“A Writer’s Socks” © 2018 photograph by C. Malchiodi, PhD
Source: © C. Malchiodi, PhD
Like many individuals who write for the public on platforms like Psychology Today, I have had my share of insulting and disturbing emails and comments. I have been actually quite fortunate to only have the occasional laugh-out-loud memos from Internet trolls who cannot correctly spell sexual terminology to save their lives. But a few weeks ago I was shaken to the core with a barrage of hate-laden, violence-ridden threatening emails. They happened to arrive around the time of the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony concerning Brett Kavanaugh to the US Senate. Was that planned for this female writer or was it a coincidence? I will likely never know the answer to that question. Just the fact that these emails arrived during that emotionally-raw time period did not help my distress level. But it did cause me to really think about why I write and why I will continue to write, no matter what.
As a matter of disclosure, writing is not easy for me. Some of you may be surprised, but as a young adult I was told I should steer away from writing because I just did not have the skill set for it. When an authority figure tells you that at a young age, you take it as truth. So I moved on to Plan B and I embraced my inner Bohemian, studying painting, design, filmmaking, conceptual art and performance. I share this because I am an example that proves it is possible to conquer your “writing demons.” My good fortune is that for 25 years, several New York publishers and their editorial staffs have patiently been supporting me in that quest. It is my personal miracle that I managed to produce 20 books with translations in eighteen languages and it is one a heck of an unlikely story. It allowed me to write about everything in life that has held my passion —expressive arts, play and imagination, psychotherapy, mind/body, wellness and trauma-informed practice. There is no amount of gratitude I can express to those who have lifted me up along the way to make all things “word-wise” possible.
Writing does not come easy for me for other reasons, too. I can think about an idea or concept for months and even years before I start to write a book, frustrating my editors and publishers to the point of insanity. That is because my goal is not to write yet another book or entertain a particular audience; for me, it is a process of using words to clarify something I want to understand more deeply and to tease out the truth. This process has led me to become sort of an iconoclast in some fields, including my core field of art therapy. I probably am best known to my peers for writing about art therapy’s often precarious ground as a profession and its lack of identifiable efficacy. I have also not been afraid to confront the profession when its actions in the age of #Resist have been, in my opinion, less than heroic. For this reason, I already know that the next book I am working on—expressive arts and trauma—will cause the herd to become restless once again. But I am writer, I will do it anyway.
To be honest with those of you who want to write, one has to be in love with writing to have what it takes to keep going, to pour yourself onto a legal pad or face the computer screen almost every day. It’s pretty lonely at times and no amount of dark chocolate, caffeine or substance of choice will ring up the muse or save you from wanting to throw the laptop out of the window and take a swan dive with it. So you have to have a source of motivation. Erica Jong [Fear of Flying fame] offers a simple, compelling reason about why writers write. “The truth is we write for love,” she said because it is the only way to counter the labor-intense work of the craft that comes with little financial gain and often merciless criticism.
My motivation has always come from a more idiosyncratic source— I love what other writers write. I literally fall in love with writers whose words move me. Whether they write about the arts, psychotherapy, neurobiology, trauma, philosophy or fiction, their words are inspiration for my evolving craft of using words to make a point. Beautifully constructed phrases melt me; add in authenticity to a sentence and I am liquified. Carlos Castaneda could have been a difficult man for all I know, but I could have easily run away with him at age 15 years when I first read his works. I am still deeply in love with the words of Isak Dinesen, Carl Sagan, Ray Bradbury, Oliver Sacks, Gabriel García Márquez, Shakespeare and countless others. I will not name the mad crushes I have on living writers [many of whom I know personally] to spare all of you the embarrassment. Just know that you have made it imaginable for me to say “I am a writer” and helped me to walk onward and be fearless, even when next word or phrase seems impossible to manifest.
So whoever is trying to intimidate those of us who write for the public as journalists, columnists or bloggers, understand that you will never break us. We are intrepid and we cherish our freedom of speech above all else. For me, Joan Didion sums up “why I write” by observing, “I write to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” And I will add, I write because I am deeply in love with the beauty of well-chosen words and those who write them.