Not just any hearts

We were writing to confront what Faulkner called “the human heart in conflict with itself.” And not just any hearts. Our hearts.

~ Steve Almond

~~~~~

I’ve been walking around in a daze since releasing The Love Essays, humbled by the heartfelt, thoughtful responses and, honestly, a bit adrift now that the work is done. I miss them, the essays; I miss the work of them… and not for the reasons I thought I would.

Writing about the year of my Love Project was not the experience I imagined it would be. I’d envisioned a very literary, artistic exercise, playing with form and voice and language to create something entirely new with each essay. I wanted to stretch myself as a writer, try things I hadn’t done before, attempt a sort of literary fierceness that I felt I’d fallen short of in the past. And while, in the end, I think I did that, I was only a few paragraphs into the creative process when my focus shifted, viscerally. In minutes I was out of my head and into my guts, which is where I stayed for all the weeks of writing.

Sifting through 2011’s blog posts, photos, notebooks, emails and a downright staggering number of physical cards and letters, I began to understand that the essays were not going to be a summary of what I’d already been through, but a continuation of the quest I’d started over a year before. I’d only gathered together the pieces of the puzzle; to discover their meaning, I’d have to figure out how they all fit together.

~~~~~

In his NYT piece, Why Talk Therapy is on the Wane and Writing Workshops Are on the Rise, Steve Almond talks about how writing is often a form of therapy for the writer, and while I’m not sure the rising popularity of writing programs has anything to do with the decline of talk therapy, I have come to believe in the therapeutic value of writing. I didn’t always, and until about three years ago, I never kept a journal. I started then because I was reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and I got hooked on writing morning pages, the whole point of which is to empty your mind of all the crap that gets in the way of your creativity. In Cameron’s words:

Although occasionally colorful, the morning pages are often negative, frequently fragmented, often self-pitying, repetitive, stilted or babyish, angry or bland – even silly sounding.

Yes, indeed. Mine are all that, and worse. And how can excising all that passionate drivel not be a good thing? The therapeutic value of morning pages, or any sort of journaling, is obvious. It’s like pouring your heart out to a therapist, only better because your notebook doesn’t judge you behind its practiced, unfaltering, professional gaze.

But I think the therapeutic value of writing goes far beyond our journals. I think it lies in the act itself, in the attaching of words to emotion, in the translation of experience into language. There is a distillation that happens then, and a sort of hopeful logic is imposed. We make sense of what might otherwise confuse or overwhelm us – grief, sadness, joy, love – by breaking it down and then arranging it into poems, stories, essays, art.

~~~~~

At the end of his New York Times piece, Steve Almond refers to a student writing about her family under the guise of fiction. He says:

I have no idea whether my student will do the lonely, dogged labor necessary to get her novel published. I’m not sure that’s what matters in the end. What matters is that she and her comrades have found a way to face the toughest truths within themselves, to begin to make sense of them, and maybe even beauty. In a world that feels increasingly impersonal and atomized, I can’t think of a more thrilling mission.

I had no idea when I sat down to write them how necessary the Love Essays would be for me. I knew that I was a different person at the end of 2011 than I’d been at the beginning, but how I’d changed and what it all meant to me didn’t become clear until I wrote it down. In writing the essays, I’ve begun to make sense of the (beautiful) mess inside me, and if that’s not therapy, I don’t know what is.

I’d love to hear your art-as-therapy thoughts. My guess is that this doesn’t only happen with writing.

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44 Responses to Not just any hearts

  1. Nuttin' June 7, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    Yes.
    Art can be therapeutic, it isn’t the core of therapy. My therapist encourages me to journal… poems, scattered thoughts, the craziness in my head. It’s the things I would never expose to the world but also, it’s those things that pull me under… so, in that case, writing (as art) is a part of the therapeutic process.
    There have been occasions when I read something or saw something and it triggered all kinds of bad things in me — so, if art has the ability to affect us that way, it can also have the ability to heal.
    But just journaling, just writing… to what end? You know? If you (and by you I mean all us beautifully fucked up complicated beings), simply use the pages as a vent without any resolution then it’s not therapeutic, it’s just self-indulgence.
