I recently purchased a book entitled Writing and Being: Taking Back Our Lives Through the Power of Language from the clearance section of my local Half Price Book store. When I first flipped through the book, the language seemed a little flowery, but for $1, I figured I could find something useful out of it.
As I whipped through the introduction, something seemed very familiar about this style of writing. I know I hadn’t read the book before, but as I skimmed through the book, I realized that I’d already been subjected to half of the writing exercises in this book. This book undoubtedly was the basis for roughly 60% of my senior year English class. And I had hated 100 % of it.
Senior year English was my least favorite class I ever had in high school. I can safely say I preferred calculus, where I was barely hanging onto a B and ran home to cry my eyes out after nearly failing the first quarter term exam, over senior year English. My teacher, Mrs. Bradner, was very into journaling and “exploring your emotions”. That is, exploring your emotions out loud – in front of the class – in a feather circle.
Most of her curriculum was born out of a college journaling class that over 5 years later, still made an impression in her life. “It’s so freeing” she used to tell the class. “People used to share their journals and have emotional breakthroughs all the time. We went through so much Kleenex in that class”.
Minutes before our first class feather circle, she then regaled the class with yet another testimonial about the power of sharing your past traumas in front of a group of people. In the previous school year, one poor kid began sharing about how his father left their family when he was only 5 years old, and this boy bawled his eyes out in front of the class.
According to Mrs. Bradner, this was “such a beautiful experience. The raw emotion that came out from him was so powerful. I could tell it was something he had kept bottled up for years.”
I thought this was crap. Who was she to dredge up awful memories? Was she a trained psychologist? Did she know how to guide a broken person through the recollection of a painful memory?
Every time we did a feather circle, I only shared humorous memories of my youth. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t shake the image of some high school boy sniffling through his beet red nose with tears running down his puffy cheeks. I could imagine that the rest of the class probably dulled down into an awkward silence. But what happened to him later? Did the other kids tease him? Did they pity him? Did they ignore him? Or did they actually empathize with him? Did he regret sharing that memory at that moment or did it empower him?
I didn’t have a problem with journaling or the idea of exploring your emotions. After all, isn’t writing a way to explore thoughts and feelings in different contexts? What I took issue with was the constant push to share one’s deepest and most painful experiences in front of one’s peers. Most of the class felt the same way I did. Nobody really wanted to share any deep, dark memories with anyone else in the class.
Mrs. Bradner didn’t seem to understand the difference between being a college kid and choosing to participate in a class where this type of sharing is the norm, and being a high school kid without any say into whose class the district computer placed you in for a required credit. When I brought this up with her, she gently suggested that I should transfer to another English class. At that point, I knew she would never understand my viewpoint.
When I realized this book was the cause of my painful high school memories, my first instinct was to run to Goodwill and throw it in the donation box. Instead, I’ve decided to hang onto it. I’m curious to see how closely my old English teacher stayed to the intended purpose of this author’s approach to writing.
In a future post, I’ll describe my thoughts of this book, and compare it to how these concepts were presented to me over ten years ago.