|THE WRITING THERAPEUTIC EXPERIENCE
and Does Inspiration Always Come
By Raymond Fenech PhD I always knew that there was something special about being a writer, whether one conveyed messages in prose or poetic forms. Since aged 13, I started writing poetry and keeping a journal. I had heard someone say that writers are among the few who achieve immortality because what they think and say would be around long after they have crossed the lighted tunnel.Yet whenever inspiration forced my hand to take up pen and paper and to scribble my thoughts, I felt as if this information I was receiving was not entirely coming from inside my mind, but from beyond, as if it was channeled information. As I progressed and my writing capabilities became more refined, I was all the more convinced, because many times the best poems and extracts of writing came at such a speedy flow that I hardly had the time to know its significance contemporaneously whilst I jotted it down. Sometimes, it took a few readings before I could make any sense of what I wrote.Then as I went into academic writing, I learnt about automatic writing. This sounded very much a realistic phenomenon because it is used as a normal exercise by many writers and poets to fight writer’s block. It is also used to bring about higher awareness, which helps a writer dig further beyond the normal human perception. Unknowingly, free writing can trigger off a direct link with the higher self.Personally, I know this state of mind from experience because there have been times when I would drift into a spell-like trance, very much oblivious of what I was actually writing. The results often times have been very amazing. Similar to this, except that it happens when one is completely conscious is open channelling. For those who are not familiar with the paranormal:Open channeling is the reception of channeled information from a source that is unidentifiable. The information is from a dimension or level of reality other than the unconscious mind, the physical world, or one’s own psychological being. This is separate and distinct from receiving information by telepathic means, or clairvoyantly, clairaudiently, or similar. (Sources: Klimo, Jon: Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1987).Writing can be used as Self Therapy
When I embarked on my writing career aged 17, it hardly ever occurred to me that writing was actually therapeutic. What I knew at that time was that I enjoyed putting words together, expressing myself and letting it all out. I also seemed to think that poets were privileged because of their great capability of observation, sensitivity and a determination to change the world. That was over 44 years ago and it all seems like yesterday. In those days, I was at an age when I could easily be hurt by the afflictions of young love and all I know was that each time my heart was broken in shards, I used to feel better each time I resorted to writing. Sometimes I wrote in my daily diary and sometimes I wrote poems, most of which were then highly influenced by my favourite poet, John Keats. Whilst other young people of my age had rock bands as idols, my idol was this poet who was everything I would have wanted to be. He was as courageous as he was good with words and when I read about how once he beat up a bully who was kicking a puppy, he won me over heart and soul.Hardly realizing what a huge struggle becoming a journalist and a poet was going to be, I set off chomping at the bit with more determination than ever. I was then attending science classes, but we still had English Language as one of the main subjects, something I excelled in. One day, when I was still 13, we were given an essay to write on the subject, Snowstorm. I went about it very seriously and came out with almost a short novel. My English teacher, Kay called me aside after class and very simply, in her softly spoken voice told me that I should reconsider and perhaps change to arts and language classes. I did this at a great cost, because my parents were not in the least bit amused by my decision and I don’t blame them because in those times, journalism was not considered as a profession and becoming a writer or a poet was more like wishing to travel to the moon and back. Finding a job with one of the only four existing newspapers was wishful thinking, but in the end I managed to work for the leading English newspaper, The Times of Malta. So the dream I was the only one to believe in finally came true.Learning How to write Poetry the Hard WayIn those days, there were no computers and since I was determined to publish my poems abroad, I had to find a way to reach editors of relevant publications that would be interested in reading my work. I found out that there was a poetry publishing guide, The Writer’s Handbook, which I ordered every year from a local book shop and embarked on the difficult task of studying the market and trying to write in a professional way, good enough to persuade editors to read rather than place my submissions in their bin. I also joined the Poetry Society of the UK and other literary organizations, subscribing to several magazines from which I started to learn without any guidance the art of writing poetry.Creative Writing in those days was still a far cry from becoming a profession and to date, the situation has remained status quo in schools, colleges and even the University in Malta. It was quite a task sending numerous submissions by snail mail and waiting sometimes for many months, even years for a reply. I received enough rejections to plaster my whole study, but then the occasional acceptance came as well and eventually I started winning the odd second, or third prize in small press writing competitions.As I wrote more and more poetry, I started to realize that the way inspiration seems to come to the poet was in fact like a sort of miracle. It was like a trans- state of mind that bequeathed lines full of words that