Instinctively, We Know That Writing Has Power
And sometimes we take the time to explore its weird realities.
It’s Sunday, half-past ten in the morning. What I thought was going to take me at least until noon is already done. I got up late, cooked breakfast, read the newspaper, checked my email, watched CNN morning news, and role-played tomorrow’s job interview with Rockline. All that — it’s done.
I added a backyard visit, where a hot, sweaty summer day was bearable for half an hour. At least a dose of vitamin D for good health.
And there are two figs waiting to be harvested tomorrow.
Today could be a writing day. I’m already done reading the new articles in Pocket’s list, and the National Geographic magazine I’m going to leave for night reading. Something that’s not on a digital screen — its blue light cracks the brain into believing it’s daytime instead of bedtime. No e-book awaits for me, the Kindle is full of past pleasures.
Should I write as an exercise? To publish? For the love of habit? Or for the pleasure of doing it? I lean towards pleasure and I know why. It’s because of Sunday, and tasks aren’t compatible with a day of rest. Publishing requires hard work, something that Sunday dislikes. What’s left, pleasure, is to be the root cause so I can justify publishing as a consequence of and a result of my delight to write.
I need to run out, I want to run out of days and hours where in silence and alone, my only problem was pondering on what to write. I need to earn money, meaning that Monday to Friday, from 8 to 5 and sometimes beyond, time will be work and never a moment alone. Writing by me, for me, my release and my introspection, will only happen in stolen moments. Otherwise, I imagine myself wandering through a desert. A dazzling desert where words, thoughts, and creativity barely exist, survivors of accidental and unpredictable rain. Between showers, and for a short time, those words, thoughts, and creativity grow and bloom, returning to sand, wishing for rain that may never come again.
At the moment, my writing field grows under a mild climate. Rain arrives, not in abundance, but enough to sustain a small enduring creek with crystal-clear water. It’s surrounded by pastures of short, emerald grass sprinkled with multiple diverse shrubs — my different literary interests — and a lonely tree.
It’s a lonely and leafy young fig tree, just breaking five feet, shy and humble. That’s the tree of my inner, emotional writing. It has figs, too few to share and definitely not commercially. We know that young trees, if farmed with care and pruned, if protected from natural disasters and pests that want to finish it, will grow to offer abundant fruit for others to benefit, not just for the one who planted it.
This field that I imagine, of overflowing and healthy greenery, open and barrier-free, is fragile. Storms of laziness, apathy, and self-censorship could end it. Not enough rain, and the sparks of friction between want and must, duty and pleasure, criticize and improve, falling in dry grass would turn into terror for immovable nature, without escape. In the absence of rain — time to write — my field reverts to a desert. I know that not all bushes will survive or grow to compete with the fig tree. The fig tree will always be there. But without nutrients and attention, and surrounded by desert, its roots won’t grow deep. Without depth to anchor a robust base and sustain a broad trunk its future is doubtful.
To write about anything, whenever I can, and wherever I am, is fertilizer for deep roots and a broad trunk. Writing time becomes rain.
However, too much rain and it floods. If all my time — abundant, unrestrained rain — were spent in writing, how do I sustain myself? Where would experiences to write about come from? At its opposite, limited rain, wouldn’t kill my fig tree, but it would be stunted, to be un-rooted and re-planted in a pot, forever longing for the breeze, the sun, and the open sky of free pastures. Without the murmur of a creek shaking its leaves.
The weird reality of the power to write what we feel
I sowed the seed of that story about two years ago. I rediscovered it while pruning the virtual leaves of my journal. It was simply what I felt at that moment. Of course, before publishing, I let it grow up and embellished it.
Diogenes the Cynic was a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy. He was born in Sinope, an Ionian colony on the Black Sea, in 412 or 404 BC. and died at Corinth in 323 BC. In Corinth, his philosophy of Cynicism passed to Crates, who taught it to Zeno of Citium, who made it into the school of Stoicism, one of the most enduring schools of Greek philosophy. Once, Diogenes was asked to name the most beautiful of all things. Diogenes replied “parresia”, which in ancient Greek means something like “disinhibited thought”, “freedom of speech”, or “full expression”.
These days, in 2013, in Scientific American, Tori Rodríguez mentioned a scientific study that shows that expressive writing can lead to a faster recovery of injuries. For many who have practiced writing like that it’s known to help mitigate psychological traumas and improve mood. There are now studies that suggest that such writing, characterized by descriptions of deep thoughts and feelings, also benefits physical health.
Researchers in New Zealand conducted a study with 49 healthy adults between 64 and 97 years old. They wrote about disturbing events or daily activities for 20 minutes, three days in a row. After two weeks, to make sure that any negative feelings had passed, everyone underwent an arm biopsy and photographs for the next 21 days recorded healing. Already on day 11, 76 percent of the group that made expressive writing had healed completely compared to 42 percent of the control group.
Imagination is needed, the skill that has elevated us to be masters of the world
According to psychologists, expressive writing needs the kind of imagination that can synthesize disparate mental objects. That is, the power of metaphor. For example, a fig tree is my emotional writing. Figs are published and it rains when I write.
Our mental capacity for this type of imagination is recent, in a human evolution context. Archeological artifacts that represent modern imagination, such as composite figurative arts, elaborate burials, bone needles with an eye, and house building, suggest that it wasn’t possible until 70,000 years ago.
The lion-man sculpture of Germany (dating back 37,000 years ago) must have been imagined by the artist synthesizing parts of man and beast and then, with his hands, using ivory to sculpt that mental image into an adoring object.
Much has been written about the magic of writing as therapy — the creation of a nest to shelter the helpless chicks of our imagination. It is the power to change people’s lives and the inspiration to do something new, or invoke fear and stay away from taking action.
We learn about ourselves through the process of writing our feelings and experiences. And knowing ourselves is the only way to improve our future.