Saved by the pen – let’s start a diary

I started this blog quite recently, and have been trying to tinker a little with its identity. Initially, it was to have a practical purpose – to put my own spin on the way my town is perceived in order to help others get to enjoy some of the things I find cool (and to help me do the same by reading what others are up to ’round these parts).

But it seems this blog has its own ideas about how I should go about writing it. Mostly, it confuses me and tells me I’m a big jerk and then sits and sulks because I refuse to pay attention to it. It’s rather like having a puppy or a child or an unusually petulant spouse. Or like that Tamagotchi I accidentally killed in 1995. It wasn’t even my Tamagotchi. Sorry, Christopher.

tamagotchi2I read this really great blog recently (taken there by a Noakes post of all things – don’t worry! I’m not a Banting convert), Bandages & Lace, whose author works an incredibly demanding job, has created a personal health challenge which she is experimenting on herself before recommending it to her patients, and is just generally an inspiring & motivating human. I’ve only read a few posts, so please, if she turns out to be the antichrist a little further down the thread, please let me know. But so far, she’s hardcore awesome – and writes wonderfully.

Reading it had me coming back to my own blog, having a look at the identity it’s taking & what motivates me to write. I’m sort of a silly person, and it’s a toss-up between silly and sorrowful – roughly 50/50. And I’ve asked the blog nicely what it would like to be, but it just gave me the finger.

So today, I’m going to step around the whole matter and write a little bit about writing itself. How it’s helped me, what it does for me, and how it could help you too, if you try it out. I read an article recently, courtesy of a share by my great friend Nic, on the healing benefits of expressive writing. I understand that so many people aren’t drawn to it, aren’t able to do it, or simply don’t feel they have the time. I often feel the same way. Hence the large gaps in the blog posts.

Bart Simpson sorryBut I do love writing. If I can get away with a lengthy and moderately confusing e-mail instead of a simple telephone call, I will! I ran a small business a while ago at which I tried to insist that all communication with me be in written format because I suffer from a mild form of telephone angst. This did not work well, as you can imagine, and I no longer am at the helm of this still-successful (thanks to my business partner) company. But being an overly-keen writer did get me out of a few of the less glamorous tasks now and then (who wants to read a 3-page e-mail update of the stock take for the week? Nobody? Oh, you just want me to tell you how we are for stock? And maybe jot it down? No, but here I have written a beautiful proposal for how effective it was to use my new stock-take method and sent it out to all suppliers, colleagues, shareholders & a few clients. Oh. I see. You think it might be better to just do the stock take yourself? I understand).

As a teenager I used to write out all my teenage misery. I still cringe reading some of the poetry I attempted at thirteen. It’s all rather bloody, pretty furious, and altogether awful. I still can’t bring myself to burn them.

But even I, an enthusiastic writer, have never considered the healing and stimulating potential of writing whatever’s on my mind. I kept no diary (because I’ve never allowed myself to be honest with myself, even in private), and I’ve never processed my pain in any other way than the occasional teenage burst of self-harm. That feels weird to write here, but I suspect we were all there once. But this article got me thinking. Writing might prove a useful tool for sorting out my addled mind and going back to past ‘posts’ might help me spot patterns or events that shaped my present and future state.

dear diary
Source: http://to.ly/Lhau

A while ago I read a blog piece on ‘Morning Pages‘ which come courtesy of a self-help book and I was thus loathe to attempt. I did it for a short while but never stuck with it because I don’t stick with anything except really embarrassing habits. Also, I’m not used to writing with a pen anymore. Who writes with a fucking pen? But I’ll give it another go. If you prefer digital, I tell you, RedNotebook is awesome. It’s simple, has a few cool features, and it’ll be so much more modern to be able to search your journal than go “I wonder if I’ve made this mistake before… if only there weren’t 20 notebooks to look through”. Also, it’s FREE. Then there are phone apps which you can pay for (some are free), but my phone is a hunk of junk that switches off every time I get angry (apparently I squeeze too hard), so I won’t be using any apps any time soon.

Rage is not a good look on me, nor on my Blackberry.
Rage is not a good look on me, nor on my Blackberry.