    On the flip side — I think anything (art) that can assist in bringing about real personal growth and change if necessary, should definitely be explored and practiced.
    Art (words, essays, paintings, poems, songs, etc) without any action, is just something pretty to look at, not something that makes you desire to grow.
    I guess, what I’m trying to say is, art CAN be very therapeutic if the artist believes in and acts on her own creation, otherwise, it’s just pretty.
    I hope that makes sense, I apologize if it doesn’t.

    • j June 7, 2012 at 8:24 am #

      I kinda think journals are supposed to be self-indulgent. Not everything we journal should turn into a post or an essay. Our journals aren’t art, so if it helps to write it out, it’s worth it. If it doesn’t, it’s definitely not. I guess your point is that journaling isn’t universally therapeutic, as I’ve kind of indicated. Point taken.

      I do think that writing, specifically, and art more generally – the creative process – can be (and is, for me) therapeutic on a number of levels. There is value in seeking order in the emotional/life chaos, value in finding the universal truths represented by our very personal experiences, value in striving to communicate those truths with others, to connect us all in our humanity.

      Or, you know. So says j.

  2. C. Fassett June 7, 2012 at 6:42 am #

    That’s the thing about love…we initially try to mold it as if it were clay, and then miraculously, mysteriously, it finds a way to escape our hands, splashing out of our hearts and onto the floor, and into our world to express itself through us, and to heal first ourselves and then those around us. No matter how hard we may try to have love serve us, “the human heart in conflict with itself,” we quickly realize, with grateful hearts, that we can only surrender to it within us. We aren’t surrendering to other people, we are surrendering to the love inside our own heart. The only thing within our power to do with love is to choose it. Our free agency, our will, is wrapped up in this one thing…love.

    Someone gave The Artist’s Way to me as a gift when it was first published, and initially I only read to the point about the morning pages. I took it, and ran with it. I have pages that are only marked shreds, after I’d ripped them with my pen. There were no words for what I was feeling those mornings…just a deep anger, and that’s the only way I could express it at the time. I’ve often worried someone will find my pages, because the things written in them aren’t very nice. I didn’t edit or censor anything inside me. It felt like I was literally taking the garbage out.

    I realized at some point that those pages served as a reflective pool for me. I could neither see, nor hear myself…until I began to write out all within me. There, on those pages, was me, good, bad, or indifferent. And it was me that needed to listen to what I had to say. Once the garbage was taken out, word by word, love was also allowed to escape, and since then, it’s been a slow journey to bringing that love to be expressed in the world.

    Now I can’t separate love from art. Art is the element, the journey, that heals us, allowing love to do it’s mysterious thing from within. But more, I’ve come to understand that art slowly becomes our unique expression joining in the song of creation.

    Now, I’m giving my hand to drawing, along with writing. And after reading your post, it makes sense that I’d go this route. Having felt unseen for so long, drawing is giving me a kind of visual mirror. I’m already amazed at what springs from me. We’ll see how it all evolves.

    Love this post, j. You bring inspiration. Don’t ever stop. The world needs you. I’m sure your next project will be just as inspiring.

    Big love, Chica

    • j June 7, 2012 at 8:37 am #

      I just hopped over to see your new digs, and they’re BEAUTIFUL! Love the new look and the artwork is wonderful. You’re so talented! I’m excited that you’re exploring new artistic realms. You know I’m a big believer in shaking up our insides, trying new things (or coming back to old loves as the case may be). I think all our art gets better when we feed our souls. xo

  3. Nuttin' June 7, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Oh yes… I totally get that. This morning, I was reading comments on a poem I posted… I was afraid (as I often am) that the words that came out were self-indulgent nonsensical scattered ramblings. Then several responses were that my words were exactly what someone else was thinking or going through. It makes me feel less stupid knowing others can relate and appreciate.
    I hope I didn’t sound negative before… maybe a few rough days that have left me searching for answers.
    Thanks for the response.

    • j June 7, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

      Not negative, just a different perspective. Which is always good.

