The baggage we carry, the haunts we endure

Writing is not easy. Not the wordsmithing, where we construct dazzling sentences and paragraphs that keep our readers turning pages. Not the research, that threatens to make us work for every letter we put down or drags us from the safety of our comfort zones. And certainly not the courage it takes to be honest, not only with the reader, but with ourselves. This is where it starts. Inner courage, breeds honesty, begetting credibility.

Tracy Ross illustrates this in an article I recently read. In “The Source Of All Things” (Backpacker Magazine, December 2007), Ross revisits a horrible burden she has lived with for years: her molestation by her step-father. She was eight when it began. It was 1979 and though she escaped from the cause, she never escaped the pain. Ross’s article captures her return to the initial encounter, to Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. But she is not alone. She has returned with her step-father, with whom she has managed to salvage a relationship with after the despicable things he has done. Together they’ll return to the campsite where he first touched her while she slept, innocent and unaware. Ross has four questions she wants to ask him. Four questions that will help her understand the pain that has plagued her.

I was in awe of this woman’s strength and courage. She was able to not only delve into a part of her life that most of us who would rather lock away, but she was going to publish it. She was going to share her story with the reading public, with strangers. I believe that most people would be scared, embarrassed, ashamed, and angry. And that would stop us. Ross, I am sure felt most of those emotions at one point or another, but wrote her story anyway. Often, these brutally honest depictions into our own lives make for the best writing. We all have secrets. Skeletons. Shadows on our life. How many of us are willing to throw off our cloaks of security and stand naked in the middle of town? I imagine that writing the story was a bit of therapy for Ross, but still…it takes guts to open the door of her life for the public to tromp through, read and remark.

Perhaps even more than her courage to write the story, was her ability to relive it. With HIM. To be fair, they had reconciled years past and the dark events were now just hauntings. (And that in itself is pretty significant, her ability to forgive him). But, to go back WITH him to the spot where it all started, their campsite in the mountains, was unbelievable. Tracy Ross exemplifies what Ralph Keyes (The Courage to Write) takes aim at in his book, this ability to open ourselves up, as writers,  for inspection, criticism, reaction and judgment.

Ross has demonstrated that although writing is not easy, it is achievable. We, as writers, must find the courage to trust ourselves and the strength to be honest.