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Often, when writing about painful or traumatic events, I find myself weeping. But, after a while, I feel better.  Is there a science behind this?  Yes, actually, there is.

I found a post by the American Psychological Association that claims writing about trauma may reduce your stress, boost your mood, and your immunity.  So, if you are writing about some painful topics, take heart, and know that even if it doesn’t feel good at the moment, this may be better than therapy.

Here’s a link to the APA article:

http://www.apa.org/research/action/writing.aspx

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The first book I picked up this year is Green Girl, by Kate Zambreno.  This has never happened to me before, but as I read it, it began to seem very familiar to me.  Familiar in the style, mostly, not as much in story.  And then it hit me:  this novel reminds me strongly of my own non-fiction work.

The protagonist of Green Girl, Ruth, is a lost soul.  She is having an identity crisis, sparked by a break-up and a death.  It’s the intensity of this crisis, the harsh internal gaze, the inability to keep up even the most basic of hygienic rituals, the masking of the internal turmoil, that grabbed me.  Maybe this looks so familiar because I know that state so intimately myself:  this is depression at it’s worst.  You get so steeped in it, you can’t see anything else.

Another similarity that struck me:  the use of repetition.  This is a device I use often in my own writing and appreciate when it’s done well.  Here, I think use of repetition serves the novel and the character very well.  Repetition can show how mired a person can become, how stuck in destructive thoughts and habits.  Thoughts can become symbols of illness, foggy, unclear, the brain trying to work out the crisis.  Rumination is said to be the brain’s way of problem solving, trying to work things out.

We see Ruth through her own foggy gaze, speaking about herself in the third person, evaluating herself through the gaze of her lost lover, who is still in the States.  Ruth has run away, literally, from her problems, run to the gray streets of London.  We don’t know much about Ruth, really, aside from her status as ‘green girl’ and her habit of making bad choices.  She seems almost apathetic about her life, another sign of her depressive crisis.  She is ‘dead inside’ or makes the appearance of it, pretends that she is dead, numb.

Then, a life-saving transformation:  a haircut.  It seems trite, trivial, but if you are at the bottom of a crisis, even a simple act such as cutting off all of your hair and changing at least your outward appearance can be a life-saver.  This is temporary, though, and the effects of it wear thin, soon.

There is a sense that Ruth needs ‘saving,’ that all of the green girls need saving.  Ruth is impressionable, a trait which shows strongly in the end.   And as much as I usually hate the endings of novels (this one being no exception), I had to wonder in the end what did I expect to happen to Ruth?  What other ending could there be?

The crisis of identity is a familiar theme, but I like the way Zambreno really lets her character wallow in it, because that’s really the only way to get through it.

This is a recent poem written by my lovely friend Kathy.  Her poems are lovely, too.

i stop at the corner convenience store

where bread and milk are too high

but lines are short

an atm sits by the door like a short squat soldier

the afternoon clerk always looks

as if he’s had one too many beers the night before

got up too late to shave and shower

like he’s brushed his hands through his thick brown hair

trying to tame it

he’s eternally unsuccessful

his eyes are unpolished sapphire stones

i feel the fine grain sandpaper scrape of

the hands that he clasps mine between

to give me change

holding just seconds too long

i want to slap his face

wipe away the grin that says he knows

what i want

and it’s not milk or bread

or five miniature mint candies bought on impulse

because they are in a box by the register

and i want it from a man who makes

little more than minimum wage

leering at me and god knows how  many others

from behind a dirty counter

that he could at least take the time to wipe down now and then

on occasion i get an urge

to buy a lottery ticket or two

so far i have not

if i did would i

snatch them before he has a chance

for his hot hands to linger for his slow smile to spread

remembering how many times i’ve gambled and lost

on things that glitter

only for fools

Just finished the ‘novel in fragments’ and found this post of the work:
http://www.slate.com/id/2235023/

Not really much else to say, though it is too bad the novel wasn’t completed.

I’m about 3/4 of the way through Anne Michael’s “Fugitive Pieces.”  Her prose is wondrous, beautiful, stunning.  She has a talent for describing things so accurately that the reader can (and will) instantly find themselves in the moment described.

The mark of a good novel:  the ability to speak specifically and universally.  The ability of the author to describe human events in terms which everyone can understand.

Michael’s prose is absolutely fantastic:  it is clear she is a poet.  I have underlined nearly half the book, finding myself so taken with a turn of phrase, or a faultless description.

In recent blog posts, I’ve mentioned my 4 or 4.30pm sob-fests, which have been pretty regular each Monday-Friday for a good few months now.  The human body’s internal clock is so bloody accurate, so on the mark, you could literally set your clock by it.  I’ve known people who never needed alarms clocks because they had such strong internal clocks.  Though not an expert in any way on animals or birds, I’m pretty sure that there are species who operate solely on this internal time mechanism.

So when I came across this passage in “Fugitive Pieces,”  I felt it was particularly apt for my current state.  The reason behind my daily timed weeping is due to a recent painful event, one in which I felt a great deal of loss.

“At certain hours of the day, your body will be flooded with instinct, so much of you having been entered, so much of you having entered them.”