  4. jillsalahub June 7, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    For me, writing is learning, spiritual practice, work, creation, restoration, taking out the garbage, e v e r y t h i n g, and yes sometimes therapy–it’s at first communication with the self, a conversation between the highest, wisest self and the soft, wild animal body, so how can that not be therapeutic? For me, it’s really a matter of life and death, no exaggeration: “If you call forth that which is in you, it will save you. If you do not call forth what is in you, it will destroy you,” (Gospel of St. Thomas). But it could also be that I’m dumb, naive, and simply can’t make sense of myself or the world without “writing it out,” taking notes, scribbling lists, scrawling long and loopy love letters.

    • j June 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

      I bet you write wonderful scrawling long and loopy love letters!

      When I posted this on Facebook, someone lovely commented, “the rate at which you churn out these heartfelt and thought-provoking blog posts blows my mind.” I had to laugh… and then admit that it’s compulsive. I am, in that sense, being saved daily. <3

  5. Angel June 7, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    I’ve been writing a journal since I was 15. Up until I was in my mid-20s it was mostly a diary of daily life and boys. I re-read them at 21 and was so disgusted with my adolescent self! Lately I’ve been writing more–free writing on a prompt mostly, though some other stuff as well. I do paintings like this too. Starting in 1990, my art is more about where I am and helping me see that than painting an object. Definitely therapy. I love putting up a piece of paper or canvas and making the first mark and see where that leads. I’m putting both together sometimes and that can be powerful.

    • j June 7, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

      Let’s hope there is magic there, at the intersection.

  6. Karen Hogan June 7, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    A friend of mine said that neurosis grabs hold of the ego and refuses to let it grow. That made sense to me. We need our egos to carry us through in the world. I think that the tricky part comes with figuring out how to trust when it’s time to let go of our ego (by which I mean how we define ourselves in the world — which can mean anything form over inflating ourselves to being a victim) I think for the ego to be useful, it needs to give us a strong sense of self so we can face the onslaught of what faces us) and then grow from the experience.

    I think growing from our experiences is what makes life whole.

    I have certainly discovered that writing morning pages helps me discover what’s bubbling under the surface. I have started to feel off kilter when I don’t write them. I think it allows me to get myself out of the way so I can go deeper.

    I’ve referred to writing as my dowsing tool — how rewriting, searching for the right word forces me to go deeper to find the emotional truth and express it. It’s therapeutic in the sense that I am called to make sense out of life. It’s hard for me to imagine not being able to find form for my experience of being human.

    I’ve also been through “talk” therapy. I had a good therapist, so it was definitely beneficial in a time of crisis. It came to an end when it was time for it to come to an end. It helped me untangle the knots, but then it was up to me to keep them untangled.

    I don’t see writing coming to an end — that is part and parcel to my life.

    I believe that artists are the shamans of our world. What shamans traditionally did was go into the darkness to discover what was there and bring it out so there could be change and transformation — for individuals as well as the tribe or culture in which they served.

    Talk therapy or art as therapy can be self indulgent — by that I mean it can reinforce the ego that doesn’t want to grow. It’s our choice how to use it. We can fall in love with self expression, which I think keeps the ego from growing. Or we can commit to going into the darkness and bringing it into the light so we can change and grow.

    • j June 7, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

      “I believe that artists are the shamans of our world. What shamans traditionally did was go into the darkness to discover what was there and bring it out so there could be change and transformation — for individuals as well as the tribe or culture in which they served.”

      Love that.

  7. Scott Youmans June 7, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    James Penebaker out of Univ TX Austin has done research in this area – of writing as a healing art. You can read more about it in his book “Opening Up” and also in Louise DeSalvo’s “Writing as a Way of Healing” (which I highly recommend — much more readable than JP’s and she touches on a lot of his research).

  8. j June 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Thank you, Scott.

  9. Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) June 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Loved reading about your process with writing the love essays! My favorite, quotable bit:

    “I’d only gathered together the pieces of the puzzle; to discover their meaning, I’d have to figure out how they all fit together.”

    What an adventure, j! I haven’t started reading the essays yet. I’m saving them for vacation when I won’t have to read them in a hurry in the midst of juggling a jillion other things.

