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Journaling and the "Who Cares?" Question

Christine Cissy White

By Christine Cissy White

writetruthI don’t get writer’s block. I don’t believe in writer’s block. When my eleven-year old says, “But I don’t feel like cleaning” I say, “That’s the great part about it – you can do it even when you don’t feel like it. The floor doesn’t mind.”

I feel the same about writing. For me, knowing I can do it even when I’m not in the mood takes the pressure off. It’s a relief. I can apply a work ethic to what others call writing block and words always come. That’s not where I get stuck.

What keeps me from putting the pen on the page or sending my words out into the universe is the “Who cares?” question. It’s the critical voice who asks: What do you know? So what if you have insights or like to play with words? What makes you an authority on anything?

Writing is a radical act of self-love and self-acceptance. When done honestly, I must contend with my deepest and most vulnerable self, the place where all the secrets and passion are.

Ultimately, to write, I have to say to myself – I care.

When I write, I practice being o.k. with myself, as I am, not I wish I were. The page is like a shower, where I am naked and challenged to accept the cellulite or scars of my psyche for a few minutes before grabbing the towel. I might let my finger graze the crack of my heart and notice the places still tender?

For me, even in article or essay writing, it is possible to hide. I can leave out some parts and focus on others. But there’s no hiding in my journal. That’s the terrifying part and the reason it’s powerful. In free-writing, where the pen doesn’t come off the paper for ten minutes without concern about grammar or punctuation, which is how I journal, the pen is like truth serum.

In that space, my soul gets to sing even if she’s off key and my heart gets to long out loud even if it’s unrequited. My brain gets a break from figuring, working and maneuvering. And sometimes I have to sit still with my mistakes which also show up on the page when I’m uncensored, unguarded and unrehearsed.

On the page, I’m not worrying about how I might seem or sound as a mother, daughter, neighbor or employee. On the paper, I’m not reacting or responding as the person someone told me I was or thought me to be ten minutes or ten years ago. I’m not selling or projecting myself but just being myself. On the page, I’m allowing myself to be myself and to stay present. The intimacy and bonding I’m after are with me.

Maybe some people can stay connected to the deepest self without effort or practice. I am not one of those people. Writing keeps me from staying dizzy and numb. It lets me un plug, rest and recharge when I’m endlessly on – online, on guard or on the couch. Sometimes I find myself searching for something on Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest – and often I’m not even sure what it is – but I rarely find it. More often, I need to stay away from the search and just sit which sounds so easy but can be so hard.

My tendency is to judge or shame what is on my mind or on my heart even when I know doing so is an old coping style that will make me feel bad about myself. With writing, I practice being honest and intimate, first with myself, so that I can better show up that with others.
When I get my “Who cares?” critical voice singing in my ear I know I have to write past it. I have three techniques for doing so.

First, I think, would I ever say that to my child or best friend? Even if they are talking about dental floss or stuffed animals or Spirulina. I don’t think it or feel it and sure as heck don’t say it. So why would I do that to myself?

Second, I think of the memoirs I love. I am grateful that Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t say, “This is too personal” when she wrote Eat, Pray, Love. Even though I didn’t relate to her character, I felt nurtured by it because it was refreshingly honest and intimate.

When Nick Flynn wrote Another Bullshit Night in Suck City about his mother’s suicide and his father’s homelessness and alcoholism, I’m happy he didn’t say, “This is too traumatic, dramatic and intense to write. No one will relate.” I have a homeless alcoholic father and reading his words about that experience made me feel relieved and understood.

When I read authentic words, no matter what the topic, it’s like having a heart-to-heart with someone I love. It’s meaningful and deep and sacred. So when others write words about experiences hard or surreal, I don’t judge them or say, “Who cares what you have to say?” I remind myself that the question isn't helpful or kind.

Finally, when I get the “Who cares?” with the “Hasn’t it all been done, said or written?” variation I think about food. We eat it every day. We don’t say, “Another hard-boiled egg? You want bread again? Toast is so tired. Coffee is so cliché." No! Today’s coffee isn’t yesterday’s cup even if all the ingredients are the same. We need daily sustenance. New inventions are rare in the kitchen but that doesn’t mean that every meal isn’t made new. The same is true with words.

They are needed regularly. They have value and merit. They need not be one-of-a-kind or exotic. Chefs eat too. So if my words are only for myself, writing still has value. Maybe I’ll share them with one other, like a sandwich. Maybe I’ll blog and think of them as a buffet others can sample if they choose. But no matter what, the act of writing is valuable because it helps me remain intimate with myself.

Telling the truth to ourselves, about ourselves and for ourselves is important. Sometimes, I think we forget that our stories, lives, feelings and words matter. But when people are sharing, deeply, I am in bliss. I love to hear stories that friends and neighbors share, that writers and musicians share, those strangers on the radio share. Stories matter. Lives matters. Words matter.

Mine. Yours. Ours.

Really, the question is, “What matters more?”

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Christine Cissy WhiteChristine Cissy White lives and writes on the South Shore. She's been a diary writer since age 11 and also published in the Boston Globe, Elephant Journal, Literary Mama and the Ms. Magazine blog. Her website, www.healwritenow.com is for trauma survivors looking for inspiration, information and who want to read and write memoir. 

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