To go back to healing. I’ve been thinking a lot about trauma lately. Most of my life is extremely sheltered and safe, and so naturally I live in constant fear that this bubble around me is about to burst any moment now. My most loved ones will perish, my quiet comfort will be violently disturbed, my high expectations will be squashed like little bugs under the feet of reality. The reality is that life in South Africa is never certain. OK, that was stupid. Life ANYWHERE is never certain. But here in SA, sometimes we learn to develop a sixth sense called paranoia which influences our every day. It gives off a frightening number of false alarms, but it informs our every move. It makes us mean or reclusive, it capitalises on our prejudice and it provides us with plenty of ammo to use against other people. In me, this paranoia manifests when I least expect it, and in those moments I think that writing about it will help me process it. Shoving it back into the unreachable parts of my mind usually only serves to make me behave like a weirdo by avoiding people and getting a vice-like grip on the people I care about.

Recently, a really beautiful person in my family was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. He is, as you can expect, severely depressed about it, but he shows a brave face and makes an effort with the rest of us whose lives haven’t been turned upside down with this terrible diagnosis. I can’t go to sleep at night, thinking what he must be going through. Not just the pain, but the fear. The abject fear that he must be experiencing every moment of every day. When he wakes up, eats, has a laugh, visits a friend – at every point I imagine he is thinking about his cancer. My mind cannot get around this. And so, I don’t sleep. And I imagine he doesn’t either.

I think about it in an incredibly selfish way, I suppose. I can only project my fear onto him. And then, naturally, I imagine what it would be like if I were going through the same thing. Or my mother were, or my partner. What would I do? My go-to thought is: I would just jump off a bridge. Yeah, this is a superbly helpful way of thinking. The last time my partner left town, I planned my funeral, that’s how morbid I became when I envisioned a life outside of my happy-bubble-comfort-zone.

OMG - isn't the the best bubble you've ever seen?
This is the Bubble of Aspiration. I want this bubble.

I need to deal with potential change, potential trauma (and a superstitious part of me is saying in my head: ‘Don’t write this down or it may happen!’). What if it is me who is diagnosed next? What if (and, far worse), it’s someone I love? The one person who means most to me in all the world? I won’t cope. I just won’t. I will add to their burden by being unable to cope.

With our sometimes terrifying health system, our crazy levels of crime, and the general shit that life can throw at you sometimes, the average South African has a lot of trauma to deal with. If you financially struggling, even more so. I need to get out of my bubble and start acknowledging it. And perhaps, also start helping people with their trauma like the doctor in the blog and stop avoiding it. I’ve taped an article to my office wall about the local police station looking for volunteer trauma counselors and it’s been up for almost 3 months, so reluctant I am to face reality & actually go and do it.

So I’m going to turn to writing to try and process these fears, sort of ‘talk to myself’ about them, and to try to make sense of what’s going on around me. I don’t dare to hope that any sort of sense can be found, but I do feel certain that just ‘talking things out’ with myself via pen and paper will be a little like holding my own hand. Which, I hope, will help me be better at holding the hands of others who might need it.

Recently, I’ve been fortunate to be able to read some of the journals of a 96 year old friend, and it’s really helped me realise how beautiful the every-day can be. Whether she’s writing about what a nuisance she finds her nurse to be, or the beauty of seeing a new flower in the spring, it’s a wonderful read. It’s fantastic when you meet somebody and discover that they’re really as lovely as you suspected they were. She’s given her journals to me to digitise, and I can’t help but feel creative just reading her spidery handwriting and identifying with so many of her joys and her fears. There are 65 years between us – an entire lifetime! – and reading about her life makes me feel that we have a lot in common. Except for the part where she’s being lovely & I’m being a jerk. Her journal is confident and beautiful and filled to the brim with forgiveness, which I daresay the people who have wronged her barely deserve. Mine is full of ranting and discussing my love-hate relationship with things like cottage cheese (if you THINK it can’t go off and make you hurl, you’re mistaken).

So I’m going to start writing about my fears. And my joys. So that, perhaps in a time of sadness and fear, I can look back on it and go, “But look! Look at what a fantastic and fulfilling life I’ve had. I’m sad that it’s going badly now, but my word, it’s been amazing so far,”. Or I can look at my fears and then see how exaggerated they are. Or release them and help myself realise just how powerfully they hold onto me. They can’t rule me forever.

And maybe, if I’m lucky, I will also find some creativity to capitalise on in the process. A story worth writing, a blog post worth publishing here. A business idea to bring to life. A mistake to stop repeating. Who knows?

I’ll let you know how it goes. And you do the same with me.

Happy writing!

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