    This was such a meaty (veggie?) post. So many responses are ringing their little bells in my head. About journaling … I’ve done tons of that kind of morning pages stuff, going deep, deep, deep, empty out all my crap. I finally had to switch to a different style. It was helpful in some parts, but I started noticing a trend of being so depressed after journaling I couldn’t do it any more. I quit for several months (and thought I was done with that whole writing form) but when it came back, it was to fulfill a different need.

    Now my journaling is largely about magical stuff. A little venting now and then, but mostly a private little journey of magic, with lots of companions who show up to help (but who can’t necessarily be seen with the naked eye).

    My other art therapy is pairing photos with words. I know nothing about photography … I just love the thrill of pairing photos with words. :~)

  10. j June 7, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Yes, I think that’s kind of what Nuttin’ was saying – that sometimes the swirly, gnashing, cranky morning pages don’t serve any purpose because they’re only feeding your fire, not helping you move through. Like you, I use mine in many different ways. I’m not above the ugly stuff, but I do sometimes play there. Experiment. Mull things that eventually turn into posts. Love your description – morning pages of magical stuff!

    And your last paragraph has me spinning! I don’t know why but I never thought of that as a therapy or creative endeavor, but of course it is. And I love it too! You’re very good at it, by the way. That’s why I always let you write my captions on MT. :)

  11. Nuttin' June 7, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    Yes… actually that is exactly what I was saying (thank you). I’m not a writer but I do hope that the things I put on my blog are artistic as well as therapeutic.
    1) if a writer tells me they like something I write it makes me feel like what I’m doing is actually art.
    2) if a commentor says that I am saying something they were too afraid to say, I get a huge therapeutic boost.
    So… if by chance the two happen on the same poem or post then I AM creating art that is therapeutic for me and others.

    Back to the journaling thing… I had to stop journaling for my therapist because it was causing me to obsess about topics and it sent me into (another) depressive state. I was being so self-indulgent that it was harmful to me… as Milli said. Not everything is blog worthy, but for me it took me a while to understand what was beneficial to myself and spoke to others as opposed to just shit spilling.

    Again, thank you for this conversation.
    I hope you know how much I appreciate this opportunity.

  12. Joanne Marie Firth June 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    I love that you journal. I admire the ability to be able to organize your thoughts well enough each day to write them down. My feelings are creativity as therapy are simple. When I am in the process of creating something, the whole mess in my head quiets. There is nobody needing me. There are no financial problems. There is no trauma to rehash. There is no illness. There is nothing except myself and the tools I am using to create.

    I have had many hours of talk therapy. It is helpful and has helped me. The thing about talk therapy is that all the mess is right there in front of you. It is noisy and tumultuous. After a talk therapy session, whether it be with a group or one on one, the mess can be more messy than when you started. It doesn’t feel that great. It takes a while for things to settle down.

    Creative therapy is the opposite. The mess becomes focused and all that is within, comes pouring out in a much more beautiful way. Every single thing I have created holds meaning and has nuances which are specific to what and how I was feeling when I created it. Something tangible to soak up the mess and contain it. My art is because of my turmoil.

    • j June 7, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

      Your last paragraph is gorgeous. Wow.

      And, I know I made light of talk therapy. I’ve never been through it so that was somewhat unfair. I did try once. I drove to the address of a therapist provided by the company I worked for at the time, and the whole building was closed down – windows boarded up, padlocks on the doors. I took it as a sign.

      Thus far in my life, my friends, family, notebooks and art have provided the therapy to pull me through. The way you describe the creative process’s effect on you is kind of what happens to me when I hike. Only without the tangible thing at the end. I absolutely love that.

  13. Pam June 7, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    My journal is mostly a place where I crab about things, and then try to figure out what’s really bothering me.

    Writing things down helped me immensely in the (nevertheless very slow) process of getting out of my former relationship/life. I don’t know how I would’ve fought past all the b.s. I’d built up in my mind about that situation without that help. *shudders*

    I now also have a watercolor journal (which is a very fancy handmade book I never would’ve thought I would let myself use) and a doodle journal. All are in occasional use, and I enjoy the option of flitting from one type of expression to another.

    I don’t know about helping the world, but I do know that I am much MUCH happier with my life if I am doing creative things with some of my time. Often I drift away from making things, and start to feel off-kilter and sour. Then I realize it’s been ages since I made a card or painted a chair or what-have-you, & I remember to get busy.

