Upon her death, we cracked them open, my sisters and I. Perusing the perfect penmanship, we searched for secrets. Nothing.
Mom’s diaries were brief recitations of the factual events of the day. “Cultivator broke down. Drove pickup to town for replacement part. Stopped for groceries and gas. Tammy is in labor and we should have a new calf by morning.”
That’s it. Facts. Not a feeling to be found. They were boring!
My childhood diaries weren’t much better.
But ten years ago, I began writing with a group that incorporated research by James Pennebaker, the head of the psychology department at the University of Texas. He learned that expressive writing, describing both the facts and our emotional reaction to the most difficult events of our lives, led to increased health.
His studies with college students have been duplicated with job-seekers (who found jobs faster), postpartum moms, medical students, victims of crime, maximum security prisoners, and those with asthma, AIDS and chronic pain. Each population saw increases in their health and well-being after the expressive writing.
As I wrote with this group, I began to express emotions I had long kept stuffed. I wrote about walking away from my 20-year career to take care of my family. I wrote about burying both parents after their back-to-back battles with cancer. I wrote about my own battles.
After two years, another group member said to me, ”I’ve noticed you’re writing about happier things lately.” She was right.
And I knew it was time to take this great gift and give it to others. I trained as a writing leader and have been leading writing groups ever since.
I’ve seen the power of expressive writing in my life. I depend on it.
And someday, when my children crack open my stack of notebooks, they will find the chronicle of my life overflowing with messy emotions, exploratory thoughts, and triumphant discoveries.
Of this I am certain: it won’t be boring!
Marcia Davis-Cannon leads a writing group, Uncover Your Narrative, at Deborah’s Palm on Tuesdays, 2:30-4:30pm. Drop-ins are welcome.