I recently spoke to a group of writers who had experienced trauma. Most of them were unable to write, but they still gathered in their writing group regularly, just to be in touch with creativity and keep the door open for the healing balm of a story, the warmth of a connection.
In my very first grad school class, the class read my essay, and the professor called me an idiot. Everyone was totally silent as he then lambasted my writing. Granted, it wasn't a story, but 30 years later and I still remember how I felt. At least, now that I'm a teacher, I am sure that I never humiliate a student like that.
Thank you, Grant! Such a compassionate and thoughtful and WISE post. As a writer with a lot of trauma still working through (a life long journey) who often struggles with getting pen to the page, this post is a comfort and balm.
Hi Grant. Thank you for bringing attention to trauma and writing. Trauma is such a slippery, shapeshifting thing to me. It's invisible. It grows and then shrinks. It has a cycle. Some days are better than others. After about eight years after my dad died, I started tugging on the thread of where my grief came from and I discovered that I was born into grief as my mom was pregnant with me when her father was dying of cancer. And in fact she had me in the same hospital where he was being treated. I then went back centuries and found that I have a a 10x great grand mother who was killed during the Salem Witch Trials. Grief and trauma are like invisible participants in our lives. They can also change DNA. But as you recognized, the trauma needs to be acknowledged. And that might never happen in a person's lifetime and that's okay. My grief and trauma and pushing me in the direction of offering my experiences to others. I have been in the process of finding my voice and my words when I get into the background of my experiences. I want to offer my experience to others. Show that happy moments in the time after losing your intimate family members is possible. There is a lot to unpack. I went on a journey to find a system that would help me make sense of my life and what I found is the best system can be the one that someone creates for themselves. This particular thread led me to discovering not just one but two grad programs that can support my writing practice and help my words to be expressed.
The time we live in right now is quite interesting. There are people who are experiencing trauma and grief due to covid. My experience is comparable in that my parents both passed after illness but both were gone in the early 2010s (2010 for my mom and 2013 for my dad respectfully). I think right now I can be of assistance as people discover their 'new normal.'
Thank you for bring attention to writing and trauma. As a survivor, abuse affected almost every aspect of my life, especially my education. About 15 years ago, at age 55, I graduated college with a B.A. in writing. In my last semester, I wrote a short story for the class newsletter, which gave me the confidence that perhaps I could write one short story a month.
Each story built my confidence. A year after graduation, I applied for a Lanesboro Emerging Artist Residency Program, which offered a 4 week writing retreat. I was stunned by their response. They graded my writing, giving me a D-. That’s right. Not a D, but a D-. And the comment that burned into my brain was, “The only positive thing I can say about this writer is she can write a complete sentence.” I was insulted. Then I became angry.
I recognize I had much to learn about storytelling, and perhaps my storytelling was a C-. However grading it as if I was in grade school was unnecessary and the critique comment was unkind. Fortunately, I did not let it define me as a writer or stop me from writing. I spent the next 15 years honing my skills and I've finished my memoir. It is my hope that all such organizations will have a second set of eyes review comments before sending them out. Such harsh critiques could crush a budding writer.
Dear Grant, glad you are writing about this--as so many memoirists are writing about trauma and they need the tenderness and compassion you showed from their teachers/mentors. In my work and books, I talk about the need for backing off and self-care, but it is hard sometimes because at the same time that writing those tough stories is re-entering the trauma, it's also allowing the writer to name what happened for the first time, and releases energy by writing things out through the body. I point out in my book Writing Your Healing Story that we become our own witness to that younger wounded self when we write. And most of us need that desperately.
Most of all, as you point out, writers of memoir need to be listened to and witnessed by others so they stay tethered to human hearts. In that act, so much healing happens. And yes, when a teacher puts their ego above the humanity of a student's writing, terrible damage and wounding can be done. Thank you for drawing our attention to this aspect of writing that can be so challenging.
This is so lovely. Thank you, Grant.