    • j June 7, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

      Reading your comment, I thought, “I should have everyone send a picture of their journal/notebook to me.” I get interested in the goofiest things. This may happen…

      I feel the same way when I go too long without writing. Like I need an internal adjustment.

  14. Ann Marie Gamble (@amgamble) June 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    To create anything, you’re converting amorphous, simultaneous, nonverbal, nonphysical waves in your brain (Faulkner in “A Rose for Emily”: memory is a meadow not a path) into something concrete, linear or 3D, verbal and physical. So, first, of course it didn’t turn out how you imagined it, but second, the winnowing and translating, prioritizing and manipulating to generate this product (one definition of art: something that generates an emotional response) is another way to process that surely would help you move through something.

    Incidentally, I have hated journaling (and prescriptions to do so) because of the angsty whininess I end up with–I don’t know if I’m relieved to hear that others have this reaction to it. I was able to keep doing it when I Gave myself permission to have it be writing about anything–the day’s to-do list, the draft of a blog post, brainstorming about a novel–and not just true-life introspection. And all those scenes from novels? Fictional! Entirely, 100%, imaginative, might as well be outer space hypotheses!! (pay no attention to that character with the same name as my mother . . . )

    • j June 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

      Ha! You crack me up. Yes, my fiction works the same way. (Of course it’s not you… her hair is blonde.)

      I actually use my notebook (notice my refusal to call it a journal?) both ways. Sometimes I’m absolutely venting, diving down, digging out the thing that is fucking me up. But I can’t tell you how many times, stumped in my writing, I’ve grabbed it to work through the block. I don’t know why that helps, but when I can’t make it happen at the keyboard, i can sometimes shake it loose when my thoughts are handwritten. I think my mind lets go of the idea that it has to be perfect (since my penmanship so clearly is not.)

  15. Joanne Marie Firth June 7, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

    Wow. Thank you. The most beneficial talk therapy I’ve had has been in a group setting. A group of people in crisis. Think of a Jackson Pollock painting. All that chaos. All the colors crossing over each other at the same time. That is how group therapy feels.

    I think that’s why I love Pollock’s work so much. His life was very messy. His ability to transform his tortured mind into great works of art shows clearly the therapeutic value creativity holds. What would a man like Pollock have done with his life had he not painted? I think he would have caused much harm to himself and others had he not had the gift he had.

    I’ve witnessed in my lifetime some of the most compelling and fascinating art while being in a closed therapeutic environment, with people from every walk of life suffering from acute bouts of mental illness. I’ve seen people in severe emotional distress sit down and create something. I’ve done it myself. It is beyond a profound to experience to behold.

    So yeah, everyone with a busy mind should find something they love to do, something that washes it all away for a while and do it.

    • j June 7, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

      Do you think in the cases you’re talking about, the art is moving them through the turmoil or just easing their pain for the time that they are creating? I’m curious because I think with writing, maybe because it involves language, there is, for me, a sense of dawning, of beginning to understand what lies at the root of all the chaos. I’m curious if that’s the case even when the art form doesn’t involve words. (This subject fascinates me.)

  16. Estrella Azul June 8, 2012 at 5:02 am #

    It’s always such a wonderful feeling when we discover that creating something of which we haven’t really thought about in “that way” turns out to be just the right thing to keep us going, to help heal, to free us from our own thoughts while we’re creating.
    I’ve also said it before, like you mentioned this before as well, for few lucky people, art has a way of being therapeutic.

  17. Joanne Marie Firth June 8, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    From what I have seen and experienced, the art helps to reorganize the thought process while giving one a sense of accomplishment and pride in the most dire of circumstances. Some of the people with whom I had the great pleasure to know briefly have an organic creativity which breaks through during times of great mental strain. I’ve seen people who have practically risen from death, their brains saturated with chemicals to the point they can barely function in the simplest of ways. Those people are so creative that while their thoughts are disorganized and dysfunctional they can still create complex artwork through the mud inside their heads.

