Extracting Splinters*

I think of writing practice as a process of extracting splinters. Whether you extract the biggest splinter or the smallest first doesn’t matter. You may choose the shard piercing your foot that cripples you or the tiny thorn in your side. But keep going. Keep extracting splinters, one at a time.

I have written slowly, bit by bit, over time, a series of essays and stories that have exposed me layer by layer—each line, each piece, revealing a little bit more. And with each revelation, each confession, I have accepted myself more fully. As I’ve uncovered my deepest flaws, I’ve also uncovered strengths, hidden beneath the festering splinters. Each extracted splinter reveals tender pink flesh eager to heal.

For many years I used a first person column in a monthly women’s magazine and my own blog as vehicles for this process. I wrote about myself as a recovering alcoholic and addict, as a teenage bi-sexual, my brush with divorce and bankruptcy, getting sued by two credit card companies, my love affair with food, my online affair, posing naked, being a secret smoker, being raised on food stamps and welfare, moving 15 times with my dad when I was growing up, and that time I let my house get overrun by cockroaches. There is still more to go but each piece I release into the world is one less piece of baggage I have to carry alone. Whether many people read it, or a few, or one or none, I am relieved of the burden of secrecy and shame.

Now each time I sit down to write, I start with an internal mental, emotional, spiritual and physical body scan, seeking out sore spots that, left to fester, will become infected. Wherever there is a splinter still lodged—age old or brand new—I extract it by naming it, by writing it out until it has lost some of its sting, some of its power. Only then can I move on.

The pen is the tweezers, the lance and the sword. It is the surgeon’s knife with the power to cut and ultimately, to heal.

 

 *from page 23 of The Halfway House for Writers Handbook