When Thomas Wolfe published Look Homeward, Angel in 1929, there was a fair amount of grumbling in his home city of Asheville, NC due to similarities between the book’s characters and people in the community. To use a modern term, I’ve always assumed his writing of the book with such strong autobiographical ties was his way of processing parts of his life he wanted to exorcise or better understand.
Time heals, some say. It’ll all come out in the wash, others say. Perhaps so.
I’ve never felt the need to write a torrid tell-all book loosely based on people I know, though every few years or so novels come out that reveal old secrets and/or that live up to that writer’s tee shirt gag, “Don’t piss me off or I’ll kill you in my next book.”
I do tend to help things in my own life come out in the wash by writing about them, often long after the fact, and seldom in any way that links the fictionalized version to me.
For example, the last post on this blog Again and Again Throughout the Long Night is a short story based on events in my own experience that occurred in the 1980s. Yet they always bothered me, so finally my way of helping them come out in the wash is writing a fictionalized version of them using characters and locales vastly different from those in the true story.
A lot of people process their stuff by journaling or writing memoirs. I’m not famous, so I fail to see the need–much less the practicality–of writing a memoir. So I dribble the process stuff out into stories and novels over time and it really seems to help.
My doctor confirmed today that I have kidney cancer, but that it was caught early enough–in a cat scan the hospital did while diagnosing appendicitis last week–that two hours of surgery in a couple of weeks should completely remove it without any likelihood of recurrence or chemo/radiation. Sooner or later, this will show up in a story because what I have not yet processed is the fact that had I not had appendicitis, the kidney cancer wouldn’t have been caught until things were already potentially hopeless. The doctor called my appendicitis “the bellyache that saved your life.”
I have no clue how I’m going to fictionalize that. But like everything else in life that I’ve had to ponder or mull over looking for the inherent meanings, this will have to come out in the wash one way or another.
I always hope that those who don’t consider themselves to be writers will at least put their “out in the wash” kinds of thoughts into diaries, and potentially even experiment with creating fictional versions of them. Writing, for me, as been the best therapy I know. (And I say this as somebody who worked briefly in the mental health field and strongly considered becoming a psychologist.)
Writing just seems to help things settle.
I appreciate those of you who have gone out to Kindle to download a free copy of my short story “Waking Plain.” It will be free for a few more days.