    I think creating is so powerful that it can actually begin to heal. I’ve seen it happen over and over. I’ve seen it in myself, so I know it to be true. No matter what condition a person’s mental status is, most can still utilize their creative power to make art. Healing, focused, brilliant art.

  18. Joanne Marie Firth June 8, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    I hope I didn’t take this subject too far out j. It’s a topic I feel so strongly about. Any art form without words can be read. It is just a different language. Words or no words, creating is therapeutic.

    • j June 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

      Not at all! I am so interested in this topic. Originally, writing the post, I was inspired by both Steve Almond’s article and my own experience. I was thinking about what happens when you write to understand your own experience and how it relates to the greater human experience. Your comments have focused on something I have less experience with but am very fascinated by (hence my final comment in the post), and that is the therapeutic value of art in general. I love your observation: Any art form without words can be read. It is just a different language. I find that thought absolutely beautiful, and enormously reassuring.

      Thank you so much for broadening the conversation!

  19. KjM June 9, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    I have in the past kept a journal (or notebook). My therapist of the time suggested (strongly now I think of it) that I do so. I did so, for a time. I really disliked the idiot who was doing the writing, and what he wrote. So I stopped.

    Now that I think about that…

    Too late. What’s done (or not done) is done.

    That said (typed), in the period shortly before that, I wrote 50 poems in a little over a month. A lot of them were to do with what was going on in my life at the time. Deeply, shatteringly painful. As were some of the poems.

    Pain transmuted to art. Of course, in some cases the pain was transmuted to lead rather than gold (causing renewed pain now I read them again.)

    Some of my prose has been therapeutic. But poetry is the form I more often use for that exercise. I think it’s the masochist in me. :-) The striving for the poetic form makes me dig deeper into the pain of what I’m trying to deal with.

    • j June 10, 2012 at 9:57 am #

      Your last comment is really interesting to me because with The Love Essays, I was (especially initially) very focused on craft. It was important to me that I not write what amounted to a collection of blog posts. So I played with form and voice and tone, wrote some in first person and a couple in second, played with time and segmentation… all of which won’t make any difference to the people who read it, but in doing that… I think I did dig deeper, moved into my gut to find the content. I think that is where the magic sometimes comes… as we stretch ourselves in our art, we are forced maybe to dive down… find the content that is worthy of our vision.

      Or something like that. :) And, yeah. I’ve got pages and pages of lead, my friend. (I hope you’ll read the essays.) xo

  20. Terri June 11, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    Hi, Judy.

    I arrived here via a tweet from Patrick of The Artist’s Road … and am so glad I did. Your blog and perspective are so refreshing! I facilitate expressive (therapeutic) art/writing at a homeless shelter … and, yes, both are highly effective tools for healing … both in the moment and over time. I’ve witnessed folks gain a positive self-image and sense of mastery … and, in the moment of creating, I’ve watched as meditative states are achieved. I.e. – one man w/ chronic COPD used to come in having uncontrollable coughing fits … but while he painted, his coughing would competely cease for 2.5 hours.

    On the personal front, I’ve journaled nightly for 24 years. Writing is how I discover what is true for me, where I’m “at” emotionally. I believe, at times, it has saved my life. Moving beyond journaling, to writing for publication, serves another purpose — it creates, in my opinion, a sense of connectedness between reader and writer … connectedness so needed in today’s world .

  21. j June 11, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    Terri, I’m so glad you found me too. Reading about the COPD patient’s experience during the creative process gave me chills.

    I love that you went one step further to talk about writing for publication, because I agree with you. There is power and healing in the connectedness that happens when we share our stories. I also think that the writing we do for others (versus the writing we do in our journals) serves a different therapeutic purpose… or maybe an extension of the purpose you’re expressing – the one of locating ourselves in ourselves. When we makes sense of “the mess” for someone else, I think it’s a further distillation, a step beyond searching that moves us more firmly into understanding.

    So glad you stopped by. I hope I will see you here again!

  22. keishua (@keishualove) June 11, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    my two cents. art can be amazing but i don’t think it’s therapy. it is therapeutic, though.

    • j June 12, 2012 at 9:39 am #

      I assume you’re thinking that “therapy” is handled by professionals, and follows along a prescribed route of diagnosis and treatment?

