When I was a teenager I experienced much family turmoil: intense stress, yelling wars, silent rotting hatred, me punching holes into walls and destroying my room with my street-hockey stick as a result of the culmination of feelings of pain and hurt that I conquered and overpowered with anger.
Needless to say, anger is higher up on the emotional ladder than depression; though destructive, used correctly it’s helpful. The times that I have sunk into the swamp of despair, getting angry has boosted me forward to a better feeling place.
Then Pablo showed up. It was Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, who ignited my desire write. I saw the Italian movie, Il Postino (in Italian class in high school–thank you Ms. Skrozowski) in which Neruda is shown exiled in Italy and a simple mailman, who always brings him big piles of fan letters from all over the world, tells Neruda that he too wants to be a poet… A great movie.
I was inspired to write. I learned of the concept of free-writing, expressing onto the page whatever it is we wish to express; drawing and painting with words the worlds of our imagination onto a canvas of infinite possibilities. Besides learning about meditation, it was an extraordinary gift to my being.
I wrote poems and more poems. I wanted to be just like Pablo. And I began reading books that provided me with the tools to be the type of person who was at peace with who he was and accepted and loved himself.
But my palette had two colors, love and anger. I wrote love poems to my soulmate (whom I hadn’t met yet) and when I walked my dog at night I looked up at the stars, wondering if she too was looking up that moment.
But I also wrote about the stress, and what felt like a war, at home. I felt like we were killing each other’s souls. I wrote down all my hatred for all the members of my family, especially my father.
(Now I love my dad dearly. I understand that he did the best he could with the tools he had. He is a great man. I admire him and appreciate all that he has done for me. I understand that all of what I experienced growing up was the perfect compost for the garden of my life.)
Nonetheless, in middle school and part of high school, I had the most intense hatred for him.
But there were ephemeral glimpses of clarity that were brought on by this newly created habit of writing.
I had a dream in which I saw a pen in the ocean. I was submerged in the water and I could breathe it like air. I saw my pen go down into the depths of this body of water.
Since, through writing, I have delved into my emotions, my anger, dead on, I would start my journal entries in very intense ways, for example: “I f+**+^ hate my father. He is such an +*^>¥…”
Then, when I got all the anger out of me, because I would write voraciously non-stop for many pages, I would eventually turn a perspective corner and wonder why my dad behaved the way he did. I wrote down what little I knew of his life story and in doing so, through my imagination, I put myself in his shoes, in a limited way–and not really aware of it, I saw what he saw.
My anger turned into curiosity, my curiosity into understanding and my understanding into fleeting glimpses of a mixture of compassion, kindness, forgiveness, love and a feeling of resistance being released. I felt relief.
Writing helped me to know myself. It helped me to understand who I was, what I was feeling, and from that universal emotional lense, it helped me to know others, especially (what I thought many a time was) my fucked up family.
Writing became a ritual. Though I still smashed tv’s, shattered porcelain cups against the wall and roared my lion’s roar when I was angry, I wrote it down and doing so liberated me from my self-created prison.
Writing soothed me, it helped me to untangle and gave me perspective; it relaxed me into a meditative, peaceful-feeling atmosphere.
A good friend of mine who lives in Vermont told me that when he got angry or felt guilt as a kid during the summer, he would jump in the pond behind his house and his problems would be left in the bottom. It is similar with writing.
But there was something deeper there. The more I wrote, the more I had this feeling that I was having a conversation with a higher intelligence that was also part of me, as if I were conversing with my wise indigenous great-grandfather from Colombia (who was a shaman and healer) who loved me and wanted the best for me. He would hear me out through the written word and then speak kindly in ways that helped me to understand, through my own writing. He would talk to me with all the love in the world and he loved me just the way I was.