The story is about loss, about grief, about ghosts.  There being different kinds of loss doesn’t matter:  in whatever way a person is missing from your life, they are still missing. There is still an absence.  Those who have been close to you, having ‘entered’ you, your life, they linger on in different forms.  Your body knows this, even if your mind doesn’t.  Funny how people can leave a mark on your most intricate inner workings.

It is one of the joys of life to read a beautifully written novel.  The power of a stunningly written sentence still amazes me.  I think words do something for me no other medium or art form does:  words uplift me.  They affect me.  They change me.

I’ve been reading “Fugitive Pieces” this week, and it is so beautifully written.  I love novels that can handle the burden of history, novels that can treat it with respect but not overload the story with historical facts.  This novel is mostly set in the wake of WWII, but the war is not the main focus.  The war is not a backdrop, either:  maybe it could be more of a catalyst.

Memory and history are intertwined:  they are paralleled.  There is also a nice comparison between how human memories are stored, and the relics we dig from the earth.  We tend to bury our memories, and then stumble upon them, covered in muck, much the same as an archaeological dig.  We brush them off, marvel at them.

I love the treatment of grief and memory as well; memories tend to coincide with present events, and when those memories crack open, how do we deal with them?  How do we deal with grief?  How does a young boy carry around the grief he holds after losing both parents, a sister, a friend?  It seems too much for one person to bear.  How can just one person carry the weight of that much grief?

The past can weigh on a person, can interfere with their current state.  I know, this isn’t new.  What will be interesting is how this novel ends:  how does the boy sustain himself?  resolve his pain?  get rid of his ghosts?

I will report back when finished.  In the meantime, would love to hear other thoughts on this novel by other readers.

I get inspired to write at odd places and times.  For some reason, good things always seem to occur to me while I am driving, and I have to make a mad search of the car for paper and pen, all while attempting to keep the car between the lines.  And on the road.  And keep from initiating a game of bumper cars in which no one else is a willing participant.  I keep a sticky pad and pen or pencil in the console just for this sort of occasion.

Recently I had an idea for a filthy haiku of my own, and was driving down Hillsboro Pike when the idea struck.  Stopped at a known to be lengthy light, I quickly scribbled down my ideas.  The man in the car next to me was only mildly curious and only stared for a few seconds.  The light changed, and I drove with the legal-sized notepad in my lap, pen still in hand.  The next light was even better:  there was a jeep behind me, and due to the fact that I drive a Mustang, which is lower to the ground, and the jeep being higher up, his headlights were perfectly focused on my legal pad, as I madly dashed out more notes.  I wonder if he could see what I was writing?

Anyhoo, here’s my only slightly filthy but hopefully funny haiku.  Poems are not my forte, so forgive me if it’s a bit rough.

OCD Sex

one two three four five

Five times I loved you, my dear

Now, I am hungry

*waste of a naked girl

when I think of it, of our naked bodies lying together on
the bed, in his apartment,
it is far away.  It was another lifetime.
afternoons and beers and long nights and his hands on my
body… that could not have been me, there is disparity
between me and her.  Me and Her.  Different girls.
She is naked and happy and lush.  I am — what?

A waste of skin.  A thing to be abhorred.

Nakedness does not become me anymore.
I have tried to stare this body down in the mirror,
tried to lay another picture, one I keep in my mind, of
this lush girl, over top of my reality.  It does not work.
The mirror cannot see what’s in my mind;
I can no longer look into the mirror.

What a waste of a naked girl.

(i used to have a body that men adored. slender, not
skinny, shapely.  flat belly, small but firm tits, killer legs.
i would kill myself if i weren’t dying already, if there weren’t
already a downward spiral happening.
there is a burden, a burden of memory, weighing me down:
it is the only weight on me.  i can remember a life before this
living walking disgusting hell and it is a goddamn burden.

I was thrilled to be able to hear Marjane Satrapi speak on her books and film last night at MTSU.  She is charming, funny, and the kind of person you just know you could be best friends with.

Satrapi’s work was an inspiration to me in grad school.  Her drawings are simple yet enormously appealing.  Her writing is sparse and to the point.  As she said last night, what she does not say in text, she draws; what is not said by her artwork is in text.  She refuses to call her memoir a graphic novel or memoir:  she prefers to call it a comic.

One thing that caught my attention was her distinction about what she considers her art form to be:  she considers it a medium, not a genre.  I guess I’ve always considered the comic/graphic novel or memoir to be included in the fourth genre, that of creative or literary non-fiction.  Satrapi says that the comic is just another medium, not a genre on its own.

Regarding being a human, Satrapi said that we cannot help but be cynical, considering the challenges that come with living on this earth and having the burden of consciousness.  We all have the same fate:  humans, dogs, cats, etc…. We all die one day, we all have the same fate.  But, about once per month, she says she sees some hope.

One of her influences for writing Persepolis was of course Spiegelman’s Maus. How can a person not be affected by that work?  Maus is so profound, deeply disturbing and yet illuminating at the same time.  Persepolis is heartbreaking and endearing, just as the author is.

I wrote a memoir in grad school, and were I to have any talent at all in the comic arts, I would have followed suit and rendered my own story in black and white drawings.  But I am stuck with only words, and that’s ok with me.

I do have to admit, however, that I was blushing and near tears when I met Marjane and she autographed my copy of Persepolis.  Writerly crushes are nothing to be ashamed of!

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