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Monday, 13 August 2012

Why Writing Matters

It is incredibly hard to go back to a specific moment of time, and find yourself, just as you were at that moment. Try it. The feelings that you have now, your perspective on life, will stain the lens of your memory, and you will view things as you are now, rather than remember the frame of mind you held then. That’s why, in my mind, it is important to write right now. As you are. As unaltered as you can get in this moment. In my opinion, writing right now is the closest thing humans will ever have to a personal, defined, history of themselves.

The thing about it is, you’ll only be where you are now --in terms of maturity, understanding (or lack there of) belief system and even circumstance-- once. Never again will you think the thoughts you’re thinking right now, in the succession that they’re in, with the exact mix of chemicals and hormones that are being fired through your brain right this second. Now is it. This concept is kind of like a writer’s spin off of the good old Carpe Diem (Sieze the Day!) phrase that people still continue to use, even though Latin has been dead for decades. The Writer’s Version goes something like “Write now, for you’ll never be of this mind again” (Or something less douchtastic sounding).

Writing For Memory's Sake

I recently read an article on relatively new research regarding the human memory, and its implications on helping those with PTSD. Just as many of us regular people have already suspected, the research suggests that “...the very act of remembering can change our memories” Bare in mind that the dude’s research is mostly on rats, but species' differences aside, the research is rather relevant to the importance of writing now. The article makes an unconscious comparison of human memory to that the “telephone” game most of us played in 3rd grade, summarizing that with each retelling, the memory is slightly reshaped simply by being retrieved. It discusses the inaccuracy found when asking people to “remember” what they did on September 11, 2001. Most claim to recall seeing footage of the first plane hitting the tower, when in reality, such footage wasn’t aired until the next day. I myself even have trouble with this one. I find error in the question because, I did in fact see footage of the plane hitting the tower, though it might have been the second plane, without my realizing it--so does that invalidate the question as a possible tool to provide evidence of lapses in human memory? Or am I just part of the 73% of research participants who also gripped with this fact?

I digress. With our memories on the brink of shift at any second, doesn’t it make you want to write down your thoughts, your diet, your last bathroom break, right now? Maybe not to that extent. But in my ever-moving mind, writing provides a sense of self-preservation against the threat of future selves. It provides definition in the wake of constant changing, re-shaping and tweaking that our brain does--mostly--without our consent. Maybe if I had written down a couple of lines at lunch on September 11, 2001, I would remember (or shape mind my toward accuracy) that footage of the first plane hitting the tower had not yet been aired. Hard to say. But definitely worth a try in every-day life.

Writing Your Version of Your Truth

A little while ago, I watched a movie where Morgan Freeman played a forensic psychologist. In one of the opening scenes, he was coaxing a woman out of shooting herself, after her husband who had been physically abusing her for a while, was killed. The woman moved the gun from inside her mouth to the side of her temple and Freeman’s character moved closer to her slowly, while rhyming off reasons for her to go on living. He closed his list with the simple but impacting phrase, “Because if you don’t, people will never know the truth.” Needless to say, the woman gave up the gun.

Freeman’s character’s attitude of “Speak now so others will know your truth” can also be applied to writing. No matter how much keeping journals can be deemed as “girly” by boys and tease-worthy by little brothers, they give you the chance to convey the raw truth of you in that very moment. So that, in a year, or 10, you can return to that one day in your life, and know how you felt, putting together the pieces of your own mentality. Writing the truth of the present can also serve as a marker to look back and see your progression, your maturity, and the parts of you that remain the same. Some parts of my diary from my teenage years (so long ago...) fill me with shame and embarrassment, but they serve a purpose in helping me understand who I was, and by proxy, who I am now.

Writing as Your Witness

The more off-beat reason to write is, of course, because you might develop amnesia and need to rely on records of your past self to recognize your current circumstance. Or a personality disorder. More likely though, you might simply be going through a tough time and need something to ground you--even if it means talking through a blank page. If you’re anything like me, you find it really difficult to write anything in times of distress of anger. It’s like Writer’s Block to the enth degree, and the only thing your pen will write is a big, bulky, square-like “Fuck.” But don’t give up. Force your pen to elaborate, on an image, a feeling, the colour of the lighting and how it affected the scene that unraveled so quickly and now has you boiling.

The reason I suggest forcing yourself to write through the fog is because, while it can be therapeutic, it will also help you later recognize patterns and make clearer decisions. As the world knows by now, I went through a shitty Life Period a couple years ago, as my taste in men is impeccable. I was with someone I was convinced I loved. He made big promises of change and would ask my all the big questions that every girl wants to hear--right before or after ignoring me for however long he felt like--sometimes only days, 2 days or 5, sometimes weeks. I was incredibly naive and this confused and hurt me immensely. In a hopeless effort to try and work out some answers, I would write bitter and curt messages to my computer or in my diary, often coming out more angry then when I started writing. My writing was choppy and confused, bold in some spots and weak and confused in others. Looking back on it now, I have a journal full of complaints of feeling trapped, of feeling helpless, useless, worthless, and all its marriable synonyms. I was writing a pattern I was not yet aware of. And when I finally broke that pattern, my own writing and the solidification of the bad things that had happened in that relationship, played a big part in keeping me out, and keeping me sane.

So if you’re in a bad spot, and you feel some pattern recognition could be useful, write. Even if you’re life is sunshine and lollipops, write, if only to savour what you’re doing right.

Overall, it’s a pretty well-accepted factthat people have a innate need to define what has happened them, to remember, even if that memory is faulty, as current research suggests. Generally, we like to make sense of our lives and our individual pasts, as a method of self-actualization. And I think writing plays an important role in helping us define ourselves, however inaccurate that definition may be. It’s good to write right now. Do it. You’ll thank me later.

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