Turn The Mirror Outward
A recent story I posted on Facebook on Father's Day about my dad garnered some extensive, very personal responses. I've found over time that my writing on relationships, whether familial, romantic, friendship or pets, tends to elicit the most intimate, heartfelt feedback. Most everybody in here is post-50, and clearly the human dynamics involved in starting, maintaining, and even ending a relationship are complex, compelling and of very real interest to most of us.
One comment in particular, however, prompted me to think. She wrote in response to her lack of a relationship with her own father: "I found a good shrink in my 30s and have learned to let go".
My initial reaction was defensive. I was reading an admonition in between her innocuous line; a sort of, well, a "Get over it". But I thought more about the source, a very good hearted, sweet, intelligent woman, and realized she was not intending that at all. Her way of dealing with those disturbing memories and feelings was to literally get to a place where she could let go of them. I write about them. Different process, similar results.
My defensiveness was due to my sensitivity about how often in my life I have written about my father, with whom I had very little genuine connection. It made me think back to my early writing days, when I would run essays by my friend who was a college professor. Often, upon completion, he'd turn to me and ask, "So, who did you write this for?"
I'd usually shrug. I didn't know. Hadn't even thought about it, to be honest. We'd more often than not conclude that I wrote it for myself.
Early on, catharsis was at the root of much of my writing, especially regarding my dad. Not unusual, and in fact often a wise route to take for spiritual healing.
But as I grew up, older, and hopefully wiser, I began to embrace the idea of writing for others, I realized I needed to keep at least one eye on my potential audience. I found that both unnatural and stifling, and my writing sputtered and suffered for years.
These days, while entertaining an extended visit from my muse, I find no restrictions whatsoever in writing for other people, and looking forward to their response.
Of course, anything I put 'on paper' is going to still be, at least in part, for me. But that part is much smaller than it used to be. Shedding that yoke of insularity and pointing my prism more outward than inward has proven to be very rewarding. Especially when it comes to fiction.
Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, wrote in that rich, layered book, "A writer is a mirror walking down the street".
"That opened a door for me. I stepped through it," and my goal now is to be able to finish this sentence with "…and the rest is history".