Monday, June 26, 2006

What Writers (and Therapists, apparently) Do

At my friend Amanda's house tonight, several of us had a lively and extremely exciting conversation about, well, therapy--something we always end up talking about at some point. (We also talked about shitting, anal sex, Star Trek, and sucky jobs, so the whole evening wasn't so brainy, let me tell you.) Sean and his boyfriend Robert are both therapists, and I can count three other friends of mine who are also therapists, so we inevitably talk about what works, what doesn't, new techniques, whatever.

We talked about language, about how selective Robert is with words in his sessions, because sometimes all you have to do is repeat back to the patient whatever he/she just said in new language, some different word which allows for a different emotional experience, to have a breakthrough.

"That's what I do," I said. It was a breakthrough of my own...I'm always delighted to discover new ways of thinking about what I do. Writing is swimming around in words, re-framing an experience for the reader--something of his own past reimagined, creating a character or a situation which inspired a certain empathy, an unknown or unexpected empathy. Or it could be a familiar empathy, which can be its own kind of breakthrough.

I often have a certain kind of disdain for the audience--or perhaps that's too strong a word. I see so much theater, so much journalism, so much television that caters to the lowest common denominator that I have this adolescent kneejerk hatred for the stupidity--my usual reaction. (It's not grumpiness, it's the bright romantic candle of unadulterated optimism, briefly flickering. For the record.)

Writing novels isn't therapy. Reading isn't therapy either. But the overlap lies in the trying, I think. In the uncovering of layers. In the work it takes to choose the right language. Language is flawed. And people are flawed. And that tugging between the two is the beauty of it all.

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