By Rebecca Evans
We tell stories. But before we tell them, we hold them, think them, sometimes, we thank them. We recall and carry and live with them in our bodies. We embody them. Sometimes, they embody us.
Some of our stories are built from sandbox and rhyme-singing childhoods. Others, built from bullies beneath the monkey bars. Many are the stories told to us, about us, some true, though most are not. And still others, the most difficult ones, are born from experiences.
Someone one asked how long it took to write my memoir. 55 years. Yes. All of my years, because I lived through the experiences first. The truth is that we don’t just live through our experiences. We also don’t “get through” or “get over” the tough stuff—grief, loss, trauma.
They live in us.
If we’re lucky and wield pens, we push them out and onto the page. This might be why many of us write: Not with the goal of publishing, but to make sense of the past, to understand and know ourselves.
We live in flesh and filament built on our stories. Once written, the stories are not necessarily purged and all returns to normal. (What is normal after all?) Perhaps, our wound is re-opened and we’ve released a bit of poison or pleasure. And, much like caring for any opened gash, we should rinse, cleanse, and heal the body.
Sometimes the wound has lived so long, it’s layered in scar tissue: fibrous cells and collagen rushing to the injury—trauma, surgery, disease—building, no, over-building a thick wall of protection.
Some days I think I’m made only of scar tissue.
I try to remember that this tissue started as necessity, perhaps even survival.
Scar tissue forms in one direction, limiting movement, which, again, offers protection. After a time, joints and flesh stiffen, and now, on top of injury, there is new pain and discomfort. If left unattended, we wade through life much like mummies tightly swathed and cocooned, and, inaccessible. Inaccessible to rich experiences.
Scar tissue is not only a physical response. I believe scar tissue exists spiritually and emotionally too. Whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, the same principles apply. If we cannot move properly, we become a barrier in our own existence. We cannot extend, stretch, touch vulnerability and beauty. There comes the moment scar tissue no longer serves but hinders our human experience.
To heal, you need to work through scar tissue. If you’ve experienced the joy of breaking apart scar tissue with a physical therapist, you’ll respect the tearing it takes repairing, regaining adequate range of motion in the body. Or close to adequate.
My grandmother used to say, “The way in which you heal determines the quality of your future life.”
I should have listened to grandma more.
Writing is much like a physical therapist, breaking emotional scar tissue. The page offers safe and trusted space, (like a therapist’s office) taking us through our limited range, moving through stiffness and discomfort. Eventually we find ease. We also find that where there are wounds and scars, there is permanent alteration. In our joints. In our hearts.
We also become our own therapists in our writing practice and, because of this, we must approach our writing life with mindfulness. We must learn to care for the writer.
I combine at-desk rituals that I’ve woven into my writing life. Here’s a few you might consider, and remember, check with your doctor/therapist/guide. These are not meant as prescriptions nor replacements for medical or emotional treatment. Any type of wellness/fitness advice should be taken into consideration with your individual and medical/emotional limits:
- STRETCH ten minutes every hour you sit at your desk.
- STRETCH your neck and your piriformis. We carry tension in these two areas, and you can easily incorporate seated stretches. Find simple, kind movements and do them. Do them often.
NOTE: The piriformis is a flat gluteal muscle. Think where the thigh bone inserts into the hip bone. Many with piriformis flare ups experience sciatica as well.
SECOND NOTE: When we say something (or someone) is a pain in the neck or a pain in the butt, well, there’s much truth to this. If it (or they) bring you stress, it (or they) may also encourage physical pain in your body.
THIRD NOTE: It’s fun to say, “That’s (you’re) a pain in my piriformis.” Sometimes just saying that phrase relieves stress.
- END ON A HIGH. Hemmingway offered this writing advice to avoid writing yourself out. Stop your writing at a place of high interest. My END ON A HIGH relates to writing something light, something easy on the heart towards the end of your practice. The deeper and darker you write, the more important this might become.
You can also END ON A HIGH listening to lovely music. (I prefer cellos). Or dancing. Or walking in nature. Or reading someone else’s lighter work. Or watching comedy. Or . . . you get the idea.
- In Jewish culture, it is customary to place a bit of honey on the letters of the alef-bet when a child first learns Hebrew. The child licks the honey, associating the sweetness of letters with the delight of learning. As writers, we can model other cultural practices of gentleness and delightfulness in learning and rewarding.
I’m aware these ideas push against the more frequent writerly advice, “Sit. Write. And write some more.” For many writers, the process might be more than producing a poem, an essay, a book. Writing sometimes feels like birthing or surgery. So caring for oneself as if recovering becomes critical if we want to continue writing (and healing).
This is no easy feat for many of us. I’m no different. For the last twenty-plus years, I’ve been a decent caretaker, just not for myself. I’ve spent most of my life punishing my body—starvation, extreme fitness, binging, purging, and other forms of subtle torture. Maybe this was my attempt to release my most haunting stories. Maybe I thought I could starve out my memories. Or beat them down.
Even as I offer writer-care suggestions, I should add, go gentle on yourself as you discover how to do this. The harder you’ve lived, perhaps the nicer you must be. I’m not sure. I’m still learning.
I’m a memoirist, poet, and essayist. In addition to writing, I mentor high school girls in the juvenile system and teach poetry for those in recovery.
In my spare time, I co-host a radio program, Writer to Writer, offering a space for writers with tips on craft and life.
I’m also a decorated and disabled War Veteran, a Jew, a gardener, a mother, a worrier, and more.
I have a passion for sharing difficult stories about vulnerability woven with mysticism.
I’ve earned two MFAs, one in creative nonfiction, the other in poetry. I live in Idaho with my sons, my Newfie, and my Calico.
My poems and essays have appeared in Narratively, The Rumpus, Entropy Literary Magazine, War, Literature & the Arts, The Limberlost Review, and a handful of anthologies. I’ve co-edited a forthcoming anthology of poems, when there are nine, a tribute to the life and achievements of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Moon Tide Press, June 2022).
I’ll be offering free workshops that revolve around caring for the writer. These will begin in July. Find out more at my website, Rebecca Evans, Writer, in the Musings and Movement section.
Note from Marlene:
“The Write Spot: Writing as a Path to Healing” offers more ideas for self-care when writing about difficult topics. Available at your local bookseller and as both paperback and ebooks from Amazon.