The most satisfying work I’ve ever done was using writing and theater in clinical practice. I was amazed by the way writing mined the unconscious, entered the heart’s depth, and allowed my students to hold their deepest truths to the light, often for the first time. At this July’s Hamline residency, I had the experience of lecture as therapy. There were tears (not even from rejection slips), laughter, and contemplation.
The connection of our speakers to their work was communicated in their heartfelt presentations. Elizabeth Partridge’s stories of Woody Guthrie and his tragic life, the only seeming redemption his music, pierced our hearts. Deborah Wiles opened her metaphoric home to us: her struggles, the call of books that would not abate until she read and read and wrote. She then drew from her story a larger context for us all to examine our work and our lives. And we wept with both of them: over children burned to death, a musician’s mind succumbing to disease, over a mother living in a car with two children, but determined to transcend.
And this is why we write: to push aside the numb banalities of existence and enter the core of compassion.
But all was not tears: Elizabeth Bird had us amazed and amused with literary tales: whether Hans Christian Anderson would ever leave Dickens’ home, whether Pooh would be x-rayed to find his inner music box, and Tony Blair’s pronouncement that England would not be seeking “the return of Winnie the Pooh Bear.” Her intelligence and passion for the subject transported us, as she shared the comical and tragic stories of authors and the children for whom they wrote.
And this is why we write: to entertain, to give joy, to enlighten children and ourselves. These wonderful speakers reminded us.
So how does it apply to writing? Simply this. We must feel. It’s kind of exhausting…one does like to put it off. But it must be done. To feel is to be human. To feel is to communicate. To feel is to be a writer.