Guest Blog Post, Ashley Roach: The Privilege and Anxiety of Catharsis

Note: Since time of writing, Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed as a Justice of the Supreme Court

This month we endured the grueling twin testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh and are facing a very likely confirmation of (another) proven liar to the Supreme Court. It’s been rough. It seems impossible to think about anything else, or to experience anything other than continuous retraumatization. I’ve been working on a book of poems dealing with my own embodied trauma rising from the steam of a decade of forgetting and then remembering, then remembering, then remembering. And asking myself over and over – who is culpable, who invited what, what was forgotten in the darkness, in the not-negotiating? Interrogating the lines, yes, the blurred lines. I have written a book, considered every angle, plumbed my most vulnerable memories. I thought I was strong, self-congratulatory even. I remember telling a friend: I was raped, but I don’t let it determine my life.

These two weeks, I have triggered my own trauma over and over again, looking at the New York Times first thing every morning, checking Twitter every few minutes, calling and writing senators, building and bleeding rage. I’m so angry all the time. I can’t sleep. I lie awake and try to breathe. I go the gym to try to out-aggro myself. I need to feel strong but I’m exhausted. I’m so goddamn mad.

I’m supposed to be planning poetry readings this Fall to sell a few copies of my chapbook, to feel and act like a poet, but it feels so distant. The first reading is in mid-October, on my wedding anniversary. I had completely forgotten about the anniversary and now it seems almost beside the point. I have no interest in conversations with men, even my husband. I want to explode in elemental heat and gravity and destroy this corrupt world. The privilege of all of this (gym, marriage, news subscription, white woman rage) is astounding. I want to crawl into a hole and die. I steam like a volcano. I see a poll that shows a majority of white women believe Brett Kavanaugh over Dr. Ford. I don’t sleep. My mother tells me that she doesn’t think that men should be judged by what they did in high school. I argue with her, then leave. Senator Susan Collins argues the importance of the #MeToo movement then votes for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. My throat is always closed. I can’t stop talking about the injustice of this nomination. I try to tell myself to be prepared for the obvious outcome. Thirty years ago, Anita Hill came forward against Judge Clarence Thomas and was dragged. Need I say it? Donald Trump is president. Here we are today. I steam.

I am also worried that if I read any of the poems I’ve been writing that I will cry, that I will make someone else cry, or worse, I will show that I was wrong, not wronged. All these years later, I still have the internalized misogyny of a lifetime of being told that I put myself in a place where I was vulnerable, and I invited what happened. My mom asked me why I didn’t report it. I don’t know where to begin. It took a decade for me to realize that it happened. I don’t want to share the details, so I leave. I am a coward in my own life. Am I a coward in my own life? A poet recently tweeted that she would not be reading poems of sexual trauma at an upcoming reading because everyone deserves a break. I wonder if I should do the same. But if I don’t read the poems I’ve been writing, why am I reading? If I read them and people are upset, or I am upset, or create a sense of catharsis, am I being performative and insensitive? If I center myself, in my privilege and whiteness, am I perpetuating injustice? I feel sick. I steam.

When I started writing this, I determined that I would write a helpful post about battling imposter syndrome, overcoming doubts of self-worth, and getting over self-promotion anxiety. Work with your friends! Reach out to trusted members of your community! You are worthy! I deleted all of it. It felt so hollow. On Twitter, women post #WhyIDidntReport. I feel like shit every day. My mom wants to talk to me. If I don’t read these poems, how will I reckon with any of this? Is this ultimately the most selfish act – wanting reckoning, wanting catharsis, wanting wanting? My friend and poet Emma Bolden tweeted a gif of a wolf growling, baring her canines. The growl is practically audible. Caption: “YUPPPPPP actual image of me rn.”

Me too. Me too. Me too.

Authors Talk: Sherril Jaffe

Sherril Jaffe Today we are pleased to feature author Sherril Jaffe as our Authors Talk series contributor. Sherril discusses her opinions on art and its relationship to character. In particular, she explains the multifaceted purpose of art and how it is interested in the truth, which is currently under assault.

She also discusses the nature of the short story as an art form, referring to her piece in Issue 18, “During the Republican Convention.” She reveals that short stories are powerful because they can break all the rules, and she emphasizes that “a short story should crack something open in us.”

You can access Sherril’s pieces in Issue 18 of Superstition Review and Issue 4 of Superstition Review.

Authors Talk: Beth Gilstrap

Beth Gilstrap

Today we are pleased to feature author Beth Gilstrap as our Authors Talk series contributor. In conversation with Jim Warner (of Citizen Lit), Beth openly discusses her focus on female voices, the South and southern women, grief, the passing of her grandmother, and her experience with depression.Citizen Lit Logo

When discussing her chapbook (No Man’s Wild Laura, 2016), Beth says, “I think everything we write prepares us for what we’re writing next, right?” She also candidly shares her experience with grief and how writing has been “a method of survival…a way to put things down and be able to look at it objectively.”

Beth ends the podcast with a bit of laughter when she jokes: “I am not actually dragging carcasses into my home. I am only writing about it.”

You can read Beth’s piece, “Machine,” in Issue 11 of Superstition Review.

Guest Post, Jessica Marie Fletcher: The Process

The Process: Catharsis, Counseling, and Creative Writing

 

When talking about writing in literary crowds, I skirted away from using the word, “catharsis.” In an attempt to mask my youthful unknowingness—and to hopefully step into the realm of literariness (as if it were The Thing to attain)—I distinguished my stories as maturely lacking any cathartic-make-you-feel-better qualities. What an insecure snob I was!

