Writing has always been a Rosetta Stone for the noise inside. Perhaps that makes me sound as if I suffer a mental illness, that I toil with multiple personalities or voices. I am well, but have always battled a constant, raucous interior dialogue of self-doubt about virtually everything, moment to moment.
I do not need to like what I see on paper, but seeing myself reflected back from a static medium grants me absolution and peace, even for just the time it took me to jot it down. After a fight with my love, I simply must sit still with my words to process what was said, examine how I truly feel about the issue disguised by momentary anger, and just how to emerge from the epic pout I will absolutely dissolve into.
As Rachel Cusk notes in her memoir “Aftermath,” narrative is the aftermath of pain and is a means of reconciling yourself with the past. At least I’m not alone.
As a child, I wrote song lyrics and poems to bring order to a world I found fascinating but confusing. My pink lock-and-key diary, at age 7, was where I first recorded anything that struck me as odd, often re-citing the same event multiple times and then checking later to see if the details stayed the same. Repetition brought certainty but also a hazy dread that my observations of the adult world were indeed real.
The rhythmic beat of a familiar pentameter could soothe me to sleep on nights I couldn’t stop crying or picking apart why he didn’t love me. Never mind that it was 11th grade, and I had no idea what real love was. I was in pain and there was no balm but Tori Amos on replay and my words on paper.
As an English major, I had to write, including fiction, to which I must make a confession: Hello, my name is Natalie, and I am not a fiction writer. I suspected as much even before I dutifully tacked the storyboard cards of my novel to the walls of my college apartment. I finished the manuscript but interred its corpse in a locked box before anyone ever read it. I think I’m too curious about (read: baffled by) real life to have patience for making things up. So, even though at age 49 I feel the phantom limb of being a great novelist, I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m a compulsive diarist at worst and an essayist at best. I’ve written a memoir that I suspect nobody would ever care to read. I don’t care too much, though, because (1) I wrote it literally to make sense of two decades, and (2) it could never see the light of day until a few close family members have first been interred in their own locked box.
That steady friend that doesn’t challenge you but just pours you another drink and nods along as you recount what an asshole everyone else is. Could my passion be an impediment to growth? Could I be a better mother, teacher, and friend if I could just get out from behind the security of a keyboard or my beloved journal? Am I just Peter Pan, avoiding growing up? Has my therapist been giving me bad advice all this time, that writing is a valid and healthy exercise to be embraced at every turn?
Fuck if I know. I will have to write about it first to find out what I really think.