Memoir and other creative nonfiction writers often talk about the use of writing as therapy. But that doesn’t apply to fiction writing, does it? It sounds strange but maybe writing fiction can – at times – be therapeutic. Maybe – just maybe – writing fiction can help me to let go of old issues. I know it sounds strange but let me explain with an example.
At some point of the narrative of Hide Not Seek, it’s important that the main character, Pru, not know the names of all her students. I won’t go into nitty gritty details as it’s only a minor detail in the plot, but here you can read the passage to which I’m referring.
“I’m serious. I have no idea who you’re talking about. Is she a former student?” Gosh, she hated it when she forgot students’ names. She wasn’t great with names, but as a teacher, she couldn’t not learn the names of her students. There was nothing more embarrassing than calling a student by the wrong name. (emphasis added)
I wrote this and then moved on, but the words stayed with me all day. Why was I willing to forgive my character for not remembering a student’s name when I wouldn’t forgive myself for the same thing?
A bit of background: When I was a college student, I taught swimming classes to kids at the YMCA. One day, while I was on duty as a lifeguard, one of my students came to swim. I then proceeded to call him by the wrong name for the entire two hours he swam. His mother was with him and said nothing. Instead, she withdrew her son from my classes.
This incident has bothered me for years. I was plagued by guilt! How could I have been soooo stupid? Never mind that at the time I was taking 20 credits in college and working full-time. Even today, I cringe at my stupidity.
But then I wrote about Pru’s faulty memory and something clicked in me. Hey, I thought, why didn’t the child’s mother just correct me instead of watching me call her child by the wrong name? Why didn’t she show a bit of compassion? I’ve been called the wrong name more than a few times in my life. My tennis team took a year to realize my names was Dena and not Dana. Did I care? Did I stop playing tennis with them? Or send a nasty message? No, I calmly and quietly corrected the mistake at a time when no one would be embarrassed.
Writing the above passage helped me to let go of my embarrassment about the YMCA event (and other similar events that are too tedious and boring to get into here). Instead of looking at myself from that particular mother’s perspective, I thought about how I would react in the same situation. This helped me to let go.
My experiences with therapy aren’t great, but maybe writing can be my therapy.