… [Lynda Barry] told a story about the neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran, who helps patients experiencing phantom-limb pain. Barry discussed one patient who felt that his missing left hand was clenched in a fist and could never shake the discomfort — could never “unclench” it.
So Ramachandran used a mirror box — a compartment into which the patient could insert his right hand and see it reflected at the end of his left arm. “And Ramachandran said, ‘Open your hands.’ And the patient saw this” — Barry opened two clenched fists in unison. “That’s what I think images do.
“I think that in the course of human life,” she continued softly, “we have events that cause” — she clenched her fist and held it up, inspecting it from all angles. “Losing your parents might cause it. Or a war. Or things going bad in a family.”
The only way to open that fist, she said, is to see your own trouble reflected in an image, as the patient saw his hand reflected in a mirror. It might be a story you write, or a book you read, or a song that means the world to you. “And then?” She opened her hand and waved.
I read this article about Lynda Barry – who became a writing and creativity teacher when the market for her comic strips dried up.
I was pretty troubled in college – and whenever people (people like the other girls in my eating disorders recovery group, for instance) would suggest to me that writing was therapeutic for me – I thought this idea was bullshit at best.
However, I do think writing has a cathartic quality – not in a confessional, I’m-making-my-audience-my-therapists! way. Rather, in the way Barry describes above.
If something has caused you to close, cave in, get smaller – writing about it, creating around it, reflecting it in the world again and again – gets you bigger again.