Writing as Self Development
The integrative function of the creative process.
Posted Jul 18, 2017
Almost 15 years ago, when I was in the midst of dealing with my mother’s worsening dementia, I started writing about the experience. I wrote about going to the emergency room; bringing her to an assisted living facility for the first time; going shopping at Loehman’s; buying her an ice cream; and moving her from the assisted living facility to a nursing home. I had done a great deal of writing as a sociologist and psychoanalyst, but that was for professional journals. Now I was writing about my personal experience—something I had always wanted to do, but never had. Professional writing and writing in first person seemed worlds apart, but I wanted to heal that division. I decided integrate my own experience with those of 50 other caregivers across the country. The process of interviewing other caregivers and writing about their experiences was transformative. Writing the book necessitated processing both their struggles with guilt, ambivalence, regret, and loss and my own. The result was: Doing the Right Thing: Taking Care of Your Elderly Parents Even If They Didn’t Take Care of You. CLICK HERE FOR MORE.
Soon after the publication of Doing the Right Thing, my husband and I traveled to Mexico City for a brief visit. Having written my undergraduate thesis on Leon Trotsky, we visited Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul (Blue House) in Coyoacán, where Trotsky first stayed upon arriving in Mexico in 1937, and then the nearby home where he subsequently lived. At the Trotsky home, now a museum, the docent, a young Russian woman, explained that on May 24, 1940, 20 gunmen, led by Mexican Stalinist David Siqueiros attacked the house in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Trotsky. After the raid, the house was turned into a fortress and the only way the NKVD was able to assassinate Trotsky was by setting up an elaborate plot. A Stalinist agent, Ramon Mercader, seduced the sister of Trotsky’s American secretary, Ruth Ageloff, and then went to visit Trotsky with Ageloff’s sister. The story intrigued me.
In 2009, I found out that Ruth Ageloff Poulos, a fellow psychoanalyst in New York, who was a colleague at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, had died and her obituary mentioned that she had been Trotsky’s secretary! Once again, I felt I had to write a book to bring all these pieces together. Ruth Ageloff Poulos was Jewish and had been born in Brooklyn. Writing a novel based on the story required research about the history Jewish immigration to Brooklyn, where I was born. My grandparents were from Russia and settled in Brooklyn. More pieces of myself began to fall into place. CLICK HERE for more about Two Sisters of Coyoacán.
It is not just the content of my writing that has had an integrative effect, it is the process itself. Writing involves an interplay between what George Herbert Mead called the “I” and the “me.” I write something (the acting part of self) and then I read it (the object part of self). When I read what I have written, I have a response to it and usually revise (acting part of self). The conversation between the “I” and the “me” is what consciousness is about and it is at the core of how the self develops and grows. Writing promotes the development of my self because seeing what I have written and responding to it makes me aware of what I am thinking and feeling and engages me in my own internal process.