“I understood immediately the thrill of seeing oneself in print. It provides some sort of primal verification: you are in print; therefore you exist. Who knows what this urge is all about, to appear somewhere outside yourself, instead of feeling stuck inside your muddled but stroboscopic mind, peering out like a little undersea animal – a spiny blenny, for instance – from inside your tiny cave?” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
This summer so far has found me immersed in the insights and writings of great women literary figures like Virginia Woolf and Anne Lamott, whose self-proclaimed neuroses and inner crises were assuaged by the pen and its validation. What I love most about these writers is their willingness to share the confusion and mess of their minds so openly. From acute shyness to depression to alcoholism to mental illness, it’s all there; their work is purposefully transparent, to put the darkness in perspective, illuminate and analyze it, or to simply and sacrificially “throw the lights on for [the] reader” (Lamott, Bird by Bird).
In his 1999 biography The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Manic Depression and the Life of Virginia Woolf, psychiatrist Peter Dally avows this about Woolf’s own urge to write: “Virginia’s need to write was, among other things, to make sense out of mental chaos and gain control of madness. Through her novels she made her inner world less frightening” (St. Martin’s Press, NY).
While my own inner world and mental muddle are undoubtedly far less frightening than, say, the idea of transparency in my writing, the opportunity to become unstuck, peer out from inside the cave, and make sense of it all has genuine appeal. So back to the drawing board, er, computer, I go…to those sweetly innocuous third and fourth drafts, to infuse more of what takes place in the dark spaces of my mind, and to slay and (gulp) display those inner demons, bird by bird.