Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy life to reply. I hope you don’t mind my continuing this conversation.
Indeed, stories have meaning whether or not they ever achieve a final shape. I have survived experiences that would otherwise be deadly (either physically or emotionally…or both) because my effort to give shape to them through writing has been my primary coping strategy. In a way, it doesn’t even matter whether that writing gets published. Publication of those stories becomes important to me mainly because I believe others might find them helpful toward their own survival — which is why, as I feel “time’s winged chariot drawing near,” I am compelled to finally finish some of the work gathering both literal dust in my filing cabinets and figurative dust on my hard drive.
The oft-repeated claim that “writing is not therapy” rings hollow to me precisely because I would not be alive today were it not for my writing. The process of turning life experiences into art (or trying to) is the means by which I give shape to (and become author rather than victim of) what otherwise would be deadly chaos.
No doubt you also appreciate the fact that reading can be therapeutic as well. Throughout my life I have sought stories — primarily memoirs and biographies, but also fiction — that spoke to whatever crises (and moments of pleasure) I was struggling with at the time. Those stories substituted the “mother” I needed for the mother I had — the mother who could never understand me, nor teach me what I needed to know, because she believed her role was to teach me to conform to the conventional expectations of womanhood, enabling me find and keep a husband who would take care of me. (Many of the contradictions of my own life derive from both listening to and rejecting her advice…simultaneously.)
Of course, no story on any bookstore or library shelf was ever fully satisfactory to me, because the memoir I kept searching for was my own. (See more on the subject in my rather clumsily titled epistolary essay, The Falsehood of the Memoir as Narcissism Trope.)
Incidentally, I became acquainted with your work through Hiroshima in the Morning. I was drawn to it for two reasons — the subject, and the unfair negative response you received to your having left your children with their father while you lived in Japan to do the research for it. (More on the motherhood controversy and my personal story on the subject another time.)
From my essay, The Legacy of Nagasaki:
I was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico, on the third anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. My father was a member of the team of physicists who assisted J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller in the development of the nuclear bomb. My symbolic connection to those events has haunted me most of my life, but it occupied me particularly as I began to confront the contradictions of my father’s past, and the disremembered story of what there was between us.
Ultimately, in the process of re-visiting an essay written (and published!) in 1989 I became acutely aware of the structural connections between my essay, The Legacy of Nagasaki, and my efforts to heal from the devastating impact of my father’s sexual abuse. I firmly believe that the key to the darkness that my father suffered in those early years of my life, and the likely explanation for his sexual perversities during that time, can be found in his deep feelings of guilt over his participation in the development of the H-bomb.
Yes, I am shamelessly promoting my own writing here…but at age 70 I must disregard the etiquette I learned on my mother’s knee to compensate for all the years I hid my work in file drawers and on my hard drive waiting until I got the stories “just right.”
I hope you don’t mind!