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Day 136: What’s Your Problem? Or, Things That Happened to Young Eva

TODAY’S STATS:

# of literary mags submitted to: 0

# of agents queried: 1

writing progress made: I wrote this blog post, didn’t I?

other:  Here is a very short story I wrote on Burlesque Press

A few weeks ago I went to see my doctor with a long list of questions. I figured I might as well use my time in Massachusetts to take full advantage of their amazing health care system.

My doctor seemed mildly amused with my inane health concerns like “I seem to be getting a lot of bruises, but it might just be clumsiness – do you think I need to eat more red meat?” and “I think the weather is giving me headaches – is that possible, and what should I do about it?”

“What’s next on your list?” she asked, smiling gently.

“The last thing is, well…” I hesitated, feeling silly. “I read that Mass Health covers therapy, if your doctor recommends it, and I was just wondering…”

Her eyebrows shot upwards. “Do you need counseling services? Are you having some sort of issue I need to know about?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer. The truth was that I thought, since I’m doing all this self-exploration anyway, I might give therapy a try – just for the heck of it. Besides, all these other people I know have therapists – it sounds sort of fun.

She started pulling out some pamphlets about substance abuse, but I waved them away. “I don’t think I really need therapy,” I told her. “But, on the other hand, doesn’t everyone need therapy? I’m sure I have things I can work on, and I have some free time right now, so I thought maybe I should do it while I have the time.”

The doctor looked at me like I was insane – which was probably good. Insane people need therapy, and maybe now she would recommend me.

And she did.  She set me up with an appointment to see a social worker who will talk to me and find out what my problems are and then match me up with the appropriate therapist.

I told this to Paul while I was driving him back to the Boston airport last night. He laughed. “You’re the only person I know who wants to go to therapy for fun.”

He’s probably right.

 

Paul picking the sphinx's nose at St. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge

Paul picking the sphinx’s nose at St. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge

For the past ten years or so, every time something bad happens, I tell myself, “at least this will make a good story.” It’s been a way for me to deal with my own mistakes, too. I tell myself not to regret them because they provide me with great material. Just the other day, my friend Allyson emailed me saying she saw a sign that read, “Bad decisions make good stories.” Apparently it made her think of me.

The problem is, sometimes it’s really hard to write about these tough experiences. For years I wanted to write about my time teaching in a low-income high school in New Orleans. Fights, scandals, heartbreak. The infamous “Ms. Langston’s got small titties” song. Fourteen-year-old girls with babies. Kids stabbing each other in my class. And yet, for years, every time I sat down to write about it, my feelings from that year – anxiety and despair, mostly – fell like an anvil onto my brain, and my heart became so heavy I could hardly lift a finger to the keyboard.

I had to give myself time to process. Four years later, I was finally able to write a story about my first year teaching (this story), and even though the story is mostly true, I wrote it as if it were fiction. It was easier that way.

It also took me a long time to eke out a story about being in the hospital after lung surgery. I found that when I tried to write about it, I felt annoyed and depressed – just the way I had in the hospital.  I had to wait a few years, and even then I had to write about someone else being in the hospital under different circumstances.

But in both cases, I don’t doubt that the writing helped me. It was probably healthy to revisit those feelings. Instead of keeping them stoppered up inside, I let them leak out slowly onto the page.

 *   *   *

Recently I was telling Paul about my experience moving to LA at the age of nineteen and trying to become an actress. It’s a story I’ve told so often, it almost seems like it’s not about me anymore.

“It’s like I’m telling you a story about someone I once knew,” I said. “Young Eva. I feel like she’s a totally a different person than me.”

I guess, in a way, she is.

I’m sure we all have stories like this. Stories about ourselves, or things that happened to us, that we’ve told so many times it hardly seems like anything but a story. The memory has become sharper with each retelling, but perhaps descriptions have been added, or details have been changed. In a way, we fictionalize our own experiences.

And maybe that’s good sometimes. It’s a way of distancing ourselves from really rough times in our past.

Nikki talked to me about this once. About how she deals with traumas from her childhood by thinking about them objectively – like they happened to someone else entirely.  They are just stories about things that happened.  They are not who she is.

 *  *  *

In the car last night, I told Paul the issues I think I’ll try to work on in therapy. He’s a very good listener, and just telling him stories about my problems gave me a chance to revisit them and try to figure out how I feel about them now.

It made me wonder if I should go to therapy after all. I know what my issues are. And I know the best ways for me to work through them:  I need to write about them — to make them into stories.  Heck, this blog is practically like my public therapy session.

“Maybe I won’t actually get much out of therapy,” I admitted. “I already know what my problems are, and I sort of know how to work on them.”

But I’m still going to go, I think. Just for the fun of it.

 

Assignment:

#1 If you were going to go to therapy, what 3 issues would you work on? (If you are already in therapy, skip to #2)

#2 Write a slightly-fictionalized account of something scary or awful or embarrassing or sad that happened to you in the past.

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About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

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