With help, I have reworked this naïve snobbery into quality-mongering [meaning: verb: an attempt to look for quality; to go above and beyond; to go deeper; to refine; to grow; noun: quality mongers: those who practice quality mongering]. Can quality-mongering be petty? Sometimes. Is it honest? Always.

Writing short stories, for me, has included a constant flow of quality mongering. A constant reshaping and refining of something too raw. For some emotionally bloody and raw story starts, I would overcook and sterilize any cathartic, tender aspects of me that may still be on the page. I struggled with the thought of me entering the story. A writing no-no. I hadn’t considered my own self-protection also taking place.

Writing short stories involves creating mini realities—mini snapshots into a moment or a series of moments. In my own writing process, crafting a reality often derived from a source within me; a few friends can trace the crumbs of Jess scattered on the page and across my reoccurring themes. While trying to excise “me” out of the story, I would tell myself that I was inhabiting the world of another, writing outside of “what I knew,” and seeking quality by using structured writing. I insisted that any catharsis I experienced while writing never remained in the pieces I considered my art.

I wasn’t exactly wrong; I wasn’t exactly right.

After some growing up a bit and reworking my constructs about writing, I encountered this concept of catharsis and artistic healing increasingly. Now pursuing a career in mental health counseling, I can’t help but use my reader/writer brain to connect the dots between client stories and counseling processes—including catharsis.

Catharsis vs TherapyCatharsis followed me everywhere. As a volunteer creative writing teacher at a prison, I encountered the question of writing from hurt on my first day teaching a writing class.

I recall asking each of the orange-clad men sitting around me, “What do you want to learn in this class?”

In the small classroom, which looked like one of those WWII Quonset huts, I received an assortment of answers:

  • “To write good.”
  • “To write better.”
  • “To write home.”
  • “To write past the writer’s block.”

One student then said, “I want to know how to write, but like, write without it hurting too much. I think sometimes, if I write, it will just all come out and be too much. Hurt too much.”

There had been a collective nod—and sigh—as if we were all waiting for the air conditioning to turn on, to greet us, to remind us that we weren’t in a prison.

Hurt too much. What about writing for catharsis? I questioned my subjectivity, which I lumbered around while trying to hide it—could my own insistence to not use catharsis also stem from a fear of hurting? Was it about pain or about image? About art? About refining?

My writing and counseling worlds collided, and consideration of my student’s question was necessary.

Within my first few weeks of learning counseling theories and techniques, I easily adhered to the word, “phenomenological,” and the concept of the subjective reality in which each of us operates in the world. Our internal framework. Each person perceives their Truth from a separate, conscious mind. Writers and readers momentarily occupy the minds of others. But even stories are clipped snapshots of a phenomenological reality. Salience-focused movie-reel slides. Refined and revised to show a subjective experience.

After doing a mock therapy session, I noticed more parallels between writing and therapy: themes and patterns, language-fixation, subjective realities; meaning and feeling; images and metaphors.

As a counselor, though, I am no longer writer but rather reader of these salience-focused, sometimes refined/rehearsed, sometimes unfiltered/uncensored, mini-snapshots into clients’ phenomenological worlds. Their experiences. Their internal frameworks. While I can never fully inhabit each client’s consciousness and understand every nuance of their being, I can piecemeal their themed stories to better understand—to better connect with our shared humanity.

Woo woo? I sure hope so.

In counseling, there are various change processes applied to differing theoretical approaches including consciousness raising, choosing, catharsis, contingency control, and conditioned stimuli.

Often, therapy involves raising the awareness of those seeking help. Often, therapy involves choice—sometimes outside of decision. Often, therapy involves pairing stimuli. Often, therapy involves behavior/thought management.

Often—therapy involves catharsis.

Even within some counseling circles, the use of catharsis can elicit that same negative connotation I had applied with writing. Is it bad to write from a source of emotion? Of pain? Is it inferior to use a healing process based in releasing repressed emotions? Is it inferior to find relief? Is it unrefined and unsophisticated to write with catharsis? Is there valence at all?

Am I asking the right questions?

Then there’s my student’s question. How do you write without it hurting too much?

Should it not hurt? Hurt. Hurt. Hurt.

The healing process—whether attributed to counseling change processes, writing processes, reading processes, revision processes, whatever process—appears to be just that: a process.

What You Know GraphCould we quality mongers be searching for The Thing when we should be along for the active, growing journey? Is my subjectivity showing?

This realization—that maybe there is more than a black and white answer—showed me how truly youthfully unknowing I had been. And that was okay. In class, I have learned, that “you don’t know what you don’t know, until you know.”

With writing—and with healing—sometimes the consciousness raising and choosing occur alongside the cathartic journey, which includes sometimes pain and sometimes relief and sometimes emotion and sometimes ugly, messy beginnings. Shitty first drafts.

For me, writing derives from a self-actualizing delight in understanding another human’s phenomenological world, in rewriting my own, and in recognizing the holistic nuances of being human.

The Process no longer appears linear. Rather, aspects of catharsis may occur in all stages of writing, revising, and editing. Consciousness raising continually occurs—and thank goodness it does—and my thoughts, behaviors, and values continue to interplay within my counseling, my writing, and my way of being.

Slightly more aware, slightly less insecure, slightly less snobbish, slightly more honest, I see less fog in actively writing with sometimes cathartic beginnings and processes. I see the ways in which no three-pronged thesis could possibly support the dynamic writing and revision process and its human component.

There may be no perfect and mature answer to my student’s question. My awareness may only be raised slightly. This could be messy. But damn, it feels good.

The term, “Quality-Mongering,” can be credited to Christopher Greene.