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.

#ArtLitPhx: Night of the Open Door on Polytechnic Campus

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#ArtLitPhx: Night of the Open Door – Trajectories

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Trajectories: an open talk about the many paths to becoming a writer.

trajectoriesCome listen to a panel discussion about some of the career trajectories that are available for English graduates on Friday, February 19th at ASU’s Polytechnic Campus Night of the Open Door. Superstition Review will be hosting this event in partnership with Four Chambers, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Mesa Community College, and Combs High School.
The panel will be free and open to the public in the UNION, Cooley Ball Room at Polytechnic Campus from 6 pm to 7:30 pm. Q & A will be welcome.
Meet the panel:

IMG_3217 (2)Gary Joshua Garrison is a prose editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and appeared in or is forthcoming from Southwest ReviewMoon City ReviewThe McNeese ReviewWord RiotGigantic Sequins, and others. He lives in Arizona with his wife and their two torpid cats.

Jess Burnquist received her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Arizona State University. Her wunnamedork has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry ReviewPersonaThe Washington Post, Salon, Jezebel, GOOD Magazine, Education Weekly, Time and various online journals. She is a recipient of the Joan Frazier Memorial Award for the Arts at ASU. Jess currently teaches English and Creative Writing in San Tan Valley and has been honored with a Sylvan Silver Apple Award for teaching. She resides in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area with her husband, son, and daughter. Links to her most recent work are available at www.jessburnquist.com.

image (1)Patrick Michael Finn is the author of the novella A Martyr for Suzy Kosasovich and the short story collection From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet.  He teaches writing at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

 Jake Friedman is the Founder and Editor iKaren Loschiavo 02n Chief of an independent community literary journal and small press based in Phoenix, AZ called Four Chambers. He is also; drinking coffee (as the picture would indicate); a waiter and sometimes bartender at an unnamed casual-upscale restaurant (the restaurant being unnamed to protect it’s identity, not actually unnamed); working on a long-form experimental prose manuscript titled The Waiter Explains (no coincidence with his current profession, he swears; long-form experimental prose being a pretentious way of saying novel, even though he has legitimate reasons for doing so involving narrative perspective and deep structure he still feels pretentious). http://fourchamberspress.com.

color headshotJessica Marie Fletcher serves as the current Superstition Review Student Editor-in-Chief and was fiction editor for issue 16. She studies creative writing, psychology, and family and human development in the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. She has worked as an Opinion Columnist for The State Press, and one of her short stories has been featured in LUX Undergraduate Creative Review.

Marooned Undergraduate Creative Review

Superstition Review does not accept undergraduate submissions. Lux Undergraduate Creative Review does publish undergraduate work, but the submission deadline for their annual issue passed in November. So what’s an ASU undergraduate writer currently seeking publication to do?

Consider sending your work to Marooned, a small ASU magazine supported by the internal Internship Program for ASU’s English Department. Much like Superstition Review, Marooned gives undergraduate student interns hands-on experience in publishing a literary magazine. Unlike Superstition Review, Marooned solely publishes work by ASU undergraduates, and unlike Lux, they publish biannually. Marooned is now accepting submissions of poetry, fiction, art, and essays until April 1, 2010 for publication in their Fall 2010 issue. Head over to www.asumarooned.net for more information.

Call for Submissions: Lux Undergraduate Creative Review

Did you know that, though Superstition Review doesn’t accept submissions from ASU’s undergraduate population, there’s a creative journal out there featuring the fresh talent of promising students?

Lux, now accepting submissions until October 15, is looking for work in all genres to be considered for the release of their sixth annual issue, due out in Spring semester. The print magazine features fiction, nonfiction, poetry, film, music, and art, all which can be submitted either by email or in-person at the Main Campus in Tempe. It is a wonderful collection each term because the editors are passionate about their work and embody the spirit of Lux, where they value originality, individuality, artistry, diversity, and passion, and want to see that brought out in the works they receive from the undergraduate body.

Don’t forget to apply, undergrads, and we hope to see your work featured in the future issue!

Lux Undergraduate Creative Review’s Submission Guidelines

Others of Significance

virgina g. piper writers house

Virginia G. Piper’s Writers House on Tempe Campus is among the main writing hubs of Arizona State University.

As you may have noticed, our blogroll has just been updated. If not, take a look to the side of this column and observe our two links to other Arizona State University publications, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Lux Undergraduate Creative Review. As one of the largest schools in the United States, we are also lucky to have such a diverse and spanning writing climate between these three publications. Each of our fellow publications inhabits a different niche, and we here at Superstition Review encourage you to check them out.

While Superstition Review is a national literary publication, Hayden’s Ferry Review has expanded to an international scope. They accept works not only from locally based creative individuals, but also from writers abroad and digital recordings, with a specialty section devoted to works in non-English languages and their translations. Hayden’s Ferry Review releases two issues a year, much like our own Review, and their next submission deadline is Februrary 28th, 2009. Their current issue is themed on the grotesque, and may contain sensitive topics.

Lux Undergraduate Creative Review is a publication specializing on the works of undergraduate students at Arizona State University (like myself). Lux accepts exclusively the written works of ASU students from all campuses, as well as music and art. If you are an ASU undergraduate student, you are invited to submit your work–but be sure to do so soon, as Lux‘s next submission deadline is October 26th, 2008. Lux is published once a year, every spring. Especially unique to Lux are their contests, their last one having specialized in flash fiction.