      You made me look up the word (which is a good thing!), and here’s the fourth definition: “any act, hobby, task, program, etc., that relieves tension,” which, honestly, is even broader than I was thinking, but it works for me.

  23. helgagrace June 12, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    I’ve definitely used my blog as writing-therapy, especially around topics like my mother’s death. I’m a little hesitant to go the next place I feel I need to go, which is the end of my relationship and divorce, but maybe I’ll be brave enough someday to put that out there. I want to be the kind of person who keeps a private journal, but old habits die hard–in this case an ingrained lack of routine.

    • j June 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

      I have to say I love when you allow yourself to be more personal in your writing… I’m drawn to that kind of sharing, and you write it well. And I think there is always therapeutic value (for writer and reader) in talking about the big, unavoidable truths… like, in our lives, we will all have to learn to move through grief. xox

  24. Nuttin' June 12, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Can I revise my comment? (as a writer I’m sure you will allow it.)

    Okay… I think anything that can bring you out of a place of destruction (self) could be considered therapy — yoga, running, hiking. But, no one would consider my incredible downward dog therapeutic for them, but it absolutely is for me.
    Now, on the art side, when I write a poem or a thought it’s usually to seek some type of organization to the experiences that might be overwhelming to me. At first, it was just shit-spilling, then I became interested in writing something of value, something that might help or encourage others, so I started to edit and revise and dig deeper. My “art” (I use that term very loosely in my case) is therapeutic for me and now, it seems, has some type of therapeutic value for others.
    So, to make a jscience reference, writing from my heart and for my heart will guide others hearts to me.
    On a side note, my therapist, who happens to be the most amazing person in the world, calls several times a week to make sure I’m writing something, or running, or doing yoga — she knows that those things that I consider my art make her job as a therapist easier. Does that make sense?

    • j June 12, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Of course you can, revisions are welcome! And you’re hitting on something I was touching on too, something I’ll probably write more about in the future. There is, I believe, therapeutic value in the act of writing it all out, spewing (at least for a while) emotions that aren’t for public consumption. And then there is something else that happens when we try to make those very personal emotions more universal. Another level of therapy, maybe. As Steve Almond writes, “a way to face the toughest truths within ourselves, to begin to make sense of them, and maybe even beauty.” That’s where the art comes in.

  25. Nuttin' June 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    Well then… I might just be freakin’ Miss Universe if beauty comes from facing tough self-truths.
    I’m going to write a poem about this whole shit-spilling turning to art and therapy kinda thing.
    Thanks for being here and being you j.

    • j June 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      Ha! “Shit-spilling turning to art and therapy kinda thing” is a hell of a title. #justsayin ;)

    • Nuttin' June 17, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

      For the record, I just used that line in a poem. Not the title but still… badass. :-)

  26. Travis B. Hartwell (@travisbhartwell) June 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Without a doubt, the key component of my process of healing in life has been writing. When I finally allowed myself to pick back up the practices that I know have helped me in the past, the subtle shifts in my life gradually started to occur.

    I’ve come to believe that the only way you can make progress in your life is by first having complete and utter honesty — starting with yourself. And sometimes that’s very hard. I’ve been challenging myself lately to write as I journal even the things I would be ashamed others read. The dark parts of myself. The reality of what attracts me physically. The selfish and childish attitudes I have. I’ve started writing it all in my notebooks. I can’t deny or pretend these parts don’t exist.

    And there is something about getting it out in ink on paper that facilitates letting go and detaching. But also embracing.

    Writing is active meditation. It is how I connect with the muse or the Spirit or whatever you want to call it.

    I’ve come to believe that art — whether appreciation of others’ art, or creating my own — is critical to healing the pains of my life. When those days and hours come when it seems the solitary source of light and beauty in my life is completely gone, I have to remind myself it is still out there. I have to remind myself it is still in here.

    And pen and ink are the catalyst and the material for seeing and creating my soul.

  27. j June 12, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    Travis, this is quite simply a beautiful response. I especially love “But also embracing.” I’ve found that too. Not always but sometimes I can get to a place even better than acceptance. True appreciation.

    And yes! Writing is active meditation, absolutely.

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