A funny thing happened yesterday. I read an essay in a magazine and came across a familiar character: Me.
My good friend, Tara DaPra, has a piece in the new issue of Creative Nonfiction titled “Writing Memoir and Writing for Therapy: An Inquiry on the Functions of Reflection.” I met Tara more than a decade ago, back when we were both undergrads at the University of Minnesota taking our first nonfiction writing classes, back when creative nonfiction was still a fairly new and terrifying genre, back when we were still trying to figure out if we had anything to say. And even if we did, were we capable of writing it, and would anyone care to read it?
Because I write about my real life and my family, the question I get asked the most — aside from “aren’t you afraid you’ll get sued?” and “how would you feel if someone was writing about you!?” — is “do you find writing therapeutic?” I always answer no. No is simple. I always answer no because I want to make it clear that I don’t feel like writing is anything at all like being in therapy, even though, even as I hear the emphatic “no” come out of my mouth, I know this can’t possibly be the whole truth. How can writing, like any art, not be therapeutic? In her essay, Tara explains this far better than I’ve been able to: I agree that confession and redemption alone are no formula for good writing or art of any description, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t co-occur. And doesn’t a life have to be exposed—at least in part—before the writer can examine it? Why can’t a memoir speak about trauma or reveal family secrets and still be literary?
Head on over here to read the rest.
So yesterday, when I was reading Tara’s essay and thinking about how brilliant it was, how proud I was of her for having her work in this great magazine, right there alongside Mr. Creative Nonfiction, Lee Gutkind himself, I suddenly stumbled across some sticky words and saw myself as a character. As in hey, is that me she’s describing, am I that person with no name?! “How would you feel if someone was writing about you?” I’m barely there, a mere cameo for a sentence or two, my young, 37 year old self. But I’ll tell you, it felt …. well …. a little surreal. A taste of my own medicine that was good for me to taste, and remember.