When I first started Confessions…

October 15, 2012

When I first started Confessions, I was gleeful. After poetry, writing prose was like getting out of school. A friend had been talking about a play she was writing in which her mother was the speaker and central character. I was intrigued at the idea of speaking in the voice of a person I knew rather than one I created. I’d tried it as an exercise early on in my writing career when I decided to try to write in the voice of my older brother, my nemesis, who incidently appears as antagonist in Confessions. The result was the poem that follows–entitled “The 2:30 Bus”. That experience surprised and changed me. I suddenly felt empathy for the person who tormented me. He too was vulnerable.

But I had gone beyond writing a single poem or prose piece by the time I started Confessions; my projects had become book-length. Who would I write about? Whose voice would I hear? Who did I possibly know well enough to speak their words? Then one day, out of nowhere, I sat down at my computer, and Joan at 12 started to speak. And could she talk!  She didn’t stop for another two months. She had something to say about everything and everyone. She had a very distinctive tone, very colloquial speech, didn’t care about punctuation or grammar, but was otherwise extremely obsessive. Suddenly I was recording—what actually felt like channeling –this young girl who had my name, my face and my experiences. This girl who never revealed how she felt. Remarkably, I was just getting to know her–this girl who never spoke to me/herself or anyone about what troubled or haunted her. She just plowed through her life never admitting to the feelings that were a natural accompaniment to the circumstances of that life. I became the pen who recorded her words. I didn’t interfere, didn’t pull her back or plead with her to stop repeating herself. She just talked and talked and talked and I typed and typed and typed. I was possessed. And she was in charge. She was with me every day at all hours. And I was happy. Very very happy to hear her. Whenever I sat down at the computer she was there waiting. Interestingly enough, this was the first time in my writing life that I wrote on the computer. Before that –life was all about poems and writing free hand in my notebook, more likely on bits of paper, anything I could find at the time –napkins, envelopes, matchbooks, the empty pages at the back of books I was reading. I only moved to the computer in revision.

The experience of listening and getting to know the young Joan has been an exhilarating one. I refer to her in the third person rather than the first because she is a new character for me, a new friend. To have locked away so much of what she knew and felt about the people, events and circumstances of her life, left her and me with just biographical data—a lot of information about the who and what of her life but next to nothing about the internal emotional turmoil that that reeked. I feel as if I have finally connected to the young girl that I was and in fact have just met her—perhaps in the way a person with Multiple Personality Disorder feels about meeting and finally integrating their many selves. It’s a rather remarkable experience. Once again my writer and psychologist selves are in tandem –colluding to confront and thereby enrich my life in ways I never knew were necessary. Let’s hear it for the wisdom of our passions!!!


About Joan Cusack Handler

Joan Cusack Handler is a poet and memoirist, and a psychologist in clinical practice. Her poems have been widely published and have received awards from The Boston Review and five Pushcart nominations. More »

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