at times I hardly realized I was actually writing. Then I came to the conclusion that poetry comes from the spirit, the very depth of the human soul. Hence, why, it is so perfect and divine. Perhaps it is also the reason why poetry can help man to stay human as American poetess May Swenson once stated. Every poet is only allowed to write a little portion of this poetry and this is a privilege in itself.Poetry is the only form of art that can actually serve as a constant reminder that there is more to life than the eye can see. Keats claimed he was God’s spy. American poet Gregory Corso wrote: So I will conclude with the feeling that the poet today must be unlike the poet; he cannot be a discriminator between heart and soul, flesh and spirit, beauty and ugliness, truth and untruth – he stands merely a man, a man who feels that he is but the guardian of the human consciousness, and that when he dies there will be another poet to take his relay, that the consciousness grow ever more perfect, and man ever more human, and life ever more total. Plato defines the poet as, A light and winged and holy thing. Poetry strikes when you least expect it. It is a lightning inspiration that must be vented forth from the system. It froths and bubbles; it kicks the poet to a higher level of consciousness and makes him the number one human observer, with extremely sharp hyperactive senses, volatile, almost spiritual. Poetry is a bridge between mankind and everything else. It calls as loud as silence and no poet can refuse to be the medium.Poetry is the strength, the fiber behind humaneness, sensitivity and the greatest privilege endowed on men, his spirit. Without poetry men would be missing an important link, that which makes them complete, in full synchronization and one with nature, the environment and last but not least, the soul.If man is to regain his humane state, then poetry must become an integral part of his life and poets must be given more credit and respect.How the World can regain its Love for Poetry and AwarenessFor this to happen, children must be taught how to love and appreciate poetry. Most children dread even the mentioning of the word, poetry. Most young people literally hate poetry and those who don’t, are indifferent to the art. America’s poet Laureate Rita Dove once said she intended to change this situation in her country. In an interview, she had stressed she wanted to set Americans at ease with poetry, especially those bored by the whole subject during school days. They’ve been frightened away either through some luckless encounter in the school system where they were required to … interpret it first, let’s say, instead of learning to enjoy it first.I would add on to that statement that critics and academics have contributed a great deal towards rendering poetry so unpopular. Publishers on the other hand have become the nightmare for all aspiring writers because they have turned the industry into a parochial system. Some publish books because of the name of the author, not the content. If the author is well known it becomes easier for them to market and sell his book quickly. One book publicist in the UK who has been on the job for decades actually told me even literary agents have become very snobbish and won’t even bother to look at a Manuscript, never mind represent a new author.From experience, this is unfortunately the realistic scene of the publishing world today. I have written to several literary agents myself in the past, following their submission protocol to the letter, but their ego seems to block their vision to the point, they think they are so aloof and above us mere mortals that they don’t even have the courtesy to reply. Some even have the gall to inform you that they will answer only if they like your chapter samples and when you have proven yourself as being a very good writer, it really looks quite strange, perhaps even crooked that they don’t even send a reply. To me it seems more likely they didn’t even read the sample chapters because they are being kept in business by the usual members belonging to their parochial system.Then we wonder why aspiring writers have been forced into the vanity publishing world because let’s face it, vanity publishing and subsidy publishing means the same thing. If you pay to be published, you will never be sure that you are a good writer and most certainly the book was not published because your writing capability merited being showcased. Of course, there are the exceptions, but one must be realistic and to find one of these exceptions would be like winning the national lottery.Discovering Writing/Poetry therapyIt had always been my dream to undertake a degree in creative writing and in a desperate attempt to regain some of that joy of living, which I was losing quickly due to the cancer I was battling and the devastating side effects of chemotherapy, I enrolled for an online BA degree. Throughout my life as a child and eventually as a young man, my dad used to tell me that, everything happens for a purpose, even the worse thing one can think of – if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. Well that dictum was about to come true. I was also about to realize that poetry/writing can be used to cure people with depressions, something that I had only experienced earlier as a boy who was in love with some dream girl.As I was deciding what theme to choose for my thesis, I was going through some books on Amazon books and came across one on poetry therapy. It was entitled, The Healing Word, by Fiona Samson. I didn’t know what the subject was all about, but on reading the book I became more intrigued and curious and decided to base my research on poetry therapy and use it for my bachelor’s degree short thesis. One thing very much led to the other and suddenly I found myself wanting to undertake a basic course in poetry therapy, simply to be able to know the subject better and to be able to present