claiming what we know and what we don’t yet know

Good morning good morning — where I am right now, the sun is rising slow behind a scrim of Atlantic fog, and my toes are readying themselves for the day’s first kiss from the sea. What in you is beginning to percolate already on this day?
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Those who have something to say about what it means to be A Writer say we should write what we know. But what if what we don’t know what we know? What if what we know is denial and silence? What if what we know is discord, the underside of words, the words squelched, torn from our throats? How do we write what was unspeakable, never meant to be spoken, words that people who love us have shown us they are unwilling to hear and/or acknowledge that we have spoken? We come to understand that our words are unhearable, unknowable.

What happens when we write in an unhearable language — and then, one day, someone not only hears, but responds to what we have said? This is what happens at Write Whole, and other Writing Ourselves Whole writing groups. We write these things and share them in a room of peer survivors who nod: they hear us. They witness. They understand.

It’s the Velveteen Rabbit, it’s Pinocchio: it’s as though we materialized into visibility when our words are heard, witnessed, acknowledged, responded to. Like the Cheshire Cat re-emerging, we may feel that more of our very selves have become present in this room full of wise writers.

We need a language – a shared language, which allows for a shared experience – for what it’s like not to know what one’s own body has done or been put through. So I invite you to write what you don’t know. Write what you think or imagine or wonder. Write your certainties and your fears. Write what unknowing feels like. Write the fuzziness and numbness. Write the cycling of emotions. Write exactly what happened – write what you know happened and write what you don’t know happened. Write the uncertain as if you were absolutely clear, and then write it full of questions and confusion. Write it grammatically incorrect, as it exists within your body and memory: confusing, fragmented, broken, metaphorical, poetic.

This is a language of trauma. This is the real world’s song. It has its own grammars and choruses. Repeat what bears repeating, and then repeat the rest. Follow your instinct. Let the pen guide you.

Use all the tools at your disposal. Write it differently. Write yourself fighting back, then write yourself fighting back differently or not fighting back at all. Write someone walking in. Write from the point of view of the bed, the couch, the closet, the garage floor, the basement walls, the kitchen table, the office chair – the inanimate witnesses to your experience. If someone were walking by, what would they have seen? Write it inside out. Every different telling brings forth new details, new remembering, and new art.

Then: give yourself some good self-care: write about the birdsong in the summer birch tree, the smell of sea salt roses, the deep blue of the thin autumn sky. Or take yourself for ice cream or go for a run or have a long cry or a swim. When you write into trauma, your body will fill up with memory and emotion. Consider how you want to take care of yourself after. I take long walks, or cry into the notebook, or watch silly sitcoms. I go for long drives, roll the windows down, turn the radio up and sing loud. I browse bookstores, play ball with the puppy, make myself a cup of strong green tea. There are ways to thank your body for this effort of recollection and creation, for tangling itself backup in the old (sometimes not so old) memories, to communicate to your psyche: I will take care of us through this process of reclaiming and restorying. I will collaborate with you in the place of loving this good self.

We get all the words. We get to write everything. We get to not be ok and be absolutely ok. We get to take this work slowly – write for ten minutes, or five: sometimes that is more than enough. This is not work we should try to rush through. Nor can we respect positive results if we expect to be able to write it all down and be done with it in one sitting. We are building a relationship with our deep inner self, our surviving self, our material, our memory, our creative genius. We are meeting our own idioms, a linguistics of loss and determination, a semantics of our own particular triumph. We write something that completely contradicts what we wrote yesterday, and then we keep writing until we understand that we have not contradicted, we simply exist in multitudes – we are Whitman’s heirs.

We claim every word that could fit into any mouth. Maybe we do this every day, or maybe once a week, in a community of peers who can hold the stories we are finding the words for.

We are not trauma but we know the words for it. We know how to speak to it. We know how to reach inside of it. We know how to recognize its underseams. We write until we are bored with the trauma. We repeat ourselves, think we are all surface and then we stumble over a scent and we describe it and that leads in to a story that tapes into a crater of new writing, a crater of new understanding.

Keep writing. You deserve this knowing and unknowing — and we need your language in order to make the story whole.


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