Trauma is a Teacher, Not a Dwelling Place

Trauma is a Teacher, Not a Dwelling Place

(Listen to the poem above on Soundcloud.)

People will tell you writing is hard--and they're right. But not for the reason you may think.

Yes, you have to know the totality of the story before you even start writing. You also have to be conversant with form and character building--with poetry and fiction alike. And of course, you must have a strong command of whatever language you're writing in, as well as excellent time management skills. But truly, the hardest part of creative writing is wading back into your trauma.

Here's the thing--trauma is a teacher, not a dwelling place.

I see a lot of brilliant people with great ideas get frozen or stuck--sometimes for years--after descending the stairs of their own subconscious and encountering some very scary things.

"You're still down here?" I've said to myself when embarking on that same journey and bumping into something I thought I'd banished to the ocean floor of my mind. "Come on, did you really think I was leaving?" it said. Well, then.

So make peace with it. 

Whether that 'it' is abuse, displacement, betrayal, bad judgement, or your own excesses of power, accept that it is just a part of your back story; the future isn't written yet. And the fact that you can even transform these experiences into art means that you have a valuable talent and strength that most people actually don't have.

See, what folks must understand is that artists literally re-experience all of the emotions associated with the thing they are trying to distill for public consumption. As adept as we may be at what we do, many of us run into problems when we get trapped in the intensity of those feelings, and then turn those traumatic experiences into a lens for filtering every single new experience in our lives. 

That's when we sink into grief, get frozen when others have moved forward, or become afflicted with 'writers block.' And we certainly can't have that. We need everyone's voice to make everything better than it is. This IS possible.

So just remember that trauma is a teacher, a catalyst, kindling for the fire of your boundless imagination--not a place to live (unless you want to die faster). People are depending on your story, sometimes to literally save their lives. By keeping the intense experiences that inspire your work in their proper perspective, you become a powerhouse. 

You are in control, always. And though it may seem cliche, it's true: The more you confront your fears, the less power they have over you. This isn't a one-time thing; it takes practice. So get to work.

If you want some inspiration, read an essay I published in an anthology 15 years ago (wow!) about healing after rape, and allowing myself to accept a healthy, loving relationship. We are still married ;-).

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