I wrote a short story in a college. “The Girl”. It was more of a memoir, but I didn’t know it at the time. It was a pointed story about being raped. Is “pointed” the right word? I don’t know. “To the point”, maybe. “Matter of fact”, perhaps. In any case, I told the story of being a girl, 16 years old, and having a man drive me to a dark parking lot and rape me. He was 30. Gross. Can you imagine? So gross.
My point isn’t to rehash the gory details of that experience. My point is to give testament to the power and beauty of writing.
Journaling is one thing. It’s a cathartic practice, yes. But writing is different. When I wrote that story, I was creating something beautiful from the ugliness that haunted me. I wrote from a very generic, third-person point of view. I wrote in short, precise sentences. I wanted each word to cut with the same power that each second of that terrible experience hit me. I chose my words carefully. I edited not with the red pen of a grammar critic, but with the test of a simple question, “And then what happened?” No emotion, no shame, no excuses, no analogy, no baggage, no comparison, no regret, no hiding. Just the facts. What happened. Just as it happened. Step by step by step. Second by minute by moment. “Tell them,” I remember thinking, “but tell them in a way they will know the truth deeply.”
Maybe you know the song by David Allen Coe?
He said, “Drifter, can ya make folks cry when you play and sing?
Have you paid your dues, can you moan the blues?
Can you bend them guitar strings?”
He said, “Boy, can you make folks feel what you feel inside?
That is the beauty of writing. Can you make folks cry? Can you make them laugh? Can you show them the ugly truth inside of yourself that they also know lives inside of them?
Learning to show others what I see and feel has opened my own heart to see and feel again. As I become more skilled at opening, examining what I’ve lived, I am motivated to help others find the same truths within themselves. This is why I write.
When I see, hear, read, touch, experience a snapshot of someone’s life, I am living in that moment, their moment. It becomes mine. But instead of borrowing their story, they’ve somehow snuck into my memory to recount my own story. What I thought was mine alone is actually shared. They have shown me that I’m not the only one. I am not alone.
And so it becomes almost magical to think that so many of us share the same stories and the same whispers that shroud those stories. Whispers of shame, regret, sadness, fear, joy, love, comfort, and gratitude. There is comfort in knowing we are not alone, yes. But more than comfort, I find beauty. Each story woven with another of the same color and another and another and a few more of different colors to make a fabric of brilliance and depth. It’s magical, otherworldly. As if the kingdom of heaven is already in front of us, but because we are caught in the experience of living it, we are unable to see it, touch it, feel it, and appreciate it.
So wait, do I appreciate being raped? No. Of course not. Duh. But I do appreciate learning to illustrate the experience. I appreciate the process that I learned to disconnect and remove myself from blame by telling the story as it happened. Not all girls who are raped have this opportunity – the college writing class, the teacher, the assignment, the audience (we read our stories aloud to the class). And those who do have the chance to examine their stories, don’t always take it. Just like those who have the chance to live new stories, don’t always dive in.
My writing teacher was impressed. Or maybe she was reminded of her own story that I just retold. I don’t know. I don’t remember if my classmates were moved or bored. Did I make them cry or feel what I felt inside? I don’t know. In any case, I got an A on that assignment. Then, I threw it away and decided to dive in and live out a few more good stories to tell.