renowned mental health facility. This fact is often mentioned by my mom-friends when we’re having a particularly bad day (or week). “I’m reserving my room,” we (half) joke. “I’m one step away from checking myself into the loony bin.” (Admit it: a clean, quiet room where they bring you lunch sounds like heaven, doesn’t it? And thanks to our kids, we’re already used to the lack of privacy and constant monitoring.)
But I’m lucky, because I have something that keeps me sane, even in the most difficult circumstances: my writing. That’s right. Even though writers aren’t always known for being the most stable bunch (Hello, Sylvia Plath!), I truly believe that my lifelong habit of writing has helped me stay (mostly) emotionally sound.
As I said in this interview with Christina Katz, I like writing personal essays in particular because it helps me process things in a different way. As E.M. Forster said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” (Wow, I’m really busting out all the literary references today, huh?)
I am particularly proud of my most recently published essay, “In My Own Words,” which appears in the August issue of Skirt magazine. That’s because it is based on a journal I kept when I was 19, traveling abroad alone for the first time. I have never understood people who don’t keep journals – or worse, those who throw out their old journals because they’re embarrassed by them. My journals – and their latest incarnation, this blog – are a GOLDMINE of insights into my psyche and circumstances over the years. (And also, let’s be honest, chock-full of embarrassing moments.)
And the fact that I can publish some of these writings so that other people might relate to and benefit from them? Awesome. Just awesome. The only thing that comes close to the feeling I get when someone writes to tell me how much they enjoy or relate to my writing is when one of my personal-essay students tells me how much my feedback meant to them.
One student, after I sent her her final essay critique at the end of class, wrote, “…when I read your comments, I just cried and cried. My family life is so difficult and it felt like a ray of confirmation that I’m on the right path in spite of everything. The upside is that I always have essay material.” She went on to publish her essay almost immediately.
In my class students can and do write about anything, but it’s not surprising to me that many essays are about difficult relationships, startling diagnoses, and loss. Through the act of writing about these things, they’re processing, understanding, explaining, accepting, and reassuring others who have been in their shoes. It’s also not surprising to me that these are often the essays that seem to be the most rewarding for the writers – and often, the most frequently published.
If you’d like to explore writing about your life in more depth, I invite you to take my 6-week e-mail class, Personal Essays that Get Published. Students tell me it’s as much fun to take as I think it is to teach. (And there’s no rule saying you HAVE to write about death or divorce; many students write and publish upbeat essays. One of my greatest hits was about my belly button!) The registration deadline for the next session is Aug. 16. Find out more and sign up here. I’d love to have you join me.
READ O’ THE DAY: Speaking of writing and maintaining your sanity, my fellow writer/mom and sleep expert Malia Jacobson has launched a new e-book called, “Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep, So You Can Sleep, Too.” The best thing about it, IMO, is that it’s full of specific, practical advice you can put into play TONIGHT. I’d say that’s well worth the price of a few lattes, wouldn’t you?