my thesis in a more professional way.Most of the replies from the institutions that taught this subject listed in the book were very discouraging, because the fees for such courses ran into thousands of dollars and at that time, I simply couldn’t afford that kind of money. There was one particular institution I decided to write back to after I was given all the details about the course, including the tuition fees. I felt the course organized deserved to know the truth. So I told her there was nothing better I would wish for but I could not enroll because I just couldn’t afford it. I confessed I was fighting cancer and my future was uncertain.In 2008, a few weeks after I had emailed my reply, out of the blues, I received a letter from The Creative ‘Righting’ Center of New York informing me that I was being awarded a scholarship in writing therapy. My mentor was none other than Prof Sherry Reiter, a creative arts therapist and licensed clinical social worker. Prof Reiter is a Poetry Therapist/ Mentor-Supervisor (PTR/MS) as designated by the National Association for Poetry Therapy (NAPT) and Registered Drama Therapist/Board Certified Trainer (RDT/BCT) as designated by the National Association for Drama Therapy (NADT).Now, I know for a fact that writing, in which ever form it comes, gives the holder of the talent that extra surge of superhuman strength, which makes one want to move forward, allowing the inner spirit to guide him forth. It is perhaps because the power of the mind prevails even more over a serious life -threatening situation especially when one is at death’s door. Poets and writers never give up the fight knowing that no one can take their immortality away from them, because everything they write during their lifetime will always remain as a legacy, no matter what, for generations still to come.So most teenage suicides, drug and alcohol addictions could probably be avoided if every young man who feel vulnerable to the jungle we live in can find solace and as Dr Reiter rightly puts it, Exorcise his demons by venting his anger at anything that is giving him grief or pain by writing his feeling in a journal in prose or poetry forms, or even write a letter to the person or persons that are making his life difficult. I have tried it and I can tell you that at 14, I often used to think about suicide but then I turned to my diary and vented my anger inside it. I didn’t have to face people and embarrass myself confessing my most intimate thoughts, or risk someone laughing at such ‘trivial’ tribulations. In fact, this is the reason why some young people drown themselves in their sorrows and keep it all cooped up inside them. That kind of grief brings frustration, and psychological pain that makes them often turn to drugs and alcohol, hoping these would momentarily solve their problems by numbing that pain. It only works for a short while and when addiction kicks in another even bigger problem is created, preventing the victim from thinking straight and forcing him to see his life as worthless and not worth living.Therapeutic journaling keeps your mind alert and creative and once you get ‘addicted’ to writing by starting to do this exercise for a few minutes every day, you will find that the answers to your problems are all in your own writing. Once you exorcise the pain inside your mind, you feel as if a weight has been lifted off your chest and you will sleep like a baby. As time passes, you will read back what you wrote and realize that some of the problems were either self-made, angry over-reactions and things which might even have been so frivolous that you actually end up smiling and thinking it was really much ado about nothing.Writing helps you face your inner most problems, or your inner self and the one thing you must never do is sweep those problems under the carpet hoping they will go away on their own. They won’t, they will come back to haunt you. But if you put them under the spotlight by highlighting them in your writing, dissecting each one and looking closer, you will find that they are not that impossible to deal with after all. You will also learn that to every problem there is always a solution, no matter how enormous a task it might seem at that time when it starts to bother you. Whatever you do, problems must never be kept inside – and once you solve one, you’ll be ready to solve the rest that we all have to face on our short journey on earth.Suicide is the most selfish thing one can do, especially to his loved ones. I know because I went through it myself when a very close family member decided to commit suicide when I was still 17 years old. She was my aunt, but more like a second mother to me. I spent most of my childhood and my youth with her. When she passed away, I never came to terms with her death and I often still find myself in situations when I feel angry at her for leaving us the way she did, at a time when we really needed her. To this very day I also blame myself for not realizing in time what was going on in her mind and keep thing that if I had, I could have made this horrific deed go away. Killing oneself is the easiest way out, but always remember that those who love you will have to live the rest of their lives fighting the continuous grief that will stay with them till death. And living with that, I can assure you is worse than death itself. About the Author:Raymond Fenech embarked on his writing career as a freelance journalist at 18 and worked for the leading newspapers, The Times and Sunday Times of Malta. He edited two nation-wide distributed magazines and his poems, articles, essays and short stories have been featured in several publications in 12 countries. He is the author of two books: “The Incident of the Mysterious Priest and Other Stories,” (2016) and “Growing With the Shadows” (2018). His research on ghosts has appeared in The International Directory of the Most Haunted Places, published by Penguin Books, USA.